God Defies Expectations

God Defies Expectations

We have just begun Holy Week, that long walk from the shouts of praise and adoration at the entrance of Jerusalem that will land us, in just a few short days, squarely at the foot of the cross. Yesterday we celebrated – we raised our palm branches high and shouted our hosannas. We often think of the word “hosanna” as fairly generic, religious acclamation of praise. A holy form of “hooray!” But in reality, the word “hosanna” is transliterated from the Hebrew words that mean “We beg you, save us!”

What a powerful image it is to think of those words – “We beg you, save us!” – shouted as the cries of joy and acclamation as they were heard on Palm Sunday. It is not normally with tones of joy that one would beg for help. But that joy came from the hope and expectation that the people had already chosen to entrust Jesus with that their salvation was assured, that the powers of Rome would be defeated and all would be set to right. Of course, we know that the people’s expectation for what would happen with Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem was not what came to pass. Instead, something far more reaching, world-upsetting, and expectation flipping happened.

Holy Week is about God defying our expectations and bringing us to something so much bigger and world-changing than we could have ever hoped for. My favorite part of this passage is the end of it – “His disciples didn’t understand these things at first. After he was glorified, they remembered that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.” How often do we look at what is happening in the world and in our own lives and have a set of expectations for God’s actions in the midst of them that do not come to pass? How often do we ourselves cry “We beg you, save us!” and then wonder why God has not swooped in with all of God’s might to strong-arm a victory in the world, or in our lives? How often do we wonder if we have put our hopes behind a God who does not deliver?

But what would it mean if we, like the disciples, were able to look back on the events of our lives and the events of the world and look for the ways that God met us where we were in the ways we would never have expected? It is a well-known adage that hindsight is 20/20. When the world around us seems lost and unstable, can we look to our own histories to see where God has been, and perhaps trust that if God was with us then doing things we could not have anticipated, is it not possible that God is doing the same today, saving us all in ways that subvert ours and the world’s expectations?

There is power in looking backwards. When we see where God has been with us along the way of our lives, we are better able to see where God is with us as our lives move forward, even if we move forward with uncertainty. Starting in May, as the Chaplain to Retired Church Workers of our presbytery, I am beginning a monthly newsletter specifically for our retired church workers, aimed at helping us to trust the road forward by looking back on where God has been and what God has done to bring us to this point in our lives. Expect it to arrive in your inboxes on May 1st, and if you don’t receive it at would like to, please reach out to me at RevLaurenEvans@gmail.com to be added to the mailing list.

As we walk into this Holy Week together, as our cries of “Hosanna!” fade into the tears of Maundy Thursday and Holy Friday, may we wait in joyful expectation of Easter morning. When the light grows dark this week, may we trust that the bright light of the resurrection promise, the light of the God who subverts our every expectation to truly change the world and change our hearts, is on its way.

Don’t be afraid, Daughter Zion.
Look! Your King is coming.

Blessings,

Rev. Lauren Evans
Chaplain to Retired Church Workers

Retired Church Workers

Retired Church Workers

Guest Author: Lauren Evans.

I’ve been working as the presbytery’s Chaplain to Retired Church Workers now for nearly half a year, and as I’ve begun to get to know a number of the Honorably Retired members of our community I’ve had the chance to listen to the stories of folks who have lived lives of service in ways that they never could have predicted. There has been a constant theme, especially among the stories from our retired missionaries. Being willing to let God lead the way (even when that means leaving friends and family and one’s home in order to do God’s mission work as strangers in strange lands) means finding oneself living a life that was never expected, that didn’t work out the way they’d planned, yet managed to be filled to the brim with the joie de vivre of life abundant.

One of the gifts that comes with hearing the stories of our retired church workers means getting a chance to see the overarching narrative of God’s hand in the life of another. And it truly has been an enormous gift. So often in my own ministry experience I have been caught up in the stress and urgency of day-to-day matters of church life, and indeed caught up in the momentary details of non-church life, too. Getting lost in the midst of the demands of the immediate means finding our gaze directed almost anywhere else but at God. It becomes so very easy to ignore or even forget that God is the one at the helm of our lives, and that God is playing the long game. We may look at the fraction of life that is in front of us and wonder where God is, failing to see that God has been at work in shaping our journeys from our first steps in the world and will continue through our very last breaths.

Getting the chance to sit down with some of our retired church workers and listening to them tell the story of their journeys makes God’s active presence in their lives much easier to see, however. Telling our story means taking a step back in perspective, as though we had been standing too close to a painting in an art museum but finally walked far enough way to see what was really going on. And as our retired church workers have taken those backward steps with me to look at their lives together, the clear guidance of God’s hand through every step becomes obvious.

I am relatively young in my ministry, and in the grand scheme of things even young in my own journey with God, but the gift of my work with our HRs and their families is in the realization that just as God has guided and continues to guide their steps in extraordinary and unexpected ways, so too does God guide my own steps. As I listen to the stories of others, I hear God calling gently to me to take a step back in my own life, to see the whole of my story so far, to see God’s hand in my journey and to have the hope and trust in God to lead me still in the years to come.

There is much to learn when we look backwards, because it reminds us of the constancy of God’s presence in our future. What would change about your own perspective this week if you took a moment to look back, to tell your own story of faith and ministry? What in your story whispers to you the evidence of your own future hope?

In grace,

Lauren Evans
Chaplain to Retired Church Workers