Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster
October 4, 2020
“Together We Are Whole,” by Pi Luna — www.pilunaart.com
Prelude— “Esuno Kokoro Jesus Heart” by Mitsuro Ishido, Mitsuru Ishido is a church leader with Tokyo Chiku Menonaito Kyokai Rengo, an MWC member church in Japan.
Verse 1: Esuno Kokoro uchini (The heart of Jesus is reflected in my heart)
Verse 2: Esuno Heiwa uchini (I have the peace of Jesus in my heart).
Lighting the Peace Lamp
My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit, it’s going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down
I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now.
song lyrics by Mary Gauthier, from the song “Mercy Now”
Welcome— Good morning! Welcome to worship at CMCL on this crisp fall morning — whether you are reading along during our Zoom service, or reading through this order of worship on your own time. During October at CMCL, our worship theme is “Peacemakers of Faith in Politically Polarized Times.” As the U.S. Presidential election draws nearer, and the possibility of increased violence and unrest looms, we decided to give these four Sundays to praying/sharing/studying/discerning together how we can best be, and what we can best do, in these troubled times. Frank Muse starts us off with his sermon, “Confession.” This morning we are also bringing in Peace Sunday 2020 resources from Mennonite World Conference. Their theme for 2020 is: “When one member suffers, all members suffer: Peace as accompaniment and solidarity.” Words of wisdom as we begin this month at CMCL. Please also read this powerful statement of solidarity with indigenous peoples written by MWC in 2018.
Call to Worship—
God of Hope,
It is difficult to imagine a world other than that which surrounds us. At times, it feels like to hope is to be dismissive of the sorrow and injustice that seeps into every sphere of society. Would you make us a people whose roots are entwined with hope itself, that we would at all times be grounded in what awaits us as we face the harsh winds of present evil. Grant us that hope that is deeply connected to lament and solidarity — a hope that isn’t naive or neglectful of the present, but makes us crave renewal of the now with greater depths. And if we ever begin to sink into despair, give us that same resolve you gave Ruth and Naomi, knowing that you, who will swallow up death, have prepared a place for us. We will dream as we remember.
@blackliturgies (Instagram), by Cole Arthur Riley, “a young black woman who has found rest and healing in written prayers.”
Gathering Song—Mercy Now, by Mary Gauthier, performed by Kathy Mattea
Children’s Time Invitation— Come and See, HWB #20, sung by CMCL on Feb 16, 2020
Children’s Time: Jesus Heals on Sundays, by Malinda Clatterbuck
Offering—Thank you for your continued support of your congregation. Many of you are giving at this time in so many creative ways. 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.
Lord, let our community be a witness to you,
immersed in scripture,
constant in prayer,
joyful in worship,
generous in giving.
A loving, supportive community
reaching out to those in need.
Accept these gifts we offer, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
© Carol Penner, www.leadinginworship.com (slightly adapted)
Scripture— Genesis 4:1-11
Sermon — “Confession,” by Frank Muse
Your brother’s blood. My brother’s blood. Our brothers… Well, the brothers are rising up again, and it’s got a lot of white folks scared. Some of them gripping assault rifles.
What I want to share with you today are some personal confessions, in both senses of the word, about sin and grace, about reckoning with the past. But first, I’d like you to visualize a scene from years back. A cool October night, Friday night, which around here means only one thing: football. The national anthem has been played, prayer has been offered. Suddenly a cannon shot pierces the silence, and a team of teenage boys unfurl the school flag on the field. It takes about 50 because the flag’s about 50 yards long. The stars and bars: the flag of the Confederacy. Flag team, cannon team, they’re all in soldiers’ uniform. As the players run onto the field the band erupts in the school fight song, and the crowd joins in: “I wish I were in Dixie, away, away…”
You might think it’s 1950 at an Ole Miss game. But the year is 1970, in my home town of Tyler, Texas, where my high school team, the Robert E. Lee Rebels, has taken the field. Most likely we’ll get whipped. But no matter; the crowd is pumped, and I’m right there with them. Lord knows I loved football. First confession.
These are my people—and I hate it. Hate it so much I don’t think these are my people; I must belong somewhere else. I can’t stand that flag, can’t stand how everyone lives in denial. King is assassinated, cities explode in rage, protesters are beaten, shot, and we’re still singing “look away, look away, look away, Dixieland” Look away. Still, these are my people. I spent a lot of my youth trying to deny it, to dis-own this part of me—but to no avail. I carried the mark of Cain, the stain of whiteness. Dixie was in my blood.
I think it was around 1992 when Sojourners put out a study guide on racism, naming it “America’s Original Sin.” I don’t recall much it said other than it seemed more about racism than this notion of original sin. Reinhold Neibuhr reportedly said that original sin is the only Christian doctrine for which there is empirical evidence. Maybe so, but it still begs the question: what is original sin? And whatever’s meant by that, does anyone think it still matters? Or that it might have anything to do with what‘s going on today? And not just “out there,” but with you and me, today?
Well, I do. A full exploration of original sin isn’t possible right now. But whatever you make of it, it’s said to be something inherited, unconsciously transmitted, and without our permission. With white America, one could say it stretches back 400 years, but of course, it’s thousands years more. It is part of human nature, Niebuhr would say, that our capacity for self-transcendence and creativity is also our capacity for unfathomable cruelty and violence. It is our tragic flaw. So these days, this story of Cain and Abel speaks more directly, more urgently to me about our violent origins, than that other tale about forbidden fruit. Though both stories do have truths to tell.
In a recent article in The Christian Century, Reggie Williams writes about the “racial script” white folk are born with, that serves as “white supremacy’s hidden logic.”i I was especially struck by his reminder that according to James Baldwin, “white people are trapped within a history that they don’t understand, from which they need release”ii To understand this history is crucial, but it only goes so far. To act in response, Williams says, “requires engaging a complete recalibration of identity.” iii So. How does that happen?
I can only say what happened for me, and I’m not entirely sure about that. But I think it’s nothing short of a miracle that one day I wound up preaching to a congregation of black folk, who broke bread with me, even invited me back. Of all people, me. I recall one time someone asked me, sort of out of the blue, how come I turned out different, considering, you know. where I’d come from. I don’t remember my response. But lately I’ve been wondering about that. What in the world happened?
There is such a thing as white privilege, and I do have it, but I also had some privileges growing up that most of my peers didn’t have. Around age 14 I worked in the fields, picking tomatoes alongside them for a dirt poor redneck farmer; he’d pick them up at their shacks and pack us all into the back of his beat up truck. Didn’t get paid for drive time. One summer I spent hauling white folks’ trash with an old black man who never said much but taught me a lot about dignity in the midst of maggots. When I started in construction work as a laborer I learned from black men how get the job done better, not hurt myself, pace myself so I didn’t give out by noon. Eventually some even came to respect me. Not for being white, but just for being able to keep up with them. Imagine that. I doubt most white boys got to do thing like that. I’m not sure exactly how, but I know these experiences changed me.
Experiences, it seems, have a way of forming and changing us that mere words just can’t. Or rather, they can open our eyes to what those words really mean. Especially words like desperation, forgiveness, or love and hate.
So, words matter. In the end, I guess what really changed me (and continues to change me) is Jesus, the living Word, piercing the veil of white supremacy that surrounded us like a thick cloud, so we couldn’t see even though we thought we saw just fine. Sermons have changed me, books have too. But real healing began when I finally was able to admit just how infected by racism I was my own self. And while this is deep, inherited sin, I didn’t ask for it, it’s still mine. God alone can forgive it. If I let God. So I do, still.
This is what heals. But at least in my experience, it’s been a long, uneven process, at times deeply painful. Now I can look my demons in the eye, but they’re still out there. It hurts to be, as they used to call us, a “n___-lover” by your fellow rednecks. Rednecks you love, who might be your own kin, or your spouse’s kin. It’s hard to not to hate those white people still trapped in their bigotry, still proudly bearing the Confederate flag, like it’s nothing to be offended at. Sometimes, it’s hard not to hate your own self. After all these years, how we white people can be healed from racism is still mostly mystery to me, but I do have some ideas about what does not heal.
Statements of faith by denominations and congregations seem to have little effect; we’re just not that important anymore. I’ve read bold, articulate, even inspiring statements, going back to 1967. Fifty years later, our original sin still binds us. Now, the process of writing these can be edifying, even transformative, for those involved. But it can also give a false sense of accomplishment, or lead us to self-congratulation for being more enlightened than the unwashed, un-“woke” masses. One thing seems clear: we will not be able to “forgive ourselves” for this heavy yoke of racism. And the murders go on.
What does not heal is more whites complaining about other whites being racist. Time was I considered myself anti-racist, but today I’m troubled by the label. There’s a very fine line between being opposed to racism and despising people who hold racist views. It’s hard to know when you cross that line, but it can happen. Has for me, anyway, and at times still does. Moral outrage is risky business for Jesus’ disciples.
When it comes to healing, dialogue works better than monologue. What has helped me recover from my racism is getting to know black folk as people, as persons, rather than as a type or class I learned about in school, or from other white people as ignorant as I was. And guess what? I learned they were as different and various as anyone else. Just as smart, as ignorant, just as kind and sweet or cold and hard, as white people. Just as hard to label, just as lovable and, at times as hard to love as my own family. I had to spend time, years, to learn this. And I have to keep learning, or I might just forget.
Sadly, this kind of learning isn’t possible when we are even more socially isolated than before. There may be some virtual ways to do it, but I can’t imagine what that would be. To my mind, part of the whole problem of the church’s approach to white racism is that it’s usually been more virtual than real. Having a few blacks among us in church seems more a virtual representation than being immersed, or perhaps in the minority, among our slave descendants. But hey, maybe I’m wrong.
We’ve been here before, at this time of “reckoning” with America’s original sin. Many of us, both black and white, are simply exhausted by having to go back over and again to reckon with it. And see that we ain’t all better yet. But we can be some better. I’ve seen it, by God, and only by God’s grace. God help us keep at it.
None of us are all that good
at admitting the truth,
but some of us wish we were.
Song of Response— “Needed Time,” performed by Eric Bibb, (traditional song, brought to prominence by Texas guitar-slinger Lightnin’ Hopkins)
Prayers for the World — Mennonite World Conference Peace Sunday Prayer Each Sunday we are sharing prayers specifically meant to reach beyond the personal concerns of our congregation, and hold the broader community and world in our hearts, minds and prayers. Today’s prayer is being shared across the Mennonite/Anabaptist diaspora as part of Peace Sunday celebrations.
Sharing Time— Email your prayer requests, or pictures or reflections to firstname.lastname@example.org. They will be sent out by email by Monday morning.
Sharing Time Prayer in Song— You Are Not Alone, Bryan Moyer Suderman, 2005, from MWC Peace Sunday materials.
Closing Hymn— For the month of October, we’ll be using The Lord Bless You and Keep You as our closing hymn. Sung by the St. James Compline Choir (used with permission of conductor William Wright). Thanks to CMCLers Beth Graybill and Stock Weinstock (and I think Maren Morgan, too!) for singing in this and sharing it with us!
To see the singers as you listen, click here.
To see the sheet music so you can sing along, click here.
We are one body — we, citizens of this broad, green earth.
When one member suffers, all members suffer.
May we find the way to accompany one another,
advocate for one another protect one another
in our shared suffering.
adapted from MWC resources
Worship Leader: Susan Gascho-Cooke
Sermon: Frank Muse
Children’s Time: Malinda Clatterbuck