Read on for the sermon text.
I have learnt that I say the word “okay” a lot. I know this because when she was alive and it was time to feed Lorelai the cat in the morning or evening I would sit and stand up and say, “okay” and then proceed to the kitchen and feed her. How I know that I actually say “okay” a lot is because every single time I said it, whether I was heading to the kitchen or not, Lorelai leapt to attention and looked pleadingly at me. From the number of pleading looks I got in a day I think I must say “okay” quite a few times. There are two things going on in this scenario. One is that my little girl had hypothyroidism and so felt constantly hungry no matter how much she ate. The second more interesting thing going on is about expectation.
Lorelai learnt to associate food with the word okay. Actually I think Lorelai associated food with everything, The moment when she heard okay she had an expectation of food. To her the sound of one word prompted her to believe she knew what would happen next and so to expect that thing to happen.
Lorelai was not alone in having big or strong expectations in her life. We all have them. I expect Bishop Tom had them when he was ordained Bishop. When the traffic light turns green we expect the person in front of us to drive forward. When we cook a lamb chop in the oven we expect to then enjoy a hot dinner. There are many, many expectations we have in the day and in our lives big and small that we are not even aware of, but we do live lives of expectation. And expectations, when not met, can be incredibly frustrating. I imagine I am not alone in the great annoyance I get when my expectation of civil and professional service in a shop is not met, as seems to be the norm these days.
Our Gospel reading today alludes to a great expectation of the early first century Jewish people that was not met and caused great discord. In fact, what they were waiting for did actually occur, but because it was not in the manner they were expecting they did not recognise or did not accept it. I am talking, of course, about the coming of the Messiah.
These Second Temple Jews had a rich history of the expectancy of a Messiah to come and save them. We can see, and we often reference, a wealth of predictions of the Messiah in Old Testament scripture. Isaiah is a good example of a book that foretells strongly that a saviour will return to save the Jewish people – will return to save God’s people.
In Isaiah there is a lot of talk about the saving of Jerusalem from invading forces. Because of passages like these and others in scripture for many Jews the image of the Messiah who would come to save them was one of a mighty soldier who would defeat those oppressing Israel. This is why talk of the coming Messiah is often linked to David – the great battle hero of the Old Testament. This is why at the start of Matthew’s gospel it is so important to tie Jesus’ genealogy to David.
So, by the time Jesus was born there was a clear and strong expectation of a Messiah who would save the chosen people from their oppressors – at that time the Romans. If we think back to the nativity stories we remember how terrified Herod is of this little baby to born in Bethlem. He is terrified because it is prophesied that this child will be the Messiah to end the Jewish oppression he is enacting. In terms of this Jewish Messiah the people thought they knew what they would see happen next – their expectation fulfilled.
Then Jesus comes along and everything gets thrown on its head. Jesus spoke not of a nation for the Jewish people, but of a kingdom of heaven. He spoke not of a mighty military battle and defeating the enemy, but of love and the power it had to change the world. Jesus spoke of saving the children of God through peace and acceptance, he talked of a kingdom beyond what the Jewish people had been led to expect.
This is why so many of the Jewish people could not accept that Jesus was the Messiah – because he clearly stated he had not come to conquer a kingdom for them on earth, but to conquer death and enact the kingdom of God. The Jewish people were, quite rightly, desperate for their Messiah who would with military might save them from the oppressive Romans. When Jesus makes it known that it is not an earthly kingdom he comes to claim for his people the expectations that are not met are so strong that most simply will not believe he is any kind of Messiah at all. Added to this is the fact that beyond Old Testament prophesy Jesus came to save not only the Jewish people, but all people. For a nation and race fighting to survive and stay true to their God this was inconceivable. This is why throughout the Gospels we hear story after story, such as today’s gospel, of people surrounding Jesus and not being able to recognise or accept him as the Messiah. These frustrated expectations led to Jesus being called out for blasphemy and the road to the cross was set.
We sit back today and look at these first century Jews – and Gentiles – and think, “My goodness! How could you be so blind? How could you not see the grace and divinity standing among you?” But for those people their expectation of who and what the Messiah would be and do was so strong they could not understand this new model and shape of salvation that Jesus offered them.
So, we can see the power of expectation in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Because he was proclaimed to be the Messiah by those who had witnessed his acts and power he was expected to deliver Israel out of a certain situation and in a certain way. When he didn’t fill these expectations he was hung on a cross to die, ironically thereby becoming the saviour of all that no one expected.
This then leaves us with the question of what expectations do we have of the Messiah in the second coming? What are we expecting the return to be that may actually blind us to its occurrence? And further, what expectations do we have of God that are unrealistic and frustrate us when not met?
A wise woman once said to me, “Don’t limit the power of God by deciding how he should fulfil your dreams.” Very powerful words when you think about it. How often and how much do we limit God by what we expect of Him? Do our ideas of how and when prayers are answered blind us to the beauty of prayer in ways we wouldn’t dream about? What do we expect of God, ourselves, others, the world and life that is actually limiting the potential for grace and love and peace? Father Peter Beck has told us his frequent prayer of, “Lord please don’t let me get in your way today.”
And of course, what are our expectations of the return of the Messiah Jesus? Of that expectation we can be assured. Jesus the Christ will return to enact the kingdom of God on earth. But how and when? What are our expectations about that? Walk into twelve different churches on a Sunday morning and you will hear twelve different answers. Yes, we have scripture to direct us, but as we study and discern further, how and what we understand these scriptures to say and be matures. And we must remember that many of the texts proclaiming the return of Jesus were not written for us. Revelation is a great example. The wild weirdness and fantasy of it seems abstract and extreme metaphor to us, but to the people of John’s day it all very clearly represented what was happening around them.
At least we know that in our expectations of the times to come we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. That light, that breathe of God within us helps us to temper or excite our expectations and prepare ourselves for what lies ahead. For while a lot of second coming literature was not written for us, it can still inform us of what is expected of us leading up to the fulfilment of the kingdom of God.
Expectation is a powerful thing in our lives and in our faith. It certainly was a powerful force in Lorelai’s life and routine. It also had real consequences for the first century Jews and for Jesus. It can be our friend, but also our enemy. So, be mindful of your expectations lest they lead you to crucify the truth in your life.
Thanks be to God.