Please excuse any typos or grammar problems. I don't hire an editor for Sunday messages or spend a long period of time looking for mistakes.
Our reading from Isaiah comes to us from a time when the people were living in Exile. To be exiled is to be in a time of great upheaval. It is to live in a time when the familiar and well loved is lost to you. It is to live in a time when change is forced on you, change that you did not want. It is time of grief over what is lost and a time of fear as to what the future might bring. It is time of questioning – who are we and is there really a God to whom we belong.
The Holy words passed down through the generations said they were God’s very own beloved people, but then why were they living exiled far from the land of promise, the land God had given their ancestors. The big question became: Is there truth in what we have been taught: is God really with us.
Into such a world comes the prophet Isaiah, he comes with the promise that God will act to bring them justice. Their exile will end. Things will be put right again. – like people today, they were not so concerned about justice coming to others as they were about experiencing justice for themselves. And here is the fly in the ointment. For true justice to come and stay, we need to be concerned about more than ourselves.
Isaiah spoke of one who would come, bearing God’s own spirit. Isaiah spoke of this servant of God as bringing forth justice in the way a midwife brings to birth a child. Lasting justice comes from within and when it is brought to birth, must be cherished and protected or it will be lost.
I love these words from the Isaiah reading: He will not cry or lift up his voice; a bruised reed he will not break; a dim candle he will not quench.
A people in exile are bruised; the light of hope, the light of faith in their lives grows dim.
Some of us here today know what that is like. We know what is to be bruised. We know what it is to have our faith challenged as we live with problems that are too big for us to solve.
Sometimes, the people around us, tell us that if we had only had the right kind faith or were positive enough then all would be well. These well meaning people bruise us further. They cause the candle of hope and faith to grow even dimmer. Their words, coming from a position of strength do not make us stronger. To be made stronger we need someone to come alongside who understands what it is to be overwhelmed by seriously challenging life events. Only one with understanding and sympathy can avoid causing further damage to the bruised reed or to the candle of hope that has grown dim.
I remember being part of something very disturbing. I had gathered with women from various churches to plan a future gathering for women. One of the women who had come had been through a horrendous time. Someone brought her to be with other Christian woman because they thought it would be good for her. Sadly, it wasn’t. They were trying to be helpful, but they couldn’t do it, because what she needed most of all was for someone to listen and hear her pain without offering cheap and easy words. had gotten seriously ill and would remain so for the rest of her life, her husband decided he didn’t sign up to care for a sick wife and be the main caregiver for their children, so he left. Recently she had to give the children into the care of Social Services. She did not have the money or the health to care for them properly. Her life was a revolving door, - in and out of hospital, unable to do the one thing her heart most yearned to do – care for her own children.
For the women gathered there, such terrible things did not happen to good people, to people with the right kind of faith. They spoke honeyed words of judgement. They told her she was speaking too negatively. Not one of them could listen without giving unhelpful advice. They had never been through anything like she was going through and could not even imagine it. Their lives had never exiled them so far from the land of promise.
They lived in the promised land, the land where you are able to stand in your own strength and care for your own loved ones. Their words did not encourage the flame of hope or heal the bruised heart. I doubted their words were what God would say to this woman who was trying so hard to keep the faith in such difficult times.
The one God sends comes in tenderness, with understanding of the cost of such a struggle, to take our hand and gently lead us to that place where the healing light of God dwells. God sends us Jesus, Jesus who knew what it was to be despised and rejected as he hung naked on a cross. Jesus comes to us from God in human vulnerability to show us the tenderness of a God who offers us grace, mercy and unconditional love. Jesus spoke angry words, and he spoke words of judgement, but they were always for those who felt they were righteous, people who believed that others suffered because of a wrong they had done, while they themselves were blessed because of their righteousness.
The bruised reed and those whose candle of hope grows dim found in Jesus a love that heals, an acceptance that helps them see themselves in a new light, and a promise that one day their troubles will come to an end. Jesus is so different from other priests and prophets, people, who sometimes, with the best of intentions bruise the already wounded, and cause the flame of hope to grow even dimmer.
It was clear that Jesus would be a different kind of leader when he came and stood in a line of sinners and waited with them to be baptised. In Jesus baptism we see one who is not going to stand above us dispensing wisdom in words that sound like another form of judgement. Indeed we see a leader who bends down and with tender words of encouragement lifts us up.
Several years ago I heard a story of a divine healing. Whether it was true or not – I don’t know, but this was the story. A teenage girl suffered from brittle bone disease. Her bones were not strong enough to support her weight and she spent her life hunched over. Her internal organs were in distress because of the pressure put on them. She sat in a wheelchair, with her head laid on a pillow placed on her lap. This teenage girl had a great deal of faith. She believed that Jesus was coming to heal her. According to the story – Jesus came. He knelt down beside the girl and looked up into her face with his hand tenderly laid on her shoulder. I don’t know if the story is true, but if it is then this is exactly how it would happen. Jesus would not stand above, so that the girl could only see his feet, but he would kneel down and tenderly up look into her eyes as he healed her broken body.
This is one of the things that Jesus baptism tells me. It tells me of one who is willing to be humbled that we might be lifted up. It tells me of one whose love is willing to meet us where we are and lead us to where we belong.
In baptism, Jesus comes to us in our weakness, to share with us the power of God to be born into a new way of being. Jesus came to be our servant so that we might join him, our servant king in serving this world that God so loves.
So whether you are in a land of exile and life is a struggle, or whether you are in the promised land and all is well with you, or perhaps you have one foot in the land of promise while the rest of you is still in exile, look to Jesus, trust in him, and let his words, his truth, his Spirit live in you, that you might be a blessing wherever you are. Amen