Whaddaya Expect, Wanna to Know, Gonna Do?

The people were in expectation. All questioned. Heaven opened. Jesus, and everybody with him by the water's edge, were asked, "Whaddaya gonna do?" And each one answered in his or her own way. That's a pretty short summary of Luke's word to us today. And it just might give us pause. What do we expect? Really. What gives us pause, doubt, fear, wonder? What are our mysteries? And what will we do, if heaven opens with a word for us?

Often, expectation is everything. It colors and shapes all that we receive. We hear the news. Kids from the local projects did such-and-such a bad thing today. It turned out that Politician XYZ broke this or that promise. The consumer price index rose this week. Cousin Fred, Uncle Mort, your little nephew Buford got caught doin'…. How often, in response to the ills and dangers and difficult people in our lives… have we seen or heard, and cynically responded, "So what do you expect?" It's a question we need to take more seriously. Often, all we see, say, get, is what we were anticipating in the first place. True in life. True in faith. Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. And we baptize in his name. We need to ask what we expect religiously… because…

If we do not expect to see the Savior, we won't, even if the heavens open and God speaks to show us his face. We will not take a meaningful faith-walk if we do not believe that one is expected. I recall vividly, the mom who complained to me bitterly in a counseling session in my office some time ago… "We never expected you to have us take this Baptism seriously!" So much is counting on what we're longing for. What are you longing for?

Those who came to John were expecting! That's what Luke says. Expecting what? Expecting someone to redirect their everyday lives, yes. But not their fundamental understanding of their standing with God. They expected to mend their ways, but not to rest their hope-of-heaven on trust alone. They expected to lean on Abraham. They were looking to the power in the water. They did not foresee the power of the Holy Spirit. If they were looking for a savior, they were open to one who would overthrow Rome. They didn't foresee somebody coming who would throw over the Tyrant that is Sin itself. So when the heavens opened, neither the voice nor the dove was enough for some. Both exceeded their expectations… and therefore, their understanding.

So, "Whaddaya expect?" is no idle question. Wasn't then. Isn't now. Are you willing to come here today, to come Sunday after Sunday, expecting a Savior. A real savior. THE Savior? Can you set aside a world that has, frankly, taught us to expect the worst? Instead, will we expect to receive the best? More than we deserve. All that heaven itself has to offer? Come to expect Jesus… and we come to receive the Holy Spirit and fire! That's Bible talk for coming to know God is present in your life and mine every day. Every hour. Every minute. We are not alone. Not defeated. Not powerless in the face of the real evil that lives in our world. Not without hope of a way to a better world and a better place beyond this world, being prepared for us, even as we speak. And all of this, real stuff, real hope we can show and tell our kids. Why, it begins the moment we put water on their heads and tell them, "You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ's own forever.

We cannot run away from our doubts or our questions. Neither could those so long ago. But baptism washes our questions along with our sins. It's been true since "Jesus came to Jordan to be baptized by John," as we have sung. Notice the gospel order of things. First they expected. And then they questioned. First they were open. Are you? Am I? And then they were bold. They were bold to ask each other and bold to ask God about all that brought trouble to their lives and to their souls. What about you? What about me? They asked aloud, and they cried out to heaven. "What are we to make of the evil in this world? Why must the good suffer? Where is God when we need him most and yet don't feel him near? What kind of god is God? What does the Lord require of us? How can I draw near to God and know that he will forgive and save me? Even me. How can I worship and praise God. How can I bring pleasure to the God who brings me life?"

I love this line of scripture. "And all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ." It is a signal to us that it's OK to question. That doesn't mean to remain in doubt or forever refuse to give your heart away to God in Jesus Christ. It just means God is big enough to hear on his ear what rests on our hearts and rides from our lips. (Anybody who ever saw TV's Archie Bunker-in-the-70's, or finds him rerunning now just-past-the-90's… knows what Archie tells Edith all the time. "Edith, stifle. Just stifle yourself.") I rejoice in the Gospel of the Savior and of his announcer (John) who never try to shut us up. The passion of heaven is to open us up, instead. Those who are stifled often suffocate. But those who are opened have the chance to be saved. Jesus came to the waters of John the Baptist, in part, to show us this is so. He not only bathes away our sin. He also cleanses us of our questions. He answers all we dare to ask.

One more thing. Having received the waters, whatever our age, there's a next step for us. Like Jesus up from the waters. Now the thing is: to get ourselves into position to do ministry. That's the piece of gospel Luke and I both want to leave with you today. Dr. Luke says, "The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased." [Now comes the next word, nearly breathless on its heels.] "Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age." Jesus came to the waters expecting God to do great things. The greatest things. Seemingly impossible things. As we've seen, the crowd expected a little less, it seems. With John, Jesus immersed every question of his, theirs, ours in the cleansing of the river of life. And then when he came up, there was only one thing to do. Get to work. Get to ministry. Get up and get goin' for GOD's sake!

For some time, I've prayed and thought about how to end this message in a truly practical way. So that if the story, the scene, the experience of the waters moves you, you and I have some actual, visible, tangible way to respond. Here goes. In order that we might better learn what-to-expect of God in Jesus Christ, why not a time to talk and think and pray together about baptism itself? There's a sign up sheet in the Narthex. If you're interested in sharing around the United Methodist understanding called, "By Water and the Spirit", sign up. We'll work out the details to suit those interested. In just 6 weeks, Lent begins. We'll walk with Jesus up to Jerusalem in our Tuesday Night Bible studies. We'll be taking "Questions from the Crowd". It's not too early to plan to be with us. One last thing. In the faith of Jesus, there is the tradition of the Mitzvah, the good deed. The act of kindness. The moments of ministry we do. Of course, we do them in the name of Jesus. So we have put up in the Narthex, a Mitzvah Board. A chart, sort of. It'll be there all month long. I invite you and your children to use the slips of paper provided and write out, with or without your name, the acts, deeds, moments, kindnesses you have shared with others in the name of the Savior each week. May they inspire our expectations, free our questions, and move our hands and feet to serve Jesus. John could see that it was this Jesus would baptize us. Even us… with the Holy Spirit and with fire. None other than Jesus Christ our Lord.

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