Harrowing Of Hell
April 8, 2012

Easter Sermon – Easter and The Hunger Games

Speaker: Rev. Doyt L Conn, Jr

Country singer, Butch Hancock use to say:
“Growing up a Christian in Lubbock Texas taught me a lot about God.
I learned that I was going to hell, and God loved me.
And I learned that intimacy was a dirty and filthy thing
that should be saved for someone I loved.”

Now this isn’t Lubbock, TX;
these guys don’t sing country music;
and we don’t preach a message of hell and judgment.

Some think that’s the core Christian message,
but it is not.
The core of Christianity is that God is love,
God is here, this near,
always loving us,
never deserting us,
wherever we are on our spiritual journey.
The shorthand way of saying this is RESURRECTION!
And it is what we celebrate today.

Here is the concept:
God loves us so much, that God came into the world to be with us
in a way we can understand, comprehend,
as another person,
as the person of Jesus.
And for this love to be as big as it is, and as true as it is
human freedom needed to honored,
for there is no love if there is no freedom.
But fear twisted freedom in the heart of humanity,
turning love up-side-down and landing Jesus on the cross.

But let me tell you –
God’s love is bigger than fear,
and more dominant than death.
The resurrection is God saying…
“you can pretend I’m not here,
you can pretend I am not real,
you can say I’m not relevant,
you can reject me and even hang me on a cross;
but I am resurrection
and I am right next to you
always loving you,
wherever you are on our spiritual journey.”

It is a message we can’t hear too often.
It is a message that infuses our souls with hope;
It is a story of rebirth rather than destruction;
a story about how life can go on
no matter the uncertainties or anxieties or insecurities
or maybe even cruelties
set upon us by the world.
Jesus is the promise of hope that feeds our souls,
he is the bread of life!

Here is the story.
He grew up in a time of cruelty and uncertainty;
in a land occupied by a foreign power,
imposing it authority
through harsh taxation,
brutal punishments,
and even by playing games with peoples lives
to reinforce in their minds
what little power they had.
He was the suffering servant, meek but not weak,
who loved unconditionally
and maintained this love in the face of rejection.

He was a sacrificial character,
who gave up his claim on his own life to save others.
He sustains wounds for his efforts
and died
and was buried in a cave
and emerged three days later
to give power to those around him,
to stand against the cruelties
of the occupying forces in their lives.

This is the story that gives hope to our souls.
It is a story that draws us in;
it speaks to us at some core level,
in a way that inextricably links us to God,
irrespective of what we believe about God
at any given moment in our life.
It is a story so wildly popular
that when told, even as a shadow of itself,
it draws people in…
as evidenced by the 58 million dollars that flooded
into movie boxes offices just last week.

Even popular art can reflect this story of hope.
Maybe that is what makes it popular.
Maybe you’ve seen the popular movie The Hunger Games.
Last summer in an attempt to be hip and stay relevant
in the life of my twelve-year-old daughter
I read Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games trilogy; all three books.
I am no hipper, nor more relevant,
but I’m glad to have read them.
There are exciting and interesting,
and I understand why they are so popular…
after all they tell a story I’m familiar with.

Amy Simpson wrote about The Hunger Games in a recent article
in Christianity Today,
and her insights have formed my thinking.

For those unfamiliar with The Hunger Games it depicts a bleak,
yet believable, post-apocalyptic future world
in which the nation of Panem
has risen out of the ashes of what once was North America.

The central government controls the outlying population
through various cruelties,
most horrifying of which is an annual reality TV show
featuring young people from the districts,
forced to fight to the death,
for the sport of the Capitol’s citizens
and to remind the districts
how completely they are at the mercy
of their overlords.

The themes in the movie are familiar.
nature verse the unnatural;
the ridiculous manipulations of reality entertainment;
the ironies of injustice;
and the corruption of power.
Permeating The Hunger Games is this persistent idea that sin is passed
from one generation to the next.
And yet, at the frayed edges of this horrifying society there is hope.

Peeta Mellark is the character that carries this hope.
He is a baker’s son, who literally gives life to others—
most notably to the main character Katniss.
It happens early in their relationship, before Katniss even knows him,
Peeta is there looking after her.
She is a young child starving.
Her father has dies,
and she is scavenging for food
for her mother and younger sister and herself.
Peeta sees her from afar, and risks punishment to help her.
He is the Bread of Life…
making it, sharing it, and sustaining people around him with it.

Peeta’s initial gift of bread does more than feed Katniss and her family.
It gives her hope
and points her in the direction of future provisions for her family.
The day after Peeta gives Katniss the bread,
she sees a clear symbol of hope,
the first dandelion of the year,
and it reminded her that she is not doomed.
The dandelion makes another appearance later in the series,
when things are looking particularly grim for Katniss.
She says:
“What I need is the dandelion of spring;
rebirth instead of destruction;
the promise that life can go on, no matter what the losses;
only Peeta can give me that hope.”
For Katniss it was Peeta,
for us it is Jesus.

Jesus is the real hope that feeds our souls. He is the bread of life.

And so I wonder if the great outpouring around The Hunger Games
isn’t a cry from hungry souls;
from young people asking to have the crippling yoke
they are inheriting lifted from their shoulders;
begging for the generational cycle of sin to be broken.

I wonder if their action of seeing this movie over and over again
isn’t a protest,
a way of saying, without knowing how to say it,
no more war
no more environmental degradation;
no more ridiculous entertainment;
no more injustice;
no more corruption…
we want more. We want the bread of life.

We want rebirth.
We want the dandelions to grow in our gardens.
Where is the hope?

Certainly not in the dark corners of movie theatres.
Certainly not from the pens of Hollywood.
Certainly not from the corner offices of Madison Avenue.
Certainly not from the score boards of professional sports.
Stop feeding us pabulum;
Stop feeding us sugary treats that compels us to eat more and more,
stuffing ourselves and starving ourselves
all at the same time.

Where is real food,
where is the hope,
where is the bread of life to feeds our souls?


Jesus smashed the cycle of sin,
He crushed the dominion of death, and in doing so
revealed to us our true nature.
We are children of God!
We are divine beings,
We are eternal beings;
We are citizens of the kingdom,
and we are a people of hope.
Because we know, we really know,
that God is near,
and God is here,
walking with us on this spiritual journey.
God loves us that much.

The resurrection is God’s great big “I love you”
to you and to you and to you
and to all of you.

That is what we celebrate today, this Easter Sunday,
as we gather to eat the bread of life.