19 March 2010

Dream dreams and seek God’s will

Georges de La Tour, Appearance of Angel to Saint Joseph, also called The Song of Saint Joseph, ca 1640, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

Patrick Comerford


Our opening piece this evening is not a conventional hymn, canticle or psalm.

I have chosen the poem and song by Leonard Cohen, If it be you will.

I chose this for a radio interview recorded for next Sunday evening. For we must all listen to what God’s will is for us … whether we are here to explore and test a call to ordained ministry, whether we are here as a facilitator, whether we are here as visitors or as members of the staff, we must constantly be awake to listening to God’s promptings, God’s leading, God’s hopes and dreams for us.

We are all here this weekend to explore and revel in the exploration of God’s will for our future in ministry … even to dream about that future.

Along the way, in this process, there can be great joy. And there can be disappointments too.

But if that’s God’s will, so be it …

Earlier today, at the Eucharist in this chapel, we remembered Joseph of Nazareth. He too must have been disappointed at first each time round … disappointed with Mary, disappointed with having to get up and move, disappointed with exile, disappointed with a life back in the provinces.

But each time he listened not to his own ambitions, but to God’s call.

And so, let’s hear what a poet and singer has to say about listening to God’s promises, God’s dreams, God’s will:

If It Be Your Will

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will
If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will.


Genesis 50: 22-26; Matthew 2: 13-23.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Saint Joseph is one of the most enigmatic characters in the Gospel stories. He appears in both Saint Matthew’s Gospel – in our Gospel readings today– and in Saint Luke’s Gospel, but not in either Saint Mark’s or Saint John’s Gospel. And after Mary and Joseph return from Jerusalem to Nazareth with the Child Jesus, Joseph disappears from the stage again.

The Gospels are silent when it comes to the details of Joseph: we know not where or when he was born nor do we know where or when he died. Was he married before? Was he an older man? Was he the father of the brothers of Jesus – James, Joses, Judas and Simon – from an earlier marriage? Did he live on into old age? We do not know.

We don’t even know what he worked at: Joseph was a “τεκτων” – we usually translate this as carpenter, but the Greek word means he could have been a builder, a stone-worker, a building engineer, an architect … we don’t know

And if the Gospels are silent about the intimate details of Joseph, then Joseph too is silent in the Gospels. I sometimes thought Joseph was the worst part to play in the school nativity play … a walk-on part, but no lines to say.

All we know about Joseph is that he lived in Nazareth in Galilee before the birth of Christ (Luke 2: 4).

Joseph doesn’t speak. Instead, Joseph dreams and Joseph listens.

He listens to the angel who tells him not to divorce Mary (Matthew 1: 20-21), and does what the angel of the Lord tells him (Matthew 1: 24).

When the law commands it, Joseph takes his pregnant wife to Bethlehem (Luke 2: 4), and the child is born there.

After the birth of Christ, Joseph listens to an angel in another dream – and, silently, he does as he is told, and without mumbling or grumbling gets up and takes the Mother and Child into Egypt (Matthew 2: 13-14).

When Herod dies, Joseph is told by the angel in yet another dream to return with Mary and Jesus from Egypt (Matthew 2: 19-21).

Then Joseph learns in a fourth dream that Herod Archelaus is in power in Judea, and he is warned in a dream to move to Galilee. And so, Joseph, Mary and the Christ Child move to Nazareth (Matthew 2: 21-23).

The last time Joseph appears is when the family visits the Temple in Jerusalem at Passover, when Jesus is about 12 (Luke 2: 41-52).
When the Gospel writers resume telling the story of Christ’s life, after the hidden years, Mary is present at some events, but there is no mention ever again of Joseph.

Did he hear Jesus preach in the synagogue?

Did he see him heal?

Was he too at the Wedding at Cana?

Well, we don’t know.

Unlike Joseph in the Old Testament, whose death and burial provide that dramatic end to the first Book of the Bible, Genesis, we have no Biblical account of the death and burial of Joseph of Nazareth.

Like Joseph in Genesis, Joseph in the Gospels is a dreamer. Most dreamers are good on ideas but weak on delivery – dreamers but not doers. Yet Joseph of Nazareth is both a dreamer and a doer.

What if Joseph had rolled over and had another 40 winks after each of those dreams?

What if Joseph said No at each turn?

At different times, we’ve all pondered Mary’s potential “No” at each turn. But, what if Joseph said No, had divorced Mary, left Jesus to be brought up by a single mother?

What if Joseph decided to stay at home and Jesus was born in Nazareth?

What if Joseph had ignored the warning and stayed on in Bethlehem, so that the new-born child was found by Herod’s troops hunting down all the new-born children?

What if Mary and Jesus moved back from Egypt to Bethlehem or Jerusalem, and became victims of the murderous schemes of Herod Archelaus?

What if Joseph and Mary had failed to find the teenage Jesus when he got lost in the Temple?

What if?

We often think that dreamers need to take their heads out of the clouds and get their feet back firmly on the ground. We often think that those who have little to say have little to contribute.

Joseph proves how wrong we can be. Joseph is a dreamer and Joseph is a doer. Joseph plays a key role in the great story of salvation.

Does it matter what he does afterwards? No.

It just matters that he – and we too -- listen to God’s call and do what God is asking to do, go where God is asking us to go. And then we can leave the rest to Jesus.

And so, may all we think, say and do be the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Closing Blessing:

Dream dreams,
Follow dreams,
Listen to voices that are true,
Sing to God,
Let his praises ring,
And whatever God’s will for you may be,
May the blessings of God Almighty,
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Be with you now and evermore, Amen.


Dream dreams, sing songs, let God’s will be your will,
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These reflections were shared at a Service of the Word in the institute chapel on Saint Joseph’s Day, 19 March 2010, during ‘Fit for Purpose,’ a residential introductory weekend for the Foundation Course.

No comments: