What Do You Expect?

This past week, Lori, Sam and I watched a documentary on Netflix called “14 Peaks.”  It is the story of a man from Nepal, named Nimsdai Purja.  Nimsdai grew up in Kathmandu.  After he finished school and graducated, he decided to join the British army.  (Nepal is a British protectorate).  After serving four years, Nimsdai tried out for, and was the first Nepali citizen to ever be accepted into the British special forces.  So it’s safe to say that Nimsdai was a man accustomed to challenges.  After he was discharged, Nimsdai returned home, where he married, and he followed the Nepali tradition of becoming a mountain guide.  Nepal is, of course, the home of Mount Everest, and the Sherpas who assist the climbers make their trek.

Now normally, for someone to climb Mount Everest, it would take several years of preparation and planning to make the hazardous journey.  And from arrival at the mountain’s basecamp, most people take two months to make the journey up the mountain, through four different camps sites, stopping at each to acclimate to the altitude.  Then, after two months, they try for the peak.  Nimsdal believed that it could be done differently.  So, he set a goal.

Nimsdai and a small group of climbers decided that they were going to climb not just Mt. Everest, but all 14 of the tallest and deadliest mountains in the world, the ones where the peaks were over 8,000 meters.  From the shortest of the peaks, all the way up to Mount Everest, and everything in between.  All 14 mountain peaks.  In just seven months.  

The international climbing community couldn’t believe it.  They thought he was nuts.  Many of them had spent their lifetimes working on climbing just a few of these mountains.  In fact, the first man to climb all 14 of the highest peaks had taken 16 years to do it.  People told Nimsdai that he was crazy.  People told him it couldn’t be done.  People told him that he was going to die.  People expected him to fail.

He didn’t.  It was incredible.  He and his team were machines.  On one of the mountains, that trek up that normally takes 2 months from basecamp, past the next four campsites, to the peak, Nimsdai and his team did in just one day.  They completed 3 of the 14 peaks all within 48 hours.  It was like they just ran up, past other climbers, and then ran back down and off to the next one.  And just six months and six days after they summited the first mountain, he and his team summited the 14th, and final, blowing away the world record, and everyone’s expectations.

14 Peaks is a documentary that tells the story of how this simple, unknown man from Nepal, shattered all of the expectations. 

I want us to think about expectations today.  We all have them, right?  There are things that we just expect are going to happen:

  • In the Buegler household, we’ve just come to expect that every night, at about 2am, our dog, Kennedy, is going to somehow sense a rabbit, or a squirrel, or I don’t know…a leaf or a branch moving around outside, and he is going to start barking like the house is on fire.  We’ve come to expect it.  Every night.
  • In Minnesota, in January, we expect that at some point there will be a polar vortex.  Right?  (So then why is it that I feel so surprised every winter when it gets cold?)
  • As Vikings fans, we expect that…well…wait…never mind…we all know what we can expect.

Yes, we all have expectations.  We all have hopes.    Sometimes our expectations are fulfilled… and sometimes not.  This is how life works.  There are expectations, and then there is reality. 

Today’s Gospel reading is all about expectations.  It’s about how the expectations of the people of Nazareth had of Jesus were shattered when they encountered him in the synagogue.

So, can you imagine the excitement in Nazareth when they heard that Jesus was coming back home? Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown, the place where he had grown up and the place where his mother, Mary likely still called home. 

Jesus and his disciples had been travelling throughout the area, and the news about what Jesus had been doing was spreading like wildfire. Listen to this description in Matthew, chapter 4: 

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria… Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him” 

Jesus was famous. In today’s reading, Luke tells us that, “Everyone praised him.”  People couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of Jesus, to see the miracles they had heard of, to hear him preach. And now this Jesus was coming back home.

We can imagine the conversations and stories that were exchanged:  

  • “I was Jesus’ school teacher. He always such a good student.” 
  • “My family used to go with Jesus’ family down to Jerusalem each year to celebrate the Passover. Remember that time when they forgot him in Jerusalem?” 
  • “Do you think that he’ll do some of the miracles like the ones he did in other places?” 
  • “I’m sure he’ll do even greater miracles than those! After all, he did those things for people he did NOT know. He knows us!”

People had to be excited.  When Jesus did finally arrive in Nazareth, he did what he normally did on Saturday. He went to the synagogue, to go to the worship service.

And when he looked around at the people there, he saw many familiar faces. And the people, his friends, and neighbors, were no doubt eager to hear what Jesus had to say. So they asked their famous guest to read a portion of Scripture and to deliver a sermon. 

So, Jesus stood up and he took a scroll, and he opened it, and began to read from the prophet Isaiah.  He read: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has appointed 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.” 

Then Jesus did something unexpected…something powerful.  Jesus closed the scroll, sat down, looked at this familiar crowed, and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

This was a huge moment.  With those simple words, Jesus planted his flag.  In front of his home crowd, his friends and family, for the first time he revealed who he was and what he was about.  He undeniably claimed to be the promised Messiah. Jesus blew right past all their expectations.

And more than that, by reading that text from Isaiah, Jesus was declaring what he was going to do…what he was all about:  proclaiming freedom, healing the sick, setting the oppressed free and sharing God’s love.  

Jesus was speaking a dialect of Aramaic.  And in Aramaic, the word for “freedom” and “free” which Jesus used is the same as their word for “forgiveness.” So, Jesus is telling his listeners, (and us,) that he had come to proclaim the gift of forgiveness.  Freedom, from sin.

Freedom and forgiveness.

I’m certain that those who were sitting in the synagogue that day were blown away by this.  

But that’s not even the most shocking part of what Jesus said.  The part that really would have caught people off-guard, is the simple word Jesus began with: Jesus said “Today” “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 

He didn’t say that the scriptures had been fulfilled, as in a historical act…and he didn’t say the scriptures willbe fulfilled, as in a promise for the future.  No, he said “today.”  Present tense.  These things…freedom, forgiveness, healing…they are no longer merely promises.  No.  Now they are a reality.  Right here and right now.  Today.  “And,” Jesus is saying, “they are a reality because of, me.”

The people in the synagogue that day?  This would have completely rocked their world.  Because the Jewish tradition was one that always looked to the future.  

  • Someday we will be freed.
  • Someday our nation will be restored.
  • Someday we will have our promised land.
  • Someday the Messiah will come.
  • Someday we will be made right with God.

No.  Jesus’ words aren’t about someday.  Jesus’ words are about today. 

There is a huge difference between hearing that “you will be forgiven,” and in hearing that “you areforgiven.”  A big difference.  And this wasn’t lost on his listeners.  I hope it’s not lost on you, either.

“Today,” you see, is a word of fulfillment.  

Jesus reminds us that we don’t need to worry about the future.  God is the author of the future.  And this means that we don’t need to live in the glories of the past.  It means that we can be secure in the “right now.”  We can trust that we are being held and carried in the promises of God, as we are, when we are, and where we are.  

Right now, we all live in a world where it’s almost impossible to plan things more than a month out.  Who knows what the world will look like in April, or July, or next year or the year after?  Everything is so uncertain.  And uncertainty breeds anxiety.  And anxiety breeds fear.

Jesus says to us in this scripture that “today…today is enough.”  Rest in today.  Get through today, knowing that I am with you.  That’s all you need.”

And when I hear words like that, it’s as if a heavy weight is lifted from my shoulders.  I can let go of my expectations, my anxiety and my fear.  And you can too.  

Rest in today.  Live in today.  Be ok…with today.

So let’s return to thinking about our expectations then.  In this Gospel story, what is Jesus saying to us, about what we can really expect from him? 

  • Well, we can expect and trust that he is the one who holds the future.
  • We can expect and trust in the love of God.  
  • We can expect and trust that we are set free…we are forgiven of our sins. 
  • We can expect and trust that Jesus is with the poor, the hungry and the oppressed, and that Jesus invites us to walk alongside them, and to care for and serve them too.
  • And we can expect, and trust that Jesus walks alongside us.

Today, you are the ones who sit in the temple and listen to Jesus’ words.  You know him.  His words are familiar.  You have heard so many of his stories.  And yet in a world full of challenge, the words of Jesus’, his promise of love and forgiveness no matter what, can still catch you off guard.  They can still shatter your expectations.  

But hear his promises.  And trust that Jesus, our Savior who loves you completely, is here to set you free.  Today. 

Expect that. Because it is real.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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