When God Doesn’t Meet Our Expectations

Wednesday, March 13, 2024
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Matthew 16:21-23

We’re picking right where we left off from last week with our reading today. Last week, we heard Jesus celebrate Peter’s faith. He called him the “rock” on which Christ would build his church. He gave him the keys to the kingdom. In the very next breath, everything changes. And Peter isn’t quite sure he wants what Jesus is offering.

Let’s pray…

A couple years ago I was scrolling my feed online and saw an ad for a sweater that I couldn’t pass up. I clicked on the link, examined the site for a bit to make sure it was legit. Then I ordered the sweater, a large – just in case they ran small in size. When I put my payment information in and clicked “order”, I felt the tiniest twinge of regret. The confirmation page popped up and it was clearly a google translated message from the company, likely coming from China. I had just ordered a sweater that was going to be shipped on a slow boat from China. I figured I would never see that sweater I just ordered or the $50 I paid for it again.

Over the next weeks, I would get cryptic emails telling me my order was in process and I should expect to see it in the coming few weeks. I was surprised, hopeful even. Maybe it wasn’t a scam. Maybe my sweater would be here sometime after all. A few more weeks went by. Nothing. A few more weeks, and I got a notification that my order was out for delivery. I was shocked. When I got home from work that night, there was a box on the front step. I brought it into the house, popped it open, and when I pulled it out of the box and held it up I knew immediately I wouldn’t ever be wearing this sweater. Despite ordering that large size – it looked more like a ¾ length crop top made for 12-year-old girl. After all that anticipation, let’s just say I was a bit disappointed. And after holding onto hope. It definitely didn’t meet my expectations.

We place expectations on all kinds of things. We expect that the laws that govern our society will create order so that all people have some protections and be safe. That’s why we have traffic lights and speed limits, right?

Sometimes our expectations help us achieve goals for ourselves – like when students work hard and get the grades they expect from their labor or that when we give our best to our careers we’ll be fairly compensated. But things in life don’t always go as we expect them to go. Sometimes we discover that our expectations miss the mark. Then what?

That seems to be Peter’s dilemma. Peter left everything to follow Jesus after Jesus helped him and his friends haul in the largest catch of fish he’d ever seen. He started to believe in Jesus after Peter saw him teach crowds wise truths that gave people hope, cast demons out of innocent people, and heal many of their diseases.

Up to this point, Jesus met Peter’s expectations of greatness so well that Peter confessed to him and all the disciples that Jesus was the Messiah – the One who came to save all of Israel from the oppressive domination of the Romans.

But then Jesus makes an unexpected move. When Peter is ready to crown Jesus the new Messiah – the new king, he tells them he will not wear a crown, but rather a cross. He tells them that the holy path is not through success and glory but through suffering and death. He reveals that he didn’t come to save people just from political oppression, but from the oppression of being separated from God by our misguided expectations of ourselves, the world, and the holy. He shows them that his purpose was never overt power over all things, but that his power would be revealed in his willingness to give up power, to die that all could live, and his glory would be revealed when God raised him from the dead.

But Peter doesn’t want that kind of Messiah. Maybe he couldn’t even wrap his head around what Jesus was saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” The cross doesn’t fit Peter’s expectations, and often it doesn’t fit ours either. The way Jesus embodies the Messiah comes with too high a cost. We prefer the kind of Messiah that will swing into action like a Marvel superhero who will use all the power in the world to set what seems wrong in the world right again, so long as we aren’t caught in the path of destruction that inevitably comes with superhero actions.

Or we might want God to be more like a genie in a bottle, who will grant our wishes when we call on God, so God can take away all that is uncomfortable.

We might be tempted to believe that God is not close to us when we struggle or suffer or when we think, “This can’t be because God does not give us more than we can handle”. The reality is life is full of experiences where we are given more than we can handle, but never more than what God can handle.

What these common expectations of God often do is make God smaller than we are. They put us ultimately in control. They focus us on human things rather than divine things. They underestimate the enduring power of the cross and God’s desire to bring life from suffering and death, over and over again.

When we follow the way of the cross, we see with our own eyes that God has revealed what we are to expect of Jesus, of God. We see the power of God’s love reaching out and embracing our broken and sinful world. We see the healing and restorative power of a God who would suffer with us and for us, as we hold our shattered expectations of ourselves and the world. When we set down the crown we’d like to place on Jesus, and pick up the cross he calls us to carry, we find the life of service and power of love God has created us to live.

God may not always meet our expectations. But for that we can say, thanks be God. Amen.

 

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