I Chose the Mustang

Gospel of Luke 4:21-30

My first car was a 1981 Ford Mustang. It was blue, it had tinted windows and leather looking plastic bucket seats. I had worked and saved money and right before the start of my Junior year in high school my parents and I drove to Casper, Wyoming, wandered the lots of every used car dealer, searching for the “perfect” car. The perfect car that I could afford, that is.

My father had helped me narrow the list to 2 cars. The 1981 Ford Mustang, the car I wanted, and a blue 1984 Ford Escort, the car my father wanted for me. The Escort was newer, had less miles, got better gas mileage, and overall was in much better condition than the Mustang. I chose the Mustang.

I remember driving that car home listening to Van Halen on cassette thinking I was the coolest kid in the world. I had worked hard, saved money, and now I was driving a car of my very own.

A car, for me meant freedom. I could now go where I wanted, when I wanted, and I would no longer ask permission to borrow my mother’s Buick. The Mustang was cool (though to be honest the 80’s were the worst period of design for the Ford Mustang) and I could play my music on the stereo as loud as I wanted. I didn’t so much buy a car that day, as much as an idea. An idea that fulfilled an expectation.

Expectations are funny. We all have them. We all believe in things, events, places, and most especially, people. The word expectation is defined as: “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” A simple enough definition indeed, but what isn’t contained in this definition is the power, influence, and control our expectations have over our behavior.

Our expectations oftentimes drive our relationships. They influence our interactions with one other. They dictate how we work, if we work, and how we save or spend our money. Expectations dictate where we go, why we go there, and what we want when we get there. They determine how we behave in different social settings and how we expect others to behave. Our expectations have an impact on who we are, what we do, and what we want from others.

In today’s Gospel Jesus confronts expectations.

Today’s Gospel picks up right where last week’s Gospel leaves off. Jesus, after traveling the region of Capernaum, had arrived in his home town. His friends, relatives, and acquaintances were eagerly looking forward to his arrival and the miracles and signs that he would do there.

Instead, Jesus challenges their expectations and chastises their lack of understanding. Instead of performing wonderous signs and miracles he reminds them of the Old Testament stories about the widow and Naaman, both Gentiles. He reminds them that these Gentiles received blessings from God and how the rest of Israel, God’s chosen people, continued in their suffering.

He confronted their expectations in regards to birth-right and who is deserving of God’s blessings and, in essence, told them that their expectations were wrong. Their response to being told that their expectations were wrong is very similar to ours today. They were disappointed, which then turned into resentment, and then into anger, and in their anger, they rejected Jesus.

We do that.

We too have expectations of Jesus. We expect that Jesus will fix all our problems, eliminate our struggles, and make others think and behave the way we want them too. And when he doesn’t. When he doesn’t make money magically appear, or miraculously fix our broken water heaters, or cause those who are in opposition to us to align with our thinking, we become disappointed, resentful, and angry.

Jesus came to save us and to be our friend. A friendship founded in and fostered in love. He loves us and he expects us to love him and one another. When we altar that expectation we then run the risk of responding to Jesus the way his friends, relatives, and acquaintances did. We run the risk of rejecting him and denying him the opportunity to treat us as a friend.

Though I thought that all my expectations were met by that 1981 Ford Mustang, in time I learned that I had made the wrong choice. The inherent problems of a well-used car began to become evident shortly after I had purchased it. Now, knowing hindsight is 20/20, it is okay to say, because it taught me a lesson. A lesson that I frequently have to re-learn, but nonetheless, a lesson that is essential to my Christian walk.

That lesson is this: to put needs ahead of wants and live in love with God and with my neighbor.

My father witnessed that love to me when 1) he recommended a car that would have met my needs, and 2) allowed me to make the wrong choice. Today, as you come before this altar, I challenge you to examine your expectations and to ask God to help you align them in love…his perfect and all-encompassing love.

The hardest part of being a Christian is actually getting along with other Christians

Gospel of Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Have any of you ever thought that the hardest part of being a Christian is actually getting along with other Christians? It’s not the faith part or the believing in the life, death, passion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that presents the most difficulty. It’s not the call to charity, to mercy, or to love the lost, hurting, poor, and vulnerable that causes problems. It’s not even that the entire world and all that is seen, unseen, known, and unknown created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present God that creates the greatest stumbling blocks. No, typically, the biggest problem with Christianity is having to get along with other Christians.

Am I the only one who feels that way? I am serious… am I the only one who experiences moments of frustration, annoyance, disappointment, and down right anger with other people who are devoted followers of Christ?

On the one hand I hope that I am. I hope that I am the only Christian present who has problems getting along with other Christians. I hope the rest of you have it all figured out and that I am the only one here lacking in Christian charity and love.

However, on the other hand, there is part of me that hopes that I am not. I hope that I am not the only one who struggles with this issue.

I find comfort in believing that I am not the only one who struggles with relationships. I find comfort and hope in the thought that I am not the only believer who has trouble getting along with other believers. Believers who profess the same belief in the same God; believers who profess the same name of Jesus Christ; believers who rely on the same Holy Spirit, and yet, just like me, find it difficult to get along with one another.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. A feast that recognizes our Lord’s voluntary submission for the fulfillment of all righteousness, and the manifestation of his self-emptying for the salvation of mankind, in obedience to the will of the Father. Today, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we are called by the Church to recall the reality of our own baptism in light of the example of Jesus.

There are 4 things that I ask you to reflect upon this morning.

One, I would ask that you reflect upon the new identity of Jesus as revealed in the symbol of the dove and in the words of God the Father, “You are my beloved Son.” That is not to infer that Jesus was not always the Son of God (a many heretic has been burned at the stake, or worse, for such a claim) rather, that Jesus arose from the waters of the Jordan with the identity of service… service to mankind.

Second, reflect upon his obedience to the will of God the Father, “With you I am well pleased.” Jesus submitted himself to God and to his plan for salvation for the world and in so doing, fulfilled all righteousness. Jesus, a man without sin, yet in his holy perfection was obedient to the will of God the Father which was manifested in his baptism.

Third, consider Jesus’s visible demonstration of solidarity with humanity. He shouldered the burden of our sin, for he himself was without sin, and immersed himself in our pain, misery, brokenness, and suffering and carried our burden to the depths of the Jordan and, ultimately, to the height of the cross.

Finally, consider his self-sacrificing love. His baptism was a manifestation of his love for us. A love that was entirely of his free will and entirely for our benefit. A love that calls us to abandon our selfish desires and ambitions, and to cast off all our burdens, and pick up our cross, and follow after him.

I struggle today my dear brothers and sisters in Christ not because my fellow Christians are so difficult to get along with. I struggle today, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, because I forget the meaning, significance, and reality of my own baptism. A baptism that calls me to live my new identity as a child of God. A baptism that has given me the power to turn away from sin and live in obedience to the will of my Heavenly Father. A baptism that allows me to live in solidarity with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ. A solidarity that joins us together, in spite of our brokenness and pain, to be one in Christ. And finally, a baptism of love. A love that is so grand, so wonderful, so all-encompassing that God the Father gave his only Son for our salvation.

I would like to believe that I am not the only one who struggles living this pilgrim’s journey. I would like to believe that I am not the only one who finds relationships difficult and discouraging. I would like to believe that I am not the only one who needs to be reminded of the example of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and in that example find forgiveness, comfort, and hope.

As you come before this altar to day recall your own identity as a child of God, recall your own call to obedience and submission to the will of God your heavenly Father; recall the solidarity you share with the persons around you; and, finally, recall the self-sacrificing love which has called you, me, and the entire world, including those with whom we quarrel… to eternal salvation.