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01 February 2015

God Comes the Broken Heart to Bind (Sexagesimae / Fifth Sunday after Epiphany)

Psalm 147

It is reported in the life of Farid, a Sufi mystic, that a king came to see him. He had brought a present for him: a beautiful pair of scissors, golden, studded with diamonds — very valuable, very rare, a one of a kind piece. He brought the pair of scissors to present to Farid. He touched Farid’s feet and gave him the scissors; Farid took them, looked at them, gave them back to the king, and said, “Your Majesty, many many thanks for the present that you have brought. It is a beautiful piece, but it is of no use to me. I would have been happy if you just brought me a needle. I don’t need scissors; but I can always use a needle.”

The king was disappointed and a bit angry because the great mystic didn't appreciate his expensive gift.  He said, “I don’t understand. If you need a needle, won't you need scissors too?” Farid said, “I am talking in metaphors, Your Majesty. I don’t need scissors because scissors cut things apart. I need a needle because a needle puts things together."

"I teach love," continued Farid. "My whole teaching is based on love — putting things back together, teaching people how to connect. A needle is a good symbol of what I do; the pair of  scissors stands for what I don't do: they cut, they disconnect. So next time you want to bring me a gift, just an ordinary needle will be enough.”

Mending and healing is a major theme of next Sunday, and Verse 3 of the assigned psalm (Psalm 147) speaks of it.

1 Praise the Lord, / for it is good to sing praises to our God! / Yes, praise is pleasant and appropriate! 2 The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem, / and gathers the exiles of Israel. 3 He heals the brokenhearted, / and bandages their wounds. 4 He counts the number of the stars; / he names all of them. 5 Our Lord is great and has awesome power / there is no limit to his wisdom. 6 The Lord lifts up the oppressed, / but knocks the wicked to the ground.

7 Offer to the Lord a song of thanks! / Sing praises to our God to the accompaniment of a harp! 8 He covers the sky with clouds, / provides the earth with rain, / and causes grass to grow on the hillsides. 9 He gives food to the animals, / and to the young ravens when they chirp. 10 He is not enamored with the strength of a horse, / nor is he impressed by the warrior's strong legs. 11 The Lord takes delight in his faithful followers, / and in those who wait for his loyal love.

12 Extol the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! 13 For he makes the bars of your gates strong. / He blesses your children within you. 14 He brings peace to your territory. / He abundantly provides for you the best grain. 15 He sends his command through the earth / swiftly his order reaches its destination. 16 He sends the snow that is white like wool / he spreads the frost that is white like ashes. 17 He throws his hailstones like crumbs. / Who can withstand the cold wind he sends? 18 He then orders it all to melt / he breathes on it, and the water flows. 19 He proclaims his word to Jacob, / his statutes and regulations to Israel. 20 He has not done so with any other nation / they are not aware of his regulations. Praise the Lord!

The Hebrew phrase הרפא לשׁבורי לב is translated above as "He heals the brokenhearted" (147:3). The verb רָפָא (rapa‘) means to heal, or to make fresh. It describes the process of healing: being restored to health, made healthy or cured. Related Arabic and Ethiopian words take us back to the story of Farid: to darn, repair, stitch together, mend.

Moreover, when רָפָא shows up in its participial forms, it refers to a person who acts as a physician, a healer; in fact, in modern Hebrew, רופא is used for "doctor". So, an alternate translation for our phrase might be: physician of those broken in heart.

As long as we live on this planet, there will always be those who are "broken in heart" who long for healing. On each given day, there are many who are weary of their brokenness and long for healing, like the poet of this hymn stanza:

Your grace, o God, seems far away; will healing ever come?  Our broken lives lie broken still; will night give way to dawn? (ELW 698:3)

I read of two religious leaders, one Arab, the other Jewish, who are mothers and lovers of peace, and who really take Psalm 147:3 seriously. They got together to compose a new prayer for peace: The Prayer of the Mothers.

They also created a new ritual: Inviting us all to light a candle on Fridays – for peace. Another candle for the Sabbath Keeping Jews, and a candle for Muslims on their sacred day.

Sheikha Ibtisam Mahameed and Rabba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum invite us to take their prayer into our hearts and into the world.

The Mothers Prayer

You who heals the broken hearted, binding up our wounds.

Please hear this prayer of mothers.
You did not create us to kill each other
Nor to live in fear or rage or hatred in your world.
You created us so that we allow each other to sustain Your Name in this world:

Your name is Life, your name is Peace.

For these I weep, my eye sheds water:
For our children crying in the night,
For parents holding infants, despair and darkness in their hearts.
For a gate that is closing – who will rise to open it before the day is gone?

With my tears and with my constant prayers, With the tears of all women deeply pained at these harsh times

I raise my hands to you in supplication:
Please God have mercy on us.

Hear our voice that we not despair 
That we will witness life with each other,
That we have mercy one for another,
That we share sorrow one with the other,
That we hope, together, one for another.

Inscribe our lives in the book of Life

For Your sake, our God of Life
Let us choose Life.

For You are Peace,
Your world is Peace and all that is Yours is Peace,
May this be your will
And let us say Amen.


  1. Greetings from Astoria, Oregon. I had forgotten about the old Latin names for the Sundays before Lent. Thanks for the reminder. I bet there are many Lutheran pastors out there who do not know the meanings to these.
    Ron McCallum

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I grew up with those old names, and in Germany we even had a mnemonic so we could recite them in confirmation class.