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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

Examining Expectations

Jesus began to speak, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.... but then....all were filled with rage. They got up, and led him to the brow of the hill so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way." (Luke 14:21ff)

The word “speak” is in the opening lines of all three of our lessons this morning.

The young Jeremiah – prophet in training – humbly answers God’s call by saying, “Me? But I do not even know how to speak, I am only a boy?”

The wise Paul – eloquent sage – reminds his people and all of us – “If I speak in the tongues of mortals or of angels, but do not have love, well – I might as well be talking like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon – Waa, Wahh, waa!” Or, as our translation says - a noisy gong and clashing cymbal.

And Jesus speaks well at first (see above), but clearly by the end of the passage, the people would prefer that Jesus kept his mouth shut! For their amazement turns to rage at his words – and he narrowly escapes from being hurled off a cliff.

Seeing as what Jesus says is out of context for our time and place – I’d like to talk about what exactly gets everyone so mad which I think has to do with dashed expectations. Expectations of ourselves - why doesn't Jeremiah feel like he's up to God's call? And the expectations we have of others - especially those we love (or want to love us).

So, what got everyone so mad at this guy who brought them good news? Well, as we heard Jesus is speaking in his hometown. He may have been born in Bethlehem but that’s only because Mary and Joseph had to leave Nazareth to register for the census. Nazareth is home – and its not great. Nazareth is backwater – compared to Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish people. Nazareth is blue-collar – Joseph was a carpenter – and the Jewish people are in the minority.

Surrounding them in greater numbers are Phoenicians (arms-traders); Samaritans (we all know from several bible stories Samaritans are not at all liked); and Greeks – pagans. The chosen people do not feel chosen in Nazareth. You may remember in one of the too few moments of sarcasm in scripture when Philip tells Nathaniel about Jesus and Nathaniel quips, “P-shaw, can anything good come of Nazareth?”

Its not a place anyone thinks highly of. So, imagine how the faithful of Nazareth must feel - as one of their own – Jesus – who has been attracting crowds with his miracles of feeding and healing – this hometown boy – has returned – for all to hear him speak good news. God has not forgotten you!

Today – I bring good news to the poor, release, forgiveness and freedom – today you and the world will see – God’s promise fulfilled in your hearing! Really, Joseph’s son, he is going to do and be for us as we have heard him do and be for those in the fancier places like Capernaum! This is good news indeed!

But then Jesus speaks words that don’t live into their expectations.

You know, since we have a baptism today, one of the good news thing about babies – is that they don’t speak. Ok, sure, there’s the crying and the sleepless nights as we figure out how to meet their needs. Hopefully, we can provide the basic stuff – food, shelter, clothing. But the good stuff, the real stuff, the lasting stuff – that both the child and the adult need – connection, belonging, love – you don’t need speaking for that.

Its all coos and cuddles – wide smiles – lilt-song voices – playfulness. Parents and grandparents know it radiating a deep togetherness - and it is amazing. And it can be there, if you want it to be, whenever there is an opportunity to connect with a little one. You know, like when you're in line at the grocery store and there's a baby in the cart ahead who catches your eye - you smile, the baby smiles (hopefully!) its one of those priceless gifts of being alive.

But then, inevitably comes the speaking. Obviously, good I know – but not all of it. The wants and needs get more complicated when they get more explicit, don’t they? There are all those “why” questions – the ones we don’t have the time or maybe the answers for.

"Mom, If Santa goes to everyone’s house – why is their Christmas Café for us to donate toys at our church?"

"Dad, why do you tell nana you have to get off the phone, when you don’t?"

When children start speaking sometimes they call us out – they call out disparity – they point out that what we say, doesn’t always match what we do. Babies, become children, become their own individual unique person. Independent of what we might want, or hope or expect of them. Children, teens, young adults - they do not always live into the person we want them to be - and parents don't always meet our expectations either. It’s a challenge that ebbs and flows in our relationships with our kids – and our relationships with our parents – our whole lives long. And, it plays out in all our relationships - we all have expectations of other people, especially those we love, or who we believe (should) love us.

And sometimes, we get so mad about it about our dashed expectations, well I'll speak for myself, that we just might want to hurl the person off a cliff! That’s what happened that morning in Nazareth. The good people that had come together that morning would expect that when one of their own comes home, to speak in love, he would have nice things to say. And his speech would lead to the miracles and healings like the people got in Capernaum.

But he doesn’t conform to their expectations. He challenges them.

He tells them God’s word is fulfilled – good news, forgiveness and release – and then reminds them of a time when God’s word was fulfilled with Elijah and Elisha. And people were fed and people were healed, but it wasn’t the faithful people, it wasn’t the people they expected – it was the people outside the family – the people outside the tribe. God's family will defy societal, religious expectations.

So I think on this day – on the one hand there is a message here for us that is pretty standard – prophets really aren’t appreciated in their hometown, or in their own time. It isn’t breaking down our boundaries, walls and tribes. And when someone points out that disparity it is hard to hear. Outreach helps us with that. Community helps with that. Listening helps with out. Getting out of our neighborhoods helps with that.

But another personal message, has to do with examining our expectations. Where are they coming from? What are they based on? Jeremiah is afraid he can’t live into God’s expectations – his expectations – probably his parents’ expectations – of what a prophet is supposed to be. What calls of God are we avoiding, or not answering because they don't conform to our expectations, or what we think others expect of us?

Paul gives us a really good examination toolkit in 1 Cor 13 - all expectations - if they are the real and lasting kind - are grounded in love. Are your expectations born out of envy, pride, wanting to boast? When expectations aren't met are you arrogant or rude - insisting on your own way? That is not love - patient, kind, rejoicing in someone being who they really are?

Good news is always challenging news. We are encouraged and reminded this morning that God doesn't conform to our expectations of what "should" be. And examining our expectations is one part of speaking the truth in love. Amen.

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