Called To Come Alive and Help Rescue
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
July 22, 2018
Psalm 27:7-14 The Message (MSG)
7-9 Listen, God, I’m calling at the top of my lungs:
“Be good to me! Answer me!”
When my heart whispered, “Seek God,”
my whole being replied,
“I’m seeking him!”
Don’t hide from me now!
9-10 You’ve always been right there for me;
don’t turn your back on me now.
Don’t throw me out, don’t abandon me;
you’ve always kept the door open.
My father and mother walked out and left me,
but God took me in.
11-12 Point me down your highway, God;
direct me along a well-lighted street;
show my enemies whose side you’re on.
Don’t throw me to the dogs,
those liars who are out to get me,
filling the air with their threats.
13-14 I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
Stay with God.
Following our service this morning, we will be gathering in the fellowship hall for a lite lunch and then the kick off to this year’s Vacation Bible School. The theme for this year is “Shipwrecked: Rescued by Jesus.”
As I have been preparing for my part in VBS, I have also been pondering the concept of being “rescued.” There is much in our world today that is crying out for a rescue. The Bible itself is full of imagery of God’s rescuing, liberating, or saving people - from literal storms at sea to one’s own struggles and hardships that get in the way of truly living.
For most of us, we remember a time (or several times) when we needed to be rescued. Times when we literally cried out that God would come miraculously and save us from some horrific situation.
My earliest remembrance of needing to be rescued was my first time at camp when I was in 5th grade. One afternoon at free time, my childhood friend and I went swimming. It was popular back then to play “Chicken” where one person gets up on the shoulders of another and then tries to stay up while two other friends try and knock them down.
It is really “King of the Hill” in the water. Well, I was a little bigger than my friend, so I quickly put him on my shoulders and we headed out in the water. We were doing rather well, we had won a couple battles and lost only one. I noticed as we wrestled people down we were heading further and further in to deeper water. Soon just the tops of my shoulders and head were sticking out of the water with my friend weighing me down.
In a flash, another team of larger boys gave my friend a huge blow to the chest and down we started to go. Now, we had been warned to stay away from the floating dock, but as we fell my friend locked his legs firmly around my neck. He went below the water with me and ended up caught under the floating dock. Everything seemed to be in slow motion. I quickly opened my eyes to see the sunlight above me and about 6 inches of water in between. I tried hard to push my friends legs up and over my head, but he continued to push me down. I wanted to cry out for help, but I couldn’t. I immediately became scared and started to flap my arms. And then suddenly in one fell swoop, the lifeguard blew her whistle, jumped in the water and pulled us out. I had taken in a lot of lake water, but I had been rescued. The lifeguard had saved my life.
This incident was burned into my memory. I can almost remember it as if it happened yesterday. It still gives me an uneasy feeling. But even more, as I recall that experience, I realize it is much like many of the other times I have needed rescued in my life. Some of the same basic things I wrestled with when I was at camp needing saved continue to be similar, still today.
Like, those times when I thought things were under control – when I seemed to be “winning in life,” yet didn’t notice that in reality things were actually spinning out of control.
Those times when the weight of my friendships or relationships had such a deep impact on my life that I did not understand their complexity and found myself needing to be saved from them.
Those times I sensed the warnings – sometime recognizing them and at other times completely ignoring or missing them – only to find myself crying out for help.
Those times when I seemed to experience life in slow motion – life passing before me, having me wonder what am I to do and how do I get out of this.
Those times I have tried hard to cry out for help, but find myself reluctant or unable because of pride or fear – and then life seems to take me down.
Needing “saved” can take on a lot of different faces.
And I know when all of those elements come together they often form the perfect storm – and its then that I have been found in deep despair needing rescued. Crying out to God or anyone who would save me.
I think it is safe to say, we all at times need to be saved. We need rescued. We need liberated from those things that oppress and keep us from truly living.
One of the themes that seem to reoccur throughout human and biblical history is the need to be rescued. For some people of faith, that is all religion is about – being rescued from this planet and the suffering here. But if we go back to the very beginning of the Bible to what scholars believe as where the story of “salvation” or being rescued began – we find the book of Exodus and the rescue from Egypt.
It was Rob Bell in his book, “Jesus Wants To Save Christians” where I first began to wrestle with what it actually meant to be rescued, liberated, saved. Rob says,
“Egypt, the superpower of its day, was ruled by Pharaoh, who responded to the threat of the growing number of Israelites in his country by forcing them into slavery. They had to work every day without a break making bricks, building storehouses for Pharaoh.
Egypt is an empire, built on the backs of Israelite slave labor, brick, by brick, by brick.
But right away in the book of Exodus, there is a disruption. Things change. And the change begins with God saying…
‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people…’
‘I have heard them crying out…’
‘I have come down to rescue them…’”
Now, this is a familiar story that continues to play out throughout our history. The children of Israel under the oppression of the Egyptian regime, is the story of of the African Americans in our country during slavery and Jim Crow, it is the story of women suffragettes who fought for rights, or the Me Too women of today who have been abused and treated as less than equal, it is the story of the Native Americans from the founding of our country, , the Asian Americans during World War II. It’s the story of refugees fleeing oppressive regimes. It is story of the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality and acknowledgement. And it is the story of the South Africans during apartheid, the Jewish people in Nazi Germany, the people of Rawanda and Darfur during genocide, the Syrians, and the people of Gaza…oh…and the list seems never to end…
Each have cried out to be rescued, from the drowning bondage, the slavery, the abuse, the oppression that kept them from truly living… Each wanted to be saved, liberated, rescued, and free.
And just like that original story from Exodus…God did not simply intervene and change the course of history with a wave of his hand (yes, at times, I believe there were miracles that took place). But most of the time, God sent a human (one of us) to intervene. Just like I believe that lifeguard was sent to rescue me in 5th grade God sent a deliverer named Moses to the people in Egypt. And if we look carefully at history, God has been sending humans to intervene throughout time.
Nelson Mandela (100th birthday)
Elizabeth Fry Gandhi
Galileo John Woolman
Leonardo da Vinci Harvey Milk
Mother Theresa Billy Jean King
Abraham Lincoln Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Rosa Parks Albert Einstein
Martin Luther King Jr. Cesar Chavez
Susan B. Anthony Sitting Bull
And the list could go on and on...God has been raising up ordinary people to intervene, recue, liberate, and help save our neighbors all along.
The reality is, as Rob Bell points out,
“God needs a body. God needs flesh and blood. God needs bones and skin so that Pharaoh will know just who this God is he’s dealing with and how this God acts in the world. And not just so Pharaoh will know but so that all of humanity will know.”
There have been and currently are many Pharoah’s in our world, that God is needing a body to resist and begin the liberation process for those oppressed. He is calling women and men to be raised up, to bring the Good News, the hope of liberation, and rescue to the people of our world.
People are slaves to many things today. Maybe someone in this room is being called to free someone from the oppression of technology, work schedules, busyness. Maybe someone is being called to rescue a friend who is a slave to over eating, or pornography, or an addiction that is destroying their life. Maybe someone is being called to save a friend from that unhealthy relationship, family member, or boss. Again the list could go on and on…
As Rob Bell states,
“It’s as if God is saying, “The thing that has happened to you – go make it happen for others. The freedom from oppression that you are now experiencing – help others experience that same freedom. The grace that has been extended to you when you were at your lowest – extend it to others. In the same way that I heard your cry, go and hear the cry of others and act on their behalf.”
I think too often we pray or cry out expecting a miracle, or for God to “magically” intervene, and while we are fervently praying or crying out and waiting for a miracle, we are missing our call, our opportunity, our moment where we become the hands and feet of Jesus to our neighbor. Like the life preserver, God wants to use us in his saving process.
I remember once teaching a college class and a student challenged a classmate on her fervent prayers. She said, “You say you continue to pray the same prayer each morning hoping for a change and looking for God to intervene…but have you ever thought that your prayer is a crutch not allowing you to be God’s instrument in the situation? Just maybe God wants to answer that prayer through you.”
The American Church is obsessed with the phrase “Jesus Saves” – but I think we need to go one step further and ask ourselves – how does Jesus save? How does Jesus rescue us? How do we experience the rescue?
It might take a life guard jumping in the water to physically save you.
It might take a teacher educating you.
It might take a friend willing to say “no” to you.
It might take someone reminding you that you are loved.
It may take a welcome smile.
It might take a person to stand up for your rights.
It might take a person willing to sacrifice their life to get our attention.
Did you know that in the original Aramaic language of Jesus’ day, there was no word for salvation – or “being saved.” Salvation was understood as a bestowal of life, and to be saved was “to be made alive.”
Civil Rights leader, theologian, and philosopher, Howard Thurman, was a man who understood oppression, who understood what it meant to be rescued or saved in the truest sense – to be made alive. He said,
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
This is what we mean by resurrection! They have come alive here and now! I am telling you – if we turned off the news and actually came alive and did what we love – the world would be a way better place – we would bring salvation to our neighbors (they too would come alive)!
Also, I truly believe if there is ANY oppression in this world, there is work to do…and as Quakers who believe in equality, peace, integrity, community we must respond. We must join the rescue effort. We must be liberators! We must find ways to lessen the oppression so all people can live in peace together. So all people can come alive to their full potential.
Quaker Rex Ambler put it this way in Rediscovering the Quaker way,
“When we open ourselves to the truth of our life, our self-deceptions and denials are revealed, including the false image we have of ourselves, and at the same time we discover the true self that lies behind these images. We discover who we really are, not isolated and apart from others, but one with them, and with life itself. This awareness awakens a great feeling for life, and for others, that we can only call love…We are able to act out of love, that is, out of warm respect for other people and other creatures, so that we want spontaneously to help them and not harm them.”
I am so glad that lifeguard jumped in the water and saved me and my friend. I am so glad that God has called people throughout history to rise up and help our world come alive in the truest sense. And I am happy for people in this room who are being raised up to help, save, rescue, liberate, and bring alive their neighbors, family and friends, because folks, God is wanting to use you in his great plan of salvation starting now!
Ask yourself this morning…
How am I coming alive in this world, today?
In what area do I need rescued, liberated, or saved?
Who do I know who is living oppressed and needing rescued – that I am being called to join God in helping?