Rescue Me: Week 4 - "Rejoice"
It's the Fourth Sunday of the season of Lent, and we are journeying together after Jesus as he travels to Holy Week and the Cross.
The thing is, when we step into the Lenten journey, it's easy to feel a bit lost. It's one of the most difficult seasons of the year--a long wintry trudge that is sandwiched between the joys of Advent and the transforming moment of Easter.
And let's face it, following in the footsteps of Jesus as he journeys to the Cross isn't exactly the most thrilling of propositions for most of us.
What we need are guides to help us along the way, to inspire us to keep going and to give us direction when we feel lost and alone. That's the focus of the sermon series we're beginning today--a series entitled, "Rescue Me."
We'll be engaging with the lectionary Psalms that are part of our Lenten readings for each of the Sundays in Lent. The Psalms are more than just poetry. They are more than prayers. The Psalms provide us with a connection to our true selves.
We chose as our overriding image for this series the image of a message in a bottle...
Messages that we throw off into the ocean, hoping that they'll be found, that we'll know that we are not alone in the universe... that God is with us, for us and will rescue us from whatever it is that we need rescuing from.
And the messages we search for, the ones we hope will wash up on the shore, providing us with surprising and startling truths about who we are, and the new people we are called to become.
Today we're going to start with an important question that lots of people are trying to figure out, even if they aren't entirely aware of it:
What does it mean to be "saved?"
Christians seem to most often use the word "saved" to describe whether someone is a Christian or not. The dominant version of cultural Christianity that surrounds us refers to Christians as "saved" and people who aren't Christians as "unsaved."
Christians often say things like "I've been saved," or "I got saved when I was thirteen." Or they will ask people "Are you saved?" For many Christian traditions, "getting saved" is the whole point. Which is why they offer invitations at the end of every church service in order to come forward and "get saved."
I grew up in a tradition where it was of vital importance to know the exact date and story of when you "got saved." If you couldn't recall this moment, one had to wonder whether one was actually "saved."
I had a conversation a couple of years ago with a pastor friend who was having a hard time with his board of deacons because his wife couldn't recall an exact moment in her life where she had prayed a prayer and "gotten saved." They weren't convinced she was a Christian.
In short, for many Christians "being saved" is just another way of saying that you have done something that you remember clearly (like praying a prayer to invite "Jesus into your heart") and this thing that you did means that you aren't going to hell when you die.
But what if I told you that "being saved" is so much more than that? More than just "fire insurance," more than just a moment when we prayed a prayer?
In the Bible virtually every verse that speaks about salvation defines salvation this way:
Being Saved = Rescue = Redemption
Redemption in the Scripture typically refers to the action of being rescued or saved from sin.
And what does the Bible have to say about sin? What exactly are we being rescued from? In the New Testament sin is almost always referred to with the Greek word hamartia, which is a term derived from archery, meaning "missing the mark."
So, sin can be all the ways that we shoot and miss at what it means to be truly human, to be the people that God created us to be.
It's when we experience and separation from God, alienation from others because we're missing the mark. It's when we fail to grow as human beings when we fail to love for love's sake.
And everyone struggles with this. All of us. The Apostle Paul once wrote that all of us miss the mark and fall short of God's glory---this is a fact, not an indictment. We are all in need of rescue--every single day.
Even those of us who prayed a prayer and can remember a moment when we "got saved." Maybe especially those of us who can recall that moment.
And for most of us, we get so caught up in our own struggle to try to keep hitting the mark and falling short that we lose sight of what God has done and is doing all of the time to continually reach out and rescue us. We lose sight of how God is redeeming us all of the time in spite of ourselves.
One of my favorite pastors, Nadia Bolz-Webber has some interesting responses to the question, "When did you get saved?" Sometimes she'll answer the question by saying, "2,000 years ago," and sometimes she'll answer it by saying, "This morning."
I love that.
So what do we do with this information--that through Jesus God did something amazing 2,000 years ago to rescue us being enslaved to our falling short and ultimately free us from the fear and dread of death itself?
AND that through Jesus God is continuing to rescue us, to save us from ourselves each and every day?
WE REJOICE--that's what. That's the message that comes to us today from Psalm 107:
Redemption results in rejoicing
This sermon happened at a pretty messed up time in our life as a family. Our son fell in a freak accident and broke his ankle in four places, requiring surgery and ruining a family vacation next week, costing thousands of dollars, complicating our already complicated lives. We've all been pretty miserable, my son most of all.
And this was the week when I was slated to preach on rejoicing because of redemption.
God is a comedy writer.
Let's dig into the Psalm and unpack this idea.
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
3 those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
7 He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
8 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
9 for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.
10 Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11 because they rebelled against God’s commands
and despised the plans of the Most High.
12 So he subjected them to bitter labor;
they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
and broke away their chains.
15 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
16 for he breaks down gates of bronze
and cuts through bars of iron.
17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways
and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
18 They loathed all food
and drew near the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them;
he rescued them from the grave.
21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings
and tell of his works with songs of joy.
I should say that this particular Sunday in Lent has long been known as "Refreshment Sunday" because it's the day when we start to realize that Lent will soon be coming to an end--and sisters and brothers, Easter Sunday is comin'!
The theme of this Psalm could be summed up by a single word: hesed.
I've taught you this word before, but it's so key here. Hesed means "never-ending loving kindness, tender mercy, eternal, never-runs out kind of love." The quality that describes the character of God that never gives up on rescuing us is hesed.
In Psalm 107 the singer of the psalm is recalling moments in Israel's history where the Hebrew people were rescued by God and redeemed. And, this is super important, most of these rescue moments happened in spite of the things that the rescued people did to get into a situation that necessitated their rescue.
Over and over again, God hears the cries of God's people and rescues. He hears their cries when they are slaves in Egypt, and he rescues. He hears their cries when they are being afflicted by warring tribes, and he rescues. He hears the cries of the faithful when they are persecuted by evil kings, and he rescues. He hears their cries when they are exiles in a foreign land when they have the boot of oppression on their necks, and he rescues.
And through Jesus, God extends this rescue to all people everywhere.
This psalm is for all of us. We are all in this psalm--each of us has found ourselves in need of rescue, in need of redemption. This is our song.
And it's a song that we are irresistibly compelled to sing when we realize just what God has done for us. It's why the singer begins with the reminder that God has rescued us because of his hesed and that the "redeemed of the Lord" ought to say so!
Because redemption results in rejoicing.
So here's where the rubber meets the road in all of this.
Psalm 107 describes four kinds of ways that people need rescue. And you and I have either been in one of those situations before, or we're in one or more of them now.
First, the Psalm says that "Some Wandered..."
These people find themselves in a self-destructive wilderness where they are hungry and thirsty and trying to appease that hunger and thirst in all of the wrong ways--ways that are ultimately going to lead to destruction.
If this is where you are---then listen to the words of the singer who essentially says:
"God reaches out to you in your wilderness, and gives you a means to live. God finds you in the desert and rescues you. Rejoice because you have been given life!"
Second, the Psalm says that "Some sat in darkness..."
These people find themselves in bondage, enslaved by guilt, shame, bitterness, grief the result of bad decisions, tragic consequences...
If this is where you find yourself, here this: "God has set you free. God has broken the chains. You don't have to live in this dread, you don't have to live a life marked by darkness and shadow--step into the light and see what God has done through Jesus to free you from this. Rejoice because you have been released!"
Third, the Psalm says that "Some were sick with sin..."
These people find themselves consumed with the weariness and anger that comes from constantly dwelling on their failures. They loathe the good because they think they don't deserve it. They are numb to joy. They are unbearable to live with, and they can't bear living with themselves.
If this is you, here this: God has healed you, restored you and made you whole. You are not defined by your past. You are not held hostage to your mistakes. Jesus has risen to transcend all of that and heal you of your sick soul. Rejoice because you have been made whole!
Finally, the Psalm says that "Some went down to the depths..."
These are people who have lost their courage, who have become consumed by fear. They dread the future so much they can't stand living in the present. These are people who are immobilized by the fears that haunt them day and night. These are people who never experience life in it's fullest because they are too busy worrying about all of the bad things that might happen if they step out in faith.
If this is who you are, know this: God is reaching out to you to grant you peace. God wants to renew your spirit, to give you hope that will last and peace that is hard to comprehend. The kind of peace that doesn't make sense when everything is falling apart. The kind of peace that comes from knowing that when Jesus feet hit the floor of that soon-to-be-empty tomb that the game changed for you forever and you don't have to be afraid anymore! Rejoice you have been lifted up!
No matter what is going on in our lives, no matter what is happening that seems like it's about to overwhelm us. No matter how bad things seem to be---we can rejoice in the fact that God has saved and is saving us.
Because of Jesus' resurrection, we are rescued.
We're rescued from our own mistakes and the mistakes of others.
There is nothing in this world that can drag us down, enslave or defeat us. We are rescued. We are redeemed.
Listen to me. You are not condemned. You are not abandoned. You have been rescued. You are being rescued. Let the rescued rejoice. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so. You have been rescued, redeemed, set free, lifted up, healed, made right and forgiven.
Step forward down this Lenten path in joy! You are redeemed!
And redemption results in rejoicing.