Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Nikki Kahn THE WASHINGTON POST)
Yesterday a great crowd gathered on the National Mall here in D.C. to remember the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and the magnificent speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in which he declared, “I have a dream.” Every speaker on yesterday shared a commentary on the status of the dream and the motivation for the march, with emphasis on the continuing sense of urgency to demand jobs, justice and equal rights for all Americans. Today I want to draw to your attention one of the biblical texts cited by Dr. King in his 1963 speech and say a word about the mandates that remain for us to observe and obey in our effort to pursue social justice as disciples of Jesus Christ. Here is a brief quote from the speech so you can see where the text from Isaiah 40 fits in:
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
Dream. Vision. March.
What made that speech worth celebrating 50 years later is the way Dr. King communicated his dream, his vision and his march, not just the media event, but his journey toward implementation and fulfillment of the content of his dream and vision in the life of this nation. A dream is like a video clip that plays in your mind while you are sleeping, images of people, things, sounds and colors that occupy your subconscious mind. Everyone has the capacity to dream, and some of us have the ability to capture and recall what we have dreamed. There are those who interpret dreams, like Joseph and Daniel in the Old Testament. What is the difference between a dream and a vision? The Bible gives us numerous examples of both, people with dreams and people with visions. When a dream is captured and communicated to others with an invitation for them to embrace it, it becomes a vision. We all have dreams, but we are not all able or willing to recall our dreams and share them with others. Some of us fear sharing our dreams because we think we will be ridiculed or embarrassed. Sometimes it is best to keep a dream to yourself, depending on who and what you dreamed about. But when a dream comes from God, when the dream is a gift from God, then the dreamer must decide whether or not that dream should be shared with others, to inspire them, to encourage them, or maybe to warn them of danger on the horizon. A prophetic dream is a dream through which God speaks–that is what makes it prophetic, that God gave the dream and speaks through the dream–meaning it should be subjected to the same criteria as any prophecy to discern whether it is true or false. For example, in Walt Disney’s film Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket sang about dreaming upon a star:
When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true
The cricket’s song sounds good, but is not necessarily true. If your dream comes from God, it will come true, and not because you have wished upon a star but because you have embraced the truth of that dream and shared the dream with others so that they can receive the gift of the dream and be inspired by the vision.
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
But when vision is given with a mandate from the word of God, people’s lives will be transformed as they see and pursue the image God has projected of God’s will for their personal lives and for their role and purpose in the world. Dr. King’s dream was informed by the word of God, by Isaiah’s vision, that e
very valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. King saw in his dream the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic vision, that the march to freedom and justice and equality was the work of God, and that the glory of the Lord would be revealed in the hope and faith of people who were willing to put their lives on the line to fight against poverty, racial discrimination and segregation, and to fight for jobs and justice.
Dream. Vision. March. These three words form a divine sequence, a progression from what is seen, to what is spoken, to people being inspired to act. King had a dream, and he had the courage to share his dream not only with his followers, but with a nation, including those who shook in their boots when they heard his strong challenge to their racial dominance and privilege and hatred. The 1963 March was not staged by MSNBC. It was a gathering of people who were ready and willing to be mobilized for action, ready and willing to show the world that they were not afraid to hear the dream and heed the vision, because both were received as the work of God. The march itself was the work of the Spirit, orchestrated and organized by the Spirit of God moving in the midst of the people. That is how the glory of the Lord is revealed. In the hearts and minds and bodies of people who are willing to be moved, who are courageous for justice and compassionate toward suffering, willing to march through the hills and valleys and rough places every day, with confidence that God is making the way straight before us. As a method of protest, a march requires personalities, politics and publicity to be effective. But the march of God produces dreams and visions of a world made better by justice, peace and righteousness. Once you get your marching orders from the Lord, once you have experienced the manifestation of the move of God in your heart and soul, once you see the hand of the Lord moving through inspired vision and speech, then you will be ready to walk the walk Isaiah spoke about at the end of chapter 40:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, The Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
Our African American ancestors sang their vision and march with these words:
Walk together children
Don’t you get weary
Sing together children
Don’t you get weary
Shout together children
Don’t you get weary
There’s a great camp meeting in the promised land