Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Chimes of Freedom Flashing” (Isaiah 42:1-4)
January 12, 2020
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Far between sundown’s finish and midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
And for each and every underdog soldier in the night
And we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Starry-eyed and laughing as I recall when we were caught
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
As we listened one last time and we watched with one last look
Spellbound and swallowed till the tolling ended
Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung out ones and worse
And for every hung up person in the whole wide universe
And we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Those are the first and last verses of the song “Chimes of Freedom” by Bob Dylan (who else?) from his 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan, a song he wrote in the wake of the assignation of President John Kennedy, in the midst of the turmoil and unrest of the 1960’s. It is a song of hope for the downtrodden and the marginalized, a song to lift the heads and hearts of the least, the last, and the lost.
It is a song that still resonates in our own time of turmoil and unrest as tensions with the Middle East are again on the rise, as white supremacy is again rearing its ugly prejudiced head, and as antisemitism is reemerging—complete with bombings in synagogues and stabbings at Hanukkah celebrations. Now as much as then we need words of hope, we need the gospel, we need to see and hear anew the chimes of freedom flashing.
Today’s Old Testament passage from Isaiah, like Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom”, resounds with hope for the downtrodden and marginalized, hope to lift the heads and hearts of the least, the last, and the lost. It is passage written foretelling the incarnation of the Servant of the Lord, the Son of God: Jesus Christ:
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth (Isaiah 42:1-4).
This is one of several passages in Isaiah about the “Servant of the Lord” who would be born in Bethlehem about seven centuries later. (For those of you who are interested the other “servant of the Lord” passages are 49:1-6; 50:4-7; and 52:13-53:12). Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus the Servant of the Lord demonstrated again and again that he would never break a bruised reed, that he would never quench a dimly burning wick.
The gospel lesson on the First Sunday of Epiphany is always an account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist. As you may remember John the Baptist lived in the wilderness and wore camel hair and ate locusts and wild honey. He preached about everyone’s favorite topic: repentance—“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near…Bear fruit worthy of repentance…I baptize you with water for repentance” (Matthew 3:1-2, 8, and 11). Some people dismissed John the Baptist as a madman but others, many others, flocked to the wilderness to repent, to get right with God, and to be baptized as a sign of their repentance. And one day as John baptized one repentant sinner after another, all of the sudden Jesus the Servant of the Lord was standing there. Jesus had nothing to repent of ever, and yet there he was receiving the baptism of repentance in the Jordan River.
Jesus’s baptism signified his complete identification with sinners like you and me, his complete identification with the downtrodden and marginalized, his complete identification with the least, the last, and the lost. All three Persons of the Trinity were active as God the Son was anointed by God the Holy Spirit and proclaimed as the Beloved by God the Father (Matthew 3:13-17).
But Jesus’ baptism was just the beginning of his ministry. He went on to preach about the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of love and acceptance and grace and mercy and hope for everyone, no exceptions, especially those who have been bruised and those whose wick is barely burning. There a is good possibility some of you here today are exactly in that spot—you once felt strong and on fire for the Lord but now feel bruised and barely smoldering. The same Holy Spirit who anointed Jesus at his baptism, the same Holy Spirit about whom John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11) is the same Holy Spirit here today to bring healing where you are bruised and fire where you are dimly burning.
Jesus not only preached about the Kingdom of God, he also healed “demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics” (Matthew 4:24), cleansed lepers (Matthew 8:1-4), stilled the stormy sea (Matthew 23-27) and made it clear that he was Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8). Scripture tells us that as Jesus the Servant of the Lord went about his ministry of teaching, preaching and healing that as he saw crowds of downtrodden and marginalized, crowds of the least, the last, and the lost—crowds of bruised reeds and dimly burning wicks—he was moved with compassion because all these people—like perhaps some of you here today—were “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36). Jesus the Servant of the Lord came to the harassed and helpless sheep and became their Good Shepherd (John 10:11). Jesus rang the chimes of freedom.
In Matthew’s account of the gospel we see that all Jesus’ ministry was a fulfillment of today’s passage from Isaiah about the Servant of the Lord. Matthew tells us all Jesus’ ministry “was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah”:
Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him…He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick (Matthew 12:17-20).
Jesus the Servant of the Lord will never break a bruised reed, but sometimes someone else or something else in your life can leave you not just bruised but broken. Jesus the Servant of the Lord will never quench a smoldering wick, but sometimes someone else or something else can quench that fire in your heart.
When that happens, you may suddenly have the realization that when it comes to the downtrodden and marginalized, when it comes to the least, the last, and the lost, you are right there. But guess what? Jesus is also right there.
Back to Isaiah for a moment…“a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.” We see that throughout his earthly ministry that Jesus the Servant of the Lord would not break a bruised reed or quench a dimly burning wick…but when did Jesus “bring forth justice”? When did Jesus “grow faint”? When was Jesus crushed? When did Jesus “establish justice on the earth”?
You already know the answer…on Good Friday, when Jesus the Servant of the Lord demonstrated once and for all that indeed he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
On Good Friday Jesus the Servant of the Lord became a bruised reed on your behalf, grew faint on your behalf, and was crushed on your behalf. In the fourth and final “Servant of the Lord” passage in Isaiah, a passage we read every year on Good Friday, the prophet put it this way:
He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5-6).
On Good Friday Jesus the Good Shepherd did exactly what he had said he would do, laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:11), all his sheep that had gone astray and turned to their own way, including you.
On Good Friday Jesus died “for the warriors whose strength is not to fight”, died “for each and every underdog soldier in the night”, and died “for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight.” Jesus died “for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed” and “for the countless confused, accused, misused, strung out ones and worse.” Jesus died for the downtrodden and marginalized—and for the least, the last and the lost. On the cross Jesus the Servant of the Lord was hung up “for every hung up person in the whole wide universe,” including you.
And as Jesus the Servant of the Lord breathed his final breath, “It is finished” (John 19:30), his bruised body emptied of all its strength and the fire in his heart completely quenched, he established justice on the earth by taking God’s judgment upon himself—“the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
And on Easter Sunday Jesus the Servant of the Lord was raised from the dead, the bruised reed healed, and the smoldering wick aflame again with the fire of the Holy Spirit and unconditional healing love for all.
Today through the power of the same Holy Spirit who anointed him at his baptism, may Jesus, the Risen Servant of the Lord, heal you where you are bruised, rekindle you where you are dimly burning, and open your eyes and ears anew to “the chimes of freedom flashing.”