42: 1-9; Hebrews 5: 1-10; John 20: 19-23
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The readings we have just heard are most appropriate for
what we do here today in the ordination of our brother in
Christ, Wade Fahnstock, to the Sacred Order of Deacons.
When Isaiah wrote about the way God would act for the world,
he saw God working through a servant figure. Several sections
from his scroll are songs about this servant whom God would
send, not just for Israel, but for all people and nations.
When the early church reflected on these prophecies, they
could see how Jesus was so incredibly like that suffering
servant in Isaiah. In fact Jesus quoted passages from the
Servant Songs to describe his ministry. Today's passage from
Isaiah 42 is one of those songs. In describing the One who
will serve God and people, the prophet uses some interesting
"A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering
wick he will not snuff out. Or to paraphrase it: "He
won't exploit the vulnerability of damaged people, or squeeze
the last drops out of those who are running on empty."
That would make this savior figure quite unlike any leader,
prophet, teacher or hero people would expect. He would not
be like a charismatic politician making a big noise about
himself and pushing himself forward for attention. He would
not be like a revolutionary fighter prepared to trample people
underfoot. But he would challenge our basic assumptions about
success, happiness and greatness. Many would reject God's
long-suffering Servant; but others, especially the poor,
the oppressed, the outcast, the grieving, the blind, the
prisoners, and all the other millions who get a rough deal
in this world - they would trust and welcome this special
Servant of God. They would see in him One who both shared
their pain, and also sought their healing.
The image of the bruised reed may at first seem strange.
But picture, if you can, Palestinian children playing
by a river bank with the reeds growing in the shallow water.
These reeds make great flutes, so the kids cut them down and
hollow them out. But not all of these reeds are suitable.
Many are less than perfect. If the kids come across one that
is cracked or bruised, they simply break it in half and toss
it away. After all, they need reeds of a certain quality
in order to make a flute that plays well. Cracked or bruised
reeds are worthless. They're thrown away and eventually ground
into the mud. The metaphor of the lamp is easier to understand,
even in our age of electricity. A lamp wick that no longer
burns brightly is discarded - even though when trimmed it
can continue being useful. Both these images refer to people
who are bruised and discouraged - people who are considered
expendable regardless of their needs, experience or past
These are the people who are pushed aside, pushed to the
background, or simply ground down underfoot. All around us
people are disposed of as soon as they cease to perform at
their optimum level. Whether it's in business, the entertainment
industry, or sports, yesterday's stars can overnight become
expendable. There's no room for sentiment and no respect
for past services. Should the light start to flicker or the
reed become bruised, it's out with the old and in with the
new. Our world seems to relish pointing out people's weaknesses,
their bruises and faults, and relegating them to the scrap
Jesus didn't measure people in this way. The bruised and
burnt-out people were safe in his hands. They weren't disposable.
Isaiah was right on the money in his anticipation of God's
chosen Servant. Our wounds and bruises and fractures are
safe in the hands of Christ. The one who stood in line with
the commoners at the Jordan River to be baptized, was also
the healer of hurts, the friend of outcasts, the hope of
the handicapped, and the joy of the meek, the poor, the sad
and the persecuted. God in Jesus takes us, and works precisely
through our weakness and wounds: forgiving, restoring, guiding,
empowering - his grace shows best in our weakness.
The church has an important ministry to offer the world:
a respect for the significance of each individual - a significance
not based on people's "productivity", but on their
intrinsic value in the eyes of their Creator
and Redeemer. Jesus was in the business of healing and affirming
those who were bruised, broken and burnt out. So are we.
There's a story about a collector of antique books having
a conversation with a friend. This friend had apparently
just thrown away a Bible that had been stored in the attic
of his family home for generations. "I couldn't even
read it," the friend explained. "Somebody named
Guten-something had printed it." "Not Gutenberg!" the
book collector exclaimed in horror. "That Bible was
one of the first books ever printed. Why, it could have been
worth millions!" His friend was unimpressed. "Mine
wouldn't have brought a dollar. Somebody named Martin Luther
had scribbled all over it in German." How many people
are discarded, dismissed and swept aside, because we never
take the time to see them for the treasure they really are?
The very things that make them appear worthless to the uncaring,
unseeing eye, can in fact turn out to be their greatest gift.
Our ministry is to continue what Christ, the servant, began.
It is a ministry of justice-making, compassion and healing
of those who have been bruised and wounded by life.
Our brother Wade is being ordained as a transitional Deacon,
which means he is in training to become a priest in the Church
of God. And I might add that he has a wise and able mentor
in my dear friend Father Rick. In our reading from Hebrews,
we learn what a priest really is. Perhaps you think of a
priest as a man wearing black with his collar turned backwards,
but that has nothing to do with priesthood. Perhaps you think
the purpose of a priest is to baptize, marry, and bury, or,
as someone has put it, "to hatch, match, and dispatch." But
that is not the task of a priest. The qualifications for
a priest are right there in the 5th chapter of Hebrews:
A priest is to be taken from among the people, in order to
represent the people. To this end the Lord Jesus laid aside
his glory as God, and humbled himself and became a man. He
entered the human race as a baby.
Second, a priest must offer sacrifices, that is, he must
deal with the problem that separates man from God. He must
come to grips with the awful universal problem of guilt,
for this is the cloud over our lives that haunts us, stays
with us, dogs our footsteps, and brings us into bondage every
way we turn. We all suffer in one way or another from a sense
of guilt. The answer to guilt is life sacrificed and a priest
must therefore offer sacrifice. Jesus fulfilled this on the
cross when he himself became not only the priest but the
Victim. He offered himself as a sacrifice for us.
The third qualification of a priest is that he must himself
be beset with weakness and sin in order that he might understand
the problems of others. This is the area the devil seizes
upon to dislodge our faith when we come into times of intense
pressure and trial. We must turn to God for strength during
times of weakness and temptation.
The fourth qualification of a priest is that he must be appointed
by God. No man can ordain priests, only God can. The purpose
of a priest, then, is to cleanse and strengthen, to make
us fit for life.
And finally, our Gospel reading takes us to the locked room
where the disciples were hiding in fear. But they rejoiced
when our Lord appeared among them and said “Peace be
with you.” They were startled by this sudden appearance
of Jesus, because the doors were closed and locked. We may
have envisioned Jesus somehow passing through these doors.
But I wonder if Jesus was not there all along from the moment
of the resurrection and that suddenly he made himself visible
to them. This would surely be in line with what he had promised
when he said, "Where
two or three are gathered together in my name, there will
I be in the midst of them" This is true today. We have
that assurance that Jesus is present here with us this evening.
"Peace be with you." What a wonderful greeting! Peace,
inner calmness, is our inheritance. I sometimes wonder if that
is not the most desirable trait possible in this hurly-burly,
restless age in which we live. It is very hard these days to
find someone who has the gift of inner calm. Yet I believe
with all my heart that this is the right of every believer.
You have the right to claim this inner peace which our Lord
speaks of here. That is his resurrection gift to us.
And then he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive
the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are
forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
Just as the coming of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism
by John marked the beginning of his ministry, so this breathing
of the Spirit marks the beginning of the ministry of these
disciples. What is this ministry? Jesus tells us in these
words, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." What
a beautiful phrase that is! Just as he drew his very life
from the Father, so we are to draw our life from the Son.
Just as he was sent into a lost world to touch the broken
lives of people -- to heal, to open blind eyes and to set
captives free -- so are we to go with the word of the gospel,
doing the same work that Jesus was sent to do. Jesus himself
is the model of our ministry. Just as he went, so are we
to go. Just as he was empowered by the Spirit, so are we
empowered by the Spirit. Just as he reached out to the broken
lives around him, so are we to do this.
And now I want to speak directly to soon to be Deacon Wade.
This is a very special day for you. We are all baptized and
sent out to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. In a special
way, our deacons are sent out into the world to be in the
service of others. And it is in this world that we find two
basic attitudes that are a challenge for all Christians,
and a great challenge for deacons. The first is that we live
in a society, especially in this country, that is so heavily
success-oriented. We live in a culture and society in which
the search for power and success is so much a part of what
we are all about. And second, we live in a culture and society
in which there is brokenness. There is an enormous amount
of suffering and pain, of loneliness and isolation. And yet
Jesus sends us, and sends you, into the church and into the
world, with the friendship of Christ and the sense of committed
service to stand in contrast to success and power, and brokenness.
That is your call. And we celebrate that call today, but
it is not an easy call. In spite of the attitude that people
must attain success at any cost, disciples of Jesus must
Pray for a humble and serving heart my friend.
We go into the world with no focus on ourselves. We go into
the world with our focus on others, to see in each person
the face of Jesus. To be rejected, to be neglected, that
we might help others achieve their potential. As a deacon,
you must become a reconciler in a broken world. You must
always be there for the sick, the hungry, the oppressed,
to bring hope to the hopeless.
So go with God, my brother. And pray for me, a sinner.
Rev. Fr. Will Smith is Vicar of St. Jude's Old Catholic
Mission in Houston, TX