Bent Reeds, Flickering Lamps

The disciple Matthew was a flickering lamp. As a Roman tax collector, Matthew was banned from synagogue and Temple, so he could not read the Sacred Scrolls in Hebrew. But Matthew’s gospel quotes the Septuagint, a Greek translation of his day. After Jesus healed a man in the Temple, the Pharisees started looking for a way to kill him. So Jesus and his disciples were hiding in the wilderness. Jesus healed all who came to him, but he told them not to tell anyone where he was. Those days reminded Matthew of this Old Testament prophesy.

Let us hear the Word of GOD:

The LORD says, “Here is my servant, whom I strengthened — The one I have chosen, with whom I am pleased. I have filled him with my spirit, and he will bring justice to every nation. He will not shout or raise his voice or make loud speeches in the streets. He will not break off a bent reed nor put out a flickering lamp. He will bring lasting justice to all. He will not lose hope or courage; he will establish justice on the earth. Distant lands eagerly wait for his teachings.”

–Isaiah 42:1-4 (CEV)

I stand in the pulpit today with fear and trembling. I know that a good word can turn your life around. It can draw you closer to God. And I know that the wrong word might be the last straw that turns you away from the church. I have great respect for the pulpit.

My respect for the pulpit goes double for THIS particular pulpit. Pastor Jim Burton is one of the most consistently loving pastors I know. I wish that he were here now. I can only dream of matching his love for this church, and his skill with the word of God. I stand before God in Brother Jim’s pulpit. I am eager to hear him again. I’ll say for Jim something that I am not quick to say about anyone: Jim Burton is my pastor.

My Grampa, the Rev. Roy Tucker, has graced this pulpit as well. You can’t inherit 50 years’ experience in the pulpit. Grampa, I wish I had been a better student. We have real preachin in the Cabin every Saturday night. You’ll be blessed if you come hear him speak. We’ll get Grampa back up here in May, if not before.

I had the pulpit one Sunday evening at Shady Grove Church in Alabama, back in 1993. We did some singing, and I did some preaching. When it was all done most folks agreed that we should have just kept on singing. I shook hands with one of the elders on my way out, and he said, “Well, I’m gonna pray for you.” I think that was less than a glowing endorsement.

I haven’t done much preaching since then. I wanted to, but a funny thing happened while I was looking for a church home.

My wife and I tried to fit in at one church, but it was tooooooo soft. Then we tried another church. That church was tooooooo hard. Finally, we tried Tropical Sands Christian Church. This church was just riiiiiight.

That soft church was a big church. They had classes and trips and apple pies, but trying to get involved was like trying to hop a freight train while it roars past. There was so much going on that we just got lost in the shuffle. By the time they finally had us on the mailing list, we had long since shuffled out the door. They still don’t know that we left.

The hard church was a brand new church. We were ready to take on the world. I put a few miles on the standup bass in the praise band at that church. We started in a living room and moved to an auditorium. Eventually, I started playing saxophone, and everything about that church started changing. The heat was on to get better musicians, to pick the right people, and to line up on the doctrine.

A lot of good people got shuffled aside while I was blowing saxophone, center stage. I did not want that spotlight. I made some very dear Christian friends in that church. Most of them left before I did. It was like the love for the worship got stronger than the love for people.

I knew about Tropical Sands because of the Christian music coffee house here the first Sunday of every month. The coffee house all about fellowship; nobody knows or cares what church you come from. It’s live and let live, let’s jam and have some coffee. That’s how I knew a lot of the people here.

That first Sunday morning I came to this church, I was hiding out. I could not stand the thought of blowing one more note on that Brass Idol of a saxophone. I just wanted to worship in peace. So I came in here that Sunday morning, just to hide out.

People, I was so tired. I don’t remember what Brother Jim preached on that day – I’m not even sure if he was speaking that day. I just remember how sweet it was to be out there, and not up here. The choir and organ made the most beautiful music. They looked like they really loved doing it. In the lobby after church, I remember everyone was so civil. I mean civil! Friendly and polite. I was so impressed to find old fashion friendliness, everywhere I turned.

I came back a couple of times, and I decided it was safe to bring my wife, or my Grampa, or my children. I don’t worry that somebody I invite to church might be shunned, or ignored, or put on the spot. When I want people to meet my Christian friends, I invite them to This church.

Some of you know we have an informal worship gathering every Saturday at the Log Cabin, across the parking lot. That gathering was started by a bunch of hard church dropouts. We just wanted to worship like we used to, when we kept things simple and everybody got to play. We were so tired of rules that we made three rules right away. No rehearsals. No collection plates. No amplifiers.

Anyone who wants to sing or play with us is invited to do so. No experience necessary. No skills required.

We felt like religious refugees, and Tropical Sands Christian Church let us use the Cabin. This church never once tried to steer or restrict the Log Cabin service, in any way. It has never once tried to recruit me or any other member from that group. This church gave us encouragement, love and freedom to worship however we pleased, for no payback.

What an incredible testimony that was.

Let’s see if that arrangement has done any good. People who swore they would never again set foot in a church sing and pray with us every Saturday night. Grampa pulls the Gospel plough right straight down the middle every week. People who were afraid to sing in public two years ago are now worship leaders at other churches, thanks to the Log Cabin. As far as I know, we have not brought any members into this church. But we have sent a lot of people back to church somewhere. I say that knowing that you care more about the role up yonder than the roles on the church computer.

Nearly 200 years ago, this denomination — The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) — was founded on an official rejection of all man-made creeds and doctrines. Our constitution is the New Testament, and our battle cry is the prayer of Christ for Christian unity.

Think about that name – The Christian Church – PARENTHESIS – Disciples of Christ – CLOSE PARENTHESIS. That’s the official name. We couldn’t agree on which one to use. We just decided it wasn’t worth fighting about. That’s how deep this goes.

Think about how this church encourages non-denominational worship. Think about the cabin, and the coffee house. That’s what Jesus prayed for, that we might be as one, not as many. This church is serious about Christian unity.

Our Elders and Deacons really lead this church. Most of us don’t know who they are. When they think nobody is looking, they patch the roof, paint the walls, cut the grass and balance the books. They like to give in secret, and they don’t like to take any credit. That something else they got out of the Bible, that humble servant thing. They’ve got it down to a science.

A lot of those people are shaking their heads and saying what’s the big deal? Isn’t church SUPPOSED to be a nice, safe place? Tropical Sands, you don’t even know how precious you are. You’re so used to loving each other, and anyone else who walks through the door, that you don’t even know how weird that is. Praise God, you are a peculiar people.

It is said that the times are changing, and the church has to change with ’em. I speak for more than one new member of this church when I say, We don’t want you to change. We’ll have more of the same, please. Nobody’s perfect; we understand. Everything humans touch, including this church, falls short of God’s plan. But you are proof of what the disciple Peter meant when he said in his letter, “Above all, practice fervent love, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

The church is told get ready for change. Brace yourselves for Mohawks and nose rings. Meanwhile, meek and lowly people are looking for a safe place to worship God, and they don’t all wear Mohawks and nose rings.

Meek is a funny word. Children are meek. Kittens are meek. Jesus is meek. Some people don’t like that; they want a savior who is as loud, brash, and forceful as they are. We are bombarded with shouting and violence. “In your face” is the buzzword for intrusive, forceful communication.

Some people think it’s OK to get in your face for God. But to a meek and lowly person, “in your face” is an assault, and they won’t fight back. They just leave. To the poor in spirit, “in your face” is poison. They won’t fight back either. They just give up.

I know a lot of you have been praying for me, and maybe occasionally biting your tongues. Thank you for not getting in my face.

This church will change. Everything changes. We will grow, and we will grow even closer to God. We will see new faces, and we will hear new songs. Never be afraid to invite people here; this church will do you proud. Just remember, we are not interested in how the world would change us, but how can we change the world. We are in the world, but we are not of it.

We met at [a congregant]’s house a few weeks ago to discuss small group meetings. That would be Bible studies and fellowship circles in our homes, during the week. That fits the New Testament pattern, and it fills a spiritual need that the larger service might not provide. That is exciting, but it is not new to this church. This church began as a small group, and it has sponsored many small groups. [Elders] are heading up that effort, and now is a good time to get small groups going again.

Many of our Elders are also Prayer Warriors. A few weeks ago my wife received a prayer card from the Christian Women’s Fellowship. Ladies, that was good medicine. At a deep, personal level, God wants to be intimate with his children. He loves it when we talk to him.

I had the privilege of giving chapel service for our preschool this week. Have you ever been surrounded by tiny children who really want to talk to you? If you have, you might know some of the joy that God feels when we pray.

Next Sunday [02/18/01], at 9 a.m., we’re starting an eight-week study on prayer in the cabin, across the parking lot. If you don’t have a Sunday school class, or if you want to learn more about prayer with us, you are invited to attend. Please don’t get upset if we run out of books; just show up, and we’ll work it out.

Prayer and fellowship are nothing new to this church. Like I said, we’ll have more of the same, please.

To the new members, and to those who may not be active in the church, let me point out how difficult it must be to make nice to all these people. We see so many new faces now that the last visitor might slip away without a courteous greeting. We need to help make sure that does not happen.

We are free to come and go as we please, but we have found a church home. Let’s move in. Let’s get behind all the do-ers in the church and see if we can learn to show the love of God like they do. Let’s all read the bulletin, get involved, and keep up with each other. This is your church, too.

To the visitors, let me say you are always welcome here. I was a visitor once, myself. There is never any pressure to join this church. Please, worship with us to your heart’s content. This is God’s church, and you are God’s child, so this must be your church, too. This church was loving to me and my family long before we joined. That’s just how they treat people here.

If you ARE looking for a church home, this is the only one I can recommend. No one here wants to hurt you, or even to change you. Changing you is not our job. Like I said, you can trust these people.

Now it might be that some of the Elders, deacons and members of this church still don’t get what I’m saying, or why I’m so excited. What’s the big deal? The deal is you did something right, over and over, dependably, every time.

Here’s what you did:

  • I was hungry, and you fed me.
  • I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink.
  • I was a stranger, and you received me into your homes.
  • I was naked, and you clothed me.
  • I was sick and you took care of me.
  • I was in prison, and you visited me.

I am also impressed by what you didn’t do:

  • A bent reed you did not break.
  • A flickering lamp you did not snuff out.

You remind me of somebody else I know …

Thank God, you look familiar.

Delivered at Tropical Sands Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ) – February 11, 2001

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