Broken People and Smoldering Wicks

In our contemporary society there pervades an underlying, slow burning eremacausis of anxiety. It’s like we are collectively standing on an iced-over lake that has hitherto always supported us, but now we hear the ice cracking. The optimistic among us rejoice, assuring us that the cracking will soon plummet us into a more just and gentle world. Others of us fear that soon we will be plunged into the icy waters of anarchy, totalitarianism, and chaos. Still others deny the loud cracking sounds, insisting that all is well. The sky is not falling. 

Denial notwithstanding, we collectively feel the disquiet in our spirits, the unease in our bones. We know, at least in part, from whence comes the fear – it is coming from a global pandemic spread by asymptomatic people, from civil unrest, from economic recession, from political malpractice, lack of moral leadership, and intergenerational oppression. Anger, backlash, violence, racism, and uncertainty – disquiet reins in our souls. The unrepented national sins of genocide and slavery are yet to be atoned for. The chickens are coming home to roost. 

The ice really is cracking. All that we have taken for granted – public health, the supremacy of the United States, ever-increasing economic prosperity, power in the hands of white men, statuary, civil peace, baseball – is shattering, breaking apart, falling.

It feels like we are being hit from all sides. The ice is cracking! What should we do? Run for our lives? Freeze with fear? Work to get more ice? Take a chance that the coming plunge won’t be so bad? Choose someone to blame? Double down on an escapist theology? 

We can’t wish it away. We can’t vote it away. We don’t seem to be able to even pray it away. Almost daily, another loud crack reminds us of how precariously we stand, how fragile we are as individuals and as a society.

God is allowing everything that can be shaken, to be shaken, so that only that which cannot be shaken will be left. Thank God, we who follow Jesus have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken. (See Hebrews 12:25-29)

Perhaps the best thing that could ever happen to us would be the complete collapse of the American empire with its militarism, capitalism, and racist history. Then, perhaps, we might realize that we are all broken and need Jesus. 

A broken and contrite heart Thou wilt not despise

We are all broken.

Some of us were broken well before COVID-19 and mass protests – some of us have been shattered by loss, bereavement, grief, depression, anxiety, addiction, poor health, economic struggle, marriage failure, estrangement, or victimization. Some of us were damaged by poverty, others by racism, still others by neglect or abuse. Some of the already broken are easy to find – they are in refugee camps, prisons, hospitals, wheelchairs, nursing homes, and mental health clinics; they are standing in unemployment lines and eating at soup kitchens, sleeping in homeless shelters, or attending AA meetings. Others are weeping alone in the darkness.

Others of us were doing pretty well until society fell apart. Now it seems like we’re all broken. We are anxious, afraid, perplexed, angry, tired, confused, and disoriented. 

We react to brokenness differently. Some of us become depressed, others withdraw, others throw themselves into a cause célèbre. Some of us are sad; some of us are angry; some of us have given up. Those who shout the loudest insisting they are strong are likely the most broken of all. 

It’s normal to be broken. It’s ok to be broken. Jesus came specifically for the broken. 

The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. The healthy feel no need for the Great Physician. 

Isaiah 42: Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
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 faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
    until he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

The thin wispy stalk of a cattail in a swamp, now snapped, bent, broken, perhaps by a storm, destined to wither and die, no longer able to hold its head up – the smoldering candle, its wick extinguished, perhaps by calloused fingers, no longer capable of gracing the table with light – useless. 

A life crushed by life. No strength. No light.

Jesus comes without any ostentation or fanfare, without holding any rallies or fundraisers, not needing any political party to endorse or protect him. With humble authority, he comes.  

Jesus comes. Gracious, kind, tender, loving, with no condemnation, never rejecting – Jesus comes and gently embraces the broken stalk. Healing power flows into it; cells align; xylem and phloem pulsate with cruciform healing virtue.

Jesus comes. Caring, compassionate, gentle, devoted and lovingly, tenderly cups his hand around the smoldering wick while gently breathing life into it. A spark, a flame, warmth, light, a glow of peace.

And he does it over and over – never growing weary, never getting fed up or discouraged – repeatedly healing, bringing life and love, grace and forgiveness, mercy and kindness to the broken. Jesus’ heart moves with compassion for shepherd-less sheep, ravaged by the wolves of religion, empire, oppression, and sin, scattered, bleeding, dying on the hillsides. He leaves the 99, gently carries the wounded in his bosom, cares for them like a nursing mother, protects them like a mother hen, never giving up, time after time, wound after wound, he heals the brokenhearted, restores the broken reed, enflames the cold heart. 

The story is told of an early 20thcentury European immigrant who scrimped and saved every mite to buy passage on a steamship to the United States. With no money in his pockets, he subsisted the entire voyage on stale crackers and discarded scraps. He would often gaze longingly through the window at the passengers dining on sumptuous abundance, crystal glasses tinkling, silver forks in lush desserts. On the last day of the two-week voyage, he was doing just that when a ship’s officer spotted him, opened the door, and invited him into the dining room.

“I can’t afford the meals,” he protested.

“But sir,” replied the officer, “all meals were included in the price of your ticket.”

Like that man, I too often try to subsist on the stale crumbs of religion when the luxurious banquet of grace is spread before me.

“Come to me,” Jesus calls lovingly. “Come to me if you’re broken, bruised, afraid, lonely, angry, confused, or weary. Come to me – feast at the banquet of love, healing, wholeness, lovingkindness, forgiveness, and grace. Come! Do not run from my love, child. Let me hold you. Let me heal you. I never break bruised reeds. I never quench smoking wicks.”

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist Jesus Freak Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, husband, father, grandfather

Posted on July 5, 2020, in anabaptist, apologetics, Bible, Bible Teaching, bodily resurrection, Christianity, creation, Jesus, Justice, Kingdom Life, kingdom of God, parables, Peace Shalom Hesed, Poetry, Prayer, Prophecy, Spirituality, The Cross, Theodicy, Worship. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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