Daring to Dream

Psalm 121:1-2; Joel 2:28-29/January 17, 2016
Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday
Susan Boyer

 

I want to start today by sharing with you a mythic tale retold by Langston Hughes of American slaves and their descendants on John’s Island in South Carolina. It is a story told over and over again among people for whom freedom is an unrealized dream.

Once all Africans could fly like birds … There was a cruel master on one of the sea islands who worked his people till they died. When they died he bought others to take their places. These also he killed with overwork in the burning summer sun…

One day…he bought a company of native Africans just brought into the country, and put them at once to work in the cotton field. He drove them hard.  They went to work at sunrise and did not stop until dark. They were driven with unsparing harshness all day long, men, women and children.

There was among them one young woman who had lately borne a child. It was her first; she had not fully recovered from bearing and should not have been sent to the field…She had her child with her, as the other women had, astraddle on her hip.   

The baby cried. She spoke to quiet it…Then she went back to chopping knot-grass; but being very weak, and sick with the great heat, she stumbled, slipped, and fell. The driver struck her with his lash until she rose and staggered on.   

She spoke to an old man near her, the oldest man of them all, tall and strong, with a forked beard. He replied, but the driver could not understand what they said; their talk was strange to him. She returned to work, but in a little while she fell again.  Again the driver lashed her until she got to her feet. Again she spoke to the old man.  But he said: `Not yet, daughter; not yetʹ…  

Soon she stumbled and fell again. But when the driver came running with his lash to drive her on with her work, she turned to the old man and asked: `Is it time yet, daddy?ʹ He answered: `Yes, daughter; the time has come. Go; and peace be with you!ʹ and then he stretched out his arms toward her…

With that she leaped straight up into the air and was gone like a bird, flying over field and wood. The driver and overseer ran after her, but she was gone, high over their heads, over the fence, and over the top of the woods, gone, and with her baby astraddle on her hip.

Then the driver hurried the rest to make up for her loss. Soon a man fell down in the heat. The overseer himself lashed him to his feet. As he got up from where he had fallen the old man called to him in an unknown tongue. When he had spoken, the man turned and laughed at the overseer, and leaped up into the air, and was gone, like a gull, flying over field and wood.

The overseer ran at the old man with lashes ready; and the master too, with a picket pulled from the fence, to beat the life out of the old man who had made those slaves fly. But the old man laughed in their faces, and said something loudly to all . . . in the field, the new slaves and the old slaves.

And as he spoke to them they all remembered what they had forgotten, and recalled the power which once had been theirs. Then all the slaves, old and new stood up together; the old man raised his hands; and they leaped up into the air with a great shout; and in a moment were gone.

Where they went I do not know; I never was told. Nor what it was that the old man said… that I have forgotten. But as he went over the last fence he… cried `Kuliba! Kuliba!’ [1]

This is a story that has been told over and over again with different nuances. Some of you have heard it called, “All God’s Chilluns’ Have Wings”.  in the book, The Invention of Wings, read by book clubs across America, author Sue Monk Kidd tells the story by describing a slave woman who creates a quilt which depicts slaves flying free.  The first time I heard this story it had a little bit different ending.  In the version I heard, the old man who told each of them when it was time to fly didn’t fly off with the rest of the slaves.  The slave owner beat him to a pulp but the old man didn’t bring back those who had flown away.  He just smiled and said, “Once the word is in them, it cannot be taken away.”  Kuliba.  Kuliba.  What do you think it means? I think it means, “Don’t forget your power, for God is in you.”  Kuliba.

Several years ago, Bill Moyers, an American journalist and political commentator, interviewed Joseph Campbell, a writer who specialized in American mythology.  Campbell told Moyers that a myth is a public dream.  He said that when your personal dream doesn’t coincide with the public myth, then “you’ve got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.”

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capitol and in front of a crowd of over 250,000 people told about his dream that did not, at that point, coincide with the public myth. He was like the old man in the cotton field on John’s Island putting the word inside people.  Kuliba.  Kuliba.  God is within you.  Someone killed Dr. King….killed the man who spoke his dream that was out of sync with the myth of his time….killed the man who reminded others of the word, “God is within you.”

In Moyer’s interview, Joseph Campbell said that when you have a personal dream that carries a mythic theme, “that [dream] is said…to come from the Christ within.” King’s dream carried a mythic theme.  He stood on those steps and reminded those civil rights activists that they all want to be treated equally and fairly.  We all want to live in a world where there truly is “liberty and justice for all.”

Ben read to us this morning from the book of Joel. In the book of Joel there is a lament and a promise.  The lament is about a plague of locusts and a severe drought, which may have been an allegory for the enemies of Israel.  The promise is that there will be newness in the face of cataclysmic events for the people who remember that they carry God within them. God will pour out her spirit on sons and daughters and they will fly again.  Kuliba.

Thank God for our prophets who remembered the Word. Thank God for our prophets who kept on dreaming in spite of the danger.  Thank God for our prophets who knew the power that each child of God carries within and sacrificed themselves on behalf of those who needed to hear the dream again.

We waste Martin’s sacrifice if we do not remember the promise. Kuliba.  Our sons and our daughters shall prophesy.  Our old will dream dreams and our young will see visions.

We waste Martin’s dream if we do not look up and add our mythic dreams to the universe. When I look up, what should I see? Should be a rainbow on the far horizon, stretching towards eternity.  Oh…give us back our dreams.

We waste Martin’s courage if we do not stand up also and keep on dreaming new dreams in new times. We need to dream about a world where African America men and women do not need to be afraid of those called to serve and protect.  We need to dream about a world where mass incarceration is not our answer to our prejudices.  We need to dream about a world where our politicians do not lead our bigotry.  We need to dream about a world where walls and guns and metal detectors do not become our gods.  We need to dream about a world where creation is not destroyed by corporate greed.  We need to dream of a world where people are not executed for retribution.  We need to dream of a world where the vulnerable are not trafficked….where we do not kill others to show them that our way of life is best….where drugs are not peddled at recess…where religions are not pitted against each other.  We need to dream about liberty and justice for all.

Kuliba! It is time…now.
Kuliba! We must fly.
Kuliba! Look up…see the rainbow stretching to eternity.
Kuliba! Up over our heads….hear the music in the air.
Kuliba! Christ is within us!
Kuliba! Christ has already set us free!
Kuliba! Dare to dream the mythic dreams of God!  Amen.

[1] http://images.acswebnetworks.com/1/1553/100627_sermon_gwc.pdf