Smash Your Expectations
February 26, 2023
Smash Your Expectations
Welcome friends to this very punk rock season of Lent! Because, I mean, what’s not punk about us putting black crosses on our foreheads, and dwelling on our mortality together like we did on Wednesday? Lent feels pretty punk to me, it’s by far the moodiest liturgical season. Punk music comes from people who were labeled as outcasts and freaks by society. It’s all about self-expression, and non-conformity. Kind of reminds me of setting aside the ways of the world, a very Lenten idea. Punk music pushes boundaries, resists powers and principalities, and calls attention to social issues by being deliberately offensive. Sort of like a few prophets I can think of. Punk is raw, angsty, messy, and cathartic – it gives a voice to human emotions and grapples with existential questions. These are just a few of its connections to Lent.
Lent, which is not just a 40-day period where you give up coffee and come out on the other side a better person. Lent to me is more of an invitation to us to sit with the hard stuff: our mortality, our grief, our fear, our anger, our emptiness – the stuff we normally avoid thinking about. Because from the very beginning of Lent, we know that this season is leading up to the cross, and for forty days we journey towards it, like the Israelites who were in the desert 40 years, and like Jesus, wandering towards a challenging destination for 40 days.
In a very Lenten fashion, Jesus fasted for 40 days, and then at the end of it he squares off with Satan himself, who hasn’t come for a supernatural fist fight, but rather to tempt Jesus by offering what he expects Jesus to be after. First, the reasonable expectation that Jesus must be hungry. And that if he is who he says he is, what he should do is turn some ordinary rocks into bread. I mean, who would it hurt? But Jesus isn’t interested. Jesus quotes some verses from Deuteronomy, which we read. Verses where Moses was speaking to the Israelites and reminding them of their time in the desert eating manna.
Manna wasn’t like normal food. You couldn’t gather or store any extra because it went bad overnight. So, you have to trust that it’s going to keep showing up every morning, and that it will be enough… Every. Single. Day. And so, teaching them to trust in that way, was how God made sure that the people of Israel were ready to live in the promised land and to rely on God by keeping God’s commandments there.
So, Moses compares God to a parent, and, maybe when you hear that, you start thinking of a very legalistic parent, one who demands total obedience, with no questions asked. The kind of parent that many a punk song has been written about, who just really doesn’t understand their rebellious teen, and keeps trying to punish them into listening, but it only ever drives them further into their music. But I don’t really think God is that kind of a parent. Because Moses also says that God did not let their feet get sore or their clothes wear out as they walked through the desert. For 40 years! God still cared for them, protected them, and provided their daily sustenance.
Whether that’s literally true or not, it seems like God did an awful lot to make sure that they made it through the desert and that God was committed to staying with them, doing all of this, for however long they wandered. To me, it sounds like Moses believes that God is a patient parent. The kind who cleans up skinned knees, and makes ice packs for bruises, and packs good food in the lunchbox every day, even though you probably won’t eat it.
If we read God that way, then God is saying to the Israelites, live how I taught you: seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly, because that is how you will succeed in the land I am bringing you to. You don’t want to be like all the kingdoms of the world, where money and power are stored up in the hands of a few abusive rulers. Even though it is tempting, because the world seems to run on money and power. Being a counterculture to the world is pretty dang hard, but it is how you will thrive.
These temptations are the very same things that Satan tempts Jesus with. He takes Jesus to the roof of the Temple, and says, if you are the Son of God, jump down and let the angels catch you. Why? Well, maybe because something that miraculous would be a fabulous way to jump start his career as the Messiah. That kind of showy event would skyrocket him to fame in Jerusalem, so he could do anything. Everyone in the temple would see it. He could probably bypass his whole ministry in Galilee and jump right to the end of the Gospel story… but, then the people of Galilee would never get to meet him, so he says no.
Then, Satan offers him authority over all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus just has to bow down and buy into Satan’s multi-level-marketing scheme, and then all the powers and principalities of the world would be his to control. This is not as far-fetched as we might think. I mean, how many times have you heard Christians say that they want to put God in charge of our government? By which of course they mean themselves speaking for God. But best-case scenario here, if Jesus had taken the devil up on this offer, maybe, we could be living in a world where Jesus made all the decisions. Maybe by playing dictator to the dictators throughout history, he could have avoided billions of deaths from war and genocide, and everyone on Earth would believe in him… maybe, but you already know what Jesus said to that. No.
No, for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and him only.” Wielding political power might be effective, but that kind of power still falls short compared to God’s power, which is the kind of power that is built up through the relationships and community which Jesus came to build. Satan doesn’t seem to have a clue what Jesus really wants. So, he gives up, and Jesus finally gets some much-needed rest, because defending yourself against the expectations of others is frankly, exhausting.
We would know because we are surrounded by expectations. They come at us through every commercial that runs across our screens, and through every relationship from our formative years. Expectations about our careers, our finances, our education, our bodies, our clothes, our families, our diets, and much, much, more. And for many of us, Lent may feel like just another set of expectations. Like, you have to give up something really, really good, and not falter at all through those 40 days, so that God will be happy with you, to avoid discipline or any further divine lessons.
It might feel like God is just another source for expectations. An omnipresent parent who is always watching with a disapproving gaze.
But I don’t think that’s God at all. God is a parent, who wants to see us thriving, and who hopes relentlessly for our wholeness, and so encourages us to move in the direction of justice but offers us endless grace when we let ourselves and each other down. God stays in the wilderness with us. God sits beside us next to the void that we fear. God is not the kind of parent who says “I told you so” but the kind who never gives up on us and lets us find our own way in our own time.
Jesus goes out into the wilderness, not because he is lost, and not because he is being punished, but because it is where the Spirit leads him.
And in that wilderness, Jesus faces the very real expectations of the world, expectations that he was bound to run into throughout his ministry. Satan would not be the last person to ask Jesus for a miracle to prove who he was. Or to tell him what he “should” do if he is the son of God. Expectations are a part of the human experience, but the wilderness is a place where we get to define ourselves, and by journeying through it with God we get to figure out what matters to us and become who we are.
So, even if you are following the Spirit exactly like Jesus did, you may still end up in the wilderness. Faith is not GPS that can lead you around life’s problems if you believe hard enough and do everything right. Faith is the manna that gets us through the wilderness, which is a part of life, for all of us. God is not a void-filler for the big scary hole inside of us, God is our companion in coming to terms with it, the one who wants to empower us to live in spite of it, through justice and peace, so that we may live together.
We spend so much of our time and energy trying to do and be enough for the world’s expectations, that I think sometimes we don’t leave ourselves enough space to go where the Spirit is trying to lead us, which may not be where we expected to end up. But if there’s one thing Jesus is an example of in this story, it is that God always defies our expectations. That is what made his ministry so transformative. When offered the highest of worldly powers and an easier way, Jesus chose discomfort, and community-building, and trust that God’s daily provision would be enough.
So, this lent, I encourage you to smash your expectations, whatever that means for you. Give up some expectations and add something to your life that builds up your relationships with others, with God, or just with yourself. Smash your expectations about God because God isn’t out to get you. God isn’t just who other people say God is. Find God for yourself, even if you have to step into the wilderness to find them.
Smash the expectations that other people have put on you, the definitions of piety given to you, and everything you hold yourself to even when it stifles your spirit and makes your life hell. Smash the expectations of the world, to consume, to gather up wealth and authority and possession, to achieve and succeed and out-perform all others, and instead figure out what you can expect of yourself that will move you towards a more whole and fulfilling life. Whatever expectations you are grappling the most with right now, I hope you are inspired by the punk Jesus who didn’t bother with other people’s expectations.
Whatever you do this lent, I hope you don’t do what is expected of you, and I hope that brings you closer to God and to all the people around you whose only expectation of you is for you to thrive. Set aside the ways of the world, my friends, let your freak flag fly, be yourself and see where that leads you. It just might lead you to the God who already lives within you, who is bigger than all your expectations, and yet has been there the entire time. Amen.
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