Expectation Management

There are two kinds of people in the world – those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t

By now you know I only have the two sermons. This week was about binary polarization, and next week I’ll try triangulation. Perhaps Trinity has adjusted those sermons in 20 months: did I learn or change? Did you?

Us and them. Me and my army. Not much religious jargon here. Trinity looks smug, privileged to people on the outside. But Trinity feels insecure. Once mainline cathedral, now sideline chapel, we wrestle with great expectations.

Entrusted with a legacy – that’s not just money – what would our elders do?

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery

to fall back into fear,

but you have received a spirit of adoption.

Entitlement or empowerment are words for this experience of privilege. Since we know it is unearned, and we are unworthy, the next words are anxiety and imposters. With such great promise and opportunity, how could out outcomes be so suboptimal? Why are we so few, if we were given so much?

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me

will also do the works that I do

and, in fact, will do greater works than these…

Business consultants would call this a problem of expectation management. Sins of pride nor of sloth, expecting too much or too little of ourselves, can be paralysing. It you’re so blessed, why aren’t you more successful? Don’t deny the wealth and power we’ve got – or our modest outcomes.

Theologians talk about ‘over-realized eschatology’, claiming to have already arrived in a version of the heavenly city. All we have to do is show off our wonderfulness, ‘attractional ministry’, and people will flock to join us. Often, the dark side is trying to coerce people to assimilate or conform to our ways.

There is only one kind of people, living on this side of the reign of God. We are either degenerate, getting worse, or regenerate, getting better – but we have not arrived, and we won’t get there alone, but in good company. We all need lots of grace, and lots of mercy, to be put in right relations, and act our part.

Pentecost completes the Great 50 Days of Easter – the story of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the demoralized disciples after crucifixion and ascension. According to Acts, they were given the gift of speaking many languages so all could understand, a sort of reversal of Babel. All got charisms, or gifts of Spirit.

Our version of the promise of the heavenly city, and our citizenship in it, secularized through the 20th century, is less ecstatic or magical. Our version is the social welfare state within a multilateral global order of human rights. This ‘postwar’ vision has granted us a complacent liberal security for a generation.

Bernard-Henri Lévy’s most recent book, “The Empire and the Five Kings: America’s Abdication and the Fate of the World” reflects on the end of this ‘postwar’ period, popularized by Francis Fukuyama as ‘the end of history’, and what is often called ‘American exceptionalism’:

“The idea of America was incomprehensible without the millenarian notion of a new land of milk and honey to which one might go and build a Jerusalem on earth without waiting for the end of days, skipping the steps set out in the Old Testament and the Gospels…”

As a French Jew, Lévy chides our ‘New World’ or ‘settler’ culture for our heresy, violating Jewish and Christian traditions. Proudly, we claim to show the world a preview of heaven. Worse, we scold and correct others to be more like us. Instead, we might admit we’re in same boat as a whole humanity like us.

He protests that the world has failed the Kurds in the Syrian war in this century, acquiescing to realignments from the 20th century’s American-led ‘post-war’ world: Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Sunni radical Islam take initiatives, and US, EEC and NATO lets peoples like the Kurds pay the price.

Do you remember the battle of the kings, in Genesis 14, with Lot and Abraham caught in others’ war? Abraham saves Lot, and makes a truce with Melchizedek (pending Sodom and Gomorrah). There were not clear 2 sides, white hats and black hats (or worse, ‘cowboys’ and ‘Indians’), but 5 kings.

Do you recall another 5 kings, hiding in caves in Joshua 10? Conquest and settlement stories don’t seem at all tolerant or inclusive or accommodating to diversity to us, but Joshua knows his vulnerability, and is militant against their renewed capacity for violence against Israel.

Trinity Kitchener, and the United Church as a denomination, have been parts of a colonial settler church, then enjoyed status as mainline chaplaincy to an imperial ally state. With each came expectations, and complicity with sins of the dominant cultures with which we identified.

A century ago, Trinity Methodist, newly arrived as full participants in high Victorian or Edwardian prosperity, sent our own missionaries to China and Japan. We eagerly backed assimilation of indigenous and immigrant neighbours to share our belonging a model to the world, and export the vision.

We barely repented of those missionary evangelical excesses of cultural genocide, before we saw our revised project, the social welfare state and global multilateralism, challenged by ‘globalization’ – which included some of us joining a global 1%, but many of our children destined to join the global underclass.

What expectations, that everybody wanted to be WASP with us! What glib optimism, that we could simply share prosperity with public health and education initiatives, good citizenship and United Way! For people outside those norms, we’re part of the problem, and our white Maker, Jesus, and Spirit are too!

Some communities of faith in our movement adopt intercultural or racialized identities, and others work at including LGTBQ2 gender and orientation diversity. Attractional ministry, inviting people to join us and be like us, is a bust if we look and sound like me: old, white, painfully conventional.

God made me, us, and loves us. God sustains us moment to moment, and gives us a new day each morning to do a better job of being old and white. However, people don’t aspire to look, sound, or act like us, but like themselves. We could learn more about our own authenticity from others!

Last week, we agreed to explore partnerships in Fresh Expressions ministries to address the felt spiritual needs of people who don’t go to church, not for the purpose of adding new participants to our heritage congregation and ministries. Partnerships might address their spiritual needs. Assimilation into us will not.

We will maintain and conserve our existing ministries with Legacy 1 fund support, and a new minister. Ideally, I imagine a successor with more estrogen, more melanin, and more years left in them than I have. We will invite partners to share initiatives beyond us, with Legacy 2 support to serve others, not us.

Look, you can’t put lipstick on a pig. I will not convince anybody that I am ‘hipper than thou’, or Doonesbury’s ‘fighting young priest who can talk to the young’. Even that cultural reference to an American comic strip proves my obsolescence. But when I’m gone, you’ll still be here, just as old, white as I am.

What’s our spirit at Trinity, or in the United Church? God’s spirit is sweeping the city and the world, giving people a spirit of adoption instead of a spirit of slavery and empowering amazing global growth. Jesus is doing fine – the Spirit too. Are we good partners? Are we part of something big enough, including Pentecostal and evangelical Christians, Orthodox or Coptic Christians?

Today, I begged you to join the ‘Worship Flash Mob’ that went off to attend another United Church. I told you that the Moderator Richard Bott was speaking at First United in Waterloo, and you should go there. Congratulations if you did, and are reading and listening to me online instead of live at the chapel.

This was not the best sermon in the city today. This was not the best SATB choir in the city today. This was your temp guy on his second last Sunday, and your choir’s second last before the usual 3 months off. Did the Spirit move within and among us? I hope so. Will you leave better equipped, moved to be all that God made you to be, do all God made you to do?

God forbid that you remember about me that ‘he made us think’. God forbid you say ‘he meant well’. God grant that you say ‘we changed in those months of transition ministry’. Even better, that you recognize that the Spirit moved among us and within us, and equipped us for ministries we couldn’t even imagine.

Romans 8:14-17

14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 

15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba!* Father!’ 

16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

God still speaks Thanks be to God!

John 14:8-17

8 Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.

’9Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 

10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 

14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 

16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 

17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

God still speaks . Thanks be to God!