The first rule of medicine and all helping and advocacy professions is to “do no harm.” This is obviously a good guiding principle for pastors as well. The book of Isaiah describes the ideal servant of God as one who will not break “a bruised reed” nor snuff out “a dimly burning wick” (Isaiah 42:3). Any given Sunday, there are bruised reeds in the pews, listening, participating in worship who have been stepped on by circumstances, failing health, loss, by cruelty, abuse, exploitation, and discrimination. These bruised reeds need to hear a pastor who does not break them off with angry or rigid words, but helps them to heal and keep growing, reaching for the light. In every congregation, there are dimly burning wicks, those who just have a glimmer of faith, a tiny ember of hope, an aching, a yearning, a seeking in the soul which is all they can muster. These people need a pastor who doesn’t snuff out whatever dim light flickers within them, but ignites the sputtering flame. Unfortunately, hurtful words form pulpits of condemnation have far too often throughout history broken spirits and pushed good people away from God’s community.
The tenderness of Isaiah’s ideal servant arises from the experience of exile, from being violently conquered and hauled away to Babylon. This terrible experience of suffering awakens within the text the need for genuine responsive tenderness, not a reactionary bitterness. In much the same way today, I have found that I can only be effective after reflecting on my own suffering and being present to the suffering of others. My heart breaks for those who are weeping and it is my prayer that my relationship with you and my sermons reflect some of this need within us all to be and feel heard, equipping us to extend compassion to those in need. After all, compassion literally means “to suffer with.”
I think it’s revealing that Christ’s proclamation of the gospel was often accompanied by acts of compassion as he cures “every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23). I wonder how much Christ’s continual contact with those who were suffering shaped his voice as a preacher, how much his pastoral work kept his preaching from breaking bruised reeds and snuffing out dim wicks. Because Jesus was a preacher who did no harm, he was able to call people to the hard work of service and repentance, envisioning a new Kingdom. My prayer First Baptist is that we might be a congregation that is a safe place for bruised reeds and dimly burning wicks. Gathering together and support one another in the love and service of Christ. For “He (the Lord’s servant) will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.” Isaiah 42:4. As we embark upon the hard work of envisioning God’s design for our ministry together, let us commit listen and learn from each other, acknowledging our own fears and losses along this journey, reaching out with genuine compassion and a commitment to do no harm.
Painting, "He will not snuff out!" by Gwen Meharg
I'm a follower of Christ, husband, father, friend, pastor, story teller, asker of questions, inspired by biblical narratives, social justice advocate, sports enthusiast, drinker of over priced coffee and general seeker of God's redemptive possibilities. Yeah, that about covers it. (If you discover something else, let me know!)