Sunday, December 23, 2012

The four last things 4: Hell



May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our journey through Advent is almost complete. Soon it will be Christmas day & the penitential season that is Advent, whether it was marked with penitential spiritual disciplines or not, will be over for another year. We have marked this, our first Advent journey together, by considering week by week one of the four last things that the second coming of our Lord will bring about: death, judgement, heaven, and hell.

We spoke of death as the gateway to the other three, something we all must experience, but not something to be feared because we know from our Lord's promises that we pass through the grave to eternal life. We looked at judgement, the time when our God & Judge will respect the choices we have freely made during our lives, using our God-given free will, to live in accordance with his will. If we have chosen eternal life with him in heaven by the way we have lived our lives, then what we spoke of about heaven becomes relevant. That is the choice we have made, and been enabled by God's Grace to live our in our lives, and God in his gracious love will welcome us home to dwell in all eternity in the place he created us to be. But if we chose otherwise, then that choice will also be respected … and then what we will be talking about today on hell becomes of most relevance …

I hope you are not expecting a 'blistering' sermon on hell … I think the days of hell-fire & brimstone sermons are done … most people today are intelligent and well educated … they are individuals who are comfortable with making choices … and they understand that choices have consequences … why someone would chose hell over heaven is beyond me … it seems something of a 'no-brainer' as the expression goes … but perhaps I can speculate …

Some, I suspect, may not truly believe that hell exists … alas, for those who think thus; because Jesus spoke more about hell than just about any other topic … We have Christ's own assurance that it does exist … and Christianity is very much something of a package deal … you don't get to pick and chose the bits you like … and you are not going to be exempted from hell on the basis that it was one of the bits of the Christian faith that you never really liked …

Others I think believe hell exists but that God doesn't really send people there … to those who think thus I must say that you can not have really been paying attention when you were reading your Gospels. Because again it was Jesus himself who told us that people would go there … and I do not think on judgement day telling our Lord that you shouldn't be held accountable because you weren't paying attention is going to hold much water …

Then there are those who accept that hell exists, & that people will indeed go there, but not them … hell is for really, really bad folk … not for those who live ordinary, everyday lives like they do … the problem there is that many who take that view think they can't go to hell mainly because they do not regard the wrong that they do as sin in the first place … they have decided that they are the ones who decide what is right and what is wrong … and because they are OK with the way they lead their lives, they all but demand that God agree with them … they want to have their cake and eat it too … they want to live as they please, ignore the sin in their lives, and still be thought of as being righteous … well, I'm afraid it doesn't work like that … we do not get to freely chose to reject God by how we live & then claim after that we were choosing him also …

And what is this hell that people chose? It is real, it is eternal, it is the dwelling place of those who have rejected God. Do we really need the thoughts of flames or images of demons tormenting us to make it seem even less attractive? Hell is the place where you go when you chose forever not to go to the place you were created to be … but the good news is that you do not have to choose it; it is not where God wants you to be; he sent his only Son into the world so that all might be saved. That is the message of Christmas. Not to go all dewy-eyed at the thought of a baby in a manger … but to realise that the Creator of the universe loved us enough to become man so that we might spend all eternity with him … all we have to do is let him into our hearts … and I pray tonight that you will ... Amen.

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