Isa. 42:1-9, Matt. 3: 13-17
Whether or not you are a football fan, Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin, has become a household name this week. In a game televised last Monday to determine which teams would advance in the NFL playoffs, Damar Hamlin collapsed nine minutes into the first quarter of the game, suffering a cardiac arrest after completing a tackle.
You could hear a pin drop in the stadium as medics worked to revive him. Members of both teams formed a circle around the critically injured player as he was being resuscitated. Tears streamed down their faces as they knelt in prayer. Fans from both teams held candlelight vigils outside the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where Hamlin remains in treatment. Hamlin’s GoFundMe page for his children’s foundation, set up to raise $2,500, has now surpassed 7 million dollars, with donations pouring in from around the country.
It is clear that Damar Hamlin is a man of faith. The slogan on his helmet says, “Choose Love.” The athlete spoke opening about his faith saying, stating, “My faith is in God. So, whatever he has planned for me, that’ll be it.” “I feel like that's God talking to me,” he told a reporter in 2021, referring to his charitable work. “I really feel like that's what my purpose is. That's why He put me here.” While Hamlin is still in ICU, he is improving, and his witness continues to touch countless millions of people. It is a reminder to us of God’s power to bring good out of even adverse situations, as Paul in Romans 8:28 declares: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
People of faith are not immune from pain, suffering, difficulties. Have you ever had something unexpected happen to you, whether it was something good or something scary? Your life is going along as planned and then out of the blue, something unexpected happens and life’s journey takes a turn in a new direction. You discover you are expecting a new baby. You’ve been turned down for a promotion. You get into fender bender. You suffer a health scare. You incur an unexpected expense on an already tight budget, and you have to decide which bill to pay. We’ve all been there. Plans suddenly change. We’re caught unawares. We can count on one thing on this faith journey: Expect the unexpected. Where have you experienced the unexpected in your life?
Remember Abraham and Sarah? There they were, sitting on the porch in their rocking chairs, enjoying their retirement, when God commands: “Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. (Gen. 12)
There was Moses, minding his own business, tending the sheep, when he sees the burning bush and God tells him he is on holy ground. God then declares: “I have seen the suffering of the Israelites in the land of Egypt. I want you to lead them into a land of freedom and save them from slavery and suffering.”
Remember the notorious Samaritan woman at the well, going to fetch water at the unheard-of hour of noon, only to encounter Jesus, and after a lengthy discussion, she leaves her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 'Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ? ' They went out of the town and were coming to him.”
There was Saul, the great persecutor of the early Christian movement, who encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus, and ends up being the greatest missionary, a renowned apostle for the early church.
Today’s gospel finds John the baptizer with an unexpected situation. Jesus comes to him wanting to be baptized. But John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance, and Jesus didn’t need to repent. Try as he could to understand, John just couldn’t get Jesus’ motives. It seemed messed up: Jesus should be baptizing John, not the other way around. But Jesus has his reasons. Jesus did the unexpected, allowing himself to receive John’s baptism in order to demonstrate his complete identity with sinful humankind. John’s baptism of Jesus is a baptism into the fullness of humanity with all its joys and sorrows. And the Son of God chose this. “Let it be so now,” Jesus says to John. “Then he consented.” Our lives our like John’s. Like Abraham and Sarah, like Moses.
To be a disciple means to expect the unexpected. To do the unexpected. To learn to consent to the will of God and in doing so, to hear and see God in new and amazing ways.
Expecting the unexpected calls us to be present to whatever is before us and whatever is coming to us, even if it is difficult, painful, or the last thing we wanted. Expecting the unexpected isn’t about being in control or having all the answers. Expecting the unexpected means being open to new and radical ways God is working in and through our lives. It means we are not in control. God intervenes. It's being like Damar Hamlin, allowing God to use a painful accident to bring all sorts of people to their names, joining their hands in prayer.
Expecting the unexpected is a profession of faith, hope, and love. That’s how Jesus lived his life. Every time the disciples expected Jesus to act a certain way, he did the opposite. He called ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, and traitors to follow him. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He healed on the sabbath, a big no-no for the frustrated Pharisees and Sadducees that closely followed his ministry. He went to weddings and turned wine into water. He raised people from the dead, expelled demons. He allowed women to touch him, and he spoke to them with respect. His teachings turned everything upside down: love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Receive the prodigal son. Act like the good Samaritan. Give the widow’s mite. Take up your cross.
Jesus never turned away, backed down, or walked away from dificulties. He welcomed the unexpected, even the betrayal of his own, and being put to death by jealous leaders conspiring with foreign powers who just wanted to “keep the peace.” Jesus accepted the teachings of the prophet Isaiah (55:8-9): “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," …. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The unexpected comes to us every day. In these situations, God seeks to use the unexpected to help us love deeper, give more, be more open to service, pray more fervently, to give witness to the power, majesty and glory of God. The unexpected reminds us of what Paul says to the 1 Corinthians 1:24-29: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength…. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-- and the things that are not-- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (NIV)”
As we enter a new year, we will be exploring different aspects of discipleship. Today, let us be on the lookout for the unexpected ways God is reaching out to us and to use us for his holy purposes. Whether we face hardship or new exciting opportunities, let us embrace it. Let us place the unexpected in the sure hands of God, who will make his good will come to pass through us. Who knows whom you will touch, whose lives you can change, whose heart you will transform, by turning over all the unexpected in our lives to the loving mercy of God. As we live through all the unexpected situations life throws at us, let us be assured that the knowledge that God makes all things work together for the good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. As a post from Damar Hamlin’s twitter feed from last month read: “from losses to lessons to blessings. Thank you, God!” Thank you, God. For the faith to expect the unexpected. Amen.