A bruised reed he will not break…how do we follow that? Sermon for Baptism of Christ Sunday, Adel Parish Church


‘A bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not snuff out’…how do we follow that today?

Sermon for 12/1/20 at Adel Parish Church

Isaiah 42: 1-9;    Matthew 3: 13- end

Epiphany. It’s a bit of a strange season. Often ignored by squeezing the wise men into the Christmas crib, then packing them away with the tree. Or if people do know of it, it’s probably only as a celebration of those wise men. Yet there are 3 more weeks of the season to go.

Epiphany means manifestation, showing. It means realisation. The crib says God became a tiny baby. Epiphany begins to unpack something of what that means for us.

And today we get a surprising picture: Jesus, Son of God, lining up with repentant sinners to be baptised by his cousin…so unexpected that even John, one of the few to recognise Jesus for who he is, tries to stop him. Today we’re given a very alien notion of what a Lord and Saviour looks like.

So today we also hear Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant to help us to understand. In it God promises to send his chosen one, a light for the nations, who will bring forth justice. But how he will do it is not perhaps quite what we expect…‘a bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench.’

‘a bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench.’ It’s such a strange picture that it stuck in my mind.

A bruised reed – if it’s not to break needs support and protection. A dimly burning wick, if it’s to stay alight needs protection…needs oxygen.

God’s servant, it seems, is sent to minister to those who are bruised, breaking, flickering. The prophecy may have referred to God’s people the Israelites; it may have referred to Jesus. Either way, I think, it challenges us. We are God’s people today – we are followers of Jesus.

That’s had me wondering what nurturing and protecting bruised reeds and smoldering wicks might look like in our lives.

In the last couple of years I’ve had a twitter account on social media. I don’t use it much but I rather like the surprising things I see – posted by the few people I follow. I’m not entirely sure why, but these are mainly clergy and farmers. So my twitter feed is a slightly surreal mixture of sheep, obscure Anglican jokes and faith related articles.

The other day a reference to the Timpson chain popped up. You probably know them – once shoe menders, then key cutters, now dry cleaners…

…what made it interesting is that 10% of their workers are recruited directly from prisons. James Timpson talked about a chance encounter on a prison visit, which made him realise the vast pool of talent in prisons being discarded when all it needs is a bit of nurturing. Timpson’s now do that nurturing with a high success rate.

James’ father John Timpson fostered over 90 children and set up a trust, which supports looked after children. It also gives financial help to 2 schools. The two schools chosen were a failing school, and a school threatened with closure. Bruised reeds? Dimly burning wicks?

I don’t know whether they are Christians – but these actions, I think, show a counter cultural nurturing of the bruised and failing that all Christians could learn from.

But Timpson’s is, after all, a business. Elsewhere on their website they talk of only recruiting the most able, the most innovative and creative. Their business requires that the bruised and flickering have the right sort of potential…of course it does, they have to keep their business afloat.

But to really commit to ministering to the bruised reed, the dimly flickering wick, asks for something even more against the prevailing culture. It asks us not just to help those who have great potential but are going through a bad patch, or had a difficult start. It asks us to protect and support that wick – even if it will never burn very brightly.

Imagine ‘Strictly’ or ‘Bake-off’ where the best contestants were voted off, so those who were struggling could have more help…I’m not sure it would make great television…

…but perhaps in this Epiphany season we’re confronted by Jesus: the chosen one, the light for the nations, and reminded that his message of hope is particularly for the bruised and broken, the struggling and the weak.

Perhaps we’re asked to consider whom the bruised reed and dimly burning wick might be in our lives, and our society. The ones who seem to need help over and over, the ones it might be easy to give up on. Perhaps it asks us to consider how we might be asked to nurture and protect them.

I’m aware this is much easier to say than to do – especially perhaps for those working in business. I spent time the other day with someone whose job requires him to make people redundant…in order to safeguard the jobs of others.

Applying our faith to our work might be easier if we are say, nurses or teachers, or Rectors…but being Christian doesn’t mean much if we aren’t prepared to think about what it means in the real world, in everybody’s world.

Nurturing the bruised and flickering must be able to find some way into every job. I think though it also asks us to consider how our whole society might be changed…how we might work for a society where no one is ever written off, whether they seem to have potential or not.

This is a challenge, but it’s also good news for us when we for whatever reason are the bruised or the broken. Jesus’ message of salvation is then particularly for us.

This 2nd week of Epiphany we’re offered the revelation that God loves us and takes us seriously whatever…and as followers of Christ we’re asked to reveal that same love to others…in all aspects of our lives.


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