Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster
September 20, 2020
theme: Unraveled, by A Sanctified Art
“Way to Wonder” (Job’s Lament & Loss) by Lisle Gwynn Garrity
| A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org
see Artist’s statement below
Prelude— This Tuesday, September 22, is the autumnal equinox. This video prelude was chosen in honor of the changing of seasons, and the unraveling of fall. (When the link below takes you to the video on Jan Richardson’s Facebook page, you will probably need to manually unmute the video in the bottom right corner to hear the music.)
“One Afternoon,” by Jan Richardson (November 17, 2017) (Used with permission of Jan Richardson).
caption that accompanies video: One afternoon, on a recent visit to my parents’ home, I looked out the window and saw this. The simple, beautiful grace of it made me unaccountably happy. When you’re visited by such a thing, it seems good to share it. So here it is, for you. I set the video to a piece of Gary’s music; it’s from one of the wondrous guitar meditations he created for our retreats.
I wanted to share this with you today especially. It’s Gary’s birthday. In the swirl of grief and gladness that this day holds, I am celebrating the extraordinary gift of Gary, who graced my life with such joy, and with a love that endures.
May this day hold some unaccountable happiness for you.
Lighting the Peace Lamp
We light this lamp every Sunday to remind us
that we are welcome here
that God welcomes each and everyone of us, no matter what.
We light this lamp in solidarity with all who are praying and working
for peace and justice and transformation on this green earth.
We light this lamp to welcome the Spirit,
who has been hovering over all creation
since the beginning of time,
to make Herself known to us here today.
Our worship theme for this summer has been “Unraveled.” What happens when our world falls apart? How do we press onward when our tightly-knit plans unravel into loose threads? What do we become when our identity—or the path we’re on—comes undone? What if all of this is not the end we fear it will be? In our unraveling, sometimes life surprises us with unexpected joy, love, and hope—with a new beginning we couldn’t have imagined. Sometimes we need God to unravel us, for we long to be changed.
May God meet us in the spiraling, unraveling our plans—and us—into something new.
As usual, please email any prayer concerns to email@example.com . In addition, you may share any reflections or insights you might have from these weeks of pondering the Unraveled theme, as well. These will be shared in Sharing Time, as well.
Call to Worship
Come in from the night.
It is a new day, and this is where love lives.
Take off your coat, let the weight fall off your shoulders;
For here, you are known. Here, you are loved.
Come in from the rain.
We can do anything together. We can survive together.
When the world unravels from under your feet—come in.
God is here. You are home. You will never be alone.
Let us worship the God who weaves us together. Amen.
Gathering Song— God is here among us, HWB #16, sung by CMCL on May 27, 2018
Children’s Time Invitation— Come and See, HWB #20, sung by CMCL on Feb 16, 2020
Children’s Time—A Ball of Clay, 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.
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.
adapted from “Unraveled” materials, A Sanctified Art
Sermon — Jonathan Sauder (click for video and/or read manuscript below)
Good-morning, everyone, thanks for zooming in!
Please join me in zooming out for a few moments for a wide angle view on the vast expanse of deep time within which all of human history is but a few shallow moments.
I begin with a reading from Louise Erdrich, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. From her short story called “The Stone,” published in the New Yorker (Sept 9, 2019). After describing a girl’s lifelong relationship with a rock she found as a child, a relationship that ranged from neglect to intimacy over the seasons of her adult life, Erdrich writes:
“A stone is, in its own way, a living thing, not a biological being but one with a history far beyond our capacity to understand or even imagine. . . .The wave-worn piece of basalt that the woman had slept with for more than a decade was thrown from a rift in the earth 1.1 billion years ago, . . . It had been rolled smooth by water and the action of sand. Because of its strange shape, it had been picked up by several human beings in the course of the past ten thousand years. It had been buried with one until a tree had devoured the bones and pulled the stone back out of the ground. It had been kept by a woman who revered it as a household spirit and filled its eyes with sweetgrass. It had been shoved off a dock, lifted back up with a shovel, deposited in a heap. It had surfaced in a girl’s left hand. A stone is a thought that the earth develops over inhuman time. It is a living thing to some cultures and a dead thing to others.
“ . . . At night, when she settled in the golden light of her reading lamp, she placed the stone beside her on an antique piece of embroidered linen. . . . . She was lucky enough to die—when an aneurysm ruptured in her sleep—with the stone beside her. As the blood seeped into her brain, she dreamed that she had entered a new episode of time, in which she and the stone would become the same through the endless repetition and decay of all things in the universe. Molecules that had existed in her body would be joined with the stone’s molecules, over and over in age after age. Flesh would become stone and stone become flesh, and someday they would meet in the mouth of a bird.”
The wisdom of indigenous peoples recognizes that we are not aliens, but that we are actually made of the same recycled materials as our mother earth. This deep knowing is echoed in the scientific discipline of geology. Explorer and author Robert Macfarlane’s recent volume entitled Underland: A Deep Time Journey, includes his fascination with the fluid interaction between mineral and organic life in the earth’s crust over millenia. I quote from a review of his book:
‘When he descends a Mendip sinkhole to a subterranean waterfall, the calcified waves of rock seem about to resume their flow. “When viewed in deep time,” he writes, “things come alive that seemed inert…. The world becomes eerily various and vibrant again. Ice breathes. Rock has tides. Mountains ebb and flow. Stone pulses. We live on a restless earth.”
‘He recounts a pleasant dream of being engulfed by a blue moss that grows from within him, and while visiting a potassium mine he playfully imagines living out the Anthropocene age embalmed in translucent rock-salt. The limestone that encloses so many human dead, he notes, is itself composed of past life—the compressed bodies of marine organisms—and these, in deep time, will supply the calcium carbonate from which new organisms will emerge, energizing a new cycle of death and life.’ [review by Colin Thurbon in the New York Review of Books July 18,2019]
And, now, please zoom in with me to the story of the unraveling of Job. Job’s life has unraveled in almost every way imaginable and that unraveling threatens to unravel the worldview and moral confidence of his friends. Job’s three friends are far more consistently Biblical than he is. Biblically, the majority view of morality is that God blesses and rescues those who follow a moral code and punishes those who do not. Job knows that his own experience contradicts that theory, and he says so. His friends, apparently, cannot morally afford to acknowledge the contradiction between their god-theory and Job’s physical, mental and spiritual pain. They repeatedly choose to blame Job’s pain on some undisclosed character flaw or moral failure. In order for their God to stay great, Job must deserve what he’s getting. They consistently refuse to ask whether perhaps their theory of morality is itself part of the oppression Job is living through. In their dreamworld, anyone who goes from riches to rags, as Job did, is being punished by God and deserves the nightmare he is living through.
And, now, please adjust your viewfinder again and zoom with me to the side by side American nightmare and American dream being lived out all around us today. A wide angle zoom view of the tapestry of the colonial settler state called the USA, if looked at honestly, will reveal that over and over again, across the centuries, the wellbeing of predator communities has been carefully woven out of the intentionally unraveled families, languages, and life expectancies of other, more colorful and earth-friendly communities.
The Great Prophet Toni Morrison announced that for our generation the testimony of Ta-Nehisi Coates, published as Between the World and Me, is “required reading.”
This book, which is also on CMCL’s recommended reading list this year, helps me to see how the dream of picket fences in acid-white suburbs is intimately connected to the morally corrosive nightmare of fear in which Ta-Nehisi’s people are raised. He writes to his beautiful black son, “I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is treehouses and the Cub Scouts. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But his has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.” (Coates, page 11)
Like Job’s three friends, I have a choice to make. Do I cancel the testimony of those in pain around me by insisting that our economy is God’s economy? By insisting that pale U.S.ers are often richer, on average, because they obey God while more colorful citizens are more likely to die in infancy because their parents and grandparents perversely cling to a morally inferior “culture of poverty?”
Like Job’s three friends, I was schooled, from childhood, to attribute success to personal discipline. This schooling is near the moral core of my community of origin. It is my most important insulation from the pain that my way of life rains down on those who live downstream from my morality.
Ta-Nehisi’s prophetic description of American schooling gives me a chance to clean my viewfinder, a chance to look away from a dreamscape in which economic predators are heroes. Away from my dream of a god-managed world in which the good intentions of the investor classes cancel out the body counts that make chemical factories as “cost-effective” today as chain-gangs were a century ago.
Ta-Nehisi says “It does not matter that the ‘intentions’ of individual educators were noble. Forget about intentions. . . . Very few Americans will directly proclaim that they are in favor of black people being left to the streets. But a very large number of Americans will do all they can to preserve the Dream. No one directly proclaimed that schools were designed to sanctify failure and destruction. But a great number of educators spoke of ‘personal responsibility’ in a country authored and sustained by a criminal irresponsibility. The point of this language of ‘intention’ and ‘personal responsibility’ is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. ‘Good intention’ is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.” (Coates,33)
Unlike Ta-Nehisi’s parents, my elders taught me to dream of a “higher purpose” for which a nonphysical God, who lives on a “higher plane” is putting all human pain to good use.
My Biblical upbringing has equipped me to protect my theory of moral consequence from the testimony of those whose life stories do not fit into it.
Ta-Nehisi does not need my kind of scolding friendship. He does not need me to insist that the divine economy is run by a manager who uses the “sacrifices” of one community’s teenage deaths to mysteriously purify or redeem an entire nation.
Coates believes that “our bodies are our selves, that my soul is the voltage conducted through neurons and nerves, and that my spirit is my flesh.” (Coates, p 79) Precisely because of this faith, he believes every life to be infinitely valuable and important and refuses to justify any morality that routinely sacrifices humans for the sake of a sacred white law and order agenda.
Because of my schooling and the fact that my religious lust for certainty is often as cruel as that of Job’s three friends, I am brought up short by Job chapter 28 with its pivot away from all human theories of justice, of any kind whatsoever, and toward a vision of Godness that zooms across more time and space than I am capable or even willing to be aware of. And I am set back on my heels by the moral imaginations of Louise Erdrich and Robert Macfarlane, both of which are much more “down to earth,” and I meant that literally, than my inherited morality of other-worldliness was ever intended to be. My dream of eternity feels much more familiar and comfortable to me than their testimony to the reality of Deep Time, the reality that we are all actually living in.
Lisle Gwinn Garrity, the artist who drew today’s painted meditation on Job’s unraveling, titled it “The Way to Wonder,” and tells us that the Hebrew term usually translated as “fear” in Job 28:28 literally translates as “awesome.”
Perhaps today we can paraphrase that verse to say that “a sense of awe in the face of Deep Time is wiser than any religion that normalizes or justifies the ways that some people thrive while others cannot.”
Prayers for the World — Speaking of “awe,” this weekend is the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, which commemorates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of introspection and repentance that culminates in the Yom Kippur holiday, also known as the Day of Atonement. Before we turn to our time of sharing the concerns within our own lives and our community, let us take a moment to zoom out and consider, with awe, the larger world. And consider, with humility, repentance and intention, our place in it.
We have been angry because we see suffering and we don’t understand.
We have been skeptical because we know heartbreak that doesn’t seem fair. We have withheld love because sacrifice only feels real when it’s our own. Forgive us for forgetting that you created the heavens and the earth.
Forgive us for withholding our pain from you.
Forgive us for thinking that we know everything.
When the world falls apart around us—
When love unravels and life slowly fails—
Draw us in.
Show us grace; for you gave the wind its weight and you gave our bodies life.
Forgive us for forgetting that. Amen.
“Unraveled” materials, A Sanctified Art
Please email your prayer requests, or pictures or reflections on your worship experience this Sunday, to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.
Lord, in our gratitude, hear our prayers.
“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”
― Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum
Worship Leader: Susan Gascho-Cooke
Sermon: Jonathan Sauder
Children’s Time: Malinda Clatterbuck
Scripture Reader: Annali Cooke
Tech Host: Adam Kehler