“Sometimes things look dismal, and with all our divisions and misunderstandings, we seem to lose hope,” said the Rev. Teresa L. Fry Brown at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Hold on to Hope” and the Scripture reading was Ezekiel 37:11-14, the valley of dry bones.
“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?/ Provin’ nature’s laws wrong it learned how to walk without havin’ feet/ Funny it seems but, by keepin’ its dreams/ It learned to breathe fresh air/ Long live the rose that grew from concrete,” she said, quoting Tupac Shakur.
“God wants us to be like roses in concrete,” Fry Brown said. “In the places that feel dead, we have to be the entirety of the faithful remnant. We are called out to experience restoration in the midst of despair.”
She described the prophet Ezekiel as a minister to a faithless and spiritless people. He lived with a scattered people who were separated from God. They had not listened to Ezekiel’s instructions in obedience and acted as if God was not paying attention to their actions.
“They became dry, parched and lifeless and slipped into spiritual and physical death,” she said.
When God takes Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones in a vision, he sees the remains of people without clothing, without faces, without any cultural markers.
“He may have wandered around and asked himself, ‘Whose son’s leg bone is this, whose mother’s skull?’ ” she said.
Fry Brown said the “bones” of the 4,600 people who had been exiled to Babylon were in the valley, a total of 947,600 bones, which seemed beyond repair.
“Can these bones live?” she asked. “Can God restore life in the midst of broken dreams and lives? Can hope be restored? Where is ‘Sister Hope’ in your life?”
Speaking about Sister Hope, Fry Brown described her as singing a song in a weary throat, believing in things not seen, making mountains low. Hope felt abandoned and discarded. Hope’s life seemed to be slipping away, and with it intelligence, personhood, sexuality and other attributes were lost.
“She was overworked and underpaid, last hired and first fired, had to listen to critiques of her body but not her mind and no matter how hard she tried to fit in, there was no space for Sister Hope,” Fry Brown said.
Hope’s smile became a frown; she just went through the motions.
“I can even see Sister Hope’s obituary,” Fry Brown said. “A little after midnight she died, unable to envision possibilities with a spiritual astigmatism so she could not see what God had done for her.”
God asked Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Can life come from death, can we regenerate our churches, she asked. Ezekiel was smart enough to respond, “You know, God.”
God promised to “revive what you think is dead,” she said. “God never guarantees you an audience or a book deal; when God gives you an assignment, you do it.” So Ezekiel proclaimed God’s word and the bones heard “a revelation about God and not about the preacher.”
Ezekiel said to the bones what God told him to say: “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” Fry Brown repeated the phrase three times, putting a different emphasis on the words each time.
See what happened next through the eyes of Ezekiel, she said. The Spirit rushed through the valley and bones began to clink and bodies began to be pulled together. She described the bones of the feet, then the legs and then the thorax coming together. She talked about the number of foot bones that came together, the 4,600 spinal cords, the 12 ribs in each of the 4,600 bodies that came together.
Then she described the tendons being put back on the bones, the nerves, arteries and veins, a brain, a heart, two lungs, two eyes, three layers of skin, and hair “the color and texture God wants and not what we get out of a bottle.”
Once God puts us together, he makes us ready for service, but the Spirit has to be present, Fry Brown said.
God called the wind, the ruah, in from the four corners of the earth. Love from the north, kindness from the south, mercy from the east and love from the west.
Hope was alive in the valley, she said. The Israelites had heard the wrong report. God won’t leave them lying in the valley. It is never over until God says it is over.
“We have to be open to the power of the spirit in the dead and dying places,” Fry Brown said. “God commands us to open up so he can dwell within us.”
God tells us to stop competing, comparing and being jealous of other people.
“God is still present,” she said. “Remember and never forget that God makes wrong things right, is the light in the darkness, protects us in times of trouble, meets our needs, has the power to defend us, provides the justice that acquits us and the truth that marches in us.”
Hold on to hope, believing that God can put dreams into action. Hold on with all your heart and soul and might. Hold on so that every prisoner will be made free, that the blind will see and the lame will walk.
“Cherish, clasp, cling, embrace, never let go of hope,” she said.
She concluded her week of sermons with a verse from the hymn, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”: “My hope is built on nothing less/ Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness/ I dare not trust the sweetest frame/ But wholly lean on Jesus’ name/ On Christ, the solid rock, I stand/ All other ground is sinking sand.”
“Hold onto your hope,” she said.
Deacon Ed McCarthy presided. Sandra Amro, whose home is Beit Jala, Palestine, located near Bethlehem, read the Scripture. She holds a bachelor’s of nutrition and public health from Al-Quds University and volunteers in hospitals and clinics to help people learn to live a healthy lifestyle. She speaks Arabic, English and German. She is the recipient of the Pennsylvania Branch Scholarship. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, sang “With a Voice of Singing” by Martin Shaw. The Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy and the Harold F. Reed Sr. Chaplaincy supported this week’s services.