Great Expectations

January 5, 2020

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Preached by Canon Andy Trenier using Eph 3:1-12   Matt 2:1-12 at Festal Eucharist on Sunday 5th January, The Epiphany.

The great Billionaire investor and Philanthropist Warren Buffet once said:

The Secret to happiness is having low expectations.

Which may be good advice when we are tempted to sell up or double down materially…..

But I don’t think it is good advice for Christian Faith or for the Christian Church.

It appears that the wise men- prefigured in the Psalmody today-

Had HIGH EXPECTATIONS not low-

heading straight to the palace in search of a King worthy of their homage.

I don’t think that it is advice that St Paul would be happy with either

… if this passage from Ephesians is anything to go by

The Eternal Mystery- hidden for ages in God

The boundless riches of Christ is now made manifest-

AND – of all things-

It is through the Church that the wisdom of God

In all its rich variety might now be made known.

And yet- we- who might be here seeking for ourselves

Trying to connect, or reconnect…

Or simply treading water

waiting for the signal to get better-

What are we expecting?

THINK ABOUT IT

I had a rather nice bit of feedback yesterday, about one of the Christmas services-

I’m going to share it with you only to show that this question of expectation is LIVE-

(for some people at least- perhaps lots).

Thank you for that Christmas service. The talk- to ordinary people about the restart of life- cut through all the glitz and irrelevance and showed me that no matter how much modern society tries to change Christmas into something else, the true meaning can never change.

It was an Epiphany

I entered the cathedral as a man of no real faith.

I left in a very thoughtful mood indeed- Thank you.

I wonder what you think…. is that typical do you think?

The seeker and/ or what they found?

What do visitors & spiritual seekers find in todays Church? Here in this Church?

I think that the spiritual appetite of the public is undiminished.

If anything- that it is growing.

But- at the danger of being too simplistic- I think that there are two things those hungry for faith might typically find- depending the church they enter.

Neither of these seems satisfactory to me.

On the one hand in Church TYPE A we find an obviously lively faith.

Though one that is, on closer examination stimulated by anxiety and characterised by a tendancy to over-claim its knowledge of God’s ways and over exerts itself on Gods behalf.

On the other hand in Church TYPE B we meet a church low in confidence that – if there is a common character- it is that it is NOT type A and if there is a plan- it is to mop up after TYPE A.

if the Type A church is overly thrusting

the TYPE B church very often itself short and fails to convince….

Type A says

“If we sound sing, pray, preach loud and lively enough maybe they come and join in”

TYPE B says

If we’re nice and don’t mention God too much… maybe they will come and join a rota….”

Neither approach is very new.

Going back to the 17th century Latitudinarian Anglicans = tried nobly to fashion a broader vaguer church

in order to appeal to rational modern people put off by strident TYPE As.

But as some type Bs are still want- they forgot that there were limits on how much you could reduce the formula….

He that goeth about to persuade a multitude that they are not so well governed as they ought to be shall never want attentive and favourable hearers. said Hooker-

But you can so hide away your peculiarities and your peculiarities

That soon- whatever you are selling-

becomes unattractive

because it is seen to be insubstantial.

Had they read their Hooker the TYPE As would have seen that their stridency and the TYPE Bs their breadth

Both have their limits after which a reverse effects takes place.

There needs to be some balance twixt A and B.

We need a renewed confidence in and High Expectation of our faith.  Without becoming strident and dogmatic in the process.

As Karl Barth so neatly put it:

“One cannot speak of God simply by speaking of man in a loud voice. We simply need to be confident in that which lies beyond our grasp:

The enchanting Epiphany at the heart of our faith.

The great mystery at the centre of what we are called to proclaim!

Writing of this to his friend Robert Bridges,

the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins offers his own paradoxical

formulation of the mystery at the heart of his Catholic belief:

“You do not mean by mystery what a catholic does.

You mean an interesting uncertainty.

What I mean by mystery is an incomprehensible certainty”

The Epiphany we celebrate today is that which–St Paul says,

after being hidden for ages in God

is now revealed by the Spirit –

that we should be SHARERS IN CHRIST.

Like God himself- it is a truth both ever beyond our grasp

and yet a living truth always within us.

To misquote Dicken’s from his book, Great Expectations:

The one who has “been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with” …comes to us and more…

“Loves us against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.”

The Glory we have to make known is real and warrants HIGH EXPECTATION OF IT but it is not ours to sell or exploit or defend or even worry about.

It is not given to us for anything other than worship.

Let’s face it:

Warren Buffett was good at giving sound advice on material investments.

But perhaps- if we want to invest in spiritual things-

we might be better to take our advice from St Paul and our cue from the Wise Men.

So I say:   let’s expect more in 2020.

In the last great age of the church- on both wings of the church-

a renewed vigor in the church was fuelled by higher expectations of this Mystery.

A renewed impact was fuelled by fresh confidence of the churches distinctive message, in the churches distinctive role,

and crucially –

by the pursuit of a distinctive and attractive inner holiness for each churchman and woman.

The preaching of the church remembered to itself and it’s enquirers a faith that is not a general moral teaching or theological speculation but rather- is itself- a living converting process.

And equally its worship, Liturgy, music making and reflection on holy scripture are ever merely symbols, empty gestures

or, worse still, ends in themselves.

They were- and need to become again, as JH Newman, put it,

the keys and spells, through which,

in the Providence of God,

seekers are brought into the real presence of God & his saints.

 

We need to expect more in 2020.

And we need to worship and live as if we were expecting more.

That’s the church that I think my correspondent wants to be part of..

That’s the church I want to be part of…

What about you?

If we could find it again-

It would be…

what would you call it?…..

… An Epiphany.

+AMEN