Harrowing Of Hell
April 8, 2023

The God who makes, moves, purposes, and renews

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

As we sit in darkness having heard the Cantor sing: “This is the night…” we remember. This is the night we remember who our God is. We tell the stories about what our God has done. We remember that it is God who saves us. The song we just sang makes the point:   Surely it is God who saves us

Tonight, we continue to answer the Holy Week questions posed: ”Who is this? Who is this man, Jesus? Who is this God?” We do so by remembering the stories from Holy Scripture: from the book of Genesis, and Exodus, from the words of the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel. They remind us who this God is. It is the God who makes, and the God who moves. It is the God who purposes and the God who renews. It is the God who saves us, and trusting him we shall not fear.

There is a lot to fear today. Coming up out of COVID we find an acute crisis within the minds of our young people: listlessness, mental illness, suicide. Guns now top the list for how young people die. Nuclear power plants are being held hostage, threatening to poison the land. There is war. The UN recently released a climate report that indicates things aren’t going in the right direction. There is a high level of generalized angst around the health of our democracy. And there is more, but this is enough.

I was speaking with a young man the other day who in all sincerity said he thought he would be part of the last generation of humanity. It wasn’t a point worth arguing. A hug better met the moment. The issues he worries about can and must be addressed… and we also must remember that: Surely it is God who saves us trusting him we shall not fear.

Tonight is the night that we remember who this God is: the God who makes, the God who moves, the God who purposes, and the God who renews. It is up to us to own and internalize the saving reality of our God, punctuated and then perpetuated  through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is important to know that resurrection is God rejecting human rejection without denying human freedom, because God loves us; and there is no love if there is no freedom. At the end of the day God does what God does because God loves us. God makes, God moves, God purposes, and God renews because God loves us, even when we willfully sit in darkness.

Tonight, we remember. We begin in the beginning when God made the heavens and the earth. Creation is tangible; from the pencil that edited this sermon, to the brains that are processing it right now. Creation is all around us, in the beauty of nature; in the expansiveness of science and math; in this building made for worship; in the liturgy itself. And the most important example of God’s creativity-each one of you. God cares about you. God would not have made you if God did not care about you. You are incredibly important to God.

Tonight, we remember the creative force of the God who made you and me. We remember too, that after God made us, God promised to move with us…to defend and shield us.I know, in hearing that, the mind might wonder: How does God defend us? How does God shield us? Look around! I am not sure God is doing such a great job.

But, to say that is to slip back to Palm Sunday as a spectator on the side of the road heralding the wrong type of king. Our king Jesus is not the king that conquers our problems. King Jesus is the king who is with us despite our problems, in the midst of our problems, because of our problems. King Jesus saves us by never leaving us. EVER! It is the salvation of the perpetual presence of love, divine love, eternal love, incarnational love, personal love, sacrificial love, unqualified love, that saves us. This God is love.

And so, we remember what God said to the prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor my ways your ways.” We error when we think that God thinks like us. God does not create like us. God does not move like us. God does not have the same purposes we have. God does not need renewal like we do. God’s ways are different than our ways. God’s thoughts are different than our thoughts. And yet, God made us, God moves with us, God gives us purpose, God renews us, because God loves us. It is the love of God that defends and shields us…in the good times and the bad times.

For as the Apostle Paul reminds us: “Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope will not fail us” (Rom 5:3). We are people of hope, particularly in the tough times, because we know that it is God who saves us. We are confident that God is with us. We are people of hope, because God is on the move right next to us as we pursue the purposes of our lives. And so, as the song says: we rejoice as you draw water.

That’s the purpose, to rejoice in the work that we’ve been given to do. And more than that rejoice in the skills and the talents we have; rejoice in the manner by which we employ them for the purposes of God…for they are purposes designed to correlate and overlap with the people that God has put in our lives. So, rejoice, when you draw water from salvations living spring. Rejoice in your work, rejoice, for it is through our joy, that we infuse hope in other people.

This is our God, known tonight in the story Genesis teaches about the God who makes, in the story Exodus tells about the God who moves, in the words of Isaiah about God’s purpose for us, our work, and finally, in the message from the prophet Ezekiel about renewal.

We heard God say to Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, a new spirit I will put within you—and you will be my people and I will be your God (Eze 36:24-28 para).

Tonight is renewal, renewal for a people of hope. So we can go out and continue to fight the good fight. To take on issues that plague humanity because of humanity… all the while singing in our heart, surely it is God who saves us trusting in him we shall not fear. For the Lord defends and shields us and his saving help is near.

Who is this God? The God who has been raised from the dead. The God who cannot be contained by a tomb. This is the God whose love is so strong that it shatters death, so to be here right here, with us, right now, and forever.

Remember this. Remember Jesus. Remember resurrection. Remember that we are people of hope, because we remember the love of God. This is our God… the God who saves us so rejoice as you draw water from salvation’s living springs in the day of your deliverance thank the Lord his mercy sings.