This turns out to be a great lead-in to our text from the gospel
of Matthew. These are the words of Jesus, who frankly sounds a little
frustrated by the criticism that he’s been getting from the
Pharisees and some of the people about not being quite what they
were expecting in a Messiah. I believe Jesus is a bit annoyed when
he compares them to children in a marketplace. Whiney brats: half
of you are upset because I’m not dancing to your tune or wailing
along with your misery, and the other half of you either think I
have a demon because I’m not eating, or that I’m a glutton
and a sinner because I am eating. What is it with you people? How
could anyone make you happy? If you have ever tried to lead a group
of people, or tried to plan a vacation with another family -- or
maybe just your own family -- you may be able to sympathize with
Jesus on this one.
We all come into groups of people, civic organizations, school
groups, churches -- with expectations. We can’t help it. That’s
partly why visiting a new church, especially if we’ve been
away from church for a while, or all our life, is so intimidating.
We don’t know what to expect. This nearly always creates anxiety
-- at least when it’s happening to us. When the unexpected
happens to someone else -- especially someone we don’t know
-- we show it on America’s Funniest Home videos, or now YouTube
-- and have a good laugh.
So in that spirit, I’m going to show you a series of short
videos. They’re funny because they end up differently than
you might expect. [YouTube Unexpected Compilation]
You had to know that to be included in a collection called “The
Unexpected Compilation,” something was going to happen in
each of these videos. But it turns out that being open to unexpected
possibilities is one of the hallmarks of strength and resiliency.
This doesn’t mean that the unexpected is always something
good, but our attitude can go a long way toward determining if we’ve
gotten lemons or lemonade. Here’s what Jesus said to the whiney
folks who were criticizing him for not being the Messiah they expected:
watch and see. Actually, the NRSV says, “Wisdom is vindicated
by her deeds,” but I prefer ‘watch and see. ‘
If this works out, you’ll see the wisdom of it.
Forty-three of you filled out a survey last month, called a Positive
Change Practices Inventory. Do you remember that? We filled it out
after we watched the video on new leadership. That survey asked
you to rate our congregation and pastoral staff on a variety of
questions relating to Positive Language, Asking Questions, Integrity,
and Vision. I was excited to see that the highest score was 25 out
of 43 of you who strongly agree that we have a written vision statement.
Then I realized that you filled out this survey while sitting in
the Gathering Area, just under a 20 foot banner with our written
vision statement: then I wondered what the other 18 of you were
thinking. Communication is a long and ongoing process, and we can’t
assume that the message gets through the first time.
I was pleased overall with the results of that survey. They were
more positive than I expected: according to the interpretive data
at the end, Creekside has some change processes in place, but there’s
still room for improvement. I think this is a fair assessment. I
am heartened by those of you who were able and willing to participate
in the survey, but more than that, I am heartened by Jesus’
words further on in Matthew 11. Here’s why I believe we need
to watch and see what wisdom Jesus has for us; even if it takes
us in a direction we didn’t expect. In Matthew 11:25, Jesus
prays, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because
you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have
revealed them to infants.” Now, I have nothing against the
wise and the intelligent -- I like them, I try to be like them,
I respect the wisdom and intelligence of folks who are wiser and
more intelligent than I am. But the kingdom of God is not a problem
to be solved by the wise and intelligent, it is the mystery of God
that is revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “No one knows
the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the
Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” It
isn’t about us figuring it out, it’s about learning
to see God more clearly.
God confounds our expectations because God is God and we are not.
Our best ideas and plans and thoughts aren’t in the same league
as God’s thoughts and plans. In Isaiah 55 8-9 God says, “For
my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. For
as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than
your ways.” For me what this means is not that we should throw
in the towel and stop thinking -- remember, we’re not trying
to be God; we’re trying to be God’s people. For me what
this means is that if I’m watching for Jesus and actively
seeking Jesus’ wisdom to be revealed, that will be the clearest
view I will get of the kingdom of God and God’s will for us
and for me. Anybody can do this -- even infants -- anybody with
the humility to acknowledge that the kingdom of God is not going
to come through our wisdom and intelligence, it comes in the person
and through the grace of Jesus Christ.
We are going to have the chance to hear five Creekside ministry
teams share during our Table Talk following the service. Although
some people serve on more than one of those teams, this represents
a significant number of people, many kinds of gifts, and a good
measure of wisdom and intelligence. I hope you will listen carefully
and find ways to express appreciation for the ways these folks serve
our congregation. Don’t be like those whiners that Jesus had
to put up with, who said, “We thought you were going to do
it like this. How come you’re not doing it like that?”
We need to hold our expectation lightly, because our goal is not
to assert our own wisdom and intelligence, it is to discern how
Jesus is working through these people to exceed our expectations.
I hope this will help us to see what is working, and what we need
to keep affirming and encouraging.
You may get tired of hearing about mission and vision over the
next few months -- or you may not even remember that we’ve
been talking about it. Either way, here is what I want to say: our
mission and vision are revealed in Jesus Christ. The more carefully
we can listen to our teams and team leaders, the more honest and
courageous we can be about our own gifts and how they might be used
in the service of God’s kingdom, and the more closely we follow
Jesus, the closer we will be to discovering our mission as a congregation.
Discovering and defining our mission is a great start, but it’s
the first step. Remember Jesus’ words, “Wisdom is vindicated
by her deeds.” We’ll know if we’re going in the
right direction if it’s working: for us and for our neighbors.
I want to finish by considering the last verses of our text, verses
28-30. Jesus is quoting from the wisdom literature of the Old Testament:
some of you will hear the echo of Handel’s Messiah in the
words, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am
gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus is speaking,
but he’s quoting the words of Wisdom, Lady Wisdom who is gentle
and humble and whose work rests lightly on our shoulders. These
are the words of wisdom that I want to leave with you today: we
all carry burdens; most of them aren’t visible. We carry the
weight of sorrow, rejection, disappointment, illness, and discouragement;
these burdens drag us down or clank beneath our feet and make us
stumble. The mission of God is not that kind of burden. The work
of God should not be a crushing responsibility or a punishing task.
Sometimes the people of God -- bless their hearts -- make God’s
mission feel like a heavy load. But I believe -- and I believe this
because I’ve experienced it -- that walking with God brings
us unexpected moments of peace and joy, and gives us the opportunity
to lay down the weight of other people’s expectations or our
own expectations. The ability to affirm and celebrate what we’re
doing together is one of the surest signs that we’re on the
right path. Watch and see! If it isn’t fantastic, that’s
because God isn’t finished.