One time, when I was a little boy, I was watching from the barn door as my Dad was working with a Red Angus cow and her calf. The calf was freshly born and my Dad was trying to help it get up and have its first drink of milk. The barn door was open and there was a wooden gate across that open doorway to keep the cow from getting out. My Dad was so busy with the cow and her calf that he didn’t notice that I had climbed over that gate and into the barn. But that mama cow did. She let out a snort and charged towards me, my Dad hollered and I froze. Fortunately, our hired man, George, was just on the other side of that gate and he grabbed a hold of me and pulled me up and over the gate just as the cow was giving me a boost from the other side with her head.
Being rescued is a great thing! In one moment, you are overwhelmed with helplessness and fear over the great danger you face. And in the next moment, you are flooded with happiness and relief because someone gave of themselves to reach out and rescue you. But what often happens after those waves of relief from a dramatic rescue drift away is that we tend to forget the rescue. We tend to forget the danger we faced before we were rescued. And we tend to forget the joy we felt after we were rescued. And here’s what happens when we forget our rescue: First, we revert back to living with a sense of entitlement. We live as if we deserve all of the good things that we have in our life and when something is not going the way that we think that it should, we complain to ourselves and to others. And the second thing that happens when we forget our rescue is that we are unable to feel compassion towards others. If someone is suffering, we think to ourselves, then they must have done something to deserve it, and helping them doesn’t even enter our mind. We are too busy working hard at gathering up more good things for ourselves.
But when we remember our rescue, we become different people. We live with an ongoing sense of gratitude. Every day we are thankful for everything, because we know that, if things had been just a little bit different, that rescue would not have happened. We realize that we deserve nothing and everything, even pain and discomfort, is considered to be a gift because, after all, we are alive. When we see someone in the same situation we were in, we have compassion on them because, we think to ourselves, but for the grace of God there go I. And people who remember their rescue and are filled with gratitude and grace are very special and rare in this world. They bless others because they radiate joy and they point people to something beyond themselves: the source of their rescue, which is always God.
Sometimes it is obvious when a rescue is needed. Like in Exodus, chapter 1. Jacob’s family, who had moved to Egypt because of the famine many decades prior, had grown in number to the point where the Egyptians considered them to be a threat. So they enslaved them. And when their numbers continued to grow, the Pharaoh gave orders that all male Hebrew babies were to be thrown into the Nile. So the Hebrews were suffering because of enslavement and genocide. It is obvious to us and to them that they need to be rescued. Contemporary examples of an obvious need of rescue would be people who are suffering because of war, natural disaster or oppression.
And two things happen when the need for rescue is obvious: the people that need to be rescued cry out for help, and those that see the need for rescue rush in to help them. And so we read in Exodus 2, “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.” (Exodus 2:23b-25)
But there are also times when the need for rescue is less obvious, as when an addict is able to hide their addiction to anger, drugs, alcohol, porn or romance novels, or when their addiction is one of the more socially acceptable kinds like perfectionism, performance addiction, work addiction, narcissism or controlling, either through domination or withdrawal. The need for rescue is also less obvious when it is denied by a worldview such as materialism, or when it is papered over by the wealth and prosperity that we have in the first world.
Even those of us who believe in Jesus can stop seeing our own need for rescue. Yes, when we believe in Jesus we have the sure and certain hope of resurrection life right now because of Jesus, but God’s saving work in us is not complete. All of us still have bad habits and addictions that enslave us and hurt others, we all still have wounds and pain that have not yet been healed, we all still have rebellion hiding in dark places in our hearts, and we all still have bodies that are growing old and dying a little more each day. So those of us who are in the church also suppress our own on-going need for rescue by God.
And our need for rescue is greater than we think. It not simply the case that we are ill and need healing, or that we are performing at less than peak efficiency and we need some expert coaching. The bad news is that, apart from God, everyone in the world is dead and headed towards everlasting condemnation and there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves.
Thankfully, just as God was concerned about the Hebrews in ancient Egypt who needed to be rescued, so God is also concerned about people in the world today who need to be rescued. And just as God sent Moses to deliver the Hebrews out of slavery and genocide in Egypt, so also God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to deliver the whole world from sin, death and everlasting condemnation. Jesus revealed His life mission when He stood up in the synagogue in His home town of Nazareth and read these words from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus came to rescue you and me and the gay couple who live across the street and the guys selling drugs in a run-down house a few blocks away, and the wealthy businessman who lives with his wife and children in a multi-million dollar house but nobody speaks to each other, and the teenage boy who stays up all night watching porn on his phone, and the teenage girl who lets boys do what they want to her because she thinks that is the only way anyone will love her. Jesus loves everyone in the world and Jesus came to rescue everyone in the world by diving into the world’s cesspool of sin, dragging us up from the bottom, throwing us onto the shore, washing us off and performing spiritual CPR on us until a new spirit coughs and comes to life within us. Jesus willingly gave up everything He had in order to rescue us. He took what was ours and gave us what was His.
So how now do we live? We remember the rescue. One could say that the greater the peril we faced, the greater the rescue we were given. We constantly remember that Jesus has given us the greatest rescue of all and we live with joy and gratitude as a result.
But we also live with a passion for reaching people. It is not easy to do life-saving work in post-Christian society were there is a higher percentage of evangelical Christians in Pakistan than there is in Quebec. It is not easy to do life-saving work in a context where the things that used to work do not work so well anymore. But these are not insurmountable challenges for God. For the God who was able to bring an ancient world power to its knees in order to rescue His chosen people is still able to rescue people today. So we will not let these challenges deter or discourage us.
And our passion for reaching people with the Good News of Jesus will be so great that we will willingly put the interests of people who need to be rescued ahead of our own because we love them. We are going to be a church of spiritual lifeguards who dive into the water to save drowning people. We are going to be a church of spiritual fireman who go into burning buildings to rescue those who are trapped by the flames. We are going to be a church of spiritual commandos who work together to rescue those held hostage by our common enemy. And all these things will happen when we remember the rescue that God has done for us.
And so I challenge you to remember the calamity that awaits those who live their life apart from God. And I challenge you to remember the rescue that Jesus has given you and wants to give to everyone in the world. As we allow our hearts to be transformed by the love of Jesus, He will show us how to do what seems impossible to us.
And today on this altar, the Saviour of the world is present with His Body and His Blood to rescue us and give us life once again. As we gather to receive this sacred meal, Jesus will cleanse us, forgive us, nourish us and heal us. Filled with Jesus love, He will renew our passion for people, and His rescuing work will continue. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove on Feb 19, 2017.)