Summary: The god of Early Grey Tea and Cucumber sandwiches will never draw people to church. But there is a different God who will....
“Excuse me - we’ve lost something.... oh what was it ?… oh yes GOD - have you seen him anywhere?”
Sounds crazy doesn’t it - how could we not notice God. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence - as when the fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil - to make your name know to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence”
That sort of God … our society seems to have lost him! You turn on TV and watch .. I don’t know … vicar of Dibley or Midsommer Murders … there are plenty of vicars in it. But they don’t seem to have anything to do with that sort of God who makes mountains shake. Who you can’t help but noticing. We live in a society that is becoming increasingly alienated from God. Holy Trinity Barkingside may be growing, but across the country less than 10% of people go to church each week. When they do surveys people just have not heard of stories like the Good Samaritan or David and Golliath. This problem isn’t a new one - it has been going on for almost a century. In the 19th Century, Britain was becoming more and more Christian, and then in the 20th Century, the pendulum swung the other way and for a hundred or so years this country turned away from God.
And now - “o that you would tear open the heavens and come down” - now it is time for the pendulum to swing back the other way. Now it is time for our land to turn back to Christ.
This is ADVENT Sunday. This is traditionally when we think of the coming of Jesus -
- the coming of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem
- the coming again of Jesus at the end of time to Judge the world
But I want to suggest this advent that there is a third sense in which we should be longing for the coming of Jesus - the coming of Jesus into a nation’s hearts, the coming of revival, the turning back of a nation to God.
100 or so years ago our nation began to swing away from God. It partly began with the Church swinging away from God. The 19th Century was a century of passionate Christians - like Fr Charles Lowder risking cholera to bring Jesus to the people of Wapping. Or William Wilberforce abandoning a high powered parliamentary career to campaign on the single issue of the abolition of slavery. The twentieth century was a time of “more tea vicar....” - a genteel and establishment religion that had little to do with lives being changed or prayers being answered or the God who shakes mountains. And guess what? The god who serves cups of Earl Gray and cucumber sandwiches has not proved very popular.
And so our lost interest in a God who seemed irrelevant. “There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you for you have hidden your face from us”. We see family break down. we see depression, we see loneliness. We see a lack of community. Why does David Cameron call for a Big Society - because society has become so small and fragmented. volunteering is at record low levels. Our country may be materially rich, but it is lonely, it is hurting, it is messed up.
“You have hidden your face from us. You have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity” C.S.Lewis once said, there were two sorts of people. Those who say to God “thy will be done” and those to whom God says “OK, have it you way”. And our society is having it it’s own way, and look at the pain and hurt!
Now the English turning away from God has been going on since our grand parents and great grandparents day. So we start to buy the lie that it is inevitable.
But NOTHING is inevitable.
Things can change over night.
at the first half of the 18th century, England was also in a mess. Gin and gambling were destroying the lives of poor and rich alike. This was the age of Dick Turpin - crime figures were so high, there was so much danger from highway men and footpads that Horace Walpole wrote "One is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one were going to battle." . Government did not know how too respond so simply added the death penalty for more and more and more crimes. Meanwhile in 1713 England by defeating France and Spain had secured itself a monopoly in the slave trade. the horrors of unbriddled greed in the early industrial revolution meant that 3 out of every four children died before the age of 5 because of the insanitary slums and poverty. and of course it hardly goes without saying - church going was at an all time low, and clergy were time servers. I have an ancestor Bishop Carr of Worcester - who gambled (and lost) so much, that when he died, his creditors highjacked the coffin, and would not allow it to be buried, until the debts had been paid. That was the state of the church and the nation at the time.