Sunday, January 19, 2014

Beyond the Expected (Isaiah 49:1-7)

The “church” today is not the church your grandparents knew . . . nor is it the church that your parents were familiar with . . . and, odds are, as you look around at the state of the “church” today, it is not the church you grew up with.  In the current state of upheaval within the traditional “church”—or “church” as we think we know it—we scratch our heads and think that this is nothing like we expected . . . this is a whole new, crazy, and scary creature that we are dealing with.  We are living within a paradox of what Jesus called us to . . . what we are . . . and, what we should be in the eyes and heart of Jesus.  We are called to go beyond the expected.  These are frustrating and scary times that we are living in as the faithful.

The “church” is changing.  The “church” is changing whether we are ready of not for it.  There has been a major shift from what once was a program focus of congregations—doing things for the faithful like Sunday school classes, Bible studies, women and men’s groups, youth groups—to a more missional focus that calls for the congregation to look beyond itself out into the world and serve others beyond the confines of the church.  There is a call to return to the spiritual life . . . the inner life . . . to drive the outer life.  A call to know thyself in order to know God’s will in one’s life.  A call to understand one’s relationship with God and how that calls the individual out to serve others.  Churches are not conducting business the way that they used to conduct business . . . the times are changing . . . and, they are becoming more Christ-like than ever before.
But, we never expected this.  In fact, this is where the frustration comes into play with the struggle between what once was, what is, and what is coming . . . many of us have realized in our faith journeys that what we have is exactly what we expected.  It meets our needs.  It makes us feel fulfilled.  It works for us.  It is good stuff . . . faithful stuff.   Our expectations are exactly what the doctor ordered; yet, we look around and we see change taking place that upsets our expectations.  It is frustrating . . . and, if we are honest, it is scary.

Understand . . . what we have is not bad.  What we have in the “church” has worked for generations . . . churches and congregations have grown in what we have . . . things got done . . . and, we all felt fulfilled.  Yet, statistics show that the “church” is changing . . . churches and congregations are beginning to disappear . . . denominations are growing smaller . . . things are not being done the way that we used to do them, yet things are getting done . . . and, fulfillment is now coming in new ways that we have never experienced before.  Success is being measured differently . . . not in numbers, but in relationships.

This is a sort of epiphany-like revelation.  Remember that an epiphany is a revelation of the glory . . . a revelation of the Holy . . . an understanding of God and God’s ways.  The problem is that it is not an epiphany that has come suddenly and with great clarity . . . it has seemingly snuck up on us, tapping us on the shoulder, and revealed itself  slowly and quietly as it has begun to gain momentum.  Momentum that is getting more and more difficult to ignore.  Nonetheless, the Holy has and is being revealed in this changing environment of the “church”.

What we are dealing with today is better than what we ever expected . . . it is a return to what Jesus called his followers to.  We know that what Jesus lived, represented, and called his followers to, was not well received in his time or since.  In listening to the prophets, the people had certain expectations of what the Messiah would be and do . . . this is partially due to the fact that the people were like all good humans who used their selective hearing to hear what they wanted.  They took what they liked and ignored the rest.  For example, our reading this morning from Isaiah.

Tunnel vision makes it difficult to see the world that is beyond the scope of what one can see through a scope . . . can’t see what is to the left or right . . . can’t see what is behind or up or down.  You can only see what is directly in front.  So it was for the people of Israel who picked and chose the words of the prophet that they wanted to hear concerning the Messiah.  In their estimation, the Messiah was theirs and theirs only . . . destined to save only them.  Yet, Isaiah says that as true as that statement is, God had even greater expectations for the Messiah . . . the Messiah would save all people . . . save all of God’s children.  Isaiah even quotes God as saying that the Chosen One, the Messiah, would be a “light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”   The expectations of the children of Israel were going to be met, but what God really wanted went beyond the expected . . . went beyond the expected to something even bigger and better than they could accept or realize at the time.

Thus it is that we see the frustration of the people with Jesus and his ministry.  We see the anger of the people when Jesus does not solely focus on them.  We see the murmuring and complaining when Jesus choses to minister to those outside of the so-called family.  We see the confusion when Jesus pushes the boundaries of the teachings and law.  And, we see that in the end this gets him crucified on a cross.  Yeah, Jesus was what they expected and so much more.

But, who are any of us to go against the will of God?

The “church” of our grandparents and parents . . . the “church” we grew up with . . . none of them are representative of what the people of Jesus’s time expected.  It cannot be because the “church” is not a box that we fit our faith into; the “church” is a living and growing spirit or movement that keeps growing with each generation as it is experienced, interpreted, and developed to meet the call of God in a certain time and place.  It is constantly growing and changing . . . whether we can accept it or not.

God has always called us beyond the expected . . . called to something bigger and better.  Living with in the expectations we have is nice, but what we are called to is even better.  We are called, like the Messiah, to reach within to discover the world outside of the “church” . . . to love the Lord completely, and to love others . . . that has always been the expectation.  As well as we have done that in the past in the ways that we do it, the Spirit is moving us to a different direction and way of doing “church”.  The “church” is changing whether we are willing to change with it . . . what we have is good, but what we can have is even better.

Embrace the present to receive the future . . . things are not always what we expect . . . sometimes they are even better.  That is what God said to the Messiah . . . and, if it was good enough for the Chosen One, it should be good enough for us.  Amen.

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