7th Sunday after Epiphany – C LSB #’s 766:1-5, 851, 766:6-9
Text – Luke 6:35
But love your enemies, & do good, & lend, expecting nothing in return, & your reward will be great, & you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful & the evil.
LOWERING YOUR EXPECTATIONS
What did you expect? It’s the kind of phrase you hear when circumstances have not met your expectations. Since the winter Olympics are ending today, maybe you’ve decided to take up ice skating. Then, you fall as you attempt a triple axel & someone says, “What did you expect? You’ve never even gone ice skating before today!”
Attempting a triple axel on your first time at the ice rink would be a case of expectations that are too high. Nevertheless, in the United States, it’s common to hear this message, “Aim high! Reach for the stars! You can be anything you want to be. If you aim for nothing you will hit it!” It’s taught that the key to success is high expectations.
Aiming high is especially taught in sports, & the business world preaches that message as well. Motivational speakers can earn a lot of money in our culture, & many TV evangelists are essentially motivational speakers in religious disguise.
It may seem counterintuitive then that some research shows the key to happiness is low expectations. In The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, he identifies two buckets of people: “satisficers” & “maximizers.”
Satisficers are people with low expectations. They’re the ones who make a choice by thinking, “That’s good enough.” Then, they move on with their day.
Maximizers are people with high expectations. They’re the ones who think long & hard about their decisions in order to make THE BEST decision. People seem to naturally assume that maximizers are awesome & they are the winners at life. However, as it turns out, in their pursuit of “the best,” Maximizers are always disappointed. They second-guess themselves & never feel certain that they made the right decision. They’re paralyzed with a constant case of the “what if’s.” For example, “What if I had done some stretching exercises before I tried that triple axel? What if I had chosen the other college, or the other career, or the other church?”
Maximizers set the bar so high, they can never reach it. In real life, you’re rarely going to make the best (or the right) choice every single time. You have incomplete information, insufficient time, & all sorts of other distractions.
Satisficers are happier in the long run. When you have lower expectations, you are far better equipped to survive the bumps along the way, rather than being derailed by them as Maximizers often are.
Because sin corrupts everything, high expectations often become the very chains that enslave us. Our high expectations can end up enslaving the very people whom we are trying to help. People with high expectations tend to make the destination the entire focus of their living. As a result, much of the time they completely miss the journey.
Following Jesus is not just about the destination no matter how glorious heaven will be, & no matter how important it is. Following Jesus is also about the journey, about the life that we live in the here & now.
So, if low expectations are the key to happiness & high expectations are the key to success, how do children of God reconcile the two? How do we combine low & high expectations in our day-to-day decisions of life? How do we help those we love without enslaving them? Some of the words of Psalm 37, in the Introit, show us the way:
“Be still before the LORD & wait patiently for Him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way. (37:7 ESV) Delight yourself in the LORD, & He will give you the desires of your heart.” (37:4 ESV) Rather than living in constant criticism, of ourselves & others, always trying & failing to achieve high expectations, Jesus teaches us to be still & wait for the Lord to achieve our success. If we delight ourselves in the Lord rather than in our efforts & accomplishments, then God will give to us the desires of our heart.
The sermon text tells us, “But love your enemies, & do good, & lend, expecting nothing in return…” That last phrase, ‘expecting nothing in return’ is the ultimate in lowering your expectations. You can’t get any lower than nothing!
And loving your enemies isn’t much higher than nothing – especially as we hear the loud noise of the cancel culture in our day. That culture is constantly critical of anything that isn’t exactly as they wish it to be. They expect everything in return & are never satisfied. Happiness is something they’ll never know.
Following Jesus means that we lower our expectations of sinful human beings, ourselves included. It also means raising our expectations of Christ, who is the new Adam – the human being without sin.
The Gospel reading began, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, & from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.” (Luke 6:27-29 ESV)
Those sound like very high expectations, but in them, Jesus calls us to look beyond ourselves to the One who was poor for us, who hungered in the wilderness for you & me, who wept for His creation as He entered Jerusalem. Jesus received the hate, the insults & the exclusion for all sinful human beings who can never live up to those expectations.
Jesus calls us to look beyond ourselves to Him, so that we don’t get hung up over our
failures & give up trying to follow Him. Being saved from sin is our destination, but our life doesn’t end as soon as we come to faith. People often live long lives here on earth with countless opportunities to love God & to our neighbor as ourselves. Those opportunities are not the destination but they are the journey & they are important too.
Our Father in heaven does not call us simply to be Christians who never need to be in God’s house. He calls us not simply to the destination, but to the journey as well. And in spite of all the struggles, there is much joy in the journey, in being alive in the moment. High expectations of ourselves normally obscure the moment as we focus on accomplishing our goal.
Jesus wants us sinful humans being to know that He accomplished the goal for us, so that we can be aware of the journey & the moments of our lives. We don’t need special skills to be a Christian. Having received mercy, we offer mercy. We don’t need to surround ourselves with only successful people.
When confronted with anger, disparagement & rejection, we suffer, as Jesus suffered. When coming across those who are homeless, helpless & hopeless, we love as Jesus loves through us. We continue to live in the world, but we do so fully invested in our daily lives because we know that the kingdom of God is present already here.
Anytime & everywhere, moments of mercy can break out in our world. The beauty of this is that moments of mercy can be quite powerful. God can use a moment of mercy to change a person’s life. The Father sent His Son into our world to be the spring of His bountiful mercy. By his death & resurrection, Jesus opens a fountain of mercy that has a never-ending stream.
Just as water can awaken life in soil that has been dry & dead for years, so too God brings life in the wilderness of our world through moments of mercy. That is part of our journey & we receive it from God’s hand as He chooses. No work or effort on our part can cause God’s blessing to come. All this is important because we live in a world that has lost sight of mercy. Our culture is changing. We are becoming a cancel culture. In a cancel culture, if a moment of sin or error is uncovered, then the one who committed that sin is canceled.
A text message from twenty years ago containing a racial slur is enough to cancel the career of a sports announcer. It doesn't matter that a teenage boy can grow & change & even repent of his earlier actions. The world’s answer to sin is cancelation – not forgiveness - & certainly not restoration.
In a cancel culture, the cure actually kills the patient. Cancellation purifies by exclusion. It sanctifies by silencing. And soon our streets will be filled with people who don't matter.
Into such a world, Jesus speaks these words to his people. He awakens in our lives an echo of his grace. Repentance, forgiveness & new life are foreign concepts in a culture obsessed with canceling. But in the kingdom of God, these are the ways of God's working. So, it is a blessing not only for us but for our world that Jesus comes and speaks these words today.
He reminds us that the kingdom we live in is a kingdom of grace, with moments of life-changing mercy breaking out around our world. It is best if we lower our expectations for what we can do & raise our expectations for what Jesus is doing. Amen.
Lord of glory, You have bought us with Your lifeblood as the price, never grudging for the lost ones that tremendous sacrifice. Give us faith to trust You boldly, hope, to stay our souls on You; but, oh, best of all Your graces, with Your love our love renew. LSB 851:4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet