June 7, 2020
Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster
photo from a CMCL Lent service FIVE YEARS AGO. Same headlines.
Welcome— “I can’t breathe!” Those were some of the last words of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of the police has been all over the news. Protests have taken place all across the country, and yet we are in the midst of a pandemic. There’s so much to grieve during these times. This morning we’re going to take time to lament the anti-Black violence that has taken place recently, but also confess our complicity as a predominantly White congregation in the systemic racism that empowers such violence.
We celebrated Pentecost last Sunday, a day in which God used the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into the disciples by creating the Church. It is our prayer that sitting with our discomfort this morning may breathe new life into this congregation and the Church as a whole, which will lead to dismantling the systems of oppression that have strangled the Black community for centuries.
Lighting of Peace Lamp — We invite you to light a candle or lamp, wherever you are.
“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)
Oh Holy One, how long will we grieve death,
how many more breaths will these cycles of violence steal from sacred black lives?
Hear our cries.
We grieve for George Floyd.
We grieve for Breonna Taylor.
We grieve for Tony McDade.
We grieve for Ahmaud Arbery.
We grieve for Dion Johnson.
We grieve for Nina Pop.
We grieve for Sean Reed.
We grieve for each sacred person whose name we have come to know
through the unspeakable grief and injustice of their death.
We shudder at the inhumanity, at how many precious lives have been taken.
We grieve the ache of every person who bears this pain
and holds fear for their lives deeply in their bodies.
We lament the loss of these holy lives.
We lament officers and politicians encouraging, “peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
We lament the absence of justice.
Awaken us to any false declarations of “peace, peace,” that cover over violence.
Awaken us to the violence of this country’s status quo.
Awaken us to the urgency of overturning the tables of injustice.
Awaken us who are white women to the reality of our ongoing history
of complicity with anti-black racism done in our name.
Expose us where we are most deeply shaped by a racist system
so that we can name it in ourselves and never stop working to dismantle it.
Holy Spirit, come with fire that burns away silence and complacency.
Move us beyond saying ‘peace, peace.’
Help us shape our words into stones with weight that we use, in community,
to build the long path to justice, to peace.
Prayer of Confession & Commitment
Creator, Sustainer & Redeemer,
We confess we have been caught in our own comfortable Whiteness
and ignored the persistent voices of your people.
We confess that through ignoring racism,
we continue to participate in and benefit from White supremacy.
We confess that even if we have this awareness, our privilege allows us to forget.
We have shied away from calling out anti-Blackness
and standing against violence against Black people.
We seek a wholeness and Shalom and cannot do this alone.
We commit to seek the flourishing of our Black neighbors,
especially when it risks our comfort.
We commit to feeling our feelings
and through feelings to challenge our privilege and our ability to avoid pain.
To siting in discomfort so we can stand up for racial justice when we are uncomfortable.
We commit to racial justice and anti-racist practices being a part of our identity
and seeking meaningful change in ourselves, our relationships, our neighborhoods,
community and society.
This journey is painful, this journey is long,
This journey is essential for redemption.
Song— I Bind My Heart This Tide HWB #411
Offering— Thank you for your continued support of your congregation. 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. We also encourage you to give to such organizations such as your local bail fund or your local chapter of the NAACP. Thanks so much for being the church, and giving to the work of the church.
O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others
Open my ears that I may hear their cries;
Open my heart so that they need not be without succor;
Let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong,
Nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
And use me to bring them to those places.
And so open my eyes and my ears
That I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee.
– Alan Paton, South Africa, United Methodist Hymnal #456
A Psalm of Lament of Whiteness- John-Michael Cotignola-Pickens
How can death be found at the end of a bag of Skittles?
And twenty dollars takes the breath of life?
Yet here I stand,
Empty Skittles bags scattered throughout,
Twenty dollars in my pocket,
With the breath of Pentecost in my lungs!
Four hundred years their blood has soaked the Earth,
Slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, police brutality, Whiteness,
These are the monsters under their beds,
Their lives sacrificed for my comfort,
My silence speaks volumes!
Here I stand,
But it’s too late for just lamenting,
May our lamenting lead to new life,
Where the George Floyds, the Trayvon Martins,
Breonna Taylors, are not consumed,
By the monsters under the bed!
A Psalm of Blackness— “Who Do I Turn To?” by Joy Oladokun
Sermon— Susan Gascho-Cooke
There are a lot of words in this service. We are a people who do not believe in the sword as a problem-solving tool. Since the pen is mightier than the sword, I guess we write a lot.
- I lament that more people had to die this week to teach us something we already knew. We knew before them just as certainly as we know now. I lament that we are only now flooding the streets, even as I celebrate that we’re flooding them.
- I lament the daily toll that racism takes on Black lives, and the fact that there is NOWHERE to go to have a break from it. The stress that causes physical illness, and mental, emotional and spiritual trauma. The constant need to weigh words and actions carefully, and always be aware of how you are being perceived by whiteness — to be aware of how whiteness is perceiving you — to protect your life.
- The late singer, Keith Green once said: “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.” My variation: Having a Black spouse or child doesn’t make a white person anti-racist anymore than having a wife or daughter makes a straight man anti-sexist. Am I right?
- I confess that I knew everything I needed to know about racism in my body and my soul long before I ever began to understand it with my mind. This came home to me in a profound and shameful way as I watched the unfolding story of Amy Cooper, the white woman walking her dog in Central Park who called the cops on a black man who was birdwatching. He asked to her leash her dog in an area that required leashes on dogs. She refused. He started filming her. She said, “I’m going to call the police and I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.” She has apologized. But her actions when the chips were down, and her pared-down survival brain kicked in, belie the truth: that she knew. She knew. She knew. She knew. She knew. We KNOW. We ALL know. But yes, as a white woman in this country she instinctively, immediately, without a shadow of a doubt, KNEW everything there is to know about how race works in our country. About how policing works in our country. About who is worthy of protection, worthy of being believed. She may not have thought any of those things. But she absolutely knew. Her actions betrayed what she knew. We know. Let us confess that we know. We know. We know. We know. We know. We know. We do not need to see another video or read another book in order to know. We care or we don’t. But we can no longer get away with the LIE, to ourselves or others, that we didn’t know. We know. No one in this church, no one in this country needs a tutorial on race. We need heart transplants and spine implants.
- I confess that in my journey of empowerment and struggle against patriarchy and sexism, I have far too often only exercised my assertiveness muscles on those with less access to power in the system than I have. I commit to speaking truth to those who have power over me, instead of those equally or more vulnerable to power than myself.
- I confess I am not preaching on a Bible scripture today. As we witnessed in the actions of our President this week, anyone can hold up a Bible. Anyone can find what the justification for what they want in a Bible, too. I am here to lay bare and preach to the mind and heart with which we pick and up and read and interpret our Bibles, and with which we interpret the world around us. I confess I often find what I’m looking for, or a loophole to be let off the hook for the painful truths I know are in there.
- If you want a scripture, head to Exodus 32, where Moses comes down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments on tablets from God and finds the people worshipping a golden calf. Moses flings the commandments down in frustration, breaking them. Right now, that’s about how I feel. Sometimes the sermon is to throw down the whole thing and let it crash and burn. If we still need to pore over some 2,000 year old text to figure out whether or not it’s ok to oppress human beings right in front of us right now, the jig is up, and no amount of exegesis is going to help. I went back through our sermon archive online here at CMCL. I stopped counting at 15 sermons by me or others within and beyond the congregation preaching on the insanity of racial injustice in our country in the past five years alone. We don’t need more proof texts or sermons. I’m not gonna magically find the right words to change the world. And you don’t need me to tell you what you already know. I know. You know. We know. We need for the spell of our thralldom to white supremacy to be broken. Break it for us, Lord! It’s like Hermione Granger and the whole freshman class of witches and wizards in HP 1 trying to work their first transfiguration spell: the know the words, they’ve got the wands, and they know the change they’re trying to effect, but they can’t do it. If we say the same words just right this time, with the right flick of the wand, maybe they’ll work! “Wing-GAR-dium Levi-OH-sah!” “Love your NAAAY-bor as yourSELF!” Why isn’t this working?
- I commit that “when something happens in our world and I have a different reaction to it than Black, Indigenous and People of Color, [to] have some curiosity about why that is.” (words from Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, which sound like a low bar, but a really important one.) I commit to having that curiosity — and the humility to be teachable. (May 30, 12:25 on her Facebook page)
- To not calling on the readily-available violence of others to protect me or my possessions. I commit to digging into what’s going on with policing, because I’m woefully ignorant and what I’m seeing now scares the crap out of me.
- To allowing no words or behaviors of a person of color to impact in any way my responsibility to act justly when it comes to issues of race and white supremacy. My perceptions of others’ actions, personalities, feelings, life choices, have nothing to do with whether racism is a sin that I must participate in the takedown of. (It is).
- And yes, African-American Mennonite scholar Regina Shands Stoltzfus said this much better than I did: “Can you affirm my humanity and my right to exist without loving me; that is, having warm feelings about me? What if I’m not lovable that day? Do you get to mistreat me then? Do I have to prove my love-ability – my worthiness of your love – over and over and over again? Or do I just get to be? These are serious questions. At a traffic stop for a burned-out headlight, I can’t gamble on love.”
- I commit to responding, as an individual and a leader, to MCUSA Executive Director Glen Guyton’s call for Mennonites to “engage in more costly peacemaking, rooted in radical discipleship, which seeks to dismantle systems of oppression.”
- In Guyton’s words: “The violence and unrest that is happening now is not an accident; it is what the system is designed to do, and it jeopardizes all of us, not just people of color.” I commit to “stand with the marginalized in [my] communit[y],” to use my “power of privilege … as a shield to protect people of color who don’t have it.”
- Again, in Guyton’s words: “I am determined not to allow the past and present circumstances of systemic oppression to make me feel powerless. For many in the white community, including our Mennonite family … your race is … an advantage you can use to dismantle racial injustice in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need your voice. We need to #BringthePeace.” I commit to use whatever advantage I have to do this.
- I commit to not playing dumb and pretending I don’t know what I know in order to let myself off the hook.
Sharing Time & Prayer— If you have a prayer concern, please email it to Pastor Susan (firstname.lastname@example.org) this morning, and these concerns will be shared with the congregation by Zoom this morning and by email later today.
O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.
Song— “Lord, listen to your children praying,” Beth Graybill, Stock Weinstock-Collins, Philip Holzinger, Maren Morgan
Communal Anti-Racist Response- Heather Cotignola-Pickens
A way to begin to process our reactions to another Black man being murdered by the police and our racist systems is to acknowledge our lament, our confessions and our commitment. This is not the only way, but an invitation to process as a community.
Everyone is invited to fill in the blanks:
I commit to_________________________
And send your answers to Pastor Susan as part of our processing and discerning next steps as a community. So to begin I will share mine.
I believe that each part is essential. To lament is to acknowledge our feelings, and for those of who hold white privilege, feeling our pain is challenging our privilege to avoid pain, our privilege to stay comfortable. We must work to stay in this pain and discomfort to build those muscles of speaking up and acting for racial justice since so many of us have been taught that naming race is racism, when really it is acknowledging reality rather than retreating to our comfort.
Confession and repentance is a part of our faith tradition. We can not be redeemed if we are unable to acknowledge that we are doing something wrong, something that hurts others. Saying no to repentance is like saying no to Jesus. Ouch!
I know I want to see myself as good, but the reality is that I do some good, lifegiving things and make some choices and act in such a way that is harmful, and can only move forward through acknowledging that.
And through that, commit to the next steps, not jumping to action, not letting myself off the hook through only focusing on lament and confession. So….
I lament how the murder of Black people is being legally justified
I confess I am complicit through benefitting from white supremacy and my silence
I commit to being uncomfortable and to anti-racist practices
Announcements— Look for the Weekly Zoom small group gathering links in the same email with the Invitation to Worship Zoom link.
Benediction/Call to action – Amanda Arbour
“Protest is the heartbeat of humanity. It is the sound of human rights beating to live.” – Ibram X. Kendi
We are at a critical moment – for each one of us, for CMCL, for the cities of Lancaster and Harrisburg and everywhere that we call home, and for this county. Violence against Black people is not new, nor is organizing by Black people for justice and liberation. Centuries of both oppression and resistance have led us to this point – so let us honor that history, and let take this moment as a rallying cry to commit ourselves to do more.
Our work must happen both individually and collectively; it must be both about creating internal change and having an external impact. And white people, this is our work.
At the individual level, let’s commit to listening to Black voices through books, podcasts, and in real life, and putting our bodies between Black people and those who intend to cause them harm. Let’s commit to supporting Black businesses with our dollars and divesting from those that cause Black people harm. Let’s commit to getting involved with Black-led organizations, and helping the organizations we’re a part of to identify their own institutional racism and holding them accountable. Let’s commit to interrupting and confronting white supremacy – whether it’s on social media, at a family dinner, or out in public spaces. Let’s commit to showing up to City Council meetings, and holding all of our elected officials accountable.
Let us also commit ourselves to perhaps the harder, internal change – the deeply personal work that must be done to unlearn the white supremacy that has been internalized in us, as white people. What did we learn about whiteness? How are we perpetuating white supremacy? What parts of our humanity have we lost in this? Let’s commit ourselves to asking the difficult questions, challenging the narratives that we’ve been taught, and pushing through the discomfort towards liberation.
Collectively, as a faith community, we must also ask ourselves some hard questions. How does whiteness show up here? How do we participate in white supremacy and what are ways to dismantle that? How do we create an identity as an anti-racist church? Let’s commit ourselves, together, to self-examination and honest conversations about who we are and who we want to be as a community of people.
Let’s also commit ourselves to practicing anti-racism, collectively, as part of putting our faith into action as a body. Whether that is marching in the streets or handing out cold water to protesters; sharing action items from and prioritizing grant funding for Black-led organizations; speaking out loudly and regularly for racial justice in our local community and with our local elected officials.
As we do this work individually and collectively, as we seek to create internal change and have an external impact, at CMCL, let us commit ourselves to the long haul – and never stop working for a world where Black people can live, can breathe, can be free.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint. And it is going to take all of us linking arms in strategic and sustained action, over the long haul, towards our goal. Each of us must do our part. May we join God’s delivering presence and activity in the world.” – Drew Hart
Closing Hymn— God Be With You Til We Meet Again, HWB #430 Marcy Hostetler, Monte Garber and Maia Garber
Note from Worship Committee: We plan to end all of our future worship services with this song, until such time as we can ALL gather and sing it together in person. **If your household would like to record yourselves singing this song, please send it our way!
Worship Leaders: Amanda Arbour, Heather and John-Michael Cotignola-Pickens
Sermon: Susan Gascho-Cooke
Children’s Time: Malinda Clatterbuck
Zoom tech: Drew Brubaker