Healing Together – Br. Luke Ditewig

Br. Luke Ditewig

2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Psalm 13
John 11:1-44

“How long, O Lord?” How long shall the news be of disaster? Fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and violence. More and more of it all. Mass shootings repeatedly, this week larger in Las Vegas. As in an Orlando nightclub and at the Boston marathon, a place of celebration turned into chaos.[i]

The psalmist prays with groans and wails. With memories and hearts broken again, we join in:

“How long shall I have perplexity in my mind, and grief in my heart day after day?” How long and how much more?

More trauma—feeling threatened and our ability to cope overwhelmed.

Sometimes when we call out prayers for help, the situation seems to grow worse. We get more upset, questioning, “Where is God?”

After more loss, with life feeling out of control, God becomes visible. With Job, Old Testament prophets, and the psalmist, we can be angry. “If only you had been here sooner, the situation wouldn’t have gotten out of hand, with so much hurt. Pick us up. Get us out.” We want to be rescued and healed, swim to safety, for life to be resolved and back to normal. Yet healing is a slow work, not usually quick or simple, not neat and tidy.

Remember Lazarus. People told Jesus that Lazarus was sick and dying. Jesus was close by and could have arrived in time, but Jesus shows up late. Much too late. Four-days-dead too late.

Martha and Mary say: “If only you had been here sooner!”
Jesus says: “Open the tomb.”
“But, Lord, the stench of a four-day-old corpse!

Jesus persists. The stone is rolled away. Mary and Martha reencounter death, and now decay, face-first. There in that revolting, terrible place, Jesus brings life: “Lazarus, come out!”

The story of Lazarus reveals truths about trauma, healing, and hope. Jesus comes when and where we need him most, where the stench and grief of death overwhelms us, where hope seems lost. There, in those very places, God comes to weep with us and shine light into darkness.

Lazarus walks out of the tomb—amazingly alive—yet still bound. He is not ready for a party. He still needs help. Lazarus shows us that a restoration of life comes with strings (or cloth) attached. Jesus gives embodied life, and not instantaneous or magical wholeness. We are created to be in relationship. Lazarus is still human; he still needs community with God and others.

“Unbind him, and let him go.” Jesus gives Lazarus life and then invites others to help. There is still much work to be done in unbinding and healing. Lazarus cannot unbind himself. Neither can you or I. For us, as for Lazarus, healing happens through others.

Trauma experts say community, calming, and communication diminish post-traumatic stress. Community, calming, and communication “create environments that heal trauma effectively and consistently are life-giving.”[ii] These three are keys for how to seek healing right now in stress and in all seasons to increase our future resilience. These help us “unbind” those for whom we care and are how we receive healing.

Unbinding is delicate work requiring vulnerability for giver and receiver. Reach out to your community. To prepare for this work, invest in community. Cultivate safe, trustworthy relationships. Practice keeping your word, maintaining confidentiality, offering safety. Nurture trust from everyday words to big commitments. Seek to know and be known. Having built up trust and mutual love, we can better be the ones who unbind each other in times of trouble.

Daily rituals of self-care help us restore. Trauma disrupts, disorients, and overwhelms, breaking norms and balance. Practice calming and self-regulation. Be active. Whatever you like to do move and exercise: walk, run, swim, dance. Relish and enjoy small pleasures: go use a swing, make a craft, do a hobby. Revisit beauty whether in a garden, an art gallery, in the woods or at the beach. Stop to watch the sunset. Add a touch of beauty into something simple and ordinary. Create calming space for yourself and others.

Listening is one of the most important healing gifts we can give. Safe, trustworthy relationships enable us to communicate restoration. Share your life stories honestly. Letting ourselves, our emotions, desires, pains, and inner lives be seen and recognized by another graces us to live more fully and honestly. Pray the psalms. Speak like the psalmist expressing your emotions including anger. Speak your pain rather than holding it in.

While we Brothers were on pilgrimage in Scotland in August, a large sign caught my attention. The image is a man looking distressed with arms and legs extended lying in water fully clothed. The caption: “Float for your life. If you fall into water, fight your instinct to swim until the cold water shock passes. Float to live.” Your body adjusts to shock if you first give it time and float.

The same is true with our trauma. Let yourself feel the shock, loss, grief, anger about the disasters, the violence, whatever is breaks your heart and overwhelms. Share your pain honestly. Let another to listen. When we are listened to, our body chemistry shifts. Our bodies instinctively heal. Our bodies instinctively adjust to the shock. Float and feel first.

Pray your lament. Communicate with your community. Some of us don’t need to speak today. There may not be words. There may be sighing or crying or just being together. Some of us do need to speak and need a listener, not necessarily a professional but anyone willing and compassionate. For us to withstand life and death, we need others who stand with us.

We experience best this in Jesus who comes into the terrible places. Jesus who weeps with us greatly disturbed, deeply moved, and full of love. Jesus who, as with Mary and Martha, stands with us, giving life and inviting us to unbind, sharing healing together.

With the psalmist we also pray, “I put my trust in your mercy; my heart is joyful because of your saving help.” Trust our merciful God, our help in ages past, our hope for today and tomorrow. Amen.

[i] After this sermon we adapted A Litany for Gun Violence Prevention and sang A Place of Celebration.

[ii] Kate Wiebe. ICTG Blog: “Three Keys to Healing Trauma,” June 20, 2013. https://www.ictg.org/ictg-blog.html

The Institute for Congregational Trauma and Growth offers timely resources, education, research, and networking for the emotional, psychological and spiritual long-term care of congregations and communities. How I speak of trauma draws from personal conversations with Kate and ICTG writings.

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  1. Pat on November 11, 2023 at 21:46

    I needed to hear this today, Luke. And forwarded to a friend of mine, a compassionate therapist with stage 4 cancer. Thank yiu

  2. Don Davies on March 20, 2022 at 06:13

    I have read this and truly it has helped me in my time of grieving. I’ve relied on sermons on grief specially the ones by Keion Henderson, when I lost my Father to Cancer last year. I have gained the strength to go on living knowing that one day, we will meet again and be happy in the Lord’s presence in paradise.

  3. Joyce on March 16, 2021 at 14:28

    “Lazarus could not unbind himself.” What a powerful expression of our need for one another to carry on the healing that Jesus has begun!

  4. John G. on November 11, 2020 at 09:41

    Excellent suggestions, Brother Luke, on overcoming trauma. Now in 2020, we have the frustration of a disputed election. I’m not getting my way right away. I ask myself why the other side can’t just be gracious and concede the election. But am I willing to give in to grace? Have i not preferred my own way over God’s way many times? You are right. We do need others to listen, to give us space to float with our trauma, to suggest another perspective. I have suffered trauma and continue to do so, but a group or two and conversations with long’-standing friends have helped my regain my equilibrium. My goal is to strive to be more trustworthy and helpful to others.

  5. Bryan Thompson on November 11, 2020 at 09:08

    Wow what a great sermon this morning I woke up early walk the dog sat down steadied myself I needed these words and reminded me that I too need to share more and listen more to others journeys while remembering my own devastating journey struck down as a younger man with leukemia and today improving little by little so happy to support this wonderful and amazing ministry God bless you all!

  6. Ruth E. West on August 10, 2018 at 00:01

    Br. Luke, I loved this sermon. Truth, comfort, healing and restoration call out to us. Thank you for teaching us and giving us the opportunity to self-examine and to heal. New life is our possibility. But there must be some unbinding. I loved your delivery with the pauses, giving us time to digest what has been said. Thank you so very much. REW

  7. Judith on October 7, 2017 at 20:32

    Your words, your spirit, were my balm, in the Giliad, where I walk today. Some days, in these times, it does feel too long. Longing for the new kingdom rides roughshod over the call to carry our candle in this old fractured kingdom.
    You speak the truth – we survive, thive and find courage to hold the hand of the more helpless, in the touch and tenderness of one another.
    Whether next door or across the miles – the sure strong voice of the saint restores us. As you have done for me today. Bless you Judith

  8. Patricia on October 6, 2017 at 00:16

    This was an incredible sermon and one I needed to hear. I am one who does not want to talk right now just to be with others. Thanks for reminding me to float. I have shared with others in my personal and psychological community. Much gratitude for your words

  9. Dee Dee on October 5, 2017 at 17:55

    “Remember Lazarus”
    “Float to live”
    “I put my trust in your mercy”

    I am thankful for these simple but comforting and hopeful words that will remind me of the larger themes of this wonderful sermon.
    Thank you, Br. Luke.

  10. Leslie on October 5, 2017 at 15:46

    I need to remind myself to listen. My temptation is to shout down the wounded heart with my own pain.

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