July 26, 2020
Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster
theme: Unraveled, by A Sanctified Art
“Anti-Creation Narrative (Pharaoh Hardens His Heart to Moses’ Requests)” by Lisa Wright Pittman
| A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org
see Artist’s statement below
Lighting of the Peace Lamp—
We light this lamp every Sunday to remind us we are welcome here —
that God welcomes each and everyone of us, no matter what.
We light this lamp in solidarity with all who are praying and working
for peace and justice and transformation on this green earth.
We light this lamp to welcome the Spirit, who has been hovering
over all creation since the beginning of time, to make Herself known to us here today.
Call to Worship— Liturgy for Exodus 5:1-3; 7:8-23
I have a story to tell—
A story of a God who longed for justice.
A story of a God who pushed back the waters to make dry land.
A story of a God who would not take “no” for an answer when it came to the safety of God’s own. For God’s people were suffering.
God’s people were crying out.
God’s people were shackled and bound by oppression.
So God said to Moses, “Speak.”
“Let my people Go.”
And Moses spoke—
Over and over again.
Moses stood up for justice,
But over and over again, Pharaoh said no.
Power said no.
The path to justice is never easy, is it?
The path to change is never a straight line, is it?
So like Rosa, who sat on the bus, and Martin who had a dream, Moses kept trying.
God kept speaking.
Moses kept listening.
Hope kept breathing.
And when power tried to unravel justice, The people kept dreaming.
God longed for justice.
God still longs for justice.
So let us worship God—
For human injustice will never be strong enough to unravel God’s dream that all might be free, And all might know love.
Let us worship holy God.
Gathering Song— What Is This Place, HWB #1, from CMCL Jan 26, 2020
“Moses and the Deliverance of God’s People from Egypt”, Malinda Clatterbuck
Offering— Thank you for your continued support of your congregation. Our 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.
God of unending surprises,
This life is a tapestry of moments woven together,
and we long to be weavers of love.
Today we gather and pray that you would unravel our bias.
Unravel our assumptions.
Unravel whatever it is that keeps us from you.
And as you do, clear space in our hearts for your Word.
We are listening. We are praying. We are offering ourselves.
Offertory— “Ain’t Got No — I Got Life,” by Nina Simone
Who Tells Your Story?
In the broadway musical, Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda has President George Washington saying,
“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known, when I was young and dreamed of glory.
You have no control.
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”
What is your story but a small part of history. And what is history but someone’s rendition of what has happened? When Mark and I lived in Wichita, KS, Mark was interviewing for a teaching position at Trinity Academy, a private high school. He was asked as part of the interview to teach a history lesson to a classroom of students. The headmaster, Dr. Anthony, sat in on the class. Mark started the lesson by asking Dr. Anthony to verify that the teaching time he had to fill was 20 minutes long, right? Dr. Anthony spittered and sputtered, and clarified that in fact he had a full hour. Mark threw a bit of a tantrum. Exasperated, he yelled nonsense about not being prepared, he couldn’t do this … and stomped out of the room. About 15 seconds later he walked back in and asked the class to tell him what just occurred. At least one of them was willing to, if sheepishly, summarize that there obviously was a misunderstanding between Dr. Anthony and Mr. Clatterbuck, and that Mr. Clatterbuck got really angry and walked out in a rage. Mark then explained that he wasn’t angry at all. He was actually performing. He had known the time allotted him was a full hour, but he staged this scene, wanting to make a point about history, and our interpretation of it. We live in and see the world- we see things happening- What we see, and how we make sense of it is not necessarily what actually has taken place. History is a retelling of stories- but it changes depending on who is telling it.
It is time for us to unravel the stories we’ve been told about our nation, and the church- and listen to the weavings of other tellings of those same stories from other storytellers.
We are going to spend a little time this morning delving into parallel stories- that of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from the slavery and oppression of the Egyptians, and the story of the slavery and oppression of black people in America, and what liberation for the black person in America would look like, because if we are honest, we know liberation has not yet come.
Let’s begin with the Exodus story, as we know it. Before we get into the meaning of the text, I wonder how many of us still picture Moses as a Charlton Hesston- like white skinned man with grey hair. Moses most definitely was not white skinned.
How many of us still think of Moses as the acting agent in the interactions with the Pharaoh- We just read the text of our story, which tells us that it was Aaron, Moses’ brother, who spoke to Pharaoh, not Moses himself. Still- all of our movies show Moses throwing down his staff to be changed into a snake. Our stories have Moses as the one speaking to the Pharaoh.
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
James H. Cone, the father of Black Liberation Theology, states that, “The exodus was the decisive event. Through it Yahweh was revealed as the savior of an oppressed people.” Our story today tells of a God who cares for people who are suffering. It tells us that God sides with those who are beaten down by systemic injustices every day. God chooses to side with the weak over the strong. God chooses to side with people who are enslaved, over the enslaver, the oppressed over the oppressor. And God’s “Siding With” means full liberation.
For the Israelites, that liberation comes through nothing less than a total attack on every level of the system that Made Egypt successful. The plagues God sends systematically attack the structure that has made Egypt strong. Water is turned to undrinkable Blood. Crops are destroyed through Locusts and Hail. Livestock used for sustenance as well as part of the workforce is made ill and lame. The air is polluted with gnats. Every first born child, the heirs to their wealth, are killed by the Lord’s spirit moving through the streets. The slave labor, upon which the economy depends has fled. And when Pharaoh changes his mind and sends the Egyptian army to retrieve them, the military is drowned in the sea.
In liberating God’s people, God brings down the political, social, economic and military world of the Egyptian people. The story tells us multiple times that God does all of this- “that they might know that I am God.”
Cone’s Black Theology has its roots in what some of you may know as Liberation Theology. I feel like I am still just learning book words around what Liberation theology is- but the more I read of it, the more I realize that my theology and interpretation of the message of Jesus much aligns with this message.
Liberation theology originated in the Catholic Church in the 1960s in Latin America. The situation during that time may sound familiar. There were few wealthy families in various countries in Latin America who continued to accumulate wealth, as the rest of the people in those countries fell into greater poverty. This wealthy elite minority had power, and controlled not only the governments, but also the church, who refused to check the power of those families because their coffers were being filled by them. Still there were some Bishops of the day, who decided that living out the gospel of Jesus meant meeting the physical needs of the oppressed. They insisted that sin was not just spiritualized- sin against God. But that sin was physical- it was enfleshed. Sin against God was sin against my neighbor. They declared that sin was the systemic violence of the economic system that was exploiting the poor in order to keep the rich rich, and the only way to respond was through the Gospel of Jesus, which they interpreted as liberation from sin of political bondage. Sin looks like power exploiting the vulnerable, and liberation looks like physical deliverance from that exploitation.
Black Theology certainly focuses on these same teachings of Jesus, but also relies heavily on the Exodus story as the foundation for understanding God as a God who delivers the oppressed from the bondages of physical Sin.
A different interpretation than many of us were taught in Sunday School class.
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
Now let’s look to the history of our country, and the enslavement and oppression of black people from the beginning here. If your experience was anything like mine, what you were taught in school went something like this. “The Settlers brought them, and found them so helpful in raising tobacco, that more were brought in and slavery became a part of our history.” Textbooks say things like “they were allowed all the freedom they seemed to want,” and, “… at the holiday season they were almost as free as their masters.” These are actual quotes from children’s American History textbooks.
But in actuality, between 1525 and 1866 12.5 million black Africans landed in the New World after having been brutally and violently kidnapped from their homes in Africa, forced to march to the shores of the continent, where they were loaded onto ships, and if they survived the trip across the ocean, were auctioned off upon arrival in the New World. It is estimated that close to 25% of them were children. It is estimated that upwards of 100 million were lost at sea en route. And if the number of slaves that made it to the New World is staggering to you, 12.5 million, it is less than 10% of the total number of slaves brought to the Americas- South America had a much larger slave trade industry than North.
In 1865 Black people who had been enslaved were given their freedom on paper, but they are still fighting for equality in a white majority, and white privileged culture. And 1865 was not that long ago. My father’s grandfather was alive at that time.
The church has no cleaner record of racism than the rest of the population. White Christians owned slaves. White Christians rallied in the streets to keep blacks out of the schools with their white children. White Christians populated the KKK. White Christian men in politics kept blacks from voting for years, kept them from marrying whites. Most White Christians were silent during the Civil Rights Movement. White Christians have been as much a part of the violations against black bodies in our country as the rest of the population has. Because even if we have not been actively involved in direct bigotry, we have not been actively working for equality for our black neighbors and brothers and sisters. Freedom on paper in 1865 has not meant liberation.
What’s more, there were no plagues sent by God to vindicate black slaves in America. There was no sea that swallowed up the military fighting to maintain slavery during the Civil War. In fact, many of those military leaders are still hailed as great war heroes to be praised through statues that bear their names throughout our nation.
I have been reading a lot of Black Theology the past couple of weeks. Actually, I’ve just been reading a lot of black authors–hearing black voices, hearing different stories of our country’s history, of our country’s present. I need to hear these other voices, rather than the partial truths I’ve been told and believed so much of my life – coming from one biased perspective. If I truly desire to live out the gospel of Jesus, if I truly desire to side with the poor and oppressed, as Jesus taught us, and as the story of the Exodus models for us, then I, we need to listen to, and embrace other stories of our nation both past and present. And then we need to act.
Cone says, “God’s salvation is revealed in the liberation of slaves from socio-political bondage.” Today, in America, what does it mean for us to work for the liberation of the black body from socio-political bondage?
In a letter to his son in the book Between the World and Me, journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, who grew up in inner city Baltimore, states, “But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth… You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”
We need to be listening to the stories of black people. The experiences they are telling us they are having right now. How the legacy of slavery is still impacting black bodies today.
Resmaa Menakem is a therapist who specializes in conflict and violence. His book, My Grandmother’s Hands, focuses on racialized trauma and how it is held in the body. “For the past three decades, we’ve earnestly tried to address white-body supremacy in America with reason, principles, and ideas, using dialogue, forums, discussions, education, and mental training. But the widespread destruction of Black bodies continues.” This is the story of our world today.
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
Just hearing stories of the white-body supremacy, even that term, “white-body supremacy” has changed my understanding. Healing must take place in our bodies, if we are to move forward. Menakem goes on, “Ideally, America will grow up and out of white- body supremacy: Americans will begin healing their long-held trauma around race: and whiteness will begin to evolve from race to culture, and then to community.”
As we strive to understand the message God is sending through the Exodus story- that liberation is a story of liberation from oppressive structures, as we look in the mirror at our white bodies and see that oppression is the structure we have created, we must be compelled to actively work for racial justice around us.
My voice, your voice- is not the only voice that tells the story of the history of our lives. And only when all voices are heard will the story be true. If the Biblical narrative tells us anything, it tells us that those who have been silenced, and marginalized, those whose bodies have been oppressed and exploited are the voices we must pay special attention to.
As James H. Cone puts it, “To love thy neighbor requires more than a pious feeling in my heart. It requires social and political analysis so that piety will not become a substitute for justice. The truth of the gospel, then, is a truth that must be done and not simply spoken. To speak the truth without doing the truth is to contradict the truth one claims to affirm.”
*see works cited for sermon below
Sharing Time— Please email your prayer requests and sharing news to Pastor Susan Gascho-Cooke at firstname.lastname@example.org. These will be shared during the live Zoom service, and included in the sharing concerns email sent out afterwards.
Sharing Prayer— I chose this blessing because it felt fitting in this time of extended — for how long? we don’t know — waiting. Until the pandemic is under control … until we can meet again … until we can touch our loved ones again … until there is truly peace and justice … we wait for so much.
The Art of Enduring
For Holy Saturday
can wait as long
as you can.
began eons ago
and knows the art
witnessed the turning
weathered the spiraling
is in no rush.
will plant itself
by your door.
will keep vigil
and chant prayers.
will bring a friend
will pack a lunch
and a thermos
its sweet time
until it hears
of what had lain
dead within you
and is ready
—Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace
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!
Benediction— HWB #764 (adapted)
Go in love,
For love alone endures.
Go in peace,
for it is the gift of God.
Go in courage,
for we cannot go where God is not.
Sermon, Works Cited
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Spiegel & Grau, 2015.
Cone, James H. Speaking the Truth: Ecumenism, Liberation, and the Black Theology. Orbis Books, 1986.
Cone, James H and Gayraud S. Wilmore. Black Theology: A documentary history volume one: 1966-1979. Orbis Books, 1993.
Greenley, Cynthia. How History Textbooks Reflect America’s refusal to Reckon with Slavery. Vox. August 26, 2019.
Menakem, Resmaa. My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. Central Recovery Press, 2017.
Miranda, Lin Manuel. Hamilton, the Musical. 2016.
Prevot, Andrew, professor Boston College. Lecture for Lumen Christi Institute in Chicago. May 9, 2019. The Hope of Exodus in Black Theology.
Zinn, Howard. The Young People’s History of the United States Vol. One. Seven Stories Press, 2007.
Worship Leader: Susan Gasco-Cooke
Sermon: Malinda Clatterbuck
Children’s Time: Malinda Clatterbuck
Prelude & Offertory coordinator for July: Susan Gascho-Cooke
Tech Host: Adam Kehler