Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
February 28, 2016
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning I have a message for you about expectations.
We all have expectations and expectations are placed on all of us. From the time we are little through adulthood, different expectations are placed on us by our families and as we grow we, too, place expectations on ourselves and develop expectations of other people, places, and things.
Attending seminary, I had certain expectations. I expected to learn a lot about the Bible and learn how to be a good minister. What I did not expect was to feel so overwhelmed and lacking in knowledge. The more I learned the more I realized how little I knew. I did not expect to feel so lacking in knowledge and to even question my own faith.
Questioning, that is where we meet John the Baptist today. John the Baptist is in prison when he raises the question, the same question that others people are also wondering, is Jesus “the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Luke 7:19). Meaning is Jesus the Messiah?
John’s question is essentially about Jesus’ messiahship. But why is he asking or questioning?
We are told in the Gospel of Mark that: “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:4-8).
John’s ministry was very different from that of Jesus. Just picture him wearing camel’s hair and leather belt around his waist, probably unshaven a wilderness man after all. He also ate locusts and wild honey, which was with keeping with the Jewish Kosher laws. Now compare that to Jesus who was a carpenter by trade, must have looked “normal” and ate, worked and healed people on the Sabbath, not at all keeping with Jewish laws and customs. They are two very different individuals.
John’s proclamation, his ministry, involved three main elements: 1) a warning of imminent judgment at the hands of the Coming One, 2) a call for repentance in the light of the coming kingdom of heaven and 3) a demand to express this repentance in the form of baptism. But he also was constantly pointing to the one “who is far greater than I am” (Mark 1:7). John sees himself as the preparer for Jesus. John is preparing the way.
By preparing the way, John is on the lookout for the coming messiah. When he hears about Jesus he sends his followers to ask “are you the one who is to come?” Jesus does not give a simple answer, no he does not say simply, “yes, I am the Messiah”. Instead he says, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” (Luke 7:22)
Go tell what you have seen and heard.
What must John have been thinking? His followers come back telling him what they saw and heard but it is nothing like his ministry. Jesus is outside of John’s expectations.
Expectations, I recently heard the quote, “expectations are planned disappointments.” Right now the NFL is holding their national combine. The combine is when young men, who hope to be drafted by the league are going through drills, being tested, measured, reviewed and stacked up against each other. Expectations are running high. Data from the last two decades indicate that 1 out of 3 first or second round picks will be a bust.
Do you remember a player in 2000 whose expert expectations were fairly low? Let me jog your memory, he became the back-up for Drew Bledsoe, yup Tom Brady. The expectations for him were so low he was selected in the second to last round of the NFL draft, behind 198 other players. He did not fit the expectations of an elite NFL quarterback, his 40 yard dash time was slow, his arm was not strong enough and he was deemed not to meet the expectations of being a successful NFL quarterback. Well we all know how that turned out.
That is the funny thing about expectations, they are what others believe, and expectations come from the outside. Jesus did not fit the expectations of the public. He was expected to come and save the people, to rebuild Jerusalem, to be a king and overthrow the oppressors with strength and might. Yet, Jesus came preaching a gospel of forgiveness and love. When asked, what is the greatest commandment? Jesus responds “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Jesus did not fit expectations. John the Baptist, a prophet anointed by God and validated by Jesus, had expectations of how God would come into this world as the Messiah. Even John questioned if Jesus was the Messiah.
We too have expectations of God. When things go right we expect that God had a hand in them and we praise and thank God. When things go terribly wrong we question God and ask why did this happen? We expect God to work on our behalf, we believe God will work in the way we expect. Yet the truth is we do not know how or why God acts. I believe God is not a master puppeteer controlling all of humanity. I believe God is here walking with us through all the good and bad times. That is my expectation of God and our expectations are just that, ours.
John the Baptist also had expectations of how God would react, and he too was mistaken and questioned God. Are you “the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Luke 7:19). John questioned God’s actions and we too question God’s actions.
Seminary proved to be a great test of faith. Some of my classmates changed denominations from UCC to Baptist, from UUA or UCC etc. And some of my classmates left seminary and lost faith in God. We all came in with expectations of seminary and how God responds and reacts. Some of what we heard and saw met our expectations, while other things we heard and saw challenged us and was in no way what we expected to find.
My classmates and I were like the people following John, who went to Jesus and asked are you the one? And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7:22-23).
“Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Jesus knew he was not what people expected and that he might offend some. Offend people in the way he taught, offend in the way he ate, dressed, and acted. Jesus did not fit the people’s expectations and he knew it. But again expectations are what we, the outsiders, place on another.
Jesus came to break expectations, he came to give comfort, to heal, to give sight to the blind, to make the lame walk, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hear again, to raise the dead and most importantly to bring the good news. Jesus is greater than our expectations.
Like John the Baptist, we have to set aside our expectations of God and others, for God is bigger than you or me. We have to believe in what we have seen and heard, we are called to live in the present. Our expectations are just that, our expectations and they really hold no weight. To be touched by God, to be blessed we must take no offense at Jesus. Once we realize that God and Jesus respond in ways we cannot and will not expect, in ways that are bigger than us, and may even offend us, then we too can become closer to God; for we are blessed if we are not offended by such a Messiah.
Have faith my friends in what you see and hear.