Summary: We fail to experience a vital faith because we do not expect anything new, we operate out of preconceived notions, or we wait for authority figures to validate us.
Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC, March 5, 1989
Anyone who works in an office or who has had to do either writing or typing knows that you do not proofread your own work. You just do not proofread your own work. Why not? Because the tendency is to see what we want to see, and what we expect to see, not what is really there. And so if you read over your own handiwork, you will see, more than likely, what is supposed to be there, but you will miss a good many of the mistakes, just because you didn't expect them. I know on many occasions I've typed a letter or some other document, then glanced at it, thinking it had it right, sent it out, and later found out that it had all sorts of typos. All because I saw what I expected to see; and what I did not expect to see, that I missed completely.
There is a series of optical illusions that illustrates the same principle. Maybe you've seen these in some book: one of these optical illusions asks you to look at some familiar traffic signs and read them. And so there in a familiar red hexagon with familiar white letters on it is a sign familiar to every driver: S POT. Says Stop, doesn't it? Ah, I expected so much to see Stop that I did see it, even though this' version said SPOT! And the book has many other examples: sentences with a word repeated, but we are so sure we know the sentence that we don't see the repeat. Sentences with a word left out, but again, our mind just supplies what our eyes do not see.
The truth is that we are programmed to experience the expected. The truth is that we are ready to suppose that we know how things are going to go, and even seeing the evidence will not change our minds.
For the truth is that after wave reached a certain age that we’ve seen it all, we’ve got everything down pat, we know what to expect. And even if you slap us in the face with new evidence, we just keep right on seeing it in the way we've always seen it. We are victims of our own expectations.
And I submit to you that we Christian folk, after we’ve been into this church thing for a good while, we also imagine that we’ve got God down pat. We imagine that we know what God is going to do, or more likely, what God is not going to do. And so, no matter what happens, we stay where we’ve always been. We Christian folk are victims of our own expectations, spiritually, and, I’m going to argue today, we are victims of unrisen expectations. We are victims of unrisen expectations; that is, we have settled for an understanding of God that expects nothing and therefore sees nothing; that assumes that God is semi-retired and way off in the stratosphere, and can be counted on to remain conveniently silent. But we haven't seen much precisely because we have not expected much. We are, I say, the victims of unrisen expectations.
Jesus at the climactic day of the Feast of Tabernacles stood in the middle of the Temple precincts and announced with a loud and clear voice, "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes on me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow streams of living water.'" His is a promise that is bold and forthright; it is a promise made to a people who had gone through so many religious rituals and who had kept so many laws and who had read so many Scriptures that they thought they knew it all, and moreover, that nothing was really going to happen. His is a promise made to a religious people who keep on keeping on, keeping on going to church, keep on saying their prayers, keep on making their offerings, but with no real expectation that anything remotely likes streams of living water, life -giving energy, will be found in their hearts.
But I’m suggesting that the real reason there was no life nor energy is their low expectations. And so the people react; listen: “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was? This man doesn’t fit our expectations.
Look at what’s going on; look at how we victimize ourselves, how we cheat ourselves, because we do not expect God to be at work, here and now:
First, we cheat ourselves, we becomes victims of unrisen expectations, because we are caught up in the commonplace. We are caught up in the very ordinariness of life and cannot imagine that God would break in here.