I keep waiting for God to do things my way. That’s preposterous and I laugh aloud at the audacity of such a confession, but it’s truer than I prefer to admit. I have expectations for how God works, and I’m disappointed when God doesn’t act according to my plan. Today’s reading reminds me that I’m not the only one who’s disappointed by such expectations. “Why didn’t you get here sooner, Jesus?” Mary asks. “Couldn’t Jesus have prevented the death of Lazarus?” some whisper among themselves. And then, when Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb: “Couldn’t Jesus bring Lazarus back to life without the stench of death hovering in the air?” (ap).
Many people are disappointed by Jesus and his ministry. Some want more pizzazz. Some want more quiet time. Some want Jesus to focus on teaching; others want him to focus on healing. Some think he should stick to the temple, some think he should challenge Rome, and still others want him to minister exclusively to the outcasts and fly under the radar of religious and political authorities. “Didn’t I tell you to believe?” Jesus asks (ap). To Jesus, the sign of belief is not certainty but a willingness to be surprised. Believe and be surprised by life after death. Believe and be surprised by healing. Believe and be surprised by teaching. Believe and be surprised by abundance.
Given the choice between setting our own expectations and being surprised by another’s, most of us will choose to set our own. When our expectations are not met, surprise can become disappointment, and disappointment can become resistance. The way someone else does it isn’t good enough. I want Jesus to mourn in a certain way. I want Lazarus to be resurrected in a certain way. But Jesus doesn’t do things my way. Thank God!
I confess that you do not meet my expectations, O God. You upend them and exceed them. Thank you. Amen.
Ezekiel sets the stage for the readings this week. In a vision, the prophet sees a seemingly hopeless situation, yet God restores flesh to the bones and brings them back to life by breathing into them. The psalmist calls out to God from the depths of devastation and waits confidently for God’s redemption. Paul plays off the double meaning of the Greek word pneuma: “breath” and “spirit.” Just as Ezekiel’s dry bones are brought back through the breath of God, so are we raised through the Spirit of God. The Lazarus story provides a bookend resurrection story for the week. Here Jesus demonstrates in the physical realm the spiritual realities described in the other passages. These resurrection stories point us toward Jesus’ resurrection and ultimately the promise of our own.
Read Ezekiel 37:1-14. When have you heard from God directly or through others in times of devastation? How did you respond?
Read Psalm 130. How can you listen for signs of hope and look for God’s voice?
Read Romans 8:6-11. What helps you remember that you cannot save yourself and to put your trust in God?
Read John 11:1-45. When have you been disappointed in God’s timing or response? What would be different now if God had met your expectations then?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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