Pastor Sherry’s message for April 23, 2023
Scriptures: Acts 2:14a,36-41; Ps 116:1-4,12-19; 1 Pet 1:17-23; Lk 24:13-35
I read a story recently from “Our Daily Bread” that tickled me:
“A traveling salesman had a flat tire while driving, in the rain, at night, on a country road. But to his dismay he had no lug wrench. Seeing a nearby farmhouse, he set out on foot. Surely the farmer would have a lug wrench, he thought. But would he even come to the door? And if he did, he’d probably be furious at being bothered. He’d say, ‘What’s the big idea getting me out of bed in the middle of the night?’ This thought made the salesman angry. ‘Why, that farmer is a selfish old clod to refuse to help me.’
“Finally the man reached the house. Frustrated and drenched, he banged on the door. ‘Who’s there?’ a voice called out from a window overhead. ‘You know good and well who it is,’ yelled the salesman, his face red with anger. ‘It’s me! And you can keep your old lug wrench! I wouldn’t borrow it is it was the last one in the county.’”
Do you see how the salesman’s faulty expectations influenced his interactions with the sleepy farmer? He had worked himself into a “mad” over how he anticipated the conversation would go. He hadn’t even yet interacted with the man, but his imagined and negative expectations skewed the way he then approached someone who could have helped him. Psychological research tells us that our common default is to evaluate a situation negatively. We do this almost automatically and have to learn to override this in order to think positively. In olden times, there was a practical value to scanning the environment for dangers. Negative evaluations keep us safe, but they won’t get us to happy. Positive thinking is what does that.
Think about your typical expectations. Has faulty thinking ever been true of you? I once began a new job—prior to seminary—with a boss who claimed she was a Christian. I liked her initially and thought she would be a good person to work for; hers was the 5th firm in 2 years to take over the rehabilitation company that employed my team and me. She called her business, “RehabActs,” and told me she had named it for the book of Acts. My expectations of her were positive until I discovered later that she was using my mental health license to defraud Medicaid and Medicare. I confronted her and told her she was putting my license in jeopardy but she informed me that she was the boss and that I would sign off on services we had not performed or be fired. When she would not listen to reason, I had to quit in order to protect my credentials from ethics violations and possible criminal charges. My expectations that she would be an ethical employer had been extremely disappointed.
How often have your expectations of friends and family disappointed you? I recently learned of two adult children whose father did not invite them to his wedding, even though they both lived in the same town where the marriage ceremony took place, and could have attended. They both discerned from this that he did not hold either one in very high esteem. They were of course deeply disappointed.
How about business or financial decisions that turned out to be mistakes? Or retirement plans? I remember a woman who shared with me her broken heart. She and her husband had worked for years to fix up a lake house to retire to, only to have him die a week after they moved in. She awoke one morning to find him dead in his recliner. She had expected they would live out their retirement years in this tranquil and beautiful setting, but she sold the property on which they had worked so hard. The memories of what was not to be were too painful.
Our readings today address the issue of faulty (or mistaken) vs. sound expectations:
A. Our Gospel lesson (Luke 24:13-35) invites us to consider how many of Jesus’ followers probably responded to news of His death and resurrection. Afterall, death seems so final, the end of possibilities and dreams. These two on the road to Emmaus–Cleopas and a friend? His wife? His son?–were confused and disappointed. Many had thought that Jesus was the Messiah who would help them overthrow Roman rule. But now He had been executed like a common criminal. Rumors were spreading that He had been seen, alive and well. Jesus had apparently risen from the dead! They wondered, “Could this possibly be true?”
Then Jesus sets them straight—in what had to have been a phenomenal walk through the Hebrew Scriptures: Verse 27 and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself. He shared with them the totality of how the Old Testament pointed to and described the Christ. No doubt He shared how Jesus’s life and ministry fulfilled these Scriptures. Did you realize that all of the items in the Holy Place and the Holies of Holies were symbolic of Jesus? How about the way the Israelites camped and marched in the Wilderness? They camped by tribes in the shape of a Cross, with the Tabernacle in the middle and the tribe of Judah ahead of it. No doubt He disabused them of their faulty expectations that Jesus was meant to be a conquering hero in His First Coming. No, He came first as a humble servant to save them and us spiritually, from our sins. But when He returns in His 2nd coming, He will then arrive as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, completing our rescue from the grip of human and satanic tyrants.
Notice, it was only as He blessed and broke bread with them that they recognized Him (v.31) Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and he disappeared from their sight. How frustrating to have Him then suddenly vanish (oh, that resurrection body!). He reveals Himself to them, they get it, and He evaporates! However, they now know they too have encountered the Risen Christ. So, they hot-foot it back to Jerusalem to share their news with the disciples gathered there. Don’t you know they also gave a seminar on their faulty expectations vs. Christ’s reality?
B. In our Acts lesson (Acts 2:14a,36-41), Peter preaches a Pentecost sermon that converts the hearts of 3,000 Jews to Jesus. Having been empowered by the Holy Spirit, he is no longer captured by fear. Instead, he becomes a bold, authoritative street preacher. Gloves off, he accuses them in verse 36 Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. He confronts them with their national sin. They feel both convicted and guilty. They ask him and the other disciples (v.37)…Brothers, what shall we do?
In verse 38, he tells them to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. Isn’t this what each of us has done as we too have come to a saving knowledge of Christ? Our faith has led us to a desire to be baptized with water (if we were not as infants); and, hopefully, we have also been received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Peter was exhorting them to let go of their faulty expectations of the Messiah and accept that Jesus was and is the Christ.
C. Peter goes on to say in his epistle (1st Peter 1:17-23) that there is no other way to salvation except through belief in Jesus. In verses 18-19, he insists, essentially, that nothing can save us from our sins but Jesus…not money (gold or silver); not power and influence; not personal effort; not other gods (notice the little “g”). No, we are only saved by…(v.19) the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. This is one of the main reasons Christianity is becoming less popular in our culture today. Secularists take exception to the Bible’s exclusive claims. Jesus said no one comes to the Father except through Him; He is the only way to heaven. Many would prefer that there would instead be several routes to Paradise. Jesus is the only way to salvation because it is only He who paid the cost of all of our sins.
Additionally, as Rev. Dr. J. Vernon McGee says, “Jesus was not an ambulance sent to a wreck,” not an emergency response to a catastrophe (Commentary on 1 Peter, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, p.40.) Jesus’ saving work on the Cross was always God’s plan (v.20) He was chosen before the creation of the world [and] was revealed in these last times for your sake.
D. So, what is our response to be—our sound expectation–for this great Good News? Our Psalm (116:1-4, 12-19) tells us: (Vv.1-2) I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy. Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live. Whoever wrote this psalm was a person in distress who chose to upon the Lord for help. Asking God for help is a choice, often peoples’ last option after they have done all they possibly can in a given situation. But this composer believed the Lord would hear and would help. So he or she wrote this love song to God. As the psalmist teaches us, we respond to God with gratitude because He hears us. We respond with love for Him because He replies to our heartfelt prayers.
The truth is that God needs nothing from us. The best gift we can give God is our love. Another great gift to Him is our thanks.
We want to have only sound expectations of Jesus. We are to let go of any faulty expectations that get in the way of a sound faith and understanding of Jesus Christ. These include common misperceptions that Jesus should do what I want Him to do for me to have faith in Him. These also include my dependence on my own wealth, power, or influence–or my own will. King Louis XIV of France (1643-1715), also known as “the Sun King,” reigned for 72+ years. Upon losing a massive battle to the English at Blenheim, he is said to have exclaimed, “How could God do this to me? After all I have done for Him?” God bless him, but what hubris!
A wiser Frenchman, Blaise Pascal (a famous mathematician and philosopher who lived during Louis 14th’s reign, once said, “Human knowledge must be understood to be believed but divine knowledge must be believed to be understood.” If we read the Bible, it will correct our faulty expectations. If we ask for the help of the Holy Spirit as we read it, Scripture will teach us what we can accurately hope for from our God. The Spirit will correct our faulty understandings. The Spirit will deepen our faith and our love for God. Thanks be to God! Amen!
©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams