Harrowing Of Hell
April 17, 2022

The Unstoppable Hope of Jesus

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

Happy Easter! I am so glad to see you. I am so happy to be celebrating this day of Resurrection with you. Happy Resurrection day! It is good for my soul to be with you. I hope it is good day for yours as well.

Hope is the word I want you to carry away with you today. It is a much-needed word in the world right now, though maybe no more so than at other times in history. There have been other rocky economies, and wars, and pandemics… and since the day of Jesus’s resurrection there has also been an unstoppable hope.

I love that phrase: “an unstoppable hope!” I love the idea of it. It is phrase I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. And, you might ask: “Preach, what is unstoppable hope? What does unstoppable hope look like in my life?”

I’m glad you asked, and while I don’t know exactly what it looks like in your life, I’ll tell you what it looks like in mine. Hope looks like all the preparation we put into today’s service, hoping that you would be here. Hope is expectation.

It looks like all the money Kristin and I saved and spent on our children’s educations, with hope for their future. Hope is a dream. It looks like getting out of bed every morning, even with news of pandemic numbers, or the latest Russian incursion, or a shooting in New York city. I still get up and say my prayers; I still visit people in the hospital; I still laugh at lunch with my colleagues.

Hope is optimism.

So, hope is expectation, and hope is a dream, and hope is optimism. And these hopes are elevated by the very first words we hear from Jesus in the Gospel of John, the very first words out of his mouth. They came in the form of a question: “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38) And the answer? Expectations and dreams and optimism.                  

These are the tangible and the tactical hopes inspired by Jesus and lived into when we follow his teachings and replicate his actions. These hopes gain traction when we live our lives as Jesus would if he had my life or your life. That is the point of Christianity, incidentally, to live our lives as Jesus would if he had my life or your life…to be so well integrated into the tactics and patterns of Jesus that they become our way of being when we are not paying attention to how we are being. What are you looking for?

Hope infused with expectation and dreams and optimism that become the habits of our life. That is what those first disciples sought from Jesus. They sought hope because times were tough, they were up against the insurmountable oppression of Roman occupation. We know what insurmountable odds feel like. We have been up against them lately with a pandemic ravaging this nation.

But while foreign occupation and pandemic are big, macro things,we also have the little things in our individual lives: job difficulties, children going through really painful experiences, and then there is illness, and anxiety, and financial uncertainty.

There are tough moments, there are tough seasons, and some may even say life is just tough all around…where expectations and dreams and optimism seem like luxuries reserved for other people.

And so, does that mean hope is stoppable? Does that mean it is only as viable as the capacity to meet expectations, or to see dreams come true, or to feel optimist about our lives?

Well, the apostle Paul had pretty tough things going on in his life, including beatings and a lot of time in jail…and still he was able to write in his Letter to the Romans: “Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint“ (Rom 5:3).

The unstoppable hope of Jesus does not disappoint, and here is why: the unstoppable hope that Jesus unleashed upon the world is bigger than the “what” we are hoping for.

That is to say, if my expectation that you would come to church today was dashed, there would still be hope. If my dreams for my children’s future went unfulfilled, there would still be hope. If my colleagues were morose and chronically grumpy, and work was a perpetual burden, there would still be hope.

Here is why… Because hope is not only tied to things achievable, hope is realized by a person immutable; a person eternal, ever present; a person of resurrection known by the name of Jesus. And this unstoppable hope is unleashed by the very first words out of Jesus mouth after his resurrection… “Who are you looking for?”

These words come in the form of a question, just as the very first words out of his mouth at the beginning of the Gospel of John come as a question. The first question, “What are you looking for?”is about action done in the name of Jesus. It is about the “what”.

The second question: “Who are you looking for?” reveals that which enables the “what,” that which underwrites or shall I say undergirds the “what,” particularly when it is bumping up against insurmountable odds. It is the “who” that makes hope unstoppable.

Let me give you an example. It is a little dramatic. It involves a double agent, which maybe means it includes all of us. I sometimes feel like a double agent …I mean, I trust in Jesus, and I worry about the church budget. I preach peace, and protest the poor drivers (in my opinion). I give generously to the church, and I spend lavishly upon myself. Maybe that makes me a double agent. Or a hypocrite. Or maybe just human. Being human is enough, luckily, to be the kind of double agent I’m going to tell you about.

The agent we meet today is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. You may have heard of him. He was a German theologian who taught at Union Theological Seminary. But when Nazism was on the rise in Germany, he left his cushy post as a professor, to return to his native land.

When he got back to Germany he joined the Nazi Secret police, knowing full well he was doing so as a double agent. He would go on missions for the Secret police, then meet with the Allies and give them information on Hitler.

He was also part of a cell of double agents that attempted to assassinate Hitler in July of 1944. But by then, Bonhoeffer had been arrested for helping Jews escape to Switzerland. The smuggling of Jews to safety is the “what” he did because of the actions and teachings of Jesus. It is what Jesus would have done if he was living Bonhoeffer’s life. Bonhoeffer did this work with expectation, with a dream for the future, with optimism.

And many people were saved, and Bonhoeffer was caught and thrown into Flossenberg Prison. And there his expectations and dreams and optimism were dashed, but not the unstoppable hope in the “who” of Jesus; because Bonhoeffer was a double agent of hope… Hope in the “what” that could be achieved and hope in the unstoppable “who.”

It was Jesus that gave Bonhoeffer the courage to love the guards that confined him. It was Jesus that enabled him to write the most amazing letters from jail. It was Jesus that inspired him to take someone else’s place at the gallows.

It is the “who” of Jesus Christ that undergirds the “what.” We can do the “what” because of the unstoppable “who.” It is the “who” that does not disappoint even in the tough times, even in the tough seasons, even when life is just tough.

The “what” shifts and changes over time, but the “who” remains. It is the “who” that knows us; It is the “who” that made us; It is the “who” that loves us. It is the “who” that broke the confines and limitations of death, who rejected human rejection (that’s Resurrection), to be with us, present and eternal, immutable, no matter what. 

If you don’t know the “who” of Jesus Christ, I invite you to get better acquainted.  If you are uncertain about this Jesus person, I can assure you he is both the safest and most powerful “who” you will ever encounter. He is trustworthy beyond measure, and full of love, because he is God, and God is love, and love is the unstoppable hope.

It is love, the stoppable hope of love, and love alone that is going to save this world…and you and I are made to be double agents of hope both in the “what” we do, and the “who” we follow. The world is desperate for this love.

This is the hope of the resurrection. This is the hope of the world. This is the hope that enables us to say, today, “Happy day of Resurrection; happy Easter.”