March 2020

Bruised Reeds

A few weeks ago, I had a completely unexpected visit to a Wagamama restaurant. But it turned out to be a serendipitous discovery, because not only did it serve what I consider proper-sized portions, but on the paper table mat there was a good exhortation.

The mat explained “
kintsugi” the Japanese art of mending broken pottery. On the odd occasion I’ve dropped a plate or a mug on the floor and it’s smashed into pieces, I’ve had no hesitation in (carefully) picking up the bits and binning them. But if it was something of great value (not likely in my house, I would add), it may perhaps have been taken to a specialist who could repair it with little or no evidence of what had befallen it. But in Japan, it might be done very differently. The cracks could be joined with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver or platinum. So the plate is restored to use, but the cracks remain there, to remind the user of its past history.

Matthew uses a quotation from Isaiah, where the reference is to Cyrus, the Persian king, to describe the mission of Jesus. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:20).

The Coronavirus pandemic reminds us all that we can easily become bruised reeds or candles burning very dimly, easily extinguished by the lightest puff of wind. And we may have felt like that even before the crisis. That’s why we should be truly thankful that God sent Jesus: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). Whatever may happen to us, good or bad, God knows about it and cares about it. “…even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:31).

When we start a new life in Christ, we are not instantly made perfect. Our physical appearance is the same. Inside ourselves we have the same difficulties and anxieties. Our nature is still the same, though we would like to think it is becoming more Christ-like in steady increments -– a ‘work in progress’.

As a youngster growing up surrounded by people who seemed to have a far greater knowledge and understanding of Christianity than I had, I thought my failings and lack of knowledge were simply due to my youth, and assumed (or hoped?) in my latter years that I would know all that I needed to know and would have mastered the art of Christian living. Now, many years later, I realise that humanly speaking that was an impossible dream. No matter how many years we have been following Jesus, we will have much still to learn, and much to improve. Our cracks will still be very visible – certainly to God, probably to others and hopefully to ourselves as well.

Chapter 6 of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome is often read at baptisms. It talks about being dead to sin, alive in Christ: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). But in the very next chapter Paul confesses to his own weaknesses: “I decide to do good, but I don’t
really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway” (Romans 7:18 and 19 The Message Bible).

Paul reminds us that there is still hope for us, bruised reeds and flickering flames though we are: “Jesus Christ acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different” (Romans 7:25 The Message Bible).

When we think of Jesus giving his whole life so that we may be persuaded to lead lives which please God, we can be truly thankful. Our cracks still show, and perhaps remind us of both how far we have come, and how far we have still to go. We can be sure of one thing, through God’s grace:

“We shall be like him” – pure in heart and sinless;
But his redeeming mercy ends not there;
These bodies like to his shall then be fashioned,
And we his resurrection glory share.

And if you’re wondering, though it’s not really relevant, the restaurant we were expecting to go to had a queue stretching out the door of people waiting for a table. Wagamama next door had plenty of available tables.



Mothers' Day

Some years ago, on the Saturday before Mothers’ Day (which, this year, is today, 22nd March) The Glasgow Herald, as it then was, published the following ‘Poem of the Day’, entitled Mum’s the Word:

It can’t be bad just once a year
To spoil and treat your mother dear
With tea in bed or floral posy
And make her day completely rosy.
You take for granted all her fussing,
Extended freely, without cussing
The endless laundry and the noise
Of diabolic war-game toys,
The messy bedrooms, purple hair,
And teenage moods most hard to bear,
Her worry when the curfew time
Expires and you don’t give a dime,
Exams which tax her more than you
Because she knows the end in view –
That adult individual who
Emerges from the chrysalis,
Confident, competent sir or miss.
All this being so, it’s not absurd
To shout tomorrow, “Mum’s the word!”

These amusing lines may well strike a few chords re the role that mothers have, both at the giving and receiving ends, in the lives of their children. Mothers are there to care for us and see us through to the end point, when we emerge from the chrysalis. It’s a role too that the Lord Jesus performs in guarding and guiding us through our Christian journey, emerging in a sense from another chrysalis.

My own mother, for many years, liked to read the ‘In Memoriam’ section of the local newspaper to check, I suppose, on whom she knew. There seemed, as I recall, to be a limited selection of verse that could be chosen, at least in the files of
The Irvine Herald, in order to remember a loved one, and my mother’s favourite, which she used to recite to us, her children, when clearly we weren’t sufficiently recognising or respecting her role in our lives, went:

Those who have a mother
Cherish her with care
For you’ll never know her value
’Til you see her empty chair.

These words, as in the first poem, again underline and advise against taking our mothers for granted; our lack of appreciation. That same lack of appreciation can sometimes be applied by us, in our ever busy and challenging lives, to the Lord Jesus. It’s not so much the empty chair as the empty tomb that helps us to appreciate his real value, and what he has done for us.

We mark Mothers’ Day once a year but we should be grateful for our mothers, and the influence they will have had on our lives, every day. We remember Jesus’ sacrifice once a week but should be grateful for that sacrifice every day.

Today’s readings in
Psalms encourage us to praise God and to thank him in all things and at all times. In normal circumstances our Sunday service would help set the tone for that. We are, however, not living through normal circumstances and as the world, literally, faces unprecedented challenges and ever-growing uncertainty, we, as individuals, will also be challenged as we are forced to consider changes to the lifestyle that we have grown accustomed to. All of us, whoever we are, will be affected in different ways and we need to try and face these effects with equanimity. All of us – “young men and women, old men and children” (Psalm 148:12 NIV) need to try to praise God, as exhorted by the Psalmist. In all of that we will have to rely on our God for strength and support. The Psalmist equally exhorts us that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46: 1-3 NIV). Though we may not be faced with the earth literally giving way, we do stand on the edge of major global reverberations and an appreciation and a recognition of God being our refuge and strength, and of Jesus being the way that we come to God, valuing just what the empty tomb means for us, can provide us with the comfort that we need as we move outwith our own comfort zone and into possibly increasing isolation.

We may not be able to meet as we usually do, and as we would want to, but we can be together, if not in body, certainly in spirit, remembering, as God said to Moses, “
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV). So, whether we’re reading this alone, or in a couple, or in a bigger group, we know that we’re never really alone and we can value and appreciate that more fully at this time.



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