Expectation is a tricky thing. On one hand, we have to know what to expect so we can prepare. On the other hand, expectations are not always an accurate glimpse into the future and our expectations leave us unprepared for reality. So, the state of expectation is really a state of speculation, of guessing, but not knowing for sure.
In the gospel reading for this morning the crowds coming to John for baptism were full of expectation; and that means that they were full of questions too. They thought they might know what was going on, but they weren’t sure.
You and I have the advantage of knowing the answers to some of thier questions: We know that John was not the messiah. We know that Jesus was. We also know that Jesus wasn’t the kind of messiah they were expecting. We know that some of them were probably disappointed.
I suspect, though, that some of them had questions that are a lot like ours today. The basic questions never really change, do they? They would want to know things like: Why am I here? Why does so much of my life seem like a waste? Is there a point to it all? Is there hope? Can it be different? They are seekers, after all. They’ve come all the way out into the wilderness on nothing more than speculation and shaky expectation.
It is this spirit of speculation that brings many of us to church week after week. We have heard about God’s kingdom of love where there is no more war and justice finally rolls down; but our own lives are full of meaningless meetings, long subway rides, and pointless, often mind-numbing work. Each day has its own barrage of micro-assaults which leave us too exhausted to think about far-off kingdoms of love. We have all read Romans 8:28 which says that God makes all things work together for our good. Yet, the truth is that bad things do happen and that even tidal waves of faith seem not to move God to any kind of action on our behalf. It is hard to see any point in carrying on sometimes.
But, there’s good news. Jesus has come to baptize us with the unquenchable fire of the Holy Spirit.
He has his winnowing fork in his hand. That’s basically a pitch fork. One of the things you can do with it is pick up a bunch of grain and shake the seeds out, then you throw what’s left, the stems and husks, out. But Jesus doesn’t just discard the stems and husks, what the Bible calls chaff. He throws them into the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus knows that there are some things in our lives that can be brought into the storehouse, or the barn. We can all see the fruits of the spirit. It’s clear enough that they belong in the barn. There are other things, though, things which are not useful in our estimation, but which are useful to God. It is not clear to us how, but those are the things which somehow feed the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Nothing is lost. Nothing is without some merit. Yes, somehow, it’s all good.
To me, this is one of the oddest and hardest twists away from the old order and into the new. The chaff of life, those things which seem to be most pointless and painful, are actually quite valuable in ways which we can’t see.
We are all quick to offer our so-called best gifts to God. What is required, though, is not our best, but our all. God wants the chaff too. Everything you do, all that you experience, every tear, and crushed dream, each droll moment is important in one way or another. Let’s not be limited by the merely comprehensible. There are forces at play which we don’t understand, but of which we are somehow — blessedly — a part.
Can you let go of the impulse to categorize every thing as good or bad and simply accept that, like Jesus in today’s reading, you too have been called by name, and you too are God’s own child? Everything, absolutely everything, about you has been redeemed.
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China
“Rice chaffs” by No machine-readable author provided. Green assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.