2018-9-23 “Hospitality, Bible-Style”

“Hospitality, Bible-Style”

A meditation based on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Micah 6:8, Mark 12:28-31

September 23, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

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                   The scriptures we’ve heard read today are among my favorites, for they are concise and also clear about what is required of us in community…in relationship to one another, they answer the questions of how we are to be with one another.  These three passages get right to the point, and the point begins with God:

  • God is God, and it is to God that we are to look for guidance in human community, and from God we draw strength and courage and compassion and patience (!) to live with one another better.
  • Love God with your heart, with your mind, with your soul, with your strength.
  • Teach this love to others as well, especially to the children.

The prophet Micah puts it even more succinctly:

  • Do justice…
  • Love kindness…
  • Walk humbly with your God…

Jesus picks up on these foundational teachings with one of his own when he says that the essence of community, the core of relationship is this:

  • Love God…Love neighbor…Love self…

                   These three passages are not just among my favorites, they are pivotal verses, foundational for both the Jewish and the Christian pathways, as well as for many other faith traditions.  And for the next three Sundays, I invite us to look at these passages through the lens of hospitality.  What does it look like to welcome the new?  What can these three foundational passages teach us about hospitality?  What are some lessons we can take from the past to help us?  I expect to be a bit more personal in these three sermons than I am normally, and I invite you to do the same in response.  Hospitality, you see, is a two-way street.  Generosity on both parts is required in order for the gift of hospitality to be complete. 

                   Why take three weeks to talk about something you, as a congregation, already do pretty well?  Because soon you will be welcoming your new pastor, and as the old cliché goes, we all only have one chance to make a good first impression.  Those first impressions in ministry form the basis of your growing and fruitful relationship with your new pastor.  This week, you will hear—via letter and the Chimes—about The Rev. Liz Aguilar.  She is the final selection of your hard-working Search Committee, and last week, she was approved for your vote by your Church Council.  Joyfully, in just a few weeks’ time, you’ll have opportunity to meet her, to experience her leadership in worship, to hear her preach the Gospel, and finally that same day, to approve with your vote her becoming your next pastor.  This is a time of joy! 

                   Mixed joy, to be sure.  For with every hello, there is also goodbye…and this one is particularly bittersweet.  Here’s where it gets a little personal…  Three years ago, I wasn’t sure at all that I even wanted to continue in ministry.  Badly bruised from the previous ministry experience, when I heard that Chula Vista might be interested in me as an Interim, I doubted I would have the energy for such work.  Buoyed by our conference minister Felix Villanueva, and by the confidence of my colleagues on the Church and Ministry Committee in my Eastern Association, I came here to Chula Vista for the interview.  On the way, we saw one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.  [slide]  Have I told you yet, that I believe in signs?  There’s a contemporary artist whose work tells story in word and image.  Brian Andreas by name.  Here’s one of his little stories about signs… [slide of signs by Brian Andreas]

                   When I arrived at the church that night, I sat in the same place at the same table I had sat in 1992, when I was much younger and applying to be the church’s Associate Minister.  As I sat there again, some 24 years later, there was a familiarity, not only in the room, but also in the greeting I received.  Warmth.  Laughter.  Sharing of story and of truth, one with another.  For each of us in that room—those known to me from years before, and those new friends I just met that night—each of us felt the welcoming loving presence of Spirit that permeates this place.  Guiding.  Nudging.  Cajoling.  Comforting.  Singing.  Assuring.  This will be well, this will be well, Spirit said over and over that night, and despite my fears and my concerns, I heard the promise of God through the laughter and hope and courageous truthfulness of those in that interview room.

                   That was nearly three years ago.  Yet, clearly, the hospitality given and received in that room still touches deeply.  That’s what hospitality does.  Hospitality, Bible-style, is all about being generous to the stranger, welcoming them—not with doubt or suspicion or even with idle curiosity—but welcoming them as if you love them already, doing justice by them, practicing kindness as you meet them, walking humbly as you share story with that stranger and, over the months, hear their story intertwining with your own.  That is Community.  You know how to build community.  You’ve been in that business for almost 130 years now.  And the DNA of hospitality runs deep here in this place.  Use it.  Trust it.  Offer it in many courageous and creative ways to your new pastor when she arrives.  Know that Rev. Liz is also well-equipped in the arena of generous hospitality, Bible-style.  You will come to know her story, as you’ve been open to knowing mine.  You will come to love her as you love me. 

                   You will do this, I know, because at your core, you already practice hospitality, Bible-style.  You love God with your whole selves.  You love your neighbor, albeit a bit tentatively and with understandable limited energy…yet you do what you can for and with your neighbor, and you do so with joy.  You love yourselves, although not nearly enough in my opinion!  For you are pretty fabulous people!  In the words of the prophet Micah, you are, as individuals and as a whole body, kind and just and humble, and it’s been really fun for me to watch you grow in these areas.  To watch as you notice when you’re not acting loving or kind or just or humble, and then self-correcting, sometimes in public, sometimes privately, usually with great laughter.             You are pretty fabulous examples of Christ-followers, and I’m going to miss you.  But more than the sadness of this soon-to-be-leave-taking, is my joy at how you have embraced this whole transition interim season.  Embraced it with gusto and wisdom and curiosity and certainly with patience (!).  You’ve stayed after church for countless forums (which I hope will continue!), you’ve opened up to talk with one another in those forum settings (keep it up!), you’ve completed questionnaires and faithfully attended worship and volunteered to do countless tasks throughout this interim period.  Closets have been cleaned, walls painted, spaces reimagined and reorganized to help this community hum.  You’ve prayed, as you promised you would, for the transition and search teams, for the church leadership, for the next pastor—whoever she or he would be.  You’ve continued doing what you can do and practicing who God has created you to be.

                   Your thorough process brings you to this moment where you stand ready to now embrace your bright and vibrant future.  How could I feel anything but deep joy and humble honor at being part of this journey with you?!  And so, these three messages over the next few weeks are my attempt to say “thank you” and “way to go!” and “here’s a little something more for you to consider as you move forward…”  I hope you’ll join me and bring others with you as we complete this part of the journey together.


Amen and Blessed Be

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.


Micah 6:8

God has told you, O people, 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?


Mark 12: 28-31

One of the scribes came near to Jesus, and asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”  Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”