June 21, 2020
3rd Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 7
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Have you ever stepped into a situation where you thought you knew what was going on only to find out the hard way it was nothing like what you had expected? I mean, besides the year 2020?
Perhaps you started a new job and it was nothing like the job description that prompted you to apply in the first place. Perhaps you met someone new and found out they weren’t at all like the first impression they presented. Perhaps you had planned the perfect family vacation and nothing went according to that plan. Or perhaps as a teen or young adult, you had your whole life planned out and things just haven’t happened as you thought they would.
That all really does describe 2020 doesn’t it?
Even when we make the choice to follow Jesus and do all of our due diligence to discern God’s will for us, sometime – a lot of the time – things just don’t go as we expect. I often wonder if movies and TV are responsible for this? We sit down to watch an encapsulated story with a prewritten script and standard plot line of harmony, discord, journey, resolution, and happily ever after. But that’s not real life, is it?
Life, despite what Shakespeare tells us, isn’t a play, at least not a fully scripted one. We have stage directions but we are living in perpetual improv (don’t tell the Calvinists). We can’t predict exactly what will happen in any situation. We can’t predetermine other peoples behavior or responses. Often times, we can’t even predict our own.
My brilliant husband often tells me, when I’m stressed or shocked or surprised by what has happened, “if you don’t have expectations, you won’t be disappointed.” At first I took that to mean that we couldn’t “hope” or “believe” that we were doing the right thing, that I was just supposed to lay idly by while life happened around me.
But I’ve come to learn it means that we can’t predict what others do, even if we think we know ourselves and them very, very well.
Instead of fighting against the situation in which we find ourselves, life is much less stressful if we accept our situation and do our best with God’s help to be the best we can be in it. We will still have preconceived expectations, that’s just human, but we learn to recognize them for what they are and let them go when they aren’t fulfilled.
Our Old Testament story shows the conflict that can – and does – arise when we fight against a situation that isn’t going according to our own expectations. God had promised Abraham and Sarah a child and this didn’t happen according to Sarah’s timeframe so she took matters into her own hands. Her lack of trust in God’s plan created a situation in which Hagar and Ishmael are rejected and abandoned.
And still God steps in and redeems this terrible situation and rescues Hagar and Ishmael.
Even when we create a situation that diminishes the value of other human beings, God’s grace is bigger than our mistakes. This is where our hope lies, why when things don’t turn out as we wanted them to, we shouldn’t be disappointed or angry or sad. We look for the good that God can make out of every situation and ask God to show us how we can participate in the goodness.
Our gospel lesson today could very well be Jesus preaching a sermon on this story about Abraham and Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael.
Jesus gives us a lesson on what it is is to live IN our faith and not just with it.
Every human being is the most precious thing to God. Regardless of how we try to live our life apart from God or even limit God to just pieces of our life, God knows even the very hairs of our head. In the confidence of God’s unconditional love, we have nothing to fear, even in moments of crisis or conflict, even when things don’t go as we expect.
Jesus is a realist. He’s not going to paint some false picture to draw us in unprepared. Jesus wants us to know full well what following him will be like. He invites us into God’s family – and all are invited, really – and knows that when we accept the invitation to grow into disciples, that there will be conflict. As disciples following Jesus, our way of living and seeing the world is to be different from the world.
And when we live Jesus’ way of truth and unconditional love, some people won’t like it because it challenges their status quo and ego.
Sometimes these people who don’t like it are our closest relatives, our family, and our friends.
But Jesus assures us that it is the best life we can live, the life we were all created to live. If we can let go of the life we think we should be living, the life the world tells us to expect or that we are entitled to or deserve, and live the life God has in store for us, we will be fully alive as God intends us to be.
Following Jesus and trusting God’s way isn’t naive or simplistic. It isn’t sitting idly by and letting the world happen around you.
Following Jesus is the most difficult thing we will ever do as human beings on this planet:
-The absolute most difficult because it means that we will be working against the powers of this world that promote self-centeredness rather than love and justice.
-The absolute most difficult because it means that we have to stand up and face conflict from a place of peace and grace instead of anger or retaliation.
-The absolute most difficult because it means that often others won’t understand and will turn against us rather that choose to walk this path of faith with us.
Following Jesus is the best life we can live, confident in God’s unconditional love, regardless of the situation we may find ourselves. It is life grounded in the sure and certain hope that God is always faithful to us even when we lose faith and try to write our own script.
We may not have a script for 2020 or any other time in our life, but we do have excellent stage directions and the teacher whose greatest desire is that together we grow and mature to be like him, children of God, grounded in God’s kingdom as we navigate the conflicts of this world without fear of being alone or abandoned.
This year hasn’t been what anyone expected or planned. In all of the uncertainty, conflict, and pain, the only thing we can know for certain is that God is with us, asking “what troubles you” and saying “do not be afraid, I have heard you and I am with you always.” Amen.