Expectations

Expectations are funny things.

It is my expectation, every time I get behind the wheel of a car, that everyone else on the road will be following the same set of rules – speed limits, directional signs, no parking, and so on.  Expectations like these are met more often than not, because they can be enforced; fail in these expectations, and you’re apt to get a ticket.

There is another type of expectation; unenforceable, but emotionally powerful.  Every time the world’s athletes gather for an Olympic games, we heap expectations on those who ‘represent us’ in competition; and hearts are broken – surprises emerge – and over and over again, coaches, officials, and countless ‘on-screen experts’ ask us to consider the power and problem of expectations.

For true fans of any sport, the expectation is victory; for glory, for national pride; for the sheer joy of the celebrations, many of us have high expectations.  The athletes expect much of themselves too, which is what makes the games exciting.  And their hope that all will play by the rules – that the only difference between them will be the intensity of their training and the depth of their desire – has many of them searching for a spiritual edge, either from personal devotion or general superstition.  Religion is not a banned substance, and expectations are funny things.

Jesus help is often sought in sport, especially when the stakes are high.  Athlete’s bless themselves before and after their events – the Fijian Rugby team celebrated their gold medal by singing (in harmony) a praise song – there is often intense religious sentiment among elite competitors, and having endured a fairly regular diet of this since the games began, I wonder if this morning’s gospel might be slightly adapted…

“Do you think that I have come to bring you victory…?”  This might be stretching the point a bit, but it has me wondering if Jesus lives up to our expectations.  In Luke’s telling, the answer would be a resounding NO.

“I come to bring fire to the earth…”

– what’s that Jesus?

“I wish it were kindled…” –

hang on, Jesus, what about the peaceable kingdom –

the nation restored in glory…

“Do you think that I have come to bring Peace to the earth?” –

well, yes – yes we did.

“Not peace , but division!”  Not victory, but challenge.  Not ease or prosperity, but empathy and compassion.  Our expectations of Jesus take a serious hit when we read and consider passages like this.  Gone are our memories of the Christ child – the Prince of Peace shouldn’t talk like this, should he?

**********

Jesus found himself among a people with soaring expectations.  They longed for liberation from the Romans; for the restoration of the monarchy and their national pride.  Some expected Jesus himself to lead the revolution; so when Jesus talks of a fire to be kindled, and a Baptism for which he is impatient, it would be easy to imagine that he has accepted the mantle of revolutionary – that the warrior king had finally come.  But the peace that the people hunger for is not the absence of war, but the humiliation of their enemies; eye for an eye diplomacy.

Jesus scolds the people for not being able to ‘read the signs’ – is it possible that he recognizes that Rome will not be conquered my internal rebellion?  Their expectations of success are delusions; the empire is too powerful.  Division is the result of Jesus insistence on a different kind of peace – a peace that ‘loves your enemies and prays for those who persecute you…”

Some who hear this passage would speak of sacrifices that must be made for faith; families torn apart over the choice to follow in the way of Jesus.  Some would consider this kind of sacrifice – the division of families – as the cross that must be borne in order to call yourself a Christian.  Now I happen to believe that God does not ask us to choose between faith and family, but God regularly challenge the expectations that we hold out for our faith – and that is how I hear Jesus words this morning.

Surrounded by sayings that call us to trust God; challenged by passages that encourage the faithful to be well prepared, because God operates without regard to our schedules – our expectations; this talk of division is prediction rather than requirement.  Jesus knows our every weakness, says the old hymn – he knows that our expectations can be the ruin of us – setting us up for disappointment and disaster; so those who read the signs differently – the three who see retribution coming by God’s hand – will certainly be at odds with the two who imagine that God comes in mercy rather than vengeance.  In his own time the people were divided about what Jesus’ teaching meant for the future of God’s people – the poor were set against the powerful; the righteous against the sinner – each side sure that they had found ‘the truth’ – no wonder Jesus was impatient; no wonder we have such trouble getting to the root of the gospel message.  No wonder the church is constantly trying to ‘re-invent’ itself; our expectations are killing us.

“You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky,” says Jesus, “but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”  These words challenge our expectations of faith.  The changing times require an almost constant re-evaluation of Jesus words and actions so we might apply them to life in the 21st Century.  The trust that faith brings – trust that says “it will be alright in the end’ – is a wonderful comfort, but faith also invites us to agonize over the choices that are part of our every waking moment.  Faith comes with responsibility; salvation is not the gold medal at the end of the game, but discovered day by day; moment by moment.  Jesus promise of eternal peace is secured by God’s raising him from death, but the grand prize is the ‘peace that passes understanding’ – a peace that comes when our goal is not conquest but compassion; not vengeance but justice; not prosperity but joy.  These things are ours in Christ, if only we would alter our focus – consider our expectations.  Amen.

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