July 12, 2020
Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster
worship theme, “Unraveled,” by A Sanctified Art
“Rizpah Mourns Her Sons” by Lauren Wright Pittman | A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org
see Artist’s statement below
Welcome— Joseph Gascho
We welcome each of you today-
in your living room or on your patio;
in your robe or in a suit
coffee cup or juice glass in hand,
looking forward to the time
when we can congregate again.
Lighting of the Peace Lamp
Call to Worship
When we come to this virtual space, we bring all of ourselves.
bringing joy and hope,
dreams and prayers,
grief and doubt,
memories and heartache.
God meets us here.
God hears our prayers and sees our scars.
With open hearts and authenticity,
Let us worship good and gracious God.
Poem— And on the Sixth Day God Knitted, by Joseph Gascho
Five days of toil behind her,
wearied from her labors,
God plopped down and rested,
then pulled out her needles
and started knitting with a multicolored yarn,
muttering to Fido
lying down beside her
“You are good but I crave creatures
who‘ll do more than fetch and grovel.“
Row after row she knitted
then stopped counting stitches.
Peering down at what she’d done
she said, “This is not right.”
She spent that Saturday
knitting and unraveling,
then finally said when evening came,
“Now this will do.”
She breathed into the sweater
and out came Eve and Adam.
She told them they were good
but said remember
how you came to be.
“Do not fret if you unravel.
A sister or a brother
will knit you back
to something better.”
Gathering Song— “Grown Up Beluga” by Raffi and Yo-Yo Ma
“That song was written 40 years ago, and by now there are Beluga Grads everywhere — millions of Beluga Grads who grew up singing Baby Beluga. So, for you: a new verse:
now you’ve grown and you’re on your way
making waves in the boundless bay
your shining light and your dreams alive
for the ones you brought this way
grown up beluga, grown up beluga
sing a song of peace. sing a song of diversity.
child honoring. social justice. climate action.
we need to hear you.
you beluga grads and me on the go“
Children’s Time— “Mrs. Katz and Tush”, read by Malinda Clatterbuck
Offering— Thanks, all of you, for your continued support of the congregation. The budget supports our staff, our building, our outreach commitments and our congregational care. We are grateful that church can be a place to seek and give mutual aid. Thanks so much for being the church, and giving to the work of the church.
You are the Great Provider,
the Giver of all gifts;
your love the only true currency.
Thank you for putting money into our hands,
and so we freely offer it back to you,
for use in your service.
We do this in the name of Jesus, Amen.
Offertory— “Hammer and a Nail” by Indigo Girls
Sermon— “Public Grief That Inspires Action,” Leslie Homer-Cattell
Over the years, I’ve dabbled in quilting. What I mostly enjoy is looking at fabrics, noticing those I’m drawn to, choosing which to use for a certain project, and then sewing scraps together in a meaningful way.
Since becoming a pastor, I’ve learned that writing a sermon is a little like quilting. Which parts of the text jump out on this reading? Which characters or perspectives seem important to closely focus on this time? Which are best saved for another sermon on another day?
In a similar way, God’s Spirit worked through my family, Sunday school teachers, and young group leaders to unravel the scriptures and help me stitch together a quilt of faith. The fabric of New Testament stories and other writings feature prominently.
- I remember first hearing Jesus’ words as a preschooler, “Let the little children come to me.” (Mt. 19:14b)
- Later, I learned Jesus fed crowds and healed people. (Luke 9:10-17)
- Paul’s letters formed my understanding of the church as a child, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.” (1 John 4:7a)
- As a teenager, the beautiful Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7) challenged me.
- In college, the image of new wine in new wineskins drew me to reimagining and deepening an adult faith (Mt. 9:16-17)
An appalling story
Pieced together, these and other story scraps formed a strong and compelling faith quilt that continues to form me today.
But what to do with a text like the one we have this morning? On first reading, it’s one of those I’d sometimes rather forget are even in the Bible at all!
This story is appalling in so many ways. At first glance, it’s tempting to simply
avoid it – just sweep it off the faith quilting table altogether.
As Lauren Wright Pittman – the artist who created the image for this morning’s text – writes:
I don’t know what to say. This story leaves me without adequate ways to fully process the searing pain and utter wrecking of the life of this woman, Rizpah. She is a “low status” wife of Saul. She is raped by a man who denies his actions. Her two sons are sentenced to death as a king fumbles to rectify wrongs that cause a famine in the land.
But then the artist also goes on to note:
[Rizpah] gathers her sackcloth and climbs the mountain of God to defend the bodies of her children and their half-brothers. She spends day and night for up to six months fighting off birds of prey and animals of the night from ripping apart the bodies of her children and what shred of hope she has left.
David hears of her passionate, radical, public grief and is moved to delayed justice. He calls for the burial of Saul and Jonathan, but also sees to the proper burial of the seven sons that he carelessly offered up to appease God.
Justice in this scenario looks like sheltered, buried, dry bones. Rizpah’s public unraveling causes the unraveling of David’s distorted version of justice.
God doesn’t require a human sacrifice for the end of the bloodguilt. God ends the famine when David listens to the voice of this strong, fierce, unraveling woman.
I pray that we learn from Rizpah. When we see injustice may we, like Rizpah, climb the mountain of God and defend those who cannot defend themselves. When we see someone unraveling in inexplicable grief, may this sight unravel us from the ways we are entangled with injustice.
Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne.
Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. 198.
These reflections by this morning’s artist help me to more clearly see how this event most certainly does belong in the quilt of God’s Big Story of Love for the world. In fact, I now see how it would be impoverished – and less truthful – without it.
Especially when considered from the perspective of Rizpah, this unvarnished story helps to tell the bigger story of humanity – including all the tragically misguided, downright appalling, and fiercely beautiful parts. And it helps to tell the mysterious story of God with us, too.
Striking parallels and three strikingly different compassionate responses
The parallels between Rizpah’s experience and recent events in our time seem striking. We’ve seen appalling killings that were recorded on cell phone videos. We’ve also seen the anguish and fierce love of the mothers, wives, and children of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others.
When we focus on the perspective of these families, what starts to unravel within us? How are we beginning to notice how we ourselves are tangled up in injustice that needs to be unraveled all around us? Is God stirring compassion in us in response to the Rizpahs among us? And what specific steps towards racial justice might you and I be drawn to take?
This morning, I want to briefly highlight three strikingly different examples of responses to the horrors of racial injustice. (I’ll include links so you can learn more if you’re interested.)
Mostly, I hope that these examples encourage and challenge us to remember that we each have a part to play – acting out of our own gifts and resources and sense of call. Now is a time for us as individuals, households, and a congregation to look for what our own part is and to act on it.
One organization that is challenging and encouraging to me right now is The Friends Committee on National Legislation. Their motto is: “A Quaker Lobby in the Public Interest”. According to their website, they are “a nonpartisan organization that seeks to live… values of integrity, simplicity, and peace as we build relationships across political divides to move policies forward.” They don’t care what party you belong to; they’ve been working at justice and peace since 1943 and they’ll work with anyone who wants to join forces with them on their core value-based priorities. In this moment when there seems to be a groundswell of people open to concrete meaningful change, I’m so glad to see this organization working on greater justice in policing.
Second, at the far other end of the theological and philosophical spectrum, is David Ashcraft, Senior Pastor of LCBC, a non-denominational independent network of churches known to many of us. Following the killing of George Floyd, Ashcraft broke some of my negative stereotypes of megachurch preachers in an emotional video message to his flock of some 17,000. Here is the link to this, as well as to the LNP article about a wrong statement he later made at another time. In my opinion, both the video and his apology are encouraging and challenging. He is honestly grappling with having “gone silent” in the past when he should have spoken up against racism. Being vulnerable like that is risky – especially when we’re in the earliest stages of facing our own part in systemic racism – I give him credit for not waiting till he has figured it all out but speaking up now, however imperfectly. He is in a unique position to connect to a large audience about the importance of being on an authentic learning journey about systemic racism; and I’m so glad he’s doing that.
The third example of working against the horrors of systemic racism uses quilting as the tool for action. While looking for examples of African-American story quilts this week, I stumbled across The Lynch Quilts Project. Wow. Artist LaShawnda Crowe Storm is a modern day Rizpah if there ever was one! This project began when she came across the story and photograph of the lynching in Okemah, Oklahoma on May 25, 1911 of Laura Nelson and her son. Storm’s mortification led her to engage communities of sewers to tell the story of racial violence across our nation’s history through quilts. In 2004, they completed the first quilt – entitled “Her Name was Laura Nelson”. I’ll include the link in the written version of this sermon because this quilt depicts a tough story which needs parental discretion and guidance if being shared with children.
I do want to show a quilt that The Lynch Quilts Project completed in 2017 – entitled “A Partial Listing”. This one-inch square quilt represents each person killed by lynching, police shootings, and other race related violence in this country over the past 100+ years. Different colors are used to mark years and to also identify those killed by gender and age. What struck me most was the size of this quilt hanging from an outside balcony! That huge quilt is made up of one-inch squares.
May the healing begin
LaShawnda Crowe Storm says,
I believe society cannot heal and move beyond its past transgressions if these issues are not first acknowledged and eventually become a part of the national dialogue and awareness. As such, the first steps in any form of healing begins by opening the door and letting the bones fall out the closet so that they can be inspected…
This morning I am encouraged and challenged by LaShawnda Crowe Storm and other modern day Rizpahs around us who are naming those who have suffered and died due to systemic racism. They are quilting. They are doing the messy imperfect work of publicly confessing. They are working towards laws that are more just.
They come from all walks of life. They are doing their unique parts as they are gifted and called. They are as different as can be — and that’s God’s Big Story. We’re all included. We’re all invited to continue to be transformed and also to be part of Love’s transforming work in this world.
What’s my part? What’s your part? What’s our part together? As we come to the Communion Table this morning, may we do so hungry and ready to receive the sustenance we need for the hard and important and beautiful work we’re called to do.
In this moment, may we center the experiences of modern-day Rizpahs. May their stories stir our compassion. May we mourn with those who mourn; and then may we act in this moment to join transforming Love.
This is the Welcome Table of our Redeemer,
and you are invited.
Make no excuses,
saying you cannot attend;
for around this table you will find your family.
Come not because you have to,
but because you need to.
Come not to prove you are saved
but to seek the courage to follow wherever Christ leads.
Come not to speak but to listen,
not to hear what’s expected,
but to be open to the ways the Spirit moves among you.
So be joyful, not somber,
for this is the feast of the reign of God,
where the broken are molded into a Beloved Community,
and where the celebration over evil’s defeat has already begun.
from Sing the Journey, #170
Wherever you are, and by whatever words you know it, let us join together in reading the Lord’s prayer:
Our loving God, in whom is heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
And so we remember the night that
Jesus took a loaf of bread and when he had given thanks,
he broke it
and said, “This is my body for you.
When you share bread together, remember me.”
In the same way, he took the cup also after supper, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
Let us, too, share this meal and so remember Christ.
Our Loving parent spreads a meal before us
whenever we come home.
The bread broken for us is the body of Jesus Christ,
the embodied heart of God.
Here Jesus is remembered.
Here the repentant heart is received.
Here we celebrate
fullness of belly and quenching of thirst.
Here we taste and see
that our past, present and future
are held in the arms of Great Love:
May this simple meal, and the Extravagant Love
and grace and mercy of God,
nourish, strengthen and sustain us
for just and faithful living
with neighbor, stranger, and enemy
and with all creation. Amen.
by Susan Gascho-Cooke
You are invited to either eat your own communion elements at this time, or remember sharing communion in the past, or visualize sharing communionwith one another as we would if we were physically gathered together this morning. These are symbols of Christ’s love.
Communion Hymn— Heart with Loving Heart United, HWB #420
Sharing Time & Prayer— Please email your prayer requests and sharing news to Pastor Leslie Homer-Cattell at email@example.com. These will be shared during the live Zoom service, and included in the sharing concerns email sent out afterwards.
Closing Hymn— God Be With You Til We Meet Again, Ron & Diane Umble, Hans and Kate Umble Smucker
Note from Worship Committee: We plan to end all of our future worship services with this song, until such time as we can ALL gather and sing it together in person. **If your household would like to record yourselves singing this song, please send it our way!
As we leave this virtual space,
Send your Holy Spirit into our lives.
Open our ears to hear what you were saying to us in the things that happen to us
open our eyes to see the needs around us
open our hands to do our work well
open our lips to speak the truth even when it is not easy
open our minds to discover new truth
open our hearts to love
Worship Leader: Joseph Gascho
Sermon: Leslie Homer-Cattell
Children’s Time: Malinda Clatterbuck
Prelude & Offertory coordinator for July: Susan Gascho-Cooke
Tech Host: Adam Kehler