One of my favorite things is to preach good news about Jesus on the street. Frankly, I’m not super good at it. I’m not trying to be humble, I just know that there are others better suited for this particular task. Nevertheless, I love doing it because it feels so right to bring hope to hopeless places.
Pretty much everyone agrees that the Tenderloin is the most hope-deprived neighborhood in San Francisco. It’s kind of the last stop for people who’ve passed through all the less degraded places in the City. Most everyone here sleeps in doorways, in overcrowded shelters, or SROs (single room occupancy) slum hotels. Hope moved out of these streets of addicts, alcoholics, dealers, and mentally disabled long ago.
These are not necessarily people whose dreams have shattered. Most of them came into this unkind world with no dreams to begin with. Sometimes; after hearing their lifelong stories of abuse, poverty, and violence; I snivel most of the way home to my comfortable apartment, near enough to take the bus and far enough to recover from the sounds and smells of the street.
We’re one of a few other groups of good news givers in the area. In order to live incarnationally an even smaller number of remarkable saints have ventured to take up residence in the TL. I gave fleeting consideration to it myself, “I’ll give you one day, Lord, to find me a place to live here,” I told him when moving into the City. I made a less than half-hearted effort that day and happily concluded that he had other arrangements for me of little faith.
I usually don’t blog the contents of messages I gave in the street. The demographic of my readership is undoubtedly quite different from those standing in line for the lunch we bring to the corner of Jones and Eddy Streets, nevertheless I share this one for several reasons. I suppose there is an outside chance that you feel pretty broken and burned out yourself. If so, read on. I hope that Hope will rise in your heart! Otherwise, if you know someone who is in a bleak place you might either pass this on them, or better yet, put it in your own words and share it with them from your heart. I propose if you don’t know any broken or burned out people that you get to know at least one and begin sharing the hope of Jesus with them.
Anyway, when I awoke the other morning, asking the Lord what he wanted me to preach that day, almost instantly the following passage and these simple thoughts came to mind.
[Of course, these aren’t the exact words I shared on the street but a loose translation. And if they come across in a preachy way, well, that’s because that’s what I was doing – preaching. You can tell it by my more-than-usual use of exclamation marks! For your own edification and entertainment I recommend that, while you read, you imagine the voice and tempo of your favorite whip-‘em-up sermonizer. Oh, and for the Grammar Police out there, if the syntax isn’t what you’ve come to expect, again, oh well. When in Rome…]
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope.”
22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” Matthew 12:18-22
Jesus, it says, will not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. In fact, he came to fix the broken and to fan to flame the burned out soul. Jesus is all about broken and burned out people! Instead of running away from the broken and burned out, he comes here looking for us.
The reed he won’t break and the wick he won’t extinguish. That’s just the way Jesus is! He’s not looking to end us but start us up again. He’s sure done that with me and keeps doing it!
A bruised reed he will not break!
A “reed” is just a weed that grows in a marsh. To anyone but Jesus a reed is a pretty meaningless plant. It’s good for almost nothing. It dies in the same place it begins, in a stagnant marsh. This water isn’t fit for drinking or bathing or swimming. This is no “river of living water.” More like a swamp, I’d say.
When you’re a reed, the marsh is all you know. It’s your permanent habitat where you can get to feelin’ pretty pointless. And to make things worse, you’re a deformed weed, near dying and hunched over.
No one expects you to amount to much. You’re just like everyone else here. You live here and you’ll die here, a wrecked and useless weed! Other people broke you. Maybe you broke yourself. It doesn’t so much matter how you got here. The question is how are you gonna get outa here?
You might not see any value in you or future for you, but Jesus does. He doesn’t care where you come from or how damaged and defective you are. He’s not gonna throw you out or flush you down. He has better plans for you.
In the ancient world the only thing a broken marsh reed was good for besides the compost pile was to be a reed for a musical pipe. In fact, in order to make music the reed had to be fractured. You don’t see a whole reed in a woodwind instrument. It only functions after it’s been broken down to size.
You may be that sort of reed, a broken one. But don’t despair, he’s not gonna throw you away. He has no desire to compost you. He made you to create and perform beautiful music! If you’ll let him, he’ll pick you up off the ground, take what’s been busted, breathe his life into you, and perform his love song to the world!
Your beginning might have been bad and your present bleak, but your future can be bright!
And speaking of bright, not only does the Creator want to play his love song through you to this out of tune world, but also light up this dark world through you as his lamp.
A smoldering wick he won’t snuff out!
You may be a broken reed and a smoldering wick but if you’re willing, through you he’ll play his song and through you shed his light.
You were made to contain and convey God’s light. Some of you once had light. You had plenty of oil. But now all you got is smoke! You’re burned out and you’re just about to die out completely. You’re a smoldering semblance of the person you were meant to be. But don’t give in to it. You can come back. Jesus will fan you back to flame. He doesn’t snuff out smoldering wicks. That’s not how he rolls. He restores us to full flame!
Society may consider you a worthless piece of trash, good for nothin’, a broken, burned out human being. But that’s not what God sees when he looks at you. To him you are redeemable. They may want to flush you down, but he can fix you up! Anyone else would junk you, but not Jesus. You may be a dim replica of the person you were meant to be, but he can set you ablaze again!
His way is not to get rid of you but to help you get rid of everything that is killing you! He can make you radiant, not just for your own good, but so others can see. You can be God’s bright beacon and make this dark world a little lighter.
That’s good news, yes? Come to Jesus! Come to Jesus who takes broken weeds and burned out wicks like us and turns us into instruments to play heaven’s song and lamps to display the light of his love!