Friday, January 10, 2014

For Bruised Reeds and Smoky Candles

I have not always been an Anglican.  In the church I grew up in, baptism was not for babies.  It was only for people old enough to confess their personal faith in Jesus. 

I was 10 years old when I was baptised.  I think that I had one burning desire of my heart when I was baptised.  In a way I was saying that I would then be a good boy.  I would no longer be troubled by all my sins – the things I did wrong.

I think I misunderstood something about what would happen when I was baptised.  You have to remember I was only 10 years old.  I thought that it would be one of those “Wow!” moments when I really felt God in a powerful way and so would be assured of my inward transformation.

I don’t think I said anything about this at the time.  But I felt let down because it seemed to me that nothing happened.  And to make things worse, the next day one of my friends at school said to me that now I had to be good all the time. 

The story of Jesus’ baptism has in it some really important things for us to remember and think about.

Much of what the early Christians thought about Jesus was influenced by their ideas of what the Messiah would be like.  There are numerous prophecies, especially in Isaiah that they relied on.  The hymn we read today from Isaiah is wonderful.  Let me remind you of the first three verses of it:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit
 on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed
 he will not break,
    and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

There is an echo of this in the Baptism story.  Matthew says the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove.  There are other stories that use similar words to describe who Jesus has come to help. 

It is from the last verse I just read to you that I would like to draw our thoughts today.

All poets use images to help us grasp the ideas they want to convey. 

The idea of the bruised reed is rather wonderful.  This makes me think of the long reed of a bulrush on the banks of a river.  Such a reed, bent over but not broken, fits for me with this image of a bruised reed.

The idea of the smouldering wick is easy to understand, too.  Some people would discard a candle with a smoky wick.  If they knew how to trim the wick they could get it to shine brightly again.   

These two images then have a common message for us.  They tell us that this Servant of God has come for the battered and bruised ones.  His plan is not to discard them, but to put them back together again and give them justice.

Again and again we see Jesus reaching out to the poor and the marginalised and seeking justice for them.  It actually got him a bad reputation but he never minded that.


We get very used to throwing things away when they get a bit dirty or broken. 

Sadly, we seem to do the same with people.  We do it to our sporting heroes – as soon as they stopping being as good as they used to be we find someone else to be our hero.  We do it in business as well as in our personal relationships.  When people are no longer useful to us we discard them.

There is something that I think is even worse.  There are people in our society who for some reason don’t fit.  They might have a disability.  They might be homeless.  They might have the wrong religion.  We seem to ignore them as much as possible just because they are different. 

These are the broken reeds; these are the smoky wicks that Isaiah was thinking of for whom Jesus came – to bind up their wounds and make them shine brightly again and give them justice.  We in the church must continue to do this in his name. 


But I wonder if I could get a bit personal.

There have been many times when I have felt like a bruised reed or a smoky wick.

In a sense, my mere admission of the need to follow Jesus is a recognition that I couldn’t do it all by myself – that faith in him offered the world a much better version of me that I could ever give it in my own strength.  Jesus has bound up those bruises and trimmed the wick so that the light shines true and clear.

There is also a sense that even though I would like you all to think that my life in God is wonderful and that I am profoundly wise, that I am a widely read scholar and am exceptionally prayerful I know I am not.  That is a plain fact.  I am a bruised reed and I am always in need of the Servant.

It is this humble reality that binds all of us in the church together – we all know that without our life in Jesus, learning from him daily about the Way he has called us to live, we would simply be self-seeking bruised reeds and smoky candles.


Why am I telling you this?

Well frankly,  I don’t want you to miss out.

Maybe some of you may need reminding for the thousandth time of Jesus the truest Lover.  He has time for flickering lamps and bruised reeds.  He wants you to be the very best version of you that you can be.

Or perhaps for the first time, you are at a point in your life where you dare acknowledge your frailty and need of a Saviour.  To all such I say:  What God can do with one bruised reed he can do with another. 

But you’ll never ever know if you never ever give Christ a go.

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