At heart, we are all dreamers. We dream that we shall succeed, that we shall be liked or loved, that we shall be happy. And the journey of life is strewn with the wreckage of dreams.
The old darling in the retirement home, whose children never come to see her, though she gave them everything and expected they would care for her in her latter years.
The couple who waited for years to have a child and then were given a Downs baby and told they would have to alter their dreams.
The concert pianist whose wrist was crushed in a car accident, and who was told she would never play again, at least not professionally.
The actor who got the big part he had waited for and discovered the next day that he has tested positive for the AIDS virus.
It is all Death of a Salesman, isn’t it? The Willy Lomans of the world, always dreaming things will get better and then one day discovering that they don’t, that you have to make peace with what there is, with what you have. Maybe this is why the audiences came out crying after seeing Arthur Miller’s play; they knew this is the way life is.
What do you do when it happens to you, when the deal you had hoped for falls through, when the love of your life walks out and slams the door, when the house of your dreams burns down and you didn’t have any insurance, when the policeman comes to your door and tells you your child is in jail for selling cocaine or, even worse, that she was killed in an accident on the freeway? What do you do when your dreams suddenly fall apart and you know there is no putting them together again?
Maybe it helps to see Jesus at the moment when He knew His dream had fallen apart. That’s what’s happening in our scripture today, the story of His so-called “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem. It looks as if His dreams have all come true — the big crowds, the shouting, the royal reception with palm branches and clothing strewn in the road. But He knews better. He knows the politics of the time, the intrigue of His enemies, the fickleness of the crowds. He knows the demonstration is only a momentary celebration, and that beneath it are the deceit and treachery that have kept His people in bondage for centuries. While the others are smiling and shouting and waving their palm branches, He is weeping, and sees it all through tears.
“Would that even today,” he says to the unheeding city, “you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation” (
He had seen it coming for a long time. It was not something that suddenly dawned on Him. That is the way most dreams are broken, slowly, not abruptly. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem” He had cried, “killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (
What did He do when He saw this? Maybe it would help us in dealing with our own broken dreams if we could only see what He did.
He did three things, as well as we can tell.
First, He held on to His faith in the sovereignty of God.
He continued to believe that God knew what He was doing and that God would work things out the way God wanted them worked out.
That is a big step to take, and it is not usually an easy one. Our first inclination, when things go wrong with our dreams, is to turn on God, to say that God must not be there at all or God wouldn’t permit things to go this way for us. The woman who loses her job, the man whose wife has just died in an operation, the young person who feels that he or she is not making any headway in life naturally becomes angry with God and says, “What good have all my prayers been? Why should I bother being religious if you don’t help me when I need you?”
Maybe Jesus did this at first. We don’t know. But we do know that He couldn’t have done it for long. He went right on with His ministry, teaching and healing and trusting that God knew what God was doing, even if things didn’t turn out the way He wanted them to.
And people ever since have found inspiration in Jesus’ faith, in His holding on to belief in God’s power even when God wasn’t exercising it in His behalf.
In Philip Crosbie’s book March Till They Die, Crosbie tells of the forced march of many European and American prisoners of war when the U.N. forces were driving the North Koreans back in November of 1950. Although most of the prisoners were starving and ill, they had to walk as much as twenty miles a day, often in subfreezing weather. Along the way, they saw American G.I.’s who were emaciated and unable to keep up with their prisoner groups. They sometimes passed G.I.’s and their guards beside the road. Then they heard shots and knew the prisoners had been executed. Crosbie and his friends would pass as closely to the next G.I.s as they could, and as slowly as they dared, would whisper to them, “God is near us in this dark hour. His love is real. His mercy is real. His forgiveness is real. His reward is waiting for us.”
All those broken dreams — and God was there, as real as ever, just as He was in Jesus’ final days.
Jesus held on to His faith in the sovereignty of God, and He prayed and submitted Himself to the will of the Father.
That’s what the whole business of Gethsemane was about — “Not my will, but thy will be done.” Only it didn’t begin in Gethsemane. It had been going on for a long time before that. Luke says that when they went to Gethsemane that night to pray, it was their “custom.” They prayed somewhere like that every night.
That’s a wonderful lesson for when things are going wrong, isn’t it? Not to cavil at God for it but to yield to God in humble submission, to say, “God, I don’t understand this, but I will do whatever you want me to do in the situation.” What a difference it would make in our lives if we only lived this way!
I have a good friend who is an oncologist, a cancer specialist. “In my work,” he says, “I see two kinds of people, those who are embittered and destroyed by illness and those who are ennobled by it.” Some people, he explains, become angry when they learn they are going to die. They lash out at God and everybody around them. Everything centers on them and what is happening to them. Others are the opposite. They get in touch with the ground of their beliefs, with some deep faith inside themselves, and become peaceful centers of radiant hope and goodness. They become more loving and considerate of others. In fact, they become saints.
A few summers ago I preached a sermon at Massanetta Springs entitled “The God at the end of Your Rope,” in which I talked about the way we often make our greatest discoveries of the presence of God when we have been visited by calamity and are at the end of our own resources. Afterward, a man came up to share with me how this had been true in his own life. His wife had left him, and shortly after the divorce he had gone to a conference. He was standing in a hallway talking with a woman whose husband had deserted her. The woman’s handicapped child was also there. While they discussed their experiences, a grossly overweight woman walked by and overheard them. She stopped to tell them that her husband had deserted her too. As the three of them stood there discussing their brokenness, the men suggested that they put their arms around each other and have prayer together.
“It was like a miracle,” he said. “God’s Spirit came upon us and, for the first time for each of us, we all began to feel healing occurring within us.”
All that brokenness, and then the healing when they prayed and submitted themselves to God.
Jesus kept His faith in God’s sovereignty, He prayed and yielded Himself to God, and He went on with His life with courage.
Courage is part of it too, isn’t it? Courage. We don’t make enough of courage today. The word comes from the Latin cor, for “heart” or “spirit.” “You gotta have heart!” It isn’t the property of the Rambos of the world; it’s the quality of a lot of little people, a lot of quiet people who know how to suffer and keep going. People who are barely making it as teachers or nurses or social workers. People who are taking care of sick parents or retarded children. People who are living with alcoholics or drug addicts. People whose dreams fell around their feet a long time ago, but they just keep slogging along, like good foot-soldiers in the army of the Lord.
Jesus knew what was coming for Him. He knew that the fair day on Palm Sunday would give way to the stormy night before the cross. He knew His friends would desert Him. He knew He would be hung out like the pelt of an animal exposed to all the world and alone with His pain.
Yet He kept going. He didn’t miss a step. He met the people all that week. He stood up to the Pharisees. He refused to back down from the truth God had given Him to utter. And, in the end, He walked to Calvary with courage and died with a dignity the world had rarely seen. It made the Roman soldier in charge of the crucifixion pull on his beard and say, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”
That’s part of the way you deal with broken dreams.
Several years ago I was back at Baylor University, my alma mater in Texas, speaking to students. One of my student hosts was a fun-loving young man whom I had come to like very much. I was sitting next to him in the backseat of a small car as the student committee drove me back to the airport in Dallas. When I accidentally hit his leg with my foot, I apologized.
“Oh, that’s okay,” he said, “I didn’t feel a thing. It’s not a real leg.” I looked at him quizzically and he proceeded to tell me his story.
In junior high school, he had been an outstanding football player, with dreams of a great college career and then a berth on a professional team. An injury had led to the amputation of both his legs. He thought it would be the end of his world. But the thing that turned it around for him was the loving care of the doctors and nurses in the hospital — and of his parents as well. “I knew my parents loved me,” he said, “but I had never realized how much.”
Soon after he healed from the surgery, he was outfitted with artificial limbs. With everybody’s help, he quickly adapted to them and learned to walk without aid.
“One of the best things that ever happened to me,” he said, “is this fellow over here.” He nodded toward his roommate, who was on the other side of him.
The other students laughed and began telling stories about his roommate and their relationship. Their relationship was so strong that the roommate could be playful about his situation. Sometimes the roommate ran off with his artificial leg and made him holler to get them back. Sometimes the roommate tackled him on the campus, bowling him over, and they wrestled and laughed on the grass.
“I’m actually glad it happened,” said the student about his double amputation. “If it hadn’t, I probably would never have known the love I’ve discovered — or the closeness to God it has brought.”
That’s courage, isn’t it — and devotion and submission?
He could have said, “My dreams have been broken so there must not be a God. I’m going to be an agnostic and go through life with my bitterness for what has happened to me.”
But he didn’t.
He did what Jesus did.
He kept his faith in God, submitted to the Father’s will, and lived with courage.
There isn’t a better formula for any of us.