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Daily Devotional

summer, somewhere - Danez Smith

This week as we’ve looked at God’s vision for unity (Rev 7:9-10), we’ve also read of Jesus’s call in Luke 4 to work against the oppression that has broken that unity in order that the powerful might benefit from the status quo. Today, as part of listening well to those on the margins, we read what may be an uncomfortable poem about police brutality against blacks (“we go out for sweets and come back” is a reference to Trayvon Martin, for example). Listen for the echoes of God’s purposes, for the cries of lament, for the longing for the renewal of all things. Respond with grief and intercession.

 

summer, somewhere 

By Danez Smith 

 

somewhere, a sun. below, boys brown 
as rye play the dozens & ball, jump 

in the air & stay there. boys become new 
moons, gum-dark on all sides, beg bruise 

-blue water to fly, at least tide, at least
spit back a father or two. I won’t get started. 

history is what it is. it knows what it did. 
bad dog. bad blood. bad day to be a boy 

color of a July well spent. but here, not earth 
not heaven, boys can’t recall their white shirt 

turned a ruby gown. here, there is no language 
for officer or law, no color to call white.

if snow fell, it’d fall black. please, don’t call 
us dead, call us alive someplace better. 

we say our own names when we pray. 
we go out for sweets & come back. 

                                                                     // 

do you know what it’s like to live 
on land who loves you back? 

no need for geography 
now, we safe everywhere. 

point to whatever you please
& call it church, home, or sweet love. 

paradise is a world where everything 
is sanctuary & nothing is a gun. 

here, if it grows it knows its place 
in history. yesterday, a poplar 

told me of old forest
heavy with fruits i’d call uncle 

bursting red pulp & set afire 
harvest of dark wind chimes. 

after i fell from its limb 
it bandaged me in sap. 

                                                               // 

you are not welcome here. trust 
the trip will kill you. go home. 

we earned this paradise
by a death we didn’t deserve. 

I am sure there are other heres. 
a somewhere for every kind 

of somebody, a heaven of brown
girls braiding on golden stoops 

but here

                          how could I ever explain to you 

             someone prayed we’d rest in peace 

& here we are


in peace               whole                  all summer 

               

                                 ///  

Radically Welcome in Isaiah

“I am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory. I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the Lord—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the Lord. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the Lord in ceremonially clean vessels. And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the Lord. “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure… and all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. 
- Isaiah 66:18-23

Do you remember the verses we read yesterday from Revelation 7:9-10 about all people being gathered around Christ in heaven? Well, these verses say exactly the same thing - and yet they were written all the way back, hundreds and hundreds of years before Christ. Isaiah shines this radically welcoming beacon into the future towards Jesus, since he’s the one who is going to bring us together. The fact that Isaiah was centuries before Christ reminds us that this unity was always God’s plan, even though too often we’ve been divided around culture, race, and nationality.

In these verses there’s a lot of language about worship and sacrifice, about movement towards one another and towards God. Today, just read over those verses again and soak in God’s plan to draw all people together. Let these words stir you, encourage you, challenge you, comfort you. And speak your heart back to God afterwards.

Kingdom Come

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
- Revelation 7:9-10

In this passage the apostle John is recording the vision he had of heaven. People from all across the earth are gathering and singing together the praise of God, while Jesus stands in the enter of them all.

If this is the vision for where we all end up, how should we live now? Remember that prayer Jesus taught us - “May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In John’s vision we see what heaven’s like. But when we read the news, we realize that there is no such harmony here on earth. Instead, all nations, tribes, peoples and languages are divided and warring.

Pray today for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven, especially in the area of how we relate to people of different race/cultures/nations.

Who Do You Make Furious?

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove Jesus out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 
- Luke 4:28-29

What a dramatic scene - the worship service got so out of hand that the congregation turned into a mob and tried to push Jesus off a cliff. All because ‘they heard this.’ The ‘this’ was Jesus talking about God’s radical inclusivity, his compassion on the poor, and his prioritizing those on the margins. Apparently that’s very threatening to the status quo. For example, try putting an end to slavery and you might have a war break out, or try ending Jim Crow and you can spend a lot of time in prison.

Is there anything that you say or do that makes other people furious? (Not the annoying things that are selfish and immature, but the dangerously bold, the powerfully good, and the status-quo-threatening things that God is up to).

If you find yourself saying yes to that question, meditate on this passage as a way to connect with Jesus: ““Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mt 6:11-12).

If you find yourself saying no to that question, ask yourself why not and ask Jesus if might want to make you a bit more revolutionary :-).

Jesus's Inaugural Address

Jesus stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
- Luke 4:16-19

Jesus intentionally chose this passage from the Old Testament to launch his ministry. In his inaugural address the four specific groups of ‘constituents’ he mentioned were the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. Those weren’t big ‘special interest groups’ that wielded a lot of power then (or now… or ever!). No, Jesus did not come to play our power games. He didn’t come to go politicking around saying what the rich and famous wanted to hear, or to uphold the status quo. He came with revolution on his mind and heart, seeking to invert the systems of this world by combining the announcement of God’s love to all with an emphasis that it was especially available to those on the margins.

How does this approach to see the world sit with you? How much interest do you have in following this Jesus (not the saccharine sweet Jesus who is gentle and mild and comforts the status quo)? What might he be trying to tell you right now?

Precious Puritans - Propaganda

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions. - Mark 7:8

Today we hear from one of our siblings in Christ who has been pushed out by the dominant culture of the church. Propaganda is a spoken word artist and prophet for the church today. Ponder his words and ask where your commitment to your culture/traditions has excluded or hurt others.

Here’s a link to hear Propaganda give this spoken word himself.

Precious Puritans
Propaganda

If you would allow me a second to deal with some in-house issues here
Hey Pastor you know it's hard for me when you quote Puritans

Oh, the precious Puritans
Have you not noticed our facial expressions?
One of bewilderment, and heartbreak, like "Not you too, Pastor"
You know they were chaplains on slave ships, right?
Would you quote Columbus to Cherokees?
Would you quote Cortez to Aztecs, even if they theology was good?
It just sings a blind privilege, wouldn't you agree?
Your precious Puritans

They looked my onyx and bronze skinned forefathers in they face
Their polytheistic, God-hating face
Their shackled, diseased, imprisoned, face
And taught a Gospel that said that God had multiple images in mind when He created us in it
Therefore destined salvation contains a contentment
In the stage for which they were given
Which is to be owned by your forefather's superior, image bearing face
Says your precious Puritans

And my anger towards this teaching screams of an immature doctrine
And a misunderstanding of the Gospel
I should be content in this stage, right?
Isn't that what Paul taught, according to your precious Puritans?
Oh you get it, but you don't get it
Oh that we can go back to an America that once were
Founded on Christian values
They don't build preachers like they used to
Oh the richness of their revelation
It must be nice to not have to consider race
It must be nice to have time to contemplate the stars
Pastor, your color-less rhetoric is a cop out
You see my skin, and I see yours
And they are beautiful, fearfully and wonderfully, divinely designed
Uniqueness
Shouldn't we celebrate that rather than act like it ain't there?
I get it
Your Puritans got it, but

How come the things the Holy Spirit showed them
In the Valley of Vision
Didn't compel them to knock on they neighbor's door
And say "you can't own people!"
Your precious puritans were not perfect

You romanticize them as if they were inerrant
As if the skeletons in they closet was pardoned due to they hard work and tobacco growth
As if abolitionists were not racists and just pro-union
As if God only spoke to white boys with epic beards
You know Jesus didn't really look like them paintings
That was just Michaelangelo's boyfriend
Your precious Puritans
Oh they got it but they don't get it
There's not one generation of believers 
That has figured out the marriage between proper doctrine and action
Don't pedestal these people
Your precious Puritan's partners purchased people
Why would you quote them?

Step away
Think of the congregation that quotes you
Are you inerrant?
Trust me, I know the feeling
Same feeling I get when people quote me like if they only knew
See I get it, but I don't get it, huh

Ask my wife
And it bothers me when you quote Puritans, if I'm honest
For the same reason it bothers me when people quote me
They precious Propaganda
So I guess it's true that God really does use crooked sticks
To make straight lines
Just like your precious Puritans

Jesus Keeps Dragging Us Along

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.
- Luke 9:51-55

One of the best things about Jesus is that he just keeps pressing on. He doesn’t let the Samaritans’ cultural offensiveness stop him in his mission. And he doesn’t let the disciple’s aggression/racial insensitivity stop him in his mission, either. Instead, he keeps heading to the cross - which is where he set out for at the beginning of this passage. And along the way, he keeps on task with the mission of helping his disciples connect with people of different cultural/ethnic groups because he goes to THE NEXT Samaritan village!

Jesus is able to keep the big picture in mind (going to the cross) while always working towards that ultimate reconciliation in the small choices of each day (taking his disciple to the next Samaritan village). Along the way he speaks truth to power (the disciples thought they had the power to annihilate the Samaritans), works towards reconciling different peoples, and does it with a boldness and love that’s stunning.

Take some time today to give thanks and praise to Jesus for how he keeps at this process of pulling the church with him on the reconciliation journey. And ask him for the grace to move on to the next village when you’ve gotten stuck.

Calling Down Fire

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
- Luke 9:51-54

James and John are offended that people did not welcome Jesus, so they escalate tensions and go for the kill. There are a couple of pieces of their dysfunction worth noting. The first is that they get offended for Jesus. Jesus seems like a big enough person to handle himself, doesn’t he? I mean, do they really need to step in and protect him or defend him? He calmed the storms, after all (not to mention casting out demons!). So we see here why James and John are nicknamed elsewhere ‘hotheads’ (Sons of Thunder, literally). When it comes to racial and ethnic tension, there are far too many hotheads in the church.

The second issue is that they are misapplying scripture, trying to imitate Elijah who called down fire from heaven (although he didn’t technically even call down fire, but that sort of subtlety would be lost on James and John). Like using passages in Ephesians to justify slavery, anytime we weaponize scripture, we’ve misinterpreted it. Anytime we use it against someone - to vent our anger, to show our superiority, to win an argument - we’ve already lost. Because the whole purpose of scripture is to draw people to Jesus (see John 5:39-42).

Over and over again the church has been a part of the segregation and violation and oppression of people groups who were not in power. Today is a day to lament for how much we’ve been like James and John. Take some time today to grieve with Jesus over all the ways the church has been a part of these injustices. Sit quietly; name the sins you’re aware of; ask for mercy and for justice and for open doors to move forward in new ways.

Sometimes We Miss Jesus in Other People Groups

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 
- Luke 9:51-53

There was plenty of ethnic tension in the first century. For example, the Jews and the Samaritans told different stories about Samaritan origins. The Samaritans said they were the true remnants of the northernmost tribes of Israel. The Jews said the Samaritans were half-breeds, the offspring of Assyrians and wayward Israelites. You can imagine how they might dislike each other.

So when the Samaritans of this particular village found out that Jesus was headed to Jerusalem (the capitol of Israel), it’s no wonder that they felt triggered. They must have figured this was just the same old “Jewish Supremecist” Rabbi coming through town, and they wanted nothing of it. The invisible structures of the culture (the conflict of origin stories, the history of ethnic name-calling, the economic boy-cutting, etc.) inhibited their ability to connect with Jesus. There were too many assumptions, too much systematic distrust.

Doesn’t that sound a little bit like our world today? Can you see the parallels? And how many times do we miss out on connecting with Jesus because we’ve made assumptions about some other group of people.

Take a few minutes to ponder what God might be saying to you from this simple passage about our culture and about your life.

Walking Straight Into Samaria

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him.
- Luke 9:51-52

Jewish leaders in the first century travelled AROUND Samaria when going from Galilee to Jerusalem. That’s because they accused the Samaritans of being half-breeds and thought they were religiously unenlightened. Of course, the Samaritans had a different story about their origins than the Jews told, but isn’t that often the case between people groups? The bottom line of it meant that the good religious people of the day wouldn’t dare cross into the Samaritan ‘hood because it was ‘on the wrong side of the tracks.’

Jesus, however, did not skirt Samaria. He did not skirt the intense race issues of the day. He stepped right into them. And he sent his disciples headlong into those conversations as well, as we saw in the verse today.

How willing are you to have earnest conversation around racial, ethnic, and cultural tensions? Would you be willing to pray for an opportunity today to engage thoughtfully around these issues? (If it gets to the end of the day and you haven’t had that opportunity, consider this great TED talk)

Lord grant us the grace to walk into Samaria and not around it today…

Listening to Celsus

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
- Matthew 5:4

Today we’re going to listen to one of the strongest early critics of Christianity - a Greek philosopher named Celsus, who wrote this piece in 180 AD. Celsus thought Christians were ridiculous because they said the riff-raff could enter the kingdom of God. The beautiful thing about Celsus’s critique is that he got it right! He actually understood Christianity a lot better than many of us. So take this chance to listen to him rant about Christians and ask yourself if you could be critiqued in the same way (like Jesus was!):

Those who summon people to religion make this proclamation: 'Whosoever has pure hands and a wise tongue is invited.' And again, other religions say, 'Whosoever is pure from all defilement, and whose soul knows nothing of evil, and who has lived well and righteously - they are invited.' Such are the preliminary exhortations of those who promise purification from sins.
But let us hear what people these Christians call. 'Whosoever is a sinner', they say, 'whosoever is unwise, whosoever is a child, and, in a word, whosoever is a wretch, the kingdom of God will receive him.' Do you not say that a sinner is he who is dishonest, a thief, a burglar, a poisoner, a sacrilegious fellow, and a grave-robber? What others would a robber invite and call? Why on earth this preference for sinners?"

Insights into the Kingdom

“The time has come,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of God is at hand.”
- Mark 1:15

As we wrestle with what it means to participate with Jesus in the remaking of the world into what it’s supposed to be, it might be helpful to do some thinking and imagining around Jesus’s term ‘the kingdom of God.’ Below are the definitions of three authors about the kingdom. How do they help you understand it? Where might be God be speaking to you about entering into it more deeply? What is striking you most about it? Take those things to God as you reflect on these insights today.

“The kingdom of God is the alternative society built around Jesus bringing forth the goal of the Law and the dream of the Prophets: Love for God and neighbor characterized by justice, mercy and humility. The kingdom of God is both now and not yet. But unless you’re willing to rethink everything (be born again and take it from the top) you won’t be able to see this kingdom, even though it’s already dawning.”

- Brian Zahnd

“Therefore, the church, which is *not* the Kingdom, is nevertheless its most *visible expression* and its most *faithful interpreter* in our age…as the community of believers from all times and places, the church both *embodies* the Kingdom in its life and *witnesses* to its presence and future in its mission.”

- Orlando Costas

“So, what is the Kingdom of Heaven? Biblical scholars have debated this question for almost as long as there have been biblical scholars. Many Christians, particularly those of a more evangelical persuasion, assume that the Kingdom of Heaven means the place you go when you die—if you’ve been “saved.” But the problem with this interpretation is that Jesus himself specifically contradicts it when he says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” (that is, here) and “at hand” (that is, now). It’s not later, but lighter—some more subtle quality or dimension of experience accessible to you right in the moment. You don’t die into it; you awaken into it.”

- Cynthia Bourgeault

The Kingdom

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.
- Luke 8:1

What Jesus talked about most in his ministry was “the kingdom of God.” When he preached the gospel, it wasn’t some magic formula to get our souls into heaven when we die. As it says in Luke 8:1, he went about “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.” That phrase ‘proclaiming the good news’ is literally ‘preach the gospel’ in the original Greek. Jesus’s gospel was all about the kingdom of God.

For Jesus is was good news that God was reigning as royalty over all, and that God’s reign and rule was breaking into our world in small and big ways, individual and communal ways, spiritual and physical ways. Wherever Jesus went, the kingdom of God expanded - not because he converted people, but because he transformed the space around him, whether that space included people who were diseased in their bodies or their minds or their souls or whether it included little children in need of blessings or evil spirits in need of being driven out.

Today, why don’t you ponder where you’ve seen God’s kingdom breaking in to the world around you. Then pray the kingdom prayer that Jesus taught:

Our Father in heaven, holy is your name.
May your kingdom come and your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins and we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation; deliver us from evil.
Amen.

Taking the Journey

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women.
- Luke 8:1

To know Jesus in the first century meant that you went on a journey with him. That’s because he never stayed long in any one place. He kept moving. So you have to move, too, if you were one of his original followers.

That movement has become a picture of the spiritual journey that all believers have to take. It doesn’t work to be static in your relationship with Jesus. There’s always a next step - some new way to learn or grow, some new adventure or person out there to meet, some new perspective that’s waiting for you to turn the corner so you can see it.

Being on the journey with Jesus also means that there’s no telling where he’ll take you. As the civil rights activist and intellectual James Baldwin said, “I am saying that a journey is called that because you cannot know what you will discover on the journey, what you will do with what you find, or what what you find will do to you.”

Ponder the questions that stand out most to you below and talk with Jesus about them:

  • What excites you most about the idea of going on the journey with Jesus?

  • What frightens you most about the idea of going on the journey with Jesus?

  • What’s your next step on your spiritual journey?

  • Who are the traveling companions who walk along besides you on this journey?

  • Who are the ones you look up to who have gone on ahead of you?

  • Who are the ones who are looking to you to lead the way?

  • Who else in your church or community could you be praying for right now about their journey?


Jesus's Diverse Followers

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
- Luke 8:1-3

Jesus’s closest followers were an unusually diverse crew. Women were key players, which was rare in ancient Palestine. The Twelve disciples varied in political perspectives - Simon the Zealot’s political party wanted to overthrow the Romans by force, while Matthew, as a tax-collector, was a Roman sympathizer (just imagine Jesus putting them together when he sent them out two-by-two!). Socio-economically, most of his followers were peasants, but there were a pair who owned a small business (James and John) and there was Joanna, who would have been well-off. And spiritually, there were the nice Jewish boys and the formerly demon-possessed. It’s hard to imagine a more diverse crowd in Jesus’s day and age.

How diverse is your crew of friends (is that even something you think about)? What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a diverse group around you? Spend some time praying for your world to grow to be more like Jesus’s.

Also, as you recall the vision of City Church “to be a radically welcoming community,” pray for the church to do the hard work of crossing boundaries, to connect different kinds of people, and to flourish in our ability to reflect God’s glorious and diverse image to the world around us.

The Build Up of False Expectations

Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
- John 8:32-33

This week we’ve been thinking about expectations, and how often our expectations of God are distractions to who God really is. Jesus points out in this passage that sometimes our false expectations build up into falsehoods that then keep us in bondage. The people show by their own response to Jesus that they aren’t free to consider who he really is (and, as it turns out, who they really are).

Maya Angelou has written, “Take a day to heal from the lies you’ve told yourself and the ones that have been told to you.” Perhaps today could be that day for you. What lies have you told yourself about yourself? About God? What lies have you believed from others? Ask Jesus for more light, for more clarity, for more freedom.

In That Day

In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll,
    and out of gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind will see.
Once more the humble will rejoice in the Lord;
    the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
- Isaiah 29:18-19

In that day the Lord will punish
    the powers in the heavens above
    and the kings on the earth below.
They will be herded together
    like prisoners bound in a dungeon;
they will be shut up in prison
    and be punished after many days.
- Isaish 24:21-22

This week we’ve been thinking about how John the Baptist had two major strands to consider when it came to “that day” when the Messiah would show up. The above passages from Isaiah (and there are dozens like them) give you a sense of what the options were: a day of healing or a day of punishment.

When Jesus showed up in Luke 7, he clearly chose to fulfill the set of expectations that centered around healing, not judgment. That’s how he wanted to define his ministry - not as one of judgment, punishment, shame, or fear.

How about you - what do you expect from God? What if God ends up being more like Jesus - will you be disappointed? Talk with God about these things today.

Great(?) Expectations

This passage is tricky for so many reasons - but mostly because Jesus likes to mess with our minds when it comes to our expectations. Today, as you read the passage, let him disorient you, confound you, frustrate you, and push you into a space where what you thought was the way to live is deeply challenged by the way he says life is truly lived at its fullest. Talk with Jesus afterwards about your frustrations and unmet expectations - and ask him to graciously continue to disabuse you of your own assumptions of what he is like and what his way of life is like.

Matthew 20:1-10

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.



Expectations 2

The people were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
     - Luke 7:16-19

Many times, it’s the things we read and hear that create expectations for us - and those expectations are normal and can be healthy and good. Sometimes they can get out of whack, though.

John the Baptist, and the people of Israel in general, had a lot of expectations built up around the Messiah because of things they had heard from the scriptures. The challenge for John is that scripture covered a lot of ground when it came to the Messiah. Looking back now, with a couple thousand years of Christian interpretation layered on top, a lot of scholars would say that some of the messianic passages in the Old Testament were about Jesus’s first coming and some were about his second coming. But John didn’t have that distance. 

So from messianic passages like Isaiah 11:1-5, John and others would have expected Jesus not only to come with wisdom (“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding” 11:2), but to destroy Rome (“He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked” 11:4). There were many such passages as this.

So when Jesus shows up he starts to define himself. He doesn’t want others’ expectations of him to limit him.

How much do you get your expectations of Jesus from what others say about him verses what he’s showed you himself? How might you learn more directly from him?

Expectations 1

The people were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
- Luke 7:16-19

Jesus did amazing things, but John the Baptist was stuck in prison. Curious about who Jesus was, he sent two followers to figure out if Jesus was the long-expected Messiah.

When I came to the Messiah, John had expectations. He expected the Messiah to be a certain way. Those expectations were formed, no doubt, by life circumstances (being in jail can really clarify some of your hopes) and historical setting (nothing like being an oppressed minority to sharpen your desire for a savior). But his expectations were also formed by scripture.

Tomorrow we’ll look at how scripture was an important part of John’s expectations around Jesus, but today, since it is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it seems appropriate to think about how your personal life experiences and our time in history impact what you expect of God. Think about the racial issues in our country, the issues around immigration and health care, tensions around education (e.g., the teacher’s strike) and ask yourself how those have and do and should impact your expectations for the Rescuer. Take some time and talk directly with Jesus about the injustices you see, the needs you have, and how you want the world the change.

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits."
- Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, December 10, 1964