"Watch Those Expectations

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 13, 2003

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Mark 11:1-11


     "Watch Those Expectations" is the title of the message this morning.  The reason we are going to discuss this on Palm Sunday is because the crowd that swept into the streets that day demonstrated how void of substance expectations can be.  We seldom pay much attention to how  expectations develop or why we enjoy having them. However, we know what happens to us when they are not met.  Perhaps if we would manage better the level of our expectations, we would have fewer disappointments and hurt feelings. 

     As we turn to our lesson, the Jews were preparing for their Passover celebration.  Because of the holy season, Jerusalem was bustling with people.  Their faith traditions had conditioned their thinking with the idea that one day God would send a liberator.  During this period of their history the Jews wanted to be saved from Roman rule, corrupt leaders, the oppressive tax burden and an entire host of perceived social and political ills. The expectation that a Messiah would come had been in their culture for centuries.

     When we add to this cultural mix, the stories that were circulating about Jesus, particularly the one coming from Bethany, the expectations within the crowd were heightened.  "Anyone who could raise the dead," they thought, "would also have power necessary to liberate us.  We would follow such a leader."

     Then Jesus had his disciples borrow a colt that had never been ridden. They spread their garments on it and Jesus road the donkey into the city. Because he used Messianic symbols with which the Jews were familiar, Jesus created enormous excitement.

     Just as we have seen jubilant Iraqi citizens pour into the streets welcoming their perceived   liberators, so the crowds in Jerusalem gathered in a similar fashion.  They shouted: "Praise God!  God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord!  God bless the coming kingdom of King David, our father!  Praise be to God!"

     Mark's Gospel described the scene.  Jesus entered the Temple, looked around and then retired to Bethany for the evening.  That was it.  The little parade witnessed by the enthusiastic crowd went absolutely nowhere.  All the generated exuberance from their heightened expectations died as quickly as it had formed.     

     Expectations are always tied to self-interest.   We ask, "What is someone going to do for me?" The minute our needs are not met we either grow disappointed, become hurt or we move onto something else.  This scene is repeated over and over again in many of our lives.  Jesus did not deliver what they wanted and he went into the category of other "pretenders" for the throne of David. The people lost interest.           

     It has been interesting that the vision of enthusiastic crowds in Iraq should come into our lives around Palm Sunday.  The next struggle the foreign policy makers will face is exactly what Jesus faced during his ministry -- the battle for the minds and hearts of people. How do people equip themselves to move beyond their thoughts of self-interest? Right now some Iraqis are looting, smashing icons, breaking into museums and taking timeless pieces of their ancient culture or anything they believe has value.

     When do people begin to think about possibilities such as peace, community and freedom when they have seldom, if ever,  experienced them? If we are ever prepared to admit this to ourselves, many of us look forward to change that we believe will improve our lives.  And, quite frankly, many of us look to others to help make this happen.

     Whether our experience is an oppressive set of parents, a miserable marriage or a work environment that disempowers us, we curse the darkness of our surroundings.  Many of us blame everyone and everything for the way we feel and for the conditions of our lives.  If the truth could be known, deliverance from something or someone may be the basis for many of our prayers.

     Who in the Palm Sunday crowd was prepared to hear from a person who said, "My Kingdom is not of this world."  Jesus' Kingdom had to do with the invisible minds and hearts of people and NOT with what they perceived a new savior on the order of King David would do for them. As long as humanity looks for that kind of  savior, it will always be placing its salvation in the hands of someone or something in the external world.  We may completely miss the message of Jesus, "Go into the world and do something to heal it!"

     Jesus disappointed the Palm Sunday crowd.  He disappointed people all the time, but this is one of the themes in the Gospels that is seldom explored.  For example, there was the mother who came to Jesus seeking positions of authority for her two sons once Jesus came into his power.  She was disappointed when he told her that such a thing was not under his authority to decide.

     Mary and Martha were very close to Jesus, but he disappointed them.  In one episode Martha had gone to great lengths to display her skills of hospitality.  She pleaded with Mary to help her. Instead of excusing Mary from his presence, Jesus praised her for choosing instead to listen to his ideas about how one can live their life from a world no one could see.

     The second occasion was when Lazarus died and Jesus had failed to arrive in Bethany as soon as he had been summoned by the sisters.  They could not hide their disappointment when each of them said on separate occasions, "Had you only been here our brother would not have died."   

     Imagine the people in the leper colonies who escaped being healed because Jesus failed to visit them.  When Jesus' family arrived during one of his teaching sessions, he refused to go home with them.  Furthermore, he told his listeners that they were his mother, brothers and sisters. 

     Judas was disappointed.  He sought a political solution to the plight of his people.  When he failed to force Jesus to be the kind of Messiah he wanted, Judas took his life.  What were his listeners to do with a man who said, "My Kingdom is not of this world."?  

     Jesus did not come here to meet the expectations of people who needed a savior.  Already, there had been plenty of saviors. Throughout human history, those who governed wisely gave their people an eternal world packaged in a form that made many of them very comfortable.  

     The Athenian culture took Greek education, architecture, art and philosophy to incredible levels of sophistication and refinement. There was the rise of a tiny Italian city named Rome. We are mystified how such a city could have ruled the world for a thousand years.  We happen to live in such a culture right now.  We could not choose to live in a better place anywhere in the world and yet Americans take more medication than any people on the earth.  We should find that very curious.

     The world has had many saviors on the order of King David.  Only a few of them ever tried to teach people how to get in touch with and master the world no one can see.  Sometimes it takes a child to teach the rest of us what such a world can do. 

     Tommy Tighe was a precocious, self-starting six year old who wanted to do something about the unrest in the world.  He had an idea and approached a business man for a $500 loan.  After hearing what the young man had in mind, this friend of the family gave him the money with the understanding that Tommy would pay it back. It was agreed.  Tommy's dream was to create a bumper sticker that said, "Peace Please!  Do It For The Kids!  Signed:  Tommy."

     Tommy listened to some of his father's How to Win In Sales motivational tapes and followed through on their numerous suggestions for success.  The advice from the tapes was to start at the top. He asked his father to drive him to the residence of former President Ronald Reagan.  Tommy walked up to the gate and rang the bell. Tommy's well rehearsed two minute presentation so touched the Secret Service agent that the guard bought a bumper sticker for $1.50.  Then he said, "Wait right here, son.  Let me get the President.  I think he would like to buy one too."

     Later the Orange County Register did a feature story on Tommy, his meeting with the former President and his bumper sticker.  The reporter asked Tommy if he felt his modest effort might impact world peace.  Tommy said, "I don't think I'm old enough yet.  I think you have to be eight or nine before you can stop all the wars in the world."  After this warm-hearted story hit the wires, it was not long before Tommy appeared on Good Morning, America.  Needless to say, he paid back the loan.

     This story captures the very essence of what Jesus was trying to convey.  We should never expect someone else to make something happen for us.  Jesus never sent the world to save us.  It was the other way around.   We must be part of the vision ourselves. 

     One little guy who understood this received national exposure.  The Apostle Paul's one time letters to small groups of believers somehow made it into the Big Book we call, The Word of God We must grow inside ourselves the very qualities that we want for the rest of the world. 

     In Iraq, no military machine's technological achievements can accomplish this.  Humanitarian  aid will not do this.  Getting the water running, the hospitals functioning, the electricity flowing and setting curfews will not create such an environment. No one in history has ever succeeded in bringing a utopia to another civilization. 

     What will bring the tribal factions together in Iraq is the same energy pattern that will eventually bring Christians, Jews and Muslims together with the Hindus and Buddhists.  The invisible world of the human Will is what causes such things to happen.  As long as we preach an exclusive message that everyone must believe as we do or be lost, whether politically or religiously, our own words will continue to prevent the world community from experiencing itself as a whole.

     Jesus taught what life looks like when love is the driving force behind every word and deed, not theology, not beliefs, not doctrines, not Church policy, not even democracy, but LOVE! Where do we believe democracy came from if not from the understanding that all of us need to serve one another.  When we lose sight of that, democracy fades very quickly.

      Even when Jesus failed everyone's expectations on the first Palm Sunday and hung dying on a cross a week later, he made visible what love's energy can do.  Anyone who studies what he said from that cross cannot help but notice what Jesus communicated. Love demonstrated its power even during the most agonizing pain a human being can experience.  The question is, will we follow him?

     If we are going to have expectations, may they be of ourselves and what it is we can do to make our world a better and more wholesome place to live.  When each of our seeds sends up new shoots of growth from a world none of us can see, we are on our way. When our greatest desire is to be a healer in our world, we will have found the pearl of great price.     

     We have seen what God can do through one loving person hanging on a cross.  If we are really awake, watch what God can do through a community that radiates understanding and the unconditional acceptance of all others.  Rather than expecting God to perform miracles in our external world, we need to stand forth in love and be one ourselves. That is what Jesus did and he asked us to follow.    


    We continue to thank you, O God, for your mercy and grace.  There are times when we feel the strain from the limitations of our faith.  We find it difficult to care about others who fail to live up to our expectations.  We confess our hurt when others do not understand us.  We admit to feeling invisible when our feelings are ignored.  We feel confused when we are abandoned by those who are close to us.  Sometimes our loneliness isolates us from being loved.  Oh God, help us to remember that Jesus experienced all of these moments, yet he carried himself victoriously.  Please lead us beside those same still waters that our souls might be restored.  Help us to remember that we are never alone.  Amen.


     In the hush of these moments, O God, our minds enjoy their travels back to Jerusalem.  While it was not as complex a time as our present age, even during those days people were reaching for someone who might bring a positive change to their circumstances. 

     How tempted we are to want the same for ourselves.  There is such a searching in our minds for something or someone to undue many of the harsh realities of life over which we have no control.  While most of us are surrounded by the material blessings that humankind has desired for thousands of years, we still seek love, cooperation, the vital sense of community that makes us feel safe and valued for the understanding that you love us as you always have.

     Help us today to look to Jesus not for the unpleasant things he can remove from our lives, but rather for what he gave his life to teach us.  As we follow his walk this week, may we not be distracted by the gross injustices that occurred, but become inspired by the spirit he radiated when they were visited upon him.  May we come to see that even during the moments when his body was racked with pain, Jesus was still teaching what is possible for everyone.  We pray these thoughts through the Spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .