Wednesday, December 11, 2019

"Daring To Hope." A Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent

"Peaceable Kingdom," by Edward Hicks.

"Daring to Hope"

Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12

Here we are, in the second week of Advent.  For a lot of people, there’s so much to do, at home, at church and everywhere else.  There are gifts to be purchased and to be and baking to do...the house to clean... and decorating to do.  

            In the background, we have the news feed of our lives.  Mass shootings. Another child accidentally shooting himself with a gun he found in the house. Thousands of migrant children separated from their families and housed in cages. A migrant teenager dying from the flu. Impeachment hearings. Environmental degradation. Huge economic disparities between the uber-rich and those who struggle to provide food and basic shelter for themselves and their families. The list could go on….

            In the midst of all of this, Advent invites us to turn our thoughts to what it means that God came and lived as one of us in our world to show us God’s way?  Advent invites us to wait… to pay attention… to prepare the way of the Lord… and to live in hope. 

           In the Hebrew scripture lesson, we heard the prophet Isaiah singing a song of hope 700 years before the birth of Jesus, in a time when things seemed hopeless.  His message must have sounded as unrealistic then as it does now.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie with down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them. . . .
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain…

            The prophet Isaiah was probably writing in the period of the Syro-Ephramite war, when the dynasty of David seemed like a mere dead stump, compared to its enemies.  The nation had been defeated and humiliated by another national power.  Their government was weak and ineffective, and the people were dejected and demoralized.  In the midst of all that, how do you live in hope?   Isaiah’s words must have seemed terribly unrealistic—as unrealistic as Isaiah’s words seem to a lot of people today.

           Enter the Spirit of the Lord; a new shoot is coming out of the dead stump of the monarchy.  That’s what the Spirit of the Lord does—it brings life where things have been dead.  The Spirit brings forth new green shoots of life.
          Isaiah sings of a new kind of king—a king upon whom the Spirit of the Lord rests.  God’s Messiah will use his gifts to serve the people with equity and righteousness. What will the reign of the Messiah will be like?  The enmity that dominates the world is transformed into peace. 
         A great theologian of the last century, Reinhold Niebuhr, once wrote: “Do you want peace in this world?  Then work for justice.”  Until there is justice for everyone, there will be no peace.  For even a defeated enemy remains an enemy.  The only hope for peace is not the building up of more power to defeat and control—but power to make our enemies our friends. 
          Advent invites us-- dares us-- to wait in hope for the coming of a different kind of King, who will use his power to “rule the world with truth and grace” and transform creation into a world in which every creature can live without fear. 
          Can you imagine a world without fear?   No fear in Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan or Yemen…  no fear in Bethlehem or Jerusalem…  no fear in South Sudan.  No fear in homes from an abusive parent or spouse. No fear in our neighborhoods where innocent children have died to gun violence.

           “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”   This is the promise and hope of Advent.

            But hope is a fragile and fleeting thing. 

            Fast forward seven hundred years or so.  Two hundred years had gone by since the people of Israel had had a prophet in their midst.   They’re living under occupation, with the Roman army enforcing the oppression of the Empire.
           Suddenly, John shows up in the wilderness, looking and sounding a lot like Elijah, who was expected to return to prepare the way for God’s coming Messiah.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near, he says.  “Prepare the way of the LORD.  Make his paths straight.”  

            John’s call to repentance and preparing the way is a call to turn around and look for and hope in God’s future, which is breaking in on them.  It’s a call to commit to see our world as God’s world    and our future as God’s future, because that’s what repentance is about.  

            And yet, more than 2,000 years later, amid the moral, religious, and political crises our nation and world are facing, we are still waiting and longing.   

            Every Advent John the Baptist shows up, because God loves us enough to hold us accountable to be who and whose we.  We are living in a broken, hurting world.  The people of Palestine still live under occupation in a conflict that looks hopeless to a lot of us.  Children in Flint and their families continue to deal with the long-term effects of lead poisoning.  In our own communities and communities around our nation, a parent can work 40 hours a week and still not be able to afford nutritious food and other basic necessities for their children. In our nation, consumerism and individualism rule. Our political system is broken.  The gap between the very rich and the poor continues to widen.            

            And so, we still long for a time of righteousness and justice and peace. 

            For a long time, I’ve felt drawn to the images painted by Edward Hicks, a Quaker preacher and artist, who was so inspired by the vision in Isaiah 11 that he painted at least 66 “peaceable kingdom” paintings.  

            A “peaceable kingdom.” Can you imagine it?  A time when broken creation becomes the completely harmonious creation God intended.  Predators-- wolves, leopards, lions, and bears will live in harmony with the domestic animals like lambs, calves, goats, and cows.  Lions will eat straw like oxen, and a little child will play over the holes of poisonous snakes.  The earth will be filled with the “knowledge of the LORD.”  

            Jesus has come to live among us, full of grace and truth, and called us to follow him, living God’s way of love.    
So… how are we to live?  How are we to live as a community of faith?  Do we give in to hopelessness and despair?  

            Do we dare to hope?  Can we trust in God’s promises?  Can we imagine a better world?  Can we believe in the possibility that injustice and oppression can be overcome, with God’s help?

            Jesus came and “proclaimed the reign of God: preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives, teaching by word and deed and blessing the children, healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted, eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners, and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.”[1] 

            To those living under the oppressive regime of the Roman Empire, Jesus taught and embodied a different way of being in the world that allowed even the marginalized and the poor to reclaim their identity as children of God.  To people whose identities had been shaped by centuries of living under exile and oppression of conquering empires, Jesus demonstrated that the empire doesn’t have the power to define who you are.  

            What Jesus proclaimed as a transforming message of hope has been spiritualized and individualized and distorted.   Jesus didn’t come to be a personal savior for individuals, but to be the way, the truth and the life, to show us all a way to live into God’s dream for all of God’s people. He taught us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven. 

            When we repentwhen we turn away from the ways of the world and the empire-- and turn toward God’s way of righteousness and justice and peace, we find our lives changing.    As our lives are being transformed, we can no longer be content to exist under the old ways of the world.   

            Our faith teaches us that God’s intention is for us to live in Beloved Community together, in righteousness and justice.  But we look around, and we see there is still a gap between the vision and reality.  

            We wait and hope for the time when God will fully bring in the Kingdom… the kin-dom.   In the meantime, we live into the Kingdom of heaven—the kingdom of justice and peace, as we work for a better world that more fully embodies God’s dreams.

            Sometimes it’s hard to see how things can be different… or how the little things we do can make a difference.   But sometimes new life emerges from the most unlikely places, emerging as a tiny green tendril out of a stump that looked dead. 

            We live into hope in big and small ways when we change the life of a family by providing them with a goat or a flock of chickens with a gift to the Heifer Project.   When we shop ethically and buying locally as much as possible and stop using single-use plastics, we make a difference in peoples’ lives and the environment.  Making choices to care for the environment and giving to aid global and domestic causes all make a difference, and they witness to our hope.  

            When we engage the powers and principalities by contacting our elected officials about issues that matter, we are daring to hope that we can make a difference. When we volunteer in our local schools, when we tutor a child or teach an adult how to read, we are living into hope.

            We live into hope because the Christ’s reign is among us now as we live into God’s dream for us, working for justice and peace for all of God’s beloved people.

            In this season of waiting, God comes to us and nudges us: “Look! Look -- there on that dead-looking stump.  Do you see that green shoot growing?”

            Can you see it?

Rev. Fran Hayes
December 8, 2019

[1] “A Brief Statement of Faith” of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Sunday, October 27, 2019

"Hope in Troubled Times"

Luke 18:9-14

In late October, a lot of people are celebrating Halloween.  But in the church, many Christians are more focused on Reformation Day. 
Five hundred and two years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and theology professor in the university town of Wittenberg, published his Ninety-Five Theses by nailing them to the door of the Castle Church.  In those days, the church door served as kind of a community bulletin board. 
The 95 Theses were in the form of an invitation to debate about traditional church doctrine and practice, that, in Luther’s mind, needed to be re-examined and reformed.  Luther was advocating for reform within the Roman Catholic church, but before it was over Luther would be excommunicated from the church and branded an outlaw by the Holy Roman Emperor.
As John Buchanan describes it, “violence ensued, wars were fought, martyrs on both sides were tortured and executed.  Luther’s followers and their churches were called ‘Lutherans’ in derision, but during the next century large portions of northern Germany, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, all the way to the Italian Alps and the Scottish Highlands, separated from Rome and organized themselves into Reformed churches.”[1]
            Five hundred plus years later, as we commemorate Luther and the Ninety-Five Theses, it’s a good time to remember that the Protestant Reformation was a development that took place slowly, over time, and that it was and is an ongoing process. 
            As a former representative of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches has written, “Luther and Calvin did not just fall from Heaven. Other people had worked the same field, and people at that time were aware of earlier reformers.” By earlier reformers, he was referring to Waldensians, Hussites, the Czech Brethren, and others.”
            So, with this in mind, I think it’s a good thing to observe “Reformation Sunday” in late October, but to focus on what Jean Calvin called “the many resurrections of the church,” which include the earlier reformers, and Luther and Calvin and Knox, and other examples of the Spirit’s reforming, rejuvenating work in the church throughout history and to our present time.

            The gospel lesson we heard today is a brief and straightforward parable Jesus told his disciples. Earlier in the 18th chapter of Luke, Jesus had told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. In this parable, a widow kept going to an un-just judge “who neither feared God nor had respect for people.” Eventually, because the widow persisted and kept coming back to the unjust judge, he said, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”[2]
            Jesus said to his disciples, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to God’s chosen ones who cry out day and night? Will God delay long in helping them?  I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

            That’s the context for the parable we heard today, which Jesus told to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and who regarded others with contempt.”
            “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”
            But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
            Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

"Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart,” wrote James Baldwin, “for his purity, by definition, is unassailable.”  
Such people clothe themselves in religion while creating hell for others. They see everything but their truest selves. They hide their vulnerabilities and practice spiritual dishonesty about their own shortcomings.
Jesus is addressing a crowd of people who “trust in themselves,” but who really can’t see themselves. They can point to the flaws in others and avoid seeing their own shortcomings and sins.
This parable gives us a window into this particular Pharisee’s mentality, through the words of his prayer. He embraces the insider-outsider politics of institutional religion. His public prayer creates a firewall between him and those who are “other.”
When Luke says Jesus’ listeners “regarded others with contempt,” the Greek word for contempt suggests treating other people as nothing.  This kind of spirituality lets people pursue their idea of holiness and morality, while they treat those they see as “other” as sinful or unworthy or without value.
As the Rev. Willie Francois III writes, this culture of false perfection betrays the truth of the gospel: “that God loves us with our scars of disobedience, markers of mistakes, and wounds of worry. Such a culture creates myriad communities of throwaways, of people perceived as disposable.
Even churches consecrate categories by which they effectively label people disposable. When we fail to see ourselves as we are, we tragically fix our eyes on others—and we live with spiritual blinders on. This derails our journey to wholeness and transformation.”[3]
            The Pharisee in the parable isn’t guilty of any of the specific things he names—but there are many other sins he wasn’t willing to name. The tax collector avoids narrating a long list of his own virtues or sins to God, but he names his condition:  he confesses that he’s a sinner, and he pleads for mercy.

We live in a tumultuous time—a time of great change and polarization and anxiety— in the world and in the church. But it isn’t the first time. 
 The Scottish reformer John Knox felt compelled to leave the British Isles after the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor rose to the English throne in 1553.  Eventually he joined a fellowship of religious refugees from across Europe who had thronged to Geneva, Switzerland.
            Geneva’s most famous resident, the French lawyer and humanist John Calvin, was himself a Geneva immigrant.  Calvin helped create an atmosphere in Geneva that was welcoming to outsiders. They established a hospital for refugees, as well as an academy for their education. Knox ministered to a congregation of English-speaking refugees.
            John Knox marveled at his time in Geneva, calling it ‘the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the apostles.’”
            Calvin’s emphasis on placing full trust in God, as opposed to any earthly ruler, aimed to infuse life in Geneva with gratitude and faith   and to ease the anxieties of a people living in an age of plague, war, and dislocation.  For Calvin and for Knox, growing in trust of God and love for God enlarged a community’s ability to respond to God’s call to love and service-- no matter where its residents came from.

Five hundred years after the Protestant Reformation, we’re living in a difficult and challenging time to be the church. 
            We need to re-learn how to love and recognize the image of God in one another.  We need to learn how to live more and more fully as beloved children of God… and become more and more fully the Beloved Community. 
And nations, like individuals and the church, struggle to look in the moral mirror.  At the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama said, “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.” That’s a historical fact about the White House and our national capitol building—one that’s often relegated to a footnote or simply omitted. Yet many found the statement to be controversial. The institution of slavery funded the greatness of America—and more than 150 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the American check still bounces.
Long ago, biblical prophets like Jeremiah expressed the national need for repentance. The nation needs mercy. For over 400 years, black people have been dehumanized in America—from the trafficking of African persons from their native lands through years of slavery, Jim Crow, Black Codes and predatory sharecropping, unchecked lynching, red-lining and residential segregation, mass incarceration, under-education, mass criminalization, and police violence.  
The church also needs mercy for the ways it supported the institution of slavery and structural racism and poverty or failed to resist them…for the Doctrine of Discovery which the ways it gave permission, even encouraged colonialization and the genocide of indigenous peoples.
Reverend Francois challenges all Americans when he says, “To change—to be redeemed—America has to actually look at itself. We have to stand squarely in front of the moral mirror, beat our chests, name our sins, and be justified.
On Reformation Sunday, we are reminded that we are justified by God’s grace, through faith.
The question of the day is:  how shall we live, in response to God’s gracious gift?  That’s where sanctification comes in. “Sanctification” is a theological word for how we grow in the Christian life, as we are taught and led further into the truth and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
            Sanctification is a life-long process, as we are gradually freed from our fears and doubts and brokenness-- to love and serve God and our neighbors as Christ does. As we grow in Christian faith, we open ourselves to be surprised and transformed by God’s word.  
            One sign of growing in the Christian life is maturing in love for and solidarity with all of God’s children-- especially with those who are poor and marginalized and those who are different…those we see as “other.”

The early Protestants believed that they were not only creating a new church-- but they were creating a new world, one that would resemble more fully God’s desire for humanity.   The original Protestant impulse was to resist powers of worldly dominion and domination, in favor of the power of God’s spirit to transform human hearts and society.  They felt a deep discomfort and discontent with the status quo.   They knew things were not right, and they set out to change the world.   
Today, we live in troubling times—a time of great change and anxiety, in the church and in the world. In 2019, the world groans under flame of wildfires and floods caused by global warming, as families are left shattered by sprays of bullets and the devastation of war, in this time of broken human relationships and extreme political partisanship and structural racism and poverty and corruption in governments. Things are not right.  But I believe God is working to do new things in our time.
I believe we are living in a prophetic time—a time of new reformation.   I believe that God is working to create a new church, in and through us.  I believe that God wants to use us as instruments of justice and reconciliation in our communities… in our nation… and in the world.
I give thanks that “we’ve come this far by faith”—that we’ve been hearing a new word from God over the past few decades about human sexuality and some of the other things that have consumed so much of our energy and focus in the church.  I give thanks that this seems to be freeing the church to focus on structural racism and poverty and other forms of injustice.  I give thanks that we have been gifted with strong and faithful and diverse leaders in our national Presbyterian church and the ecumenical and interfaith communities who are leading us to act more faithfully and more boldly. 
            I give thanks for the prophetic witness of Bishop William Barber and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and other leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign around the country as they work to bring about justice for all.  I give thanks for Rabbi Alana Alpert and the Detroit Jews for Justice and their work for water justice in Detroit and their work with the Poor People’s Campaign.  I think that part of this new time of re-formation is how we’re learning to work together as ecumenical and interfaith community.
            Two weeks ago, we gathered in this sanctuary to celebrate 100 years of mission and ministry at St. John’s.  The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson reminded us of the way things are changing in the Brief church and in our society and said we are living in a prophetic time.  The mission field is here around us, and we have work to do.
            This week, especially, we have mourned the passing and given thanks for a prophet of our times, the very Honorable Congressman Elijah Cummings, and we have been inspired by the witness of this man of faith and humility…integrity and courage and compassion.  
I was moved to hear that Congressman Cummings quoted a poem by Benjamin Mays during his very first speech on the U.S. House of Representatives floor on April 25, 1996 while noting that he recited that poem up to 20 times a day:
“I have only just a minute. Only 60 seconds in it.
 Forced upon me, can’t refuse it. Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it.
But it’s up to me to use it. I must suffer if I lose it.
Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny minute, but eternity is in it.”

Elijah Cummings was living with a serious, life-threatening illness. But he was passionate about working for justice. He lived with a sense of urgency, conscious about being effective with every minute he was given.  His life can inspire and challenge us.
We are living in a time of new reformation. God is working to create a new church and a new world, and wants to use us as instruments of justice and reconciliation in the world.
So—on this Reformation Sunday and in the coming days, as we look around at the world and see things that are not right, let us be praying that we may respond to the challenges of our time with courage and hope.
   In the words of our Presbyterian “Brief Statement of Faith:” “In a broken and fearful world, the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.”[4]
Thanks be to God!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Guest Preacher
St. John Presbyterian Church
Detroit, Michigan
October 27, 2019

[1] John M. Buchanan, “Values Worth Fighting For,” at his blog Hold to the Good.

[2] Luke 18:1-5
[4] “A Brief Statement of Faith,” 1990. Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Sunday, August 25, 2019

"Why We Can't Wait," a sermon on Luke 13:10-17, preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Detroit


"Why We Can't Wait"

Luke 13:10-17

The story we just heard goes straight to the heart of Jesus’ mission as proclaimed in Luke’s gospel.  Earlier in the gospel, in chapter 4, Jesus was also in a synagogue on the Sabbath when he first announced his mission, describing it in terms of human liberation and justice and abundance: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19).
In today’s reading, the theme of liberation resonates strongly. When Jesus sees the woman, he calls to her and says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Later, when Jesus debates the leader of the synagogue and asks, “Should not this woman be set free from her bondage on the sabbath day?”  he is drawing directly from Deuteronomy 5, the version of the commandment that connects Sabbath rest to Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt.
The synagogue leader was indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, and said, “There are six days for work. So, come and be healed on those days—not on the Sabbath.  But Jesus remembers that the Sabbath law commemorates Israel’s liberation, so he interprets it to be a day for enacting liberation in the present.  To those who want the woman to wait, he says, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?  Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham…be set free on the Sabbath day from what has bound her?”

            In his 1964 book, Why We Can’t Wait, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr writes about 1963 as a pivotal year in the American Civil Rights movement.  He includes his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which is a call for urgency. 
            Dr. King wrote the letter as a response to eight local white clergymen who had criticized his activities in Birmingham and appealed for a more patient and restrained approach to advocating for civil rights. The "Letter" expresses King's deep disappointment with "the white moderate," who "paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom."
The gospel story we heard today is not just a healing story. Luke doesn’t really include details about the healing itself. I agree with one of my colleagues that, at its core, it's a story about what God intends. It's about the urgency of seeing God's intentions brought to pass without delay.[1]
            The primary argument of Dr. King’s “Letter” still speaks to us today, which is why in 2018 the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) began a process toward amending the Book of Confessions to potentially include the letter.

The synagogue leader in today’s gospel story objects to healing this woman on the Sabbath.  Her condition isn’t life-threatening. She’s learned to live with it over almost two decades. So he doesn’t see why she couldn’t just wait a little while longer.  The synagogue leader has misunderstood the basic intention of observing the Sabbath.
            But Jesus reveals a deep logic for why the woman should be restored now. According to Deuteronomy, the Sabbath offers a weekly reminder of how much God values freedom and detests injustice:
“Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work -- you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.  Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore, the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.”[2]
The original intention of the Sabbath, according to Deuteronomy, is to provide relief, even if only temporary, from any system that would deny a person -- or any part of creation -- a share of rest, peace, wholeness, dignity, and justice.  So, when the synagogue official says, "Wait just one more day." Jesus answers, "No. The Sabbath is a good day for setting people free. In fact, the purpose behind the Sabbath -- the value God places on wholeness – makes it necessary that I do this now. We can't wait."
In Luke 13, Jesus reaffirms what his scriptures have taught him.  As Matt Skinner puts it, “to perpetuate injustice is to defile the holiness of the weekly Sabbath day that God ordained. To deny freedom is to offend the God of the Exodus. It's because of who God is that Jesus can't wait.”

            Now, the white religious leaders whom Dr. King addressed in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” reflected the views of a majority of American society at the time. One survey from 1964 found that 63% of Americans agreed that “civil rights leaders are trying to push too fast” and 58% agreed that the actions of people of color have, “on the whole, hurt their cause.”[3]

            Dr. King criticized white faith leaders and churches that perpetuate injustice by hiding behind theologies that expect God’s blessings to come only in the future.  What’s the old saying, “There’ll be pie in the sky, in the sweet by and by, after you die:

            So, why do some people have a sense of urgency about working for justice, while others just don’t?   Why are some people ready to confess and repent of what the Rev. Jim Wallis calls “America’s original sin,”[4] while others refuse to acknowledge any ways they may benefit from privilege? Why do some react with defensiveness, silence, or argumentativeness when the conversation makes them feel uncomfortable?

            I think much of the resistance comes from fear.  In the church, whether it’s local congregations or presbyteries or denominations, some are afraid of causing conflict…or alienating people, who may leave the church or withhold financial support. Some are afraid of change and becoming a different kind of church that they can’t yet imagine.
            Twenty years ago, when I was fairly new to the presbytery, I was part of the Presbytery’s Anti-Racism Team, which was commissioned and went through a lot of intensive training, to try to deal with structural racism in the presbytery, in response to some events of the time. Over the years, there was pushback, and eventually we no longer had a Presbytery Anti-Racism Team.   Our Presbytery is struggling again…still with racism.  It’s time to do the work that leads to liberation and healing. We can’t wait.

            This past week, The New York Times published “The 1619 Project” to re-examine the legacy of slavery in the United States and timed for the 400th anniversary of the arrival in America of the first enslaved people from West Africa.[5]  The project’s essays trace links from America’s slave-owning history through the Jim Crow era and into persistent racial inequalities today. The project is an attempt to correct America’s historical ignorance about the causes of contemporary injustice, to place “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story Americans tell ourselves about who we are.[6]

            Predictably, there has been a backlash from some people who hold onto a particular vision of patriotism that centers on the ideal of white innocence, who are angry and uncomfortable with the reporting and insist that structural racism is a myth.[7]
            Look around our region and our nation.  Just this week a candidate for City Council in Marysville, Michigan made national headlines with her statements about her conviction that their city needed to remain a mostly white city, and that interracial couples are breaking God’s law. Does she think she’s a racist?
            Our national government has policies and practices that dehumanize immigrants and those who seek asylum. We have elected officials who promote hatred and division for political gain. 
            Young people and others around our nation tell us they’re afraid because of gun violence…and they want to feel safe.  The list could go on and on…

Talking about injustice and racism are hard, but necessary.  We can’t wait.
We need to learn how to talk respectfully and constructively with one another.  We need to learn to listen to one another to build true understanding and empathy.
A lot of white people don’t like to think that we’ve benefitted from white privilege, or that we do or say racist things without even being conscious of it. And yet, some of us have committed ourselves to gather to discuss books like Waking Up White[8] or White Fragility[9] and have felt challenged and encouraged to continue to grow as anti-racists. We have a number of other excellent resources available that could be the basis of these conversations, like Ibram Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning and Ijeomo Oluo’s So You Want to Talk about Race.

We need to learn how to be together, to be honest and respectful and kind with one another, and find ways for the healing we need to begin, so we can all be set free from whatever has bound us.  We need to work together and live further into Beloved Community together.
We live in such a broken, hurting world. We look around our cities and the world, and it can feel overwhelming.  But we follow Jesus, in his Way of love and justice. We are called to carry out his mission of healing and liberation.
Part of the good news is that we are not alone.  We have been baptized into God’s family and are blessed to be part of congregations where we can be nurtured and encouraged and challenged to grow in love and faith. And we have resources in the presbytery. For those who are seeking learning opportunities, you might check out Table Setters groups in our presbytery or the group that’s forming under the Rev. Kevin Johnson’s leadership.

            As a diverse, multicultural congregation, Westminster Church has some unique opportunities to practice living into Beloved Community and to embody God’s love and justice in and for the world.  

            We can’t wait.  In the words of our Presbyterian “Brief Statement of Faith,” the good news is that, “in a broken and fearful world, the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.…
            “With believers in every time and place, we can rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[10]
            Praise be to God!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Guest Preacher

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Detroit

August 25, 2019

[1] Matthew L. Skinner, “Why We Can’t Wait,” from ON Scripture.

[2] Deuteronomy 5:12-15

[4] Jim Wallis, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Brazos Press, 2016.
[8] Debby Irving, Waking Up White.  Elephant Room Press, 2014. This book was commended to the Presbyterian Church (USA) by our previous Co-Moderators of the General Assembly.

[9] Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Beacon Press, 2018.  For a 20-minute introduction to DiAngelo’s work, you can watch the video of her work with a Methodist Church group:

[10] Presbyterian Church (USA), “Brief Statement of Faith” (1990), in Presbyterian Book of Confessions.