Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Like those who dream, by the Rev. Joel Boyd
Edited & formatted for publication by J. Tucker, MPH
November 21, 2021
Psalm 26 (NRSV)1
1Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
2Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind.
3For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.
4I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites;
5I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.
6I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O LORD,
7singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.
8O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.
9Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty,
10those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes.
11But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the LORD.
What is a dream? Typically, it is something that [happens] while we are asleep, where pictures, scenarios, and even music combine in unique and wildly unexpected ways, perhaps from our subconscious.
Now if you ask Google, believe it or not, the first item listed isn’t even a definition; it’s a 22-year-old American gamer, YouTuber, and Twitch streamer who creates content [on] Minecraft. Not sure why that is important? Dream has 4.4 million followers on Twitter and 27.2 million subscribers on YouTube. And while this may not speak much to any of us not connected to these social media platforms, I should point out that Dream has an estimated net worth of between $13.67 and $19.14 million. It’s also worth highlighting that surveys have shown that there are tons of people who like Dream; there are also tons who don’t. So, living “the dream” isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
After you scroll past the gamer business, you eventually find a dictionary definition of the word “dream”; it’s not even on the landing page. Merriam-Webster defines dream as a series of thoughts, visions, or feelings that happen during sleep. It lists two other definitions: an idea or vision that is created in your imagination and that is not real. And, something that you have wanted very much to do, be, or have for a long time.
You may have had a bad dream and wake to blame it on last night’s dinner. Or perhaps you have dreamed something up and that curtain really isn’t a ghost. But we’ve all experienced things like that, and after all, they’re fleeting in the end.
The third one, however, [is] something that really rolls around inside us, gaining steam as the years go by right up until the time we stick the landing: you nearly cry as you look upon the published version of your first book.
Big or small, dreams mean something. They mean something to us, to our family and friends, to those whom we deeply love, and they mean something to God as well.
Psalm 126 is one of the Songs of Ascents, or songs for pilgrims on their journey. Travels in those ancient times could be perilous. One misplaced step would send you tumbling down the edge of the path, not only to injury but to a place without doctors. And there were thieves along the way, and the elements, including the scorching heat of the desert sun. Pilgrims would have no shortage of things to pray about. These Songs of Ascents, these psalms, would have given great comfort to the anxious heart on pilgrimage.
In Psalm 126, the psalmist essentially prays a prayer of thanksgiving. But thanksgiving for what? Or to whom?
While some translations render the opening verse as, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion.” (E.g., the NRSV or ESV.1,2) Others say, “When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion.” (E.g., the NASB.3) Either way, we see already who the main actor is: God. So it is God who does something here.
Scholars have suggested that the “return” referred to here is the return of captives previously exiled to Babylon. This would mean the psalm voices praise to God for having delivered the people of Zion (i.e., the Israelites), returning them, as the fortune of Zion.
When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting; Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; We are joyful.
Our mouth, note, not my mouth, not even our mouths, but our mouth was filled with laughter. The Psalmist shows us that it is not a response of one person or of a group of individuals, but rather, it is a response from many united as one: our mouth.
A united people, formerly exiled and lands far away from home, have been returned by God, and these people are happy about it. They’re so happy they laugh, shout joyfully, and rather than keep it to themselves, they “said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; We are joyful.
As if just having arrived from a collective kidnapping, the people of God share the news of their deliverance to many beyond their own group, they share the good news to the nations. Yet why? Why do we think they might have done so? Shouldn’t they be careful and keep a low profile? They wouldn’t want to attract any unwanted attention, certainly, they didn’t want to go back to Babylon. And yet, despite all this, they do share the good news of their deliverance. The people of God tell of the Lord’s greatness far and wide, they say they’re happy, and they don’t seem concerned or worried in the least.
But now we come to the challenging part. Though the first verse of this Psalm appears to state a response in connection to an act already accomplished by God, v. 4 seems to confuse that discernment a bit.
Restore our fortunes, Lord, As the streams in the South.
Now, this sounds like the Psalmist, the praying pilgrim, is speaking of an event, a deliverance, yet to come.
The streams of the South, or of the Negev, as some translations have, recall the image of a parched, cracking, dry soil found in the summertime desert. Though that may not be all that difficult to picture, something that doesn’t necessarily come as easily to mind is that “stream” referred to by the Psalmist. Much like we see a river or stream dry up in the summer heat, Israel and many of the other surrounding nations would have what is called a wadi, where water flows in cooler months but yet is gone in the rising heat of summer. In fact, I’ve seen and even swam in a wadi myself, when I had a brief experience in the Sultanate of Oman on the Arabian Peninsula, where it may surprise you to learn there are churches—Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches, all within Muslim-majority monarchies. The waters of a wadi almost look unreal, like a dream, as they shimmer in bright blues and greens nestled into the cracked, rugged terrain, which was otherwise not particularly easy to navigate. But there was this wadi, a beautiful gift for those who thirst and long for safe passage amid treacherous surroundings.
I suppose that we can grasp onto what the Psalmist has painted for us in connecting the petitioning pray for deliverance and restoration to that which quenches thirst, provides great comfort, and promises safety as well as true cleansing.
Perhaps the first part of this Psalm isn’t really about something that has happened anyway. Maybe it’s more like remembering the beauty of something even before it has taken place, like when you can hardly contain your excitement in remembering all the gifts you asked for on Christmas. It could be expected joy, but not just any kind, rather, the expected joy which comes in knowing that the one you placed your trust in is gonna come through. Big time.
Restore our fortunes, Lord, As the streams in the South. Those who sow in tears shall harvest with joyful shouting. One who goes here and there weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
And here’s our Harvest Sunday.
In his book The Case for the Psalms, scholar, author, and former Anglican bishop, The Right Rev. N.T. Wright, D.D, writes of the 126th Psalm, “Seedtime and harvest are themselves […] one of the central ways in which we stand at the corner between the matter of the old world, sown in sorrow and fear, and the matter of the new, reaped in triumph and joy. […] Seedtime and harvest, like day and night, are built into the present creation as signposts, indications that the God who made the world has new purposes yet to be unveiled.”4
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Friends, there are so many things which we may dream about in this life. Whether we are awake or not is no matter. We may dream of such relatively mundane things like fun vacations, and being done with a test, or we may dream of soul-stirring things like being accepted for who we are, having a place to sleep the night or a country to live in, a job, safety, or that deep longing for God to show us and guide us on the next steps on an unknown, uncertain future. God hears our prayer and knows how to deliver us, but God also knows how to aim us after we’ve been restored. May this Thanksgiving not only be about the gratitude we have for all we have received but also about the exciting anticipation of the opportunities we [must] bless those around us.
All glory to God in Christ. AMEN.
- Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.
- Crossway. The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version). Crossway Bibles; 2016.
- Lockman Foundation. New American Standard Bible. 2020th ed. Zondervan; 2021.
- Wright N. The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential. 2nd ed. HarperOne; 2016.
 That’s right; not Psalm 26 as above!