The Impossible Dream (Providence, October 14, 2013)

Don QuixoteTHE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM

A sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
AWAB XX
First Baptist Church, Providence, RI

Monday, October 14, 2013

CERVANTES:

May I set the stage? I shall [recall] a man. Come, enter into my imagination and see him!
His name…Alonso Quijana…a country squire, no longer young…bony, hollow-faced…eyes that burn with the fire of inner vision. Being retired, he has much time for books. He studies them from morn to night and often through the night as well. And all he reads oppresses him… fills him with indignation at [humanity’s] murderous ways… And he conceives the strangest project ever imagined … to become a knight-errant and sally forth into the world to right all wrongs. No longer shall he be plain Alonso Quijana…but a dauntless knight known as – Don Quixote de La Mancha!

DON QUIXOTE:

Hear me now
Oh thou bleak and unbearable world,
Thou art base and debauched as can be;
And a knight with his banners
all bravely unfurled
Now hurls down his gauntlet to thee!

I am I, Don Quixote,
The Lord of La Mancha,
My destiny calls and I go,
And the wild winds of fortune
Will carry me onward,
…whithersoever they blow…
Onward to glory I go!

Hear me, heathens and wizards
And serpents of sin!
All your dastardly doings are past,
For a holy endeavor is now to begin
And virtue shall triumph at last!

I am I, Don Quixote,
The Lord of la Mancha,
My destiny calls and I go,
And the wild winds of fortune
Will carry me onward,
Will carry me onward,
…whithersoever they blow…
Onward to glory I go!

When I participated in the AWAB service in Kansas City this summer, the seeds of this sermon were sown in the texts Robin chose and in the experience of the word brought with power and authority.  In this, our anniversary year, our year of jubilee, we are looking at dreams that have seemed impossible in the past and dreams that may seem impossible moving forward, but when dreams and dreamers come together in constellation around a sacred center, who is to say what is possible or not, save the Holy One herself?

We started on Broadway, a perfectly plausible place for a gay preacher to start.  Don Quixote, whether in the original of Cervantes or as shaped by Darion and Lee, is a dreamer.  You heard what Cervantes said, “a country squire, no longer young…bony, hollow-faced… eyes that burn with the fire of inner vision.”  Some say an old fool, some say certifiably insane.  Imagine tilting at windmills as if they were fierce giants, treating a coarse farm girl as an elegant lady, riding a broken down horse with a short, stocky farmer following behind on his donkey, playing squire to your not quite shining knighthood and trying to keep you from the gravest dangers.

But, oh the dreamer and the dreams, that ineffable human capacity to see beauty where others see squalor, to hold hope where others hold cynicism and despair, to yearn for a better life, a more gracious world where others have sold out or given up.  Don Quixote, the Man of La Mancha, has captured the imagination and fueled the dreams of many a human being down through the centuries.

Though the comparison may be neither obvious nor easy, Paul was a dreamer.  In fact, the story says he had life-transforming vision that knocked him off his horse and turned his life around.  Saul, the clever Pharisee, student and defender of the ancient law, persecutor of the followers of the Christ, had an encounter with that same Christ that made a new being of him. He became Paul, the apostle, by his own confession “a fool for Christ.  He was willing to weather the ridicule and abuse of admitting he was wrong and spent the rest of his life trying to undo the damage he had done.

Jesus, himself, stood in the middle of his home synagogue and proclaimed that he had come “to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  And don’t you think more than one of those present though, “Isn’t this the son of that day worker, Joseph?  Who does he think he is?  He’s making a fool of himself and us in the process!”  A fool, a dreamer, a man with a vision of the realm of God, a man who proposed to walk God’s way through this world and wasn’t afraid to ask others to come along with him.   It was the impossible dream of an improbable dreamer.  In the end, it only cost him his life – yet he went willingly, with compassion, love and grace.

Forty years ago, in a seedy bar in Lincoln, Nebraska, there was another improbable dreamer with an impossible dream, another fool for Christ, another man who believed deeply that God’s reign might come on earth, especially for lgbtqiq folk.  Rodger Harrison, a Baptist preacher, from his own imagination put together a phantom organization he called American Baptists Concerned.  He named a President, Louise Rose.  I doubt he had asked her if he could put her name in nomination, let alone appoint her.  He would be vice-President and I think that’s as far as he got that night.  A fool, a dreamer, a man with a vision?  Who knew that night?  But by all rights, we are standing, upright and healthy, in his long shadow today.

I believe it takes a fool, a dreamer, a visionary to bring about changes in this world.  Those of us who turn too quickly to tradition and familiar structures for our security, nearly always have to wait for someone like Rodger or Don Quixote or Paul or Jesus to shake us up and draw us out of our shells.  We need people of every persuasion and orientation, of every shape and size and color, of youth and age, of every ability, of heart and spirit, to dream dreams and see visions in order to draw us out and on toward that realm of God.

Right in the middle of that realm sits the Welcome Table, that visionary place, often dreamed of, too seldom realized, where every single being made in the image and likeness of God is invited, welcomed, encouraged to sit and eat until we are filled with the bread of life and made whole through the cup of salvation.  That means you and that means me and, frankly, that means all the world.  No one has the right to tell anyone that they are not welcome at Christ’s table in the middle of God’s realm.  “There is plenty good room.”

It’s foolishness, an impossible dream, to imagine that there is really room for all.   There have to be some exceptions right?  Surely not everyone is included?  D. Mark Wilson, whom you saw directing the Rainbow Choir a few years back after a barrage of abuse was received from the preacher that night, a preacher who had a long list of people he was convinced were not welcome at the table, D. Mark loved to remind us of the old hymn that says, “Whosoever will may come.”  The hymn repeats that phrase several times to make sure we get it, “Whosoever will, whosoever will, whosoever will, may come.”

Cindy gave us some material to dream about last night.  Did anyone see the pots of gold at the end of those rainbows of grace?  What are your impossible dreams?   For that matter, what are your accessible dreams? Some of us are timid, some frightened, some anxious and insecure, some burned out, some who don’t trust ourselves or what see.  That’s right, people like you and me.  We’re not likely to go tilting at windmills.  We haven’t had visions that knocked us to the ground.  We see in a mirror dimly, with only glimpses of the coming reign of God.  We’re not likely to start movements or give up our security or dignity in pursuit of a cause. Or are we?

Another wise character from Broadway chides a young lieutenant with these words, “You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” (Bloody Mary in South Pacific).  So what’s your answer?  Is there a little residual Don Quixote in you?  Is there some small place in a corner of your being in which you dream dreams and see visions?  Would some small voice inside you like,

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear the unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
The reach the unreachable star

Well, here’s some good news.  The prophet proclaims for God, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  That’s not some obscure promise.  It’s not a word reserved for improbable dreamers with impossible dreams.  God is doing a new thing.  God is always doing new things.  We are a part of God’s new thing.  AWAB is one of God’s new things.  Love and compassion, grace and acceptance, holy welcome for lgbtqiq people and our allies is God’s new thing.  And, if we’ll trust this promise, follow our dreams and our dreamers, even when – maybe especially when – they seem improbable and impossible, God will make a way in our wilderness and provide rivers in our deserts.

So let me close with one more Broadway text.  I believe it was in 1996, the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Revolution, that we strange Baptists held a retreat in Manhattan.  During that time, several of us had the privilege of seeing both parts of Tony Kushner’s great play, Angels in America.  The key character, Prior Walter, is pulled in many directions in the play as he (and Kushner and the audience) wrestle with, among many things, the significance of the AIDS epidemic. At the end of the play, Prior Walter utters these words.  He’s talking about AIDS but he could be talking about anything that makes us ill, wounds us, undoes us, steals our dreams and crushes our spirits.  He may be talking about the very wound you wrote on a strip of paper and wove into this tapestry Friday night.  He says,

This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More life. The Great Work Begins” (Prior Walter in Angels in America.)

The great work begins – again and again and again – in each of us, in our impossible dreams and sacred visions.  We are eternally blessed with more life.  Let us – fabulous creatures, each and every one – take up the great work, dream impossible dreams, see the reign of God and the Welcome Table and make it so.   Amen.