January 12, 2014 – Baptism of Christ/Epiphany 2 – Cataumet UMC

Isaiah 42: 1-9, Acts 10: 34-43, Matthew 3: 13-17
“Bruised Reeds” – January 12, 2014

As always I agonized over my sermon or rather which direction I should go in. Should I use the scripture reading from Isaiah or the reading from Matthew? Reading them both several times it occurred to me, that they work together as a whole. In Matthew, Jesus is baptized, in Isaiah, the newly baptized Jesus is presented with the work or ministry which lies ahead of him.
I must confess my reading of Matthew left me confused.Why did Jesus wish to be baptized? Surely he being the son of God must be sinless, what did he have to wash away? He was baptized by John, who was equally puzzled and felt unworthy to baptize the man who would be his savior. What I found was Jesus did not want special treatment, in fact he was baptized with many others. What makes this significant is that Jesus was willing to stand with sinners, and be baptized. I doubt it was lost on Jesus that along with the baptism, he would very shortly become a part of these peoples lives in a way they could not imagine. Jesus even in these earliest days was making humility and respect corner stones of his ministry. Jesus was making another statement with his baptism, “This is important.” Jesus says these words to John, “I need to be baptized by you for it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness.” While ideas about baptism can be different and the urgency to be baptized has been diminished, Jesus wanted us to see how we are joined together by baptism. Whether Protestant or Catholic, with baptism we join in a sea of Christianity, that allows us to share and exchange those beliefs and faith that makes us Christians.
As a former Catholic, baptism was a sacrament not to be trifled with. Babies who passed away before being baptized went to limbo, limbo is no longer part of the church doctrine, falling out of favor with current church teachings. What I have for you today is my baptismal certificate. Reading it, makes it clear how important baptism was seen. I was born March 13th and baptized just 13 days later! Mom and Dad I suspect wanted to make sure my spiritual underpinnings were secure.
Baptism is one of those singular events in our lives that joins us with our fellow Christians. We may take a different spiritual path from our family, neighbors and friends, but we will always share the water poured over our foreheads, as we became part of the family of Christ.
Perhaps baptism is a ticket with no specific route, only a destination, a ticket with no expiration date, the fine print says only, to be used in time of joy, hardship, or sorrow. The ticket could be purchased wherever there is water and the love of God. The price is found in the eyes and love of our parents and all those who contribute to our spiral life.
Baptism, first sends us on our own spiritual journey, but ultimately joins us with all our fellow pilgrims.
What we have in Isaiah is a job description, it is Jesus’ job description. The trajectory of the life that will be Jesus’ can be seen in this quote from Martin Luther King: “The arc of the universe is long and it bends toward justice.” Jesus will talk with many people rich and poor, powerful and weak. But it is with the disenfranchised that Jesus is most comfortable and does his greatest work. Take these words from Isaiah: “I have put my spirit upon him: he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.”
Jesus will fulfill these words in just the way Isaiah describes, however there is one scene that reminds me that Jesus could be provoked and brought to anger, and that would be when he entered the temple and overturned the money changer’s tables. But in many ways the overturning of the tables was more the exception than the rule.
For me the bruised reed and dimly lit wicks are powerful metaphors for those less fortunate in our society. At first glance it seems obvious that the vulnerable and hurt should be the ones that Jesus should take care of. But reading more carefully, what Isaiah is saying is those who are in a difficult place should be hurt no further, no more bruises should be added to the ones already there. Jesus wanted to show us by example, how we should conduct ourselves as Christians. In previous sermons I have told you how my father would show us kids this is how you treat the people in your life. There are two phrases I can remember my father saying the first was: “Let’s not make this any more difficult for them.” The second phrase is demonstrated by a story my father would tell about a certain breakfast guest. My grandmother was widowed at 41 and left to raise 10 children, the youngest being six months old. As you can imagine breakfast could get quite hectic. There was a friend of my fathers who would let himself into the house early in the morning. When Dad and his siblings would come come down for breakfast, Dad’s friend Eddie would already be waiting at the table. So I’d ask my father, “Grammy would feed him? She already had 10 mouths to feed. Dad would look at me and say: “You couldn’t send the poor bugger away, who knows what his circumstances were.” Eddie could very easily have been that bruised reed Isaiah spoke of.
We are Christians, But Jesus wanted us to be more than that. Of course he wanted us to be believers – followers. But as Isaiah talks about the mission Jesus is on, it’s a mission we need to be on as well. The Thanksgiving dinner that Tom Spence puts together is exactly the kind of outreach Jesus wanted us to strive for. The mission Jesus was on, was to bring justice to those who are the weakest, Isaiah’s words make this mission very clear: “I have given you a covenant to the people, a light to nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out from prison those that sit in the darkness.”
The world we live in today is so far removed from that of Isaiah’s. However, certain problems remain the same, individuals, families, all needing help. So often we hear people say, this individual or that family, would be just fine if they pulled themselves together, “Put one foot in front of the other and move on.”
The bruised reed or dimly burning wick spoke to me on another level. We cannot be sure what has bruised these individuals, nor can we be sure what has dimmed them or their live’s prospects. All Jesus wanted us to see is that they are children of God, deserving of our support and respect. To damage them further or as my father said, “Make this anymore difficult,” is to diminish us as well as them.
As the years move on I realize how wise my parents were, maybe because they were children of the depression, and saw how people could be laid low through no fault of their own. This quote comes to me, when I consider how life can try us in so many ways: “By the grace of God go I.”
Getting back to Isaiah I consider this –
Isaiah’s words were a confirmation of the work that lay ahead for Jesus. But it was also a wake-up call for his followers. Being a Christian was not just coming to church and singing hymns on Sunday, it was a very real appeal , to take an even closer look at what Jesus expects of us in our everyday lives. What was going on in, “Eddie the breakfast guest’s” life, who can say, BUT Jesus knew and wanted us to know that there are Eddies and there will always be Eddies that need our support, our understanding, but also the love that we Christians bring into the world and to each other.
And may we all say, “Amen” to that…
– Charles Coombs