Some church members communicate with some sense of disappointment that they are not having their expectations met by their respective congregations. From buildings and parking lots to music and programs, people often express their dissatisfaction at what they find at their congregation. Pastors are not professional enough and programs are not effective enough. They long for a church that is bigger or better in some way. What’s ironic is that the world looked upon Jesus quite the same way.
Straw and swaddling clothes? Cross and thorns? From the very beginning, our Lord Jesus was not the kind of Savior that the people were expecting. Even after His resurrection, Jesus’ own disciples asked if this was the time at which He was going to restore Israel. But Jesus came not to rule by power and might, but to sacrifice and serve. What kind of Savior should we expect? The Father sent His Son to be born in humility, to serve rather than be served and to die a sinner’s death as the sacrifice for all the world. The King of kings and Lord of lords took on the servant’s form and became obedient to death on the cross. The death of the promised Messiah was not what was expected.
Neither did they expect a resurrection. On that first Easter, the disciples all should have been there waiting in expectation to find Jesus alive as He had said. But they did not expect one who had died would rise again. But God the Father raised Him from the dead and exalted Him as He would ascend to the Father’s right hand. The problem was not with the expected Messiah who
came as a Suffering Servant, but people’s misguided expectations.
Our gracious God still is hidden under the ordinary means of water and word, bread and wine. Like Solomon, we often wonder, “Will God indeed dwell on earth? (1 Kings 8:27). While many still expect God to come in power and might, He deigns to reveal Himself in the ordinary and lowly means of bath, table and word. No glitz and glamour! No bright shining glory! But God is still taking on the servant’s form as He comes to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith. While the world may be blind to the significance of what happens in our congregations each time we gather for worship and we may even need to be reminded, the Almighty God of heaven and earth dwells on the earth whether it is for thousands or two or three.
What should we expect from our congregation each week? The answer is Jesus, as He serves us through His Word and His bodily presence in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus deigns to dwell among us as Immanuel, serving us by covering over our sins and restoring our relationship with the Father.
All of us have at times had misguided expectations of God and His Church. It is good for us to be reminded that God never sought to meet people’s expectations. But congregations should never use the Gospel as an excuse for the Church to neglect its role of preaching, teaching and reaching.
Faithful proclamation in the Sunday Divine Service is not the only way in which God serves His people through congregations. The Church’s role in equipping parents, caring for children and youth and strengthening families are some of the ways that God serves His saints through His Word. The expectation of families for congregations to assist them is not a misguided
expectation, but an understanding of how God still serves through His Word both preached in the congregation, but also taught in the home. May God help us to understand and expect our congregations to be places where Christ is present to serve us through His Word and Sacrament!
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan