June 28, 2020
Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster
all prayers are from Unraveled materials, by A Sanctified Art (with a few minor adaptations)
Prelude— Homemade Toy, by Daryl Snider
Welcome— Pastor Susan Gascho-Cooke
Welcome to the this 16th Sunday of gathering for worship by the sharing of common words and music and spirit. We miss the familiarity and comfort of our worship space at 328 W. Orange St. We can join Leslie there virtually for her sermon this morning, but in reality we are joining one another from many points on the map. This month was to have been Lancaster’s celebrations of LGBTQ+ Pride — but that, like so many things, has been tentatively moved to October because of the pandemic. Let me just say that there is no lack of pride this June at CMCL. We are still a community of many different sexual orientations and gender identities, and we still celebrate that! Becci Leatherman made some more masks for my family, and I was especially pleased to send her some rainbow fabric for a fabulous mask. I look forward to wearing it out and about, as they say.
This morning we begin a 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, and they create it before the coronavirus was a thing. But wow, the world “unraveled” fits our times now in a big way, I think. Some of the unraveling has been catastrophic and negative — there is simply no positive way to spin the suffering of COVID-19 across our world. Livelihoods unraveling. Security unraveling. But there are other things unraveling right now that need to be unraveled, as painful as it may be. Racism unraveling — within our selves and our culture and our structures. We don’t know what it will look like, or what, if anything, will be left of the systems that racism has built.
If you are a knitter or sew-er who has stories of unraveling, send them our way this summer. If you want to take up a project like unraveling something and making it into something new — do it! And share the story with us. I have a mental picture of all the CMCL knitters in our congregation un-doing sweaters during worship, instead of making them! You’ll be getting materials in the mail this week with a study journal and some other ways to engage with this theme in the coming months. That was a long intro — but now you know! Welcome to “Unraveled.”
Prayer of Confession
God we confess—we are loose ends.
You give us the gift of community,
and we weave walls of exclusion and isolation.
You give us the gift of a new day,
and we spend more time unraveling justice than sewing seeds of peace and unity.
You give us the gift of holy surprises and unimaginable beauty,
and we shut off our hearts and our blindfolded eyes.
Forgive us for our frayed ends and self-centered hearts.
Unravel the sin in us and replace it with love.
Gratefully we pray,
Lighting of the Peace Lamp— “Let there be light, Lord God of hosts,” HWB #371, sung by Shenandoah Christian Music Camp
Call to Worship
One: Gracious God, we bring you the broken parts of ourselves.
All: Hem us in before and behind.
One: Creator God, we bring you the joyful parts of ourselves.
All: Weave us together in hope and praise.
One: God of new life, we bring you doubt and faith knotted up in our hearts.
All: Unravel our doubt. Weave faith into our hearts. Draw us together and point us toward you.
One: In hope and faith we pray. In hope and faith we worship.
Gathering Song— Brethren, we have met to worship, HWB #8, by Blue Moon Rising
Children’s Time— ft. “The Blind Boy and the Hunter”, read by Malinda Clatterbuck
Psalm 2020, Ruth Ann Kulp (May 24, 2020)
When I sing in plaintive tones,
who will join in my lament?
walls just listen quietly.
Do not hide your presence from us
The poor, and newly poor
sleep on benches, in doorways,
under bushes, in cars,
in tents with no heat.
Do not hide your presence from us
How long will we look
but not see, listen, but not
deeply enough, speak without
piercing through decades of lies?
Open our eyes to your presence
Branches from a flowering cherry
tree lean down so far, blossoms sink
into a pond filled with tears.
Open our eyes to your presence.
Sunlight carried on ridges of water
spreads glimmers of light, while
under the surface of these pond waters
an orange and white koi sleeps, peacefully,
All the world speaks of your presence
The irises, how their stems stand tall,
and their petals curve down with centers
open as a cupped hand, nothing is hidden.
All the world speaks of your presence.
When I see white clouds quilted
across the sky, I remember
how kindness can patch us together.
We are all clouds, we are all sky.
Wrap your kind presence around us.
Special Music— Never One Thing, May Erlewine.
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— Hullabaloo, by Daryl Snider
Scripture— Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’
The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Now Sarah said, ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ And she said, ‘Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’
Sermon— “Laugh With Me,” Leslie Homer-Cattell (click the link for the video, or read below)
With usual activities curtailed during the pandemic, Dave and I have been among those binge-watching shows on Netflix a bit more than usual. We’re currently in the middle of “Anne with an E” – which I believe Rod and Mary Lou recommended. It’s based on the well-known book Anne of Green Gables set in the dramatic sweeping landscape of Canada’s Prince Edward Island. The story is good, and the cinematography is absolutely beautiful. We’d also recommend it!
When it comes to movies, one of the most memorable films for me over the years is “Crash.” It’s tough to watch at parts and couldn’t be more different from Anne’s story – set as it is in densely populated Los Angeles! Crash interweaves the stories of people of different colors, cultures, and languages “crashing” into one another. In the process, multiple sides of the characters are revealed; and all expectations about how they will act dramatically unravel.
Movies like Crash and songs like Never One Thing serve to remind me of the
I’m the underbelly, I am the claw
Never one thing no, not one thing at all
It turns out that people – including me – don’t fit neatly into categories of good and evil.
I am the salve, I am the sting
Never, no never, no never one thing
As a white person, grappling with this reality right now in light of systemic racial and ethnic injustices in our country is uncomfortable at best. At worst, it can almost be paralyzing.
In The Rebirthing of God (SkyLight Paths, 2015), John Philip Newell notes that, “Part of what can prevent us from carrying out compassionate action is not only the complexity of what needs to be done in our lives and our world, but the sheer amount of mess and even chaos within us and between us.”
God’s grace in deep complexity
This morning’s familiar story about Abraham and Sarah often trips me up in a similar way. I remember their backstory before Sarah’s miraculous pregnancy – how they abused Hagar and forced her into surrogacy. What does it mean for Abraham and Sarah to receive the gift of a child in spite of their prior actions?
Artist Hannah Garrity grappled with this question as she created a piece of art for this text from Genesis. She writes,
“The flow throughout the background relates directly to the pain and joy that Sarah and Hagar have struggled through in their discordant parallel lives… – Expressed in shades of milk, blood, and water…The blood that delivers life is the same blood that is shed in sexual abuse. The milk that sustains life is produced by the body whether a child is conceived by choice or by force…
The moments of our lives envision God’s grace in deep complexity.”
So what might Abraham and Sarah’s story have to say to us as people who are “never one thing” either? How might God be calling us into this story of “grace in deep complexity”?
Encountering an old story in a new way
To encounter an old story in a new way, poet and Catholic theologian Padraig O’Tuama suggests marking “stations” in the story – like the Stations of the Cross mark the events of Jesus’ crucifixion. O’Tuama notes that freezing each frame this way can help us put ourselves “in the heart of the text, or in an unnoticed corner of a text, or an ignored point of view.” (Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community, 59.)
As I marked 14 stations in this morning’s story, I wondered at all that may have been unraveling for Abraham and Sarah as God’s good purposes unfolded.
- “The Lord” appears to Abraham as he sits in the heat of the day.
Maybe it’s this pandemic we’re in, but I had to wonder: was Abraham stuck
at home? Bored and lonely? Living only up in his head?
- Abraham sees “three men” and leaps up to greet them – bowing and begging them to accept his hospitality.
Was God unraveling Abraham’s isolation? His inaction?
- The visitors accept.
Hunger – for nourishment and human contact – begin to be unraveled.
- Abraham and Sarah literally run around preparing an elaborate meal.
Had they previously been preoccupied mainly with their own needs?
Hoarding essential supplies for their own household?
- Abraham serves the meal to the visitors and stands by them under a tree.
Abraham’s role as master of servants seems to unravel as he himself serves.
- The visitors ask about Sarah and one of them makes a startling prediction
that she will have a son.
- In response, Sarah laughs with disbelief!
I wonder if her identity as one who cannot have children begins to unravel.
- The Lord asks Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Is anything too wonderful
for me? Sarah will have a son.” – Hearing this, does Abraham’s own
resignation to having no children with Sarah start to unravel?
- Sarah is afraid and denies laughing.
- And the Lord replies, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”
Do Sarah’s limited expectations and her inability to be surprised begin to
unravel even more at this point?
- Sarah conceives and bears a son to Abraham – just as God said.
- Abraham names the baby “Isaac” and circumcises him.
God weaves Abraham and Sarah’s unraveled identities into two new ones –
they become faithful late life parents of Isaac.
- Sarah says, “God has brought laughter for me and all who hear me
laughing.” – As God weaves Sarah’s new identity, her laughter becomes
contagious – rippling on to bless the community and all.
- Sarah says, “Who would have ever thought? I’ve borne a son to Abraham.”
At this point, Sarah’s limited expectations have been completed unraveled.
So much unravels for Abraham and Sarah in this story – beyond their wildest imaginations! In spite of their past actions and limited perspectives, God remains with them in the midst of the unraveling; weaving and reweaving their lives into the tapestry of God’s Big Story – which also included Hagar and Ismael and another beloved people descended from their line.
Unravel us, O God
If it wasn’t clear enough before, the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, George Floyd, and too many others have made it very clear now that much needsto be unraveled in and around us.
The unraveling of individuals and unjust systems has begun – a process that can be both scary and exhilarating! This morning’s story reminds me that God is in the midst of it all.
- The Creator is still making all things new in us and in the world
- Jesus the Christ still shows us what that new counter-cultural way of justice and peace looks like
- The Spirit stirs us to live and act with others towards that alternative reality and gives us the wisdom and courage we need
So how can we recognize and join the holy unraveling going on in us and in the systems we’re part of right now? For me, this morning’s story offers three clues:
First – in response to God meeting him, Abraham noticed three strangers; and humbly offered them warm hospitality. A welcoming stance can help us recognize and learn from God’s presence in others.
Second, Abraham and Sarah had unedited conversations with God and their three guests. It was awkward and messy and brave. The strangers asked personal questions. They gave unsolicited opinions about a tender family matter; and Sarah scoffed out loud! Then she got scared; and lied to God. But God stuck with Abraham and Sarah; and they decided to change and grow. Later they understood it all more. Real and holy unraveling happens imperfectly, and that’s ok.
Third, Sarah laughed! Theologian Walter Brueggemann says, “Laughter is a biblical way of receiving a newness which cannot be explained. The newness is sheer gift – underived, unwarranted.” (Interpretation: Genesis. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982. 182.) Unexpected joy can be a sign that God is doing something new.
Challenge and promise
So what needs unravelling in us? Defensiveness? An internal resistance to
change? A paralyzing sense of guilt or hopelessness? A tendency to make snap judgments about where others are in their own messy holy unraveling journeys?
As hard as we may try, we’re never one thing. And this moment requires an
honest look at ourselves as individuals, as a community, and as a nation.
For earnest Anabaptists like us, the experience of Abraham and Sarah offers a path that is both challenge and promise. May we adopt a truly welcoming
learning stance in this time. May we have the grace to accept imperfection in
ourselves and others. With God’s help, may we learn and love and change and live on. And may God grant us some holy unexpected laughter along the way.
Sharing Time & Prayer— Please email your prayer requests and sharing news to Pastor Susan Gascho-Cooke at email@example.com. 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!
May we be as welcoming as Sarah and Abraham, who were quick to serve the stranger.
May we proclaim that nothing is too big for God.
May we laugh with deep abiding joy.
For God is in the holy surprise.
God is in the winding path.
And God is in our presence today.
Go in peace.
Worship Leader: Susan Gascho-Cooke
Sermon: Leslie Homer-Cattell
Children’s Time: Malinda Clatterbuck
Prelude & Offertory coordinator for June: Daryl Snider
Tech Host: Teman Cooke