Summary: Emergency planning means getting ready for when things go wrong. This sermon considers how well we are prepared for things to go wrong in our Christian lives and how God can lift us back up when we fall.
Many years ago when I was rather younger and fitter than I am now I was a member of a local Rescue Team. Our remit was partly Mountain Rescue but since the mountains in our area were rather made up of hills and moors this was not the dramatic role you might expect. We tended to get calls to assist in domestic situations where, after a huge argument, the man had slammed out of the house and driven off into the hills only to have his abandoned car found at the top of a farm track a day or so later. We'd get called in to search for the missing person and, on more than one occasion, our team prevented suicides or deaths as a result of people going for a walk to 'cool off' but then getting lost on the hills as bad weather closed in.
We trained quite regularly covering everything from off-road driving to rope rescues and stretcher carrying. We also did frequent first-aid courses as well as rescue type scenario exercises. One of the most interesting aspects of this training was where we trained. If you drove past the building you wouldn't think there was anything out of the ordinary: It looked just like a standard Fire Station. However, a nondescript door around the side of the building let into a sealed stairwell which dropped deep below the station into an underground bunker which had its own air, water and power supplies and was equipped to withstand usage over a lengthy period of time as a command centre. I assume this command bunker was built during the height of the 'Cold War' but, by the time we got to use it that was more or less over and the bunker was just a great place to run training sessions.
As I think back on these events it strikes me as quite remarkable that our entire reason for existing as a team, and for dedicating all our time to training and preparation, was purely for when things had gone wrong for someone. Without disaster or mishap we were redundant and all of our training useless. Only when things had gone horribly wrong for someone did we serve a useful purpose.
That gets me thinking about the way most of us live our lives. You see most of us are not very good at preparing for things to go wrong. A couple of weeks ago I got stuck on a snowy hill late at night along with around a hundred other cars. I was the only person present with a shovel to clear the snow and get home. Why? Well, all the other drivers just 'hoped' everything would go well and they wouldn't need to respond to the emergency. I wonder how different we are as Christians?
This character trait is most obvious around the time of the New Year when we all make Resolutions to do something better in the coming year but it is also a fairly frequent exercise that Christians get involved in. We plan to do better in the coming year. Perhaps we plan to spent more time in prayer or study, perhaps we aim to overcome some character weakness we are aware of. We plan to be more patient, less irate with family or colleagues. We plan never to make the same mistakes again when we've fallen short of the standard we aspire to.
But what happens when it all goes wrong? What happens when we 'lose it' yet again? What about when we are tactless – yet again? What about when the demands of work or family cut into our devotional time? What do we do? Are we as prepared as a rescue team has to be or do we find ourselves stuck in the snow without a shovel to clear a way forward?
I want to take, for our study today, the story of a man who got it horribly wrong but I want to focus on the way God, through Jesus, put it back right again afterwards. The man is Peter and the story is of his denial of Jesus. It's a well known story but let's consider it from the point of view of making our own preparations to deal with our, all too common, failures.
Our story starts in the Upper Room where Jesus and his disciples are together to celebrate the Passover. (Matt 26:17-) For some time Jesus has been dropping hints to his disciples that things won't go quite the way they expected. They were hoping for a glorious Messiah figure who would smash the Roman invaders and restore a glorious Republic of Israel. While most of what Jesus told them would happen clearly went right over their heads something must have stuck because I sense, in this story of the Last Supper, a real tension among the disciples. Then Jesus announces to the startled disciples (Matt 26:31) that they will all desert him that very evening.