Epiphany 2B, 2015
John 1:43-51

A Liturgy is also available


In two days time (Friday 20 January) many Americans will celebrate
a national holiday in honour of the black Baptist preacher and civil rights leader,
Revd. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

And many will again remember his 1963 March on Washington,
and the magnificent oratory of "I have a dream!"
delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial
in Washington DC on 28 August 1963...
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood...  I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character...

While both the man and that moment merit celebration,
there has been for several years now, a difference of opinion surrounding
the celebrating and the remembering.

I remember reading this comment some years ago now:
“Brother Martin spent a fair amount of time in jail, but his worst imprisonment may be how his own nation has frozen him in that moment in 1963.  Our national memory wants that triumphant, sun-drenched hero to stay right there, static, bound to the podium before the adoring crowds.  We want to be lulled into contentment by his beautiful words, his familiar cadences.  We want to keep him safely, unthreateningly, on a pedestal”
(Harding 2001)

And the American poet Carl Wendell Himes, Jr.
who was only in his 20s when King was assassinated,
articulated this domestication of King eloquently:
"Now that he is safely dead
Let us praise him
build monuments to his glory
sing hosannas to his name.

"Dead men make
such convenient heroes:
They cannot rise
to challenge the images
we would fashion from their lives.

"And besides,
it is easier to build monuments
than to make a better world."

It is easier to build monuments than to make a better world...
Again I remember, four and half years ago (August 2011 to be exact)
America was preparing to unveil a 30 foot granite statue of King
in the National Mall honoring African Americans, only to cancel the unveiling at the last minute
due to the approaching Hurricane Irene.

(The 28 August 2011 marked the 48th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's historic speech).

About the monument one newspaper report said:
"The MLK Monument is meant to encourage the visitor to move, literally, from despair toward hope.  The design is clearly based on the quote from King's "I Have A Dream" speech that reads: "With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."   With this in mind, the visitor approaching the monument is forced to pass through the Mountain of Despair, which stands like two forbidding sentinels, or to my mind, two sides of the threatening Red Sea, parted by God as Moses led the Hebrew people out of bondage" (Huffington Post, 8/2011).

The making of a different and better world, verses the making of a national monument!

King’s ‘dream’ was not a cosy, abstract idea.
It grew out of and flowed back into the practical, active work
and struggle for social inclusion and transformation.

Indeed, 'dreaming' helped inspire an African-American seamstress called Rosa Parks,
to refuse to give up her seat to a white man on a bus
that December day back in 1955…
A courageous act which triggered a 381-day black boycott of the bus system
and ignited the modern civil-rights movement led by King.

And 53 years later this same 'dreaming', many claimed, helped elect America’s
first black man to the US presidency – Barack Obama.


The storyteller John has a story about a dreamer.  A bloke called Nathanael.
And his dream of ascending and descending angels
is reminiscent of another story – the story of Jacob’s ladder.

So what’s this all about?
New Testament scholar William Loader has looked at this puzzling story and offered this comment:
“Jesus doesn’t want the big crowds running after him... he wants to lead them, as he led Nathanael, beyond amazement at miracles... to wonder at what they symbolise, the life he offered and now made universally available... through the witness of the community of faith and its action”
(WLoader/Website 2009).

Now as some of you will know I am not exactly a big fan of John’s Gospel.
(Although Jack Spong's book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, has soften my opposition somewhat...)
Of the other three, Mark and Luke have always been of interest.
Matthew to a lesser extent.
But hardly ever John.

My reasoning has been I have always felt more of a closeness to
the ‘historical’ Jesus (when that is possible) in the Synoptics and Thomas,
than to the 1st century symbolic and deep christological
– even Gnostic - theology of John.

On the other hand, theologian Walter Brueggermann’s claim that John often
reveals the “counter-imagination of Jesus”, certainly interests me.
That I can relate to.

The ‘counter-imagination’ of Jesus.
The ‘counter-imagination’ of Barack Obama.
The ‘counter-imagination’ of Rosa Parks.
The ‘counter-imagination’ of Martin Luther King, Jr.

That makes sense to me.
So maybe there’s more to this ‘dreaming’ than meets the eye!


What is it that haunts the minds of dreamers?
I feel that is a big question.  Too big for this brief sermon.
So let me tell you a story and share a poem
which might help ground that question in our common experiences.

First the story.
A neighbourhood church, well established, had been around for at least 40 years.
Then a new congregation of the same denomination started
about five klm away, in another suburb.

Within five years, the new congregation had grown larger
than the 40 year established congregation,
and had completed a building program,
which they expanded just a few years later.

A major difference between the two congregations
was the new congregation was a ‘progressive’ niche church,
always pushing theological boundaries, and looking
for the new and different things they could do as a congregation.

The older congregation, called an ‘established’ or ‘traditional’ church
tended to look to the past and the good things
they had done ‘back then’ as a congregation.

In her Report to the Synod office the Intentional Interim minister
wrote about the traditional church:
It is hard to move them into the future when their ‘dreaming’ is always looking backwards.

And now the poem - a 'blast from my past'!
"Some day
when nobody
expects it,
when the world
is busy
doing worldly things
and not really watching
the edges of creation,
on some wonder day
love be born

"And on that
Beautiful Day
the promise
shall be fulfilled,
that now haunts
the minds
dreamers."  Bill Comeau/LP.

On that day the promise shall be fulfilled, that now haunts the minds of dreamers…
On that day when the ‘counter-imagination’
of Jesus
of Rosa
of Martin,
of Barack - shall be fulfilled,.

When love, inclusiveness, community, are born again on the edges.
Is that not what haunts all dreamers?

And what of us.  Do we also dare to say…
when the ‘counter-imagination’ of (NN Congegation)
as a niche, progressive church, shall be fulfilled?
If not, why not?  The time is ripe!

I invite both your pondering and your dreaming.

Bill Comeau. “Some Beautiful Day. A Rock Celebration of the Life of a Dreamer named Jesus.” New York. Avant Garde Records.