Sunday, December 9, 2018

"Prepare the Way." A Sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on the Second Sunday of Advent

"Prepare the Way"

Luke 3:1-6

The time for John the Baptist to come out of the wilderness came in the 15th year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius.  Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was ruling Galilee. Annas and Caiaphas were serving as high priests in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Luke places John in historical context, much like how the Old Testament prophets were introduced, placing him and his call to prepare the way for the Lord in the middle of worldly events and places.
He reminds us that God sends messengers in the center of our earthly life, too. In the second year of the presidency of Donald Trump, when Rick Snyder is Governor of Michigan, when Francis is the Pope in Rome, when J. Herbert Nelson is Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), we are reminded that no time is forsaken by God. All time is subject to God’s inbreaking. Prepare the way of the Lord!
Luke’s litany of government and religious authorities does more than date John’s ministry to 28 or 29 CE. It also contrasts human kingdoms with God’s reign. The claims to any authority that Tiberius or Herod or the high priest make are not ultimate.  God’s people owe allegiance first and foremost to God. And it is God’s word that sets John’s ministry in motion. John has been commissioned to prepare the way not for Caesar or any earthly authority, but for the one true Lord.
           The major focus for Luke is salvation, but it’s important for Luke that we understand the messy reality of the day-- to understand the world into which God is bringing salvation.  The word of God came to John in the wilderness, and spoke through John to a wounded and unjust world. 
            John proclaims a baptism of repentance that leads to release from sins.  The word that’s translated as “release” is the same word that Jesus uses twice in Luke 4 to describe his mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…to proclaim release to the captives and…to let the oppressed go free….” 
The release that follows repentance doesn’t un-do past sins, but it does unbind people from them. It opens the way for a life lived in God’s service.  When John proclaims this release, he’s fulfilling his father Zechariah’s prophecy:  “You, child…will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness / release of their sins.”[1]
I agree with Judith Jones when she says that this salvation “looks like a new dawn for those trapped in darkness and death’s shadow. It is light that reveals a new path, the way toward peace.[2]         
The second Sunday of Advent invites us to anticipate the drawing close of the holy in our midst. The scripture texts invite us to listen to the voices of those calling us to be prepared to welcome the Messiah.  John the Baptist comes to us, proclaiming the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
            God chooses a nobody—an itinerant preacher to call people to repent and to prepare the way.  John went into all the region around the Jordan River, proclaiming a baptism of repentance.  Luke quotes the prophet  Isaiah:
            “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
            ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
            make his paths straight.
            Every valley shall be filled,
            And every mountain and hill shall be made low,
            And the crooked shall be made straight,
            And the rough ways made smooth;
            And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”[1]
            “All flesh.”  All people.  All humanity. 
Luke quotes Isaiah’s prophecy detailing what is required if all flesh is to see the salvation of God. Make straight desert highways. Valleys will be lifted up, and mountains made low.  
I like the way Jill Duffield describes this:  “A great leveling will occur. Rough places smoothed. Obstacles obliterated. Nothing will stand in the way, obscure or create a stumbling block for the coming of the Lord, for the gift of salvation. No one will be left behind, sacrificed because they are slow or infirm. All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”[3]
            On this second Sunday of Advent in 2018, John the Baptist calls to us to repent…to prepare the way of the Lord. What do we need to do to get ready?
            Whatever it takes will not be easy or painless. Transformation requires radical change, and change brings discomfort. Heeding John’s call means giving up our self-satisfaction or apathy or ambivalence. It means pushing past our fears and resistances, whatever gets in the way of submitting to the re-formation of God.
            Preparing the Lord’s path toward peace requires overturning the world as we know it. Luke’s gospel is full of images that help us envision what that means. Mary sings of the God who has looked upon her humble state, the One who saves by de-throning the powerful and exalting the humble…sending the rich away empty-handed and filling up the hungry.[4] Jesus blesses the poor and the hungry and those who mourn but announces woe for the rich and well-fed.[5]  On the Day of Pentecost Peter warns the people, “Be saved from this crooked generation.”[6] The word that’s translated as “crooked” is the same word that Isaiah uses for the things that need to be straightened out.
            Preparing for God’s arrival means re-thinking systems and structures that we see as normal—but that God judges as oppressive and crooked.  It means preparing to have God humble everything that is proud and self-satisfied in us, and letting God heal and lift up what is broken and beaten down. The claims that the world’s authorities make often conflict with God’s claims. God’s ways are not our ways. But God’s ways lead to salvation.
            What this re-shaping looks like is different from person to person, from congregation to congregation, from community to community, but it does require repentance…turning.  It can shake things up.
            John’s preaching of repentance will literally turn people away from the powers that be to God and it’s a threat to those invested in the present order. When we read further on in the story, we hear that John’s preaching will ultimately lead to his beheading, and later Jesus will be crucified by the empire. Those who are threatened by repentance and forgiveness and newness will not go without a fight.
            In the season of Advent, Christians prepare to celebrate a deep mystery of our faith, the Incarnation, how God came to live among us, full of grace and truth, in the person of Jesus.  Part of what Incarnation means is that God is with humanity and works in and through us. 
            I believe in a God who works in and with and through us, through the work of those who are learning to love as God loves, those who are learning to love peace as God does, those who love justice and mercy as God does.  Through those who are learning to reject violence in their own lives… and who work in small and large ways to end violence and hunger and injustice in our world…. 
            God isn’t finished with us yet. 
            Preparing the Lord’s path toward peace and justice requires changing the world as we know it.  Preparing for God’s arrival means re-thinking systems and structures that we may see as normal but that God condemns as oppressive and crooked.  It means letting God humble everything that is proud and self-satisfied in us,  and letting God heal and lift up what is broken and beaten down. 
            John’s call to repent reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways.[7]  John and Isaiah call us to open ourselves to let God work in our minds and hearts   and to let God work through us to re-shape the world’s social systems. 
            The good news is that God’s ways lead to salvation.  God’s glory will be revealed in Jesus, who comes to save us.  This is good news for us and for the whole world:   all flesh will see God’s salvation.  All humanity will see God’s salvation. 
            Thanks be to God!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
December 9, 2018

[1] Luke 1:77
[2] Luke 1:78-79
[3] Jill Duffield, in “Looking Into the Lectionary, 2nd Sunday of Advent – December 9, 2018” at Presbyterian Outlook.

[4] Luke 1:52-53
[5] Luke 6:20-26
[6] Acts 2:40
[7] Isaiah 55:8

Sunday, November 25, 2018

“The Kingdom of Truth.” A Sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on Christ the King Sunday

"The Kingdom of Truth"

John 18:33-38

            In 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted a new liturgical observance:  the Feast of Christ the King. The Pope felt that the followers of Christ were being lured away by the increasing secularism of the world. They were choosing to live in the “kingdoms” of the world, rather than in the reign of God.
            This last Sunday of the church year is Christ the King Sunday.  We prepare to begin a new church year next week. On the First Sunday of Advent, the coming of Jesus, not only in Bethlehem, but the second coming as well, we pause and reflect upon who Jesus the Christ is in our lives.
            Truth be told, the language of “king” and “kingdom” troubles a lot of people these days. As Jill Duffield points out, “it creates a stumbling block to seeing God.  Male. Dominating. Subjugating. Hierarchical….”  Those of us who live in the United States of America remember that back in 1775 we declared our independence from a king and fought a war of independence.  
            So…what do we do with Christ the King Sunday?  These days, we also call it “Reign of Christ” Sunday. We talk about “the kin-dom of God. “But how do we talk about Christ as King of our lives?
            The scripture texts appointed for this week give good clues for where to start.  The Revelation gives a beautiful glimpse into the glorious, majestic, all-encompassing power of the Risen Christ.  John the Evangelist proclaims that the One we worship, the Lord of all, poured himself out to the point of death on a cross.  

            Today’s gospel lesson is set in Pontius Pilate’s dusty headquarters in Jerusalem.  Pilate, an officer of the Roman Empire, looks over the ragged street preacher.   The Jewish religious authorities have turned Jesus over to be tried by the Roman authorities.   It is Pilate’s job to decide whether or not Jesus is a threat to the Empire.
            “Are you the king of the Jews?”   Pilate asks.
            Jesus answers, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”
            Pilate replies, “I am not a Jew-- am I?   Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me.  What have you done?”
            Jesus answers, “My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
            Pilate asks, “So you are a king?”
            Jesus answers, “You say that I am.  But ‘king’ is your word.  My task is to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
            Pilate then answers, “What is truth?”
            Of course, “What is truth?” has everything to do with Jesus as king, for Jesus is the truth.
            Dr. Emilie Townes makes a helpful distinction between the more intellectual understanding of truth (which Pilate represents in this passage) and truth as revelation, which we find in Jesus Christ.[1]
            Dr. Townes writes, “We must seek to know God and live as active witnesses on this journey into God.  Jesus’ life and mission is a model of this for us. In Jesus, we learn that truth is a stimulant for faithful living and witness, rather than only a matter for contemplation. It is something we do.”
            What Pilate misses-- what most of the world misses-- is that Jesus’ Kingdom was never a place, but a perspective…never an established rule, but a stated reality of how to live life.  It was never about hierarchy or domination, but a way of interpreting the world and embodying Jesus’ gospel truth in everything we do.
            This is a counter-cultural way to live. We’re socialized to trust in the kinds of kingdoms that aren’t interested in the Truth at all, but who tell half-truths, false truths, fake truths that tap into our insecurities and our fears. It might be easier to live under authority, rather than turning away from that and living into the way of truth and justice for all.
            The gospels tell us what happens when oppressive, unjust kingdoms are confronted for their wrongs and defied for their abuses-- you can end up like Jesus. Or Dietrich Bonhoeffer… or Dr Martin Luther King…or Archbishop Romero.  We know when we stand up to privilege, those with power and privilege will want to shut us up.
            When you stand up to the workings of the world’s kingdoms that rely on sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, or able-ism to survive, expect to be silenced. When you stand up to the injustices of the kingdoms at hand that survive because of thrive on fear, expect to be discredited and disregarded.[2]
            The kingdoms of this world use power and privilege to keep people in their place.  But Jesus’ Kingdom tells the truth about the Truth-- that God so loves the world.
            Jesus Christ, our Savior, the one who was betrayed, arrested, beaten, mocked, and taken before Pilate, tells the ruler with the power to kill him, “My kingdom is not of this world.” When he could have spared himself, Jesus chose truth over safety, saying, “I came to testify to the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
            In a time when there are so many lies, those of us who worship Christ the King are called to testify to the truth.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to listen to his voice and to live in his way of truth and love. We are called to love God and our neighbors, to work for peace and reconciliation and justice for all, to embody the love of Jesus Christ in all our relationships. As we grow in faith toge
            In our Presbyterian and Reformed tradition, our understanding of baptism emphasizes God’s initiative.  God reaches out graciously to us, and offers us the gift of life in the kingdom as a free gift.  We respond by dedicating our lives to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and committing ourselves to follow him.  Baptism is the beginning of our life in the church…a first step in a journey that takes a lifetime.
ther, we trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us, to lead us further into the truth, and to empower us to live into God’s Kingdom.   Through the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, we teach and encourage each other to live in the way of God’s love.

One of the great joys of the Christian life is when parents present their children for baptism.  This is their public declaration that they want their child to be a part of the church and to have a ministry in it. 
            Baptism is central to our identity as Christians.    As we live into our baptism, we learn who we are and whose we are.  We are nurtured to see ourselves as beloved children of God, and that can make all the difference!
            The baptismal font stands at the front of sanctuary to remind us that we’ve been initiated into this congregation, as well as into the universal church of Jesus Christ. 
            When parents and a congregation baptize children, we all promise to teach them who they are in the light of God’s truth.  We promise to teach them what makes them different as part of a holy people…a royal priesthood…consecrated to God’s service.  
            When parents present their child for baptism, they promise to live the Christian faith themselves, and to teach that faith to their children, by word and example.  To grow in the faith, we all need to worship and learn together—in our families, and in the faith community which is the church.  
            Today, we’re inviting Khalil to be part of the great adventure we call church.
            What God will make of Khalil’s life, or where God will lead him, or what kind of ministry he will have, we don’t know.
            But what we do know…what we can say with certainty, because we have God’s PROMISE—is that God is with us every step of the way.
            May God bless Khalil and his family…and all of us on our adventure, as we live into God’s Kingdom together!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
November 25, 2018

[1] Emilie M. Townes, “Theological Perspective,” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17)  Reign of Christ
[2] I’m grateful to Caroline Lewis for her insights in “The True Kingdom” at Working Preacher.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

"Don't Worry or Be Afraid." A Sermon from Littlefield Church on Luke 12:13-34.

"Don't Worry or Be Afraid"

Luke 12:13-34

In this world we live in, there’s so much to fear.  Political speeches on various parts of the spectrum have named a litany of things and people that we should be afraid of.   When we travel, we go through security screenings.  There are metal detectors at big events, surveillance cameras in a growing number of places.  Churches have security systems.   I just attended a training on safety in houses of worship.  We’re surrounded by reminders of the possibility of danger and possible loss.
            On my phone, I get texts and emails from the local police and the Nextdoor app with subject headings like “Be on the lookout”, “Heed the Warning”, “Attempted home invasion,” “Secure your home and automobile.”    From a variety of voices, we keep getting messages: “Be afraid.  Be very afraid.”
            Truth be told, a lot of the news is grim around the country.  Mass shootings.  Forest fires. Global warming.  Economic worries.  Diseases. Fears of not having enough.
            At the beginning of today’s gospel lesson, Jesus warns people in the crowd to be on their guard against all kinds of greed.  He puts our relationship with material wealth in perspective: “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

            Then Jesus tells a parable, about a rich man whose land produced abundantly-- so abundantly that his barns were full.  He had so much that he’d run out of space to store his harvest. This rich man thought to himself, “What should I do?”
            Then he answers himself: “I’ll do this: I’ll pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I’ll store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years. Relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
            This rich man thinks--or hopes-- that if he can only fill more barns, then he can finally relax and be happy.
            But God said to the rich man, ‘You fool!  This very night your very life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
            Jesus goes on to teach his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, don’t worry about your life, about what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
            Look at the birds, Jesus says.  They don’t worry about stuff, and God provides for them.  Look at the lilies.  They don’t worry about stuff, and God provides for them.  How much more will God provide for you?   It is God’s good pleasure to provide in abundance.   Don’t be anxious.  Don’t worry or be afraid.   

            Stuff, Jesus tells us, is not to be collected and stored up.    Stuff is to be shared… given away…used for others.  He told a rich man who was too attached to his wealth, “Sell your stuff and give it away to those who are in need.”[1] 
            The kind of life Jesus describes has to do with choosing to live more simply, choosing to intentionally have less stuff, choosing to stop collecting more possessions… choosing to discover our sense of well-being in a just sharing of material possessions.
            What Jesus teaches about having a faithful relationship to possessions isn’t hard to understand.  But it isn’t easy to follow. 
            It’s so counter-cultural, in a society in which we are known as consumers… a society in which we are bombarded by messages that try to convince us that the things we buy and own can make us happy…secure…and content. 
            I’ve become more and more convinced that the greed and worry and fear that Jesus keeps warning his disciples about are at the root of so much of the evil and the problems in our world today.           We live in one of the richest nations in the world.  Yet we don’t seem to have the will to make sure that the neediest of Americans have what they need.
            We have enough food to provide basic nutrition to everyone in our nation. There’s enough food in the world for everyone to have a basic diet.  It’s a matter of priorities.  What are our highest priorities?  To care for the most vulnerable in our nation?   To pay for wars?  To give tax cuts to the wealthiest people?
            I believe that—deep down—a lot of us want to be more generous and gracious.  I think what gets in the way for a lot of us has to do with chronic anxieties.  We worry about whether we’ll have enough.  We’re afraid we’ll be vulnerable or dependent if we don’t build bigger barns or houses or retirement accounts, so we cling tightly to what we have. Maybe we tell ourselves that, if we can accumulate more-- then we’ll be happy and secure, and then we’ll be free to share.
Jesus knows our human condition.  I think that’s why he spent so much time teaching about how to be in a faithful relationship with material possessions and how to have faithful priorities. 
            I like the way Eugene Peterson translates this passage in The Message.  Peterson hears Jesus saying, “What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting-- so you can respond to God’s giving…. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met….” 
“Don’t worry about your life,” Jesus says.  “Don’t keep striving for the things of this world…  Your Father in heaven knows what you need…. So, strive for God’s kingdom, and what you really need will be given to you as well.”
“What you really need will be given to you…. It is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

            Do we believe this?   Do we live like we believe it—like we trust God to give us what we need? 
            Imagine how freeing it would be if—instead of being afraid, instead of worrying—we would stake our lives in trust in our great and faithful God!     
            Jesus asks his disciples, “Why are you afraid?”  If we trust that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord,[2]  then we don’t need to be afraid.
            In the midst of all the voices of fear, we are called to live fearlessly.  Not because the world isn’t scary.  Not because we are invincible.  Not because we don’t struggle with fear and anxiety.  But because we know we belong to God.
            This may sound simplistic to some, but placing our trust not in earthly treasures but in the treasures of God’s kingdom can be powerful and transformative.
            As Henri Nouwen wrote, “The more you feel safe as a child of God, the freer you will be to claim your mission in the world as a responsible human being.”
 Living fearlessly in faith can free our energy, our imaginations, our intelligence to live into the Kingdom.  It can open our hearts and empower us to embody God’s love in ways that the world so desperately needs.
            Over the years, the stock market and the value of our homes can go up and down. Governments rise and fall.  Corporations split and merge and restructure.  Possessions can be stolen or destroyed in fires or floods.  In faith communities, income rises and falls.  The political scene is full of scary scenarios.
But don’t worry.  Don’t be afraid.  God knows what we need, and it is God’s good pleasure to provide us with what we truly need.  
            So… may we learn how to relax…and not be so preoccupied with getting or hoarding or trying to be in control-- so we can respond in faith to God’s generosity.  May we learn to trust that God will provide what we truly need.   May we learn not to worry or be afraid, as we learn to trust that God is good—all the time. 
Do we believe this?  Do we believe that God is good and that God delights in giving us what we need?   Do we trust in it? 
            I pray that we do.  I pray that we can affirm our trust:  God is good. All the time. All the time, God is good!
            Thanks be to God!
Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
November 18, 2018

[1] Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30.
[2] Romans 8:38-39

[1] Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30.
[2] Romans 8:38-39

Sunday, November 11, 2018

"Don't Be Afraid. There Is Enough." A Sermon on the Widow's Mite from Littlefield Presbyterian Church.

"Don't Be Afraid. There is Enough."

Mark 12:38-44; 1 Kings 17:7-16

            We don’t know this woman’s name.  We really don’t know anything about her, other than that she is an impoverished widow in first century Palestine, living on the margins of her society, with no safety net. No husband to protect or advocate for her.  No pension.  She’s part of a poor and vulnerable class of society. 
            So, don’t you wonder what it means to point to a destitute woman who gives her last two cents to the Temple?  Should we applaud her self sacrifice—or see her as na├»ve and impractical?

            Mark only uses this word for “widow” twice in his gospel, both times in the passage we just heard.  Unlike Luke, Mark doesn’t emphasize a mission to “the poor” in his narrative.
             The first time Mark mentions the poor is when a wealthy man comes to Jesus asking how he can inherit eternal life.[1]  Jesus responds: “Sell what you own and give the money to the poor.”  The man couldn’t do it.
            But this poor widow does just that. She gives it all.
            What do we do with this?  What does it mean?   Why would this poor widow give everything she had to live on?  Surely her small gift couldn’t make any difference to the Temple.   In ancient Israel, the “poor” were not required to give to the Temple.[2]  If they did give, they might have done so out of a sense of obligation… or a sense of hope.   We just don’t know.     
            Our gospel lesson today is framed by verses that show what Jesus thinks about what was going on in the Temple.  Jesus has visited the temple and cleansed it by driving out those who were selling   and tossing the tables of the moneychangers.  He quoted the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah to explain his prophetic action: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’” But you have made it a den of robbers.”[3] 
            In today’s lesson, we heard Jesus teaching his disciples to “Beware of the scribes,” those religious leaders who like to walk around in their long robes.  Jesus said, “They like to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.”                           
            In the two parts of today’s lectionary passage, Mark offers us contrasting examples of discipleship.   These are teaching moments for Jesus as he calls his disciples to pay attention to the scribes, who “will receive the greater condemnation.”   Then Jesus points to the widow’s giving.
            This is one of the widows Jesus had just accused the scribes of abusing—offering her copper coins amidst the grand displays of generosity from the rest of the temple crowd.        
            The widow gives sacrificially—all she has to live on.  Her sacrifice is complete—so complete that Jesus wants his disciples to witness it.   “Truly,” Jesus says, “this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
            That is why we know about her today, this nameless woman—because she gave all the little she had, holding nothing back.

            But don’t you wonder?  Are we really supposed to admire a poor woman who gave her last cent to a religious institution?   Was it right for her to surrender her living to those who lived better than she did?   By ordinary human standards, what this widow did makes no sense.  Is Jesus saying we should all follow her example?  What does Jesus want us to learn from her?      

            Did you notice?  Nowhere in this passage does Jesus praise the widow for what she is doing.  Nowhere in this story does he say, “Go, thou, all of you, and do likewise.”   He simply invites the disciples to contemplate the disparity between abundance and poverty, between large sums and two copper coins, between grand donations--and real sacrifice.   He doesn’t dismiss the gifts of the rich.  He simply points out that the poor widow turns out to be the major donor in the story.
            In Mark’s gospel, this is the last of Jesus’ lessons in the upside-down kingdom of God, where the last shall be first, and the great shall be the servants of all.   When Jesus leaves the Temple that day, his public ministry is over.  In four days, he will be dead, giving up the two copper coins of his life.  The widow withheld nothing from God. Neither did Jesus.    
            In the scriptures, there are recurring themes of abundance and of trusting in God to provide what we need.

            In the Exodus story, the people begin to complain, afraid that they won’t have enough provisions for the journey ahead of them.  God responds by sending them manna—white flakes of bread falling from heaven—just enough manna for today.  The people aren’t willing to trust that God would continue to provide, so they try to hoard their food for tomorrow.  But when they wake up the next morning, they find that the left-over manna has rotted overnight.  God was trying to teach them that hoarding and lack of trust deny God’s daily providing…and the predictable and faithful grace of God.

            In today’s lesson from the Hebrew scriptures, God tells Elijah to go to Zarephath, and that a widow there will feed him.  The widow is preparing to bake the last little bit of meal and oil into a last supper for her and her son—everything she had—and then they would die.  Elijah says to her, “Don’t be afraid.  Make me a little cake, and then make some for yourself and your son.  God promises you won’t run out of meal and oil as long as the drought lasts.”  And it was so.  There was enough.
            Jesus, the one who gave his all for the sake of the world, for the sake of all of us, calls us to follow him… and learn from him.  The gospel gives us clues about how to live joyful lives of freedom and trust. 
            Like the angels who keep showing up in the Bible, saying, “Don’t be afraid,” so Jesus uncovers our motives, those habits of the heart that keep us holding on tightly to things, to money, clinging to the things we think might keep us safe.  Then he invites us to care for the poor, and he offers us a new life of freedom from fear-- an abundant life of gratitude and trust.
            So how are we to love God?  With trust, instead of fear.  With gratitude, instead of demands.  With hope instead of despair. 
            How do we comprehend the poor widow’s offering in the Temple?  I think we can see it as a statement of radical trust.  She chooses not to play it safe.  Instead, she gives her love gift first, trusting in God to provide what she needs. 
            But how does this happen?  How could she give everything?
I wonder if she somehow has come to feel that she has enough, and that she will have enough.  I wonder if she has allowed herself to experience life as a blessing.  I wonder how this poor widow has come to trust in God as the one who blesses and provides—abundantly, predictably, faithfully. 
            I wonder if she has discovered something about the ultimate meaning of life-- that when we give, we are most like God.  Could it be that she has come to see that-- when we are lavish and gracious and generous-- we are most like our lavish and gracious and generous God. 
            How much do we love God?  How much do we trust God?  These are ongoing questions that we encounter on our journey of faith.  I don’t have any easy, pat anoswers for you today.  But not to keep asking the questions is to shut God out of some of the most intimate details of your living.

            Like many of you, I enjoy supporting charitable and social causes I think are important, causes that help me to live out the Christian values that shape my life.  But my main giving is focused on the church, in this local congregation, as well as some church-related missions. 
            There is something about putting a check into the offering plate as part of worship that gives focus to my life and to my faith.  It’s part of my spiritual discipline to write the check each week.  It’s part of my spiritual growth to increase my giving each year. 
            I believe that my giving is a witness to the gratitude I have for life…and the joy and freedom that I experience when I give my money to the church and to the causes that express my faith values.

            You and I have received commitment cards in the mail.  Sometime between now and next Sunday morning, I hope you will hold it and pray over it…and consider what level of commitment will help you to grow in your faith and trust in God… and then fill it out with joy and gratitude.  Then, I hope you will offer it with great joy during worship next Sunday.   
            How do we love God?  Let us count the ways.  And then let us respond with the offering of our very lives.

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
November 11, 2018

[1] Mark 10:17-24
[2] Emerson Powerey, Commentary on Mark 12:38-44 at
[3] Mark 11:17