Bringing the Text to Life

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Soul Repair Psalm 51:1-17

Soul Repair

The psalmist takes his sorry soul to God's Repair Café.<br>

At a Glance

At Repair Cafés, you can get your toaster fixed. At God's repair shop, the one with a big cross out front, what gets fixed is not a lawn mower but a life!

Editors' Pick

For material based on today's gospel text, see "An Invitation to Take," February 6, 2008, at

We live in a "throwaway" culture.

We throw away just about everything.

Not that we haven't noticed. We've been using this expression since LIFE magazine published an article in 1955 about a new phenomenon that emerged in the prosperity of the 1950s. "Throwaway Living" the article was called.

Instead of blowing our noses using washable handkerchiefs (as did our eco-friendly grandmothers), we use tissues and throw them away.

We diaper babies' bottoms, and then throw them away -- the diapers, not the bottoms.

We buy a pair of shoes and throw them away.

We buy water packaged in plastic bottles, drink the water -- and throw the bottles away.

Almost everything we purchase comes in what many call excessive packaging which ... is thrown away.

We buy small and large appliances and when they break down we buy new ones and throw away the old ones.

We buy TVs and throw them away.

In an era long past, small shops existed to repair items that consumers were then loath to throw away. Used to be that a small repair shop could provide a modest income. You could get your TVs, toasters, radios and irons repaired for a small charge and they were good to go.

The archetype for such small businesses is Emmett's Fix-It Shop in the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina, as depicted on the 1960s television series "The Andy Griffith Show." Emmett Clark fixed clocks, lamps, radios and more.

These shops, for the most part, have disappeared.

This is why an organization called Repair Cafés is so interesting.

Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they're all about repairing things (together). At a Repair Café, you'll find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need on clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances and toys. You'll also find expert volunteers with repair skills in all kinds of fields.

According to their website, "Visitors bring their broken items from home. Together with the specialists they start making their repairs in the Repair Café. It's an ongoing learning process. If you have nothing to repair, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. Or you can lend a hand with someone else's repair job. You can also get inspired at the reading table -- by leafing through books on repairs and DIY. There are over 1,300 Repair Cafés worldwide. Visit one in your area or start one yourself! See also the house rules we use at the Repair Café."

Might be a possible ministry for your congregation.

Anyway, here's why we mention the Repair Café movement: We throw away more than clocks, lamps and diapers these days.

We also throw away friendships, values, traditions, manners, decency and common sense. Some might say that we too often throw away our souls in pursuit of some elusive dream we hold dear. We cast aside the spiritual component of our lives thinking, perhaps, that we will focus on spirituality later.

Then, one morning, we wake up wondering who we are and where we've been and where our life has taken us. "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans," according to Beatles legend John Lennon.

Whatever you want to call it, we sense down deep that something is wrong. Something is broken. Something is in desperate need of fixing.

King David is broken

In this psalm, we see David taking his sorry soul to God's repair café.

David -- this towering and impressive figure of the Old Testament, the greatest king in Israel's history, the monarch who reigned at the height of Israel's glory -- had developed a throwaway mentality.

+ He threw away the laws of God.

+ He threw away the sanctity of the marriage bond.

+ He threw away his self-respect.

+ He threw away a woman's honor and reputation.

+ He threw away a man's life -- the husband, Uriah.

+ He recklessly threw away and abandoned the person God called him to be, the person the ancient Samuel had anointed when David was but a lad tending sheep, writing poems and playing the lyre.

Here in Psalm 51 is a man ruined, a man whose life is in tatters, a man who is utterly lost.

His spirit is broken. His soul is wounded. He is sick and distressed.

He's been given a diagnosis. He knows the disease. He knows who he really is. It's not pretty.

And it nauseates him. It should.

He lied. He raped the neighbor lady. He ordered the murder of her husband. He tried to cover up the crime. To say he abused his authority and position is a gross understatement.

He needs relief. He is in a downward spiral of destruction. He needs redemption. He needs something!

He needs to be fixed, and so he goes to God, the Great Fixer, the Great Repairer of Souls, the Great Weaver of Broken Threads.

God is in the repair business

David knows a lot about God, and right now the most important thing he knows about God is that God doesn't throw away things. He knows that "The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. … He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities" (103:8,10). That's why he can pray, "Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me" (v. 11).

God will not cast us away from the divine presence. When we feel far from God, it is not because God has moved.

We're the ones who have moved. It could be because we have had a "throwaway God," a God to whom we listen when it's convenient, a God to whom we pray only when in distress, a God who has become largely irrelevant because we really don't apply the knowledge of God to our day-to-day lives.

God does not cast us away. God repairs and redeems. "For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 30:17, ESV).

"I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten" (Joel 2:25-26, ESV).

"Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool" (Isaiah 1:18, ESV).

The big fix is mediated from God to us by Jesus Christ: "In whom we have redemption ... the forgiveness of sins" (Ephesians 1:7 KJV).

Repair. This is what God does. We should take our sorry souls to God's Repair Café because God knows how to make things new!

What does a repair job cost?

The cost of a repair job at God's Fix-It Shop?

Nothing really.

But you do need to know that something's broken.

There's no point stopping by God's Repair Café just to say, "Hey, I'm good," and then go on your way.

Notice David's attitude. He knows he needs some treatment. "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me" (vv. 2-3).

Acknowledging the problem is a key factor, and this psalm is full of it. "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment" (v. 4). David gets even more dramatic, "Indeed, I was born guilty" (v. 5).

Submitting to treatment is also important. David asks for specific remedies.

He wants the mercy treatment and some blotting done (v. 1).

He also asks for a wash and cleansing session (v. 2).

He wants to do a purge (v. 5).

He wants the complete restoration treatment (v. 12).

Finally, he wants a new heart, which is the key part of the treatment. The old heart, the old engine, the old nature -- whatever you call it -- is beyond repair. David asks for a replacement. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me" (v. 10). Well, God can do this. The apostle Paul writes, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV).

If there is a cost, this is it: acknowledging that we need help, and accepting the help that is offered. "The sacrifice [or cost] acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (v. 17).

This is personal

Let's remember that David's remorse was all about his own brokenness, not someone else's.

God is in the repair business; we're not. At least, we are not asked to go around fixing people. This is dangerous stuff. People stay in abusive relationships believing they can fix the abuser. No, they can't.

Some people think other people need to be "fixed." What they really mean is that they disapprove of their behavior.

Some people don't want to be fixed, don't need to be fixed and certainly not by you!

Going to God's Repair Café is personal. This is about our recognition of our own brokenness -- not someone else's.

Ash Wednesday

We begin our observance of Lent with Ash Wednesday. This is a day of penitence, and this is a penitential season. The psalm reading is a penitential psalm, one of seven in the Psalter. This service can be considered a sort of Repair Café experience. We come together to do our private business with God, but we do so together, with the support and encouragement of others.

God is a great healer. There is nothing and no one God cannot restore.

Possible Preaching Themes:

+ Starting over -- with God and with others

+ How to uncover blind spots

+ When repentance is not enough

Participation Pointers:

+ Repair Cafés are often hosted by churches. See the Mele article in "Sources" below which mentions a Repair Café hosted by the United Methodist Church in New Paltz, New York.

+ Show the YouTube trailer called "Fix-It Shops: An Endangered Species." TIME: 00:1:01


Mele, Christopher. "At Repair Cafés, 'beloved but broken' possessions find new life." The New York Times. January 18, 2017. Retrieved July 25, 2017.

"What is a Repair Café?" Retrieved July 25, 2017.

Worship Resources

Music Links


Lord, Who throughout These Forty Days

Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed

The Glory of These Forty Days


Amazing Love (Kendrick)

Wonderful, Merciful Savior (Wyse/Rodgers)

Refiner's Fire (Doerksen)

†For licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to The Praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.

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on Psalm 51:1-17

from Feb 14, 2018

Today's reading is most of Psalm 51. The final two verses, probably a later addition (to an already late wisdom psalm), are omitted from the lectionary reading. This is an unfortunate deletion, as these closing verses contextualize the worship in the Jerusalem temple within the proper spiritual condition of the individual worshiper, which is the bulk of the psalmist's labors. This psalm is an in... Read more (you must be logged in to read the commentary)

Animating Illustrations

Martine Postma was a journalist in the Netherlands writing on the environment and sustainability when she helped set up the first Repair Café in Amsterdam. With the aim of providing advice and tutelage for people who wanted to fix rather than throw out everyday items, it has since morphed into a worldwide movement.

Striving for sustainability at a local level in many ways, Postma organized the very first Repair Café in Amsterdam, on October 18, 2009. It was a great success. This prompted Postma to start the Repair Café Foundation. Since 2011, this nonprofit organization has provided professional support to local groups in the Netherlands and other countries wishing to start their own Repair Café.

--Compiled from various online sources.

The [repair] cafés have taken root in 11 states, including New York, where they are most prevalent in the Hudson Valley: Eight exist and more are on the way. John Wackman of Kingston, N.Y., who organized the café in New Paltz, N.Y., in 2013 and coordinates the others in the Hudson Valley, said the region was home to "people who are sustainability-minded" and have a "strong ethos of community."

Organizers count as small victories any broken goods that can be repaired and kept out of the trash. In 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of garbage, including furniture, clothing and appliances, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

--Christopher Mele, "At Repair Cafés, 'beloved but broken' possessions find new life." The New York Times. January 18, 2017. Retrieved July 25, 2017.

Sometimes, things can't be repaired. Ever get this message? "Error: the document is damaged and cannot be repaired. Adobe Reader could not open because it is either not a supported file type or because the file has been damaged (for example, it was sent as an email attachment and wasn't correctly decoded)."

Ever step on your glasses by mistake? The lens is shattered. Unrepairable.

Insurance companies use a different word when assessing damage to an automobile. Totaled. According to one source, "totaled" is "an insurance term that describes the condition of a damaged car when the cost to repair the damage exceeds the actual appraised value of the vehicle."

In other words, the car is not worth enough to fix.

People feel that way sometimes, too.

And, sometimes, we give up on others whose lives seem wasted and beyond repair.

The prophet Nathan could have had this attitude toward David.

God could have washed his hands of this ruler who seems, on the face of it, not much better than his predecessor, Saul, with whom God was unsatisfied.

David was worth fixing. God was not ready to "total" his life. David needed to go to the Soul Repair Café and get some work done.

Speaking of repairs: One day, a mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, chemical engineer and computer engineer were driving down the street in the same car.

Suddenly, the car stuttered, sputtered and wheezed, and came to a complete stop.

The mechanical engineer said, "I think a rod broke."

The chemical engineer said, "The way it sputtered at the end, I don't think it's getting gas."

The electrical engineer said, "I think there was a spark and something is wrong with the electrical system."

All three turned to the computer engineer and asked, "What do you think?"

The computer engineer said, "I think we should all get out and get back in. It will be fine."

Life hack (or life hacking) refers to any trick, shortcut, skill or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. The term was primarily used by computer experts who suffer from information overload or those with a playful curiosity in the ways they can accelerate their workflow in ways other than programming. ...

The original definition of the term "hack" is "to cut with rough or heavy blows." In the modern vernacular it has often been used to describe an inelegant but effective solution to a specific computing problem. ...

The American Dialect Society voted lifehack (one word) as the runner-up for "most useful word of 2005" behind podcast.

--"Life hack," Retrieved August 13, 2017.

Children's Sermon

Bring to your conversation some items in need of repair, such as a toy, clock or piece of clothing. Ask the children where these could be fixed. Well, you'd need to take each item to a different place for repair. Then tell them about a new entity called "Repair Cafés." These are places where you can take whatever needs fixing and volunteers there will help you fix your item! This is very cool! Wouldn't it be neat if there were repair cafés for people? When we make a mistake, all we would need to do is go to a "repair café" and tell someone about what we did wrong. Presto! The "repair" is made and we don't have to carry around that heavy feeling of being "broken." Does this sound like anyplace the children have heard of? Yes, our church is a place where souls are fixed. In church, we are reminded to forgive others. In church, we ask for God and others to forgive us for the things we have done to hurt other people. Tell the children that today is Ash Wednesday -- a day when we remember our sins and ask for forgiveness. Explain the meaning of the ashes that may be used later in the service. Then ask the children to stand up. Make the sign of the cross on each child's forehead (no ashes) and invite the congregation to join you in saying to each child, "Jesus loves you." Each child is excused after the blessing.