October as you may know is breast cancer awareness month. We often see professional sports teams covered in pink, and even some of our companies start to translate all of their products to be pink colored, to bring awareness to breast cancer, which is something that we need to talk about and something that’s important to know about. But, October is also domestic violence awareness month. Instead of pink, the color for that month is purple. Purple, which is also the color for lent, a color that symbolizes the pain and the suffering of the crucifixion. We hear a lot about breast cancer, but we don’t hear a lot about intimate partner violence.

There’s a lot going on in the world this week. There are a lot of things that happened, a lot of things to talk about. I wondered about changing the sermon maybe, even though I had planned to do a sermon on domestic violence during domestic violence awareness month. Maybe I needed to just skip it and talk about something else. But, that’s often the feeling, we often just want to avoid talking about it. On average, 24 people a minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States. More than 12 million women and men over the course of the year. One in four women and one in seven men age 18 and older in the United States has been a victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. More than one in three women and more than one in four men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner. Females aged 18 to 34 generally experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence. From 1984 until 2010 about four in five victims of intimate partner violence were female. The number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were married by current or an ex male partners during that time was 11,766. Nearly double the amount of causalities lost in the war.

These statistics are overwhelming. Like, Jeremiah I feel discouraged. I feel like there’s no joy in me. I wonder is there no balm in Gilead. Is there no way to fix this problem. This balm in Gilead, Jeremiah mentions it a few times during his reigns, but the prophet’s intent seems different from the spiritual that the choir just sung. Jeremiah talks about this healing balm, but is warning his audience that a quick slather of some medicinal resin will not be enough to heal the enormous problems faced by the nation. It would be like someone today telling us to slap a bandaid on a gaping wound or a broken arm. Beware of the balm of Gilead, for it’s not enough, Jeremiah seems to say. Don’t settle for half measures. For a more radical transformation is needed. We’re overwhelmed and we’re discouraged when we face the reality of intimate partner violence.

With all that’s going on in the world it seems easier to just not talk about it, to move on. We seek solutions, but too often what we settle for is an ineffectual balm. We want to slap on a quick and easy solution. Let’s just not talk about it. Let’s believe that it doesn’t happen in our neighborhoods, or in towns like ours. Let’s tell the victims to be silent, to just forgive and forget and to move on. Sometimes I feel discouraged, and I think my work is in vain. But then, the Holy Spirit revives my soul again. We’ve come to a moment where we need to decide whether we’re on the good or evil side. Intimate partner violence is a justice issue. If we profess to serve humanity, this is something that we need to take up. This is something we need to pay attention for. Now, the psalm that we sang, the spiritual that was written based partly on this scripture, is a much more uplifting and hopeful text than the scripture. Spirituals of course were written by people who needed that hope.

By slaves who were living under the oppression. Slaves who seemed like their lives could never change. But through the Bible, through the message of hope, through the Christian message, through the message of these prophets, these spirituals were written. They found hope where it seemed like it would be impossible. There is a balm. It’s not an easy balm, it’s not a bandaid over a gaping wound. There’s real work that we need to do. What is the balm?

There is some tips that the Domestic Violence Awareness Project offers, like call the police if you see or hear violence in progress. If you have a friend or coworker who’s afraid of their partner or is being held, offer your support. Refer them to a hotline, to a social worker. But, it’s more than that, too. It’s also about our own attitudes. We need to cultivate a respectful attitude towards women in our families, in our workplace. We need to avoid and speak out again behaviors that demean women and control women. We need to talk to our friends, especially men, we need to talk to other men when they belittle women. When they make jokes about violence or ignore an abuse victim. We need to learn about the domestic violence services that exist in our community. Contribute your time and your money to organizations like the Sudbury Wayland Lincoln Domestic Violence Roundtable.

When you’re angry with your partner or your children, respond without hurting or humiliating them. Model a non-violent, respectful response to resolving conflicts. In our families and our communities. Remember that hands are not for hitting. Now, one complicated piece as a church, as Christians, we also have this call for forgiveness. A call towards repentance, and I do believe that we’re called to provide a way of repentance for abusers, but we also need to remember that the burden of forgiveness does not belong to the victims. We must be clear that victims of abuse are not in the least bit responsible or at fault for the harm done to them. We’ve come to a moment to decide for the good or the evil side. Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my works in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.

There is a balm. When we listen to and believe victims of physical and psychological abuse. There is a balm when we stop being silent and speak out. There is a balm when we fight for justice. There is a balm when we stop being silent bystanders. Through it all, God stands with us, giving us the strength and the courage of Jesus who chose death upon a cross to show us that violence is never the way. There is a Balm in Gilead. It’s God’s truth. God’s promise of love and justice. It’s God’s new endeavor, working through our hands. In the face of a troubled world, in the face of domestic violence, when we feel discouraged, may the Holy Spirit revive our soul again, and again, and again, and again. Amen.


Balm in Gilead?