The Voices of Expectation and Rebuke

IMG_0197Audio of Sermon preached at Cairn Christian Church

Texts: Psalm 22; Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Mark 8:31-38

Will you pray with me? Holy God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

What a week it has been — another mass school shooting has rocked our nation. Seventeen children, teachers and school administrators have been killed:

Alyssa, Scott, Martin, Nicholas, Aaron, Jaime, Chris, Luke, Cara, Gina, Joaquin, Alaina, Meadow, Helena, Alex, Carmen, and Peter.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken us? Their families and communities mourn even as we, a nation, mourn their needless deaths.

Enough. Never Again. Not one more! I want to say these words and believe them, but the truth is, I don’t. I expect another mass shooting to happen. In a movie theater. In a church. At a military base. In a school. Not if, but when. My God, my God! I expect it to happen. I expect things to stay the same.

I’m going to shift gears, but will come back to this week’s school shooting. Today’s sermon might better be titled the voice of expectation. See, I have been learning a lot about expectation lately. Last year included 40 weeks of expectation — like Noah’s 40 days and nights of rain, the Israelites 40 years in the desert, or Jesus’ 40 days of temptation. I spent 40 weeks expecting. And the birth of our child is only the beginning of parental expectation: we usually expect a boy or a girl (though genitalia are imperfect indicators of gender, and we know that boy and girl are not gender’s only categories); we expect a healthy baby, a smooth birth, typical development, and resemblance to at least one parent. Even before a child is born, we begin to tell stories about their life — we build expectations about who they will be, how they will be, what they will do, or like or be – Cora is definitely going to be a baseball fan who enjoys the outdoors. I do not expect her to be an Olympic athlete or a Hollywood movie star or a famous musician. How quickly we construct a whole life of expectation for our beloved little ones — I’ve done it for Cora. Those 40 weeks of expectation are only the beginning.

And of course, it’s not just our little one that we have expectations of – there are our expectations of ourselves, our partners, our parents, our communities.…. Whew! But expectations are dangerous things – they are resentments under construction.

In today’s gospel story, the disciples find Jesus contradicting their expectations of the promised Messiah. Jesus has just asked his disciples: “who do YOU say that I am?” To which Peter answers: “You are the Messiah.” Jesus’ ragtag band of disciples are finally beginning to grasp Jesus’ true identity. So Jesus takes this opportunity to explain what this will mean for him: suffering, rejection by the religious leaders, and ultimately death.

But wait a minute! The disciples expect a REAL messiah – a military leader who will liberate the Jews from the tyranny of their Roman oppressors and usher in an era of peace and prosperity. Jesus has just conceded to being this long expected savior. He cannot suffer and die. This goes against all expectation.

We can almost hear the words of Peter’s rebuke: Don’t be crazy, Jesus. You are the messiah who is going to save us. Stop sowing seeds of worry among us followers just as we are beginning to believe in you!” Peter offers this rebuke from a place of human expectation, a place of fear and our very human desire to manage, mitigate and control.

Our reading from Genesis tells another story of expectation: the story of God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah. Abraham now 99 years old, already has a 13 year old son, Ishmael with Sarah’s slave woman Hagar, but God insists that 90 year old Sarah will also have a son. And here is where Abraham’s expectations come in – see, Abraham laughs at God’s pronouncement and asks himself: “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child? This is impossible. He and Sarah are too old to have children. The idea is absurd. Ridiculous. Against all expectation.

[PAUSE] Resentment is not the only danger of expectation. Expectation can also limit us – it can limit our imaginations, our sense of ourselves, our generosity, our willingness to live into our God-given gifts and abilities, our commitment to care for our community. Expectation can prevent us from responding to God’s call in our lives to follow, lead, teach, create, delight, share or love unconditionally. Fortunately for Abraham and Sarah, while their expectation may limit their imaginations, it does not seem to limit their capacity for trust and faithfulness.

Which brings us back to this week’s shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and my expectation that this is just the next mass shooting in a string of mass shootings that will continue.

I can almost hear Jesus’ response to my expectation. I can almost hear Jesus’s rebuke: “Get behind me Satan. You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” I hear Jesus’ voice of rebuke in the protests of our youth who have rallied across the country to say clearly: Enough. Not one more. I hear Jesus’ voice of rebuke lifted up by those (including our very own Debbie Haseman) who gathered this week at the capitol to lobby and agitate for common sense gun laws. I hear Jesus’ voice of rebuke in all those who are saying: let go of your expectation that this cannot change. It can. We can and will make this change happen. Join us.

Jesus’ voice of rebuke calls Peter to meet the savior who is ACTUALLY before him. It beckons Peter back to humility, back to the realization that he is not in charge. It invites Peter to receive the grace and mercy of God.

This Lenten season, I invite you to reflect on where expectation lives in your life. How are these expectations limiting you? How are they setting you up for disappointment and resentment?

Where do you hear Jesus’ voice of rebuke calling you to truth, to letting go, to courage, to standing up, to standing with?

And let us not stop there –

let us do the difficult work of letting go of our expectations,

the work of grieving that which we expected,

the work of facing the fears that live with our limiting expectations,

the work of looking, not at human things but at divine things –

God’s call to an authentic life of struggle and grace, of mistakes and mercy, of courage and joy, of steadfast love.

Rabbi Robert Levine puts it beautifully: “We realize that no one is going to come along and hand us truth, justice. We get that only in comics and in the movies, not in the real world. The real world is a messy, complicated place, where there are many hard questions, no easy answers and lots of work to do. But inside of all of us there is the capacity to live up to the potential given to us as human beings created in God’s image…. We can make the world a better place. Bring the dream of redemption a little closer.”

Thank goodness for our youth as their voice of rebuke calls us back to our senses, as they lead us in action and resistance, as they call for peace, as they say “Enough” and “Not one more.” Thank God that they are reminding us of our capacity to live up to our potential, to make the world a better place to bring the dream of redemption a little closer.

May it be so. Amen.

© 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact thandiwe@lovelanducc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.

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