April 2, 2017

Handling Expectations


John 11:1-45


11 A certain man, Lazarus, was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This was the Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped his feet with her hair. Her brother Lazarus was ill.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was. After two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s return to Judea again.”

The disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jewish opposition wants to stone you, but you want to go back?”

Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours in the day? Whoever walks in the day doesn’t stumble because they see the light of the world. 10 But whoever walks in the night does stumble because the light isn’t in them.”

11 He continued, “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping, but I am going in order to wake him up.”

12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he’s sleeping, he will get well.” 13 They thought Jesus meant that Lazarus was in a deep sleep, but Jesus had spoken about Lazarus’ death.

14 Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died. 15 For your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you can believe. Let’s go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (the one called Didymus) said to the other disciples, “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus.”

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was a little less than two miles from Jerusalem. 19 Many Jews had come to comfort Martha and Mary after their brother’s death. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.”

28 After she said this, she went and spoke privately to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here and he’s calling for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. 30 He hadn’t entered the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave, they followed her. They assumed she was going to mourn at the tomb.

32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. 34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?”

They replied, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus began to cry. 36 The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”

40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

45 Therefore, many of the Jews who came with Mary and saw what Jesus did believed in him.



A few weeks ago, I spoke about the importance of good communication in naming what matters to us. For example, when I got to Charlotte-Fagan, I was told it matters to this church that the pastor be social and outgoing. That was good to be named – y’all are a social church. When we want what matters to us to be honored or exercised, that is when we run into expectations.


Expectations are one of the most basic facets of human behavior and yet, I imagine, cause many of our personal problems. This is especially true as we become less and less adept at communicating effectively. (That goes for all generations by the way. It’s not just millennials who have fallen trap to expedient, non-personal electronic messaging behavior.)


Expectations are simply that: what we expect to be or to happen. They help us forge a path forward in how we order our lives. If we lived without expectations, we would be without a guiding compass on knowing whether things are working for our benefit or not.


When things go as we expect for the good, we have no reason to complain. But…what about those times when things either don’t go as we expect and we aren’t happy about it or when things do go as we expect and we aren’t happy about that. We have to learn how to handle the experience of unmet expectations in a Christ-like manner.


Today’s Scriptural example shows us how this happens to Jesus and his followers. A man named Lazarus, who is a friend of Jesus and brother to two other friends of Jesus, falls ill. Jesus sees the opportunity here, and he feels God will be glorified. We aren’t sure how much glory God gains from the text.


When Lazarus falls ill, his sisters Mary and Martha call for Jesus to come to the house, we assume to heal him. His arrival is too late to stop Lazarus succumbing to the illness, so they are upset, understandably. Both Jesus and Mary and Martha had an expectation of what should happen in this story.


Ultimately, Lazarus is healed, and Jesus shows everyone his power.  The hard part today is, we do not have Jesus’ divine power readily available to solve our problems. God does sometimes intervene through miracles, but we cannot count on it in every turn; however, what we can count on is God’s presence, and that’s where today’s message becomes more real than simply not getting upset when things don’t go our way. The message today is not that Jesus heals a dead man. He goes and heals the harm he caused by not meeting his friends’ expectation.


Many times, the expectations we hold in life are very important and should not be chastised as pettiness. Expectations point to very real feelings and emotions that matter to us. They are what makes us human. That does not mean that those feelings and emotions are always good. In all things, we should look to God to help establish the compass of what is and isn’t good.


Handling your expectations in all parts of your life should start with how they matter to God. A lot of times Christians turn to God’s words as tools for our argument rather than the code of living they should be. God tells us to turn to the Holy Spirit in times of need, so let us explore what that really means.


In church, people are not going to do what we want or act as we want. That is especially true when we are trying to do a ministry that we think is for the good of the church. In everything we do as Christians, our first line of thinking should be “what does God want of me in this moment?” Or, as someone in the 90’s most famously named it, “what would Jesus do?”


Jesus gives us a way of understanding how to deal with expectations that aren’t met. He was wrong about Lazarus living, and instead of simply healing him from afar so that he wouldn’t be wrong, he came to Mary and Martha in good faith. He had to heal the wounds that he caused.


When we have expectations that do not work as we would like them to, how often are we willing to go to the person we hurt or the one who hurt us and say, “I’m here, and I want to make this better.”? 


Doing as Jesus would do can be difficult at times. It means pushing through how we feel and begin by asking how God feels. We want our preferences; we want to take care of ourselves. That’s not the gospel.  We have to be careful not to expect God to serve us and not serve God in return. So often, belief boils down to thinking God and the church should be with us when we need them and then making time to serve or give when it’s convenient; however, growing in grace means always looking to God to transform us through our service and devotion.


What if we did as God expected of us: to bring about healing and hope in the world, to bring about the kingdom of heaven, making disciples, looking out for the sick and the widowed and the orphan. If we did that, the world would expect good from us. We would expect good from ourselves. And we would know to look to Christ to teach us how to handle it all when life does not go our way.


The good news is this: none of us is perfect. All of us struggle with reacting poorly when things don’t go our way. That’s ok. God freely gives grace to all those who ask for a second chance. Thankfully, a lot of people are able to take that grace given to them and give it others. I know many who forgive quickly, if not immediately. The choice for us today is to continue to seek God’s presence in our lives and how it can affect others.


Be a people of peace and grace. Communicate your needs. Handle unmet expectations with love. Amen.

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