“In those days: The spirit from on high will be poured out on us. Then will the desert become an orchard and the orchard be regarded as a forest. Right will dwell in the desert and justice abide in the orchard.” Isaiah 32:15-16
This week we marked the annual national holiday which honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among our greatest Americans. I read recently someone’s observation that he is known for giving an “I have a dream” not an “I have a plan” speech. I had not thought of that before. Dr. King preached about his dream, not his plan. What’s the difference?
A dream is in-spired by something or someone greater than you. A dream gives one new eyes, new zeal, and new love—because it is bigger than you. A plan, on the other hand, might not be bad, but it is earthly in design. Plans arise from the smart, the clever and the practical. Don’t get me wrong, we need plans, but plans are different from dreams.
Dr. King had a dream, not a plan. His dream, it must be noted, arose from his faith in the living God. One cannot miss this if you go back and read his speeches and sermons. They are laced with the Word of God, and their power comes from that divine vision and truth that spring from faith and a connection with the transcendent and holy. His dream also arose from a vision of the human person, and every person’s dignity as a child of God made in God’s image and likeness. Without these, the “dream” would not have been—he would have only had a plan.
Plans don’t inspire nor move hearts like dreams do! We read in the Prophet Isaiah, “In those days: The spirit from on high will be poured out on us. Then will the desert become an orchard and the orchard be regarded as a forest.” Isaiah speaks of the Spirit of God which will be poured out on his people, and that this Spirit will bring about a new era of transformation, using the radical image of a desert becoming a lush orchard, a forest. In other words from something dead to something full of life. The reading continues, “Right will dwell in the desert and justice abide in the orchard. Justice will bring about peace . . .”
In a sense, one could say that the desert isn’t changed by waving a magic wand. It is changed when “righteousness” moves into the desert—when we let God in. When we let God into our own hearts, our families, neighborhoods and communities.
Dr. King was a civil rights leader, yes; but before that, and at the foundation of everything, he was a believer. We are reminded on his national holiday about the importance of our churches and religion for our nation. Religion is not merely a private good, we need it to survive, to protect justice, human dignity, the common good, and to foster peace. We are reminded that faith in a good God, a God of mercy and truth and justice, who is greater than we are, is why dreams arise in human hearts. It is why the demons in our deserts (individually and collectively) can be cast out.
It has been almost 54 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream—a dream that still has force, and a dream that is still to be fully realized. But, I would submit that God wants us all to dream with the help of the Spirit that has been poured out upon us. To look at the deserts and dream of orchards. The deserts within us, and the deserts around us. We begin by letting God into whatever “desert” exists in my own heart; where hatred, selfishness, bitterness, or cynicism still reside. Most all of us still need to be more completely converted. Most of us still have a patch of desert somewhere in our heart.
From there we look at the “deserts” around us: in our families, our neighborhoods, our nation and our world. The residue of sin and injustice remains:
• People of color still face discrimination, but also apathy from those who can and should help them;
• Immigrants and their families live in fear and uncertainty over their future;
• The unwanted unborn child and the unwanted elderly person, along with the many unwanted poor and imprisoned are deemed disposable and a burden;
I read this week in a news story that the eight richest people in the world have as much wealth as half the population of the world; the poorest half, the 3 ½ billion who survive on roughly two dollars a day! Think of that. These are some of the deserts within and without.
We will always need good plans, but more than that, we need dreams which are inspired by the Spirit of God. “Then will the desert become an orchard . . .”
(This column was compiled from excerpts of Bishop Johnston’s homily on Jan. 16, 2017 at Saint Monica Church.).