Proper 9(B): Expectations Get in the Way

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By: The Rev. Patrick Faulhaber

When I was commissioned as an Elder in the United Methodist Church, I sent a letter of thanks to the pastor of my church growing up. I wanted him to know how grateful I was for his kindness, compassion, and care for me in an awkward stage of my own development. Bob had been a coach for my soccer team, a confidant for my development, and had even been the one to pick me up from the floor with my dad after overindulging in a celebration after a lacrosse championship. He was a good man. 

I sent the letter and put it out of my mind. A few weeks later, I got an email from him, thanking me for the note. It was exactly as kind, thoughtful, and gracious as I had remembered him to be. So, I went searching to find any recorded sermons from his current church, simply out of nostalgia. 

When I found his current church’s page, I found a list of audio links for sermons, I clicked the first one– the most recent one. And, wouldn’t you know it. It was a sermon about how God had worked miraculously in a former youth parishioner of his. The basic message was that there is no one that God cannot use for the Kingdom work we are all called to. Of course, he remembered who I was. 

As it turns out, no one really forgets who you were. Our identities are a unique combination of who we were, who we are, and who we might be. Each decision we make, each interaction we have continues to shape the people that we will be. The best people can hold each of those aspects of us lightly. They can see the past, the present, and the potential together without judging who you might be based on who you once were. 

That is a gift. It is a rare gift. 

As Mark illustrates for us, it is really difficult for people to let go of old memories and expectations. In the best of circumstances, those expectations help create potentially healthy norms in society: the oldest child should always be the one caring for his mother, the neighborhood handyperson should always be a phone call away. And, of course, those expectations can be really limiting and isolating: the “crazy” bastard son of Mary will always be “crazy” and unworthy of any reverence. 

And, of course, Jesus breaks each of those expectations. This isn’t even the first time. The last interaction Jesus had with his family was only three chapters earlier. They came to bring him home because he had stepped so far out of his expected role that the people were calling him crazy, and the religious folks were equating him with the embodiment of temptation itself. 

Expectations always get in the way. It seems that expectations can even limit the power of God. 

Mark tells us explicitly that he was “unable to do miracles” and that he was “appalled by their disbelief.” (Mk 6:5a, 6) 

Jesus’ own community stands in stark contrast to the stories that bookend this encounter in his own hometown. In Mark 5, we see two miracles. One marginalized woman who had been bleeding for 12 years–making her ritually unclean, reached with faithful hands to touch Jesus’ clothes and was suddenly free of her affliction. And one 12-year-old girl who was declared dead was given new life. Each of these women was given a new life, literally– because of their faith. 

And in the remainder of today’s passage, we see how quickly and easily Jesus’ message and power multiply in the parts of the world that are open to the life-changing invitation of God’s Kingdom. 

The only people who seem to be left out of this work are the people who let their assumptions get in the way of God’s work. Whether they are relatives, friends, neighbors, scholars, pastors or leaders, they are left out of the redemptive story of God’s Kingdom when they try to relegate God to the narrow confines of their expectations. 

My former pastor has modeled that kind of openness for me in my life. I’m sure you can think of people in your life who know who you were, but who also remain open to who you might be. As it turns out, their faith creates the space for transformation– at least that is true in my life. 

I wonder how God is calling you to hold your expectations lightly in order to see transformation in your own life. I wonder what expectations you have for your life that might need to be let go of in order to live a new life. I wonder how your congregation might hold expectations, assumptions, traditions, and customs lightly enough to witness Christ walking just beyond our sight. 

May Christ never have to wipe the dirt from his feet in your presence. 

The Rev. Patrick Faulhaber currently serves as the pastor to North Decatur United Methodist Church in Decatur Georgia, and as an associate to the Greater Decatur Cooperative Parish. He and his wife Susannah Bales live with their dogs in Decatur, where they enjoy the wonderful food, fabulous walking trails, and creative spirit of the community.

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