(Note: I preached this sermon this morning. The Gospel of the day was Matthew 11: 16 – 19, 25 – 30.)
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance. We wailed, and you did not mourn.”
+In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
I imagine that being the Savior of the world was a terribly difficult job. Not only did Christ have to leave his Father’s side to take on frail, human flesh but then the Creator had to submit himself to his creation in the crucifixion. For most of his life, He had to put up with people who were constantly trying to trap him, so they could find that perfect moment to say, “Aha! Gotcha!” There was the almost constant stream of the sick, the possessed and the dying who were brought in an almost perpetual procession into his presence. I can’t even begin to imagine how Christ even dealt with any of this. But, I imagine that that the hardest part of his job was dealing with the expectations of the very people he had come to save.
Those in the first century expected their Messiah to do and say certain things. For example, one common expectation of the Messiah was that he would overthrow the Roman oppressors. Yet, Christ did not do this. Another expectation of the Messiah was that he would avoid all the unclean people that Jewish law demanded him to do. Yet, Christ did not even do this. They expected one thing but got another. Because of these unmet expectations, the Messiah stood right in front of them and they didn’t even know it.
In fact, their expectations are so misplaced that Christ cannot even do miracles in certain towns. The Gospel reading for today leaves a few verses where Christ is so frustrated by their lack of faith, that he pronounces several woes to these cities. Chris essentially says, “Had I went over to Sodom and done these things, they would have loved it and turned their hearts! But, no! You get Messiah who heals, yet you complain about how he does it. Woe to you.” Expectations are powerful, so powerful that they prevent us from experiencing the grace of God.
Now, it is always tempting at times like this to laugh from our vantage point in the twenty-first century. “Oh, those silly Palestinians, they didn’t even have a clue!” Then, we go out to lunch, smugly patting ourselves on the back because we know the truth. Oh, if only it were that easy! But, just as much as they in the first century, we have certain expectations of God.
We are just like the crowd in today’s Gospel passage, we want God to love those whom we love and we want God to detest those whom we cannot stand. We want a God who is always on our side, who always sees our point-of-view and who always backs our righteous indignations or lack thereof. We want God to give us tacit acceptance of all our quirks, easy forgiveness for all our sins and cheap grace for all the things we need to do. We want a God who is just like us. And, through our expectations, we want to denigrate the Christ of the Gospel into an idol of our making. We expect a golden-calf that our own hands have fashioned, not the living and true God, who was begotten, not made.
We play the flute for God and we expect God to dance.
We mourn to God and we expect God to weep.
You see, that’s the problem with expectations. The problem with expectations is that when they are not met and we are disappointed. Just like any human relationship, our walk with God can also be wrought with disappointment and unmet expectations. When were you last disappointed with God? Was it when you prayed night after night after night for something to come to pass, yet nothing ever changed? Was it because you are sick and healing still hasn’t taken place? Was it because a child is dying of a terrible disease? Was it because of those random events like car accidents that wound those we love? Are you disappointed in God because your parents did not love you enough? Because all of your friends turned their backs on you when you needed them the most? Why are you disappointed in God? How has God not met your expectations?
We played the flute so well!
We sang out our best songs at the top of our lungs,
Yet you did not dance, O God!
We wept bitterly, long into the night,
yet you didn’t even shed one single tear, my Lord.
So, how do we deal with all of these expectations and all these disappointments? Like any relationship, whether it be between a husband and a wife, between a parent and a child, between lovers, or between friends, unchecked expectations and disappointments will turn sour, transform into deeply-held resentments and eventually lead to the death of the relationship. Our relationship with God is no different. Unchecked expectations and deep disappointments with God will only lead to spiritual contamination and ultimately, a kind of spiritual death. This is not a place we want to end up.
And, just like in any human relationship with overblown expectations and deep disappointments, there is a divergent opinion on how to deal with them. Some Psychologists might tell you that the problem is with your expectations: “Stop expecting so much,” they might say, “You are just setting yourself up for disappointment.” Perhaps this is true. One the other hand, some Psychologists will tell you, “You’re expecting far too little – that’s why you are constantly mistreated and disappointed!” And, perhaps, this is true, too. But, which one fits for our relationship with God?
So, what do we say to that crowd in the first-century who were disappointed with Christ? What do we say to each other today, who are disappointed with Christ? Frankly, I do not know the answer. But, I do know what Christ says.
And what does Christ say to us: those of us who are burdened with disappointment? Those of us who are under the yoke of unmet expectations? Those of us who are wearied with each other, ourselves and God? Those of us who are heavy-laden with distrust? What does he say to us?
He doesn’t tell us what to do with these expectations. He doesn’t directly address our disappointments. He doesn’t lay blame on us or anyone. He simply says, “Come.”
I can hear him say, “Come, and bring all that with you – all that disappointment, those expectations and all that pain. You don’t have to play the flute. You don’t even have to mourn. Just come. Come to the altar and feast on my flesh, which is the bread of heaven. Come to the altar and drink my blood, which is the cup of salvation. Come to me and I will take you to your Father and my Father. Come to me and I will take you to your God and my God.”
And what does Christ say to us? He simply says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
+In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.