*very rough draft ahead*
Expectations vs. Reality
There is a saying by Aesop that says, “Please all and you please none.” Chris Clontz over at Mt. Pleasant UMC here in Thomasville, told a story that he stood up in front of the congregation on his first Sunday and said to them, “I promise I will make all of you happy. Some of you are happy that I am here and some of you will be happy when I leave.” We live in a world that holds high expectations of its leaders. This is a good thing because leadership should be held accountable but other times it can simply be that expectations are too high.
Expectations are always high when it comes to sports. Every sports fan has huge expectations for their beloved team. Every year I want Duke Basketball to be ranked #1 and win it all. Good thing they live up to expectations! Now I am a Carolina fan as well, as long as it is the Panthers and not that other school. The Panthers this year, well, are simply horrible. As Baltimore rolls into Charlotte, they will have a nice scrimmage with a team wearing black and teal today. My other favorite team I have learned to have low expectations for and that is the Cleveland Browns. It seems like in the 80s no matter how much I wore my Bernie Kosar jersey they never could beat the Broncos. The Browns really haven’t won anything in the modern formation of the NFL. There are other teams out there that suffer from huge fan base and every year they don’t live up to their fan’s expectations. Chicago Cubs ring a bell. Until 2004 any Red Sox fans out there felt the pain as well. The LA Clippers are seen as a running joke in the NBA.
For the longest time the New Orleans Saints were seen as the Aints. They came to the NFL in 1967 and had their first winning season twenty years later. Actually in their 43 year history they have only had nine winning seasons and have gone to the playoffs only 7 times. There overall record as a team is 278-378. They have lost 100 more times than they have won. I felt bad for Saint fans as they wore brown paper bags over their heads during games with huge amount of empty seats in the Super Dome. The last year happened. They seemed to have an unstoppable offence and Drew Brees was on fire. Sure enough the finally did the unthinkable and won the Super Bowl last year against Payton Manning and the relentless Colts. It seems that if you are a fan long enough your team will finally live up to your expectations.
Expectations are a good thing to have. Studies have shown that children do better in school if adults have some sort of expectation placed upon them. They learn very quickly that if no one cares, then there is no use in doing anything. Expecting people to do the right thing is always good too. To be treated fairly when you have to take your care in, or when a repair man comes to your house is something we all expect. But we get in trouble when our expectations and reality face off against one another.
As an owner of the combined 30 pounds of fur that call the parsonage home I have learned cats are a prime example of a collision between expectations and reality. When Alycia and I start to get ready for bed we go through our nightly rituals of turning off lights in the house. Usually there are lights on in the kitchen once they are turned off you have the deadly walk back to the bedroom. Even if all the kids toys are put up this walk is still deadly because of the two fur carpets called Kudzu and Willow. The good news is Kudzu will move if you are blindly walking towards her in the dark. Willow on the other hand is attempting to train us over time I think. One night I was walking from the kitchen to our bedroom in the dark. I was attempting to walk as carefully as possible knowing that out there in the darkness was a clawed landmine. I was a little more than half way there and I had a sense of calm. I had done it, I had gotten past Willow tonight. I started to take quicker steps and when I did I squashed a tail, a painful feline scream was heard followed quickly by a long hiss. My expectations of the cat, a nocturnal creature, moving before I step on it in the dark came face to face with the reality that will never happen in Willow’s case. I now nightly travel that road from the kitchen to the bedroom with either some lights on or my cell phone as my flashlight. The reality is I know what Willow is thinking, “I have trained him well.”
Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday in the Christian year. We end the year reminding ourselves of the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord, the King of all creation. There is no better scripture to remind us of this than the image of Christ on the cross. The cross is our rallying flag as Christians. It is the symbol we point to that explains it all. Why should we forgive others? (point to the cross on the altar) That’s why. Why should we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves? That’s why. Why should we care about the 89% of children at Thomasville Primary School who are one free or reduced lunch, which means that almost 90% live at or below the poverty line? That’s why. Why should we care, minister to, serve the least of these in our community? That’s why. How can we look at all the evil in this world, see all the pain around us, and still have a sense of peace and comfort? That’s why because the cross is the reality but it wasn’t what was expected.
Within these eleven verses there are four instances that Jesus did not live up to the expectations that people had on him. Jesus is there on the cross along with the two criminals. The rulers stood there and sneered at him saying, “he saved others, let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” Then the soldiers mocked him and offered him wine vinegar, saying “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Then there was the sign over his head stating that he was the “King of the Jews.” Finally one of the criminals there started the same thing, demanding that if he was the Messiah to save himself and them.
That is our king. That is the King of the World. He is naked, bleeding and hanging on a cross failing to live up the expectations of the world around him. He is the Messiah but nothing like the Messiah the world expected. I have preached many sermons about what people expected about the Messiah that would come. They wanted a militaristic general who could come down from heaven and wipe out the Romans. They wanted a Messiah who could rule like a king and be respected, feared, and someone worth of their praise. Yet God not living up to our expectations is something that even we modern people do.
I met John while I was doing a summer internship at Presbyterian hospital. He was suffering from congestive heart failure and was recovering from surgery. He was a pistol and was giving the nurses a lot of grief. They called the pastoral care office to see if someone could come up and talk with him and maybe that would help his stay. When I arrived that evening to do my rounds there was a note for me to do just that. So I headed up to his room and introduced myself, not knowing what to expect. Over the next week and a half, every time I came to the hospital I visited with John. We talked about Dale Earnhardt and cats. Then we moved to more serious stuff. He looked me in the eye one day and said that his family is worried that when he dies he’ll “be all dressed up with nowhere to go.” Apparently in World War II he was in a fox hole and told me that the old saying, “there’s no atheists in a fox hole” is untrue. because he was one. In a time of war he looked to God for something and God did not provide and thus for John, there is no God.
John never told me what that something was he was looking for from God but he never found it. This is how many people are in the world. We hold up our list of criteria for God and then when God doesn’t live up to it we believe there is no God. We place expectations upon God and then get mad when God doesn’t live up to them. Is that our fault or God’s?
Jesus hangs on the cross with all the expectations of the people around him and those far away dripping off of him. The King of the Jews would never let people kill him. The Messiah wouldn’t die in this manner. When God is ready to provide the savior for the world he will be white, blond hair, blue eyes business man from a world power, not a tan skinned Middle Eastern man from a poor family.
Today we hold God up to just as many expectations and criteria as they did at his crucifixion. We look at the mockers and the scoffers there at the cross and we believe we are better than them. They ask questions like “if you are really the Messiah than save yourself.” We ask questions like, “If God was in control we wouldn’t be in the financial headlock we are in now.” “If God was God then why is there suffering, poverty, and hunger?” Over and over they yell to Jesus to save himself. Over and over again we tell at Jesus to save us.
Once again expectation and reality don’t mix. While Jesus is on the cross he has a moment of compassion and prays “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” As we cast our expectation upon the cross Jesus is praying the same prayer, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The truth is as we stare at the cross and we see the pain, the suffering and the sacrifice that is given we miss the point much of the time. In this humble sacrifice Jesus, the Son of God, starts his reign over his kingdom.
He looked down from that cross and saw everyone mocking him but he knew he was doing this because he loved each one of them. He looks at us and our expectations of what God is supposed to do in our lives and he shakes his head and doesn’t do it because he loves us. Yes, if God wanted to he could have come down off that cross at any moment but he didn’t. Yes, at any moment God could solve all our problems. He could place a HUGE check in the offering plate. He could make all the pain of this world go away. But is that his job?
The purpose of the cross was to win over the hearts of humanity not the land of an ancient people. The purpose of us Church is to go out in his name and share his love with everyone. That is the reality. When we have an issue like our finances is that a lack of God being God or the lack of us being faithful followers? When we hear of starving children is that a lack of God being God or is that the sin of greed and the lack of compassion we have for our neighbors? When we point to the cross and what Jesus, the King of Kings did on it do we see a powerful event long ago or a moment when our lives changed forever as well. Expectations demand God does what we ourselves are unwilling or scared to do. When we place expectations on God we are reversing the roles. We need to remember who we are. We are creation. We are followers. We are believers. We are not creators, saviors or redeemers. The reality is we need to know our place and understand our role. We aren’t on the cross, we need to be at the foot of the cross, worshiping the one who is dying for us.
And all God’s people said…Amen.