Sermon for Advent 1 – 29 November 2015

Here’s the sermon I preached yesterday


You can’t beat a good quiz on the internet. Two minutes completing a set of multiple choice questions and some computer somewhere out there gives a verdict on what kind of person you are.

Thus is was that this week I followed a facebook link and found myself looking at an interesting quiz about attitudes to religious and philosophical questions at just the moment when I probably should have been settling down to write a sermon.

Oh goody! I cried. A diversion.

The first question was rather profound:

“Why are you good?”

I wondered briefly whether I was in fact good at all. I’ve a hunch that it isn’t the first attribute that people think of when they think of me. But there it was – the first question in the quiz. “Why are you good?”

And the answers were these:
a) Because if I’m bad I’ll be punished in the afterlife. (No – that couldn’t be right, I think God loves me anyway).

  1. b) It’s how my parents brought me up

(No, I’m not convinced by that either – I think parenting is about relationships that are very much more complex than a polarity between goodness and evil)

  1. c) I’m just playing the game.
    (No – I think it is worth trying to be good even if I don’t know I’ll always succeed).

And d) I’m good to others because I think that’s the best way to be.

Yes! At last an answer I can wholly agree with.

I clicked d and moved on.

The next one was What is the purpose of life and my answer was “It’s up to us to give meaning to life. I want to help other people and make the world a better place.”

Goodness – I think I’ve preached that a few times from here.

And with almost all the questions, I was lucky – there seemed to be one each time that I agreed with.

The next one – Should everyone be treated equally?

Yes – there’s my answer: every person deserves equal respect and opportunity, irrespective of what they believe.


And so it went on.

I completed all these questions. Moral. Ethical. Personal.

And at the end – one final click. And the verdict.


This is perhaps not surprising. Not because of my views but because when I looked again at the top of the webpage I realised that I was on the page of the Scottish Humanist Society. Indeed, before I left the site it had invited me to sign up.

Soemhow the humanists had produced a quiz where the most reasonable answers to the questions resulted in the inevitable view that the person answering is in fact a humanist.

It was a bit of fun and I was amused. And also very much aware of the longstanding tradition of humanism amongst religious people.

After all, I believe in my heart that God put us on earth to spread holy wisdom which also goes by the name of holy common sense. God puts us here not with a mandate to impose God’s will upon all we encounter but put us here with a mandate to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God all the length of our days. God put us here not to impose a monolithic view of God on one another but with the divine gifts of discovery, discretion and delight in what is good that lead us not into enslavement, conformity or repression but into ultimate freedom.

You can call that humanism if you like. I’ll not be upset if you call me that. But it won’t stop me being convinced that it is what God has been up to from the beginning.

But this I do know – that the days are surely coming when all this will matter very greatly.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord.

There will be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars and on the earth distress amongst the nations.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord

People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming to the world.

The days are surely coming and will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

It seems to me that this Advent as we read of the portents in the heavens that there will be rather a lot of preachers who go on and on about how relevant it all seems this year.

For there is real fear about. There is war and talk of war. The clouds do seem to be gathering. The end times sometimes seem to be being played out on our television screens.

And people want real answers as to what to do next. And there are really difficult questions that are worth wrestling with.

Why are you good?

How do you do good?

What does goodness look like in this complex and perplexing situation?

The days are surely coming for wrestling with these questions.

Because of Isis? Because of Syria? Because of talk of war?

Well, yes and no – the situation we are in does demand some religious thinking – a much greater understanding of the religious understanding of those who would do us harm is essential to dealing with that which threatens us now.

But the truth is, advent comes around each year and each year it seems appropriate.

It is always the time to work out ultimate questions and to remind ourselves that Christians have answers as to how to deal with them.

Stand up says the gospel – don’t be cowed down. Stand up straight and raise your heads – for your redemption is near.

And that isn’t a threat, it is the promise of something good.

We see street preachers sometimes bearing placards saying “that God’s judgement is nigh”. The truth of the gospel is that is not that threatening things are nigh but that God is near. Peace and love and justice and joy are near at hand. That’s the promise we believe. So we hold our heads up and live the reality of knowing God is near.

Jesus says in our gospel that his generation would not pass away until all things have taken place. That’s at the heart of my existential version of how to live as a Christian. It isn’t that the apocalypse is around the corner it is that in every generation the things that religion talks about are all true. Yes – for some this day the apocalypse is real. No doubt for those fleeing from Syria it feels as though the end times are upon them. Yes – for some this day redemption is nigh – for people live through the rollercoaster of betrayal, death and resurrection that we call holy week in their lives all the time – sometimes in a single day.

And yes – reality is always true –that God is near. That love is near. That God can be known. That life is good and wonderful and precious.

God is near to you and near to me.

The day of the Lord is nigh.

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