Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Promise for Dry Bones

Earlier today I was looking at an old magazine... it happened to be the March 2008 issue of The Lutheran magazine. I came across this award winning sermon. Because it's All Saints Day, a day to remember that what is now hidden will someday be revealed, I thought I'd share it here.

Oftentimes we put on smiles to get through our days. But often there is a story underneath. May the Lord bless us as we walk through our lives together in compassionate love.

Dry Bones Can Live Again -- a sermon by Dana Nelson based on Ezekiel 37:1-14

In Nicaragua, in a small pueblo, a group of women got together regularly to study the Bible and have discussion and pray together. Over time their level of trust in one another grew deep, and they talked openly in their Bible study group about their daily joys and their struggles. They found that among their group, some of them had a similar problem in common- domestic violence- reoccurring incidents of abuse in their home. One woman said that for a long time she had felt too ashamed to tell anyone about the abuse in her home, but now she realized that she was not alone.

Incidentally, a man in their little pueblo was abusing his son. The small houses were close together and at times it was possible for the neighbors to hear the angry father shouting at his son, and beating him with his belt. So the women’s Bible study group made a plan. One evening when the beating started, the women quickly gathered together and went to the house of this man. They came with pots and pans and metal spoons. And surrounded the violence in this little house and all together in unison they started clanking on their pots and pans. CLANK CLANK CLANK, Clanking the metal pans together and making a big racket, so that the man came out of his house, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?” And one of the women in the group spoke up, “Stop beating your son!” The man slammed his door closed again, went back into his house of dry bones, even more angry and defensive, picked up his belt again to hit his son. CLANK! CLANK! CLANK! Again went their metal pots and pans. A Holy noise. A RATTLING, like a rattling of dry bones assembling. The man opened the door again, face flushed, belt in hand, he shouted, “Get out of here, this is my son!”- but the women stood firm and answered back, “This is our community.”

Here in our community, Minnesota, at least 14 women and 10 children were murdered in 2003 as the result of domestic violence. Nationally, in the whole United States more than 3 women are killed every day by their husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends. ...Each year millions of children are exposed to violence by family members. Violence doesn’t discriminate... Domestic violence affects over 20% of all marriages.

Domestic abuse wears people down. It wears us down to the bone. It is corrosive. Victims, abusers and concerned friends alike, it wears us down to the bone. Sucks the life out of us. Until we find ourselves in the middle of the valley, a valley that is very, very dry, and it’s full of bones.

Oh mortal, can these bones live? Listen to the writing of the prophet Ezekiel: Oh dry bones! Hear the Word of the Lord! And suddenly, there was a noise. Can you hear it? A rattling, and the bones came together. Bone to its bone. And the Lord laid sinews on them and caused flesh to come upon them, and covered them with skin, and put breath in them and they stood on their feet! A vast multitude. An army of the Lord.

Elie Wiesel, who wrote the book Night about Nazi concentration camps, and received a Nobel peace prize. Elie Wiesel, who is a survivor of the Holocaust, said that Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones bears no date, because every generation needs to hear it in its own time, to hear that these bones can live again.

For a year, I worked at a safe home for battered women and their children. It was, still is, a small house in St. Paul, where women can stay, for a few days, or up to a month, to escape domestic violence. In some cases, the women have endured emotional or physical abuse for many years, and it has gotten to the point where they could not longer endure it, and so they leave. I answered the crisis line, I helped women get settled in, and while they stayed there, they had to make some giant adjustments in their lives of finding an apartment to move into, of finding a job that paid enough to support her and her children on her own, and so on. Some, in that short month, had to get their own car, or learn to drive, to acquire furniture. It was very stressful, and to some it seemed impossible. Angry and sad, life was turned upside down. And women asked the question, “How can I make sense of this mess?”

I want to tell you about one woman who stayed there. I will call her Veronica. The day she and her children moved out of the safe home, we also got a call of another woman with children who urgently needed safety. So I went upstairs to Veronica’s old room to sweep it out, put clean sheets on the bed for the new family who would come. As I swept with a broom under the bed, found a notebook that Veronica had forgotten to pack. It was an old spiral notebook, with the cardboard cover ripped off from wear and tear. I stopped sweeping for a moment and I picked it up. I didn’t mean to read it, but there, on the page facing me, written in large, neat handwriting, in pencil, Veronica had written a prayer: “Look to the horizon. Thank you Our Father for food and air. Thank you Father for our life.”

Look to the horizon. Listen, Can you hear it? A rattling. Bones are coming together, and flesh comes upon them, and breath goes into them, and they stand in a vast multitude!

Domestic Violence is more than physical or sexual assault. It is about power and control over another person in a relationship, that can involve a whole pattern or cycle of behavior that is controlling- like using intimidating looks or gestures; blaming; putting a person down and making them feel bad about themselves. This is verbal abuse, and emotional abuse. Preventing the person from getting or keeping a job, forcing financial dependence; it can mean isolating a person from their family and friends, controlling where they can go, what they can do, who they can see.

My grandma Nelson lived in the country near Litchfield in Minnesota. She lived her entire life on a farm. She came to visit us here in the city, and I was telling her about domestic violence, about what I was learning in college, that not so many decades ago women were practically considered a man’s property, it wasn’t even against the law for a man to hit his wife! I told her I was working in the safe home, in the domestic violence shelter, where women could go for safety. And she said, “Oh good, honey.” She nodded knowingly, and her face was very serious, like she was remembering something. I didn’t know my grandma knew about domestic violence.

Grandma, from a little Scandinavian town of 300 people. “Oh, yes” she nodded. She knew of a lady in an isolated farmhouse, down the gravel road from her, whose husband would drink and then beat her, and grandma felt powerless to do anything about it. “Oh that’s so good you’re doing that work, dear.” Grandma knows it’s important.

Every generation needs to hear Ezekiel’s vision that the valley of dry bones can come to life. A vast multitude can assemble, and put an end to the isolation, and the fear, and the violence. Dry bones, listen to the Word of the Lord! We are born children of a fallen humanity. (Fallen). But through WATER, (not through dryness but through) the waters of baptism we are reborn children of God. We are God’s children! And joined to the death AND RESURECTION – to the rising up of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us full of grace and truth. The Word that causes new flesh to come upon our old bones, and breaths Spirit into us. The Spirit that frees us to live.

Fighting in families, name calling, intimidating or belittling the people we love, jealousy- it sucks the life out of us, it dries us up, corrodes away our flesh, until we are only bones. The whole valley of us suffer from this- because domestic abuse is common. – and it is hidden, so even here in our churches people are suffering from this ongoing reality in their homes, who are afraid to tell people about it, afraid to tell the church or even tell a friend, because it could put them in danger or because they are ashamed. Jesus Christ died for you! If you are hurting someone you love, you are strong enough to get help. Find someone who will help you by holding you accountable. If you are being abused, or if you suspect a friend or family member is being abused, use the telephone and call a domestic violence program to discuss how you can help them in the safest way possible. You don’t have to face this alone. Hope and change is on the horizon.

Oh Dry Bones! Let us come together in our brokenness, to hear the word of the LORD, to be set free from bondage of sin and death.

From Ezekiel 37: Thus says the Lord GOD: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”


This sermon is available at the Faith Trust Institute website for download in a print friendly PDF format by clicking here. The Faith Trust Institute is "an international, multifaith organization working to end sexual and domestic violence."

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