Back to Index

Listen to sermon by clicking here:

Go to Hell!
February 16, 1992

LUKE 6:17-26

Go to hell! That's the sermon today--go to hell. And, I'm quoting Jesus. Quoting loosely, I admit, paraphrasing; but accurately. Jesus told us to go to hell and do his work. The text we selected for the cover of the bulletin this morning is "If anyone would be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me." Follow Jesus where? Follow him to hell, to do his work, to minister to the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, and the persecuted.

In the Scripture lesson this morning, Jesus led his newly appointed disciples down from the mountain to a level place where he taught them and the crowds who had gathered. Matthew places this event on the mountain side, and we call it the Sermon on the Mount. Mark places this event by the sea with Jesus in a boat. Luke places it on a level place. The place is unimportant, the teaching is. As usual, Jesus turns commonly accepted values upside down.

Blessed are you who are poor...but woe to you who are rich...

Blessed are you who are hungry...woe to you who are full...

Blessed are you who weep...woe to you who are laughing...

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man...Woe to you when all speak well of you.

Jesus liked to use shock treatment to break through ingrown resistance, and challenge tired minds with new ways of looking at life. A modern cynic has fantasized what might have happened if the disciples had reacted to Jesus the way we respond to our teachers.

Then Simon Peter said, "Are we supposed to write this down?"

And Andrew asked, "Are we supposed to know this?"

And James asked, "Will we have a test on this?"

And Phillip said, "I don't have any paper."

And Bartholomew asked, "Do we have to turn this in?"

And John said, "The other disciples didn't have to learn this."

And Matthew asked, "Can I go to the boys' room?"

And Judas asked, "What does this have to do with real life?"

Then one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus' lesson plan and inquired of Jesus, "Where is your anticipatory set and your objectives in the cognitive domain?" And Jesus wept.

If I might paraphrase Jesus to shake us to really think about what he is teaching, Jesus is telling us that whoever would be his disciple will follow him to hell. Jesus recognized the hells into which people can fall, and he turns our values upside down. Those in a material hell--the poor and the hungry--and those in a spiritual hell--those who suffer profound sorrow and rejection--are those upon whom Jesus lavishes his blessing. Those whom the world calls less fortunate and "unblessable", Jesus calls blessed. He turns our values upside down, and talks about the Survival of the Least Fit.

Jesus spent his life reaching out to those who were in hell, the poor, hungry, sick and possessed. The old version of the Apostles' Creed says Jesus descended into hell. Psalm 139 is a majestic poem which insists there is nowhere anyone can go where God can't or won't go. vs. 8,9 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in hell, you are there. (King James Version)

There is nowhere God won't go to bless his people. There is nowhere Christ won't go. Last week we looked at the new possibilities that are present in every situation, every event, every relationship. God is in each event pushing us, persuading us to choose the highest value to which Christ is calling us. What a powerful image! God is pushing us, Christ is ahead of us, calling us to follow him, to follow him to hell. Take up your cross, lift high the cross, and follow him. Jesus calls us to leave the comfortable, easy, luxurious, boring lifestyle of middle and upper class Americans (it must be boring the way people drink!), and to follow him into the regions of hell, where people are poor, hungry, sad and rejected.

William Booth, the British Methodist minister who founded the Salvation Army, believed passionately that the church should go to hell to serve Christ. In the explanation of his movement, Booth cried, "I hungered for hell." He passionately desired to be where evil was most rampant, where there was wrong to be righted, evil to be fought, sinners to be saved, hungry to be fed, homeless to be housed.

Next weekend we will have Marcus Borg with us to lead a seminar and to preach. In his book, Jesus The New Vision, Borg writes, p. 192

In traditional language, Jesus was a revelation of the love of God. For Christians, as the "Word made flesh" he was the love of God incarnate. His life thus provides particular content to what the love of God is like, giving concreteness to what otherwise can be an abstraction.

...As an image of God, Jesus mirrors the care of God for what happens to humans in the world of history itself.

...Jesus is also a model for the Christian life...To be a disciple of Jesus meant something more than being a student of a teacher. To be a disciple meant "to follow after." Whoever would be my disciple, Jesus said, "Let him follow me." What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? It means to take seriously what he took seriously, to be like him in some sense.

When a grandfather baptizes his granddaughter, allowances must be made to enable him to talk about her! Alison is an example of how God intends for all of his children to be treated. She is so loved, cared for so specially by two ideal parents, surrounded by a loving extended family (her uncle Craig even wrote her a lullaby which she recognizes), embraced by a loving church family who showers her with gifts and attention. And she responds with a sweet smile, bright laughter, and enviable contentment. When I look at her, I thank God and, contrasting her life with so many children, pray for all the children in this world who live in hell. Why can't all children be loved as Alison is loved?

Every hour 1500 children die of hunger or of diseases caused by hunger. 1500 an hour, 25 a minute. Since I started this sermon 250 children have died because of hunger. A large percentage of the homeless on the streets of this wealthy, bountiful, blessed United States of America are children. Children are abused and mistreated, exploited by pornographers and recruited into drug gangs. Increasingly, children are crowded into schoolrooms where the student-teacher ratio prevents individual attention.

The other day I returned from the hospital late in the afternoon to find Linda Anchan sitting at the library table reading stories to two Tongan children. She was tutoring them in reading. Their father was waiting in the lobby, wanting to do his best for his children. Imagine being in a new land where the language is unfamiliar. Thank God for Linda who is willing to volunteer her time to tutor. She could have been cruising the malls! Those of us who take education for granted, can you imagine what a hell it must be to try to succeed in this country without being able to read? Imagine the darkness, imagine the doors that are closed.

In one of my former churches, we nominated a man to the Board of Trustees. He came in to talk to me privately before he accepted. He was a man in his forties with a wife and two children, one was a teenager. He explained to me that he would really like to serve on the Trustees, but would I help protect him from ever being put in a position where he would be expected to read. He explained he could not read, and would be very embarrassed if anyone found out. Imagine going through life faking. His wife knew he could not read, but not his children or anyone at work. He was a foreman in a plant, and so far was able to manipulate situations so he could learn what was on the paper without reading it.

Let's go to hell with Jesus. Many of you already are. Some of you are teachers, and I can think of no more important ministry than taking the love and compassion of Jesus into classrooms and lives of children. Some of you are volunteering at the Food Closet, homeless lunch program, and the homeless shelter when it is our church's turn. Charles Lawyer goes weekly to the hell called San Quentin where he does prison ministry.

However, we only have to drive a few miles towards the bay to see hell. Some of you live in East Palo Alto. Do some of the rest of us dare to cross the freeway and help? Good citizens there are getting tired of the drugs and violence on their streets and in their neighborhoods. How might we help them fight the powers of darkness and the forces of evil?

How about your own neighborhood or workplace? Is there abuse? Is there pain? Wherever there is abuse, wherever there is pain, wherever there is sadness and rejection, Christ calls us to enter. It is difficult to become involved in someone else's pain; but sometimes it helps for them to know you at least care. Just a simple question, "Can I help?"

I challenge you to take a risk, take a chance, take up your cross and follow Jesus to hell this week. Find one spot of hell, and go to it in the name of Jesus.

A memorial to a 19th century soldier in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, reads like this:

To Charles George Gordon

Who always and everywhere

Gave his strength to the weak,

His substance to the poor,

His sympathy to the suffering,

And his heart to God.

© 1992 Douglas I. Norris