2018-9-2 “Go Dog, Go! (ONA)”

“Go, Dog. Go! (ONA)”

A communion meditation based on Ephesians 4:1-6

September 2, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

* * * * *

                   Several years ago, I was reintroduced to an old friend.  The friend was this book—Go, Dog. Go!  To a young child, and perhaps to the child still alive in each of us, this is a story of wonder, of work, of play, of caring, of friendship, of honesty.  It is a story whose words teach young children about up and down and all around, and, more importantly, the story teaches all of us about diversity in action.  In it, dogs are skating, walking, sailing, bicycling, running, sitting, resting, driving—these dogs find their way to helicopters, ferris wheels, baseball games, ski lifts, and hot air balloons.  These are dogs that know how to seize the moment and live it to its fullest. 

                   Ultimately, Go, Dog. Go! is a story about the best dog party ever—where all the dogs in the world are welcome; where together, all sizes and colors of dogs play and eat cake and blow noisemakers and swing from a tree and play hide-and-go-seek in its branches.  The words that accompany the very inclusive, colorful picture are these:

        A dog party!

        A big dog party!

        Big dogs, little dogs,

        red dogs, blue dogs,

        yellow dogs, green dogs,

        black dogs, and white dogs

        are all at a dog party!

        What a dog party!

                   Believe it or not, this old friend of a book is a reminder of ancient marching orders from God to us: the marching orders named in the scripture we heard today.  The marching orders that tell us to get out there and travel on the road God called you to travel…no sitting around on your hands…no strolling off course down some path that goes nowhere… travel God’s call with humility and discipline, steady as you go, writes the author of Ephesians…and here’s the really important part: pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences, quick at mending fences.  Why?  Because you are all called to travel in hope, with one faith, one baptism, one God of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. 

                   Unity in diversity…these are our marching orders as followers of the Christ.  And, on this weekend of national ceremonies honoring Senator John McCain, is the perfect time for us to recall those marching orders from God.  One of the speakers at one of the several memorials said this of John McCain: “He loved basic values: fairness, honesty, dignity, respect…giving hate no safe harbor.  Leaving no one behind.  And understanding that, as Americans, we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves.” 

                   Giving hate no safe harbor…leaving no one behind… Friends, that is the essence of the initials O.N.A., translated into Open and Affirming.  There is much in the bulletin insert today about this uniquely UCC program, a program that has poured out God’s welcoming love on countless gay and lesbian individuals hurt by organized religion in the past, and now happily contributing in over 1400 UCC ONA congregations nationwide.  These are churches that have educated themselves on many issues related to the LGBT community, and out of that education, have made the courageous decision to fully accept and welcome into their congregations gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people—baptizing their children, performing their weddings, hosting their memorials, welcoming them as full members of any board or committee and teachers in any church classroom…in essence, leaving no person behind.  Over the years, ONA has retained its core value of being a witness of love and welcome for GLBT folks, while also expanding to include diversity of all sorts: economic, racial and ethnic, educational, physical ability, and so on.  The circle of God’s love and the arms of God’s welcome just get bigger and bigger.  So is the message of Christ as written in the letter to the Ephesians.  So is the message playfully presented in this fun story, “Go, Dog. Go!”                         Today is the final Sunday of this particular sermon series exploring the various UCC Statements of Witness, and with such a playful story, I invite us to have some fun together.  Your job is to read—out loud—any words you see on the screen.  Let’s practice!  [1st slide: Dog.]  If a picture has no words printed, then I’ll jump in with that part of the story.  And, to make it more interesting, we’ll go back and forth—left and right sides of the congregation—starting with your left.  Ready? 

Big dog.  Little dog.  Big dogs and little dogs.  Black and white dogs.

“Hello!”  “Hello!”  “Do you like my hat?”  “I do not.”  “Good-by!”  “Good-by!”

One little dog going in.  Three big dogs going out.  A red dog on a blue tree.

A blue dog on a red tree.  A green dog on a yellow tree.

Some big dogs and some little dogs going around in cars.  A dog out of a car.

Two big dogs going up.  One little dog going down.  One dog up on a house.

Three dogs down in the water.  A green dog over a tree.  A yellow dog under a tree.

Two dogs in a house on a boat in the water.  A dog over the water.  A dog under the water.  “Hello again.”  “Hello.”  “Do you like my hat?”  “I do not like it.”  “Good-by again.”  “Good-by.”  The dogs are all going around, and around, and around.  “Go around again!”

Now it is night.  Three dogs at a party on a boat at night.  Dogs at work.  Work, dogs, work!  Dogs at play.  Play, dogs, play!  “Hello again.”  “Hello.”  “Do you like my hat?”  “I do

not like that hat.”  “Good-by again.”  “Good-by!”

Dogs in cars again.  Going away.  Going away fast.  Look at those dogs go.  Go, dogs.  Go!

“Stop, dogs.  Stop!  The light is red now.”  “Go, dogs.  Go!  The light is green now.”

Now it is night.  Night is not a time for play.  It is time for sleep.  The dogs go to sleep.  They will sleep all night.  Now it is day.  The sun is up.  Now is the time for all dogs to get up.  “Get up!”  It is day.  Time to get going.  Go, dogs.  Go!

There they go.  Look at those dogs go!  Why are they going fast in those cars?  What are they going to do?  Where are those dogs going?  Look where they are going.  They are all going to that big tree over there.  Now the cars stop.  Now all the dogs get out.  And now look where those dogs are going!  To the tree!  To the tree!  Up the tree!  Up the tree!  Up they go to the top of the tree.  Why?  Will they work there?  Will they play there?  What is up there on top of that tree?

[All together]  A dog party!  A big dog party!  Big dogs, little dogs, red dogs, blue dogs, yellow dogs, green dogs, black dogs, and white dogs are all at a dog party  What a dog party!  “Hello again.  And now do you like my hat?”  “I do.  What a hat!  I like it!  I like that party hat!”  “Good-by!”  “Good-by!”

                   Silly, yes.  And also profoundly filled with truth, truth that this nation needs to hear.  The truth that a party isn’t really much fun if any are excluded.  The truth that God’s kingdom has no walls.  The truth that all are welcome—big, little, red, blue, hats and no hats.  The truth that will strengthen and grow this congregation—that all are welcome, all are affirmed, all are loved—no matter who you love in return.  This will be the best dog party of all!  This will be the kingdom of God, as Jesus says, right here “at hand!”


Amen and Blessed Be!

2018-8-26 “The Butter Battle Book (Just Peace)”

“The Butter Battle Book (Just Peace)”

  • A meditation based on Ephesians 6:10-20

August 26, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon Graff

* * * * *

                   What kind of self-respecting soldier arms him or herself with only a belt of truth or a breastplate of righteousness?  What soldier wears shoes of peace and thinks with them he or she will prevail?  What sort of soldier goes into battle with a shield made only of faith or wears only a helmet of salvation or wields just a spiritual sword?  In our century, where battling has become a big bucks enterprise, we would have to answer, not a very good soldier, that’s who!  No one voluntarily goes into battle without proper training and effective armor.  And what is truth or faith or even peace when one is engaged in a real life and death battle?  Are these effective protections?  Scripture seems to suggest so in this lively passage we’ve read from the letter to the Ephesians.  The author has the audacity to claim that our real battles are not physical, but spiritual ones, while also declaring that our most effective protections are just these: righteousness, faith, truth, salvation, Spirit’s presence, and even, most ironic, peace.                         Taking peace into battle…now there’s something to ponder!  And, some 30 years ago, local San Diegan, Dr. Seuss—aka Theodore Geisel—did just that!  In his outlandish poetry and creative drawings, Dr. Seuss pondered the power of peace in conflict situations.  And he invites us, today, to do the same.  What could wearing shoes of peace and breastplates of righteousness and carrying Spirit’s swords really look like in our day and with our battles?  Hear now, Seuss’ story, “The Butter Battle Book.”

On the last day of summer, ten hours before fall…my grandfather took me out to the Wall.  For a while he stood silent.  Then finally he said, with a very sad shake of his very old head, “As you know, on this side of the Wall we are Yooks.  On the far other side of this Wall live the Zooks.”  Then my grandfather said, “It’s high time that you knew of the terribly horrible thing that Zooks do.  In every Zook house and in every Zook town every Zook eats his bread with the butter side down!  “But we Yooks, as you know, when we breakfast or sup, spread our bread,” Grandpa said, “with the butter side up.  That’s the right, honest way!”  Grandpa gritted his teeth.  “So you can’t trust a Zook who spreads bread underneath!  Every Zook must be watched!  He has kinks in his soul!  That’s why, as a youth, I made watching my goal, watching Zooks for the Zook-Watching Border Patrol!  In those days, of course, the Wall wasn’t so high and I could look any Zook square in the eye.  If he dared to come close I could give him a twitch with my tough-tufted prickly Snick-Berry Switch.  For a while that worked fine.  All the Zooks stayed away and our country was safe.  Then one terrible day a very rude Zook by the name of VanItch snuck up and slingshotted my Snick-Berry Switch!  With my broken-off switch, with my head hung in shame, to the Chief Yookeroo in great sorrow I came.  But our Leader just smiled.  He said, ‘You’re not to blame.  And those Zooks will be sorry they started this game.  We’ll dress you right up in a fancier suit!  We’ll give you a fancier slingshot to shoot!’  And he ordered the Boys in the Back Room to figger how to build me some sort of a triple-sling jigger.  With my Triple-Sling Jigger I sure felt much bigger.  I marched to the Wall with great vim and great vigor, right up to VanItch with my hand on the trigger.  ‘I’ll have no more nonsense,’ I said with a frown, ‘from Zooks who eat bread with the butter side down!’  VanItch looked quite sickly.  He ran off quite quickly.  I’m unhappy to say he came back the next day in a spiffy new suit with a big new machine, and he snarled as he said, looking frightfully mean, ‘You may fling those hard rocks with your Triple-Sling Jigger.  But I, also, now have my hand on a trigger!  My wonderful weapon, the Jigger-Rock Snatchem, will fling ‘em right back as quick as we catch ‘em.  We’ll have no more nonsense.  We’ll take  no more gupp from you Yooks who eat bread with the butter side up!’  ‘I have failed, sir,’ I sobbed as I made my report to the Chief Yookeroo in the headquarters fort.  He just laughed.  ‘You’ve done nothing at all of the sort.  Our slingshots have failed.  That was old-fashioned stuff.  Slingshots, dear boy, are not modern enough.  All we need is some newfangled kind of a gun.  My Boys in the Back Room have already begun to think up a walloping whiz-zinger one!  My Bright Boys are thinking.  They’re on the right track.  They’ll think one up quick and we’ll send you right back!’  They thought up a great one!  They certainly did.  They thought up a gun called the Kick-a-Poo Kid which they loaded with powerful Poo-a-Doo Powder and ants’ eggs and bees’ legs and dried-fried clam chowder.  And they carefully trained a real smart dog named Daniel to serve as our country’s first gun-toting spaniel.  Then Daniel, the Kick-a-Poo Spaniel, and I marched back toward the Wall with our heads held up high while everyone cheered and their cheers filled the sky: ‘Fight!  Fight for the Butter Side Up!  Do or die!’  Well…  We didn’t do.  And we didn’t quite die.  But we sure did get worsted, poor Daniel and I.  VanItch was there too!  And he said, the old pig, ‘The Boys in my Back Room invented this rig called the Eight-Nozzled, Elephant-Toted Boom-Blitz.  It shoots high-explosive sour cherry stone pits and will put your dumb Kick-a-Poo Kid on the fritz!’  Poor Daniel and I were scared out of our witz!  Once more, by VanItch I was bested and beat.  Once again I limped home from the Wall in defeat.  I dragged and I sagged and my spirits were low, as low as I thought that they ever could go, when I heard a Boom-Bah!  And a Diddle-dee-Dill!  And our Butter-Up Band marched up over the hill!”

[The story continues with another round of arsenal buildup—both sides made an Utterly Sputter that sprinkled Blue Goo—until finally, in false confidence born of blind hope, the Chief hands the boy’s Grandpa a little pink pebble-sized glob.]

“We’ve thought up a gadget that’s Newer than New.  It is filled with mysterious Moo-Lacka-Moo and can blow all those Zooks clear to Sala-ma-goo.  We’ve invented the bitsy big-boy boomeroo!  You just run to the wall like a nice little man.  Drop this bomb on the Zooks just as fast as you can.  I have ordered all Yooks to stay safe underground while the Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo is around.”  “As I raced for that Wall, with the bomb in my hand, I noticed that every last Yook in our land was obeying the Chief Yookeroo’s grim command.  They were all bravely marching, with banners aflutter, down a hole!  For their country!  And Right-Side-Up Butter!”

That’s when Grandfather found me!  He grabbed me.  He said, “You should be down that hole! And you’re up here instead!  But perhaps this is all for the better somehow.  You will see me make history!  Right here!  And right now!” Grandpa leapt up that Wall with a lopulous leap and he cleared his hoarse throat with a bopulous beep.  He screamed, “Here’s the end of that terrible town full of Zooks who eat bread with the butter side down!  And at that very instant we heard a klupp-klupp of feet on the Wall and old VanItch klupped up!  The Boys in HIS Back Room had made him one too!  In his fist was another Big-Boy Boomeroo!  “I’ll blow you,” he yelled, “into pork and wee beans!  I’ll butter-side-up you to small smithereens!”  “Grandpa!”  I shouted.  “Be careful!  Oh, gee!  Who’s going to drop it?  Will you…?  Or will he…?”  “Be patient,” said Grandpa.  “We’ll see.  We will see…”

Who wins?  In God’s definition of victory, peace is for everyone.  In God’s definition of victory, even the heathens, the infidels are welcomed into the family.  In God’s definition of victory,

love gives way to joy which paves the way for enemies to call each other friends.  I used to think that fighting and war and soldiers who fought were bad, and all the rest of us were good.  Then, wisely seeing that I had some things to learn, God placed me in congregations of soldiers—retired, active, wounded, healing soldiers.  One after another.  At first, I avoided hearing their stories of battle, but little by little, over the years, those stories got in.  I listened and I learned from these soldiers.  One of the first things I learned was that no soldier wanted to kill.  They had to be taught.  And that teaching took its considerable toll, sometimes for the rest of their lives.  The theory of just war—that some battles are worth the human cost and the spiritual toll—just war compels soldiers to be soldiers. 

                   The theory of Just Peace says, by contrast, that each conflict is to be assessed as to its “justness” and then, and only then, entered into with the greatest of respect for those doing battle.  Just Peace says, “try your hardest to find a peaceful solution” and if you must go to war for just purposes, if you must train your children to kill other parent’s children, then protect all of them on both sides, and give them what they need to heal from this horrendous and harsh reality when they return from battle.  Just Peace says care for the wounded.  Just Peace says money-making is never a just reason for battling.  Just peace says that each country is necessary in the global dialogue, no matter their wealth or poverty, and that all countries are to be given fair and just opportunities for improvement.  Clean water, adequate health care, decent housing, meaningful employment, basic education, participation in community decision-making and having a voice in the political process, freedom of worship and religious expression, protection from torture, and protection of basic human rights without regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or national or social origin…these are all aspects of a just peace, for the lack of such basic human rights are often at the center of international human conflicts.  Just Peace works on root issues and core resolutions.  And so Just Peace says, finally, in a voice similar to that of the letter to the Ephesians, Just Peace says that righteousness and truth and salvation—these are the very tools to take into conflict.  And what about wearing those shoes of peace?  The good news of the gospel of Jesus is that shoes of peace come in each of our sizes!  There’s a pair just waiting for you…

Amen and Blessed Be

2018-8-19 “Stone Soup (Immigration and Border Justice)”

“Stone Soup (Immigration and Border Justice)”

A meditation based on a variety of scriptures about welcoming strangers:

Leviticus 19:33-34, 24:22; Deuteronomy 24:17-18, 21-22; Hebrews 13:1-2

August 19, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

* * * * *

                   The library of 66 separate books that we know as the Bible is unwavering about this one thing: we are to treat the stranger, the foreigners—aliens, the Bible often calls them—we are to treat them as we would a native born person, with the same rights and privileges as citizens.  There is to be no difference.  Obviously, most countries that adhere to the Judeo-Christian mission, including our own, fall far short of that goal.  So today’s message is a wonderful and timely reminder from our beloved United Church of Christ—a reminder of the ideal which God calls us to practice—it is the ideal of living God’s justice at the border and embodying God’s justice with immigrants.  Serious stuff, especially in our day and in this geographic location so near an international border. 

                   To help you visualize and imagine how you can practice immigration and border justice—as individuals and as a congregation—I invite you to hear the children’s story entitled, “Stone Soup.”  This lovely story shows how you can grasp this very large topic and still find small but significant ways to be faithful to your calling from God to welcome the stranger, to practice international hospitality.  Sit back, relax, try to put aside the current news about these matters, and hear this story through your own loving heart and your compassionate mind.  Hear how you might be part of the solution…


Three monks—Hok, Lok, and Siew—traveled along a mountain road.  They talked about cat whiskers, the color of the sun, and giving.  “What makes one happy Siew?” asked Hok, the youngest monk.  Old Siew, who was the wisest, said, “Let’s find out.”

The sound of a bell brought their gaze to the rooftops of a village below.  They could not see from so high above that the village had been through many hard times.  Famine, floods, and war had made the villagers weary and untrusting of strangers.  They had even become suspicious of their neighbors.

The villagers worked hard, but only for themselves.  There was a farmer.  A tea merchant.  A scholar.  A seamstress.  A doctor.  A carpenter…and many others.  But they had little to do with one another.


When the monks reached the foot of the mountain, the villagers disappeared into their houses.  No one came to the gates to greet them.  And when the people saw them enter the village, they closed their windows tight.  The monks knocked on the door of the first house.  There was no answer.  Then the house went dark.  They knocked on a second door and the same thing happened.  It happened again and again from one house to the next.


“These people do not know happiness” they all agreed.  “But today,” said Siew, his face bright as the moon, “we will show them how to make stone soup.”  The monks gathered twigs and branches and made a fire.  They placed a small tin pt on top and filled it with water from the village well.  A brave little girl who had been watching came to them, “What are you doing?” she asked.  “We are gathering twigs,” said Lok.  “We are making a fire,” said Hok.  “We are making stone soup and we need three round, smooth stones,” said Siew.  The little girl helped the monks look around the courtyard until they found just the right stones.  Then they put them in the water to cook.  “These stones will make excellent soup,” said Siew, “but,” he continued, “this very small pot won’t make much I’m afraid.”  “My mother has a bigger pot,” said the girl.

The little girl ran home.  As she started to take a pot, her mother asked what she was doing.  “The three strangers are making soup from stones,” she said.  “They need our biggest pot.”  “Hmmm,” said the girl’s mother.  “Stones are easy to come by.  I’d like to learn how to do that!”  The monks poked the coals.  As smoke drifted up, the neighbors peered out from their windows.  The fire and the large pot in the middle of the village was a true curiosity!  One by one, the people of the village came out to see just what this stone soup was.  “Of course, old-style stone soup should be well seasoned with salt and pepper,” said Hok.  “That is true,” said Lok as he stirred the giant pot filled with water and stones.  “But we have none…”  “I have some salt and pepper!” said the scholar, his eyes but with curiosity.  He disappeared and came back with salt and pepper and even a few other spices.


Siew took a taste.  “The last time we had soup stones of this size and color, carrots made the broth very sweet.”  “Carrots?” said a woman from the back.  “I may have a few carrots!  But just a few.”  And off she ran.  She returned with as many carrots as she could carry and dropped them into the pot.  “Do you think it would be better with onion?” asked Hok.  “Oh, yes, maybe an onion would taste good,” said a farmer, and he hurried off.  He returned in a moment with five big onions, and he dropped them into the bubbling soup.  “Now, that’s a fine soup!” he said.  The villagers all nodded their heads, as the smell was very agreeable.  “But if only we had some mushrooms,” said Siew, rubbing his chin.  Several villagers licked their lips.  A few dashed away and returned with fresh mushrooms, noodles, pea pods, and cabbages.


Something magical began to happen among the villagers.  As each person opened their heart to give, the next person gave even more.  And as this happened, the soup grew richer and smelled more delicious.  “I imagine the Emperor would suggest we add dumplings!” said one villager.  “And bean curd!” said another.  “What about cloud ear and mung beans and yams?” cried some others  “And taro root and winter melon and baby corn!” cried other villagers.  “Garlic!”  “Ginger root!”  “Soy sauce!”  “Lily buds!”  “I have some!  I have some!” people cried out.  And off they ran, returning with all they could carry.  The monks stirred and the pot bubbled.  How good it smelled!  How good it would taste!  How giving the villagers had become!


At last, the soup was ready.  The villagers gathered together.  They brought rice and steamed buns.  They brought lychee nuts and sweet cakes.  They brought tea to drink, and they lit lanterns.  Everyone sat down to eat.  They had not been together for a feast like this for as long as anyone could remember.  After the banquet, they told stories, sang songs, and celebrated long into the night.  Then they unlocked their doors and took the monks into their homes and gave them very comfortable places to sleep.


In the gentle spring morning, everyone gathered together near the willows to say farewell.  “Thank you for having us as your guests,” said the monks.  “You have been most generous.”  “Thank you,” said the villagers.  “With the gifts you have given, we will always have plenty.  You have shown us that sharing makes us all richer.”  “And to think,” said the monks, “to be happy is as simple as making stone soup.”


(Leviticus 19:33-34, 24:22)

God says, “When foreigners live with you in your land, don’t take advantage of them. Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love them like one of your own. Remember that you were once foreigners in Egypt… no double standards: the same rules go for foreigners and natives. I am God, your God.”


(Deuteronomy 24:17-18, 21-22)

God says, “Make sure foreigners and orphans get their just rights. Don’t take the cloak of a widow as security for a loan. Don’t ever forget that you were once slaves in Egypt and God, your God, got you out of there. I command you: Do what I’m telling you…When you shake the olives off your trees, don’t go back over the branches and strip them bare—what’s left is for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. And when you cut the grapes in your vineyard, don’t take every last grape—leave a few for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. Don’t ever forget that you were a slave in Egypt. I command you: Do what I’m telling you.”


(Hebrews 13:1-2)

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.


May God give us the courage to live these commands, with love, with creativity, with compassion, with trust in God that all we have is all we need, and what we have received—in God’s economy—are gifts for us to share with others.


Amen and Blessed Be

2018-8-12 “The Dot (Justice for Children)”

“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

* * * * *

                   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 children’s stories.  We’ve all been children.  There’s something of our childhood still in us.  And I’ve 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 children’s 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. 

Vashti’s teacher leaned over the blank paper.  “Ah!  A polar bear in a snow storm,” she said.  “Very funny!” said Vashti.  “I just can’t 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 can’t 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 teacher’s desk.  It was the little dot she had drawn—HER 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, Vashti’s many dots make quite a splash.

Vashti noticed a little boy gazing up at her.  “You’re a really great artist.  I wish I could draw,” he said.  “I bet you can,” said Vashti.  “ME?  No, not me.  I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.”

Vashti smiled.  She handed the boy a blank sheet of paper.  “Show me.”  The boy’s pencil shook as he drew his line.

Vashti stared at the boy’s 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 today’s scripture reading.  A student of the Apostle Paul—scholars call him Second Paul—writer of the letter to the Ephesians, gives this list of how to help children grow up in the faith:

  • Don’t lie
  • Speak truth to your neighbor
  • Be angry, when anger is warranted
  • Do not hold onto your anger; neither let it hold onto you—the scripture poetically says, “Don’t 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, slander—put those aside, says Paul’s 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:

  • Don’t lie
  • Speak the truth
  • Be angry, when anger is warranted
  • Do not hold onto your anger; and don’t let it hold onto you
  • Don’t 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 ones—you are not higher—you, too, are a beloved child of God

                   It’s tempting, as wise experienced adults, to lord it over children.  Yet this passage puts us all in the same boat—young and old—guided 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 ways—this is how you can practice being a place where justice for children is your mother tongue.  You’re not there yet.  You have a ways to go.  Sometimes, you’re 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 child’s 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 church’s 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 child’s 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 that’s 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!


“The Blessing Seed” (Creation Justice)”

“The Blessing Seed (Creation Justice)”

A meditation based on Psalm 78:23-29

August 5, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

* * * * *

                   Today, we begin a 5-week sermon series to introduce you to a really important part of the United Church of Christ: Statements of Witness.  Have you heard of them?  Good!  Statements of Witness are various ways for congregations to live out who they really are already…to be public and open about their particular special witness in God’s world.  And there are over a dozen Statements of Witness that can bolster a church’s identity within its larger community!  You, for example, already carry 3 of these Statements as your public witness:

  • You are “Accessible to All,” meaning that you have ramps and an elevator and accessible bathrooms and large print in worship and wheelchair areas in the sanctuary, so that a variety of special needs are met here on a regular basis. More importantly, you have an awareness of various special needs, and you are willing to be sensitive to meeting those needs, be they hearing, mobility, sight, etc.  Good job!
  • You also carry the Statement, “Inter-Cultural, Multi-Racial.” Look around this sanctuary!  Check out Bradley Hall during any fellowship time, and you’ll see the beauty of God’s creative variety assembled!  More than that, when it comes to making a Statement about multi-racial and inter-cultural matters, you do so with deep sensitivity and acute awareness of one another.  After 15 or more years of practice, you wear this Statement of Witness like a comfortable piece of clothing, and when guests are here, they feel the closeness of this family of faith.  Good job!
  • A third Statement of Witness you wear well is “God is Still Speaking.” This Statement, unique to the UCC, assumes that the Bible isn’t the complete and finished record of God’s work in the world.  Rather, the “God is Still Speaking” initiative affirms that God is still at work in our lives, 20 centuries later, and that God is still speaking to us and through us.  I’ve watched you for these past 2-1/2 years.  I’ve lived with you here in this sacred place.  You’ve repeatedly shown me that you believe—you know!—God is still speaking.  Good job!

                   In addition to these three Statements of Witness, the UCC has several others.  You can read about them online—address is on your bulletin insert today.  For the next few weeks, we’re going to learn together about a few of these Statements of Witness, starting today, with Creation Justice.  This is summer…a season for doing things a bit differently.  To tell the stories of these various Statements of Witness, I thought storytelling itself would be a most helpful approach.  So I’ve selected 5 children’s stories, paired them with scriptures and am excited to teach and learn with you about these important UCC Statements of Witness over the next several weeks.  Today’s story, teaching us something about the necessity of Creation Justice, is called “The Blessing Seed.”  I invite you to sit back, relax, and hear this familiar creation story in a new way.

The Blessing Seed: A Creation Story for the New Millennium

In the beginning, God sang everything alive.  God sang the sky, the land and the seas.  God sang the plants and trees.  God sang the moon, the sun and the stars.  God sang animals to live in the sea, in the sky and on the Earth.  Then God, Mother and Father of All, sang of Man and Woman.  God said to them, “This Earth is your garden.  The rocks, plants, trees and animals are your family.  Go and explore your home.”  The Man and the Woman thanked God.  They greeted every stone, plant, tree and animal.  They learned what each living thing could do.  The Man and the Woman found a tall tree in the middle of the garden.  It had four paths leading away from it.  “What is this for?” they asked God.  God said, “That is the Tree of Life.  On it grows the fruit of knowledge.  But it isn’t ripe yet, so you mustn’t eat it.  The four paths are ways to explore this world.  When the fruit is ripe you will be able to walk them all.”  The Man and the Woman sat together and watched the stars grow bright in the sky.  Then the Woman said to God, “Everyone in the garden has their special gift.  The squirrel can jump, the snake can crawl, the bird can fly.  What is our special gift?”  And God answered, “In all the world, you and the Man are most like me.  You have a special duty.  You will care for everything on Earth.  Your special gift is to learn and to care.”  “How will we do that?” asked the Man.  “Listen for the song that I sang at the beginning,” said God.  “My song is in everything and it will help you to learn and to care.”  The Woman listened to the song of the Tree of Life.  It sang a song of laughter, a song of tears, a song of beginning and a song of coming home.  She said, “Maybe I will understand our special gift if I eat the fruit?”  She picked the fruit and tasted it.  It was sweet and bitter, soft and sharp.  As she swallowed it, things began to change.  She felt like a cloud looking down on the land far below.  The birds, trees, animals and rocks felt far away.  She shared the fruit with the Man.  When he tasted it, he felt different and frightened.  “Why do the animals run away from us?” he cried.  God came that evening and said, “You are frightened and upset.  Have you eaten the fruit of the Tree of Life?”  The Man said, “We did.  And now the animals hide from us.  We don’t understand what is different.”  The Woman said, “We ate because we wanted to discover our special gift.”  God smiled and said, “I made mountains to last forever.  I made flowers and trees for beauty.  I made birds, fish and animals for their many gifts.  But I made human beings for their longing to know—it is time for you to explore the four paths.  Come!”  And God led them to the Tree of Life and showed them the paths.  “The four paths are called the path of wonder, the path of emptiness, the path of making, and the path of coming home.  These four paths of life will help you to learn and to care.  On the path of wonder, you will remember when you were sung from the Earth.  When you see the moon and stars at night, or the sun sparkling on the water, when you hear birds singing in the trees, when you hear the song of creation, then the gift of caring will be born to you.  On the path of emptiness, you will remember when you ate the fruit and felt different.  When things go wrong, when no one understands you, when you lose the things you love, when you feel sad, lonely or frightened, then the gift of learning will be born to you.  On the path of making, you will remember the song that is inside you.  When you have good ideas, when you make something beautiful, when you tell stories and sing my song, then the gifts of learning and caring will start to grow.  On the path of coming home, you will remember that you are part of everything.  When you look after the Earth, when you defend the helpless, when you speak for those who have no voice, when you enjoy and respect my creation, then you will be most like me.  Your learning and caring will shine out everywhere.  You will be separate no more.”  “Must we leave our home and all we love?” cried the Man and the Woman.  “All places are your home.  Everything I have made is your family,” said God.  “Must we leave you?” cried the Man and the Woman.  “I will always be with you on your journey,” God promised.  “Will we really find the gift of learning and caring?” asked the Man and the Woman.  God said, “Yes.  You ate the fruit of the Tree of Life before it was ripe.  But the seeds of learning and caring will grow inside you.”  And God blessed them both, saying, “I will ripen your gift as you walk the paths of light.  Your gift will be a blessing seed.  It will leap from your hearts into the hearts of others.  Go now and spread my blessing throughout the Earth.”  The Man and the Woman thanked God.  They walked out into the wide world, taking the blessing seed in their hearts.  The End.


                   But not really the end…!  In Creation Justice churches, there is a commitment to care for the earth by recycling, not using Styrofoam, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels, learning about climate change, using solar energy, melding together the truths of Bible and science, working and praying to save this beautiful Earth from destruction.  And in Creation Justice churches, the work that God describes in this story goes on and on…remembering that you are part of everything and living like it…looking after the Earth…defending the helpless…speaking for those who have no voice…enjoying and respecting God’s creation.  These are the sacred choices that make us most like God.  These are the sacred choices that foster our learning and caring.  These are the sacred choices that cause us to be separate no more.  And these, my brothers and sisters, are the choices that are available as you walk the path of the UCC Statement of Witness called Creation Justice. 

                   This is a path uncovered by God in many places in scripture.  Today’s psalm passage is one of those.  It’s a beautiful collection of verses.  God commands the skies to rain food on the hungry people; God causes winds to blow from east to west and south to north to bring the free food closer to the people.  The passage ends with the inspiring scene described in these words, “And the people ate and were well filled, for God gave them what they craved…”

It’s inspiring, isn’t it?  A generous God providing for a hungry people. 

                        Yet, the larger context is that, in this particular scene, God is really angry with the people.  Once again, they have failed to follow God’s instructions.  Once again, they have walked a path of dis-ease and dis-comfort.  Once again, they have turned to their own ways and away from God’s heart.  And God is divinely angry.  That’s an important context for us, as we learn about Creation Justice.  For in Creation Justice, God is THE model of caring.  Even when God is angry, God feeds the hungry people.  Even when they don’t follow the rules, God feeds them.  Even when they turn aside, God turns toward.  This is who God is. 

                        And this is who God has created us to be also.  People who turn toward Earth.  People who turn toward plants and animals and enjoy and respect God’s creation.  People who do what we can to defend the helpless and speak for those who have no voice.  No one of us has to do it all.  But God has created each of us to do something to care for our Earth home.  Maybe your caring action will be to speak the truth of science and climate change to your doubting neighbor.  Maybe your caring action will be to walk more and drive less.  Maybe your caring action will be to read a book that gives you ideas of how you can care for Earth more actively.  No one of us can do it all, when it comes to caring for our Earth home.  The challenges have always required cooperative people.  So do your part, whatever that part may be.  Even though you may be angry about the direction things are going now with the environment, even though your anger may tempt you to inertia, resist temptation!  Follow the example of our God who loves through the anger and loves despite the anger and promises that, as we act for and with Earth, we too will be blessed.

Amen and Blessed Be



Children’s Circle with Communion

“When I hold a piece of bread, I look at it, and sometimes I smile at it.

The piece of bread is an ambassador of the cosmos offering nourishment and support.

Looking deeply into the piece of bread, I see the sunshine, the clouds, the great earth.

Without the sunshine, no wheat can grow.  Without the clouds, there is no rain for the wheat to grow.  Without the great earth, nothing can grow.  That is why the piece of bread that I hold in my hand is a wonder of life.  It is there for all of us.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh