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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Plot From The Plain: Woah and Woe

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 6:17-26

This week Reeves will begin a sermon series entitled Plot From The Plain based on lessons from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain found in Luke 6.  Jesus’ first sermon in Luke begins similarly to Jesus’ first sermon in Matthew – with a sharing of beatitudes.

The Beatitudes are Christ’s promise of coming blessings.  The blessings will arrive when the Kingdom of Heaven is in it’s fullness and completion on earth.

The Beatitudes are not the first blessings we encounter when we read Scripture.  Old Testament and New Testament texts are punctuated with blessing.  Each blessing is an authoritative pronouncement of God’s favor.  In some of our Bibles handy-dandy editors have come through and organized the Scripture with headers that somehow indicate “find a blessing here!” and then you read that blessing.  Other blessings in Scripture are not as easily noticed at first glance, but they are no less powerful and gracious in their gifting.

One of my favorite blessings that I return to again and again is Isaiah 46:4b.  God says, “I have made and I will bear; I will carry and I will save.”  I believe this blessing from God is pure gift.  And it is this blessing that beckons me, draws me, and inspires me into service for my God who has made the commitment through my creation to bear, carry, and save me.

No. Matter.  What.

//

As I ponder blessings this week I can’t help but think about how we have limited blessings in our lives.  Yes, we can read them in Scripture, but where else do we encounter blessings?  Sadly, I feel that we have limited blessings to words before we eat, sneezes, offertory prayers, and worship service dismissals.  You may participate in a faith community where clergy regularly steward the sacraments – there you will also encounter blessings.

But where else do we encounter blessings?

I am drawing a blank…and I think that shows the graveness of this predicament.

Which leads me to my next question – how can we develop a culture of blessing?

The Beatitudes are Christ’s promise of coming blessings – but I believe that we are presently in the world of Christ’s blessings and anticipating their completion.  We don’t anticipate idly.  We anticipate actively knowing that we do not bring about the completion of Christ’s blessings ourselves, but that we are helpmates in the completion and pronouncement of those blessings.

Through blessings we affirm people.  Through blessings we affirm the worthiness of others; we affirm our appreciation for their gifts, their presence, their dedication.  Through blessings we also encourage.

When we practice giving blessings – blessings from our own experience of others or speaking blessings of Scripture into the lives of our neighbors – I believe we develop a culture of blessing.  This culture of blessing could start with one – with me – with you – and grow exponentially.  I believe this is the task that Christ calls us to as helpmates in the Kingdom.

God bless you my friends.  Now go and do likewise.

Reflection: Who has blessed you in this life?  What was communicated in that blessing?  Was it spoken, written, expressed physically through a hug or some sort of service?  Who have you blessed?  How did you communicate it?  Who is someone that God is calling you to bless?  When will you communicate that blessing?

Prayer: “Blessed assurance; Jesus is mine!  O what a feeling of glory divine!  Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.  This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”*  Amen.

*From “Blessed Assurance,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 369.