The Dot (Justice for Children)
A meditation based on Ephesians 4:25-5:2
August 12, 2018
Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista
Dr. Sharon R. Graff
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Welcome to Week Two of teaching and learning about the UCC Statements of Witness! I hope you enjoy this as much as I do, for I love teaching adults by using childrens stories. Weve all been children. Theres something of our childhood still in us. And Ive noticed over the years that, when we adults can lighten up a bit and take a break from taking ourselves so seriously, those lessons learned from childrens stories seem to go deeper in us to those places where change happens where we become our best versions of ourselves. So, today, on a day when we are learning together about the UCC Statement of Witness called Justice for Children, I offer you The Dot. As you listen to its message, I invite you to listen also for how you, as a congregation, can help the children of this community.
Art class was over, but Vashti sat glued to her chair. Her paper was empty.
Vashtis teacher leaned over the blank paper. Ah! A polar bear in a snow storm, she said. Very funny! said Vashti. I just cant draw!
Her teacher smiled. Just make a mark and see where it takes you.
Vashti grabbed a marker and gave the paper a good, strong jab. There!
Her teacher picked up the paper and studied it carefully. Hmmmmmmm.
She pushed the paper toward Vashti and quietly said, Now sign it.
Vashti thought for a moment. Well, maybe I cant draw, but I CAN sign my name.
The next week, when Vashti walked into art class, she was surprised to see what was hanging above her teachers desk. It was the little dot she had drawnHER DOT! All framed in swirly gold!
Hmmph! I can make a better dot than THAT!
She opened her never-before-used set of watercolors and set to work.
Vashti painted and painted. A yellow dot. A green dot. A red dot. A blue dot.
The blue mixed with the red. She discovered that she could make a PURPLE dot. Vashti kept experimenting. Lots of little dots in many colors.
If I can make little dots, I can make BIG dots, too. Vashti splashed her colors with a bigger brush on bigger paper to make bigger dots.
Vashti even made a dot by NOT painting a dot.
At the school art show a few weeks later, Vashtis many dots make quite a splash.
Vashti noticed a little boy gazing up at her. Youre a really great artist. I wish I could draw, he said. I bet you can, said Vashti. ME? No, not me. I cant draw a straight line with a ruler.
Vashti smiled. She handed the boy a blank sheet of paper. Show me. The boys pencil shook as he drew his line.
Vashti stared at the boys squiggle. And then she said
Please sign it.
As an aside, this book is lovingly dedicated to a 7th grade math teacher, who, the author gratefully notes, dared him to make his mark
So, Community Congregational Church, how do you help children make their mark? How can you help children? Two different questions one looking from this point backwards and the other looking from this moment on. Both of these questions, informed by todays scripture reading. A student of the Apostle Paulscholars call him Second Paulwriter of the letter to the Ephesians, gives this list of how to help children grow up in the faith:
- Dont lie
- Speak truth to your neighbor
- Be angry, when anger is warranted
- Do not hold onto your anger; neither let it hold onto youthe scripture poetically says, Dont let the sun go down on your anger
- If you steal from others, stop doing that
- Work honestly, and give to the needy
- Only speak that which helps build up, that which gives grace to those who hear
- Step aside from anger, bitterness, wrangling, slanderput those aside, says Pauls student
- Instead, be kind to one another
- Practice being tenderhearted and forgiving
- In a word or two: Imitate God, as beloved children
- Live in love, as Christ loves us
I am reminded of a time decades ago, in this very church, a family was having challenges with their adolescent child, and the then pastor of this church said, wisely, just love them Good advice. Great advice, actually. And this student of Paul, author of the letter to the Christians at Ephesus, lists several concrete ways to show your love for children. Hear them again:
- Dont lie
- Speak the truth
- Be angry, when anger is warranted
- Do not hold onto your anger; and dont let it hold onto you
- Dont steal
- Work honestly, and give to needy children
- Speak only that which builds up, that which gives grace to these young ones
- Be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving
- In a word or two: when you are interacting with children, Imitate God by living in love, for you are on equal footing with these young onesyou are not higheryou, too, are a beloved child of God
Its tempting, as wise experienced adults, to lord it over children. Yet this passage puts us all in the same boatyoung and oldguided by the same principles, loved equally by the same God. And The Dot provocatively asks us to consider how we, as wise experienced adults, can help the children in this community make their mark.
Friends, that is the essence of being a church community that not only welcomes children, but also encourages their growth in healthy ways. Love in action, love by words, love by forgiveness, love by understanding, love by speaking truth, love by letting go of anger, love by working and giving to those in need, love in these and hundreds of others waysthis is how you can practice being a place where justice for children is your mother tongue. Youre not there yet. You have a ways to go. Sometimes, youre a little caught up in your own tentativeness, and you miss opportunities to really show your love for children as full members of this church now. Sometimes, your tentativeness prevents you from helping a child right in front of you to make their special mark and sign it. Sometimes you miss the opportunity to frame that childs work with that swirly golden frame.
Justice for Children is one of the many Statements of Witness that the United Church of Christ offers to congregations like yourself a statement in which you talk together of the real challenges facing the young ones today. A Statement in which, as you talk honestly together, you also resolve to take action. Small actions are fine. Maybe start with a simple swirly frame. Maybe continue by using your outside voice to tell one of this churchs precious children how much you love them even and especially when their outside voice brings you discomfort. I once knew a preaching pastor, who, every time an infant or child seemed to interrupt the worship service, instead, from the pulpit, the preacher invited the congregation to say, Amen or Hallelujah! And the strangest, most grace-filled thing began to happen in that congregation. They began to anticipate and look forward to a childs voice in worship, and a sort of verbal dance began taking place between the young and the elders. And there were a lot of Hallelujahs and smiles all around
You will find your way to help children here make their mark and sign their name, because thats who you are, Community Congregational Church. You are already loving and already forgiving and already truthful and honest. Now, add to those marks of yours, a courageous spirit and your love will be signed and framed in swirly gold.
Amen and Blessed Be!