Old Men Dream Dreams

Rev. David Carl Olson preached the following sermon at the Service In Memoriam of Rev. David C. Casey on June 13, 2015 from the pulpit of Wayland Baptist Church, where Rev. Dr. Hoffman F. Brown III serves as Pastor and First Servant. Rev. Casey was the Executive Director of BRIDGE Maryland, the congregation-based community organization co-created by First Unitarian and over a dozen other congregations fourteen yeras ago.  

I take for my text this morning the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, verses 16 and 17. The Apostle Peter says,

“This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, adonai declares,
That I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.’”

Those words were spoken on the day of Pentecost. Seven weeks of seven days after the events that forever changed the lives of the women and men who followed Jesus, they experienced something new. Some thought it might be public drunkenness, but the followers of the Nazarene called it God. A Spirit that gave them a new way of looking at their world, a new way of looking at their work in the world. It was a moment that looked backward and forward, backward at the things that they held dear, forward at something that was yet to come. The prophet Joel was somehow speaking again in Peter, speaking about a new day of the coming of God.

Pentecost is not a subject that a Unitarian Universalist minister speaks about very often. The notion a people being swept up into such a spiritual frenzy that the crowd is filled with amazement and confusion—no, we Unitarian Universalists like our messages clear, ordered, intellectually challenging, and reasonable. Oh yes. So Reasonable.

But life is not always clear. Life is not easily ordered. The challenges that we face are not just intellectual bouts, but matters of broken hearts and busted bodies, of incompleteness and disappointment, reflecting what the Buddha said, that “all life is suffering.” And no, life is just not reasonable; and death is not something we can reason away.

No, Pentecost is exactly what we need when we face death.
A coming of the spirit into our consciousness. A revivification of our intentions. A recommitment to our calling as people of faith—faith in God for many of us, faith in the promise of democracy for all of us in this country, faith in each other when we prove that we are faithful. We need a coming of the Spirit that will unite us with power to do the work of what the Jews call tikkun olam, the healing of this world.

The Jews. These Pentecost participants. The Greek scripture calls them “devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.” These Jews were already expecting Pentecost. For them, the holiday is called Shavu’oth, the Feast of Weeks. Seven weeks of seven days after Pesach, Passover, the Jewish people celebrate Shavu’oth. Where on Passover they eat unleavened bread, on Pentecost, they eat leavened bread made from the first harvest of the spring barley. They drink milk and honey, and celebrate the giving of the Torah, the Law of Moses, delivered to the Hebrews not when they had reached the Promised Land, but when they were in the desert, when they were on the journey, when they were in confusion; on Sinai, tradition tells us, God revealed God’s own self, the divine presence of adonai, to Moshe, the chosen leader, Moses we call him. “I am who am,” “I cause what I cause,” “I will be what I will be,” the Sovereign of the Universe reached down to inscribe the Torah on the tablets, and thus gave order to chaos, gave direction to the wanderers, gave a promise of deliverance that would not be denied.

Those faithful people in Jerusalem, that city under occupation by the Roman empire, looked to Shavu’oth, looked to the Pentecost that followed Passover, and listened for the Word of God, sought the Day of Revelation. And what they found surprised them beyond their imagination: 

Hundreds who spoke in many languages, in all the languages present; hundreds who spoke and could be understood. The text says that there was speaking, but I think that has to mean that there was also a lot of listening going on. People were hearing other people’s stories, listening to other people’s cares and concerns; hearing other people’s trials and tribulations and truths, and recognizing their own stories, knowing their own lives, discovering that they had so much in common, in this system of oppression and pain; and hearing a promise of a way out through power.

Power! That’s what they heard on Pentecost; Power to address their situation; Power to advance their cause; Power to bring about their liberation. And oh, this was not the power of Rome, the power of the military and the occupation, the power that let people live in misery long enough to give up; power that gave land and wealth not to the people who had lived there for generations but rather to outsiders to whom the Empire owed something. The Roman power of Jesus’s time was like the Egyptian power of another day; power that would hold them as slaves.

No. This Pentecost power was the power of deliverance. Deliverance not at someone else’s hand, but deliverance by being a community with one another; by finding ways so to stand in solidarity with one another that they would march out of their oppression; cross the sea of reeds; risk the wilderness and even then and there in the desert discover a way together to get to the Promised Land. The Pentecost power was the power of a people who knew each other so well, who cared for each other so fully, that they would exhibit power-with, Power–With, hand in hand, arm in arm, heart to heart. They loved one another, those unruly, spirit-drunk folk, loved one another; and it was as if the fire of adonai, the fire of God, burned into their hearts a call to something new.

“Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” said Joel in an earlier day, said Peter on that Shavu’oth, say I today; a Spirit is poured out on us and our sons and daughters shall prophesy. Shall speak of their intimate knowledge of the future they can believe in because we have shown them the Love that will not let them go. 

Your young men shall see visions; not the vision of closed community centers and no chance for an after-school job; not the vision of the school to prison pipeline; of children getting police rap sheets for living in the neighborhoods they live in and hanging out with their friends; not the vision of “Hands up!” “Don’t shoot.” Not the vision of too many deaths at the hands of too many police officers.

No! our young men shall see visions because our churches will hold them; our temples and our mosques will share with them the richness of our ancient traditions; our community centers and advocacy networks, our educational institutions and our unions and even BRIDGE Maryland shall listen to them and will hear from them their vision for their own potential; their vision for the world they seek; their vision of their success and our success because we find a way to write a new law onto our own hearts.

Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. David Casey did not get a chance to be an old man. David Casey was taken from us far too soon. But just because David Casey was not an old man, it does not mean that David Casey did not dream dreams.

No, he was a dreamer; he dreamed that people working together can bring about genuine equality; he dreamed that the sin of racism which condemns us all could be overcome; that the social structures and the governmental and corporate policies that created a divided Baltimore could be reformed, could be replaced, could be rebuilt so that every child would be cared for; every teen be on a life path of fulfillment and joy; every young family have a place to live and place where children could be educated well; every able-bodied man and woman could have a job; every senior granted dignity in all the stages of their aging. David was a dreamer.

But David was more than a dreamer. He was a doer and he was a fighter. A fighter for inclusionary zoning, so that pockets of poverty in the city and the first suburbs could be transformed, and so that opportunity could be opened up for people coming out of poverty. A fighter for a transportation system that would move people out of concentrations of poverty and into concentrations of opportunity. A fighter for job opportunities and on-the-job training. 

In particular, I remember when the bill was being heard in the General Assembly to set aside 1/2 of 1% of federal transportation dollars coming into Maryland for training programs for our unemployed and underemployed people. This Law would make those funds not just available, as directed by Congress, but legally required ion Maryland to be spent for the uplift of our people. The bill was stalled and about to fail. It was David Casey’s eleventh hour heart to heart with an elected official that saved that bill; David telling the story of underemployed people in our congregations, in our neighborhoods, working families whose lives would be changed for the better by an opportunity to work in construction and transportation; David, telling that story, the elected official’s heart being changed, and we win one-half of one percent for training for people, for a better future for our families. David was a doer.

The DREAM Act. Organizing low wage workers at Johns Hopkins. Working to “Respect Security.”  Inclusionary housing, Raising the minimum wage. David Casey was a doer.

And he never did it alone. He did his dreams through organizing, through us. Coaching us. Training us. Encouraging us. Listening to us. Challenging us. Agitating us. He knew that alone, he did not have the power to deliver his dreams. He needed more power. Organized people, that’s us. Organized money, that’s up to us, too. David made “Power—With” a way of life.

David Casey did not live to be an old man. Nancy, I wish that it were different. Jesse, Spencer, I wish you had seen your dad become a crotchety, old man. Geoffrey, Jackie, how terrible this must be to lose a brother.

“Your old men shall dream dreams.” Brothers, sisters, there is only one way that David Casey will get to dream his old man dreams, and that is if you and I dream them. If you and I take up the challenge to transform our relationships and transform this broken and beautiful city. If you and I will be filled with a Pentecostal spirit that will be unleashed on this city, on this region, on this state, on our country. If Shavu’oth becomes our cry, each of us and all of us will find a way to be one, will find the ways to walk together toward that the Promised Land. If you and I will be in solidarity with all of those held down by rapacious Empire that turns people into things and all that matters into commodities . . . 

You and I will dream David Casey’s old man dreams. There is no other Spirit coming. No! We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the ones who must be the change we hope to see. David Casey, beloved friend, we make this our solemn promise. By God, may we keep it true. Ashe, ashe. Salaam, shalom. Blessed be. Amen. 


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