There were two people at work in the office. Once asked the other – ‘do you want to join me for a round of golf tomorrow?’ ‘No I can’t – said the other person – it’s Sunday, I have to go to church tomorrow morning’ ‘Oh – said the other, never mind.’ Next week exactly the same ‘ Do you want to join me for a round of golf tomnorrow – the first said – No I can’t, it’s Sunday – I have to go to church tomorrow morning – the second replied. The following week exaclty the same .. the first asked ‘ Do you want to join me for a round of gold tomorrow? Look – said the second person – I’ve already told you, tomorrow’s Sunday – I have to go to church – I know said the first person, but I’ve invited you to golf three times now and you haven’t invited me to church once!
So here you all are – invited to church and actually here – what an opportunity. And I have about 10 minutes to convince you that believing in God and going to church is a good thing and that you want to do it more often.
Why should anyone believe in God and get baptised? Years ago it was easy – it was just what you do – nowadays it’s not that clear. Most people don’t go to church any more. Most people don’t bother getting their children baptised, and many people don’t believe in God any more. Why should they.
Today’s four Bible readings – a bit from Proverbs, a few verses from the psalms, a bit of St Paul’s letter to the Romans and then a bit of St John’s Gospel take are all written in old churchy speak – but they give us four answers about why people should believe in God. Logic, Creation, Personal experience, and the Holy Spirit.
So – first is the reading from Proverbs – and the first reason to believe in God is what they used to call Wisdom – and what nowadays we call logic. It’s logical to believe in God. It’s possible that that everything is just a a great big freak of nature and that love and self-sacrifice and our consciences are just a matter of neurons and self-ish genes, and it’s possible that the life force just carries on creating when it should constantly be breaking down into chaos – but the easiest and more logical answer is that there is a plan we don’t yet understand behind it all.
So more scientists believe in God than don’t. Einstein said in 1937 “Every scientist becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men.”
God loves science, and God loves logical reasoning : Whoever finds wisdom finds life and favour with the Lord.
Then there is the reading from psalm 8. Which says that if you want to know why we believe in God then just take a look around you. There are 17 and a half thousand species of butterfly, there are 12 thousand species of ants in the world, there are 3000 species of mosquitos – creation is bonkers! It’s Wild! it’s Extravagant. Scientific creation should be narrowing us all down to the most efficient possible species – but no, quite the reverse.
And because we humans are created in the image of God we don’t just survive we share the job of creating as well. Nature gives us basic food and drink to keep us alive, God gives us the Great British Bake-Off and wine and beer to give us pleasure.
Then there is the third reading : And if you’re still feeling a bit unconvinced by both logic and nature, then the third reason tells you that everyone believes in God when they have to – as they say there are no atheists in the trenches. I can promise you that more than once in your life you will have prayed to God and that you will pray again. Everyone does. It’ll probably be a crisis, or a tragedy when you have to pray, we tend to ask for help more than actually thanking God for blessings, but pray you will. ‘God help me’. We all need hope – as the reading says, and hope usually comes after hardship and perseverance. Praying to God for help is the most natural thing human beings do.
Sometimes, of course, you will not get what you are asking for .. I have sat with parents whose children have died after hours of prayer, and I have prayed with people with a terminal diagnosis and went on to die. I’m not naive about all this .. Some people give up on God when they don’t get what they ask for.
But others stick with it all and learn a different hope – a hope of heaven, a hope of the saints, a hope of a new life. God sees a bigger picture to us – eternal, enormous, miraculous. And God shares that picture with some of us.
And finally there is fourth reading .. When the Spirit of Truth comes the Spirit will guide you into all the truth.
Ultimately even after logic, the wonder of creation, the human need for hope, you will not believe in God unless you actually want to. Finding real faith always means a bit more that logic, arguments and feelings – it means finding the Holy Spirit. In other words it means stopping talking about God and getting on with knowing God. And that, my friends, is what the whole of church is about – not getting to know about God, but getting to know God. People do not come to church to be entertained – if you want to be enterntaind then go to the Cinema. – they do it better. People do not come to church to have a good time – if you want a good time, then go to the pub with your friends and have a drink . As I said people don’t even come to church to learn about God – books, TV programmes, universities and online courses do all of that so much better even than my fantastic sermons .. . No – People come to church for one reason and one reason only – to get to know God. .. and let me tell you, that like any friendship or relationship, we have to work at it.
Just shaking God’s hand once today – or at Christmas – is a bit like shaking the queen’s hand at a garden party …. you’ve met her, but you don’t know her.
To get to know her you have to follow her, read what she says, live with her, have tea with her, talk to her.
So to get to know God you have to follow God, read what God says, live with God, eat and drink with God, talk with God. There really is no other way. God doesn’t just fall into place beautifully when you die.
And so – Yes -church can sometimes be boring – tell me about it, I’ve sat through more boring services than anyone here. And honestly if you go to church looking for a good time your destined to be disappointed – but if you come looking for God, then you will always be satisfied. – always. Seek and you shall find. Ask and you shall receive. Knock and the door will be opened for you … but be quite certain – if you don’t seek, then you will never find. If you don’t ask you will never receive. And if you don’t knock, then the door will not be opened to you.
In the end I believe that everyone of us will meet our maker. None of us know what that day will look like, none of us know what we shall be asked when the time come. None of us know what we will have to discover about ourselves or about our lives, or what we shall become in the hereafter.
For some people I think it will come as a bit of an unprepared shock – and yes I think they will have to have work done – a spiritual face lift without anesthetic –
For some of us, however, we’ve been using the spiritual beauty products for years – and for the real saints it will simply be coming home, to the place they’ve always wanted to be, to the God they have always wanted to be with.
The Very Rev’d Paul Kennington