Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Good News for the Brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18-20)
August 26, 2018
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Today I am beginning by juxtaposing two hit songs about something that all of us experience in our lives at some point: a broken heart.
The first is a moving 1966 Motown hit by Jimmy Ruffin in which he asks a very important question: “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?”
As I walk this land of broken dreams
I have visions of many things
But happiness is just an illusion
Filled with sadness and confusion
What becomes of the broken hearted
Who had love that’s now departed?
The roots of love grow all around
But for me they come a-tumbling down
Every day heartaches grow a little stronger
I can’t stand this pain much longer
I walk in shadows searching for light
Cold and alone, no comfort in sight
Hoping and praying for someone to care
Always moving and going nowhere
What becomes of the broken hearted
Who had love that’s now departed?
The second song is a gem called “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” by classic rock icon Neil Young from his 1970 album After the Gold Rush in which he sings:
When you were young and on your own
How did it fell to be alone?
I was always thinking of games that I was playing
Trying to make the best of my time
But only love can break your heart
Try to be sure right from the start
Yes, only love can break your heart
What if your world should fall apart?
How old were you the first time you experienced a broken heart? I was blessed, or lucky, because I did not experience my first broken heart until I was seventeen. Many people have their heart broken at a much younger age. It was the spring of 1986 during my junior year of high school and I had been going out with a beautiful classmate for a really long time by high school standards: two whole months. I was crazy about her. All the clichés about being so in love that you can hardly sleep or eat, that you can’t stop thinking about or daydreaming about that person, that you count down the hours until you will see their smile and hear their voice again, that you spend so much time on the phone that your ear literally hurts, so in love that their kiss melts you—all of these things had happened to me.
But on a Wednesday afternoon that May a friend of hers handed me a note during last period, my first “Dear John letter” that let me know our going out together was over. I was devastated, and remember the combination of hurt and anger I felt as I lay on my bed into the night, staring at the ceiling, wondering what I had done wrong.
And what Jimmy Ruffin and Neil Young sang about were not just topics in a song, they were realities in my life as I found myself wondering “what becomes of the brokenhearted,” as I learned the hard way that indeed “only love can break your heart.” And I wish I could say that was the only time my heart has ever been broken, but that is not the case—and I also wish I could say I have never broken anyone else’s heart, but that is not the case either.
And our hearts can be broken not just by the end of a romantic relationship but by being betrayed by a family member or a friend. Perhaps the most famous scene in the classic 1974 film The Godfather Part Two, the first movie sequel ever to win the Oscar for Best Picture, was when Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, confronts his brother Fredo during a New Year’s Eve party in Cuba. The clock has just struck midnight and the New Year has just begun. Confetti and streamers are flying and the drinks are flowing and people are cheering and hugging and kissing.
Michael walks up to Fredo in the middle of all this. For years Fredo, as the older of the two brothers, had resented Michael and had felt passed over regarding “the family business.” And so Fredo had betrayed Michael who was almost killed as a result, and Michael had figured it out. While hugging Fredo, Michael speaks into his ear, “There’s a plane waiting for us to take us to Miami in an hour. Don’t make a big thing about it.” Then he takes his brother’s head in his hands and kisses him on the mouth and looks into his eyes and says, “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart.” Fredo is stunned and stumbles away in fear while Michael stares him down.
Later in the film Michael, albeit in a soft spoken way, lowers the boom:
Fredo, you’re nothing to me now. You’re not a brother, you’re not a friend. I don’t want to know you or what you do. I don’t want to see you at the hotels. I don’t want you near my house. When you see our mother, I want to know a day in advance, so I won’t be there—you understand?
Then Michael walks away. Near the end of the film, after their mother has passed away, Michael takes his revenge and orders Fredo to be killed. You might say the Corleone family was slightly dysfunctional. While this is an extreme example from Hollywood, in many years of pastoral ministry I have seen betrayals in families that have resulted in broken hearts, bad blood, and even revenge being taken posthumously by leaving family members out of a will. There is a reason The Godfather films have resonated with people for over four decades.
Some of the greatest poets have also resonated because they too have experienced a broken heart. As he suffered from tuberculosis, John Keats, the great English Romantic poet, wrote in a letter to a friend, “I have coals of fire in my breast. It surprises me that the human heart is capable of containing and bearing so much misery. Was I born for this end?” (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets: Keats 257-248). He died on February 23, 1821. He was only twenty-five years old.
Think about your own life for a moment. When was the first time your heart was broken? Or the most recent time your heart was broken? Was it due to the breakup of a romantic relationship, or a divorce—your own or your parents’ or your children’s? Or was it due to a betrayal from a member of your family or a business partner? Some of you may have a broken heart right now.
So “what becomes of the broken hearted?” What do you do when you learn that “only love can break your heart”?
While the bad news is that you have already or will have your heart broken, today’s psalm contains good news for the brokenhearted. Listen to this:
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and will save those whose spirits are crushed. Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord will deliver him out of them all. He will keep safe all his bones; not one of them shall be broken (Psalm 34:18-20, BCP 629).
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and will save those whose spirits are crushed.” Although when brokenhearted we may feel the most alone, we are not alone at all—the Lord is near. Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus drew near to the brokenhearted—bereaved widows, lepers, sinners, tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, mothers and fathers whose children were dying or dead, the deaf and the blind, the lost and the hungry, the rejected and the outcast—Jesus continually drew near to the brokenhearted and ministered grace and mercy and compassion and love and in doing so, saved “those whose spirits (were) crushed.”
And at the Last Supper Jesus, whose heart was beginning to break, nevertheless had good news for the brokenhearted, as he assured his disciples, “Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me…do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:1 and 27).
And you remember what happened later that night, as Jesus finished praying in the Garden of Gethsemane he was approached by a mob and betrayed by Judas, complete with a kiss. And Jesus’ heart continued to break. And as he was falsely accused and beaten and mocked and forced to carry the instrument of his own death to the top of Calvary, Jesus’ heart continued to break.
Unlike Michael Corleone, Jesus did not write off Judas or any of us, who have all betrayed the Lord in one way or another. Instead, Jesus died for us.
And as he suffered on the cross Jesus’ spirit was crushed and he felt alone—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Moreover, he experienced what had been prophesied by the psalmist many centuries earlier: “Reproach has broken my heart, and it cannot be healed; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I could find no one…when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:22-23).
And as his heart continued to break Jesus in fact said, “I am thirsty,” and was indeed given vinegar to drink (John 19:28-29).
And then Jesus’ heart finally broke, and he died for all the broken hearted.
And not only were God the Father and God the Holy Spirit near Jesus the Righteous Son as his heart broke on Good Friday, Jesus was raised from the dead on Easter Sunday just as we also read in today’s psalm, “Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.”
And after Jesus’ death on the cross John records that when the soldiers came to break Jesus’ legs to expedite his death and saw that he had already died, that “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out…These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken’” (John 19:34 and 36), which fulfilled the prophecy, again from today’s psalm, “He will keep safe all his bones; not one of them shall be broken.”
So what becomes of the brokenhearted? The Lord draws near to the broken hearted and gives unconditional love. Even if human love has departed, God’s love has not departed—never has, never will.
And yes, “only love can break your heart,” but in time the love of God heals it.
Today may the Holy Spirit draw near to the places in your heart that are broken, and minister anew God’s healing love.