Text: Isaiah 61: 1-2
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
If this text looks or sounds familiar to you it may be because this is the text in Isaiah that is referenced in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus goes into the temple to teach. In that story the text in Luke says that Jesus was handed a scroll from the prophet Isaiah and he read these words. I wanted to use the text in Isaiah today rather than the text from Luke, because for some reason the part about bind up the brokenhearted does not appear in the Luke story. Today, I want to focus on this idea of what it means to heal the broken and perhaps expand our understanding of what it means to be broken and how to fix it.
You may remember that we have been referencing a poem over the past few weeks written by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian titled “The Work of Christmas”. For those who may be unfamiliar or who have forgotten, let’s take another look at that poem.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
Last week we began to look at the list of projects presented here and at the top of that list was to find the lost and we talked a little bit about that. The second item on that list is to heal the broken, so today we will be focused on that idea.
About 30 years ago-I almost choke when I say that, because I remember it like it was yesterday…but about 30 years ago, I was building a house. Go figure. At this time our three boys were young and a little bit crazy, Matt, the oldest was 9 or 10, Jacob the middle one was about 7 and Zachary the youngest would have been 5. When the trusses went up over the garage the kids thought that would make a great place to build a club house-I wasn’t going to insulate the garage, so I figured it was a good place as well. I showed Matt, the oldest how to nail down scrap pieces of plywood so they could build a floor up there.
Well, either something got lost in translation, the nails missed, or something else went wrong, but Jacob-the middle one, stepped on the edge of a piece of plywood that was suspended between two trusses that was not nailed down. As you can imagine, the plywood tipped straight up in the air and Jacob headed straight down toward the concrete garage floor. As he fell, he reached out to try to catch himself and caught his arm in the crook of one of the trusses where two pieces of bracing came together. This snapped both bones in his forearm and we went to the emergency room with a compound fracture.
The doctor on call told us they would have to do surgery to re-align the bones correctly and possibly put a plate in there to hold everything in place. So that is what happened and Jacob returned to the job site a day or two later with a cast that didn’t slow him down in the slightest.
I’m not telling this story to demonstrate my incompetence as a father, although that could be argued, nor do I tell the story to demonstrate that a job site can be dangerous, although that could be argued as well. What I really want you to take from this story is that when Jacob’s arm was broken, it was out of alignment and the surgeon had to realign the bones before the cast was placed on his arm.
I want us to begin to think about our poem and the listed task of healing the broken and what that might mean in terms of being out of alignment. I happen to think that is a pretty good definition of being broken; in other words, being broken means being out of alignment.
There are many ways for us to experience brokenness, but in almost every example I can think of, the metaphor of being out of alignment rings true. With a physical brokenness the physical alignment must be restored as was the case for Jacob. But many of us experience other kinds of brokenness that are actually much harder to fix or impossible to The text from Isaiah speaks of binding up the brokenhearted. Now I’m pretty sure that a literal reading of this text is not appropriate. We are not talking about open heart surgery and actually binding up a broken heart in a physical sense; so obviously the implication for us is to interpret this text in another way. The question then becomes how do we bind up the brokenhearted and what exactly does that mean?
I believe this is where the concept of alignment can become so useful. Many of us think of trying to ‘fix’ things when they are broken. In other words, the surgeon fixed Jacob’s arm and returned it to normal. He did this by restoring the alignment of the bones, but the arm was also fixed. I think it is harder for us to heal the brokenhearted when it is a situation that cannot be fixed. Many people suffer from a kind of brokenness that cannot be fixed in a traditional sense. They may be grieving the loss of a loved one, for example, and we cannot fix that situation. Someone else might be suffering from a broken relationship that cannot be fixed and there are countless other examples of brokenness that simply cannot be fixed.
I know many of us struggle with what to say or how to help heal someone in this situation; we simply don’t know what to say or how to help. If we shift our focus from trying to fix things to simply helping to restore alignment, the task can be much easier. I think most of us know this by instinct, but it may have never been pointed out to you in exactly these terms. But when you minister to someone who is broken, for whatever reason, you are helping to restore alignment, and if you think about it in this way, I think, the task becomes much easier.
So when we are called upon to heal the broken, as we are in our poem The Work of Christmas, I think it is helpful for us to think about the healing in terms of restoring alignment. You see, when you pray with someone or pray for someone, you are helping to restore their alignment with the Divine. When you send a note or call someone, you are helping to restore their alignment with their spiritual community. When you visit with them or take a meal to them, you are helping to restore their alignment to personal human connection. You may not be able to fix the problem or the source of the pain, but you can help them move toward realignment. And moving toward realignment is the source of all healing.
Let me say that again. Realignment is the source of all healing.
Chances are you cannot bring the lost loved one back from the grave or cure the cancer or restore the broken relationship or even restore the lost job. But you can help someone move toward realignment through the simplest of acts. That is who we are and that is what we are called to do.
So I want to introduce you to a new idea that I call a “Ministry Board” that will be mounted probably in Fellowship Hall somewhere. This is a physical reminder and an opportunity for you to participate in the healing of the broken by providing gentle acts of realignment.
The board is really very simple. Listed on the board are names of individuals that are experiencing brokenness on any number of different levels. Next to each name are several opportunities to offer realignment for that individual. If there is a colored magnet in the square that represents a particular opportunity, then that person would benefit from that act of compassion. If there is an “X” through the square, then that is not a specific need for that person.
For example, you generally would not bring a meal to someone who is hospitalized or in an assisted living center where meals are already provided. In those cases, an “X” will appear in the square which represents a meal for someone in that particular situation.
To participate in the Ministry Board system, you simply take a look at the needs, decide what you can do and then remove the magnet from that particular square and move it to the pending area. You can then write your initials or name in the square indicating that you are performing this particular function, and when it is accomplished, your name can be erased and the magnet will be replaced allowing for someone else to do the same thing.
This can even be done over the phone. You can call the office and ask what tasks are available, and we can sign you up. Once the task is complete, we can also erase your name and replace the magnet making it ready for the next person.
I consider each action on this ministry board to be an act of realignment; it may not fix the problem, but it will help each individual begin to move toward realignment. As I said earlier, I think that realignment is the source of all healing.
When I first read the words in our poem about healing the broken, it wouldn’t surprise me if you didn’t really know what that looked like. It sounds great, but what does it actually mean? What does it actually look like? I can imagine these questions racing through your mind.
Well, now you know. Healing the broken means helping them move toward realignment and helping them move toward realignment looks like this Ministry Board. We can all participate in this and we can all benefit from this as we build a community together that explores our faith and experiences the Divine in new and wonderful ways.
How will you respond? Food for thought. Go in peace and go with God. Amen.