Monday, December 21, 2015

"Saying Yes to God". A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on the 4th Sunday of Advent, on Luke 1.

"Saying Yes to God"
Luke 1, on the 4th Sunday of Advent

Angels don’t show up very often in the Scriptures.  But when they do appear, usually something BIG... strange...  and wonderful is about to happen.
            The angel Gabriel came to tell Mary that she had been chosen by God to help change the world,  by bearing the Christ.
Though Gabriel called Mary "favored one,"  she didn't feel favored-- at least not at first.  She felt perplexed.  “How can this be?”
            And yet Mary responded to Gabriel by saying,  "Here am I, the servant of the Lord.  Let it be with me according to your word."
            In other words, Mary says,  "I'm not sure what all of this means.  but nevertheless,   here I am, ready to be of service in God's work.  Whatever you say, God."
            What a wonderful, faithful thing for Mary to say!   It couldn't have been an easy decision for her.  Change never is.
            There was a lot at stake for Mary.  She was young.  Her marriage to Joseph had been arranged, and she was full of plans for her life and their future together.  She had some sense of what kind of life it would be...   some idea about what she could expect in life.
            Mary was poor...  and vulnerable.   As a female, her economic SURVIVAL depended on marriage.  Her security depended on her attractiveness as a wife and mother.         So--  what did it mean for a girl like Mary to say yes to God’s plan?
            It meant risking all that she had hoped for...   all her plans for her life.    It meant risking her security.  And it meant risking her very LIFE.  The penalty for a woman caught in ADULTERY in her day could be public STONING.  If Joseph believed that her pregnancy was a result of an illicit affair,  then-- by LAW-- Mary could be taken to the edge of town and STONED to death.
            Mary's story reminds us that to be God's servant in the world means risking radical changes in our priorities.  It means placing our very lives into God's hands.   It means trusting in God to CARE for us—even through dangerous times.
            Yet Mary responded in obedience and trust and courage.   "Here I am, Lord."  I'll be your servant." 
            If Mary's DECISION was extraordinary,  her RESPONSE to the decision was even more extraordinary. 
            Luke tells us--  after the angel left-- Mary hurried to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who had been unable to bear children all her life.  As proof that nothing is impossible with God--  the angel Gabriel had told Mary that Elizabeth was six months pregnant in her old age.
            When Elizabeth hears Mary's voice, the child leaps in her womb, and she knows that she has been especially touched by God.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth calls out:  "You are BLESSED among women.  Blessed is she who believed that God's promise would be fulfilled!"
            By declaring both Mary and the fruit of her womb “blessed,” Elizabeth begins a series of blessings that weave through Luke’s birth narrative and intensify its tone of joy and praise.  Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon will all add their blessings, praising God for what God is doing at this moment in history   and recognizing that those who are privileged to be instruments of God’s saving work have been richly blessed.  
            Mary's song is a song of JOY and PRAISE.      "My soul magnifies the Lord,  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on, all generations will call me blessed."
            Joy comes to us as a GIFT--  often an unexpected gift.  So all we can really do is to receive it...   believe in it...  and stop doing things that get in its way.
            That's what happened to Mary at Elizabeth's house.  She stopped wringing her hands   and wondering what in the world she was going to do next.  She got surprised by JOY and started singing a song the church is still singing to this day.

            Mary has been a model of faith for Christians through the centuries.  God needed Mary's freely given "YES"  to God's gracious invitation to become the Mother of Jesus.  The mystery of INCARNATION could not have taken place without Mary's wholehearted "YES".  And that "YES"  couldn't have taken place without Mary's unbounded trust in God.

            Do you wonder?  How was such radical obedience and openness on Mary's part made possible?  How did she get from saying, “How can this be?”—to “Let it be, according to God’s word”?
            I think it grew out of the sense of trust that had developed in her as she heard the stories of the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob...  and how God had always dealt with her people.  That long history had taught her two things about God--  that God was utterly mysterious...  and yet always good.   God's ways are almost never obvious...  but they inevitably work out better than we could imagine.   And that's some of the GOOD NEWS of God. 

            The old King James Version puts part of Mary’s song of praise this way:  “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”  I think that’s an especially apt translation, for it is by our imagining, by what our hearts picture in fear or desire, that we humans are pushed and pulled in our many directions.
            Imagination can be a channel for our destruction—especially when fear and resentment prevail.  But it can also serve to gather and bless and inspire us.   

            We live in a society in which the gap between the rich and poor has widened…  a society in which many people of goodwill are finding it important and necessary to declare that black lives matter… where it’s important and necessary to stand in solidarity with our Muslim neighbors.   We live in a time of fear and suspicion of people who are different… and a growing number of people believe they need guns to protect themselves against all the terrible things they imagine.   
            We live in a world in which many people lack adequate food or safe water or shelter or sanitation.   The list could go on and on.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. 
            As I was working on this sermon, I was reminded of a photo I saw some time ago Facebook:  a young Palestinian mother in Gaza is holding her newborn child, saying,  “I hope my daughter will live in peace.”   Imagine it!  Is anything impossible for God?
            I’ve really grown to love the season of Advent.  As Gracia Grindal writes in one of her hymns, “We light the Advent candles against the winter night.”  Not “because of” or “during,” but “against” the winter night.   The light of Advent, like the light of Christ, is a protest to the darkness that surrounds us.[1] 
            Instead of being overwhelmed and despairing over what’s wrong in the world or trying to trying to avoid it by working to “have ourselves a merry little Christmas,” the themes and the music of Advent can point us to another way:  the way of hope.  They way of joyful obedience that Mary models for us—working with God to change the world.

            I heard a story about a hungry child in a poor community who prayed fervently one Christmas for some food and toys, but nothing happened.   A cynical friend asked her with a sneer,  "What happened to this God of yours?  Why didn't He hear and answer you?'
            The child answered simply,  "Oh, I'm sure God did hear me...  and told someone to bring me a Christmas gift.  But I guess they just forgot."[2]
            I think more often than not, this is where the breakdown occurs:   not with God-- but with us.  God, for reasons of God's choosing, wants to involve us humans in completing the creation.  God invites us into the JOY of this, but we hear too faintly...  and forget too quickly.  
            In Advent, we’re reminded of the reason for this holy season.  When circumstances are dark and difficult, we need to look beyond ourselves for salvation.  We need to listen again for God’s promises   and for signs that “the world is about to turn.”
            If you read through the first few chapters of Luke, you’ll notice that there are several songs.   Mary sings the “Magnificat” in today’s story.  Zehariah sings when his son John is born and his tongue is finally loosened.  The angels sing of peace and goodwill when they share their “good news of great joy” with the shepherds.  And Simeon sings his song of farewell when he has seen God’s promises fulfilled. 
            Why all these songs?  I think David Lose is right when he suggests that singing can be an act of resistance.   African slaves knew this.  When they sang their spirituals, they were praising God and also protesting the injustices of their lives and even pointing the way to freedom. 
            The civil rights leaders knew this, too, singing songs like “We Shall Overcome” and other freedom songs.
            The protesters in Leipzig in 1989 knew this as well.  For several months before the fall of the Berlin wall, the citizens of Leipzig gathered on Monday evenings by candlelight around St. Nikolai Church—the church where Bach composed so many of his cantatas—to sing.  Over two months, their numbers grew from a little more than a thousand people to more than three hundred thousand—over half the citizens of the city.  They sang songs of hope and protest and justice, until their song shook the powers of their nation and changed the world. 
            Later, when someone asked one of the officers of the Stasi, the East German secret police, why they did not crush this protest like they had so many others, the officer replied, “We had no contingency plan for song.”[3]
            Today, I hope that as we are gathered around this word from the gospel, we will to imagine ourselves alongside Mary, seeing history’s hard cruelty give way to hope and gracious surprise.   Let us sing Mary’s song of praise with her...  and envision the vindication of the poor.   
            A lot of what we do when we come together in worship is practicing this imagination of the heart, by the gift and command of God.  In the liturgy, we imagine that love rules already,  that the lowly are lifted up, that death is conquered, sin cleansed away... peace triumphant...and Christ touched and seen and tasted.  On the verge of Christmas, we imagine and sing with Mary.
            Imagine with the Magnificat its dream of a justice that redistributes wealth and privilege and power.   Imagine a world where the lion and the lamb can be together in peace… where those who have been proud and rich can be in solidarity with those who yearn for a turning of the socio-economic tables… imagine discovering that there can be enough for everyone in God’s realm.           
            And remember that we're invited to participate more fully in God's saving work in the world. 
            Mary was invited to bear Christ.  And so, my friends, are we. 
            We can choose to say YES to God, and open ourselves to let God use us as instruments of love and grace and mercy and justice and peace.
Today’s gospel story is about Mary.  But it’s your story and mine as well.  God has chosen each of us, favored each of us, graced each of us.
By the power of God’s Spirit, God has descended upon us and conceived Christ in us.   We are called to be God-bearers,   calling that can bring with it extraordinary privileges as well as significant hardships.  But the promise remains the same: nothing is impossible for the One we serve and bear.
We are called to bear the love of Christ out into the world...  and let it transform the world, as it transforms us. 
            " Let it be with me.  Let it be with us, according to your Word.”  Let it be!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
December 20, 2015


[1] David Lose, “Singing As An Act of Resistance, at his blog “In the Meantime” at

[2]John Claypool in Lectionary Homiletics, Dec. 1996, p. 33.
[3] David Lose, “Singing As An Act of Resistance, at, December 14, 2015.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"What Should We Do?" A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on the Third Sunday of Advent, on Luke 3:7-18

"What Should We Do?:
Luke 3:7-18

The third Sunday of Advent has traditionally been known as Joy Sunday.   That’s why we lit the pink candle today and heard the apostle Paul urging the church to “Rejoice always and in everything.”
            Yet, as I meditated on the scripture passages for this Sunday, I kept remembering how painful a season this can be for many people--  people who are lonely, people who are grieving the loss of a loved one,  people who are struggling with illness and wondering where God is in the midst of it all…  people who are depressed,  people who are trying to maintain their sobriety during a season of parties… people who are too poor to be a part of the festival of extravagance the merchants would have us believe is what Christmas is all about. 
            There are people who are hungry or food insecure...or who are worrying about how they’ll pay their bills.  Then there are terrible events that have filled the headlines in recent weeks. The list could go on and on. 
            We grieve that there’s so much wrong in the world.  We’re still waiting for the kingdom of God, and we yearn for it.  We wait and hope for what we can’t yet see.
            During the weeks of Advent, we’re in a conversation with the Old Testament prophets and John the Baptizer.  In the scriptures, we hear words of consolation and of challenge.   Today we hear John the Baptist saying to the people who came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”               
            What do we make of this blunt talk?  Where’s the good news in it?
            Apparently, a lot of the people who came out to hear John the Baptizer’s message did hear his message as good news.  Gospel from God.   Some of them even started to wonder whether John was the messiah they’d been waiting for. 
            Things were terribly wrong.  The people were living under the occupation of the Roman empire, and at the mercy of tyrants like Herod or dishonest tax collectors.  Things were wrong, but they were hoping God was going to do something about it.  
            One of my colleagues suggests that when John compared people to a brood of vipers,  he was saying they are like snakes curled up in hiding inside a pile of logs.  When the fire of God’s judgment comes near, when the light of truth exposes us, we try to slink out from under God’s gaze.[1] 
            “Hey, don’t look at me!  I didn’t mess the world up!” we protest.  “I’m okay.  After all, I’m a child of Abraham.  It’s those tax collectors and Pilate and Herod that are to blame.  It’s those criminals and greedy corporate honchos and crooked politicians   or those terrorists--  fill in the blank—it’s those other people who are to blame for this mess--  not me!” 
            We make excuses and look for others to blame precisely because in our heart of hearts we know that we are not clean.  We, too, have contributed to the mess.
            I think John the Baptist is right.  “This means you,” he declares.  “Don’t even think about relying on the fact that you’re a child of Abraham…or a good Christian…or whatever, to exempt you.”
            So…how can a message like this be good news?

            I’m grateful to Richard Rohr for some new insights on John the Baptist I found in his book, Jesus’ Plan for a New World.[2]   Father Rohr, who is a Franciscan priest, suggests that John the Baptist is probably far more important than we have realized.   The beginning of the gospels tell us that John appeared and preached in the wilderness, “proclaiming a gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” 
            John “cries out in the wilderness,” radically questioning the very legitimacy of the existing religious order,  and showing how religion needs to constantly reform.  The keepers of the religious status quo kept sending people out to question John.  
            When John preached a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, it was revolutionary.  Jews were supposed to follow the Law—the Holiness Codes of Torah, and this upstart was making it too easy to get God to love you and forgive you.  He was making it seem that God was as available as the water of the Jordan River. 
            The people were filled with expectation,  and they were questioning in their hearts, whether John might be the Messiah they were looking for.  But John was pointing to the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire. 

            Luke's gospel tells us that Mary found out that she was pregnant with the Son of the Most High God she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  When Mary spoke, Elizabeth's child leaped for joy in her womb.
            That child grew up to be John the Baptizer.  God called him to be a witness to the light of God, revealed in Christ.  John knew that a lot of things get in the way of receiving God's love and joy.   That's why John was preaching about getting ready for the more powerful one who was coming.   Prepare the way!  Repent! 
            In Charles Dickens' play, "A Christmas Carol,"  Ebenezer Scrooge is London's most notorious miser.  He's a mere shadow of the joyful person he was created to be,  hunched up against the world...  stingy and suspicious.  When the Ghost of Christmas Future shows Scrooge his own grave,  the knowledge that he will die breaks through all the defenses.  He's overwhelmed with a piercing sense of remorse for how he has been living.  He repents!
            Seeing the light of truth after living in the darkness for so long can be scary.   But what follows his rebirth into new life-- is joy!
            This Advent, John the Baptizer comes to us, telling us that we need to change our ways.
            The message of Advent is that God in Christ is coming into the world.  In Jesus, God's Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.   What came into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

            Edward Hicks was an American sign and stagecoach painter in the early nineteenth century.  He’s known almost exclusively for his many paintings of the Peaceable Kingdom. 
            One of these, entitled The Peaceable Kingdom with Quakers Bearing Banners,  was painted during a time when tension and separation had split American Quakers into two groups.  In the background is a cluster of very somber-looking people.  But in the foreground is a depiction of the peaceable kingdom:  a leopard is lying down with a lamb.  A little child is embracing a lion. 
            Those somber-looking people in the background are connected to the peaceable kingdom by a banner that declares, “Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy.”  The sinuous ribbon with its beginning in the mists of eternity weaves its way through and among them, braiding them together.
            Our Christian joy and faith aren’t based solely on the evidence we see in the present-- but on the hope of the future.  Our Christian joy comes to us in our experience of God’s presence.   So how are we called to live?
            Three times in today’s gospel lesson…  “What should we do?”   That’s a question for us today.
            What should we do, as we yearn for God’s peaceable kingdom?  What should we do, to live more fully into the reign of God? 
            I don’t have any simple answers for you today.  But I think our faith is calling us to move beyond the simple answers on either side of  important issues, to listen to one another’s perspectives, and to pray together and work together, and open ourselves to the Spirit’s leading.
            One of the challenges we face today is our desire to live in safety, while responding faithfully to the needs of our neighbors near and far.  It isn’t uncommon during an election season for us to hear political rhetoric that plays on our fears.  But we need to learn from our history... and be guided by our faith.
            During Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, too many religious leaders and others were silent.  When fear and xenophobia prevail, there can be terrible consequences.
            Some of us are starting to think about historical parallels between the current debate over Syrians seeking refuge in the United States and the plight of European Jews fleeing German-occupied territories on the eve of World War II. 
            Among the many who tried-- and failed—to escape Nazi persecution was Otto Frank and his family, which included his wife, Edith, and his daughters, Margot and Anne.  The Frank family visa application documents were discovered in a New Jersey warehouse in 2007. 
            As historian Richard Brietman wrote, “Otto Frank’s efforts to get his family to the United States ran afoul of restrictive American immigration policies designed to protect national security and guard against an influx of foreigners during time of war.”[3]  And so Anne Frank and her family perished in concentration camps. 
            In contrast to those who were silent and passive during the horrors of the Holocaust, an entire town in occupied France sheltered 5,000 Jews at great risk in a “conspiracy of goodness.” 
             In occupied France, collaborators delivered 83,000 Jews, including 10,000 children, to the Nazi death camps, and only 3,000 returned.  But the residents of Le Chambon and the surrounding area quietly took in and saved as many Jews as their entire population, who came to them for shelter and refuge. 
            The people of Le Chambon were Reformed Christians, descendants of the French Hueggenots.   Motivated by their faith, they welcomed the refugees and housed them in private homes, on farms, as well as in local schools.   You can read about this in the book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed.[4]
            What should we do?  
            This Advent, God is ready to be born in the cradle of our hearts and lives, either for the first time or as a renewed birth, as God-with-us reaches new depths within our very souls.  And this, my friends, is reason for JOY! 
            Do you remember what Ebenezer Scrooge was like when he was re-born that Christmas?  He couldn't keep his joy to himself!  He was filled with the joy of new life...   and he just had to share his joy with others!
            When we receive the JOY of Jesus Christ, we're called to proclaim the light that outshines all darkness.  We're called to carry the light out into the world    and be witnesses of the light. 
            God calls us out of darkness--  into the Light that overcomes the darkness.  Our job as we wait for Christ to come again in power and glory is to proclaim the good news of Jesus, who is the light of the world… the Christ who calls us to live lives that reflect his light!  
We are called to feed the hungry…and minister to the sick… to show God’s mercy and justice in our lives.  In the passage we heard on Christ the King Sunday about the final judgment.  Let’s see if you can fill in the blanks in what Jesus said:   “I was hungry and you [fed] me.  I was thirsty, and you gave me [something to drink].   I as in prison, and you [visited] me.  I was a stranger, and you [welcomed] me.”[5]   
In the words of one of my favorite hymns, we are called to “live into hope--  of captives freed...  of sight regained...  the end of greed.”[6]  We are called to live as God’s blessed peacemakers.[7]
            On this Third Sunday of Advent, there is good news—joyful news.  No matter how dark things look, we know that darkness does not have the last word.  Jesus, the Light of the world, has come and shines in the darkness.  The darkness does not and will not overcome it.
            So--  let us rejoice always.[8]  Let us live prayerful lives-- lives that show gentleness to all we meet... and embody God’s love for those who are lonely and hurting.   Let us pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything…  for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us.
            The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
            Come, Lord Jesus!

[1] Mary Harris Todd, in a sermon at
[2] Richard Rohr, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount.  (Kindle Loc 1668)
[4] Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed:  The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There.  Harper, 1979. 
[5] Let it be noted:  there were responses to the “fill in the blanks.”  The people at Littlefield Presbyterian Church are well acquainted with Matthew 25.
[6] “Live Into Hope.”  Lyrics by Jane Parker Huber.
[7] Matthew 5, in what we know as “The Beatitudes.”
[8] Philippians 4:4-7

Sunday, December 6, 2015

"An Audacious Promise": A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on Luke 3:1-6 on the Second Sunday of Advent.

"An Audacious Promise"
Luke 3:1-6

            We’ll be hearing a lot from the Gospel according to Luke in the coming year.   This week’s reading tells about the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist.   Luke first identifies John by placing him in historical context, much like how the Old Testament prophets were introduced.
            The word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah the priest, in the wilderness.  But Luke lets us know that it happens in the wilderness of the political world:  during the reigns of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee.   The major focus for Luke is salvation, but it’s important for Luke, that we understand the political reality of the day-- to understand the world into which God is bringing salvation. 
            But Luke doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to the “spiritual” or “religious” power structure as well, by naming the high priests Annas and Caiaphas.  Now the high priesthood was subject to annual re-appointment by the Roman authority, so Luke may be listing them as another part of the political hierarchy. 
            In any case, this is the messy reality of the world, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius.  The word of God came to John in the wilderness, and spoke through John to a wounded world. 
            God chooses a nobody—John.   John became an itinerant preacher, and he went into all the region around the Jordan River, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, “as it is written in the book of the words of 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. 
            Such an audacious promise!  Do we have an audacious-enough hope to believe it?
            This has been another tough week.  And yet—though we may feel as saddened… as sickened every time—we don’t feel as shocked or surprised when we hear of a mass shooting.
            Three years ago on a Saturday afternoon in early Advent I was frantically re-working part of my sermon for the next morning, because the day before a gunman had entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children and six adults.  We sounded the chimes on the organ for each life that was lost.  But we’ve had so many mass shootings since then that we’ve given up on sounding the chimes for all the souls lost.         
            This Advent,  pastors have been agonizing again over sermons following yet another massacre.  And some of us feel the need to address what may be on people’s minds after the headline on the front page of the New York Daily News:  “Fourteen Dead in California Mass Shooting.  God Isn’t Fixing This.”
            I think this and articles from Sojourners and other publications are pointing to the hypocrisy of politicians who offer “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families while opposing laws that might prevent some of the massacres. 
            So what do we do in response to these horrific events?  Do we chime in with more platitudes?   “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families.”   Or does our faith call us to do something?  What could we do that could make a difference?   I don’t have any easy answers for you this morning, but we need to be talking and praying about what we could do as a community of faith, and as part of the connectional church and the interfaith community, working together.
            I’ve been paying attention to what I’ve heard some of you have been saying…and what people have been saying on social media.  Some people are angry at God.  Some are angry at “those people.”  Some are despairing…and hopeless.  Some—many—are afraid. 
            As people of faith, we need to ask, “Where is God in the midst of this?”
            What I do know with certainty is that God does not will these horrific massacres.  The God who created the world and said, “It is good,”  the God who created human beings in the divine image, the God who is love, the God who loves the world does not cause massacres as part of some divine plan. 
            I agree with Roger Owens, who wrote this week, “The only one who hates this violence more than we do is God.”[2]   I believe that in some ways that we don’t fully understand, God was with each of those who were wounded or killed. 
            But I don’t believe that God is going to fix the violence in our nation and in the world, in the way some people might wish-- because God’s way of fixing” is by working through human beings. 
            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,[3]  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.  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 yet.  Throughout the Bible, God used unlikely characters to announce God’s redemption and to embody God’s love and justice and peace in the world.   God keeps using unlikely characters, like you and me.
            In the fifteenth year of the twenty-first century, when Barack Obama was President of the United States, and Rick Snyder was governor of Michigan, and Jack O’Reilly was mayor of Dearborn and Mike Duggan was mayor of Detroit, and Gradye Parsons was Stated Clerk and Heath Rada was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the word of the Lord came to Littlefield Presbyterian Church in Dearborn!
            The word of God came to John in the wilderness, and he went into all  the region proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Repent.  Turn.  Change. 
            John quoted the prophet Isaiah:  “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.…”
            Preparing the Lord’s path toward peace and justice requires changing the world as we know it.  John quotes Isaiah to describe the earthshaking transformation that needs to take place.  Imagine it:  valleys filled full, mountains and hills humbled—made low.  Everything crooked made straight and true.  Mary sings of the God who has looked on her humble state.  She praises the One who saves by dethroning the powerful and exalting the humble… sending the rich away empty-handed and filling up the hungry.[4]
            Remember how Jesus turned conventional, worldly says upside-down? He blessed the poor and the hungry but announced woe for the rich and well-fed.[5]  On the Day of Pentecost, Peter warns the people, “Be saved from this crooked generation.”[6]  In the Greek, “crooked”, skolia, 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 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 the landscape of our minds and hearts   and to let God work through us to re-shape the world’s social systems. 
            But there’s good news too.  God’s ways lead to salvation.  God’s glory will be revealed in Jesus, who comes to save us.  This is the good news that John proclaims, and it’s good news for us and for the whole world:  all flesh will see God’s salvation.  All humanity will see God’s salvation. 
            This is God’s audacious promise, and our audacious hope.  Let’s prepare the way!
            So be it!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
December 6, 2015       


[1] Isaiah 40:
[2] The Rev. Dr. L. Roger Owens, “God Isn’t Fixing This,” posted at the PTSBLOG at  Dr. Owens teaches at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

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