Harrowing Of Hell
March 17, 2019


Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

To listen to the sermon click here.

Jesus sends a message to that fox…“Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow and the next day I must be on my way, for it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem…” And then Jesus laments: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you kill your prophets, and all I want to do is hug you, and love you, and help you… like a hen for her brood.”

We hear in Jesus’s voice longing, broken heartedness, wishing that his message would be received differently; wishing he would be heard, not to stroke his own ego, but because he actually had something to say that would be helpful. Have you ever felt that way? Longing to help, and not being heard, or, worse yet, rejected?

This sermon is about longing; the longing God has for us, and the longing we have to be, too often, someone other than ourselves.

Today we will see how this tension plays out in the person of Herod Antipas. But also, in how it plays out in our culture, in this culture that encourages us to overlay our lives with filters that give us that airbrushed sheen of Hollywood stars long ago.  Remember those old glamour photos? Now they are every photo. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

First to Herod the Fox. That may have been his nickname, but I’m inclined to believe that Jesus called him the Fox because he was on the hunt for Jesus. Galilee was his territory and Jesus was making a powerful impression; just as John the Baptist had.

The Herod we are talking about here is Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great who ruled from Tiberius, a city that sat on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

Antipas was fascinated with power, you might even say, he had a longing for it, which is what brought him into relationship with John the Baptist. John the Baptist was powerful, and he intrigued Antipas. So, Antipas had him arrested. The historian Josephus writes that Antipas did this because John was a powerful political force. The Bible tells us that Antipas did it because he was fascinated by John and loved to hear him talk (Mark 6:20).

But in the end, either way, Antipas had John’s head cut off. The instigator was his wife Herodias, who was annoyed that John thought it unseemly that Antipas married her when she was still married to his brother Phillip…a rather bothersome detail.

Anyway, whether political expediency or family intrigue, John was gone, and his followers, shifted to Jesus, and the next thing we know Jesus is feeding 5000 men, plus their families. That is a big crowd; bigger than anything John the Baptist was able to raise. A crowd that size would have been visible to Antipas from his palace in Tiberius, across the lake. 

Now Antipas has a new problem, Jesus; and so Jesus was on the move. Antipas was the fox, longing to taste the power that makes the rabbit so fast; so compelling; so prolific. It is interesting that Antipas, who by all measures has everything longs for something else, something more, to be somehow different.

So, we have two types of longing that we meet this morning.

  1. The longing I introduced us to at the beginning of the sermon. That longing that Jesus has to help,
  2. And we have the longing of Antipas, who has everything,
  3. and yet, still longs be something more, something different.

And we, you and I, know both these longings, don’t we? There is the longing to help; and the longing to be someone else, or at least an upgraded version of our same self.

I remember watching my daughter’s soccer game when they were in the State tournament semi-finals, and she was on the sidelines with a torn ACL. And I knew her heart was breaking, and I would have done anything to make that moment different for her, but there was nothing to do… just longing.

Imagine a deeper longing. Imagine being a dad who carried his daughter on his back, a thousand miles from their home, because he knew her life there would be a horror. And with every step he nursed the dream of a better life for her, and he committed by the sweat of his brow, and his sore feet, and his empty belly that he was going to do everything in his power so his child could thrive, as God made her to thrive.

And he gets to the border, and his child is taken away from him. Imagine that. Imagine the lament. Imagine the longing.  That is the same longing expressed when Jesus cried:

“Jerusalem.  Jerusalem. How I long to hold you, and love you, and care for you.” Jesus’s longing for us is raw like that.

God designed the world for us, to be lived in, for our joy, and wonder; and when we live in the world as it was made to be lived in, side by side with others doing the same, but also, within our niche, our area of giftedness that God wove into each of us. Then God smiles, and all is good.

But to reject who we are and how we are made is to reject the God who made us and said that we are very good. When we long to be other than ourselves God laments. This is what the scripture shares with us today…Jesus longs for us, Antipas included I think; and Antipas longs to be different, to be more, to be someone else.

Speaking of which I just signed up for Instagram. You can follow me. It will be really cool. Just kidding. Anyone who says “cool,” is probably not worth following on Instagram. I signed up so I can reach the “masses” with this kingdom of heaven, right here, right now message. You have to go to Instagram to do this because Instagram is huge. It makes Facebook look like a toddler (which is fine with Facebook, because Facebook owns Instagram).

But as I have become familiar with this Instagram technology, I’ve found out that everyone assumes that everything they see on Instagram is not quite what it appears to be. Sometimes that is obvious like when a person posts a picture using a “filter” (that is what they are called) that gives them rabbit ears and a rabbit nose. But other filters aren’t so obvious like the ones that sort of wash out your wrinkles, or the ones that enhance your muscle tone. 

In fact, filters are so core to the culture of Instagram, that there is actually a “no filter” filter called “normal” that you would hashtag “no filter”so “followers” would know the picture is legit.

What this entire Instagram system is built on is the longing to be different, to be something else (a rabbit), or a better version of our same self (no wrinkles), and our longing to be different is what provokes God’s lament; because God made us with intent, to be who we are, and God said, “You are very good.”

You can see how this filtered culture that streams through the virtual realm creates greater and greater anxiety and leads to greater and greater isolation.

Imagine if someone followed me on Instagram, and I used the “no wrinkles” filter for my kingdom of heaven videos. And then one day they came to church and were like… “Ahhhh. Who is that?  What happened to his face? That guy looks terrible. I’m going back to Instagram Doyt.” 

And then I get all nervous about this and insecure, and decide to never preach live, but only through Instagram. So, then I just sit in my office, and put up my do not disturb sign, and write my Instagram sermon all by myself…and it is a little isolating and depressing at first, but after a while it gets super isolating and depressing.

Studies reinforce this. Instagram came out in 2010. In 2009 50% of High School students visited a social media platform once a day. In 2019 85% visit a social media platform once a day. Between 2008 and 2017 rates of suicide amongst 18-25 year olds increased 56%, and in the same time period rates of suicidal ideation amongst this group rose by 71%.

And that is what God laments. That is what God weeps over. That is why Jesus cries out: “Jerusalem. Jerusalem. How I love you, and long to hold you, and care for you.”

We believe here at Epiphany that this incarnational, face to face, wrinkles and all life, is the best life to live. It is the right here, right now life. It is the with God life. It is the “no filters” life. 

And this is the reality we long for at the core of our being, because we are relational, and relationship is primary. This really is what people are searching for on Instagram, and the more they seek to have their longing fulfilled in the virtual realm, the lonelier they become…

We offer a different reality. Something deep. Something real. It is the incarnational life, the church life, the holy life. The life, I pray, we offer here, is one where we get to watch the wrinkles form, over time, on the faces of the holy people we pray with and worship with. This is the no-filters life.

That is what God longs for; and it is what we were made for. It is the life worth living. Tell someone about it. Share the Good News of the no-filter life…show them your wrinkles with a smile.