Thursday, February 24, 2005

God of the Covenant - Sermon about Domestic Violence

Posted by Hannah at 10:01 PM

Sermon speaks of 'domestic violence against women', and abuse of the 'Christian Faith'. 'The subtle power of spiritual abuse', and misuse of 'submission'.

God of the Covenant

God of the Covenant

A Sermon By
Rev. Connie Peake


Several parts of the body tried to determine who would be boss: The brain said, "Since I already coordinate every function of the body I am the logical choice to be boss." The heart objected, saying "Without my pumping blood throughout the body, none would be able to function, so I should be boss." The eyes said, "Without us the body would not know where it was going. We should be boss." The mouth said, "I speak for the body. I should be boss." One by one, each member of the body gave his reason as to why he should be boss. Finally the neck spoke up and said that he should be the boss. "You!" said the brain. "Why you? You don't do anything to begin with. "Yeah," said the heart. "We wouldn't even miss you if you weren't here." This made the neck very mad and he became tense. His muscles knotted up, and he began to exert excruciating pain. So intense was the pain, that the brain couldn't think. The eyes became blurry, and the heart had to work so hard that it became tired and began to skip a beat every now and then. After a week of this, all the parts of the body agreed that the neck could be boss. The moral of the story? You don't have to be a brain or have a heart to be boss; all you have to do is be a pain in the neck.

Who's the boss? We spend much of our lives striving to balance being in control with being controlled. Even in our faith we often find ourselves struggling against God. The Old Testament is a story of the Chosen People, trying but continually failing to keep their covenant with God. In this covenant Israel is to worship and follow God alone, and in return, they will be God's chosen people.

What do you think of when you think of a covenant? Webster says it's a solemn agreement or a promise. Interestingly, the Greek word for covenant is (diatheke), and is often translated testament. It is a word used in legal situations, such as in a treaty or a last will and testament. The equivalent Hebrew word, , also means both covenant or testament. We could legitimately refer the parts of our Bibles as The Old Covenant and the New Covenant instead of the Old and New Testaments, and in fact some scholars feel this would be a better translation. A covenant is, in a sense, a treaty or contract where each party agrees to follow a particular policy in return for the other's commitment to a particular behavior. The covenant is in effect until one party or the other fails to keep the agreement, or until it is mutually dissolved.

Jeremiah 31:27-34 prophesies that the old covenant has been so broken that it tastes of sour grapes, so a new and different covenant will be made, one that will be written on their hearts. It will be a more personal and direct relationship between God and God's people. The old covenant no longer exists because the people have destroyed it.

Several weeks ago I attended a workshop put on by our Presbytery called "Peace in the Family" about domestic violence. Although it's a problem which is far too often ignored and minimized, the statistics are indeed frightening. In our country a woman is abused every nine seconds. It's not an isolated problem, it is rampant in every community, including our own. Silence promotes the problem; when we take no stand, when we do nothing, it is tantamount to saying it is OK. All forms of violence and abuse are a sin. Each and every person is unique and special, created by God and called to enjoy God and each other. Each of us has the right to be free from abuse and harm. None of us has the right to use or abuse another person, especially not to achieve our own power or privilege.

One of the areas we explored was the church's tacit role in upholding violence. Just because a tradition has a long history does not make it right. Scripture has often been used as a club to force victims back into a dangerous and destructive situation. How often have you heard that the Bible teaches a wife is to be submissive to her husband? Frequently, I'd guess, but how often do we hear the surrounding verses? Let's look at them again. It begins, "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." What does being subject to one another mean? It means to accommodate, to give way to; in other words, we should all be flexible with each other, we should be as concerned for the other's welfare as well as for our own.

Another way to say it is to honor Christ and to put others first. This is speaking to all relationships for all people. Then the advice gets more specific to the marriage relationship. Wives should put their husbands first as they put Christ first, as the head of his body, the church. The idea of the church as a body is frequently used in the Bible, because no one part can function without the rest. Now, doubtless, the passage is not telling the wife she can be boss by becoming a pain in the neck! But neither is it giving any part full rein to be the boss. The wife is told to put her husband first, but the husband is told to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. He should love her as he loves himself, and care for her as he cares for his own body. By no stretch of the imagination can we see this mutuality of care as justification of one demeaning or abusing the other. When one part of the body destroys another part we get decay and death. It doesn't matter if that partner feels it is justified or provoked, or that the abuse is seen as "for their own good," it still destroys the body. Domestic abuse covers not only physical abuse but a wide variety of behaviors which batter and destroy a person. They include verbal abuse, sexual abuse, stalking, and emotional abuse. Any behavior which seeks to control, isolate, demean or humiliate is abusive.

As Christians, we consider marriage to be a covenant between a man, a woman, and God. In this covenant they bind themselves exclusively to each other in love. This love is a gift from God, and expression of this love glorifies God in a very special way. Love is not expressed, and God is not glorified when one or both partners become abusive. Often the church disapproves of divorce because it breaks the covenant. Yet, look at Jeremiah. God did not break the covenant, but considered it broken because of the unfaithfulness of the Chosen People. When one partner violates the other, they have in that moment, broken the marriage covenant. When we as the church attempt to shame the victim and hold them to a covenant, which has already been broken, in a sense we violate them again.

Please do not jump to conclusions! I am not advocating divorce! I truly believe in the lasting covenant of marriage. There are times and places for forgiveness, for working out problems; for trying again, but unless we are the one being abused, you and I have no right to demand anyone go back and be subjected to more abuse! There was a sobering display of a long clothesline at the Peace in the Family Conference . On this line were hung shirts decorated in memory of a person killed by domestic abuse in Minnesota during 1996. Each one had a brief description of the situation of that person's death.

If you were God, how would you feel about one of your special creations being wounded and abused? Would you look on a marriage as loving when one person battered another with words or fists or kept them from growing in any way into the person you created them to be?

"I'm lonely," Adam told God in the Garden of Eden. "I need to have someone around for company." "OK," replied God. "I'm going to give you the perfect woman. Beautiful, intelligent and gracious--she'll cook and clean for you and never say a cross word." "Sounds good," Adam said. "But what's she going to cost?" "An arm and a leg." "That's pretty steep," countered Adam. "What can I get for just a rib?"

Are you willing to spend an arm and a leg? a rib? The cost of building any good relationship is high. Building a friendship, a marriage, even a strong congregation all take hard work. It takes being willing to set aside our own needs occasionally for the sake of others. But it also takes sticking our necks out occasionally to get our own needs met. When anyone seeks to gain control of another it destroys so much of the work that has gone into building that relationship.

This is such a difficult subject, one we're much more comfortable avoiding. We can stick our heads in the sand and see nothing, but it doesn't change what's going on. The problem will not go away on its own. Too many people are hurting. Abuse triggers more abuse. An incredibly high percentage of convicts in jail have been victims of childhood abuse. An incredibly high percentage of those perpetrating abuse today have come from a home where abuse was prevalent. Where does it stop?

This is not just a woman's issue, for each time anyone is abused, we all lose. Every time we say, "It's not my business," we are turning our back on a child of God of this generation and most likely, of succeeding generations. What can we do? We can name the abuse. We can refuse to cover our eyes. We can hold people accountable for their behavior. We can study our scriptures and examine the role of the Church. We can work with shelters and refuse to tolerate attitudes of "ownership", where one person has a right to use, control, or belittle another. There is something so much more painful when the one who is injuring you is someone whom you trust, someone with whom you have forged a bond. Examine your own life to see if there are ways you are using or abusing others for your own benefit. See if you are on a power trip which is limiting your relationships in any phase of your life. Listen for cries for help and have the courage to act. I'm delighted if there has been no abuse in your life. if you are suffering abuse tell someone, do something to stop it or get away from it. God loves you far too much to allow this to continue.

Most of all, look to God's new covenant. Search out what is written on your heart. Pray. Listen to God's call for us in our lives. Relationships don't just happen; they don't come without cost, and they don't happen without work. See each person as a unique gift from God to the world. Cherish the people in your life. Treat those you love most with the greatest kindness. Friendship is a gift from God. Love is a gift from God. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

'Abuse in religion' should not be, and it goes against the spirit of what God stands for! 'Domestic violence victims' should have a safe haven within the christian faith! People need to remember that if an abusive relationship is happening neglect of the children may be also present.

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