BlogPost: The Sin of “Expectations”

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Title Great Expectations (1946) copyLast week I was talking with my friend, the Rev. Wendy Komori-Stager, and she told me about a sermon series she did on the “seven deadly sins.” But instead of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride, she preached on the sins of the fear of scarcity, perfectionism, busyness and the pride in productivity, comparison and self-doubt, and powerlessness.

In my mind these lists of sins have more to do with how we live in community with one another than with us as individuals. Community is already hard, even without having to deal with each others’ fears, perfectionist tendencies (often imposed on one another, let alone ourselves), busyness, self-doubt and feelings of powerlessness. Yet, this is what Christian community seeks to work through if are willing to engage them for what they are.

Mohandas Gandhi made his own list of deadly sins, and made them more explicitly communal:

  1. wealth without work;
  2. pleasure without conscience;
  3. knowledge without character;
  4. business without ethics;
  5. science without humanity;
  6. religion without sacrifice;
  7. politics without principle.

No matter where we live and who we live with, we each bring all our baggage to the table of community (all those things listed above and so much more), and then we empty that bag out into a jumbled mess and try to figure out how to love each other in the midst of it all. On top of all that, and maybe even because of all that, we bring our expectations of what community “should” look like, what we want out of it, and even how others should behave. It’s a dangerous thing, “expectations.” We all have them, and yet, rarely are they ever fully realized. And I wonder if expectations are the deadliest sin of all.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of my favorite and most challenging theologians, writes in his book about community, Life Together, first published in 1938 as Hitler rose to power, that “God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.” He goes on to write:

The man (sic.) who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. … When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure.

Bonhoeffer then goes on to say how, as Christians, we are invited to enter into common life as thankful people—thankful “because God has bound us together…long before we entered into common life…”

So, I wonder, the alternative to the sin of “expectations” may not necessarily be openness, at least not at first. Rather, the alternative is “thankfulness.” Thankfulness for a community to enter into. Thankfulness for a God who does not leave us alone, but joins us and then helps carry our baggage and walks with us into community, into recognizing our common connection with one another as God’s own. Giving thanks, at least for Bonhoeffer, is one of the ways our eyes become opened to even see the community in front of us.

Is it any wonder the “common meal” we share as Christians is called “Eucharist”—literally Greek for “thanksgiving” and what Jesus did at the Last Supper and what became the foundation of Christian life for centuries. Stepping to this table, maybe, is stepping into the Kingdom of God which is a kingdom of true thankfulness.

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