2018-10-28 “#Grateful #Be Blessed #Farewell”

“#Grateful   #BeBlessed   #Farewell”

A meditation based on a variety of scriptures

October 28, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

* * * * *

                   We’ve all been to parties or weddings or even visiting other churches, and when we arrive, we’re given goodie bags!  These magical bags are filled with good things that help us, that bring us joy, that give us comfort in unfamiliar surroundings.  So, today, we find ourselves at a crossroads, a place where our two pathways diverge, a place to which God has certainly led all of us, and from which God will continue to love us into our respective futures.  We (and by “we” I mean me!) have said so much about that past that has led us here, and that imagined, hope-filled future that beckons.  Today is a moment to stand fully, clearly, honestly—with God and Jesus and Spirit and one another—in this unique and loving crossroads, to drink it in, and to recognize that # we are Grateful and # we Bless each other and # we bid one another a very fond Farewell.  So it seemed to me we needed Goodbye Goodie Bags!  I invite our youth and young adults to please distribute those now. 

                   These Goodbye Goodie Bags are my last gift to you.  They are a gift in 5 parts and over the next few minutes, we’ll learn more about this gift by traveling together through a variety of scriptures and singing some songs and probably crying a few tears, as we receive these goodie bags in this loving crossroads.  So here goes!

Tea Light

                   First, you will find a tea light, which brings to our spiritual minds some of the very first words of scripture.  God looked out over the inky darkness, breathed over the swirling chaos, and said, “Let there be light!”  Our faith affirms that light appeared.  Fast forward to the time of Jesus.  He had taught, healed, fed, laughed, prayed, lived, died, resurrected, and toward the end of the first century, his followers, facing the Roman imperial power, were understandably fearful.  So these words, describing Christ’s influence, were written to comfort them:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The Word was in the beginning with God, and brought all things into being.  What has come into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

My sisters and brothers, you know as well as I that one little candle has the power to enlighten a darkened room…one small light of kindness changes the direction and outcome of a shadowy conversation…one act of light-filled love and understanding brings you, and perhaps another, closer to God.  Remember this.  Always.  Let your light so shine that others will see Christ.

Let us sing the chorus of this familiar folk song: “I Am the Light of the World.”


                   We Christians follow in the footsteps of a first-century Middle Eastern man who loved to eat!  Jesus ate with strangers, he ate with friends, he ate while he walked, he ate at high holy days.  Jesus made food the object lesson of so many of his teachings, because, well, we all have to eat, and what better time to remember God in our lives than when we do something as ordinary as putting food in our mouths…  Three of the four gospels record that Jesus’ last—and perhaps most memorable supper—was during the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread.  It was, and is, a feast celebrated annually to honor the ancient Hebrews fleeing Egypt, courageously moving from slavery to freedom.  When Pharaoh freed the Israelites, they left in such a hurry that they could not even wait for the bread dough to rise.  So they ate that night for their journey ahead; they ate the flat, unleavened, un-risen bread. 

                   Friends, this lesson reminds you to eat together whenever possible.  Eat together when you’re in a hurry.  Eat together spontaneously.  Eat with your new pastor, and invite her over or out for a meal.  In your Goodbye Goodie Bag there are a few kernels of rice to remind you of two things, 1) you do amazing things as you eat together, so eat together often and 2) when you do, remember you are following Jesus.

Let us sing a beautiful poem about the Spirit’s presence in all our meals… “Draw Us In the Spirit’s Tether.”

UCC Rainbow Comma Magnet

Now I move to meddling…  J

                   The largest item in your goodie bag is a round Rainbow Comma magnet from our beloved UCC.  The symbolism is rich and multi-faceted.  I give it to you today so that the truth of WHO you are will stick to you like a magnet to metal.  Hear these descriptions of you in the Christian scriptures:

…accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; [there is no longer gay or straight]; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Let all that you do be done in love.

Community Congregational Church, you already know these truths, and you have been practicing them around here for a very long time. 

                   Specifically, during our interim season together, you have started on the ONA journey to explore becoming more open and more affirming of our lesbian sisters and our gay brothers in the faith.  You’ve entered into discussions; you’ve participated in forums and Bible studies. 

                   Even before this interim season, however, you’ve been open…  Our gay son came out of the closet here in 1994, when he was only a sophomore in high school.  You made that safe space for him.  You loved him and enjoyed his trumpet playing before he came out, and you loved him and enjoyed his trumpet playing after he came out.  His coming out, in fact, was a complete non-event for this congregation.  As his mom, your response of love and acceptance meant the world to me.  As your Interim Minister for another couple of hours, I remind you that this story is how I know you’ve already got it in you to be open and affirming…you already were with our family 20+ years ago. 

                   So I urge you to continue on this ONA journey.  Invite some gay and lesbian people here and talk with them about what church means to them.  Listen to their stories.  The parents and grandparents in this congregation who have gay or lesbian family members…listen to their stories, too…and you will hear what is needed and you will know what you are to do…

In hope, let us stand and sing one of the most hopeful songs in the UCC hymnal, “In the Midst of New Dimensions.”

Hug and Kiss

1 Corinthians 13…we know it as “The Love Chapter.”  In it, the Apostle Paul writes that,

…love is patient and kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends…And now, faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Paul teaches us what is love and what is not love.  And then he urges us to choose to love.  In your Goodbye Goodie Bag, I’ve enclosed a hug and a kiss for each of you—a hug and a kiss from me to you—for your love over these almost three years has meant the world to John and me.  I also give you each this candy hug and kiss to help you practice with one another—though it is hard to do so these days—the great Christian truth that the greatest gift of God really is love.  I’ve told you many times that there is a sweetness to this congregation, and your

love will be a magnet if you let it, if you share it, if you choose it.

Sounds like a cue for a song!  Let’s sing a bit of “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.”

Bag Itself

                   Finally, the bag itself has meaning.  You’ve no doubt noticed that it is transparent.  My final counsel to you is to be the same.  I’ve joked many times with you that my job here was to poke around in dusty corners and to ask annoying questions…there is truth in that!  While, together, we’ve cleaned up an enormous amount of real estate around here in less than three years…it is also true that you can continue to do that work without me.  You have all the tools you need to keep this ministry humming along.  Bring them out, with joy and confidence, to show and share with your new pastor and I promise you that all of us—you, her, God, Spirit, Jesus, and yes, even me from afar—all of us partners in this ministry will be # Grateful and # Blessed!

                   Now we turn to the # Farewell portion of this worship service today, standing firmly on the foundation of gratitude and blessing we’ve all received from the Divine.  I invite our Moderator, Nathan Purificacion, to join me on the chancel.

Farewell Litany

Dr. Graff: When I joined my ministry with yours in January 2016, I took on the responsibilities of your pastor for an interim season. I led worship services, provided pastoral care, encouraged Christian faith formation, and nudged you to accomplish the tasks God set before us during this interim season. Will you now release me from these responsibilities?

          CONGREGATION: We will, with God’s help.

Dr. Graff: As your Interim Pastor, I took on a guiding role as you reviewed your history, explored needed changes, resolved old conflicts, healed old wounds, explored new directions in ministry, and prepared to move forward with new pastoral leadership.

Will you join me in giving thanks to God for the hard work we have done?

          CONGREGATION: We will, with God’s help.

Dr. Graff: Together we have sought to strengthen the life and future of this church and to grow in faith, hope and love. Will the Church Council please stand? You are the elected leaders of this church. Will you continue on the path of faith, hope and love?

          LEADERS: We will, with God’s help.

Dr. Graff: Will the members and friends of the congregation support these elected leaders of this church?

          CONGREGATION: We will, with God’s help.

          (You may be seated…)

Dr. Graff: Will you each commit to patience and kindness as your next pastor begins her ministry among you…will you support her leadership efforts as she follows the guidance given by the Holy Spirit…and will you practice wise and respectful communication, so that together, your relationship with her will grow and flourish?

          CONGREGATION: We will, with God’s help.

Sharon to Nathan: I return the keys you gave me when I arrived. I thank you for that trust.

          MODERATOR: I receive the keys on behalf of the congregation. We express our gratitude         and love for your wise and faithful leadership during this transition time.

Sharon: My prayers will always be with you.

          CONGREGATION: And ours with you.

Let us enter into a time of prayer, by singing together one verse of Abide With Me…