A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out… (Isaiah 42:3)
Some days, I wonder if “church” is worth the trouble. Don’t get me wrong; I love my church. I am crazy about the people God has sent our way. But I’ll confess that sometimes I wonder how this thing we do fits into the grand scheme of things. Sometimes it feels like a drop in a bucket. Sometimes it feels like even less than that.
Then days like yesterday happen. Yesterday, we baptized some people and helped some others renew their commitment to Christ. I got to thinking about the collection of those people and somewhere in that thought I got a little renewal of my own.
These five people represent the best our church has to offer. One is the son of recently divorced parents. He lives with his mother, who struggles to make ends meet, and a brother who was baptized earlier this year. When he told me his salvation story recently, I realized that for him, the church was The Church. Before one of our folks invited them to Mosaic, his family hadn’t been in church at all. After settling in, he became part of our mentoring ministry, spending time with older guys who pour into him spiritually. He got involved with our youth ministry and began taking mission trips and that’s where he found the Holy Spirit. Our community raised him up spiritually. When he came up out of that water yesterday, he exclaimed, “Wow! That was awesome!” You got the sense that something real had happened.
Then we baptized another young man, this one the product of a broken family and the foster care system. He was eventually adopted into a loving home, but he is emotionally troubled. He struggles with explosive anger and other emotional disorders. On his good days, he is bright and thoughtful. When we talked before his baptism, I asked him what his deepest need is. He responded, “Something that is impossible. A cure.”
There were treasures, too, among those remembering their baptisms yesterday as they renewed their faith. One is a man who laid down alcohol in January this year after decades of addiction. As his sobriety sinks in, so does the Holy Spirit. The texture of his communications with me are rich. He is full and happy for the first time in his life and it shows.
A mother and teacher of preschoolers was also among that group yesterday. Though they’ve been married for decades Mosaic is their first experience with “church.” They are a nice couple with a close-knit family. Good people. And now, they are learning the Bible, learning grace, learning the walk of faith, learning the difference between “good” and “redeemed.”
And then there was the woman who changed her name. When I met her earlier this year, she was just back from a stay in a psychiatric care facility and barely hanging on. She deals with bi-polar disorder and had recently attempted suicide. Like the young man, on her good days she is a beautiful and bright woman with a lovely spirit. She has a nursing degree and teaches Zumba classes. So full of potential, she is raising two beautiful young children who are disarmingly loving and free-spirited.
But bi-polar disorder is painful and she has struggled with it her whole adult life. Yesterday, she asked if we could pronounce a new name over her as part of her journey toward healing and wholeness. What she asked of the community is biblical. More than once, God changed people’s names (Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul) when he transformed them and called them into service. I found her request to be a rare and honest expression of faith in the God Who Makes All Things New.
When Isaiah was deep into the work of penning a weighty bit of prophecy about the coming Messiah, he took time to describe how this Redeemer would deal with people. He said He would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick.
Glenn Penton writes about this. In the days of Isaiah, shepherds would pass the time out in the fields by making a simple flute out of a reed. It was something to do, but also a kind of protection. They’d play it at night to let predators know that the sheep were not alone out there. But a reed flute being played by a boy-shepherd is not going to last long. It gets bent, stepped on, bruised.
Rather than trying to save a broken flute, the shepherd would toss it and make a new one. Same with their candles. They’d make cheap candles by floating a piece of flax in oil. Flax makes a great flame but when the oil gets low, the flax falls over into the oil and then you just get smoke. It is easier to make a new candle than to fish out a smoldering flax and repair it.
God told Isaiah we would know the Messiah by the way he treats the broken reeds and damaged wicks — the ones with personality disorders and bi-polar conditions and divorce and addiction and poverty. For all the world cares, reeds and wicks are disposable. “Toss these, and get new ones.” That’s the world’s take on those who are banged up, stepped on, bruised. Face down and smoldering.
But that’s not the way it works in the Kingdom of God. The true Messiah sees hope in even the most hopeless souls, and by His power makes all things new. He specializes in the reclamation of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. He makes things and people work again.
And this is what makes Christmas worth doing. Because at its core, it is so much more than warm feelings, family dinners and big gifts. Christmas is God stepping in when all hope seems lost to rescue the ones the world would just as soon give up on.
Christmas is for the people who got washed in the waters of baptism at my church yesterday. Those people are treasures in the Kingdom of God and they are what make Christmas worth the time and “church” worth the trouble.
What a gift. What a joy.