Raise Your Expectations

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Preacher: Rev. Jenn Petersen

Sermon Title: Raise Your Expectations

Scripture: Matthew 19:16-30

Jenn Petersen is the co-lead pastor of the new church plant Resurrection Life in New York City with her spouse, Branden. This sermon was given at Trinity Baptist Church, a church that is partnering with them in ministry as they lead and serve the city. Jenn is an accomplished musician and worship leader, but it is her gifts of preaching that we notice and learn from now.


Sometimes when we talk about the Bible as God’s story, there might be the sense that it is a powerful story because it shapes the narrative and ethic of the community. Jenn’s sermon takes God’s story a bit differently and calls the listener to be in the story as she challenges them to “raise their expectations”of who God is and what God can do. As she retells the story of the rich young man and the disciples bewilderment at Jesus’s statements, we are reminded that we often share that bewilderment as we look at life as impossible. As she retells the story of David and Goliath, the listener can see the magnitude of their Goliath, and feel the smooth stone of their resources in their hand. But moreover, the listener is carried and emboldened by David’s faith, to trust, to believe, even to hope— that God is truly with them and at work on their behalf. Jenn’s recounting of the story in detail draws the listener in, and as they witness Goliath fall again, the flame of faith is fanned for the way they see their world.

As you preach this week, consider your relationship to scripture as God’s story. Does the Bible only shape identity and ethics of a group of people? Or does the Holy Spirit enliven the continual reading, interpretation, preaching, and hearing of it so that something might happen in that very moment? How might you tell the story of God in scripture and the story of God in the world today that helps your congregation see God as present, active, convicting, loving, and empowering?


Jenn began the sermon with a litany of ‘what-if’ questions that might confront the congregation. Stemming from her personal story of moving to New York City to plant a church, she invites the community to wonder about the questions they also ask such as, “What if I don’t get that job that I paid thousands of dollars in education? What if I’m not enough? What if I made the wrong decision?” These questions are then revisited at the end of the sermon, but have been changed and transformed by the encounter with God’s grace that has challenged them to consider raising their expectations and growing in faith. The questions at the end of the sermon have a “grace lens” and are phrased as such, “What if we really believed that with God all things were possible? Jesus taught us to pray, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ What if we prayed like that? What if we raised our expectations and then we took an action step and then God di the miracle?” By ending with the similar what if questions, the sermon has a sense of resolving the initial tension that was created by them. More importantly, that resolution came from the proclamation of God’s gracious presence and activity in us and in the world, inviting the listeners to leave changed by that truth.

What role does tension and resolution have in your sermons? A sermon should introduce some tension, or rather reveal the tension that already exists in scripture and life. A sermon should also resolve that tension by proclaiming the good news of God’s grace as it speaks to the tension created. This week, try to find a way to introduce and resolve the tension with similarity so that the sermon has “bookends,” but don’t miss the twist of God’s grace that gives the final word!