WAYPOINTS: We are free to sacrifice for the lost, those in adversity

The Rev. Mike Hesse
The Rev. Mike Hesse

February 18, 1952, is a day that will never be forgotten in Coast Guard circles. A violent storm churned the frigid seas off the coast of Massachusetts overtaking a World War II era tanker, the 553 foot long SS Pendleton, and breaking her in half. The captain and seven crew members who were in the bow lost their lives when the ship split in two. Thirty-three men were left in the stern in great peril as it was driven by wind and wave toward a sandbar near the Cape Cod port of Chatham.

At 5:55 p.m., against all odds, the Coast Guard’s Chatham Lifesaving Station launched a 36-foot wooden motor life boat powered by a single 90 hp engine. Knowing the gravity of the situation the crew sang “Rock of Ages” as their little boat crashed through the inlet waves. The pounding water rolled the self-righting boat on its side, smashed the front windshield and destroyed the compass. Yet coxswain Bernard Webber and his crew, Andrew Fitzgerald, Richard Livesey and Erving Maske, made the decision to press on through the darkness and driving snow. Somehow finding the Pendleton, they proceeded to pack all of her crew aboard (one man died when he fell from the boarding ladder), knowing that they would never be able to make it back in time to save any who remained. The crew was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal, the Coast Guard’s highest decoration for heroism during a rescue operation.

The story is often quoted as one of the greatest Coast Guard rescues of all time and it surely is, but the instinct to come to the aid of another who needs help on the water is embedded in every boater worth his salt. As a seafaring community, Destin folks are all too familiar with water-involved emergencies and how they bring out the best in people as they rush to help.

So here is where I find myself convicted as a Christian. I am surrounded on all sides by people who are either drowning in their own sin or battered so badly by the circumstances of their lives that they are in danger of swamping. How often I am so distracted by my comfortable lifestyle and my own “issues" that I pass by without seeing or hearing them. I would risk my life in a heartbeat to rescue someone in danger of drowning. Why don’t I feel the same urgency about risking everything to come to the aid of someone in danger of going to hell, or whose life already approximates hell right here on earth? Jesus, himself, lays out his expectations for those who profess to follow him,

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13.

James, in his letter, applies the practical application,

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

Read the Bible and, from beginning to end, believers are challenged to reflect Jesus in the way we live our lives. Jesus lived sacrificially, literally pouring his life out for others. In his earthly ministry he healed the sick, fed the hungry, freed the captives and proclaimed the Good News of a God who loved them. He ultimately went to the cross, executed at the hands of earthly powers, to deliver us from sin and death. Early Christians counted it a privilege to pour their lives out for others in the service of their Lord — no matter the cost.

Could it be that the Church today is so busy trying to sell the faith like a commodity in a consumer’s culture that we forget to proclaim the Good News that God expects his followers to be Christ like? And what does a Christ like life look like? German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis near the end of World War II, wrote in his book, “The Cost of Discipleship” this simple description, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die." We die first to ourselves and to all our attachments. Then, like so many Christians who have preceded us, we, too, are free to sacrifice whatever it costs to do our part to rescue the lost and assist those in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness or any other adversity. Only then do we truly reflect the love of Christ to this sinful and broken world.

The Rev. Mike Hesse, former senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church, is now retired and living in Destin.