The wickedness and calamity that exist in this world due to sin are not new. We know that. There are times, though, when we experience, for any number of reasons, the scope and the magnitude of the wickedness and calamity in a salient way. For many, this is such a time. Things feel different. What we know of the evil in this world feels different when we’ve barely begun mourning the latest tragedy before we are overrun by the next. It feels different when we talk about historic and systemic injustices related to race and class and walk away from the conversation with a profound doubt that things will ever be better. It feels different when every day brings new revelations of the harassment and assault half of the people on this planet endure based solely on their womanhood. None of it is new, but it just feels different. It feels like the world is on fire all around us and we are suffocating in the haze of the smoke.
It is tempting when it feels like this to retreat, to gather together and bolt the doors and do everything we can to hide from the flames outside. We can do that, but we have to promise one another that if we do, we will not open our Bibles. We have to keep them shut because if we open them, we might read verses like Proverbs 24:11, which says:
Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
A text like this confronts us with a reality that doesn’t fit with our retreat. The reality is that the world is on fire, but you’ve been drafted into Jesus’ bucket brigade. When he saved you and plunged you beneath the waters, he extinguished the flames on your heart and then he brought you to his reservoir and gave you a bucket filled with water, a solution of mercy and justice, and he said, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death.”
You may have said, “I’m not strong enough for this work.” It’s a fair concern until you recall that this is a supernatural reality. In other words, the physics of this reality don’t work in the way you might think. A quadriplegic woman travels the world as one of our best training officers. Grandparents with decades of experience fly our helicopters, dropping swimming pools of water from the sky. A mom battling cancer, as weak as she may be from radiation therapy, holds point on a powerful hose. Sometimes a little boy with downs syndrome is our best wheelman on our finest rig.
And so we go. We become law enforcement officers and medical professionals; teachers and engineers; mechanics and artists. We go into finance and business and science and cuisine. We go across oceans and we go across the street. We go to warzones and refugee camps and to parks and the local library story time. We go unafraid because he has promised to go with us and has said, “When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” We go and we bring our buckets of God’s justice and mercy and we pour out water everywhere we can to alleviate suffering and to fight injustice.
Our clothes smell like smoke and our faces are covered in soot, save for the lines formed by our tears. We gather on Wednesday nights to train and strategize and check each other’s gear. We rejoice together and we weep together. We welcome the newly saved members he has added to our ranks and we pray for rain. We gather on Sunday mornings, here at the banks of the reservoir, to worship Jesus and have our buckets filled again.
The work is hard and there are times we are tempted to despair, but he has given us a sign of the hope that lies ahead. Maybe you didn’t see it this morning. If you came to the reservoir through the forest you missed it. You have to come from the side where the water is walled in by the dam. Then you’ll see it. At the death and resurrection of Jesus, the stone was rolled away, the curtain was torn in two, and a crack appeared in the wall of the dam. Above the crack is an inscription from the book of Amos and it reads, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
A day is coming when God Almighty will breach the dam and all of the fires of this sinful world will be no more. Until then, he has given us these buckets and filled them to the brim.
This reminds us of our need to confess our sins.
Prayer of Confession
Father, too often we faint in the day of adversity because our strength is small. We allow the fires of this world to overwhelm us and terrify us. We doubt your sovereignty over the events we read and hear about and we shrink back from the work to which you have called us. We doubt our effectiveness and we do not trust you to do the things you have said you will do.
Father, this is a great evil. And we know that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst, our prayers will be ineffectual, so we confess our individual sins to you now.
Father, we thank you for Jesus and the example he modeled for us. He left the throne room of Heaven with the same tools you have given us. He showed us what it means to trust you completely amid the flames. He trusted that you would do what you said you would do. He showed us that because of your boundless grace, injustice and suffering will not be the end of the story. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and glorious resurrection, we are convinced that righteousness will cover the earth. We look forward to that day when you will wipe every tear from our eyes and death will be no more. By your Spirit now, be pleased to align our thoughts, desires, and loves with your own, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.