NOT WHAT WE EXPECT
The Rev. Dr. Russell Rowland
September 16, 2018
IN BILL BRYSON’S BOOK, “A WALK IN THE WOODS”,
Which is now a movie starring Robert Redford--
Bryson reports that, of several thousand hikers each spring
Who set out to walk the Appalachian Trail, Georgia to Maine,
10% actually make it—90% don’t.
20% DROP OUT THE FIRST WEEK.
Three ladies from California, with expensive new gear,
Walked a mile and a half of 2,000-plus miles, before quitting.
It “wasn’t what they expected.”
Tried to set the disciples straight on the subject
Of what being his followers was going to cost them,
That, too, “wasn’t what they expected.”
THE TIP-OFF ABOUT EXPECTATIONS
Was Peter’s light-bulb-above-the-head moment:
“You are the Christ, the Messiah.”
We give Peter perhaps too much credit
For being the first to know about Jesus what we know now.
Peter still had the wrong idea about “Messiah”.
“CHRIST” AND “MESSIAH”
Both mean “the anointed one.”
To Jews of Jesus’ time, the term would refer
To a King of Israel, from the royal line of David.
PETER SAW JESUS AS THE NEXT KING.
He was imagining a strong nation again.
He saw an uprising that would end the occupation.
His heart beat fast with the coming victory.
RATHER THAN CHEERING, “RIGHT ON, PETER!
Today Jerusalem, tomorrow the world!”
Jesus burst out: “Get behind me, Satan!
That’s not the way it’s going to be.”
HE STARTED TO TALK
About suffering, rather than victory;
Death, rather than glory; faithfulness, rather than success.
INSTEAD OF THRONES,
He talked about crosses—his, Peter’s, and ours.
He talked about saving our lives by losing them.
This certainly wasn’t what they expected.
IF WE ARE TO WALK IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS,
As his disciples in our place and time,
We may need to overcome the same disconnect:
That he is, perhaps, not the Christ we were expecting.
WE SEE DISILLUSIONMENT SETTING IN,
When people enter the church, “the body of Christ,”
And find that it’s not what they expected.
PEOPLE COME TO CHURCH
To meet some spiritual need they’ve been feeling,
Fill some emptiness in their lives--
But here, they’re challenged to be disciples,
And share the hard work of mission and ministry,
Because that’s their deepest need.
OTHERS COME TO CHURCH
To escape the demands that the rest of the world
Places on their limited resources,
Only to discover that the gospel invites them
To take what they have and give to the poor--
Or, as they hear it, “the church is always asking for money!”
Seeking shelter from the polarization of our society,
In an atmosphere where “people are of one accord”--
Only to find that even church members argue.
OTHERS COME HERE
To be soothed by nostalgia for simpler times,
Embodied in Easter lilies and Christmas carols--
Only to be confronted by the bitter cup of Maundy Thursday,
And the fatal cross of Good Friday:
“Here, drink this…and carry that!”
It’s not what they were expecting.
Is really not with the church, but with the church’s Savior.
The Christian church does a passable job
Of walking the walk, and talking the talk, of its namesake.
If church is not what some people expect,
It’s largely because he is not what they expect.
IF THEY COME HERE TO FIND
“Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,”
The sight of him overturning tables in the Temple
Creates a condition called “cognitive dissonance.”
IF THEY THOUGHT HE SPENDS ALL HIS TIME
With little lambs and blonde-haired children,
The sight of him associating with lepers and prostitutes
May send them right out the door.
WHEN HE TALKS ABOUT
Pulling the mighty down from their thrones,
And sending the rich away empty,
He may be challenging their politics and investments.
WHEN HE SITS THEM DOWN
And requires forgiveness of enemies,
As well as prayer for those who persecute us,
He stands in direct conflict
With the ethos of “an eye for an eye.”
IT COMES DOWN TO THIS:
A Savior who can save us from ourselves,
A Savior who will save us for himself,
Who will never let us down, never let us go,
And never let us off the hook,
Is still somehow the last thing we expect.
HE WILL ALWAYS HAVE
Different plans for us than we have for ourselves.
He will always have different plans for our children,
Than anything we planned or wished for them.
He will always have different plans for the church
Than our plans—because it is his church, not ours.
THAT’S WHAT IT REALLY MEANS,
To name him the Christ, the Anointed One--
We are frankly, humbly calling him
The One we didn’t expect.
AND HERE, I THINK,
We uncover a definite difference
Between “Christian religion,” and “faith in Christ.”
AS A RELIGION, CHRISTIANITY IS PREDICTABLE.
The Bible is right there in black and white.
I can tell you, right now, which lectionary passages
I will preach about, six months from today.
You know the hymns we will sing for Christmas and Easter.
We can plan, a year in advance, what supplies to order
For Advent, for Lent, for Communion Sunday.
BUT “FAITH IN CHRIST”
Is totally and unsettlingly unpredictable.
To follow Jesus is to expect the unexpected.
We cannot, for instance, anticipate the earthquake
In China, or the typhoon in Indonesia,
For which we will be asked to donate humanitarian aid,
In the name of Jesus Christ.
WE NEVER KNOW AHEAD OF TIME
What divisive issues, facing our nation,
May need to be looked at from a faith perspective,
Rather than that of competing self-interests.
WE CAN’T PREDICT IN ADVANCE
Which friend, neighbor, or fellow member
Will die unexpectedly, or get bad test results.
We don’t know who we will be praying for tomorrow,
Let alone next Sunday.
IT’S EASIER TO FORECAST THE WEATHER
Than to anticipate the new directions God may call us,
As individuals and as a congregation,
As we live out our baptisms, in service to others.
WHEN PETER HEARS
The unexpected, not entirely welcome news
About suffering and crucifixion,
And blurts out, “No, Lord, this will never happen to you,”
With the unspoken addendum, “This will never happen to me,”
He has no way of knowing that someday it will happen to him--
His choice, freely made, to take up his own cross,
And follow his Master on the hard road to glory.
SALVATION FROM AIMLESSNESS AND SIN,
The whole world starting over again God’s way,
Nations not learning war any more,
No hunger, crying, or pain any more--
It’s not what any of us expects…
Except the One by whose name we are called.
Our Savior doesn’t just expect it—he expects it of us.
I REMIND YOU, DEAR FRIENDS,
Who could have gone many places this morning,
But chose to come here, to gather in his name,
That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
But what that means, for Peter and for us,
May not always be what we expect.
AND I HOPE,
As your partner in hearing and living the gospel,
That isn’t exactly what you were expecting me to say!