Holy God of guiding stars, break my heart and lead me home.
“God of Stars and Broken Hearts” is the title given to Psalm 147 in the Word Biblical Commentary, which is a nod to verses 3 and 4 “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.”
It’s a psalm that praises God for counting the stars and gathering the outcasts. In this setting, we assume that the outcasts are synonymous with the faithful, but that is not always the case for us today. The christian church has played significant role in colonization, oppression, and all sorts of unhealthy and unloving ideology in the united states. When political bullies label themselves as ‘the faithful’ and push agendas for their own gain and push those experiencing hardships further away from resources that they need, it’s hard to imagine the faithful as outcasts; they are the ones doing the out casting. We ( white, heteronormative, wealthy, christians), we are the ones doing the out casting. Perhaps this year, we can cast out our sin and make room for God’s work of healing, restoration, and transformation.
I am reminded of the third verse of O Holy Night
Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, And in His name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we; Let all within us praise His holy name. Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever! His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim! His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
Chains will break and oppression will cease because Christ is the God of broken hearts. I’m hoping a lot of hearts break in this Christmas season (and beyond). I hope the hard hearts of those holding up systems of oppression shatter. I hope the stoney apathetic hearts of those who benefit from these systems break. I hope the hearts hardened by fear and hate crack open to let in God’s love. I hope your heart breaks and I hope mine does too. Transformation is scary and painful work, but it must be done.
Praise and prayer are supposed to change us. When we read the psalms (and re read the psalms), we see what God is up to, holding creation together in its vastness and in the cracks in the smallest heart.
Perhaps, if we are united with God, we are in the business of gathering the outcasts, healing the broken hearted, and binding up all their wounds. This is the work of the faithful.
Let us pray and let us be an answer to prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer:
If you are new to breath prayer, I’ve recorded some examples:
Here are some simple breath prayers to accompany this psalm:
Meditate on brokenness
A simple prayer with one word on exhalation and one on inhalation: God fill me with your Holy spirit. I receive your love and release my fear.
Or you can split a longer phrase between inhalation and exhalation or put a phrase on both. Here is an example: God of stars and broken hearts, heal the world’s heart and mine.
Do what is most comfortable to you. Breath prayer is a practice not something we do perfectly. Some days will be easier than others.
Ok, everyone, take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.
I began writing Psalm reflections during Lent of 2020 shortly after we decided to close the church building, work from home, and worship via zoom. It is a practice I have continued since. Many churches use the Revised Common Lectionary (RLC) that rotates scripture on a three-year cycle (A, B, and C). Starting in Advent 2019, Third Church decided to worship with the texts from Year D, which is still not circulated as are years A, B, and C. Year D was created with the goal of including scriptures that were left out or not used as frequently as others. While we were using Psalms in year D, most other lectionary followers were using Year A. In Advent of 2020 we rejoined those who use the lectionary in year B. Advent of 2021 follows year C of lectionary pattern with Psalms in year C.
I use the Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s resource for lectionary readings to make text selections.
Other Year C Psalm blog posts:
Advent – Transfiguration: 1st Sunday in Advent Psalm 25, 2nd Sunday in Advent instead of a Psalm the lectionary gives Luke 1:68-79, 3rd Sunday in Advent instead of a Psalm the lectionary gives Isaiah 12:2-6, 4th Sunday in Advent Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 80, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Psalm 96, Psalm 97, Psalm 98, 1st Sunday after Christmas, Psalm 148, New Year’s Day Psalm 8, 2nd Sunday after Christmas Psalm 147, Epiphany Psalm 72, 1st Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 29, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 35, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 19, 4th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 71, 5th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 138, 6th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 1, 7th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 37, Transfiguration Sunday (Sunday before Lent) Psalm 99
Lent: Ash Wednesday Psalm 51, 1st Sunday in Lent Psalm 91, 2nd Sunday in Lent Psalm 27, 3rdSunday in Lent Psalm 63, 4th Sunday in Lent Psalm 32, 5th Sunday in Lent Psalm 126, 6th Sunday in Lent (Palm or Passion Sunday) Psalm 118 or 31
Holy Week: Monday Psalm 36, Tuesday Psalm 71, Wednesday Psalm 70, Maundy Thursday Psalm 116, Good Friday Psalm 22, Holy Saturday Psalm 31
Easter: Easter Psalm 118 or Psalm 114, 2nd Sunday of Easter Psalm 118 or Psalm 150, 3rdSunday of Easter Psalm 30, 4th Sunday of Easter Psalm 23, 5th Sunday of Easter Psalm 148, 6thSunday of Easter Psalm 67, Ascension Psalm 47 or Psalm 93, 7th Sunday of Easter Psalm 97, Day of Pentecost Psalm 104
Season After Pentecost (Ordinary Time): 1st Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity Sunday) Psalm 8, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 or Psalm 22, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 77 or Psalm 16, 4th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 30 or Psalm 66, 5th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 82 or Psalm 25, 6th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 52 or Psalm 15, 7th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 85 or Psalm 138, 8th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 107 or Psalm 49, 9thSunday after Pentecost Psalm 50 or Psalm 33, 10th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 80 or Psalm 82, 11th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 71 or Psalm 103, 12th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 81 or Psalm 112, 13th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 139 or Psalm 1, 14th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 14 or Psalm 51, 15th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 91 or Psalm 113, 16th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 91 or Psalm 146, 17th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 137 or Psalm 37, 18th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 66 or Psalm 111, 19th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 119 or Psalm 121, 20thSunday after Pentecost Psalm 65 or Psalm 84, 21st Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 119 or Psalm 32, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 145 or Psalm 98 or Psalm 17, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 98, 24th Sunday after Pentecost Psalm 46.
Sources and notes:
“God of Stars and Broken Hearts” WBC p. 304
“Psalm 147 is the second of the five Hallel psalms that form the doxological end of the book of Psalms. Classified as a community hymn, it celebrates God’s sovereign reign over the community of faith and all of creation.” W p. 306
“In both Psalms 146 and 147 the psalm singers celebrate God as sovereign over all creation as well as over the community of the faithful.” W p. 309
“This post-exilic hymn is a medley of two interwoven themes, Yahweh’s power in the sphere of nature, both as creator and as controller, and his patronage of the covenant people, demonstrated in recent history specifically and in the general attitude of grace which may be deduced therefrom. The psalm divides into three strophes, each with its own short exhortation to praise and a development in terms of this double content.” WBC p. 309
“The LORD is so much the content of praise that praise begins to reflect his attributes. In it his goodness is apparent. Through it the singers experience pleasure over the delightfulness of the LORD. The psalm can be read as a verbal portrait of that delightfulness.” Mays p. 442
“The psalm was written for the Jerusalem congregation (v.12) in the period of the restoration after the exile (vv. 2-3, 13-14). The way that particular experience of the LORD’s help is expressed is one example of the way hymnic theology in Israel’s praise turns a specific deed of the LORD into a general confession. The hymn does not say in narrative mode that the LORD rebuilt Zion and gathered the outcasts, but using participles it makes the deed a typical activity, a feature of the character of the LORD. The deed becomes a symbol, a means of knowledge of God and a guide to what to expect from him. So Israel, and later the church, can say through the years in its praise, “The LORD builds Jerusalem,” and state its confidence that the LORD not only founded the church but restores and gathers it when it passes through tribulation.” Mays p. 443
The word of the LORD: “The psalmist speaks of it as an agent of God’s rule set to do his bidding (vv. 15, 18). The word is an active force by which the LORD deals with the world.” Mays p. 443
“The psalm is the fruit of deep meditation upon sacred literature, as the section on Form/Structure/Setting indicated. Arranging and reworking what he read into his own artistic composition, the psalmist produced a new song of praise. He exults in a God at work in nature and in recent history, a God whose spoken word is heard by the ear of faith both in the winter storms and in the recited law. Yahweh’s power is harnessed to his grace. Yet this divine generosity lays obligations upon his chosen people, not only to praise but ever to trust with hope and to obey.” WBC p. 310
“The force the drives the universe, producing rained snow and heat and cold (vv. 19-20). At the heart of the biblical faith is the astounding claim that the power that has strewn the stars into their courses (v.4) is the same power that — or better who — “heals the broken-hearted” (v. 3), “lifts up the downtrodden” (v. 6), and declares an intelligible, personal, life-giving word to Israel (vv. 19-20). In short, our trust — indeed our only hope — is that the power behind the universe has a personal face that is turned toward us in “steadfast love” (v. 11b). …. The cosmic God is personally, intimately, inextricably involved in the lives and futures of human beings.” NIB p. 720
“This liturgical hymn, to which the Nuremberg hymn, ‘Lobet den Herren, denn er ist sehr freundlich’, (composed about 1560) which ends on a Christian note, owes its origin, is in form clearly divided into three parts, each of which opens with a call to praise God. The thoughts are less strictly arranged, not, as has frequently been assumed, because the psalm is a compilation of quotations taken from earlier literary sources, but because the thoughts revolve round two basic themes and continually revert to them, so that they constitute the sustaining melody of the song of praise; they are the power of God and his compassionate grace as manifested in creation and election.” OTL p. 834
WBC Allen, Leslie C. 1983. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 101-150. Vol. 21. Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1974. Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. 8th ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press.
Brueggemann, Walter. 2007. Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit. 2nd ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade.
Brueggemann Brueggemann, Walter. 2014. From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms. Edited by Brent A. Strawn. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Chittister Chittister, Joan. (2011). Songs of the heart: reflections on the psalms. John Garratt Publishing.
WBC Craigie, Peter C. 1983. Psalms 1-50–Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books.
Creach Creach, Jerome Frederick Davis. 1998. Psalms: Interpretation Bible Studies. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
DAFLER, J. (2021). PSOBRIETY: A journey of recovery through the psalms. Louisville, KY: WESTMINSTER JOHN KNOX.
W de Claisse-Walford, Nancy L. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 4-5. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 22. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2020.
W Hopkins, Denise Dombkowski. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 2-3. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 21. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2016.
NIB Keck, Leander E. 2015. The New Interpreters Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Lewis, C. S. (2017). Reflections on the Psalms. Harper One, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.
Mays Mays, James Luther. 1994. Psalms. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
McCann McCann, J. C. (1993). A theological introduction to the book of Psalms: The Psalms as Torah. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
McCann, J. C., & Howell, J. C. 2001. Preaching the Psalms. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Merrill, N. C. (2020). Psalms for praying an invitation to wholeness (10th Anniversary Edition ed.). London, England: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Miller Miller, Patrick D. 1986. Interpreting the Psalms. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.
Schlimm Schlimm, Matthew Richard. 2018. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know.Nashville, TN: Abington Press.
Spong Spong, M. (Ed.). (2020). The words of her mouth: Psalms for the struggle. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press.
WBC Tate, Marvin E. 1990. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100. Edited by David Allan. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Vol. 20. Waco, TX: Word.
OTL Weiser, Artur. 1998. Old Testament Library: Psalms. Translated by Herbert Hartwell. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Manchester University Press.