Giving Up: Expectations

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 3:1-17.

When I think about my life, I realize I live between high expectations and contentment. I have high expectations for myself; I desire excellence and therefore seek to serve excellently in all tasks. I also seek to practice contentment, which is a grounding skill. Practicing contentment returns me to the knowledge that I am because God loves; I am not by what I do or do not produce.

The thought of giving up expectations makes me quite nervous (1) because of my desire to be in control (still working on that!) and (2) because I feel that expectations provide me with direction. But giving up expectations also creates space for God to do one of the things God does best, which is surprise me – surprise us!

Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, does something surprising; he seeks Jesus out at night to ask him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born” (Jn 3:4)? Having grown up in Jewish systems of thought and expectations all his life – and serving as a teacher in these systems and with those expectations – Nicodemus courageously ventures to think a new thought and consider a new paradigm. Nicodemus was familiar with the practice of repentance and seeking forgiveness of sins. Nicodemus was familiar with baptism – participating in a ritual that declared a person’s devotion to a particular group or belief. And in his encounter with Jesus, he is surprised to learn that to receive eternal life, he must be born again by water and the Spirit.

If Nicodemus remains so committed to the systems of thought and expectations he knows and teaches, he may miss out on the surprise of what lies beyond them – the surprise and blessing of resurrection.

In giving up expectations we receive (and hopefully accept!) the invitation to trust God. And in trusting God, we live into contentment. We are because God loves; we are not by what we do or do not produce.

Join the Rev. Kate Ling and the Quest Sunday School Class this Sunday as they offer their leadership during Tuskawilla’s worship services. I will be serving with TUMC’s youth on the Confirmation Retreat Friday evening through Sunday afternoon and then at Gator Wesley Sunday evening. Thank you, Pastor Kate and Quest Members, for your preparation and service, dear friends!

Prayer: “God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name, I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name, and in Jesus’ name I come to you, to share his love as he told me to. He said, ‘Freely, freely you have received, freely, freely give. Go in my name, and because you believe, others will know that I live.'”* Amen.

“Freely, Freely,” The United Methodist Hymnal 389.

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Fright Nights ~ Hagar

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 21:9-21

This Sunday I am beginning a new series entitled Fright Nights!  The purpose of this sermon series is to explore and study a collection of texts categorized by Hebrew Bible Scholar Phyllis Trible as texts of terror.  These texts offer insights into variations of terror by exposing the root of the terror which is sin.  These sins are not unique to the persons who committed them; rather, these are sins we are all capable of, sins we may have felt the effects of at the hands of another or perhaps have inflicted upon others.

This week’s case study is Hagar, the Egyptian slave of Abraham and Sarah who obeys her mistress and conceives a son for Abraham so that God’s promise of progeny would be fulfilled.  Sarah’s sin is that she doubts God’s faithfulness.  In her impatience Sarah decides to take matters into her own hands by having Hagar conceive, carry, and deliver Abraham’s child.  Her sin then crescendos to terror for Hagar as Sarah rejects and dismisses the slave woman and her infant son.

Hagar did what she was asked.

She was used – abused – and rejected.

Terror.

God remains silent during the transaction of Hagar – and I say transaction because as this story unfolds Hagar is no longer a person but an object.  Abraham appeals to God for guidance and God says to listen to Sarah.  So Hagar is deposed.

Hagar wanders in the wilderness and fears imminent death for her child she cries out to God who is hidden and not yet known to her.  The angel of God speaks and offers her the care that she did not receive from Sarah or the father of her child.  Her eyes are opened and she sees a well teeming with life-giving water for her child.  God intervenes on the side of and on behalf of Hagar the outcast.  This movement ensures that though God may be silent God will not remain silent.  God is the provider for orphans and outcasts.  God will not turn away.  God will deliver.  God transforms the terror.

Phyllis Trible in her book Texts of Terror writes that “as a symbol of the oppressed, Hagar becomes many things to many people…She is the faithful maid exploited, the black woman used by the male and abused by the female of the ruling class, the surrogate mother, the resident alien without legal recourse, the other woman, the runaway youth, the religious fleeing from affliction, the pregnant young woman alone, the expelled wife, the divorced mother with child, the shopping bag lady carrying bread and water, the homeless woman, the indigent relying upon handouts from the power structures, the welfare mother, and the self-effacing female whose own identity shrinks in service to others.”*

I believe many of us find kinship with Hagar as we have been used, abused, and rejected.  I believe many of us shy away from the actions of Sarah…even though we are equally guilty of inflicting those wounds on others.

For me the terror experienced by Hagar stirs the question of how our communities of faith will respond to the Hagars of the world?  Will we create space for Hagar to find cool water in the oasis of our fellowships?  Will we speak?  Will we intervene?  Will we heal?  Or will we remain silent and let the terror continue?

Prayer: O God of love and hope, forgive me when I act like Sarah – using, abusing, and rejecting your precious children.  O God of love and hope, heal my Hagar wounds.  O God of love and hope, open my eyes that I may recognize the Hagars in my midst and create space for them in my life and your sanctuary.  Amen.

*Trible, Phyllis.  Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984, 28.