October 3, 2021

 “I’ve been meaning to ask…” a series for curiosity, courage & connection

 

 

Prelude— Larry Penner (In-person only)
Welcome—Our worship theme this fall is “I’ve been meaning to ask…” a series focused on community–how we build it, repair it, and sustain it….The main objective of this series is how to cultivate courageous conversations—beginning with simple questions and the curiosity to truly listen.

Here are the guiding questions for this series:

How can we listen to one another?
How do we find connection despite physical and ideological distance?
How do we create space for compassionate dialogue and for seeking the holy in one another?

These questions invite us to share our pain and seek ways to care for one another. They lead us deeper into the heart of the matter—and deeper into connection with God and one another. May this series help us behold each other as images of the divine.

-A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org

Prayer for Peace— From Sacred Earth Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What Our Souls Know and Healing the World, by John Philip Newell

Words of Awareness
You have been graced with the dignity of divine birth….Live this dignity in your life, safeguard it in one another, and protect it in every human being.

Prayer of Awareness
Awake, O my soul,
And know the sacred dignity of your being.
Awake to it in every living soul this day.
Honor it, defend it,
In heart and mind, in word and deed.
Awake, O my soul,
And know the sacred dignity of your being.

(Listen silently for a few moments within the sacredness of your being.)

Call to Worship—
We are from north and south.
We are from tiny apartments and expansive homes.
We are from this city and from others far away.
We are from big families and dinners made for one.
We are from stages of grief and stages of love.
We are from hot summers and cold winters.
We are from kitchens with passed down recipes,
and from front porches with old, familiar swings.

We are from the dust of the earth and the stars of the sky.
We are from a lot of places, but today we are here.
Today we are together.
Holy God, gather us in.

-Prayer by Rev. Sarah Are | A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org

Gathering Song— I sing the Mighty Power of God, VT #182

We begin in Genesis: humanity is formed from the dust in the garden of Eden. We have a common home, a shared birthplace, and a collective calling: to sustain and care for all of creation. We are beloved, shaped from the dust of the earth and the breath of God.
Genesis 2:4b-15

At the time when YHWH made the heavens and the earth, there was still no wild bush

on the earth nor had any wild plant sprung up, for YHWH had not yet sent rain to the earth, and there was no human being to till the soil. Instead, a flow of water would well up from the ground and irrigate the soil.

So YHWH fashioned an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and blew into its nostrils the breath of life. And the earth creature became a living being.

YHWH planted a garden to the east, in Eden—“”Land of Pleasure”—and placed in it the earth creature that had been made. Then YHWH caused every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat, to spring from the soil. In the center of the garden was the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

A river flows through Eden to water the garden, after which it branches into four tributaries. The first stream is named Pishon, or “Spreader.” It circles through Havilah, a land rich in gold, gold of the highest quality. There are gum resins there, and precious onyx stones. The second stream is named Gihon, or “Gusher,” and it flows through the entire land of Cush. The third stream is the Tigris, which borders Assyria on the east. The fourth stream is the Euphrates.

Then YHWH took the earth creature and settled it in the garden of Eden so that it might cultivate and care for the land.

Children’s Gathering Song— Come and See, Sung by CMCL on Jan 26, 2020

Children’s Time— Faith Sauder, (In-person only)

Offering—Thank you for your continued support of your congregation. Our budget supports our staff, our building, our congregational care, and our outreach commitments. We are grateful that this community can be a place to seek and give mutual aid and to reach out beyond our community, too. Thanks so much for being the church and giving to the work of the church.
Friends, we are being invited to come and see a deeper life of faith.
One of the ways we can say yes
is by giving what we have—time, money, and/or our talents.
So let us say yes to this invitation of faith together. Amen.

-Adapted from a prayer by Rev. Sarah Are | A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org

Offering Hymn— Together, VT #389

Scripture— John 1:35-51
The next day, John was by the Jordan again with two of his disciples. Seeing Jesus walk by, John said, “Look! There’s the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard what John said and followed Jesus.

When Jesus turned around and noticed them following, he asked them, “What are you looking for?”

They replied, “Rabbi,”—which means “Teacher”—“where are you staying?”
“Come and see,” Jesus answered. So they went to see where he was staying, and they spent the rest of the day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. One of the two who had followed Jesus after hearing John was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. The first thing Andrew did was to find Simon Peter and say, “We’ve found the Messiah!”—which means “the Anointed One.”
Andrew brought Simon to Jesus, who looked hard at him and said, “You are Simon ben- Jonah; I will call you ‘Rock’”—that is, “Peter.”

The next day, after Jesus had decided to leave for Galilee, he met Philip and said, “Follow me.” Philip came from Bethsaida, the same town as Andrew and Peter. Philip sought out Nathanael and said to him, “We’ve found the One that Moses spoke of in the Law, the One about whom the prophets wrote: Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Joseph.” “From Nazareth?” Said Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” “Come and see,” replied Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he remarked, “This one is a real Israelite. There is no guile in him.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked him. Jesus answered, “Before Philip even went to call you, while you were sitting under the fig tree, I saw you.” “Rabbi,” said Nathanael, “you’re God’s Own; you’re the ruler of Israel!” Jesus said, “Do you believe just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You’ll see much greater things than that.” Jesus went on to tell them, “The truth of the matter is, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Chosen One.”

Sermon— Leslie Homer-Cattell

In the beginning – and in this present moment – co-creators with God
As a grandparent, I’m appreciating the holy wonder of a new human life in the world; but my mind, body, and time were otherwise fully occupied back when my own children were born. The first time around, everything was new and the birth itself was complicated by an unexpected C-section delivery. (A topic that was covered in the one birthing class that Dave and I missed!) When the twins were born just two-and-a-half years later, my days were taken up with the care of three little ones in diapers. Needless to say, those first few years were a blur.

But, these days, I am completely in awe at the creation of a new life – truly a miracle that is part human and part divine! In early 2018, neither Elanor nor Matilda existed. Now, here they are – a 2 ½-year-old and a 1-½-year-old – acting in the world with bodies and minds and emotions – and opinions – all their own! While toddlers can certainly be a handful, I’m more likely to chuckle at their antics than be exasperated.

Painful divides
On the other hand, dealing with the emotions, opinions and actions of human adults can be more challenging than ever these days. We’re struggling with painful divides impacting our country, communities, churches and even some of our families. Many of us are also understandably weary after 19 months in this pandemic. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, irritable, and defensive.

I don’t know about you, but holy wonder isn’t my natural stance when interacting with others across deep divisions. Years ago, someone I’d known as a fellow student at the University of Pittsburgh – let’s call him Bob – phoned the nonprofit where I worked. We hadn’t spoken in 25 years, but he began by explaining that he was very upset with Presbyterian Church USA. They were becoming more inclusive of folks in the LGBTQ community, so he wanted his congregation to divert dollars away from the denomination. He was vetting Christian nonprofits and had a few questions for me. It was clear what would be on his litmus test. As a person with LGBTQ family members who had been hurt by people in the church, I saw red.

A needed reminder
In the face of experiences like these, the beautiful sacred stories that Christy read this morning are a good reminder to me that from the beginning – and continuing to this present moment – we humans were made to be nothing less than co-creators of new life with the very Source of life itself.

As we heard in Genesis, after making the heavens and the earth, “YHWH fashioned an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and blew into its nostrils the breath of life. And the earth creature became a living being.” (2:7) Where there had once been no one to till the soil – and so be a partner with the Creator, “YHWH took the earth creature and settled it in the garden of Eden so that it might cultivate and care for the land.” (2:15)

What a grounding and powerful image: God forming humanity from the rich fertile earth (2:8-14) and then establishing an ongoing divine-human partnership.

This morning, we are beginning a new worship series built around four questions aimed at cultivating curiosity, courage, and deeper connections across differences – all towards nurturing the beloved community of God. The conversation starter for our consideration today is: …where are you from?

As the creative writing team from A Sanctified Art (www.sanctifiedart.org) points out, [in our family of faith, we] believe everyone is beloved, shaped from the dust of the earth and the breath of God. Everyone has a story to tell. Our stories are messy and beautiful, painful and hopeful – being written and rewritten over time. [We are called to] commit to disrupting our assumptions and staying curious. (I’ve been meaning to ask…, p. 1)

Come and see!
In this morning’s story from John, Nathaniel shows such a willingness to stay curious and to have his preconceived assumptions challenged. Jesus is beginning to gather followers (continuing that divine-human partnership we first see in the creation story). But when he hears of Jesus’ hometown, Nathaniel is skeptical and asks, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

His friend, Philip, simply replies, “Come and see for yourself.” Nathaniel decides to do that and stays engaged.

Where are you from? is a question that Dr. Raj Nadella, professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, has been asked many times. As a person born in India who has studied and lived in the U.S. over the last 20 years, he says he often wonders what people want to do with the information they acquire about him. Do they want to use it to connect on a deeper level and find common spaces as a foundation on which to have a mutual conversation? Or will they use the information to put him in a box and treat him as an outsider?

Nadella notes that why and how people ask this question of origin is important. He points out that, “The English word curiosity has the connotation of nosiness, intrusiveness. But the Latin root “curiosus” means diligence, careful. And a related Latin word cura means care. Curiosity, then, is about asking questions with care and diligence.”

When we ask curious questions with respect and care for the person and the relationship, Nadella says we can learn a great deal. More importantly, we also have the opportunity to unlearn some of the assumptions we may have had about them.

Nadella also says that healthy curiosity is a two-way street. In courageous conversations, both parties are willing to be vulnerable and authentic. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1hcNb7sBA0BO-EgIdwgXDj-4tvbVaTaMa/view?ts=614a1e99

When my old college acquaintance, Bob, called the nonprofit I worked for that day, I’m afraid that his belovedness as a child of God was not the foremost thing in my mind. And I wasn’t feeling curious either – at least not in the healthy caring way that Dr. Nadella described.
What I was feeling was angry and exasperated. I reached out to Bob that evening by email, naming that it felt like he was trying to put me in a box – and admitting that I now also found myself putting him in a box, too. I proposed a 6-week follow up email conversation about our different understandings and what that meant for us. He accepted.

While I initiated that conversation, I have to admit that I didn’t immediately bring my best whole-hearted self to the table. It was more like, “Okaaay, Buddy. Let’s talk!” The closest I got to today’s suggested question …where are you from? was thinking “Where in the world is this very annoying guy coming from?!”

But, somewhere in the midst of the conversation, the Spirit of Christ broke in – inviting us to “Come and see.” and then be part of the new life God was working in each other’s hearts and minds. We began by sharing some of our life and faith stories. Through the process – which ended up stretching to three months – we learned a lot about each other and also began to unlearn some assumptions we each had initially held about the other. In particular, Bob was surprised to learn that I tried to regularly read the Bible – especially the teachings of Jesus. (He said he personally more often referred to the writings of theologian John Calvin.)

When the conversation turned to the Church’s response to folks in the LGBTQ community, Bob expressed being appalled and dismayed by the hateful beliefs and words of the hyper-Calvinist Westboro Baptist Church against the LGBTQ community. I learned that he was more open than I would have guessed to taking a second look at his own beliefs, as well.

Co-creators of new life
Bob and I are out of touch now. I have no idea where he is in his journey of life and faith, but I wish him well; and hope and trust that God is continuing to create new life in and with him.
What I know for sure is that conversations like this take time and energy, and also that the unexpected connection and conversation we had across differences has had a lasting impact. The memory of that experience challenges me to be open to the kinds of vulnerable and authentic conversations that we’ll be considering this month.

If you haven’t yet gotten the study journal that goes with this series, please let us know if you want one and we’ll be sure to get it to you. It’s filled with lovely art and poetry, and engaging prompts to nurture curiosity and foster deeper connections.

Importantly, the writers of this booklet know that courageous conversations must take place in a safe space. So they also provide a good solid list of norms to establish as a starting point.

So may we take comfort and strength even as we face the challenges of this week. For in the very beginning – and in this present moment too – we are made to be nothing less than co-creators with God of new life in us and in the world. Thanks be to God!
Sharing Time & Prayer— Please email your prayer requests or reflections this morning to Leslie@communitymennonite.org. They will be sent out by email by Monday.

Prayer— VT#989C
Blessed One,
our source and support,
holy is your name.
May your love be enacted in the world.
May your will be done
on earth as is heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us in the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For all that we do in your love,
and all that your love brings to birth,
and the fullness of love that will be
are yours, now and forever.
Amen

Announcements—

Closing Hymn— Draw the Circle, VT #802

Benediction—
Family of faith,
as you leave this place, may God grant you
the curiosity to counter assumptions,
the vulnerability to befriend,
the bravery to speak your truth,
the wisdom to listen,
the strength to ask for help,
the resiliency to chose love, even when it’s hard,
And the awareness of the Holy Spirit always beside you.
In the name of the Great Connector—Love itself,
Go in peace.

-Prayer by Rev. Sarah Are | A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org

Worship Leader: Christy Heatwole Kauffman
Prelude/Offertory: Larry Penner
Sermon: Leslie Homer-Cattell
Song Leader: Beth Graybill
Children’s Time: Faith Sauder
Tech hosts: Dave Cattell (via phone)