Sunday March 22

Welcome     Susan Gascho-Cooke (click here to see a video of Susan’s welcome)

    Welcome to Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster! This is our second Sunday of being CMCL “Scattered.” We are committed to influencing the outcome of the coronavirus’ pandemic in our area as much as we can, by staying home and “flattening the curve.” But we’re equally determined to find ways to stay intentionally close as a church family in this time of physical distance. 

    So, you’ll continue to hear from us about ways to connect, and opportunities to worship. We’re still tweaking how we do Sunday worship, but know that there will always be a service on Sunday, so DO check your email on Sunday mornings! You’ll want to look for TWO emails — one with the worship service, the other with the Sharing Time joys and concerns that have been sent in during the week.

    We’re eager to continue having lots of you participate in our Sunday worship services. So, if you’d like to contribute a recording of music for prelude or offertory, or a hymn, or if you’d like to record a scripture reading or poem, let me know.

    And now, let’s begin this time of worship together on this 3rd Sunday of Lent. Our plan was to focus on “holloways,” places where daily footsteps over hundred and thousands of years on soft ground have left behind permanently etched “sunken roads.” These roads which were once highly-traveled, but are now often hidden and overgrown because modern vehicles simply don’t fit on them. So they’re a lovely metaphor for ancient spiritual practices, like the kinds we’re invited to practice in Lent.

    But surprise! this year we have found ourselves instead traveling down a path that feels entirely new. And we’re all fasting from things we didn’t choose to give up. Now, more than ever, though the spiritual practices that remind us of our connection to God, our belovedness, our deepest selves and our place in the web of all creation are absolutely vital. So, keep exploring practices, keep digging in to them, and keep sharing with one another, however you can.

Prelude     “Jesus, stand among us,” HWB #25     piano improvisation by Joseph Gascho 

Lighting of the Peace Lamp

 

We light this lamp as a symbol of Christ’s welcome:
all genders, all ages, all colors, all loves,
in our uniqueness and commonality,
in our faith and in our questions —

God welcomes us all.

We light this lamp as a symbol of God’s peace,
holding the brokenness of our world in prayer.

The light shines in the darkness 
and darkness has not overcome it.

We light this lamp as a symbol of Spirit’s illumination,
opening ourselves to new insight,
to behold and be held in love.

The lamp has been lit.
No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a basket,
but on a lampstand, to give light to all.

 

So, we are gathered in our homes. Whether you are bathed in the glow of a candle, or the glow of a computer or table or phone screens, imagine each blue teardrop on the map below is a little flickering candle: this is us, the scattered community that gathers this morning.

Sing:  This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine … and add your own variations, i.e.
          Shine it over Lancaster … or Shine it over the whole wide world …

Children’s Time: Malinda Clatterbuck

Offering: No plates to pass this morning! No plates to pass this morning! You’re welcome to mail checks to CMCL or just add CMCL to your online banking, if you’d rather. (Just contact the office if you have any questions on this.) Let’s also remember those who are newly out of work, as well as the small businesses and service-providers who are making nothing right now.  If you have ideas to share on how to do that, please let us know. PAX JC is also thinking about this, so stay tuned for ideas from them, too.

Offering Prayer: “Praise Song for the Pandemic” (in progress), by Christine Valtner Paintner, Abbey of the Arts. 
          (Thanks to Christy Heatwole Kauffman for posting it this week)

     Praise be the nurses and doctors, every medical staff bent over flesh to offer care,
          for lives saved and lives lost, for showing up either way,
     Praise for the farmers, tilling soil, planting seeds so food can grow,
          an act of hope if ever there was,
     Praise be the janitors and garbage collectors, the grocery store clerks,
          and the truck drivers barreling through long quiet nights,
     Give thanks for bus drivers, delivery persons, postal workers,
          and all those keeping an eye on water, gas, and electricity,
     Blessings on our leaders, making hard choices for the common good,
          offering words of assurance,
     Celebrate the scientists, working away to understand the thing that plagues us,
          to find an antidote, all the medicine makers, praise be the journalists keeping us informed,
     Praise be the teachers, finding new ways to educate children from afar,
          and blessings on parents holding it together for them,
     Praise be the children, who give their newly-christened “teacher” parents grace,
and the parents, who give their energetic-but-now-confined children grace,

     Praise be the technically savvy who are giving out so much free advice these days,
and the technically struggling, who are grudgingly learning new skills to stay connected,
Blessed be pastors who slip 
their own lines into someone else’s prayer (who, me?)
          and those who brought gallons of whole milk to their self-quarantined porch (thank you!)
Blessed are the elderly and those with weakened immune systems,

          all those who worry for their health, praise for those who stay at home to protect them,
     Blessed are the domestic violence victims, on lock down with abusers,
          the homeless and refugees,
     Praise for the poets and artists, the singers and storytellers,
          all those who nourish with words and sound and color,
     Blessed are the ministers and therapists of every kind, bringing words of comfort,
     Blessed are the ones whose jobs are lost, who have no savings,
          who feel fear of the unknown gnawing,
     Blessed are those in grief, especially who mourn alone,
          blessed are those who have passed into the Great Night,
     Praise for first responders, and all who work to keep us safe,
          praise for all the workers and caregivers of every kind,
     Praise for the sound of notifications, messages from friends reaching across the distance,
          give thanks for laughter and kindness,
     Praise be our four-footed companions, with no forethought or anxiety, responding only in love,
     Praise for the seas and rivers, forests and stones who teach us to endure,
     Give thanks for your ancestors, for the wars and plagues they endured and survived,
          their resilience is in your bones, your blood,
     Blessed is the water that flows over our hands and the soap that helps keep them clean,
          each time a baptism,
     Praise every moment of stillness and silence, so new voices can be heard,
          praise the chance at slowness,
     Praise be the birds who continue to sing the sky awake each day,
          praise for the primrose poking yellow petals from dark earth,
     Blessed are the dolphins returning to Venice canals,
          the sky clearing overhead so one day we can breathe deeply again,
     And when this has passed may we say that love spread more quickly than any virus ever could,
          may we say this was not just an ending but also a place to begin.

Scripture: Exodus 17:1-7 NRSV         click here to hear Simon Hoover read the scripture
     From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

Sermon:   “Living the Questions”    Leslie Homer-Cattell (listen to audio of sermon here)

Greetings, friends. What a strange period of time to be living in – beyond what most of us could imagine! 

It also feels a little strange to be a scattered community “gathering” for worship this way, too. But, with the aid of technology, we’re beginning to figure it out. As Susan said, we’re determined to find ways to stay intentionally close as a faith community – even while needing to intentionally maintain our physical distance.

It’s not every day that Dave quotes scripture to me, but on Friday morning he observed, “There’s a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” (Ecclesiastes 3:5b) 

We laughed ruefully. So true. So wise. But it’s still tough. 

Missing face-to-face community

One reason it’s especially tough is because at CMCL we believe in face-to-face community. Genuine smiles and warm handshakes and friendly hugs as we greet one another on Sunday mornings. Expectant mothers, and little ones who skip up front for children’s time while we sing Come and see. Older kids and senior youth and adults who read scripture, share music, and welcome us into the simple and beautiful space where we meet. 

I especially miss the energy of us being together. The sight of original Lenten artwork created by CMCLers. The sound of instruments being tuned; a hymnal being dropped; young children playing with toys in the back. I miss singing together; simply breathing the same air. Then, after worship, our time in Christian Ed to lean in and meaningfully share where we are in our lives and faith.

In short, I miss what happens when we step away from the busyness of our individual lives and pause to gather together to meet God and each other; to draw strength, and to challenge one another to continue to live and love and be Christ in the world.

But we’re having to pause now in a whole different way, aren’t we? 

To state the obvious, this pandemic is a really big deal – it’s changing everything. How will we handle this crisis? How long will it last and how bad will it get?

In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking about stories of people living during extremely hard times in history. I’m finding myself quite taken by the question of how others in the past found ways of coping when faced with uncertainty and crisis – their raw human emotions and experiences can be cathartic in a way. 

That’s what comes to mind today when I consider the Exodus 17 passage (which was last week’s lectionary text that I was set to preach on before our regular services were cancelled).

Having fled to the desert to escape being held as slaves, the Israelites were pursued by their captors. After God delivered them from the Egyptians once again, they then faced the very real problems of undrinkable water and no food. Again, God was with them and provided what they desperately needed.

In Exodus 17, they continue on through the wilderness and set up camp, only to face another immediate life-and-death crisis – not a single drop of water to drink. Their understandable response is panic and frustration – expressed in a barrage of anxious demands and fearful questions of Moses. 

“Give us water to drink! Why did you take us from Egypt and drag us out here with our children and animals to die of thirst? Is God here with us, or not?” 

In turn, Moses demands an answer from God, “What can I do with these people? Any minute now they’ll kill me!” 

Once again, God remains with the people and acts with them to meet their need. Telling Moses to bring some leaders and his staff and go to the rock of Horeb, God says, “I’m going to be present before you… You are to strike the rock. Water will gush out of it and the people will drink.” 

Living the questions: a spiritual discipline 

In addition to the reassurance that God was with the people, what I notice and appreciate most about this ancient crisis story is how the people brought their raw questions and authentic real-time emotions before God and each other. 

Their example of living honest questions in the midst of hardship strikes me as a kind of spiritual discipline. Perhaps this is not what we usually think of when we think of a spiritual discipline. But living – and naming – our questions in hard times certainly has a long tradition when we consider the psalms; and that feels like a good reminder to me right now.

This Lent, we have been considering hollaways – pathways formed by faithful footsteps across generations. In these weeks leading up to Easter, Pastor Susan and Worship Committee have invited us to choose as our companions the scriptures, stories, and practices that countless seekers and believers before us have chosen.  

Praying the psalms is a discipline that has been practiced by people across the centuries. Using these prayers uttered from the core of human experience, people have drawn on the raw language found there to express the full range of their own human emotions and to find strength in all seasons. 

Eugene Peterson, writer of The Message (the Bible in contemporary language), reportedly enjoyed introducing people to the book of Psalms. When they expressed surprise to find this kind of language there, he would say, “Did you think these would be prayers of nice people? Did you think the psalmist’s language would be polished and polite?…

“Prayer is elemental…It is the means by which our language becomes honest, true, and personal in response to God. It is the means by which we get everything in our lives out in the open before God.” (The Message, 910)

Last week, the lectionary brought us the Exodus story – people in crisis reacting in raw human ways and bringing their real feelings before God and each other. 

This week, the lectionary offers us Psalm 23 – easily the most well-known of all the psalms. As was true for the desperately thirsty Israelites in the desert, this prayer is a welcome reminder – in the face of our own anxious questions – that God is with us now as well, working with us to provide all that we need.

Being and doing church together looks very different right now; and it’s still evolving, so stay tuned. We’re all figuring this out as we go along, so we appreciate your patience and the ideas and offers of help we’re receiving. Keep them coming! 

We also ask that you please let one of your pastors (Susan, Malinda, Amanda, or me) or a member of Pastoral Team (Sue Stoesz, Darrell Yoder, Elizabeth Nissley, Dean Clemmer, Rhea Miller) know of any needs you have. While staff are working from home, we are still praying for you and offering support in new ways. 

In addition, I’ve been so moved and encouraged this week to see and hear about some of the many ways that you all are finding to care for one another, too! In these ways, you are showing that CMCLers are staying true to our core values and continuing to live out our love for God, for each other, and for our neighbors. Here are just a few examples: 

  • CMCL’s Coronavirus Task Force helped Council and staff sort through all the CDC and other recommendations this week – we are so grateful!
  • Susan, Sallie, and others got creative and worked hard this week to share a meaningful service with us – thank you!
  • Pastoral Team reached out to many CMCLers – if you are in a high risk group or in need of groceries or other support, please let us know!
  • PAX JC researched needs in the broader community and found ways we can help – to get involved see Friday’s email with announcements for more details
  • So many of you are posting songs, praying, gardening at church (6 feet apart!), offering words of encouragement and hope, and finding ways to connect via Zoom, Google, email, etc. – if you’d like to connect in one of these ways, please let one of the pastors know

So many of you have also mentioned the beauty of spring – another hopeful reminder of God’s presence with us in the world. 

In this season of both beauty and uncertainty, I’m so grateful for all of you. With God’s presence and help, let us trust that we will continue to find our way together.

In closing, I invite you to join me in praying Psalm 23. (Eugene Peterson’s version is included below. At the same time, I know that so many of us grew up with the King James Version of this psalm – so please feel free to say or read that version if it’s more meaningful for you.) 

Let’s pray…

God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.

True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
When you walk by my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
Makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

Thanks be to God! 

Amen

(NOTE: All quoted scripture in sermon from The Message.)

Song: Psalm 23 by Bobby McFerrin

Sharing Time

     In a Lenten season in which we planned to seek out and travel down “holloways,” old roads of ancient practices, we have found ourselves traveling down a path that feels entirely new. Sheltering in our homes, abstaining from much of the human touch in our daily lives, we find ourselves in foreign land. The harrowed, hallowed path looks much different than we could have dreamed. And we are all fasting from things we didn’t choose to give up. The spiritual practices that give you life are absolutely vital right now, more than ever. So, keep exploring. Keep practicing. Keep sharing with each other.
The prayer concerns you have shared throughout the week were sent out in a separate email, so that if folks forward this worship services, the prayer concerns can remain private within our congregation. I invite you to switch to that email to read through those joys and concerns before moving on to the prayer below.

     We hold up all the joys and concerns we have carried, or heard or witnessed this week …
and hold up the many joys and concerns we do not know, but acknowledge …

          God who hears what is too deep for words,
          beneath all our prayers for healing
          you perceive the buried hope;
          behind all our questions
          you understand the hidden longing;
          amidst all our singing
          you hear the struggle to pray.
          God, who hears what is too deep for words, have mercy. 
          AMEN.

Sing the Story #164

Closing song: “We are not alone,”  performed by Oasis Chorale
(thanks to Ish and Mel Yoder Salim for posting it this week)

     We are not alone, we are never alone. God is with us, forever and ever. We are never alone.

Benediction

Giver of song,
we give thanks for songs that surround us in the dark of night,
and for songs that waken us when morning breaks.
Sing through us
and bring your world to joy and rest.
AMEN

from Sing the Story #204

Thanks to Teman Cooke for creating the little peace lamp .gif!

Thanks to Sallie McCann Tupper for working with me on figuring out how best to offer worship in this time of being scattered!