Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Expectations

Sermon Delivered July 15, 2012
2 Samuel 6:1-5
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:1-13

Our readings today have a lot of expectations in them, both implied and obvious. The idea of expectations reminds me of a joke about opinions. Opinions (or expectations) are like arm pits – we all have them, and some of them stink! It’s true. Hard to believe – I know – but not everything that I want or expect to happen is going to happen. Not everything that I expect to happen, even the things that should happen – good things, great things – are the right thing or even the likely thing to happen.

That is not a bad thing. It is not necessarily a good thing, either. It’s just the way things work. Even the Rolling Stones knew it. Mick Jagger sang [though I will not as I do not have the moves like Jagger], “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you’ll find you get what you need!” That’s true, but I’m not sure that it’s the best theology. At least, it’s not a complete witness. It’s still pretty dependent on me and my actions.

That's a lot to expect of me, and probably not enough of an expectation of the active presence of God. Fortunately our scripture readings have a little bit more to say about that. The whole procession of the Ark of the Covenant is filled with expectations that are being broken and fulfilled together. Safeguards are taken to ensure the Ark’s transport. They have a new cart, a host family, and a parade of lavish excess to honor God and inspire the people. David is dancing like a fool and leading all of Israel in what seems like the original flash mob.

For those who do not know what a flash mob is, it is kind of like a dance group that shows up unannounced in a public place to do a routine like one you might see in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There was a really funny commercial a while back demonstrating our need for a particular phone company's faster than thought services by showing a flash mob dancer who did not get the last minute updated start time. So he throws off his coat to reveal his uniform and starts dancing while everyone just looks at him. He ends with the proclamation, “We are...!” Which only adds insult to the injury of his solo performance. The result is an epic flash mob fail – expectations unmet, broken, and shattered – the end.

The funny thing is, if you read further into the uncomfortable space after David begins to dance, you find that David’s expectations are also unmet. Uzzah – driving the special, new cart with his brother Ahio – tries to steady the Ark when the Oxen stumble, and God strikes him dead.

What? Party over. Special dance moves overshadowed. Expectations unmet. David then chooses Obed-edom’s house to stash the Ark, because he sure isn’t taking that puppy home. It does make me wonder. How were these host families chosen? Were they war heroes? Were they allies? Did they draw straws or cast lots?

I guess it really doesn’t matter. They were called, and they came. Obed-edom was blessed while Uzah’s father, Abinadad, mourned. David realized that the Ark was not only a source of suffering but also blessing, and he brought it home – dancing even more wildly this time in a linen Ephod. If you don’t know what that is, I can tell you that I am much more comfortable (and so are you) to stand before you in a linen Alb than an Ephod.

Saul’s daughter, Michal, confronts him about this very issue, telling him he is an embarrassment to the crown and to his people. Kings do not behave in such a way as this. No one will respect him. David tells her that he is not doing it for anyone else. He is doing it for God, and not only that, but he will “make himself yet more contemptible than this” to glorify God.

Suddenly I am reminded of the bold preacher who once had this conversation at the door. The congregant said, “Pastor, I really didn’t get anything out of worship today.” The preacher replied, “Good! We weren’t worshiping you!”

As confrontational as that sounds, it is the reality we must face every Sunday. We all have expectations of the service. When little things don’t happen the way we want them to it distracts us. We loose focus. We forget that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. That is why you came here in the first place, right?

Each of us walks through those doors with different experiences, but the same expectation. We expect God to be here. We expect to find meaning for the difficulties we face or to give thanks for the blessings we have received! We expect healing, wholeness, and transformation. Maybe you don’t realize that is what you are doing.

Maybe those words – healing, wholeness, and transformation – make you feel like the freshman student who just walked into the wrong class (been there, done that). Maybe you are just here because it is what you normally do. Maybe you’ve never thought about it, and you are here because this is your family of faith, the community in which you experience and express love and forgiveness.

All of these are OK, as long as we do not forget about the One who called us together and the claim upon our lives as adopted children of God through Jesus Christ. Curious word, that is - adopted. Paul uses that in our text today and also in his letter to the Romans. The thing I think most interesting about it is not what we stand to inherit but the fact that adoption requires us to be – at some point – orphaned. To receive God's grace requires us to be in a state of need.

And so in the midst of grace and mercy and blessing and cursing we find what we expect – Uzzah must die in the service of the Ark of the Covenant. In the rejection of Jesus in our Gospel text we find what we expect – Jesus can do nothing to help those who do not want his help. Not only that, but their rejection spurs him on to send out his disciples as vulnerable prophets to be blessed and cursed, to heal and to protest against disbelief. Isn’t that what we expect, that God uses suffering and adversity to prove our need of grace?

Maybe, but I do not think the God who plans to “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” needs suffering to prove that we are chosen, holy, and beloved. I think suffering simply is. Suffering is part of living as limited creatures, and God was every bit as present for Uzzah’s family as God was for Obed-Edom’s. And God is every bit as present in the crack house down the street as God is in this sanctuary. God is present when expectations are met, for good or for ill, and God is present when expectations are not met, for good or for ill.

And so it comes down to this – who are you in the Gospel reading that we have shared? What do you expect out of Jesus? What do you expect out of God? How do our expectations impact God’s power to heal and transform?

According to the text, seeing Jesus as only the son of Joseph limits our understanding of who and what Jesus is about. At the same time, thinking of Jesus as an unlimited Superhuman is also misleading. Jesus performs miracles in community, not on a stage but rather in the context of relationships. But even with the limitations of free will and acceptance, Jesus still heals. Somebody is always in need, and so Jesus always offers healing.

Not only that, Jesus expects us to become vulnerable so that we can offer healing and forgiveness and receive the same transformation that we are offering others. Ask anyone who has served dinners for meals on wheels, or spent hours on end sorting materials for our basket ministry, or made meals for students at the Wesley, or sung anthems, or read liturgy, or ushered, or any number of private and personal witnesses that come from the lives of those sitting to your left and your right, and I bet you will find that (most of the time) they get more out of it than they put into it.

In the very least, our service to others in the name of Christ is a labor of love, and love transforms everything it touches – not into mushy, gushy butterflies and bunnies – but into a life of awareness. Love transforms your life into a life filled with the expectation that God is working to redeem all things, and you and I are a part of that project.

And at the end of the day, we who are sent out to love in Christ’s name must know that we cannot expect everyone to love us back. Some say that no one, except Jesus, knew this better than Mother Theresa of Calcutta. These words are painted on the wall in her home for children - based on the Paradoxical 10 Commandments by Kent M. Keith.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

Beloved of God, through Jesus Christ you are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. You may expect God to be present in all things. You may even be expected to offer God’s presence in some things. In all things, know that God is with you, transforming you and fashioning you into that which God had in mind for you from the beginning. That is my expectation, and I pray that it might be yours as well, and to God be the glory in this and all things. Amen.
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