Go to Hell

Last week Hugh Hollowell (LOVEWINS) was on stage with Shane Claiborne and Johnathan Wilson-Hartgrove at Big Tent Christianity. Hugh is The Marine in Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide?

The following is the talk Hugh gave and now you know why I adore me some Hugh Hollowell:

According to Jesus, loving your neighbor is half of the greatest commandment. Pretty much everyone agrees that, if taken seriously, it’s a radical idea that could change the world. And yet it seems nearly impossible for American Christians, liberal or conservative, to agree on what it looks like.

Let me make a modest proposal.

Loving your neighbor begins by being in a relationship with your neighbor.

I love Johny Cash. I have the entire Cash Discography – all the way back to the 1950′s. Love me some Johny Cash.

Or do I?

Because I also love my wife, and I am here to tell you that while I feel consistently good toward Johny Cash, how I feel toward my wife depends on what day it is, how our finances are doing, if I have indigestion, whether I had a good day at work… But I always feel ecstatic toward Johny Cash.

Because I don’t really know Johny Cash. I love my impression of Johny Cash. It is fair to say I am a fan, or that I very much like his music, or that I love the idea of Johny Cash. I submit there can be no love outside of relationship.

By that standard, most Christians don’t really love their neighbor. They love the idea of their neighbor. We vote for this candidate or that candidate, whoever promises to provide the sort of help we think people need. We outsource our compassion to the soup kitchens, to the clothing closets, to the homeless shelters. On Thanksgiving day, we load the youth group up in the van, to go feed the “less fortunate”, so the kids can be “exposed” to poverty, while never giving thought to wonder what they do for food the other 364 days of the year. And if that thought come up, we quickly suppress that thought and write a check. We outsource it.

Loving your neighbor presupposes a relationship. It means knowing your neighbor is going through a divorce, that the lady who cleans your office has a mother that is dying, that the man at the end of the street holding a cardboard sign has been outside for three years now, and his name is Brian. In the story we call the Good Samaritan, it meant getting in the ditch to bind the man’s wounds yourself.

When the average person in the pews can tell you the names of all the Judges on American Idol, or can name all the Glee cast members, but does not know a soul that makes 1/4th their income, I think it is fair to say we have lost our sense of mission as co-creators of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus told us the poor would always be with us – but we don’t really want the poor among us – we want someone else to handle that.

Last year in the US, some 17 million kids went to bed hungry. 17 million. In a nation where we throw away 40% of all the food we buy, where 1 in three of us is obese, and yet children are laying in bed, hungry. How can this happen?

Because none of those kids know you.

Because if you knew a kid who was hungry, you would move heaven and hell to get that kid some food. But because those 17 million kids don’t know you, they laid in bed last night, hungry.

Here in Wake County, the official statistics say there are approximately 1200 homeless people. And many hundreds of Christian congregations. You cannot tell me that out of the many thousands of Christian homes represented by those churches, there are not 1200 empty beds somewhere. Of course there are. But we save those beds for people we actually know.

The justice of Jesus is brought about by sacrifice, love and suffering. And to the extent that we do not exercise sacrificial love, suffering and proclaim the Reign of God, we are far from the way of Jesus.

Jesus calls us to serve, not lead. The way is not about political solutions – in fact, Jesus said political power would be used against us as we sought to bring about God’s justice. The way does not involve courting those in power – the Apostle Paul told us Jesus made a spectacle of the powers of this world.

There are any number of passages in both the Hebrew scriptures as well as the New Testament that speak of God’s love for the victims of injustice and our responsibility to work to bring that justice into fruition. The one I am thinking about right now, however, is Matthew 16:18, where Jesus tells Peter that …”I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it”.

I am not the first person to note that Jesus refers to the gates as a defense measure. Those gates are there to keep us out. Just what does Jesus expect of us?

Jesus expects us to storm down those gates and invade Hell itself. Jesus is telling us to go to Hell to be with the drug addict and the alcoholic. Go to Hell to be with the victims of abuse, and with the abusers. Go to hell and liberate the adulterer, the homeless man, the pornographer. In hell is where we will find the single mother and the embezzler, the pimps and the pimped, the hungry, the broken, the forgotten. We, you and I together, should be wading into hell itself and proclaiming that there is a new way to live and a new way to love, and that new way is bringing about the justice of God.

The justice of Jesus is a personal justice. It involves sacrificial, relational love. It involves dying to ourselves, our ambitions, our preconceived notions of how things work. The way of Jesus invites us to be the means by which God’s justice comes into being. It invites us to go to Hell, for the sake of those imprisoned there.

Today, in this Big Tent, my most fervent prayer for the church is simply this: I pray I will see you in hell. They need us there.

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