Sunday, July 15, 2018

"Hard to Hear." A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church.

"St John Reproaching Herod", Artist: Il Cavaliere (1662-1666)

"Hard to Hear"

Amos 7:7-15; Mark 6:14-29

The prophets Amos and John the Baptist spoke truth to power in these hard-to-hear texts... and how that turned out. 


            Prophets are unpopular, and Amos is no exception.
            Amos prophesies to the Northern Kingdom-- Israel-- during the long and expansive reign of Jeroboam. This was a time of prosperity for the North. Amos is concerned about the concentration of wealth among the urban elites, and he repeatedly talks about their luxury goods as signs of their moral decay. He openly mocks their luxuries and calls them out for their failure to act justly.[1]
            This material prosperity seems to have come at the expense of the poor, and points to the growing gap between the rural poor and wealthier landowners:  “They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals -- they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way.”[2]  
            God’s deep concern for human justice is a theme throughout Amos’ prophecy. As Amos kept proclaiming, God is not indifferent to human suffering, oppression, and injustice. In Amos chapter 3, we hear the prophet proclaim, “The lion has roared; who will not fear?  The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?”   
            Amos and other prophets tell us that God’s love demands righteousness. Breaches of God’s call to justice and love cause God grief.
            In today’s lesson, Amos sees a vision of a “plumb line” beside a wall.  This “plumb line” is a symbol for God’s judgment for Israel’s failure to fulfill their call to justice and love.
            Amos preaches that King Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will go into exile. He anticipates the fall of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria.
            Amaziah, the high priest, is a religious authority who speaks on behalf of his temple as well as his King.  Amaziah is an insider, and he has a vested interest in institutional stability.  He’s outraged by how Amos is threatening the status quo.
            This is a king’s sanctuary and a temple of the kingdom,” Amaziah says. Amaziah is supported by the king, so Amos’ prophecy is a threat to position and his way of life. Amaziah tells Amos to go away and make his living as a professional prophet somewhere else.
            But Amos insists that he isn’t a professional prophet. He’s an outsider-- “a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees,” whom God called to prophesy to the people of Israel.

            Amos’ message is hard to hear.  But he lived to keep on prophesying.
            The gospel story we heard today from Mark is also hard to hear. It’s a terrible story.  Don’t you wonder:  Why on earth does Mark include this story in his gospel?
            Overall, Mark’s gospel is very concise. And yet, Mark gives a 16-verse account of John the Baptist’s beheading by Herod. This is the longest anecdote in Mark’s gospel, and the only flashback. Other than the discovery of the empty tomb, it’s the only story in which Jesus doesn’t appear.
            So, what’s so important to Mark in this gruesome story?
            When we look at this story in context, we see that it comes after the sending out of the Twelve. Jesus had been going around among the villages teaching, and he called the Twelve and began to send them out two by two. He gave them authority over the unclean spirits. The Twelve went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick, and they cured them.[3]
            Herod heard about this, and that some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” Some others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”[4]
            This is where the narrative flashes back to how Herod had beheaded John the Baptist.
            Herod remembers that he had sent men to arrest John and put him in prison on account of Herodias, because John had been telling him that it was unlawful for him to marry his brother’s wife while his brother was still alive.
            Now, these relationships are complicated. This Herod is Herod Antipas, the son of the Herod the Great, who was king when Jesus was born—the Herod who ordered the killing of all the babies in and around Bethlehem when the wise men told him the Messiah had been born. 
            The son, Herod Antipas-- the Herod in today’s story-- divorced his first wife to marry Herodias, who at the time was married to his brother.  Mark calls Herod Antipas’ brother “Philip,” but the historian Josephus calls him “Herod,” which seems to be a family name.  To make things even more complicated, Herodias the daughter was also Herod Antipas’ niece.[5]
            As N.T. Wright says, if this had happened today, it would be all over the newspapers—and I think the internet and TV as well.   As Wright says, “It’s sordid, shabby and shameful—exactly the sort of thing that everybody likes to hear, however much they pretend otherwise.”[6]   You can imagine how people would react to the news of the scandalous goings-on at Herod’s birthday bash.  The lecherous Herod is so aroused by the dancing of his young step-daughter--who’s also his niece--that he promises to give her anything she wants. 
            The young girl can’t figure out what to ask for, so she leaves the banquet to ask her mother.  When she comes back, she brings her mother’s request for John’s head on a platter. 
            Mark tells us that the king was greatly distressed by this request, but he didn’t want to refuse her, out of regard to his oaths and the guests.  The guests have witnessed his oath, and he doesn’t want to lose face by reneging on his rash promise.  So, he has John executed and has his head brought in on a platter, like food for the feast.
            John, like Amos and God’s other prophets before him, spoke truth to power, at great risk to their safety.  It cost John his life.

            Mark gave all this space in his compact gospel to tell this story. So I think Jill Duffield is right that we need to sit with the ugliness and ponder where we find ourselves in the story.
            I doubt that many of us here would find ourselves identifying with Herod, or with either Herodias.
            I wonder if some might find ourselves with the guests at Herod’s party.  If you were invited, would you turn down the invitation? Even if you don’t agree with his politics or policies, he is the ruler, and it’s an honor to be invited. If you refuse to go, would Herod be insulted? What might that cost you?
            Would we have spoken up and said, “Herod, you don’t have to do what the girl is asking. You have a lot of power. You can show your strength by sticking to your principles, rather than giving in to your ego or your passions.”[7]
            That would be hard for Herod to hear.  It could cost us to speak up like that, to question Herod’s authority. 
           
            Maybe we find ourselves among the twelve disciples in the gospel story. We were sent out on a mission. Jesus told us to travel light, to teach and carry out a ministry of healing.  We’d hoped that following Jesus would lead to greatness--to power and influence. But, when we look around, it looks like the Herod--and Herodias-- are winning. They have the wealth. They call the shots. They even control the executioner.
            We’re not great people in our society. So, how can we believe that God is going to work through us to bring in God’s Kingdom?
            Jesus’ message is hard to hear, hard to believe:  God will bring the redemption of the world through the One crucified, dead, and buried. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it. But whoever loses their life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel will save it.
            The gospel demands our life, our all.  Speaking God’s truth has real life consequences.  As Jill Duffield puts it, “Engaging in God’s work of defeating evil doesn’t gain you worldly favor.  But rest assured, despite all the evidence to the contrary, God’s will and God’s Word will not be thwarted.”

            Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote the words of a song that’s an affirmation of faith. Those of us who attend Taize probably know the words by heart, and I invite you to sing along:
Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate. 
Light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.  
Victory is ours, victory is ours,
Through God who loves us. 

            Thanks be to God!
            Amen!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
July 15, 2018


[1] Amos 6:4-6
[2] Amos 2:7
[3] Mark 6:6-13
[4] Mark 6:14-16
[5] New Interpreter’s Bible: Mark, Vol. VII, p 598.
[6] N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (Westminster John Knox Books, 2001), p. 75.
[7] Jill Duffield, ‘Looking into the Lectionary,” in The Presbyterian Outlook. https://pres-outlook.org/2018/07/8th-sunday-after-pentecost-july-15-2018/


Sunday, July 1, 2018

"Healing Faith." A Sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on Mark 5:21-43





"Healing Faith"

Mark 5:21-43




Jesus has just returned from the other side of the Sea of Galilee, in Gentile territory, where he performed an exorcism and interfered with the local swine-based economy.
That region was known as the Decapolis-- a group of ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire.  Rome, in an effort to spread its culture and the Imperial cult to the furthest reaches of its territory, had built roads, public buildings and temples throughout the Decapolis. Worship of the emperor was the common bond that linked the ten cities together.
      The story of this exorcism and his interference with the swine-based economy is a metaphor for Roman culture and Imperial rule. Mark depicts it as violent, brutal, unclean, and wracked with fear. The local people had begged Jesus to get out of town.

            After that, Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee, and he’s welcomed by a crowd.  In the crowd, Jesus faces a range of human need. As biblical scholars have pointed out, ninety percent of first century Jews lived in desperate poverty. They lived under the occupation of the Roman Empire, and were also oppressed by a cultural and religious system that valued custom and ritual over justice and mercy.
            Jesus has been proclaiming the good news of God’s love and the spirit and heart of the law, and crowds keep coming to him.

            Today’s gospel lesson is a story of two healings. One of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus comes and falls down at Jesus’ feet and begs him repeatedly to come home with him and heal his young daughter.  “She is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her so that she may be made well and live! 
            Jesus sets off to go with him.  A large crowd follows along and is pressing in on him. 
But then that story gets interrupted.  As Jesus is making his way through the crowd, he senses that power has gone forth from him, and he turns to find out who touched him.
            It wasn’t just the crowd pressing in on him, but a woman—a very specific woman.  This woman had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.  She’d gone to doctor after doctor, and had spent all her money on them, trying the treatments they prescribed.  Who knows what she’d tried?    Perhaps drinking tonics made of vile bitter things… rubbing herself with terrible smelling salves.  But none of it had done any good, and she still bled. 
            In addition to the effects on her physical health, her bleeding had other profound effects on her life.   It made her ritually unclean.  She couldn’t go to the Temple to worship.  Anyone who touched her, or lay on a bed in which she had slept, or sat on a chair where she sat would be unclean as well. 
            Imagine the kind of isolation this woman must have experienced over those twelve long years.  Imagine being unable to attend services and rituals in the Temple.  Imagine people shying away from you, being unwilling to touch you for twelve years.  This woman was an outcast.
Unlike Jairus’ daughter, she apparently has no male kinsman to plead her case.       
            But this woman has heard reports of the power at work in Jesus, and that has given birth to hope and faith.  So—in desperation and great faith—she audaciously and courageously works her way through the jostling crowd and approaches Jesus from behind and touches his garments.
            She might have thought, “I don’t need to bother him.  I don’t need to slow him down with a lot of chatter.  All I need to do is touch the edge of his garment.  Then I’ll be healed.”

            But things don’t go exactly as she planned.  No sooner does she touch his clothes than Jesus turns around and says, “Who touched me?” 
            Jesus refuses to let the woman remain invisible.  He insists on personal contact and on drawing the woman into relationship.    And so, the woman falls down before him and tells him the whole truth.
            Jesus says to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’”  The New RSV translates this verb in terms of healing.  But, as some scholars note, this translation of the verb fails to capture the sense in which the physical cure results in a fuller restoration.[1]  It might be a better translation to hear Jesus saying, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.”

            As we reach the conclusion of the inner story, we can discern that the miracle involves far more than physical healing.[2]  It includes entry into a ‘saving’ relationship with Jesus himself.  The woman is no longer alone.  Jesus calls her “Daughter,” claiming her as family, and restoring her to community.  She is told to “go in peace”—shalom, which involves wholeness, salvation—and healed from disease.

            Not only does Jesus not seem to mind that the woman has touched him.  He also doesn’t worry about the ritual purification.  After he sends the woman on her way, healed and whole, he doesn’t stop off at the baths or send the disciples off for a water so he can wash.  It doesn’t seem to matter to him. 
            For Jesus, there is no such thing as an unclean person.  The society he lives in may try to keep certain people outside of their boundaries, but Jesus keeps reaching out to them.  He keeps welcoming people back inside the circle of God’s love and healing and community.  Time and time again, he welcomes people who have been cast out…or he moves outside the boundary himself, to meet them where they are.
            The other story in today’s gospel lesson shows a similar pattern.
            Some people come from Jairus’ house to say, “Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the teacher any further?” 
            After all, you could hardly ask Jesus to deal with a dead body.  Dead bodies were considered unclean.  Touch a dead body, and you become unclean.
            But Jesus overhears and says to Jairus, “Do not fear-- only believe.’  He takes Peter, James, and John and they go to Jairus’ house where they find a commotion.  Mourning has already started, the customary rituals of loud weeping and lamenting.
             “Why do you make a commotion and weep?” Jesus says.  “The child is not dead, but sleeping.”  When the people laugh at him, Jesus puts them all outside.  He takes the child’s parents and the three disciples and takes the child by the hand and tells her to get up.  The girl begins to walk.  Everybody is amazed!   Jesus gives them orders not to tell anybody about this, and tells them to give the girl something to eat.

            The religious community in Jesus’ day and through much of history has often gotten in the way of healing.  But the gospel story we heard today from Mark tells how God works through Jesus, who is empowered by the Holy Spirit to reach out with a healing touch.

            God’s holiness works through Jesus and his followers to spread the life-giving power of the kingdom--the kin-dom-- into the world wherever people are receptive to it.[3]
            So…when Jesus welcomes the woman who has been hemorrhaging as daughter”—a term of endearment-- and touches a dead girl, we have what Marcus Borg has summarized as “The politics of purity” being replaced by “a politics of compassion.[4]
            Jesus deliberately reaches out to the woman, welcoming her back into the human family, back into the community from which she had been isolated.  Instead of avoiding contact with the dead girl, Jesus reaches out and takes her hand and restores her to life. 
            Mark’s story points to the divisions in society between male and female, between the weak and the strong, the clean and the impure, and the rich and the poor.
            Jesus’ disciples marveled that Jesus wants to know who touched him and don’t seem to understand how responsive Jesus is to vulnerability and need.
            Perhaps we who are his disciples today have failed to understand that as well. Or maybe we do. How many of us have felt our hearts broken when we see images of families being separated at our border, and discouraged when we hear some people using their faith to justify those policies. There were hundreds of thousands of people in the streets around the country yesterday to make a statement that “families belong together.” Last weekend there were thousands in Washington, D.C. for the Poor People’s Campaign. I believe there is a growing movement of people with a growing understanding of how we are all family in God’s kin-dom.

            Just four days before he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King preached a sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington. He invited his listeners to place their struggles and calling in the context of God’s ordering of the universe.  Dr. King suggested that whatever differences we may experience, yet our mutual vulnerability and humanity unites us more deeply.
            “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made. This is the way it is structured.”[5]

            Even when we are tempted to despair, Jesus reaches out in an invitation of pure love…an invitation to bring our own bleeding bodies and spirits to the only One who can offer us true healing…the only One who can welcome us into true community when our ties with that community have been broken.
            Jesus reaches out and invites us to follow-- to look at the suffering ones in our midst, to listen to their stories, to reach out and touch them, and lift them to their feet.  By example, Jesus invites us to call them “Daughter” … “Son” … “Sister” …  “Brother” -- family.
            Just as Jesus called Jairus’ daughter to rise up, he invites us to stand up for love and justice. The Greek words used for the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter and of Jesus is God’s way of telling us to get up and stand up for God’s righteous and justice. By lifting up the lowly and providing for “the least of these,” we will strengthen and revive our communities and our nation, and we will be living more fully into God’s kin-dom.
           
            The good news of the gospel calls us to live out our faith in ways that invite all, not just some, to be touched and healed by God’s love… and all, not just some, can become a real part of the community. 
            The good news of the gospel calls us to become a richer, more whole community—a community that in its wholeness truly embodies the shalom that Jesus bids the woman when he says “your faith has made you well…go in peace…”
            And so… may we never be content to rest within our safe walls, but instead, may we move out beyond the boundaries to where ministry with Jesus takes place, where we receive God’s blessings, and where we can be a blessing to those who do not know that God’s love is even for them.
            May our faith make us well and whole. May we walk in the way of peace…shalom…salam.
            Amen!


Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
July 1, 2018



[1] Donald Juel, Mark.  Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament (Augsburg, 1990),  p. 84.
[2] James L. Bailey and Lyle D. Vander Brock, Literary Forms in the New Testament: A Handbook (Westminster/John Knox, 1992), p. 142.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith (Harper, 1994), p. 58.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

"Seeds of Faith and Hope." A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church.


"Seeds of Faith and Hope"

Mark 4:26-34; Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17

            “The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest is come.”
            Karoline Lewis suggests that our lives are full of parables.  I think she’s right when she says that Jesus knew this, which is why he told parables to his followers.
            “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?”
            Parables are a way to try to make sense of things in life, as we struggle for a way to be in the world.
            Jesus has announced the arrival of God’s kingdom, but to skeptical eyes, it seems that nothing has changed.
            Mark uses Jesus’ parable of the growing seed to encourage those in charge of the early church.   Some of these congregations were planted under adverse—even dangerous—conditions. 
            Most scholars agree that Mark’s gospel was the earliest written of the four gospels.  It was probably written around 70 C.E., shortly after the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, toward the end of the reign of the Emperor Nero.  It reflects a time of imminent persecution for those who professed the Christian faith, and Christians in Rome suffered particularly. 
            Mark’s gospel was written in a time of high anxiety.  Church leaders felt vulnerable and helpless.  So, it must have sounded like good news to be reminded that seeds are small and vulnerable, but can sprout and grow even in tough times.
            Chapter four in Mark has a series of seed parables, which teach us that God’s rule is something hidden… indirect… and surprising.   They tell us that the kingdom is near and breaking into the ordinary world where we live.   Mark wants us to know that God’s purposes—though hidden—are still present.  We need to move toward them—live into them with confidence.

            Mark gathers Jesus’ seed metaphors to help us discern God’s presence and work in small, surprising places.  In the parable of the growing seed, the seeds are a good image for how growth can happen in ways that are beyond our control or comprehension.
            In the parable of the mustard seed, a tiny mustard seed is contrasted with the size of the final tree.  Now, the fact is that a mustard seed doesn’t really grow into a tree.  The mustard plant is an annual herb that normally grows no more than six feet in height and would be considered a shrub, rather than a tree.  It’s in the imagination of the parable that a mustard seed can produce a tree with branches…and be similar to the imperial trees that symbolize kingdoms.   
            The people in the crowd gathered that day in Palestine thousands of years ago were likely familiar with the Ezekiel passage we heard today, in which images of tall, majestic cedar trees are symbols used to encourage people of Israel’s future greatness.  This would have been a comfort to Ezekiel’s original audience, in exile in Babylon.  The image of the noble cedar would have served to help encourage an oppressed people.
           
            In the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus makes an allusion to Ezekiel’s message and other Old Testament tree of life images, in which birds of the air nest in its branches, but re-works it. In Jesus’ parable, God’s promised action comes after everything worldly that claims and seems to be of great promise has failed. 
            The humble mustard seed that grows into a scruffy shrub may seem like an odd image for Jesus to have chosen, when he could have used the majestic cedar to make his point.  But Jesus wants us to know that things are different in the kingdom of God when it breaks into our ordinary daily lives.  The kingdom of God has its own time… and its own rate of growth… and happens in unexpected, surprising ways. 
            The mustard seed was a common image in ancient Palestine for “the smallest thing.”  Like the humble mustard seed that grows into a scruffy shrub, the followers of Jesus are a bunch of ragged folk-- full of doubts and fears, unable to comprehend much of what Jesus says or does. 

            We look at the news and we see images of children being torn away from their parents, children in cages.  We hear government officials quoting a scripture verse to defend policies of arresting people who are fleeing violence and danger and separating families at the border.
            We listen to the stories of people impacted by poverty and hear what it’s like to live without running water in your home and what it’s like to try to get or hold a job in Detroit if you can’t afford a car and insurance. 
            Some of you have told me you struggle with despair and have a hard time seeing the hope. Maybe some of us can relate to what Rev. Jill Duffield wrote in The Presbyterian Outlook: “What kind of people have we become?" We are doomed. I am living in a dystopian novel.”[1]
            But the scripture texts the lectionary gives us for this Sunday tell us that God does not see things as we do. They say that God looks upon the heart, not outward appearances. They say: “We walk by faith and not by sight.”  They say: “We are always confident.” The texts say: “The love of Christ urges us on. We don’t live to ourselves. We regard no one from a human point of view. Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.” The texts say: “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, tiny, insignificant, vulnerable--but explosive, with the potential and promise to nurture, shade, hide, protect the birds of the air and the beasts of the land…”
            So, I’m with Jill Duffield when she says, “I refuse to live as if I am a character in a dystopian novel. I won’t give up that easily. The texts won’t let me.”[2]
            There’s a tiny mustard seed of faith that won’t give up, that keeps sprouting through the cracks of our fatigue and doubt and cynicism and fear and hard-heartedness.
            This past week, we heard several powerful people invoking Romans 13 to say the Bible commands us to “obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” and then we heard from many parts of the faith community in response.[3]  Since then, for those with “ears to hear,” it’s been like a Bible study on social media.
            We heard from biblical scholars who explained how the verse from Romans was distorted when it was taken out of context. The Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer Oget and other scholars reminded us that we need to consider the verse in the larger context, in which the apostle Paul argued that all commandments are summed up in the teaching “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:9)[4]   The scholars have been reminding us that Paul continued, saying, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10) 
            Biblical scholars and others have been telling us that the first two verses of Romans 13 that say, “Let everyone be subject to the government authorities” have been quoted out of context over history to support laws and policies we now consider to be unjust and inhumane.
            At various times, very unjust and inhumane policies were the law of the land. For example, chattel slavery was the law of the land, and fugitive slave laws required people to return refugees from slavery as property to their "owners." People of faith and principle who provided assistance to them were breaking the law.  In the 1980’s, the same verses were used as proof texts against the end of Apartheid in South Africa.

            The issue of immigration in our country is complicated and requires the rigorous debate in which we are now engaged. Those who wish to invoke a biblical ethic need to be guided by this test of love. There is nothing loving about prying children from their parents’ arms when families are at their most vulnerable.
            Over the past few days, we have heard from various parts of the church.  The Catholic Bishops and others have been saying you can’t be pro-life and against immigrant children.[5]  We’ve heard from Evangelicals and mainline denominations and the National Council of Churches and the National Association of Evangelicals, denouncing the separation of families and speaking for just immigration policies.[6]
            These voices from around the church have also been reminding us that the Bible shouldn’t--and can’t--be used to argue against immigration. Passages from Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and the prophets teach us to care for the stranger and the immigrant: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you. You shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”[7][8] That’s just one reference, from Leviticus 19, but there are plenty of others.[9]
            Like Jill Duffield, like a lot of you, I don’t want to live as if I’m a character in a dystopian novel.  I want to live in faith and hope. So, I want to trust that the reign of God is bursting into history and resting on us.
            In the parables we heard today, Jesus once again lifts up the grace and power of God taking the smallest seed and transforming it into a great plant that provides shelter and sustenance for all. 
            I’ve been amazed and encouraged to read and hear the conversations about what the scriptures and our faith traditions teach us about immigration and how we are called to live. [If you’ve missed this and want to check it out, you could do a Google search of Romans 13 and find all kinds of commentary.  Also, I shared links to a number of the articles on Facebook and, just now, in the footnotes to this sermon.]
            I’ve been encouraged by all the interest in looking at immigration and some other issues through the eyes of faith.

            I believe Jesus is looking for hungry hearts, for people for whom the world’s answers aren’t satisfying, those who are willing to keep our imaginations open.  Jesus calls us to follow, and
promises: “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God.”
            Jesus wants us to know that we can trust the forces of God’s mercy and grace and love to bring in the kingdom of God.  Don’t be discouraged by the size of the beginning… or by drought or bad weather.  The kingdom of God will come.
            God’s Kingdom of grace and mercy will come, because God creates and gives it. The kingdom of God grows in hidden, mysterious ways.  We can trust God to produce the harvest—in God’s time and God’s ways.
            As disciples of Christ, we are called to make a difference in order for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.  With a bit of courage—and a lot of imagination, “looking twice” at the world around us—we can trust that God is at work growing the kingdom in the midst of our ordinary lives—even when we can’t see it. 
            We are invited to live mustard seed lives until all the birds of the air have a place to make a nest, until every nation cares for the poor, until nobody goes to bed hungry, until there is a lovely shaded place for all to live.
            We have been given the secret of the reign of God.  This is the Good News of the gospel. 
            Amen!


Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
June 17, 2018


[1] Jill Duffield, “Looking Into the Lectionary,” in The Presbyterian Outlook.  https://pres-outlook.org/2018/06/4thsunday-after-pentecost-june-17-2018/
[2] Jill Duffield, “Looking Into the Lectionary.
[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/06/15/what-jeff-sessions-got-wrong-when-quoting-the-bible/?utm_term=.31f55dbd6511

[7] Leviticus 19:33-34