Dreaming of a Golden World
by Keith Vaughn
I really do enjoy reading. Many of you already know that. Much of what I read changes the way I think or even at times changes the view I have of the world around me. I think reading treats us all that way. Some of my readings challenge me to think in ways that I never thought. It is strange how a few printed words can bring into question preconceived notions, ancient dogmas, and cultural mores. I must admit that my reading often causes me to break with patterns and notions of tradition. When I share some of those ideas with friends, I do occasionally get queer looks in return. I think that it is enlightening the way our sacred texts of biblical scripture challenges and shapes my thinking. Although it challenges me, and even though I may not always understand it, I still read.There are other books that introduce me to ideas and concepts, which I never encountered growing up in South Georgia. Stephen Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, and his work Black Holes and Baby Universes, causes me to think about things that Dodge County High did not teach. His books talk about the mathematics of physics, and the principles of the worlds and universes that sweep through the vastness of interstellar space. He discusses theories that govern the physical universe, as we know it: from the tiniest of quarks to the greatness of gravitational forces levied upon planets and stars, which sweep in circular patterns as dancers locked in a unifying rhythm of movement on the celestial dance floor. Far from understanding these concepts, I often must scratch my head and wonder at the mind that dreams in such brilliant colors. Dreaming in color is difficult to do in a black and white world. IIHistory has had her share of dreamers. Philosophers and poets, mathematicians and scientists, naturalists and theologians, and even a few ordinary people have dared to dream in color when, all around them, everything was painted in scenes of black and white. These dreamers have shared their dreams with us. They have very often helped us to see the world in an oddly different way; a way that perhaps was different from the way some need the world to be.This reminds me of Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher who in a strangely poetic way shared his concept of the flow and flux of our existence when he said, “You cannot step into the same river twice.” Centuries later, Galileo Galilei dared to dream that the commonly held notions of the construction of the visible universe were perhaps wrong, and that the geocentric path of motion needed remodeling. His predecessor, Nicolaus Copernicus, stimulated these scientific investigations and created what came to be called the Copernican Revolution, a completely new way of dreaming about the construction of the universe within the European mind. These intellectual giants dreamed in Technicolor. They have forever changed the world.Still others have dared to dream in different ways. Some do not dream about the construction of the physical universe but about the construction of human relationships. The man Einstein, who we revere for his work in mathematics and physics, once declared, “A person starts to live when he can live outside himself.” Einstein was not alone in understanding this eternal precept. In a monochromatic world Einstein, Rauschenbusch, Jordon, Tolstoy, King, Ghandi, Carter, Tutu, Wallis, Claiborne, and many, many others have shifted their thinking from tones of gray to the brilliant colors required in our modern world. Their dreams are not mere flights of nocturnal fantasy, but their dreams are the substance of a world so very similar to the world of Jesus. IIIJesus was a dreamer and his dreams were legendary. He often took ordinary or common events and turned them into transcendental teaching moments for his disciples. With Jesus, a farmer was a perfect illustration for God. Small seeds became the substance of the kingdom of heaven. A widow’s mite became the measure of greatness. With Jesus, Sabbath became a lifestyle. Finally, for Jesus, family was a term defined in ways other than blood relationship. Jesus’ dreams were renowned for their challenges to the monochromous landscape of human relationships. Yes, Jesus dreamed about a God that makes the sun to shine on the good and the bad, and who allows the rain to fall on everyone around and not just on his children. He dreamed about a God whose forgiveness went beyond measure and whose love human values could not assess. His dreams of God perplexed the rich, but at the same time, they made room at the table for the poor, the prostitutes, for women, for the sick, the aged, and for drunks. Jesus was a dreamer who connected the black and white everyday world in which we live with the technicolorful landscape of God’s design. Jesus helped us see things in a completely new way. IVOne day Jesus reached into the cultural soup of values and proverbs of his day and time, and he found this little jewel. In its ancient form, the saying went something like this, “Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.” This proverb has been around since the days of Aristotle. Socrates knew about this proverb, as did Plato. Epictetus was aware of the proverb one hundred years before Jesus. The Jews were aware of the saying as well. Seneca spoke of it in the century following Jesus. As he had done so many times, Jesus takes ordinary items off the shelf, and he turns them into transcendental teaching moments for his disciples.Jesus picks up this proverbial jewel, examines its worth and beauty, and then cuts that stone to make it even more precious by turning it from a negatively focused proverb to a positively focused saying. “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.” With this small mouthful of words, Jesus sums the entirety of Moses’ law and rabbinical teachings. The old story goes that a certain heathen came before a famous rabbi and said to him, “Make me a proselyte on the one condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” That is when the rabbi swatted him with a stick.The heathen then went to Rabbi Hillel, and that Rabbi said to him, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor; that is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.” Jesus learned from this little jewel, and then he hands this ornament to the Christian community and says to his bride, “Wear it, and wear it well. Do not ever take it off. It will be a symbol of our dreams.” VThe symbol of our dreams is a phrase that captures the essence of what God’s people said for millennia. It is a sign of the enduring principles of God’s law. The Jesus version of this proverb was not restrictive. It did not say; “Do to others ONLY what you would have them do to you!” The Jesus version of this proverb was not expansive. It did not say; “Do EVERYTHING to others that you would have them do to you!” This was not an egocentric rule to get what you want, nor was it a reciprocal interchange where people trade good deeds in some multiplicative inverse. Jesus’ version of this proverb is the anticipatory mental act of discerning the loving thing to do that does not wait to respond to the action of another. The proverb focuses on doing and not on getting. For our everyday living, it is a guide for discerning what is right and good. VIMy Uncle Carlton was a farmer. Back in the 1970’s Uncle Carlton had a terrible back condition that began at some point shortly before Christmas one year. He spent quite some time in the Macon hospital. Surgery was tough. Healing was slow. Thirty years later medicines and techniques have improved substantially from what was medically available at that time. Farmers really do not make good patients anyway.Uncle Carlton wanted to get up and move around. He was an independent sort who wanted to make do for himself without depending on others too heavily. I wonder what it was like for him to lie in bed while the men of Midway community plowed his fields, planted and tended his crops, and even harvested and marketed those crops while Carlton was down in the back: all year.Uncle Carlton used to lease a one hundred acre tract of land from an elderly woman named Mrs. Annie Harrell. She was a widow woman and was on in years when I walked those plowed fields in search of doves and deer. I am sure the lease agreement covered some of the legal aspects inherent in such documents. Not covered in that agreement; was the firewood that Carlton cut and delivered to Mrs. Annie winter after cold winter. I will always wonder if that is how he hurt his back. VIIThe Golden Rule is not reciprocal, but it definitely creates a dreamlike landscape where God’s people bless the world. This rule is not simply what you do but it is part and parcel of who you and I are as Christians. This rule is not as much about doing as it is about being.Bind yourself to its marvelous beauty. Wear it as a bride wears her precious wedding band. Wear it, and wear it well. Do not ever take it off. It will be a symbol of our Savior’s dreams for the way things can be. Besides, my dear church, it fits you so well.
BibliographyBetz, Hans Dieter. The Sermon on the Mount. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.Boring, Eugene M. The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary: Matthew. Nashville: Abingdon, 1995.Witherington III, Ben. Matthew. Edited by R. Scott Nash. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006.