Lectionary Year B
March 12, 2000
I Peter 3:18-22

Step VI: Contemporary Address

(JA) - Address as sermon

Title: The Rescue

Thesis: The mystery of redemption [concealed behind a veil yet "perceived propitiously" for conduct in baptism's appeal ] centers on a cosmic struggle in the "far off" underworld where death and dying once sealed have been broken by the dead-yet-risen Christ of God whose mission is to rescue to the extreme all who are lost.

Introduction: In recalling scenes of rescue operations the common elements are the drama, the sense of powerlessness to help, the growing pain of potential loss to loved ones, and the focus on the few who are "trained professionals" at effecting rescue. We expect the happy ending but we know from experience that the result can go either way...the potential loss of life makes the stakes so high.

I. At first glance or hearing this text seems so strange with all its ancient, underworld imagery that we don't identify ourselves and our stories with this one at all. But the more you are exposed to its "search light" and "haunting sounds" the more interested you become in its descent into and ascent out of the abyss of some far off black hole of peril for someone lost and in need of rescue.
II. Well, maybe better than the "black hole" of outer space which seems so, so far away from this world would be that which is closer to home: the darkened waters of the deepest depths of the ocean. That is pretty far away too but whether through personal "up-a-stream-without-a-paddle" stories or Melville's Moby Dick or the movie Jaws we know "it" is out there ! Yet the Christian-initiating, sacramentally grace-imparting "plunge" of baptism pulls these two moments together for the high-risk business of Christian understanding of our identity and conduct.
III. This rescue story does not end with the disappointment of loss - though it really doesn't have a human-side ending expressed until we "get rescued" - nor does it end with a "happy ending" in the storybook sense. It is an ending of sovereignty and lordship that leaves a kind of assurance sealed for all mortals that no matter how lost they get, no matter how far away it would appear that they have gotten, they are never too far from the rescuing reach of God.
Conclusion: The twist at the end of this encounter with an ancient rescue story is that somehow the people to whom it was (is!) addressed were sensing loss and danger not so much from their (moral?) shortcomings but from confusion and maybe dissatisfaction over a startling insight: their baptism into Christ linked them with his descent story and imparted to them a "common cause" link to his sacrificial "suffering unto death." How could any mortal have a part in such a rescue story? Do you think God knows?

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