2018-9-30 “Community Matters”

“Community Matters”

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

September 30, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

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                   You may remember that, for these three weeks, leading up to the Minister’s Call Weekend on October 13 & 14, we are using the same three scriptures in worship and seeing them through the lens of hospitality.  These passages are pivotal foundational passages for both the Jewish and Christian pathways, and their lessons find their way into a variety of other faith traditions as well.  They teach us about what it looks like to welcome the new…as you will soon be doing!  So we take this time, prior to your meeting Rev. Liz, to look carefully and deeply at what scripture can teach us about hospitality.  I’m being a bit more personal in these three sermons than I am normally, and I invite you to do the same in response.  For hospitality is a two-way street.  Generosity on both parts is required in order for the gift of hospitality to be complete. 

                   Today, we dive into deeper waters with these same three familiar scriptures we read last Sunday.  Why go deeper?  Why not just skim the surface?  Perhaps that “why question” is best answered with an image I received in my email inbox earlier this week.  I’ve shared with you on several occasions now, including last Sunday, that one of my favorite contemporary artists is the playful Brian Andreas.  He creates fantasy, almost cartoon-like characters, using bright colors and geometric shapes.  Next to them, he places simple stories—usually just a handful of words—all of which work together to tell a bigger story.  Your story.  Mine.  With his few words and artistic images, he tells story…the human story.  This particular piece answers the question of why dive into deeper waters today.  Let me read the words on the screen, in case you cannot. 

“used to look for the good in everything,

until she figured out that she was only seeing the good she already knew

& not the heart of things she’d been looking for in the first place.”

Let me read that again…

Friends in Christ, Brian Andreas urges you to get to the heart of things.  And so, we seek more deeply the message of hospitality and its lessons from the words,

  • 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.

We seek more deeply the message of hospitality and its lessons from the prophet Micah:

  • 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?

We seek more deeply the message of hospitality and its lessons from our Savior, Jesus the Christ:

  • 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.”

Last week we talked a bit about “the good we already know”—that, as a community of faith, you are kind and loving, just and humble.  Through your actions, you embody your love of God in heart, soul and strength.  You teach this to your children, as scripture orders you to do.  This is the good we already know.  What about the heart of things?  What is the heart of things around here with respect to hospitality?  What is the heart of things about how you welcome the stranger?  I’ll tell a story on me before telling some on you…

                   Recently, when I returned from vacation, I was told by several of you that, in my absence, a stranger was here in worship, interrupting the preacher of the day—Rev. Dr. Norma DeSaegher—after several interruptions, the man was escorted out by one of our watchful and protective ushers.  The same man returned the following week, and again began bending the rules of grace and hospitality.  Knowing what I had been told from the previous week, and seeing him delight in disrupting, I asked him to leave.  He didn’t.  I then asked all the tall men I saw here to help me.  They did and, eventually, the man was again escorted out.  I tell this story, because it, too, represents hospitality.  It is not ok for someone to come here and disrupt the harmony and the sacred safety of this sanctuary or of the services we provide.  To take that a painful step further, this week as our nation has watched and heard women’s truth be distrusted and deemed doubtful, it is not ok here in this sanctuary for a man to interrupt a preaching woman…ever.  Nor would it be ok if the roles were reversed.  It is ok for us—for me—to draw a line and say to that disruptor, “you have crossed a line and you are not welcome here with that behavior.” 

                   Do you see the deep waters we are entering?  Hospitality is a two-way street, friends.  It is not a doormat.  Hospitality, in community matters, requires both parties to give and receive, generously. 

                   Now a story about you…  Back in the day, some 25 years ago, there was an unwritten rule around here that all strangers—new staff included—were to stay out of the church kitchen.  I can recall, now with a taste of humor in my mouth, that as a young associate minister, I would walk out of my way, from my office (now Amber’s office), down the hall, around the kitchen, out to the breezeway, to get to the fellowship hall.  No going through the kitchen for me!  No taking a chance that I would be blamed for a misplaced utensil or a wrongly-folded tablecloth.  So territorial were those long-ago keepers of the kitchen that they struck into even me, a fear of that part of the church facility.  I got over it.  Years of therapy.  Just kidding.  J    

                   Upon returning here almost three years ago, I was delighted to see that such attitudes had calmed.  Not disappeared.  Every few months, an eruption in the kitchen still happens.  This is not about personalities at all.  This is about the organism known as Community Congregational Church.  And deeply in the DNA of this church is a sense of that kitchen being off-limits to strangers.  So it will take intentional welcoming, and dedicated teaching, and a mountain of patience to change that DNA.  There are other places and events around here where I’ve noticed a DNA-level reaction to the stranger.  I’ve mentioned some already from this pulpit.  You know.  Because at your core, you already are loving and kind and just and humble people.  You practice hospitality on a daily basis.  And you know when you fail.  You don’t need me, or anybody, haranguing about it. 

                   What I think you do need is what our nephew and niece playfully called “situational awareness.”  There we were, a few weeks ago, driving them around western Montana and into Yellowstone National Park.  We were all four astonished at the number of tourists still in the park, even that late in the season.  As we encountered drivers determined to cross double yellow lines and sneak into parking places and not check mirrors before darting in front of us and and and…   We saw a variety of creative driving moves throughout the day.  Each time, Scott and Katie simply smiled at each other and quietly said, “situational awareness.”  And we all four laughed. 

                   Your bulletin cover today says the same, in theological language. 

Courage for Community, it reads.  It could have been created especially for you, specifically at this time in your life.  You are about to meet the person you will be invited to accept as your next Senior Pastor.  That acceptance certainly begins when you first meet Liz in just two weeks, but it continues for the rest of your blessed time together as pastor and congregation. Hospitality is not “one and done…”  

                   The heart of things, for your relationship with Rev. Liz, is on this bulletin cover.  In accepting her, you are called to be courageous.  That means letting me go, so there’s space in your heart and mind and soul for her to reside as your pastor.  Look more closely at the picture on the bulletin cover, and you can see that the young couple has just taken a selfie.  The female, in the selfie, playfully put up two fingers as rabbit ears off on the side of the other.  See it?  And they both are smiling broadly, almost laughing out loud.  They like each other.  They have fun together.  They step out of what’s expected and seize the moment with joy and spontaneity.  Do that with Rev. Liz, not all at once and not all on that first day.  But look for the joy, seize the spontaneity of God’s love as you become closer to her, follow Spirit’s nudges with a renewed and stronger sense of courage in this new relationship.  Do not be tentative to talk with her.  Dive in.  Love her.  Like her.  Tell her the heart of things, as you experience that heart. 

                   Several times in this message, I’ve intentionally used the words, “playful,” “playfully.”  I have learned—over 3-1/2 decades of ministry—that ministers and congregations who laugh together and play together and enjoy a good joke or simply sit together in the fun of the present moment—those are relationships of pastor and congregation that are not only long-term, but are also so very fruitful.  The theological truth underlying that is this: God calls us from our joy to deeper joy.  God doesn’t call us from our places of fear, but from our cauldrons of joy.  What gives you joy, Community Congregational Church, what gives you joy as I’ve noticed over our time together, is hearing and being heard, listening with love, respecting all as God’s beloved children.  I’ve watched your infectious joy and it has brought peace to my own life.  Keep it up…share the good, with one another, and especially with your new pastor…but more importantly, share the heart of things…share how it really is with your soul, with your mind, with your heart, with your strength or lack of it…share the heart of things, one with another…even in that long-ago dreaded church kitchen!


Amen and Blessed Be!