December 3, 2008

Church of the Advent talks about hell

Let’s talk about hell.

Yeah, so we just lost half our readers. But we didn’t bring it up; the Rev. Timothy Mitchell at Church of the Advent put it in his sermon. Blame him.

No one — except a pastor who wants to scare people onto the membership rolls — enjoys the subject. All of us would rather discuss heaven; God’s love is more appealing than judgment. Some Christians are set on disbelieving hell out of existence.

 

I think that’s why Father Tim brought it up. He spent a good part of his sermon assuring us God loves everybody, so presumably, we’ll all get a free pass Upstairs. “Jesus always gave life. Is this the same Son of God who told stories of violent Divine retribution?” he asked rhetorically.

But many Christians disagree with his easy dismissal of eternal things. We accept hell as a tragic, but Biblically and philosophically necessary, part of our theology.

If you believe humans are immortal souls with free will, they are able to accept or reject God. Then in addition to heaven, your theology demands some kind of separation from the Big Guy. You don’t have to buy the image of an eternal barbeque pit — I don’t. But even the most loving souls don’t want to share eternity with unrepentant murderers and child molesters.

So reluctantly, I accept the idea of hell. (Let the hate mail begin.) Because of that, I was uncomfortable with how Father Tim treated such a weighty topic: I wanted to see him acknowledge both sides of the Christian view on eternity.

 
The rest of worship

Yet other than that, I can’t fault the worship at Church of the Advent. Both of your Church Hoppers thought this service was one of the best we’ve found.

I’m always moved by rich language in hymns and readings, the pageantry of priest and choir in a colorful robed procession. The experience reminded Zach of a childhood spent attending Mass. “It was a peaceful time for me,” Zach said. “I felt really at home there.”

The sermon came from Matthew 25:14-30, where Jesus told a parable about three servants. Each one was given “talents” (money) to invest while their master was traveling. When he returned after a long absence, he discovered that two of his servants had doubled the original investment. He rewarded both with larger responsibilities. But the third servant fearfully hoarded his funds rather than earning more. The master ordered this servant to be “(thrown) into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (That metaphorical phrase was the basis for Father Tim’s thoughts on hell.)

He explained the parable: “There are spiritual laws, and one of these concerns how we will cooperate with the Spirit of God that is given within us.” Unlike in the physical realm, he said, we cannot lose spiritual blessings by giving them away. Instead, “spiritual growth is exponential”: blessings only dwindle if we hoard them.

Suggesting that wealth — even spiritual wealth — comes through giving seems patently un-American. Yet Father Tim’s message definitely resonated with Zach. “This was our first church where I really tried to think about how I could improve upon myself as a person,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘If I chose to believe in God, what would he want me to do on a daily basis?’”

 
Following Jesus

Father Tim made it clear that if we follow Jesus, we’re charged with giving our lives away. Though it sounds impossible, Christ promises that we’ll get back even more than we give. Father Tim unflinchingly conveyed that spiritual reality, and challenged his congregation to live it.

I just wish he’d taken Jesus’ words on eternity a little more to heart, too. Sometimes it seems Christians only believe in the afterlife at funerals. Yet if we claim to serve a Guy who rose from the dead, we can’t focus exclusively on his teachings for our earthly existence. We also need to consider heaven … and hell. 

This month's Church Hop

Name: Church of the Advent
Location: 901 Baxter Ave. (Highlands)
Service Times: Sundays at 8 and 10:30 a.m.
Website: advent.episcopalky.org
Size: Small — the Hoppers counted about 50 people in the worship service we attended
Denomination: Episcopal
Senior Pastor: Rev. Timothy Mitchell
You Might Like This Church If: You appreciate formal worship with rich language in a small-church setting
The Church Hoppers visited on Nov. 16, 2008.
Source for church facts: advent.episcopalky.org.