July 4, 2021
Clergy, First UMC Bristol
Clinch Mountain District
Mark 6:1-6a (Common English Bible)
6 Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him. 2 On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.
4 Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” 5 He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 He was appalled by their disbelief.
Too Many Expectations
It is Sunday morning, July 4, the 245th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In the Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church, thousands of people will be heading to churches or logging into virtual services with concrete, specific expectations of services of worship. Thousands of people will expect to sing their favorite patriotic hymns, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and to hear a sermon extolling the virtues of this land that is the model of democracy for every other nation under heaven.
Thousands of people are about to be deeply disappointed.
It’s not because those things won’t happen, necessarily. Sure, there are some churches and congregations and pastors who will pointedly ignore or outright reject those expectations, but mostly these services will be disappointing because the expectations are so unattainably specific.
I get it. I have some pretty unreasonable expectations for other pastors and other churches sometimes. It’s really easy to fall into “if your pastor doesn’t preach on X this Sunday, you need to find a new church.”
But what do we miss out on when we refuse to allow room for something outside our expectations?
I have been a pastor for 15 years now. I’ve been trying to follow Jesus for three-and-a-half decades. I know that what is supposed to happen is that I get old and hard-hearted and set in my ways, but the longer I’m at this, the more concerned I am that what I’m doing is actually not allowing enough room for my own error and for the guidance of God’s Spirit. I am increasingly taking to heart the error of the people in Jesus’s hometown who were unable to see him as anything other than the kid next door.
I don’t want to miss out on the miracle of Emmanuel just because I expect God to be a certain way.
I want to keep my senses wide open so that I don’t miss a moment. I want to keep my sense of wonder. I want to be flexible in my faith. I want to be simple in my belief. I want to be loving in my practice.
If your pastor doesn’t renounce the practices of the current or the previous administration today, it’s okay. If your pastor fails to extol or criticize the history and practices of the United States of America, it’ll be alright. If you don’t sing “God Bless America” or “This Is My Song” today, the world won’t end. Just go be part of the worshiping community today. Let God’s Spirit do what God’s Spirit will do. I promise it’ll be enough.
God of All the Nations, give us your peace today. Free us from the prison of our expectations. Release the anchors of our spirits so that your Spirit may blow us in exactly the direction you need us to go. Amen.