March 26, 2018 - Monday in Holy Week
© 2018 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
But here is my servant, the one I uphold;
my chosen, who brings me delight.
I’ve put my spirit upon him;
he will bring justice to the nations.
He won’t cry out or shout aloud
or make his voice heard in public.
He won’t break a bruised reed;
he won’t extinguish a faint wick,
but he will surely bring justice.
He won’t be extinguished or broken
until he has established justice in the land.
The coastlands await his teaching. Isaiah 42:1-4 (CEB)
I am a yeller. Elizabeth is a yeller. When things aren't going well at our house, the neighbors, if they happen to be in their back yards or walking down the street, can probably hear us. With four children ten-years-old and under, there's a lot of yelling in our house. In the short term, an elevated voice might help get the order we're after, but it does no good in the long term. Like a closed system, when we add the energy of parental yelling, that energy has no where to go except in our children's behavior. Even though order is our goal, the more disturbance we bring the more disturbance we get. So powerful is that effect that, if I walk into a house filled with yelling and try to calm everyone down, reminding them that yelling won't help, within five minutes I am guaranteed to be yelling, too. It is contagious.
Who is God's chosen one? Who is God's servant? The one who comes to bring God's justice to the nations but who brings it so gently that he raises not his voice in the streets. He doesn't cry aloud as so many prophets have done. He seeks no public audience for a harangue. So gentle is he that he wouldn't even break a bruised reed or extinguish a faint wick. That is the one comes to establish God's justice.
Some churches use oil-filled candles. We use ones made of wax. Occasionally the acolyte lights the candle but the melting wax pools around the wick, choking its flame down to a bare flicker. The congregation may think that the candle is out, but, without stopping the service to trim the candle and expose more wick, the flame will never grow. Even the slightest burst of wind from the air conditioner could put it out, but it still flickers and smolders for God to see.
The prophet Isaiah envisioned a humble servant who would bring God's justice to the earth. That servant would be "a light to the nations" so that blind eyes would be opened and prisoners would be set free and those trapped in dark dungeons would come out into the light of life. The hope for justice and freedom and was familiar, but the means that God would use was new. How could anyone win victory over God's warring enemies with gentleness? How will prisoners be led out of captivity by one who won't even raise his voice? How can freedom be guaranteed by one who is so careful not to extinguish a smoldering wick? Because gentle justice is contagious, too.
The prophet could not have seen the Christological answer he foretold, but, when we look at the ministry of Jesus, we see one whose gentleness has the power to transform the world. The justice that he brings is slow-developing. Frustrating to many of his followers, his victory is won in gradual transformation. Those who wield power in his name do not really know him. Those who attempt to champion his cause with raised voices and clenched fists betray him. Only those who embrace the Crucified One and who celebrate the path of martyrdom that he establishes by lavishing upon him the treasure of our lives can claim to be his followers.
This annual journey through Holy Week is a journey toward justice. As God's people, we are shaped by this pilgrimage, and, through it, we and the world are molded by God into vessels for God's justice. One cannot journey through this week and think that the transformation we experience comes to us by force. So gentle and careful is it that we might finish this year's journey and not even notice a change. But submitting to the path of gentle justice has its effect on us. Gentleness is contagious. Justice is, too.