On Bruised Reeds and Dimly Burning Wicks and Watching for the Promise

Isaiah 42:1-9

I find myself living in the promises of the prophet Isaiah these days. Especially now I am buoyed up by the certainty that our bruised reeds will not be broken and that our dimly burning wicks will keep on burning. And oh, even as I say this I am looking around for signs that this is true. That the servant described today — whether that servant is Jesus or the community which holds us or something or someone other than what I can begin to imagine will somehow make it possible for us to keep on keeping on.

This is what I have seen.

In December I made a call on one of our ninety-plus-year-olds. Of late, her sight has been degenerating and no longer able to drive, she is not able to be with us at Sunday worship with any consistency. I took her communion that week before Christmas. (In the hour we shared, I also gleaned some tips from this first generation Norwegian immigrant on my own Christmas culinary preparations.) And I heard parts of her story I had not heard before. For she spoke to me on a cloudy December afternoon of her childhood in Norway. A childhood marked and shaped by the invasion and subsequent occupation of the Nazis.

  • She told of how her dad and uncle who worked together on a whaling boat had lost their lives when they were bombed by Nazis. And of how her future husband was part of the resistance, living then in the mountains with others like him who were working against the evil which had come to their homeland.
  • She spoke of how she and her mother and younger sister were able to survive those lean years which followed with the help of relatives who lived in the country and brought in fresh produce and flour when they came to town.
  • She recounted her own naivete the first time she looked up at the sky to see a plane with a swastika painted on the bottom and how she could not fathom what it was.

And she told me this. That in Norway the Royal Air Force bombed oil refineries to keep them out of the hands of the Nazis. In order to accurately hit their targets, they set lanterns around the perimeters covered by billowing white parachutes so as to signal precisely where to drop their bombs and not destroy or harm anything else. In those hard years after the war when no other suitable material was available, her wedding dress was made from some of that same parachute silk. She took me to a back bedroom where I held it in my hands.

I could not help but think that even after these more than seventy years, in spite of all that would snuff it out, the light of hope still shines in her. No doubt that light has been sustained by the promises which hold us even now.

And this.

I sat down with a precious friend this week. Over free coffee in the hospital cafeteria Pastor Joe and I put our heads together for an hour or more. He and I are about as different as we can be from one another.

  • Joe is a Baptist pastor. I am Lutheran.
  • He is bi-vocational where I am privileged to serve a congregation which can support me full time.
  • He is younger than I am by quite a few years.
  • And he is black while I am white.

We have been at this conversation for some time and while I like to think I am somewhat sophisticated by now in the language of power and privilege and in my understanding of how racism is surely systemic in the country and communities which have influenced us in such different ways, I am still learning. And Joe lets me learn. He lets me ‘think out loud with him’ and never, ever, ever says anything which would move to snuff out that dimly burning wick of my own growth. He is a wonderful partner in the work and I am ever grateful for this one who always listens and responds with such grace. In some ways, at least in how he is with me, he acts as the Servant in Isaiah’s resounding promise. Even as we are all called to be and do. And oh, I hope I am half as much this for him.

And finally this.

I made a call this week on a woman who is dying too young of a cancer from which she has suffered for too long. Options have run out and by her own clear and strong decision, the move has been made to hospice care.

She is at home where caregivers arrive daily while her husband is at work. Over the holidays, her two young adult children were there as well. They are too young to be making this journey — one, which one of them said to me a while back, they have seen coming for a long time, but (of course) have no experience for what happens next.

I swung by the house the other afternoon at her daughter’s invitation. As I walked up the front walk, I could hear the delicate melody of a flute — played then I knew, by her youngest, her son. He is a talented musician whose gifts I have heard shared countless times before but never as poignantly as it sounded then. He was filling his childhood home with beautiful music in the very room next to the one where his mother will likely soon die. Indeed, it was all I could do to catch my breath and ring the doorbell.

And I thought again of these powerful words from the prophet:

“A bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.”

And, oh, how I pray this will be so for thisĀ  young man and his older sister and her husband and their dad and their precious mother. Bruised, oh yes, they surely are. And the light grows dim at times no doubt. But they keep on. Still sharing the music they have always loved. Still taking the next step in front of them. Sinking themselves deep into the gifts of one another and the communities and the community of faith and the powerful gift of faith which has held them for so long.

I listened as he played his flute and I heard the promise coming true. By God’s grace and power this one will not break, this one will not be quenched. Right there before my eyes. Right there within reach of my own hearing on a cold January afternoon.

May this be so.

Oh, may this be so for all of us in the midst of all that would break us, in the face of all that would quench these sometimes fragile flames of faith and hope and promise.

May this be so especially for you.

  • Where have you seen this promise coming true? Where have you encountered the Servants of whom the Prophet speaks this week?
  • Who has taken care not to snuff out your own dimly burning wick, not to break what is already bruised in you?
  • And for whom are you called to do the same? Where is your community of faith called to do the same?