Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster

September 13, 2020

theme: Unraveled, by A Sanctified Art

 “Begged to Leave” (Jesus Heals Legion, a Man Possessed by Demons) by Hannah Garrity
| A Sanctified Art LLC |
see Artist’s statement below 

Communion SundayThis morning is communion Sunday (2nd Sunday of the month) at CMCL. If you’d like to participate from home, gather some juice and bread or your favorite quarantine substitutions for later in the service.

Prelude—  “Search me Lord” by Ricky Dillard, performed by the Earlham College Gospel Revelations Choir, including James Logan (a former CMCL attender from the 90’s) on the saxophone

Welcome— Good morning to all who gather from your homes this beautiful September morning.  For those who have been part of our community in the past, for those of you who gather with us this morning, and for those who will find their way to our community in the future. We are grateful for each and everyone. Even when our community members move on, they return to us in song. We are grateful for James Logan’s musical sharing this morning. He is currently on the faculty at Earlham college, and he sends a heartwarming hello to CMCL. May we surround each other on this spiritual journey as our circles widen, as our members come and go, with offerings of walking side by side in spiritual growth, in offering shelter when the storms come, in collectively praying for peace and justice. We continue our Unraveled series today and next Sunday, unpacking and addressing racial justice. IF you have something for sharing, please email Susan by communion time during this service. As we light the peace lamp this morning, listen to the words by John Philip Newell, titled Praying with the Earth.

Lighting the Peace Lamp

To the home of peace
to the field of love
to the land where forgiveness and right relationship meet
we look, O God,
with longing for earth’s children
with compassion for the creatures
with hearts breaking for the nations and people we love.
Open us to visions we have never known
strengthen us for self-givings we have never made
delight us with a oneness we could never have imagined 
that we may truly be born of You
makers of peace.

from Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace, by John Philip Newell

Call to Worship

Our call to worship this morning is from Micah 6:8

God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? 

Let’s pray:

It is good to be together, God,
on these screens, with these people, 
together listening for your voice, 
united by your Spirit.
In this time of worship
tell us about your kingdom of kindness
so that we can seek it.
Show us your justice.
We want to walk with you,
humbly, closely, daily.

From Carol Penner, Leadingworship – Worship Resources in a Mennonite voice for Ears of all Kinds, Canada

Gathering Song— Nothing is lost on the breath of God, 2015 Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg, led by Marcy Hostetler and including Christy Heatwole Kauffman, Ryan Kauffman and Daryl Snider

Children’s Time Invitation— Come and See, HWB #20, sung by CMCL on Feb 16, 2020
Children’s TimeLena and the Romani, by Darrell Yoder

Offering—Thank you for your continued support of your congregation. Many of you are giving at this time in so many creative ways. Our offertory this morning is a short video of Agatha Clapper, showing a way she expressed her generosity during this pandemic.  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 grace,
we know you want justice rolling down like water.
Accept these gifts from our hands,
which we cast upon the waters of your love,
a generous ever-flowing stream 
feeding the hungry and
helping those in need.
Accept these gifts for the work of your church.  Amen.

Offertory— video from Agatha Clapper

Scripture—Mark 5:1-20

Sermon — Susan Gascho-Cooke

    Good morning! Today is exactly six months since we made the decision to suspend worship in our sanctuary for two weeks due to COVID. Yup — it was Friday the 13th of March, 2020. And here we still are. 

    Meeting by Zoom has been a whole new world. With many limitations, but also some lovely unexpecteds — seeing your faces close up, and your cats close up sometimes! seeing you in your homes, your back yards, sometimes your places of work.

    Pandemic preaching has also been an interesting adjustment. It has felt like a season for gentler reflections — more of the heart than of the mind, perhaps. 

    Today, though, I really want to deep dive into this scripture in a way that we haven’t done as much of in these months. And a good bit of that is going to be historical background to this text. So, strap in, it’s not just for kids: we’re all doing some remote education this morning!

    One of the questions that comes up for me in today’s text is a question that we’ll be looking at together in a more extended way in our October worship as a congregation. Which is: what does it mean to be faithful (to be Christian? to be church? to be human?) in times of political unrest? Going into an election season, even our mainline media are sharing extended speculative timelines of how the country might respond given to various scenarios about voting outcomes. As always in troubled times, vulnerable people will be more vulnerable. We will need to discern, as individuals, and as a congregation, how we will live through those days. What will it look like to love God and one’s neighbor as ourselves? What will it look like to be peacemakers and justice seekers? to be the compassionate humans we were created to be?

    Those questions arise in today’s text because it is such a blatantly politically text. When Jesus and the disciples arrive on the scene they have taken a boat across water to Gerasea — Gentile land. They find a disturbed man who has been living among tombs. “Jesus, what do you have to do with me?” he demands. It’s a provocative question. A question that makes more sense to me the older I get: “God, in the face of all that is going on — what can you do? Will you do something?”

    Jesus begins a conversation with the unclean spirits possessing the man, telling them they’ll need to leave, and asking them their name. “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

    For people in the ancient Roman world, “Legion” had only one literal meaning: a unit of approximately six thousand Roman soldiers, the occupying army. Suddenly an exorcism takes on social and political significance, and Luke’s word choices throughout the story invite a closer look. When the man confronts Jesus, Luke uses a verb that he employs elsewhere of armies meeting in battle (Luke 14:31). When the demon “seizes” the man? That’s a verb used elsewhere when Christians are arrested and brought to trial (Acts 6:12; 19:29).  The words for the hand and foot chains, for binding and guarding, are the same ones that Luke uses in Acts when the disciples are imprisoned. In short, the language of the whole episode evokes the experience of living under a brutal occupying power.

    Furthermore, the region of Gerasene is the setting of a horrifying historical event. According to Josephus, during the late 60s CE, toward the end of the Jewish revolt, the Roman general Vespasian sent soldiers to retake Gerasa (Jewish War, IV,ix,1). The Romans killed a thousand young men, imprisoned their families, burned the city, and then attacked villages throughout the region. Many of those buried in Gerasene tombs had been slaughtered by Roman legions. (Judith Jones).

In his breakdown of the Lukan version of this story, Ched Myers says:
For a Jewish peasant in Palestine, a Legion was the stern face of their conqueror. The famous and feared Tenth Legion was often symbolized by a pig mascot…. Legion then begs to be sent into a “band” (Gk agelē) of pigs, a term usually referring to a group of military recruits (Lk 8:32). Sarcasm is evident: on one hand, the swine cult was popular among Roman soldiers; on the other, pigs are archetypally unclean to Jews.

    Jesus “dismisses” them (8:32b; Gk epetrepsen, another military verb), and the “band of pigs” rushes (Gk hōrmaō connotes troops charging into battle) down the hill (8:33). The political humor finds its punchline as the Legion meets the same fate as old Pharaoh’s army: swallowed by the waters (see Exodus 14). ° This is an extraordinary tale, portraying on one hand how Roman imperialism was destroying the hearts and minds of a colonized people—the Gerasene demoniac’s possession symbolizing Rome’s military occupation of the land—while on the other, remembering the hopeful old story of God’s liberating power.” (Ched Myers, “Confronting Legion,”)

    It took all that time for us as modern readers to even begin to guess what might have been obvious to the first readers of this story. Not everybody in the story was impressed. The man who had been living in the tombs and tormented by Legion was delighted by the transformation of his life in that encounter. He wanted to follow Jesus as a disciple, but Jesus tells him to go and tell his friends and family of his liberation.     

    Although all the background I just gave you helps us see how big a story this is, how complicated the context — it’s also a story that reminds us of how such huge stories can have devastating effects on some individuals. Some more than others. This man could have been the sole survivor of his friends when some of the Legion cleansing happened at Garasea … perhaps this is why he cannot leave the tombs. This one man was carrying the weight of it all — the weight of the whole occupation (2,000 soldiers in a Legion — unclean spirits released into 2,000 pigs). He was carrying more than his own torment. And it was killing him.

    Ironically, he had no trouble breaking the physical shackles that were put on his to restrain him and keep him from acting violently against himself and others. But he could not break the shackles of what bound him inside. At least not by himself. 

    We know that this act did not end Roman occupation for Judea. The history books tell us that. We know that the rest of the Gerasenes who witnessed this exorcism were not pleased. They were the ones entrusted, presumably, by the Romans to feed and take care of their pigs. What would happen to them when the Romans found out that those pigs were gone? What price would they pay? Their lives were clearly more closely bound to the Roman occupiers than to this tormented man from their own community. 

    As Ched Myers says, “In psychological terms, it reminds us that those who are co-dependent upon a dominant system, no matter how dysfunctional or dehumanizing, will usually resist change. Personal or political, liberation has a cost, which usually the majority is unwilling to risk.”

    As we well know from our own country’s history (current and former), it is much easier to embrace change in hindsight than in the present. The moments when the world is turning can feel identical to the world falling apart. Though we may long and dream for the unraveling of that which binds us — being willing to choose that unraveling when it jeopardizes our security is harder than it sounds.

    In conclusion, what does this story have for us? 

    How are we the man possessed, living among tombs? The one who is able to break free form some shackles, but not from others? The one who can seek and ask and accept answers?

    Perhaps we recognize his plight in others — those we know personally, or perhaps we recognize in stories we read about. How can we participate in similar freeings?

    How are we the townspeople? Are we willing to risk the consequences of not tending the chunk of the economy that is entrusted to us if it means the saving of the vulnerable and downtrodden, like the Gerasene demoniac? Is it more important that we can answer to Legion about our husbandry of their pigs or that we can answer to God and to this lost boy for our care of him?

    These are questions that our times are asking us to. Let’s think about our answers.

Hymn— Be Thou My Vision, from Mennonite World Conference, 2015

Communion—  Preparing a Table Before Us — a New Communion Table for CMCL: Ron Umble and Jim Bowman, at the request of Lynn Sommer and Worship Committee, have constructed a cherry communion table, using lumber sawn from locally harvested trees. The tabletop consists of two book matched boards, which stood side-by-side in the same tree. The project took Jim and Ron two weeks to complete. They began the project on August 25thThis video shows the Ron Umble and Jim Bowman building the new CMCL communion table while Psalm 23 is read by Eriselle Cooke.

Communion Blessing, by Susan Gascho-Cooke

Our Loving parent spreads a meal before us 
     whenever we come home. 
The bread broken for us is the body of Jesus Christ,
     the embodied heart of God.
Here Jesus is remembered.
Here the repentant heart is received.
Here we celebrate
     fullness of belly and quenching of thirst.  
Here we taste and see 
     that our past, present and future 
     are held in the arms of Great Love:
May this simple meal, and the Extravagant Love
     and grace and mercy of God, 
     nourish, strengthen and sustain us 
          for just and faithful living
          with neighbor, stranger, and enemy
          and with all creation. Amen.    

Music as you eat and drink: 23, sung by Girl Named Tom, version of Psalm 23, based on the original version as performed by Chris & Holly Liechty.

Sharing Time— 

Please email your prayer requests, or pictures or reflections on your worship experience this Sunday, to You may also post your images or reflection on CMCL’s private FB page, Parrot Nation. She’ll send them out by email Monday morning.

Come, bring your burdens to God, for Jesus will never say no.

Closing Hymn— God Be with You/Fill Me Now, by the family of Wendell Ressler’s brother: Winfred, Barb, Anna and Sarah Ressler


Prayer for Illumination

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.

From A Sanctified Art 

Worship Leader: Lynn Sommer
Sermon: Susan Gascho-Cooke
Children’s Time: Darrell Yoder
Tech Host: Karen Davis and Drew Brubaker