Baptism of our Lord (Epiphany 1)
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Isaiah 42:1-9 Sermon
January 9, 2011
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
128 "Brightest And Best"
129 "Hail Thou Source Of Every Blessing"
---- "When Christ Our Lord To Jordan Came"
---- "Now Honor The Lord"
---- "To Jordan's River Came Our Lord"
TEXT (v. 3): “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”
This morning, I’m going to introduce you to a guy named Augie. Augie’s parents, Pat and Monica had a mixed marriage. Monica was a devout Christian woman, but Pat was an out-and-out pagan. Monica was bound and determined to raise young Augie as a Christian. And Pat agreed, mainly to keep his wife happy and keep peace in the household.
So when Augie was born, he was baptized shortly thereafter. And Monica, keeping true to the Lord’s command to baptize and teach, began to faithfully school him in the Christian faith.
Augie was an extremely bright and gifted student, and definitely a great example of a precocious child. So at the age of 11, his mother decided to send him away to a school 19 miles away, where he could further develop his scholastic abilities. He made excellent grades, and was able to master pretty much all of his subjects.
It was no wonder then that he was accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in the area. And as you can imagine, he soaked up everything like a sponge.
He had experienced a fair bit of secular schooling during his early teen years, which piqued his curiosity. But since he was still living at home, his mother Monica was always able to keep him on the right path.
But now he was at the university, and his mother was still at home. And that’s when young Augie, now in his late teens, began to change some things about his life. He discovered some new things in several areas. First, he became more and more intrigued with a non-Christian religion, and wound up joining that group. And then he discovered two other life-changing things: alcohol and sex. And he loved both of them with a passion!
It was nothing for Augie to go on binges for an entire weekend—and occasionally during the week as well. He would begin right after class on Friday, and not come home until Sunday night when he’d drag himself back to his room. And what a sight he was! He had beard stubble, his hair was a mess, and his clothes were all disheveled. The odor that accompanied him was a shocking combination of stale tobacco, alcohol, vomit, and urine. His friends would take him, remove his soiled clothes, scrub him up, and put him to bed so he could sleep it off. And in such a state, he had many hours of which he had no recollection.
His sexual escapades weren’t very nice either. He basically had sex with every woman he could find. As was the case with many of them, he never even knew so much as their first name. And a lot of them he couldn’t remember having sex with at all. He was a willing participant in wild orgies with entire groups of people, and…well, I think you get the idea of what was going on.
Then when he was just about 20 years old, he did meet up with a woman many years his senior, whom he cared for. He never married her, but they did have a son together, and they remained together for about 13 years. And even with this, Augie continued with his binge drinking and having gratuitous sex with many different partners.
Augie’s new “religion” (if you want to call it that), allowed him to live this hedonistic lifestyle with no compunction whatsoever about what he was doing.
But remember Augie was a very bright person too; and so he graduated the university with high honors. He then got a teaching position at a university in another town.
Monica, Augie’s mother was absolutely heart-broken over what had become of her son. The only thing she could think of to do was to pray. And pray she did! And the more trouble Augie got into, the more she prayed.
Finally out of desperation, she moved to the same town where her son was living. She felt that perhaps she could be a better influence on him if she were closer. Augie had become somewhat discouraged with the brand of religion he was practicing, and was beginning to explore other options. Monica felt that maybe her prayers were finally being answered.
A lot of things began to happen. He was introduced to a Christian man by the name of Ambrose. And as gifted as Augie was, Ambrose was even more gifted. This got him going in a different direction.
Several years later after experiencing various crises in his life, Augie went back to Christianity, and embraced the faith he had learned as a child from his faithful mother Monica. And from that point on, he gave up is wayward and hedonistic lifestyle, and devoted his life to serving the one true God.
It’s incredible, isn’t it, how dramatic some of these stories can be. You often read about people who have turned their life around in one way or another. Young Augie was heading down the path of self-destruction, and we can readily see that. His life was being consumed by alcohol, sex, and a heathen religion that allowed him to do that. His great mind was something that Satan wanted to use for his own purposes.
But God had other ideas, as we can now see. Augie’s mother Monica never gave up, and we know that God didn’t give up either. So let’s leave Augie and Monica in the background for awhile as we look at our text for today.
The portion of our Old Testament Lesson that I’m focusing upon today is a very short and profound line we find in the middle of a prophecy about Jesus. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” Those words are very true, as we can see by what happened with young Augie.
The prophet Isaiah wrote our Old Testament Lesson for today, and he did so over 600 years before the birth of Jesus. This whole section describes what Jesus had come to this earth to do. He went in search of those who needed him in the worst way.
Matthew records a particularly grueling encounter Jesus had with the Pharisees. He had healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, which was supposed to be a day of almost complete inactivity as far as the Pharisees were concerned. They ask him point-blank: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
Then Jesus uses an example of a sheep falling into a pit. If this happened with one of the Pharisees sheep, would that Pharisee go and pick it up, or just let it lie there and die? The question has an obvious answer. Jesus responds with the logical conclusion in Matthew chapter 12 verse 12: “Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Jesus knew these Pharisees were out to try to trap him, so he leaves the situation behind him. Instead of standing up and arguing and doing battle, he simply goes away.
Matthew chapter 11 verses 28-30 gives us a little more insight on the purpose and method of Jesus’ ministry. He says, ”28Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Jesus seeks those who are weak and weary. Jesus wants those who are completely crushed by sin’s burden. Jesus wants to take that burden from our shoulders, and completely unencumber us. The only burden we have is faith, which is really no burden at all.
Verse 3 of our Old Testament Lesson has a great amount of value for us to remember. It says, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”
There are those times when we have given up on God, completely given up on him. We have followed our own desires, and we’ve sinned boldly far too many times. Or we think that he isn’t around because he doesn’t work the way we think he should be working. And so we turn and walk away from him, trying to find something better, trying to find something that will suit our own sinful desires.
But the great thing about our text for today is knowing that regardless of what we do or how far we wander, no matter how many times we have turned our back on God, he has never, ever left us. When we have given up hope on him, he has never given up hope on us. We’re far too valuable and precious to him for him to ever desert us. Hebrews chapter 13 verse 5 reminds us of Jesus’ promise: "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
In verse 6 of our Old Testament Lesson for today, God makes basically the same promise to us: “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you….”
The gracious and loving actions of our God can be seen over and over again. That’s why regardless of how often we have turned away from him, God is always right there behind us with open arms, ready to love us and receive us back each and every time.
That’s why we have a Saviour. He’s there for us. He’s paid the price for our sins, all of them, regardless of how many or how severe they might be. Forgiveness and life is what Jesus is all about. And this is what we have through faith alone.
One especially comforting thought is that when we come to Jesus, we don’t have to worry about being lectured or scolded by him. He isn’t going to shake his finger at us or upbraid us because of our past. When it comes to our sins, Jesus in effect says, “Hey forget about it; I’ve got that all taken care of for you. Just believe in me, and this is all yours.” Could we have anything better than this?
This past Friday, I conducted a rather large funeral for a man I have known for about the past 11 years. He was a friend of mine, although he hadn’t set foot in a church in years. This was one of those funerals that I probably wouldn’t have done, had he not been a friend of mine.
The only real hope I could give that family was verse 3 of our Old Testament Lesson for this morning: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”
I knew he had a faith of some description by our conversations, but I had no idea where his heart was when he died. But thankfully, I do not have that ability. Instead, I knew of his upbringing. He was baptized as a child in a Lutheran Church in Iowa, and attended a Lutheran School. He received the Holy Spirit at his baptism, and this was enforced and nurtured in his schooling. He knew who Jesus was, and what Jesus did for him. But did he have a saving faith when he died? That’s for God to decide.
However, if he had a faith that could be compared to a bruised reed or a smoldering wick, then that is a faith God can use for a saving faith. God never gives up on somebody, even when we give up on him.
The Apostle Paul shares this same thought in Philippians chapter 1 verse 6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” And that’s exactly what happened to young Augie. Ah yes, remember Augie? I’m sure you figured out that there had to be more to the story than what I told you.
You see, Augie wasn’t someone from a small town in Nebraska going to UNL and wandering off the path, but the man we know as St. Augustine, who would become one of the most influential and respected theologians back in the 4th century right on through this present day. He authored about a hundred different books, and defended the faith in the face of some very stiff opposition.
So you see what God can do when he promises not to break the bruised reed or snuff out that smoldering wick? Augustine’s story isn’t unique either. God has worked the same way in the lives of many who would become his faithful disciples.
This is what he does for you and me as well. We might give up on God, but he never gives up on us. Through the Holy Spirit, our faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour is preserved and increased. Our sins are forgiven. Our lives are restored. And we can be sure that he will never ever leave us or take that from us.