Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Gap between Expectation and Experience

Peter Lockhart

“The people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John.”

Expectations can drive us as people in our emotions and thoughts and the people who had gathered around John had placed their hopes and expectations in him. Was he the Messiah that they had long waited for?

John’s answer indicates that there is gap between the expectations of the people and their experience of the truth.

This raises questions for me about our own expectations and the gaps that lie in between what we expect and what we actually experience.

Let me my just ask some questions about what you were expecting this morning and whether there is a gap between your expectations and your experience?

Did you come this morning expecting that we would go through the motions of worship – play the organ, sing a hymn, say pray, stay awake through the sermon, or be given an activity to distract me from the sermon?

Did you come expecting to see me wearing robes or a T-shirt or a suit? What makes a minister a minister? How do I fit your expectations?

Did you come this morning here in the place expecting to encounter God, to experience something otherworldly or divine? How is that working out for you?

Or maybe you came simply wanting to be part of this community? As I walk down the aisle and you turn to watch me, who do you see across the pews? What are expecting of each other as a community of faith? Do you want to love one another – or is that simply not a part of what you expect?

Maybe you came expecting to get out of here by 10 so you can get on with real life in the real world?

What are your expectations and what is the gap in your experience? Where do you discuss it? How do you reflect on it? How do you live and grow in your faith?

The questions that we have, the expectations and the gap between them and our experiences is an important matter for us in our development as a community of faith.

Returning to the scene of the people 2000 years back and the gap between their experience and expectations what can we learn?

Looking at John’s response John paints a picture of the one whom we was preceding as being more powerful than he. John speaks of him baptising with Spirit and fire and then describes the scene on the threshing floor where the chaff is separated from the grain and burnt in an unquenchable fire.

John’s words may seem echo down to us as a dire warning of judgement. Is the Messiah going to bring division and purifying fire?

The imagery of fire is most tangible for us this week as Australians as we think of our fellow Australians in Tasmania, Victoria, NSW, and South Australia.

For is a destructive force, a terrifying power. Is this the Messiah for you and I?

I must admit that there are times I am uncomfortable with the images of a God who would judge so harshly and burn the chaff away and I believe such images are more often than not misused.

On the other side of this coin though is the deep suffering and pain in the world that people cause one another, deliberately and inadvertently, collectively and individually.

There is not a period in history; there is not a place in the world that we look that our hearts would not find reason to grieve.

If our hearts break at the suffering in the world then no les s should we think that God’s heart breaks and longs for a world in which the things which are not of God and God’s love and grace. We have just come off Christmas where the angels declared a hope for peace on earth and goodwill to all people, but what happens with the gap in that expectation?

With all in this mind we jump from John’s comments to the reality of Jesus.

Jesus baptism is described in an unusual way in Luke. The lectionary today has left a significant gap in the story which tells us the John is arrested and imprisoned by Herod for his words and actions.

This leaves an ambiguity about who actually baptised Jesus but the description of the event echoes the other gospel writers – a dove descends which is the Holy Spirit.

Luke’s description of the Holy Spirit as an actual dove is a bit perplexing and I must admit I am not sure how to swallow the embodiment of the Holy Spirit in a bird which hovers or possibly even lands on Jesus.

Nonetheless the power of the symbol is strong and somewhat contradictory to what we have just heard.

John’s description of the Holy Spirit is matched by fire contrasts with the image of the Holy Spirit as the dove: a gap between expectation and experience?

The dove for us is a symbol of peace, in Jesus time doves were also use as sacrifices.

The imagery points us to God’s intention that Jesus as the expression and reality of God in our midst is a man of peace. Through his earthly ministry he brought healing and reconciliation into the lives of many.

In his confrontation with the authorities his choice was not violence but love and ultimately he gives himself freely into those who sacrifice him for the pursuit of their own power.

The Jesus we meet in the scriptures, on whom the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, is a man who responds to the fires of this world with words of truth and love and hope as he takes within his own existence the gap in reality between how we were made to live and how we actually live.

In his baptism celebrated on this day we are reminded that he chose to take within himself our decision o be turned away from God and each other and by carrying this through his life establishes the pathway in relationship to God that God wills for us – one grounded in peace.

Is this the God we expected to meet today? A God who reaches out to draw us home, to draw all people home! A God who promise is a renewal of the whole creation in the face of the deep problems we are facing as a human race. A God who loves us beyond our faults and failures and carries us within himself!

The people were filled with expectation, there was a gap in the truth of what they expected and experienced. John’s description of Jesus as judge contrasted with the image of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove. There are gaps between what we expect out of life and our faith and what we see and hear and do but the good news is this God’s love was big enough to come among us in human form to bring us home.

The words ring true:

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus God’s Son by bearing us and who we are in his life has made us heirs of that same truth; we are children of God, we are beloved.

I want to conclude this morning with a prayer written by Michael Leunig (When I Talk to You) which reflects the gap between expectations and experiences and challenges us this day with what our prayers maybe should be:

God give us rain when we expect sun.
God give us music when we expect trouble.
God give us tears when we expect breakfast.
God give us dreams when we expect a storm.
Give us a stray dog when we expect congratulations.
God play with us, turn us sideways and around


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