July 5, 2020
Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster
all prayers are from Unraveled materials, by A Sanctified Art (with a few minor adaptations)
Welcome— Pastor Leslie Homer-Cattell
Welcome to worship this morning with Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster. It’s good to find ways to “do” and to “be” church together – especially in these strange times. Despite not gathering in person right now, we are not alone.
As our time together begins, I invite you to email any joys or prayer requests that you may have to me at email@example.com. I’ll check my email later in the service and pass on those I receive during sharing time.
This morning we continue our new worship theme, centered around the word Unraveled. This series was put together by a team of minister-artists who call themselves A Sanctified Art.
As so much in our world continues to “unravel” – or continues to need to be “unraveled” – this theme is so fitting.
Hopefully, you received materials in the mail this week with a study journal and some other ways to engage with this theme in the coming months. May God’s good “unraveling” work continue within and around us.
Prayer of Confession
God of unexpected joy and answered prayers,
We confess that sometimes things feel too good to be true,
While at other times we wonder if you hear us at all.
When life unravels for the worst—we blame you.
But when life unravels for the best, filling our days with holy surprise—
We sometimes praise ourselves, thinking we’ve earned this unexpected joy. Forgive us. Give us eyes to see you in our midst.
Draw us closer to you, we pray. Amen.
Lighting of the Peace Lamp & Call to Worship
One: God, you are a God of invitation.
All: You invited Abraham to follow you.
One: You invited the disciples to drop their nets.
All: You invited the children to draw near.
One: You invited Peter to walk on water.
All: You invited the tax collector to dinner.
One: You invited the Samaritan woman into eternal life.
All: Just the same, you invite us to live lives of faith.
One: Give us the strength to say yes.
All: Let us worship good and holy God.
Gathering Song— “Unraveled by Uncertainty”, by Stephen M. Fearing, sung by Susan Gascho-Cooke (to the same tune as “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” HWB #493)
Children’s Time— “Froggy Learns to Swim”, read by 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.
Scripture— Matthew 14:22-33
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Sermon— Susan Gascho-Cooke, “Unraveled by Uncertainty”
As the story goes, a Zen Master once said, “For forty years I sold water by the river.”
This is, apparently, a famous Zen saying.
It was told to me by my brother a year or two ago.
I immediately thought of the parallels with pastoring a Christian church,
and was filled with dread.
After all, in Anabaptist Christianity,
we believe (although we’re not alone in this)
that every person can access God directly,
with no intermediary
But, if all I’m doing is selling water by the river,
what do I really have to offer?
And, why does anyone stop for this water, anyway,
if the river is right here?
From the reading I’ve done on this saying since then,
I think the meaning in Zen Buddhism
is that a Zen master’s enlightenment transforms not only the Zen master,
but everything and everyone in whom they come in contact
So, the Zen Master’s water,
even if they drew it from the river,
is no longer the same water as the river.
I share that because I want to be fair to the source —
I am borrowing a phrase from a tradition that’s not my own
and my own interpretation of it feels quite different,
and I want to acknowledge that.
For me, I don’t think that I transform the water in,
but I do think that sometimes
those last few steps to the river are the hardest.
too hard, sometimes
And if I can be of any service at all,
to those thirsty for the water of the river,
by dipping from it myself and sharing what I’ve collected,
well, then, I’m happy to do it.
This is a season in which I find myself also feeling leery of the river.
For this morning’s sermon,
I spent a lot of time lining up bowls of river water
that others have collected,
and I was planning to stand by the river
holding out bowls of their collected river-water for you
But I also believe that one of the jobs of river-water vendors,
is to at least remind everyone who stops by to ladle up
what you’re serving,
that the river is right there … flowing and going, ready
whenever you’re ready to wade in or scoop some up
This morning’s scripture story takes place on a lake.
We don’t know exactly what this story was meant to mean …
The Gospel of Matthew was written approx. AD 85,
so this gospel isn’t so much a history text,
as it is the water that Matthew was selling by the river
to his community
His way of collecting and interpreting the gospel
to give hope and understanding to his community,
in its struggles
I wonder what the water is for us, a community even farther removed
chronologically, from the time of Christ.
For all the story is referred to as “The One Where Jesus Walks on Water,” Jesus walking on water is a pretty small part of the story
The characters in this story — the disciples —
aren’t folks who would be leery
of walking down to the water themselves
Many of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen by trade,
which means they were likely very competent sailors,
who spent much of their lives in or by the water
But there they were, out on the lake all night long,
being buffeted by winds and waves,
In this story, they weren’t afraid until Jesus showed up,
a ghost walking toward them on the water
in the “fourth watch of the night” (between 3 and 6 a.m.)
In the Bible, this is the saving time of day —
it’s the time of day when the Egyptian army was defeated
in the Red Sea in Exodus 14
I couldn’t help but think ahead to the time
in the not too distant future, when
Peter would realize he’d denied Jesus three times,
when he heard a rooster crow at dawn
If I think about my own and others’ periodic battles with insomnia:
This fourth watch is a time when things come unraveled;
Fears loom, emotions grow bigger
What happens when you add a storm?
and you add that it took Jesus all night to show up?
Peter responds to Jesus’ water-walking
just about like you might imagine someone would
who’d been up all night,
frayed nerves and punch drunk,
Peter shouts out: “Lord, if it is you,
command me to walk on water, too!”
Jesus says, “Come!” So Peter does. Walks toward Jesus on the water.
But then he notices the wind, and he gets scared,
and begins to sink.
Notice it doesn’t say he fell over — it says he began to sink.
So, Jesus reaches out to take hand,
and says, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
The Unraveled materials gave the theme: Unraveled by Uncertainty
to today’s materials.
Because Peter began to sink once he was uncertain.
And the story does have an arc that moves from Peter’s
certainty, to doubt, back to certainty
Certainty: that is Jesus and he is walking on water,
and if he invites me to, I can, too!
to Uncertainty: the second-guessing,
the remembering “the rules” —
oh, yeah: wind, gravity,
and back to Certainty: by the end of the story,
all the disciples say, “You are the Son of God!”
Any unknown or mystery about Jesus is solved.
The wind ceases, and minds can be at ease.
The question portion of this exam is over, kids.
What had unraveled is knit back together —
for the unraveling was a brief exception,
just a few stitches dropped,
so not much got unraveled
and the clicking of needles can resume
and we can keep working
on the pattern we’d been following all along
“Oh you of little faith, you doubted, but you’re back on track now”
As I was playing with this text in sermon prep,
I made several pages of blackout poetry ,
and found myself lingering over that phrase:
“Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Once again, I yearned for my scissors.
For the phrase that kept echoing that one was:
“Oh you of little doubt, why did you faith?”
(Why did you believe?)
Sometimes I think it’s an easier leap for the tremulous in faith
to leave behind doubt,
Than it is for the absolutely certain
to be able to grasp what faith is.
For there is little cause for faith and belief
when you have certainty.
Faith and belief imply a gap that needs to be bridged —
a leap that needs to be made —
despite uncertainty, one believes.
A former chaplain colleague (Rev. Kyndra Frazier) of mine
posted a reflection on Facebook this week
She startled me with her first sentence:
“I don’t believe in God.”
Wow, I thought — she’s changed a bit over the years!
But what came next was: “I believe God.”
“I don’t believe in God. I believe God.”
The faith statement the disciples make at the end of the story
is about belief in God, I think.
“We believe in you! You can do it!”
But Peter’s actions — foolish as they were, to me feel more like
simply believing Jesus. Rather than believing in Jesus.
Jesus said, “come.” And Peter trusted Jesus’ word, his honesty.
Peter believed Jesus.
Because the longer I live,
the less I see God calling us to certainty.
That arc of:
followed by a lapse in certainty,
followed by a return of certainty
Doesn’t feel like the arc of the universe I’m looking out on,
or the one I’m looking back on, or forward towards
I think Jesus’ life and teachings were all about unraveling —
I think he had a vision of a time or place, or better still: a WAY
when things would be knitted together
And in fact, he worked for the wholeness of humans,
but often the fabric of society, of religion, of government,
sometimes even NATURE, had to be unraveled
to be able to get to those who most needed healing
to let the healing get through to the person underneath
and the fabric needed to stay open for air and healing
We often talk about how Jesus’ questions tended to unravel
his conversation partners.
But I think his answers did, too.
I think Jesus stands with us now,
as we once again realize that much of the work before us
in this country and this time,
is the work of unraveling.
Unraveling unjust systems,
unraveling racism and anti-blackness,
unraveling sexism, homophobia and transphobia
unraveling the clothes we put on back in Eden out of shame
unraveling our dependency upon so much more than we need:
the greed that has become an addiction
that tells our brain that we need the things we have
and the power and convenience SO BADLY
that it’s ok to sell out our loved ones,
and especially sell out strangers we’ve convinced ourselves
are somehow less valuable or worthy
I think it is addiction. It’s sickness.
I think I/we … need to be careful what water we’re selling by the river,
because as I look around
there’s a lot of churches selling water by the river
that ain’t the living water flowing through that river
We’ve tainted it, rather than transforming it.
and we should make sure that we’re drinking straight from the river, too
not just frequenting our favorite riverside vendors.
May we not be so paralyzed by our fear of these uncertain times,
that we cannot participate in this amazing season
Sharing Time & Prayer— Please email your prayer requests and sharing news to Pastor Leslie Homer-Cattell at firstname.lastname@example.org. These will be shared during the live Zoom service, and included in the sharing concerns email sent out afterwards.
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
I believe in God, the Great Sewer—
Who weaves us together in community,
Collecting our loose ends and turning them into belonging.
I believe in the Holy Spirit—
Who hems us in before and behind,
Catching us when we fall and writing us into God’s holy narrative.
And I believe in Jesus Christ—
Who loved and claimed the people society had thrown out, refusing to disregard
anyone as scrap.
I believe God has woven part of God’s self into the fiber of our being, Making us inherently worthy of love and belonging.
I believe the fabric of my life is weak,
That I am prone to error and need God’s handiwork to remind me of love.
I believe in the Church, and that like a quilt of different fabrics, She is designed to be as diverse and beautiful as God’s creation.
And I believe that when life unravels,
God is there to stitch my wounds together,
To hold me in the palm of God’s hand, to tell me of love, And to invite me into a new journey.
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!
Go now in peace, remembering…
we are invited to be brave
we are invited to trust the God of the wind and sea
we are invited to move and take the risk of changing
We believe, O God.
Help our unbelief.
Worship Leader: Leslie Homer-Cattell
Sermon: Susan Gascho-Cooke
Children’s Time: Malinda Clatterbuck
Prelude & Offertory coordinator for July: Susan Gascho-Cooke
Tech Host: Drew Brubaker