“From ‘Here I Stand’ to ‘Here WE Stand!’”
A meditation based on Matthew 22:34-40
October 29, 2017
Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista
Dr. Sharon R. Graff
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Every 500 years, whether we need it or not, there is some sort of major shake-up in
the religious world. Every 500 years, like clockwork! 500 years ago was the Protestant
Reformation, 500 years before that was a major schism between east and west in the Church,
500 years before that was the Council of Chalcedon and Gregory the Great, 500 years before
that was Jesus. Each of these mile-markers pointed the way to a whole new way of seeing the
relationship between God and people. Yet, this is not only a Christian narrative, for Islamic
scholars have noted a similar 500-year pattern in their faith tradition as well.
Returning to the Judeo-Christian story, 500 years before Jesus was the Jewish
Babylonian Exile, and 500 years before that was the Age of the Judges out of which came Kings
Saul, David and Solomon. So now, we’re at 3,000 years of human spiritual and religious
history, and like clockwork, these expressions of faith seem to change every 500 years or so.
Every 500 years, there comes along a new leader, a new paradigm shift, a new way of
realizing, of experiencing, of living an old old hope. The old old hope? To draw closer to the
Divine, of course…to grow into God, some might say…that’s our hope! And from that hope,
realized, flows all manner of good things…from that hope to be more deeply connected to the
Divine, comes our purpose and a realization of our gifts and the courage to put those two
together for the benefit of the world around us. Do you see? And history teaches us that we
humans need a recharge about every 500 years.
We are in such a season now. That alone might explain the seeming chaos in the
religious world around us…change, friends, is rarely tidy! For 500 years ago, this coming
Tuesday, Father Martin Luther of Germany, declared his 95 beliefs—most of which demanded
radical change in the church he served—and Luther made sure that the religious authorities
heard about it. He put his mind and his heart and his feet to work, together, to courageously
speak truth to the powers of his day.
The truth he spoke was not his own…it was of God…and that truth declared that the
most effective way for people to draw closer to God was through the pathway of grace. That
was a radical notion in Luther’s day. And a whole movement flowed from his declarations…
Luther declared that God is, at the heart, a God of love, not of fear; a God of love, not of
distance; a God of love, not of judgment or hatred. As you can imagine, in a world where the
church was making a lot of money on fear and hate and judgment, as was true in Luther’s day,
his declarations were not well-received!
Nevertheless, Luther continued to declare, “Here I stand.” Those three words have
found their way into this holy space that is your spiritual home. Look over there. There is the
Luther window, or more broadly, the window that claims our UCC heritage within the Protestant
Reformation. “Here I stand I can do no other.” Legend has it that these were Luther’s words
when confronted by the Church for his supposed heresy. Shortened to “Here I Stand,” they are
a quick reminder of his courageous witness to his own faith and his willingness to stand up for
what he believed in.
His pathway can become a model for our own. That pathway begins with the personal
and moves to the public… That pathway honors the personal, the individual, but it does not
stop there. It is not enough for you to have a wonderful relationship with God if you shrink
from sharing your witness with others. I’m not talking about street corner preaching. I’m
talking about witness that makes a difference. The type of courageous witness that in Luther’s
day, brought about a whole re-formation of the institution of Church.
Now, Luther did not start from the point that modern-day consultants might suggest.
He didn’t look toward 3-5 year plans, nor did he do demographic studies or collect relevant
data. He and Spirit started with the personal. What does Luther believe to be true of God? Of
Jesus? Of Church? Of the Christian pathway in the world? What does Luther believe of these
weighty matters? And from that core, from that “Here I stand” strong rooted location, Luther
and the other reformers spoke their truths to power. They changed the world, literally! And so
can you, my sisters and brothers. So can you.
Let’s try a little “Here I Stand” exercise this morning. What is one thing that you
believe fully? Luther had 95! We only need 1 for today. One thing that is the core of your
belief system? One belief that is unshakable? I invite you to write that one thing down on your
bulletin… Look at what you’ve written… Ponder that belief. Close your eyes, if you’re
comfortable doing that, or fix your gaze on something besides me. Visualize the words you’ve
written…words that communicate your deeply held belief. Let the parade run through your
mind and heart…the parade of people who encouraged that belief…people who supported
you…people who argued with you, and thereby helped strengthen, clarify, connect what you
really believe…expand that parade of people to those known and unknown—include authors
and teachers and people who lived long ago and larger-than-life personalities and the many
quiet unnamed souls who cross your path…for teachers are all around us and they contribute to
the beliefs we hold dear. You see, looking back, some of the deep roots of your own beliefs.
And this perspective offers you a way forward.
I invite you to bring your thoughts back to this sanctuary, and when you are ready, go
ahead and open your eyes. See your sisters and brothers through the lens of your own deeply
held beliefs, and know that each person in this community also holds a belief or two or ninetyfive
(!) that forms them and informs them and inspires them to move forward on the journey of
faith, right alongside you. Isn’t that wonderful?! It is, and yet, it is not enough. It was not
enough for Luther. It was not enough for all those who just paraded through your heart and
mind. It is not enough for you, Community Congregational Church.
Today, on Reformation Sunday that we also honor as All Saints Sunday, I want to
invite you to move beyond what you believe or what this church believes to be yourselves
inspired to move forward with confidence! For this is the real magic of Luther. His beliefs
propelled him to action. Action that moved far beyond the massive wooden chapel doors in
Wittenberg Germany, to acknowledge a God of absolute and unwavering love…to stand firmly
in that God of love…to speak courageously and knowledgably and consistently…to take the next
best one step forward…and from that step, another, and another. Friends, the magic of this
season of Re-formation, is not Luther. Or Melanchthon. Or Calvin or Zwingli or Hus or Wycliffe
or any of the others. The magic, the miracle, was and is God. The miracle was in how God
spoke to so many in such a concentrated period of time and in such a way that they were
inspired to act as one.
That miracle isn’t just for 500 years ago. For God speaks truth to every single one of
you. And that truth, when you dare to speak it aloud, with love and respect, that truth grows a
confidence in this community of faith that is palpable and magnetic and totally real. Yes, there
is great change going on in this institution we call Church. Every 500 years, whether it needs it
or not! And, yes, this particular congregation has undergone its own deep and sometimes
divisive change. And, yes, God is in it all. God is propelling you forward, from the strong
foundation of “Here I Stand” to the equally strong framework of “Here WE Stand!”
This growth is a process. It happens in marathons, not sprints. It happens in Kairos
time—Spirit time, without clocks and calendars. This growth takes a long and concerted and
faithful effort, from each of you. Yet, I sense that it is not effort for you. I sense that your
growth as a congregation, your growth forward on the journey of faith, is one that, like
Luther’s, emanates from a deep truth within you. You truly believe that God loves everyone,
equally. There are no “innies” or “outies” in your belief system around here. All are equal and
all are loved. Some of you, I’ve heard over the months, some of you take this belief so
seriously that you are truly confused as to why people out there don’t want to be in here. Dear
ones, be confused no longer. God is busy working a new miracle in this season.
God is busy shaking things up; God is busy showering love on so much pain and
sadness; into the chaos of our days and nights, God is busy speaking and acting with love; God
is speaking to you and you and you and me and your next pastor wherever or whomever she or
he might be; and we know that when God speaks so many words into the chaos, what comes
out of it is creative and vibrant and of benefit to all. This every-500-year clean-up—or religious
rummage sale, as one author has described it—it is, I believe, God’s way of asking us “where
do you stand?” … “Where do you want to stand?” … “What’s holding you back?” “What do you
need to let go of?” … and, “What do you need to hold onto, together?”
Community Congregational Church, you stand on the side of love…love of God…love of
self…love of neighbor. You always have. I pray you always will. Your grounding in love is sure
and consistent and historic; this grounding in love is becoming a re-energized magnet for those
who want to love as Jesus loved. You are a part of the long parade that meanders through my
mind and heart and soul when I give thanks to God for those who have made my faith
stronger. You are saints. Not just because you’ve touched my life, but because you continue
to touch and heal and embrace so many other lives. You are family, one to another, in the best
senses of that word. Love is your belief. Family is your mission…where belief hits the road and
becomes real. On this day of Re-formation and All Saints, may God give you courage to take
the next steps forward… Amen and Blessed Be!
“From ‘Here I Stand’ to ‘Here WE Stand!’”