Sermon Briefs: Isaiah 42:1-9
John Fry preached on this text under the title, Deafness1. The title came primarily from the other lection for the day, Matthew 9:27-34, Jesus' healing of a deaf mute.
Fry was the embattled white pastor of First Presbyterian Church in the Woodlawn area of Chicago during the turmoil of the 1960s. In the fifteen years before Fry arrived in 1965, Woodlawn had gone from totally white to almost totally black, and the church had declined from 2400 white members to 500, half white and half black. Because Fry associated with the notorious Blackstone Rangers gang in an attempt to bring peace to Woodlawn and Chicago, he was much despised by Mayor Richard J. Daly and the Chicago police and even summoned before Congress' McClellan Committee to justify himself. His thoughts on preaching2 and the recounting of his own sermonic training by George Buttrick and Paul Scherer at Union Seminary in New York in the 1950s are ex cellent reading for any preacher.
The sermon was preached following the Chicago police riot of 1968 and in the midst of more escalation of the Viet Nam war. Mayor Daly had just called for police to shoot arsonists and looters. It is a very current word for those of us who preach in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict and the Los Angeles riots of 1992.
Fry speaks of Jesus bringing justice to the world by giving voice to the voiceless and makes very clear that it is the responsibility of the followers of Christ to do the same. He speaks not just of physical muteness but of political and social and spiritual muteness as well. He warns that people who have no voice politically and socially, whose concerns are not heard, will eventually express themselves in violence. Christians must identify totally with the voiceless, not to speak for them, but to exorcise the demons of muteness. It is the Christian obligation, as individuals and congregations, to release prisoners from the dungeon of muteness.
Bishop Quayle picked out the third verse to preach on The Friend of the Bruised Reed.3 Quayle is a master of the word picture, showing animals coming down to the Jordan at night and crushing the reeds on their way to drink, painting the gentle scene of a strong man coming home in the evening and enclosing the weak, almost transparent, hands of his sick wife in his powerful hands. It is a type of preaching John Fry says we have gone beyond, but in its own way, it is as forceful as Fry's flat-out, pedal-to-the-metal prophecy.
Quayle's language is eloquent and elegant: "Gentleness is might grown tender." "The hands that squeezed the plastic stars into their present shape...are so gentle that when He puts thumb and finger on a bruised reed He doth heal it and not hurt it."
We can trust our wounds to Christ, says Quayle. The voice powerful enough to call the dead from the grave can also sing a baby to sleep. There are so many bruised folk that only God can count them, but the bruised folk can count on God. The bruised people have a Friend. When a life is polluted, God takes into account the sources of the pollution. The Good News is that the Friend of the bruised is also the Judge of the World. !-- Generation of PM publication page 5 --> This is such a beautiful sermon it made me happy that I'm bruised!
Bishop Tutu used this text in an address given to deacons in the Anglican Church of Lesotho on the eve of their ordination to the priesthood.4 Tutu's preaching is reminiscent of John Wesley's in that there is hardly a line in a Tutu sermon that does not use a biblical reference or allusion.
Here, says Tutu, are the characteristics God will develop in your lives if you are to be effective as priests: Gentleness and humility; faithfulness and discipline; courtesy and longsufferingness.
Gentleness and humility: You will be treated royally, for that's how your people will show their love for God. When they fix you fine meals, you must eat and eat, or you will hurt their feelings. (Wonderful advice!) But pray for the grace to be humble. Remember that you are there to serve the people, not vice versa. A person is a person only through other persons. A priest without a congregation is no priest. Don't be falsely modest, but remember that all you have is from God.
Isaiah says the chief attribute of the servant of God is gentleness. Look for the good in people rather than finding some reason to scold them.
Faithfulness and discipline: We are required to be faithful, not successful. Be disciplined in prayer, in visiting your people, in taking holidays.
Courtesy and longsufferingness: Even the poor and uneducated are important to God. As a priest you will suffer, but be faithful to the gospel. The crucifixion comes before the resurrection.
Henry Edward Manning, Archdeacon of Chichester, preached on The Gentleness of Christ,5 which Isaiah foretells in this passage. The source of Jesus' tenderness to sinners is the Divine Compassion. We see two great truths here: Jesus' gentle reception of sinners shows "that where there is so much as a spark of life in the conscience, there is possibility of an entire conversion to God." The only way to foster repentance is to accept sinners with gentleness.
John Robert McFarland
1. John R. Fry, Fire and Blackstone (Philadelphia & NY: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1969), p. 77ff. 2. Ibid., p. 20ff. 3. William A. Quayle, The Healing Shadow (NY & Cincinnatti: The Abingdon Press, 1923), p. 223ff. 4. Desmond Mpilo Tutu, Hope & Suffering (Johannesburg: Skotaville Publishers, 1983), p 17ff. 5. Henry Edward Manning, Sermons (NY: Stanford & Swords, 1848), p. 286ff.