“Setting expectations” is a tactic of management: both self-management and other-management. It necessitates intentionality in communication and reflection. It provides a vantage point for reviewing successes and struggles, relationships and systems. Unclear and/or uncommunicated expectations tend to cause strain and conflict.
Enter this Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary texts as case studies:
Isaiah 5:1-7 sings of the loveliness of a vineyard, carefully constructed and tended, adored for its fertility and produce … until the vintner erupts in disappointment: “I wanted fine Malbec grapes, dammit, not this wild variety! Burn it all down, plow it under, and let it be overgrown with thorns!” Grape expectations (you’re welcome) must be set at the time of planting, not at the time of harvest.
In Luke 12:49-56, Jesus seems to forget that he has previously lulled the crowd to expect God’s love and reassurance (“How much more valuable are you than birds! How much more will God clothe you than the grass of the field!” 12:22-34), when he flips the switch and warns of conflict & doom: “I came to bring fire, and I regret that the earth isn’t already burning! Be prepared for division in your family, because a storm is coming! Also, you’re all idiots!” Those of us who have survived abusive relationships know the whiplash of being called a “little flock” in one breath and a “hypocrite” in the next; Jesus isn’t exactly consistent in his expectations of (and faith in) those who follow him.
In Psalm 82, God lambastes the divine council for failing to meet the expectations of upholding judgment. (Depending on your preferred biblical translation, this psalm can also be read as castigating the earth’s rulers.) The expectations were clear — God delegated justice and compassion to the assembly of gods — but perhaps the consequences of failure were less clearly outlined at the time of delegation. “You shook the earth’s foundations without any understanding of what you were doing or why. Now you’ll die like mortals and fall like everyone else who loves their crowns!” And with the divine council properly disposed, the psalmist pins the same set of expectations on God: “Rise up, then, God, because the work of judgment and mercy are your responsibility!” Whether or not God has met those expectations is always a fun theological debate.
RevGals & Pals, how will your sermon set expectations for listeners this coming Sunday? What call or clarification needs to arise from the RCL texts for your particular contexts? (On a professional care note, how are your self-expectations these days and how are you managing them?)
Whether you’re preaching the rain of fire from Luke 12:49 … or the suffering of faith in Hebrews 11:32-38 (stoned to death, killed by sword, endless wandering–those were the good old days of faith) … or the value of prophets’ dreams vs. prophets’ words in Jeremiah 23:28 … join the sermon prep conversation! Share your blog links, questions, creative ideas, and reflections in these comments as we prepare for Sunday’s sermon.
Rachel G. Hackenberg‘s book with co-author Martha Spong, Denial Is My Spiritual Practice (and Other Failures of Faith), searches for faith through life’s trials. Rachel has also written Writing to God and Sacred Pause.
RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.