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

* * * * *

                   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!


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

* * * * *

                   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.”

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

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                   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