Here is the sermon…

Here’s the sermon I would have preached this morning if life had not been so cold…..

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Amen.

The gospel reading that Chucks has just read is one that is very familiar to me. When I was younger, I used to go to churches which were very keen on that kind of imagery. They were quite keen on the idea that the end of the world was coming and that Jesus was about to arrive in glory. And those who were saved would be snatched away to heaven and those who were not would be left behind.

I can remember hearing the gospel reading that we’ve heard this morning being preached on many times. And I remember realising that I had three problems with it. Its because it contains three images of the coming of Christ and the images that they conjure up are scary, frightening and downright creepy.

The coming of the Son of Man will be like a flood. That’s scary.

The coming of the Son of Man will be like the snatching of one person away from another. That’s frightening.

The coming of the Son of Man will be like a thief breaking into your home in the middle of the night. That’s the one that’s downright creepy in my book.

If that’s what God is like, I’m not sure I’m interested.

It reminds me of a study group that I once went to which was on finding Jesus in art. We had lots of postcards containing different pictures of Jesus and each person had to turn over a card and then talk about how they could relate to the depiction of Jesus on the card. Its a good workshop, which I might do here sometimes.

Anyway, one of the pictures was the famous painting of Christ the Light of the World by Holman Hunt. Many people will know it. The original is in Keble College, Oxford, but the artist painted a bigger version that is in St Paul’s in London. Anyway, a priest colleague of mind turned over the card and say Holman Hunt’s Jesus there. A figure emerging out of the darkness. A matted beard. A lantern in his hand. Standing. Brooding. A crown of thorns on his head with briers growing up the door against which his hand is raised to knock.

And as she turned over the card, my colleague gave a horrified squeal and threw it away. And she said, “if that’s what God looks like he’s not coming into my heart”.

I know that feeling. That’s exactly how I feel when I read the gospel this morning. Remember, we’ve got a flood which drowns people, people being snatched away from one another and then the thief in the night.

Faced with a God like that, I want to scream and throw away the gospel. If that’s what god is like then I’m not interested. I’ll put up all my barriers. I’ll see he never gets inside me if that’s what God is like.

So, I need to work hard this morning to rescue something positive from a gospel that is scary, frightening and downright creepy.

This week, Tony Blair was debating whether religion was a good thing with Christopher Hitchens, the atheist commentator. By all accounts the atheist argument won the day. Here’s a snatch of it from Mr Hitchens:

He said: Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects, in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick, and commanded to be well. And over us, to supervise this, is installed a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea. Greedy, exigent, greedy for uncritical prase from dawn until dusk and swift to punish the original since with which it so tenderly gifted us in the very first place.

And you know. I agree with him. If that’s what religion is like, I’m not interested. It makes me want to squeal and hand back the card. It makes me want to cry no, no and close the Gospel book. It makes me want to slam shut my Bible and go on my way with my head held high, with no need of God or religion or any of that stuff at all.

And yet.

And yet, you see, that’s not my experience of God. Not now anyway. It might have been so when I was going to churches which were into the rapture racket – scaring good people with threats of a God who, if they didn’t behave right or believe right would face punishment if not in this world then in the next and that punishment was not far away. No no. That’s not a god worth believing in anway.

Let me turn back to those images which seemed scary, frightening and downright scary and see whether I can reframe them into ways in which I can still speak of God.

The coming of God is like a flood. Well, I’m not interested in a God who is like a cataclysmic flood which damages and drowns. But can I conceive of God being like water. Oh yes. Warm water to jump into which surrounds you and supports you and which holds you up. If God is like water, the God I know is like a refreshing pool to bathe and sport and play in.

The coming of God is like someone being snatched away. Whilst one is working in the field the other will be taken away. Well, maybe that isn’t about the end times but about my times. For I know that as I’ve learned more about God, my views have changed. As I’ve come to understand that God is not a tyrant making demands, I’ve been snatched away from fellowship and companionship with those who just can’t get away from seeing God as demanding and bullying a way into people’s hearts. What I think I’ve been doing for the last 20 years and what I think we are engaged in here at St Mary’s is discovering a God who is worth believing in. And sometimes, carefully and prayerfully choosing a progressive path of faith will take us to a place where fellowship with those who don’t share those values find it hard to think of themselves as companions on the Way. The polarisation of the Anglican Communion into is part of that story. If I’m now no longer in fellowship with some who share different values its because I’ve snatched myself away by trying to find a God worth knowing. And I think that God can be found.

And what about that thief in the night? Well, I think for me that it means that God comes to us when we least expect it to happen. God comes when are guard is down. When we are marvelling at the beautiful or puzzling at the strange and different. When we are over the moon with joy or knowing the griefs and sadnesses of life which are real to every person. I find that when I am distracted from the pompous pious side of faith by allowing myself to be really, wholly me, emotions and all, then somehow, when I least expect it, God sneaks in.

And if God sneaks like a thief in the night, at the unexpected moment, I find that he’s not interested in my stereo or my mobile phone; I find that he is not interested in my gold or my silver. I find that having sneaked in like a thief in the night, God was interested not in doing me harm but only in capturing my heart.

And I find then that God is not scary, frightening or downright creepy.

Rather, I find that God is supportive, fascinating and at the end of the day, downright loving.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


  1. I remember that workshop being done as part of an LGBT group meeting. I was slightly skeptical about it in the beginning, but ended up getting a lot out of it and thinking about God in ways that I hadn’t consciously before.

  2. FWIW, in order to dot some `t’s and cross some `i’s, my sensibly heretical book The Five Gospels colours all the speech black apart from the saying about women grinding corn (which merits a grey, at best). Ie, none of the text goes back to any historical Jesus, with the apocalyptic context added by the gospel authors; the `thief in the night’ is an Christian saying of the early churches (witness other epistles, written before Matthew, where the image appears) and therefore probably planted, in that order, in Matthew.

    I guess taking what you most charitably will out of the passage is entirely reasonable, then. 🙂

  3. (I had to read that, and a bit from Romans at church up here, too… was “interesting” turning a blind eye to it. 🙂

  4. Tracey says

    Thanks for that Kelvin. When I read that Gospel at the 8:30 service, i remembered the severe fundamentalist church I was brought up in as a child, and it made me uncomfortable. Reading your comments, I remember my first few visits to an Episcopal worship service and remembering how joyful and non-scary it was, and being amazed by the fact that I didn’t have to be afraid of God. Thanks for the reminder.

Speak Your Mind