I want to confess the most serious way we pastors let down our congregations, me included. We see how successful other pastors get by presenting Jesus as the end of every problem, attracting droves of people, and we try to imitate them.
In promising us a cross—much like his own—instead of a cushion, Jesus is not the end of our problems. And if following Jesus does end some problems like materialism, shallowness, and self-absorption, it’s also fair to say that following him creates a new genre of problems. We are now vulnerable to the claims of other in real distress and need, for example, in a way we never dreamt of before.
Jesus didn’t come to make nice people nicer. No, Jesus came to usher in a bold new age of God’s reign–that we still hope to participate in and realize–with the additional promise of our hope-filled transformation, individually and collectively.
But most of us pastors—me included—lack the courage to proclaim something so bold as that, week after week. Instead we invariably fall back on attracting you by dangling Jesus as the one to give us whatever it is we think we need to get us through life. Peace? Security? Happiness? Purpose? Yessir, Jesus can deliver!
The upshot is modern Christianity has conditioned us to perceive religion as the means of self-fulfillment. But study the theme of “the kingdom of God” throughout the Gospels, the single most mentioned topic in the Gospels. What will you find? The kingdom of God is all about a new God-fulfillment movement, not our self-fulfillment. God’s kingdom is what the world looks like when God finally gets what God wants. But to us, Good News is all about God finally giving us what we want.
Here’s the rub with our all-too-human mindset. What if we live in a culture that doesn’t know which needs are real and which are bogus? What if the trenchant consumerism surrounding us has warped our ability to identify which needs are worthwhile; and which needs are merely overheated whims, and nonessential to becoming our best human beings, the folks God wants us to be, children of God?
This is why the TV series Mad Men was so brilliant. They knew exactly what they were doing to shape human needs toward their products and create non-existent needs out of nothing. It seemed like alchemy. Just one problem with the magic they spun. Their lives were a total mess and they were clueless to sort it out. Humankind will always end up like that as we live with a human understanding of what it means to be human as opposed to God’s understanding of our humanity.
A new year of ministry is about to begin. Hold my feet to the fire. Make sure that I give you the real thing. It is not all about us. It is all about God summoning us, calling us and enlisting us into tasks and lives more significant than meeting our own poorly-conceived needs. I name the latter the tyranny of wrong expectations.