Stories and the Dream of God: Psalm 78.1-4; Matthew 13.1-3a, 31-34
Lewis Carroll’s classic novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is filled with endless creativity. There is a constant parade of obscure language, abstract imagery, surreal events, amusing puns and fanciful creatures. The story is filled with surprises, but for adult readers at least, the story ends in an unsurprising manner—it was all a dream. Alice, having grown bored sitting idle while her sister read a book, fell asleep in that same sister’s lap and everything that happened, happened only in her mind. And yet, something surprising does happen as the story concludes. As Alice shares her dream, her sister begins to see the story, the events and the characters unfold in her mind. Her sister is enlivened by Alice’s story and is able to enter into and become a part of the story of Wonderland.
The novel finally concludes with a future possibility forming in the mind of Alice’s sister—years down the road as a grown woman, having kept “the simple and loving heart of her childhood,” Alice would (her sister hoped) “gather about her other little children and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland.” Lewis Carroll’s novel concludes with this hope-filled suggestion that stories about our dreams, far-fetched and fanciful though they may be, have the power to brighten our eyes and enliven our hearts by creating new realities, new possibilities, new visions and, in some mysterious way, new, expansive and joyful life.
The Kingdom, the reign, the dream of God is like. This is how Jesus introduced his parables. And it was through these stories, these riddles that Jesus shared his dreams, shared God’s dreams with and for the world. Gathering men and women and children around him, Jesus made “their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale” of a Wonderland of which they were invited to embrace and to become a part of enacting.
The dream of God is like a mustard seed; like a profligate farmer casting seed not worrying where it lands; like a woman who lost a coin and cleaned the whole house in order to find it; like a shepherd who lost a sheep and wouldn’t rest until it was found; like a parent who wept as their child left home to “see the world” and then rejoiced when their child returned home at long last; like a friend knocking on a neighbor’s door late one evening needing food for unexpected guests; like bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom; like a societal outcast being the only one humane enough to help someone in need; like sprinkling yeast in a batch of dough, and the list could go on.
Jesus’ parables are short stories that often seem simple, but possess wondrous depth and myriad meaning that have the power to astound children and confound adults, even today. They are powerful narratives that, to be honest, we preachers (well intentioned though we may be) all but ruin by our long-winded efforts to explain them. As preacher and author Frederick Buechner once lamented, “what a pity [it] is when you think what rich stories they are till preachers start making a shambles of them…[by] delivering sermons about them.” You see, in the final analysis, it is the stories themselves that hold the power and possibility to enable us to come to love and believe in the dream of God if we are ever to do so it at all. In other words, when we read or hear the stories, the parables we, like Alice, have the chance to chase the white rabbit down the metaphorical rabbit hole and find ourselves in another world with another vantage point, another way of life in which we find our imagination enlivened and renewed by new possibilities, new perspectives, new passions, new promises and new priorities.
We enter into the dream, the kingdom, the reign of God by listening to and coming to love and believe in the stories Jesus shared. But in order to come to love and believe in these stories, these dreams, Jesus says we must become like little children (Mt 18.3). This doesn’t mean we become helpless, hapless persons who cannot do anything for themselves. Rather, we are to grow up into the fullness of our humanity by, paradoxically, becoming like children in the sense that we find hope and healing in the “once upon a time” dreams that Jesus shares with us by allowing these stories to shape our lives and to become a part of who we are. We become like children in the sense that we dare to believe that the kingdom, the reign, the dream of God is not found “somewhere over the rainbow” in a far away and unreachable time or place, but is right here in our midst—around us, between us and within us—because, you see, children are wise enough to believe that “once upon a time” stories can be found, can be seen, can be manifest, can be lived out here and now. We grow up into better, more human, more Christ-like versions of ourselves by becoming like children in the sense that we believe that the dreams, the parables, the “once upon a time” stories Jesus shares can become reality and are worth shaping our lives upon.
When we become like children (in this healthy and healing manner of which Jesus speaks), we can enter into the dream of God by seeing glimpses and graces of this dream not just in the stories in the Bible but in the stories that make up our lives. But for this to happen we have to learn to pay attention. And when we do we will be able to see that while God’s dream is, indeed, like a farmer sowing seed and like a woman searching for her lost coin and like a shepherd searching for a sheep that wandered away from the flock, God’s dream is also like the stories of sharing and receiving compassionate grace that we have experienced and known. Put another way, when we grow up by becoming like children who love and believe in the stories of Jesus, the dream of God moves from the page to the pavement. From “once upon a time” to here, there and everywhere.
When we begin, in the words of Rabbi Abraham Heschel, to “dream in league with God,” we come to realize that God’s hopes and dreams for the world can be found all around us. It is present in the trembling child holding his parent’s hands as they walk through the halls of the school building for the very first time and as the parents wait with open arms to welcome the child after the day is done. It is present in a long-barren couple finding out that they are going to have a child—and, for that matter, in any couple finding out that they are going to be parents (in whatever form or fashion it takes place). It is present when a pet is adopted from a rescue shelter. It is present when the earth is cared for and preserved for future generations. It is present when a community of faith welcomes everyone without qualms or qualifications. It is present in a glimpse of something that floods your mind with memories of a moment of deep significant, and you find yourself shedding tears of joy. It is present in a dream about a loved one long gone or recently gone, whose appearance in your memory is both healing and hopeful. It is present in a good conversation with a friend. It is present in the reunion of estranged family members. It is present when sharing a meal with someone lacking sufficient food. It is present when befriending someone lacking sufficient love and community. It is present when encouraging someone who has been beaten down and bewildered by life.
In short, the dream of God is present whenever we wake up and choose to find ways to share life and love and laughter with any and all we meet. This means that the dream of God is, indeed, in our midst, right under our noses. We just need to pay attention, because when we learn to pray attention, to “listen to our lives,” we will be able to join Jesus in the hopeful and healing declaration, “the dream of God is truly in our midst—around us, between us and within us” (Lk 17.21). And it is because of this grand and glorious hope that we say, “Thanks be to God! AMEN.”
 Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, (New York: Penguin Books-Signet Classic, 2000), 118.
 Frederick Buechner, “The Truth of Stories,” Secrets in the Dark, (New York: Harper Collins, 2006), 133.
 Frederick Buechner.