In the audio podcast of this service, the Reading starts at 19 min 15 secs:
Matthew 7:13-23

The Sermon starts at 21 min 15 secs:
Hell: Beyond Hope, Beyond Pity

Pastor Todd Buurstra

Pastor Todd Buurstra - Pastor of Worship and WitnessSince Easter is all about Jesus coming back from the dead, there is a direct link to life after death. Last week we touched on Jesus’ ascension to heaven, this week, hell.

Hell is a controversial topic because of the ancient image of a place of torture. Even long before Dante’s Inferno and Jonathon Edward’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, is a 2nd or 3rd century book that almost made it into the Bible. Its called: The Apocalypse of Peter. In it Jesus gives Peter a tour of hell by showing him the appropriate punishment with which each sinner is tormented. Liars are hanged by their tongues over the eternal flames. Women who seduced men by braiding their hair, were hanged over the fiery pit by those very braids. Men who gave in to the seductions are hanged over the fire, ah,…by a different body part. If that book made the Bible, you couldn’t illustrate it!

Is eternal damnation just a relic of the grim past? Today many mainline Protes-tants do not believe in Hell, only Heaven. After almost 100 funerals in my ministry, 51 of which have been here, I have never had anyone stand next to the casket and say, Yup, that old coon is probably roasting right now. All believe Grampa is fireproofed in God’s arms

So, is eternal damnation a relic of the grim past?

But I get the impression that sometimes Jesus thinks otherwise when he commands … That word “few” is sobering. And when I read Jesus words, I remember a story from Marble Collegiate’s new preacher, Michael Brown. A family surrounded Grandma on her deathbed. As she struggled for her last breath, her eyes widened and she spoke her last words to the empty foot of her bed, What! You don’t know me? as she drifted into eternity.

Honestly, Jesus was often talking more about an earthly hell than a heavenly hell. The image of the fiery pit comes from the constantly smoldering garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. Though Jesus did refer to an eternal hell, N.T. Wright explains Jesus’ usual earthly hell message this way: (p. 176)… There is an earthly hell for whose sufferers we will pray during confidential healing prayers in the Chancel area at Communion time.

But what do we make of Jesus’ other hell statements? Is there eternal damnation? My theology says YES for two reasons: First, if God is just then there must be a final judgment. For, if you agree, like I do, with our good bishop that … then Judgment Day is heaven’s remedy to right earth’s wrongs. The CEO of the filthy pig farm that may have incubated the swine flu may never be indicted in this life, but misused free will demands consequences. In the end God must say to those who chose to turn their backs on Right, It’s your choice. And they will get an eternal leave from God and all that’s good.

Secondly, we see the beginnings of God’s judgment on earth. Those who choose to follow our culture and worship, not Christ, but money, sex and power dehumanize themselves. Just note a money worshiper like Bernie Madoff, a sex worshiper like Hugh Hefner, and power worshipers like the Taliban. All are less human than God intended.

So this brings us to N. T. Wright’s fascinating concept of hell. Maybe its not a place of raging fire and the hangman’s rope; i.e., torment. But maybe hell is the natural consequence of dehumanizing behaviors where beings once named Bernie, Hugh and Omar, created in God’s image, no longer bear any resemblance to their Maker’s dignity. Sub-human, they are, in the bishop’s words of today’s title, beyond hope and beyond pity.

The good news is that at this table we celebrate Jesus’ invitation for all to be His forever. Come gladly this morning rejoicing that Jesus welcomes and saves you forever!


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