by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
One recent Sunday while Pastor Kim was on vacation, my wife, Charlotte, filled the pulpit. Charlotte and I are both Local Church Lay Speakers in the United Methodist Church. Charlotte was continuing Pastor Kim’s sermon series based on the book Change the World: Recovering the Message and Mission of Jesus, by Mike Slaughter. The topic for that Sunday was “Rescue,” about how God rescues us and how we can rescue others in God’s name. Charlotte did an excellent job as usual and preached a sermon I would have never preached myself but—again as usual—I couldn’t help thinking how I might have approached the same subject. Since I needed to write a Person-2-Person column for this month, I decided to put my thoughts on paper.
When I think of the word “rescue,” I subconsciously add the words “damsel in distress” or perhaps “dramatic” or “mission.” When I was younger, I thought it would be cool to rescue a damsel in distress. Later, I realized that rescuing a damsel in distress involves a lot of wear and tear on the damsel.
Charlotte traced examples of God rescuing people all the way from the Garden of Eden. But I’m going to stick with the Gospels. Jesus performed rescues of his own, including damsels or women. One day, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery to Jesus and demanded, “‘In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’” (John 8:5 NIV). The law was clear (Deut. 22:22; Lev. 20:10): The penalty for adultery was death for both persons. But he said, “‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’” (vs. 7b NIV). And one by one they walked away (vs. 9). He rescued her from the consequences of her sin by interposing himself between her and her accusers.
Jesus didn’t just rescue women though. He also rescued his own disciples. One evening, he and the disciples were in a boat that encountered rough weather (Mark 4:35-41). Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat (vs. 38a). The disciples woke him and said, “‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” (vs. 38b NIV). Jesus calmed the storm and then said to the disciples, “‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’” (vs. 40 NIV). A number of the disciples were fishermen who were used to being on rough water. If they were afraid, the situation was indeed dire and they were truly in need of rescue.
Mike Slaughter wrote that “God does God’s best work in cemeteries!” I’m not entirely sure what that means but it reminded me of the resurrection and especially of the encounter between Mary Magdalene and Jesus on the morning of the resurrection (John 20:1-18). Mary had found the empty tomb and had told Peter and another disciple. The two disciples had examined the tomb for themselves and gone home. But Mary stayed, weeping. Her entire life was in shambles. A man she had loved—and who had befriended her—was gone, brutally killed. And now she couldn’t even give him a decent burial because his body was gone. Then she turned and saw Jesus but she didn’t know who he was. “‘Woman,’ he said, ‘why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’” (vs. 15a NIV). Instead of recognizing him, Mary thought he was the gardener. She said to him, “‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’” (vs. 15b NIV). Then Jesus spoke her name, “‘Mary.’” (vs. 16a). Immediately, she recognized him and cried out, “‘Rabboni!’” which is Aramaic for “teacher” (vs. 16b). I can’t begin to imagine Mary’s joy when she realized her friend—her “Teacher”—was standing before her.
In Mary’s darkest moment, God was there. When the disciples were about to “drown,” God was there. When a woman caught in the act of adultery was in fear of her life, God was there. When we needed someone to stand between us and the consequences of our sin, God was there. Whenever you or I are in need of rescue, God will be there. And whenever “the least of these” is in need of rescue, God will be there—because we will be there.
“He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.
He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” (Psa. 72:13-14 NIV.)
2011 by David Phelps