Harrowing Of Hell
July 10, 2016

Choose: Death & Adversity or Love & Prosperity

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
Scripture: Luke 10:25–37 and Deuteronomy 30:9–16

My heart has been heavy this week with the deaths of Lorne Ahrens, Philando Castile, Michael Krol, Alton Sterling, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa.

When I was talking with a friend about preaching on the shootings this past week, she suggested I mention the victims by name, because they are real men, who had real relationships that have been fundamentally changed. Since we believe relationship is primary, it is important to recognize this reality. I can’t help but think about these men in relationship to the statement made by God in the Book of Deuteronomy: “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.” Choose. It doesn’t say that explicitly, but it is the underlying assumption in this statement: choose life and prosperity or death and adversity; God goes on to say what choice looks like: “Loving the Lord your God, and walking in God’s ways.”

This week has given me cause to wonder what choices have I made and continue to make in favor of life and prosperity. What happened in Baton Rouge and St. Paul and Dallas wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t your fault. We weren’t there. We didn’t do anything to facilitate these tragedies. And yet we feel it. We’ve experienced it. It touches us, because we are connected to God, and so are those men who died.

This is about us. What happened in these three cities is about us. It is about us because we are made by God, because we are loved by God, because God is right here, this near, to each one of us. Who does that include? Everybody. And because God weeps for those men who died in adversity, that makes these tragedies about us. As long as this world is broken, this is about us. We are God’s, and we are connected. And because it is about us, I hold out great hope. I hold out hope for humanity. We have seen the victory of hope before. I was reminded of this the other day as I was reading through Science Magazine.

Let me read you a few of the article titles to help me explain my hope: “Blind Cave Fish May Provide Insight into Human Health,” “Step Aside E. Coli,” and “Capitalizing on Convergence: Integrated Sciences for HealthCare.” What struck me about these articles, and in fact every article in this magazine, is that despite the diversity of the science, all projects sought the same good: “to cure disease and save lives.” It struck me that they uniformly sought the same goal: “to cure disease and save lives.”

And I wondered if we, as a people, can so effectively focus on curing disease and saving lives within a body, why can’t we do the same to cure the Dis-ease that lives between bodies, between people, and neighbors, and communities, and around this nation? We know how to choose life for a body, can we do the same thing when it comes to the body that is our neighbor?

I believe we can, and indeed I believe that we are hardwired to do so, and that is a second reason I have great hope. I am encouraged when I heard from scripture: “The word is very near to you: it is in your mouth and in your heart.” We are made, hardwired for relationship, with others, through God.

The third thing that gives me great hope is that God provides what we need to cure the Dis-ease that plagues this nation. Just as God provided for the Israelites in the desert with water from a rock, and manna on the ground, and quails in the air, so God will provide for us. You young people who were at Vacation Bible Camp this week know the story of how God provides. God provides us with a simple operating system with 0’s and 1’s, that combine into a code for healing the nation. The 0 is loving God, and the 1 is imitating God.

Now you may be thinking, if this operating system is so good, why do we still have death and adversity? Here are two things to ponder: First, I believe this system has worked more times than we could know or imagine. In fact, there are times, I’m sure, when many of you have given life and prosperity to someone and not even known it. That is what happens when the heart is formed in the habits of loving and imitating God.

Second, that the life and prosperity and death and adversity God sets before us is a choice. Loving God and imitating God is not Pablum. It has a track record of extraordinary impact, but it requires us to do something, to act. I am not going to tell you what to do, or how to act—I know you and you can figure that out—but what I will remind you of is the operating system is programmed to accommodate our choice. So toward that end let’s redouble our efforts by revisiting how we love and imitate God.

We will begin with 0, which is loving God. What does that look like? To start, it is important to remember that Love is an action. Do any of you remember falling in love? You wanted to know everything about your beloved. His favorite sport. Her favorite meal. His deepest fear. Her growing up years. To love someone is to know about them. To love God is to know about God. This can happen by reading the Bible, or worshipping in church, or exploring the natural world, or stepping into prayer, or reading theology, or even studying math and science. There are infinite ways to know God, but they all start the same way, with the intention of seeking God. Love is an action. It is a choice. It requires intention.

Now as we find out things about God, just like when we find out things about our beloved, we start to care about the things they care about. We begin to pay attention to what they paid attention to. If our beloved is concerned with recycling we recycle. If our beloved loves his dog, we walk it and feed it and play with it. It is just the same with God. To love God is to care about the things God cares about: like the poor, and widows, and disenfranchised, and the outcasts; like inequality and fairness and justice; like creation and the environment and children. Knowing about God sets our hearts upon the things that God cares about.

Which leads to our “walking in the ways of our Lord.” This is the 1 in that operating system code. Habits of imitation are the primary ways we reduce Dis-ease between people, and neighbors, and communities, and around this nation.

God made us for imitation. The Bible says it this way: “We are made in the image and likeness of God” (Gen 1:27). Jesus says: “Is it not written, ‘I said that you are little gods” (John 10:34). Jesus is our model. He came that we should have life and have it abundantly. He gave us stories, like we hear today in the Good Samaritan, that become models of how we act toward our neighbor. He wept when a friend died. We weep as well. But more than anything he encouraged us to love and imitate God. Jesus gives us both a way of knowing about God and a way of imitating God.

This week has been a hard week. It has also been a week that has given me, and maybe you, cause to examine our choice for life and prosperity, and to test to see if the habits of ours hearts—loving God and imitating God—are up to the challenge of diminishing the Dis-ease that plagues this nation.

And what I have found is that I still have hope. I am hopeful as I recall the great things this nation has accomplished together, by the grace of God. I am hopeful as I am reminded that we are made with the word of God in our mouth and on our heart. I am hopeful because God has given us an operating system of love and imitation that has a proven track record for changing the world.

And still we must choose. It is about us. Today God has set before you life and prosperity and death and adversity. It is a choice.