June 3, 2018: Rescue

Pastor Steve Mechem

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Psalm 81:1-10 New Revised Standard Version
Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
Raise a song, sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our festal day.
For it is a statute for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
He made it a decree in Joseph,
when he went out over the land of Egypt.

I hear a voice I had not known:
I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I rescued you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah

Hear, O my people, while I admonish you;
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

The Hebrews were stuck!

You see, The entire nation had moved to Egypt from Palestine during a great famine.

The Egyptians welcomed them with open arms. Of course, they were told to be welcom-ing because of Joseph.

Joseph, a Hebrew, had ended up in Egypt as a young man and over the years had risen through the Egyptian political structure until he held the second highest office in the country, just below Pharaoh.

With Joseph on their side, the Hebrews moved lock, stock and barrel from their Fertile Crescent homeland.

Life was good as the Hebrews embraced their new country. They settled into Goshen, a thriving agricultural suburb of Egypt.

Then Joseph died.

Since moving to Egypt, the Hebrews had experience a population explosion. More and more Hebrews fed the xenophobic fears of nervous Egyptians.

The Egyptians, without Joseph’s leadership, came to loathe the Hebrews as outsiders, as others, as interlopers.

So much so, that the Egyptian leadership declared the Hebrews to be less than human and forced them into slavery.

500 years.
-of slavery
-of forced labor
-of governmental abuse
-of pain and tragedy
-of genocidal politics

And then rescue came. After 500 years came Moses, a burning bush declaring “I am who I am,” Aaron, speeches, bricks without straw, a staff and a snake, plagues, frogs and gnats and boils and rivers of blood.

Finally, there were bloody doorposts.

In Hebrew history, the climactic event of God’s rescue of the Hebrew is called Passo-ver. God spared them by passing over them while bringing judgement to the Egyp-tians. Passover was that specific moment in time when God rescued the Hebrew people from their Egyptian overlords.

After the Passover, the Hebrews left Egypt. The Exodus took them across the Sea and through a desert, and to a Mountain where God would speak. The Exodus found them wandering in the desert and wondering if it was all worth it and coming to a river wherein they found promise.

Every year, Jewish people around the world still celebrate the Passover, 3000 years later, remembering that moment in history when the Hebrews were rescued by Yahweh, their God.

Psalm 81 is a reminder to the people to keep celebrating the rescuing power of God.

The celebration is not voluntary, it is commanded by statue, by ordinance, by decree, by Torah Law.

See it pronounced in verses 4 and 5 of this Psalm:

For it is a statute for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.

He made it a decree in Joseph,
when he went out over the land of Egypt.

But, perhaps the law was not only about the Passover Celebration, but about the idea of God as Rescuer.

By nature, by God’s own law, God is Rescuer.

The story of the Hebrew Bible is the story of Rescue.

-God rescued a people to be called God’s own,

-God declared that the mission of the God’s people was to be a light to the world, bring-ing people together under the Lordship of God, rescuing us all,

-God rescued those elect people through the Passover and Exodus,

-God rescued them by leading them into the Promised Land,

-God rescued them from the Exile in Babylon,

-God promised an ultimate rescue through a Messiah.

Rescue is the story of Jesus- the Messiah.

As God emptied Godself in the incarnation, the Rescue plan was initiated.

The life of Jesus was a life of rescue.

His teaching included words of rescue for all who would listen and respond.

Rescue was the theme of Jesus’ life:

There was a woman caught in adultery, who was about to be killed, whom Jesus res-cued.

There was a demon possessed man who lived in a cemetery and scared people like a troll under a bridge, who Jesus left well and whole and ready to get on with life.

There was woman at a well who was outcast because of people’s judgment, whom Je-sus embraced and loved and rescued.

There were 12 disciples in a boat in a storm who were pretty sure they would die. But Jesus told the storm to stop and they were rescued.

There was a bleeding woman whose ailment left her unclean and unwanted. Jesus healed her and accepted her and rescued her from her plight.

There were lepers galore, who found their spots gone.

There were people with names like Zaccheus, Bartimaus, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and Syrophoenician woman who were rescued from fear, and death.

There was a nameless thief on a cross, rescued to paradise.

Our friend, NT Wright, frames the cross itself as the culmination of God’s Rescue Plan.

“He has done it. With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once and for all. A great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut. It’s the door to the prison where we’ve been kept chained up. We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves, to go through the open door and ex-plore the new world to which we now have access.”

In Jesus, God has done the “what else could I possibly do.”

In the cross, there is a declaration of Salvation.
In the cross, there is a confrontation with evil.
In the cross, there is the Establishment of the Kingdom of God.
In the cross, there is a restoration of our place as co-workers with God.
Because of the cross, we have become co-rescuers with God.

In the 1990 movie, Pretty Woman, a wealthy businessman falls in love with a prostitute. In one of their conversations, Vivian tells Edward that when she was a little girl in trou-ble and locked in her room, she would imagine Prince Charming coming to rescue her. She could imagine that Edward had what it took to be her Prince Charming.

In the climactic scene of the movie, as Edward is supposed to be going to the airport, he has the Chauffer divert the car toward Vivian’s apartment. He pulls up to the apartment, the soundtrack plays Italian opera, Verdi’s La Traviata, he climbs out of the car, climbs up the fire escape, encounters Vivian, and asks the question, in a Richard Gere sexy voice, “so what happens after he climbs the tower and rescues her.”

And Vivian repsonds, “she rescues him right back!”

And everybody in the theater is crying and cheering and it’s all wonderful fun.

It is not like we rescue God back after we are rescued, but we are invited to join God in the ongoing process of Rescue.

We are Joint Rescuers with God-
Just as the Hebrews waited for rescue in Egypt,
Just as the world waited for rescue through a Messiah,
Possibly, just now, the world is waiting for us:
to love unconditionally,
to accept people with grace and kindness,
to stand with those who need us,
to be different, in the ways Jesus was different,
to be light, just as Jesus is light and invites us to be the light of the world.

Amen.