What Were You Expecting? 2013/06/09 Luke 7:11-35
Fred was excited about a job interview for a position advertised to make a lot of dough. When he got to the address he was given, it was a bakery.
The Jewish people hoped for a Messiah, a Christ, an Anointed One of God, sent by God to free them from their oppressors. When Jesus asked John’s disciples what they expected to see, it was a loaded question. John expected someone coming with power. Instead of power, Jesus offered healing. His comments would have surprised them as much as hitting myself with the cover for the opening above surprised me, and probably hurt as much.
When God is involved, expectations often collide with realities. A mother expected to bury her son. John’s disciples and the crowd expected to hear Jesus was their anticipated Messiah. Religious leaders thought God’s agents would be like them. Instead, they got John and Jesus.
And expectations continue to collide with reality. When the United Church of Canada was inaugurated 88 years ago tomorrow, it was expected to be a cornerstone of the evolving country of Canada, the only church created by an act of parliament in Canada, and an evangelical church working for the unity of all Christians. The membership of the UCC has declined as a percentage of the Canadian population ever since. We are among the organizations that failed to make a significant connection with the people born after 1968, even the children of people who belonged to the United Church. When the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches became involved in residential schools, they expected to help those children have better lives.
Their definition of better, shaped by the paternalistic and arrogant attitudes of Europeans, was only partly right, and we are living with the consequences of the attitudes of that time, attitudes that persist. From first contact with North Americans, Europeans and their descendants continue to see aboriginal peoples are obstacles to our use of the land as we see fit. This attitude is revealed in many of the comments that continue to be made about aboriginal peoples. Many of us are extremely critical of First Nations people, even when we are ignorant of most of the truth about them. Our superior Western values and knowledge created a country where hundreds of thousands of people go hungry every day even though we have an abundance of food; a country where there are hundreds of dangerously polluted locations including the Giant gold mine, and close to 1.5 million people are unemployed even though there is a need for their labour and gifts. People in First Nations communities only went hungry when everyone was hungry, and everyone had access to a productive role in the community. Maybe it is time we examined more closely their values and their systems of organization so we can work for a world that is better for our children. First Nations Day is Friday, June 21, inviting us to consider our attitudes and behaviours.
This brings us back to Jesus. In his society, the exercise of power by leaders was seen as the way to build and maintain good societies. Unfortunately, we still cling to this myth. He saw that good societies are built on people who are in good relationship with themselves, with each other, and with God. When asked if he was the one for whom they were waiting, his reply deflected the question by pointing to the healing of individuals and of society.
He came on behalf of the empire of God, an empire where everything is turned upside down according to the perceptions of that time, and our time.
Key to that upside down world is that God loves us first and invites us to pursue right relationships, and God’s love persists even when we choose other paths, or fail on that path. We are called to put love ahead of revenge, justice and western logic. God invites us to put relationships ahead of wealth and power. How do we do that?
We have expectations, and we have aspirations: things we expect to happen, and things we hope will happen. If our aspirations are in tune with God’s laws, we will succeed. Trust in the laws God put in place for creation. Jesus understood those laws, and his directions point to a way of life that is in tune with those laws. This collides with the expectations of most of us that we can do things our way, and that we will be able to fix any mistakes we make along the way. Our way fails in the things that matter most, as is too obvious looking around the world today.
I leave you with three questions. What are you expecting to happen here over the coming year or years? What are your aspirations for this church, what would you like to happen? What are you prepared to do to make your hopes a reality? As you consider those questions, do so confident in God’s love and laws.