Sunday, December 18, 2016

"The Good News of God With Us", a Sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

"The Good News of God-With-Us"
Matthew 1:18-25

         We don't know very much about Joseph.  But in today's account in Matthew, Joseph was a central character.  Matthew tells us that Joseph makes the disturbing and painful discovery that his fiancée is pregnant.           According to first century Jewish law, their engagement—or betrothal—was the first stage of the marriage contract.  For all intents and purposes, then, Mary and Joseph were married, but hadn’t yet moved in with each other or consummated their union.  That would have taken place a few months later, when there would be a feast to celebrate when Joseph took Mary to his home.
         We’re so used to hearing the beautiful story of Jesus’ birth that we risk not hearing what Matthew is telling us here:  this is an unplanned  pregnancy.   Joseph knows he isn’t the father.  In their patriarchal culture, the birth of the first born son was all important-- and crucial to the family line and property transfer.   He’s supposed to believe that Mary’s baby is from the Holy Spirit? 
         In our own time,  when a lot of people raise children without benefit of marriage, the issue of legitimacy may sound a bit quaint.  But the heart of this story is much bigger and more profound than that.  The heart of the story is about a just man--  a good, decent, conventional,  law-abiding man of first century Palestine--   who wakes up one day to find his life turned upside-down.  His betrothed wife is pregnant, and decent, conventional men of his time did not marry girls who are “found to be with child by someone else.”   It would have been obvious to anyone in the neighborhood that Mary had betrayed his trust and the very order of things.
Mary's pregnancy forces Joseph to consider his options.  He’s a righteous man, which means that he loves God and tries his best to follow God's laws in his own life.  So he turns to that law for guidance in what to do with Mary. 
According to Jewish law, Joseph had two options.  He could bring charges against Mary in a public trial.  He could accuse her of adultery.  This might have resulted in her death, by stoning.
The second option would be to divorce her quietly, without pressing charges against her.  In the presence of two witnesses, he could write out a paper of divorce and present it to her.   
         Joseph had decided to take the second option and divorce Mary quietly.  Instead of invoking the law, he decides to arrange for her to go away from the accusing eyes of neighbors, have her baby discreetly, and then each will go their separate ways.
         Joseph must have been having a restless night, tossing and turning,  when an angel of the Lord comes to him in a dream, and tells him he has an important role to play in God’s salvation plan.            He hears the angel saying, "Don't be afraid, Joseph.   The child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  God wants you to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”    
         The way Matthew tells it, everything hangs on what Joseph decides.  If Joseph believes the angel and obeys, the story can continue.  Mary will have a home and a family...  and her child will be born the son of David. 
But what if Joseph doesn't believe?  What if he wakes up from his dream and divorces Mary?  Then she’d be an outcast--  possibly killed by her family for disgracing them and herself...   or disowned by them and left to scratch out her living however she can--  feeding herself and her illegitimate child on whatever she can beg or steal.  She and the baby would be marginalized and vulnerable.
         The child is Joseph's until he says otherwise.  Whether or not he is the biological father, Joseph becomes the child's father the moment he says so, because the issue at stake is not simply a biological one but a legal one.  Jewish law states:  "If someone says,  'This is my son,'  he is so attested."
         According to Matthew, Joseph's belief is as crucial to the story as Mary's womb.  It takes both parents to give birth to this remarkable child:  Mary to give him life...   and Joseph to adopt him and give him a NAME--   Jesus, son of David, from whose house the Messiah shall come.
         The story is about a righteous man who looks at a mess he didn’t create--   and decides to trust that God is present in it. 
         Joseph's conventional sense of right and wrong and righteousness gives way to God's.  Joseph trusts and obeys...   and decides to take Mary home with him to be his wife.
         This is a beautiful example of self-sacrificing love and grace.  The LAW stated his options clearly.  They both involved judgment and punishment.  But Joseph is challenged to be bound by an even greater law--  the law of LOVE.
         This man who has always seen righteousness as a matter of following the rules, coloring inside the lines,  now trusts in the promise of the angel and takes Mary as his wife.  Here at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, Joseph becomes the primary example for true righteousness and faithful discipleship.  Everything in the drama of Jesus Christ that will unfold from this moment hinges upon this man and his righteousness. 

         Can we relate to this story?
         We look around the world-- Syria… Yemen… Darfur and South Sudan… Palestine and Israel…  and in our own nation, where many people feel anxious and hopeless… maybe even like strangers in a strange land. 
         We see things that are unjust.  We are appalled when we hear  words of bigotry and hatred.  We’re deeply concerned for those who are marginalized or oppressed.
         When we're presented day by day with circumstances beyond our control, we may be tempted to divorce ourselves from it all. 

         But then maybe we hear an ANGEL whispering in our ears:   "Don't be afraid.  God is here, in the midst of all this.   It may not be the life you had planned.  But God may be born here too--    if  you'll permit it."
         Can we hear God’s word for us?  Don’t be afraid.  Trust in God’s promises.  The messy, impossible things we see around us have the possibility of new life and new possibilities. 
         For that to happen, God needs human partners.  Joseph and Mary.  And  you and me.  Ordinary people who are willing to work with God, as partners in God’s plans for good.
         I love the way Barbara Brown Taylor puts it:  “Our lives...  our losses...   our Lord.   And not just each of us alone, but the whole church of God,  looking out at a world that seems to have run amuck... groaning in labor pains    and proclaiming over and over again to anyone who will HEAR that God is still with us...   that God is still being born--  in the mess  and through it...   within and among those who will still believe what angels tell them in their dreams.”[1]
         Sometimes that means sleeping on something, instead of being too  quick to think we know what God's will is.   Sometimes it means struggling with difficult issues.  Sometimes it means changing our minds about what's right and wrong.
         We live in a broken and fearful world.  But in the midst of chaos and fear and sadness, the message of Christmas is that God is with us. God has come to us in Jesus, full of grace and truth, to bring God’s amazing, transforming love to us.       
         I’ve started re-reading Rev. Dr. William Barber’s book, The Third Reconstruction, in preparation for our next Engage book group gathering in late January, and over the weekend I noticed one of the first passages I underlined a year ago.   Rev. Barber was talking about the influence his un-educated grandmamma had on him.  He recalls how when he was growing up, he’d sit in the kitchen as his grandmamma and others would cook quantities of food for the family and others.  She and some other ladies from church would gather food, anointing oil, and some money, and they’d say, “We’ll be back shortly.  We’ve got to go and hope somebody.”[2]
         As a young boy, he thought his uneducated grandmamma was mis-speaking-- that she mistook the word “hope” for “help.”  He thinks he may have even tried to correct her error in wording a time or two. 
         But looking back, he says he sees that Grandmamma articulated more theology in that single phrase than some preachers manage to get into an entire sermon. 
         “As a person of faith struggling to survive in a society that so often despised her and the people she loved most, my grandmamma knew that any prayers worth their salt had to be accompanied by food for the hungry. 
         She and other mothers of the church practiced ‘visitation’ as a spiritual discipline, every bit as important as Sunday worship or Holy Communion.  She knew in her bones that faith and works, belief and practice, were inseparable.  And she knew in her careful choice of words that love in action was not simply about helping people.  It was a practice of hope that both enabled others to keep going and helped her to keep her eyes on the prize and hold on. 
         Rev. Barber writes, “Though she had no formal training in theology, my grandmamma knew what the great German theologian Jurgen Moltmann said so clearly:  ‘Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it.  Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the good of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfilled presence.’”[3]

         Jesus is waiting to come into our hearts more fully this Christmas...  to changed us, little by little...    and to fill our lives with the wonder and joy of God's love… and invites us to work in partnership with him to bring the kingdom of love into the world.   
         Joseph believed the good news he heard from God, and he said YES to God's plan.  His heart and mind were changed, and he became God's partner in the divine salvation plan.
         May it be so with us!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
December 18, 2016

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, "Believing the Impossible," in Gospel Medicine.
[2] Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement (Beacon Press, 2016), p. 3.
[3] Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), p. 21.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Reason to Rejoice": A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on the Third Sunday of Advent.

"Reason to Rejoice"

Matthew 11:2-11; Isaiah 35:1019

         The third Sunday of Advent has traditionally been known as Joy Sunday.   That’s why we lit the pink candle today  Yet, as I meditated on the scripture passages for this Sunday,  I remember  how painful a season this can be for many people.   Some people are lonely… some are grieving the loss of a loved one, some are struggling with illness and wondering where God is in the midst of it all.  Some are struggling with depression or anxiety.  Some are trying to maintain their sobriety during a season of parties.  Some are too poor to be a part of the festival of extravagance the merchants would have us believe is what Christmas is all about.   
            We grieve that there’s so much wrong in our nation and in the world.  In the midst of all this, a lot of people may be wondering:  where’s the good news?
            I think when we look around our world, it exposes our brokenness as humans and as a society and our need for a Savior.  We live in a broken 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.

            In the gospel lesson we just heard, we hear John beginning to doubt his own message.   This is the same John who recognized Jesus from his mother's womb, leaping with joy when her cousin Mary came to visit.  John, who lived in the desert alone, crying out when anyone approached,  "Prepare the way of the Lord!"   John the Baptizer, who was there at Jesus’ baptism, when heaven opened and the spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove.     
            So what's happened to John--  that he should suddenly doubt Jesus' identity? "Are you the one who is to come--  or shall we look for another? Are you the one, Jesus?

            John had envisioned a mighty and powerful Messiah, who would sweep away all the wickedness of the world and destroy evil.  The Messiah will set the world straight.  Justice and righteousness will rule the day.  The oppressed will be liberated and the hungry will be fed.  Those who resist and continue to sin will be separated from the righteous like chaff from the wheat.  They'll be swept away and cast into the "unquenchable fire."
            That's what John expected and proclaimed.  That's what drew crowds to hear his message and be baptized.  Then Jesus arrived on the scene.  John stepped aside...  and essentially said,  "Go for it, Jesus!  Bring in the Kingdom!  Wipe out the old age, and bring in the new!"  And nothing happened.

            By this time, Jesus has preached the Sermon on the Mount.  He's healed people possessed by demons and raised Jairus' daughter from the dead.  His ministry has taken root, and a crowd of believers around him is growing.
            But nothing was happening the way John had thought it would.  The Messiah was supposed to change things.  He was supposed to fix it so that the wicked no longer prospered and the righteous people, like himself, were saved. 
            Things weren't going well for John.  He was in prison.           Nothing was happening the way he'd envisioned it.  At one word from the Messiah, the very walls of his prison should come tumbling down.  But far from rescuing John--  Jesus was into more and more trouble himself. Jesus wasn't throwing anybody into unquenchable fire.  He wasn’t wiping out sinners. No.  He was visiting them in their homes, and eating with them!
            So...  John finds himself not living in a new era-- but imprisoned in a very old world dungeon, with a lot of questions and doubts.  Sitting in the darkness of Herod's dungeon, John knew he may not have long to live.  He doesn't want to die still wondering about the Messiah, so he sends word to Jesus.  "Are you the one who is to come?  Or are we to wait for another?" 

            Could it be that John's question is our question today as well? By simple virtue of our being here this morning, we make the statement that we-- like John--  have recognized the Messiah in Jesus.  In our different ways, we're trying to prepare the way of the Lord.  Every week, we come together and confess our faith that Jesus is LORD.  Every week, we search for new, more effective ways to teach and preach and live that truth. 
            Along the way, we've acquired some definite ideas about our Lord.  As students of the Bible...  of tradition...  and of our own experience, we have certain expectations of Jesus and what he will do for us his people--  sooner or later.

            But—if we’re honest with ourselves-- who hasn't had DOUBTS?  Who has never--  in anger, hurt, disappointment, or loss-- asked John's question?   Jesus, are you the one?  Or shall we look for another?   Think about it.  When we look to other things for our joy and excitement and security-- haven't we gone off to look for another?   When other things take priority over worshiping God on Sunday mornings or in our lives—haven’t we gone off to look for another?  Are you the one, Jesus?  Or shall we look for another?
            We turn on the evening news, and sometimes it’s hard not to wonder, Jesus, are you the one--are shall we look for another?
            John was the one who had baptized Jesus a year or two before, but now he’s in prison.  Maybe John is wondering if all the preaching and  baptizing he did out in the wilderness meant anything at all, or whether his work for the kingdom of heaven had been for nothing.  Maybe he’d been wrong about Jesus, and he should see if there’s someone else out there who will make this a better world.  "Are you the one, or should we  look for another?”   John’s question gives voice to our doubts and uncertainty, even in the midst of anticipation.  
            John looked around the world and wonder, “If Jesus is the one, where’s the evidence that there’s a transformation underway?  Doesn’t the world look pretty much the same as it was before Jesus, in terms of idolatry, injustice exploitation, and violence?  It doesn’t look like things are getting better. 
            “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” is a question of longing -- longing for what we deeply hope, longing for promises to be fulfilled, even when it seems impossible.
            Jesus tells John’s friends, “Go back and tell my cousin John that things move in fits and starts, but there are always signs of hope. Sometimes when we aren’t seeing the results we’d hoped for,  when our lives aren’t the way we need or want them to be, we need to look a little differently at kingdom signs.  

            We might want to hand Jesus the ax John talked about, to see him chop down all the trees that don't bear good fruit. That might feel  satisfying to us.   But no-- Jesus sends us back into the wilderness of our lives, with words of love on our lips--  to help somebody carry a load of grief... to feed hungry people,   and give warm hats and gloves to those who need them...   or to bring cookies and carols and holiday cheer to a lonely shut-in.
            They seem like such small efforts.  But they are the tasks we have been given to do, while we wait.   And we have promised to try.
            During Advent, we're reminded that we wait for the second and final coming of Christ.  It’s a paradox:  Christ has come.  Christ is here with us.  Christ is yet to come.   But in the meantime, we're given the sight to see glimpses of God's Kingdom breaking in.  A kingdom that comes, not by force,  but by the birth of a child who came to life in a humble little stable, behind an inn.  The Kingdom of God was present in that common, yet extraordinary birth, as God was born as a helpless baby who came to live among us, full of grace and truth, to share our suffering and pain, to die for our sakes on the cross, and to be raised from the dead, conquering sin and death.  The mystery we celebrate at Christmas is the mystery of God-with-us. Emmanuel.  
            When Jesus sent word back to John—“the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them”—he wasn’t just cataloguing his previous day’s to-do list.  Nor was he simply quoting Isaiah.[1] 
            Most importantly, Jesus was encouraging John to cultivate an eschatological eyesight, to see past what is yet unfinished in our world in order to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God drawing near.

            A few years ago, near the end of the twentieth century, some people in the Presbyterian denomination pulled out their calculators and assessed things from a certain angle and then went public with a startling prediction.  Influenced by all the literature about the decline of the mainline church, they predicted that if present trends continued, Presbyterians would become virtually non-existent sometime in the twenty-first century. 
            They put this prediction in what they thought was a particularly clever way.  They said that, if present trends continued, Presbyterians would become “the Amish of the twenty-first century.”  It was a way of saying that, for all practical purposes, Presbyterians would be marginalized and irrelevant, as if we were horse-and-buggy people—totally out of date and rendered invisible by our irrelevance in a world that had totally eclipsed us. 
            Ted Wardlaw remembers that prediction was made in print and was repeated at any number of church meetings.  Whenever that prediction was voiced—“the Amish of the twenty-first century”—people laughed at how cleverly the thought was put.
            Then, ten years ago, in the fall of 2006, we watched as an Amish community in West Nickel Mines, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania grieved over and buried a group of their own children who had been slaughtered in their one-room school house by a rage-filled man with a gun that he finally turned on himself. 
            In the midst of their grieving, this Amish community paused to send a delegation to reach out in forgiveness and compassion to the widow and family of the one who had slaughtered their children, and even to provide financial support for them.  The world watched in disbelief as they summoned a strength that was impossible, humanly speaking, a strength that helped them deal with the sin and tragedy that had penetrated their world by beholding it all with the right kind of eyesight. 
            We watched as they returned love for evil, as they reached out in healing and redemption.  We watched in awe as they directed our gaze, if we had the eyesight ourselves to see it, toward a light shining in the darkness--  a light that the darkness could not overcome.
            What a witness!   In a world that can be dark and threatening and incomplete and full of terror, would that we can have the right kind of eyesight, as we move further into God’s future.

            On this Third Sunday of Advent, the rose-colored candle reminds us that God invites us into joy.  God offers us hope, trusting that the day is coming when that hope will become reality.
            In the meantime, every time we reach out with love, care, forgiveness, and compassion the Kingdom of God grows a little larger   and is that much closer to being fulfilled. 
            So-- in the meantime, let us look toward the light that shines in the darkness--  the light that darkness does not overcome.
            Come, Lord Jesus!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
December 11, 2016


[1] Isaiah 35:5

Sunday, December 4, 2016

"Daring to Hope": A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on the 2nd Sunday of Advent.

"Daring to Hope"

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

Here we are, only a few days into December, and we’re already headed into the second week of Advent.   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-- to deck the halls with boughs of holly and wreaths and candles. 
            In the midst of all the busy-ness, 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 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… and 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.
            Did you notice what 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 the 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…  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, we are still waiting and longing.   
            The people of Palestine still live under occupation in a conflict that looks hopeless to a lot of people.  Syrians who were forced from their homes are living in terrible conditions in refugee camps in neighboring countries or are internally displaced or are refugees in search of a place where their families can be safe and make a new beginning. 
            Children in Flint are dealing 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 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.
            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. 
            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.  We are called to live differently, but we still live in a broken world where injustice and oppression are the norm.   
            So… how are we to live?  Do we give in to hopelessness and despair? 
            How are we to live as a community of faith?  Do we dare to live in hope, and practice trusting in God to provide what we need to carry out the mission to which we are called?  Or do we surrender to fear… and circle the wagons and just try to survive for a while?  These are all matters of faith.
            The struggle to end oppression and build a better world is complicated…hard… messy… and scary. 
            How do we live in the time between the vision and the final fulfillment?
            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 the 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 sinner, 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 distorted by some.   Jesus wasn’t preaching a gospel of pie-in-the-sky, escapist hope, but a way of living into God’s dream for us and being part of God’s will being done on earth as in heaven—in the day-to-day reality of life. 
            When we repent—when 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.   The transformation Jesus talked about, we can no longer be content to exist under the old ways of the world.  
            God means for all God’s people to live in peace with one another with the whole creation.  God’s dream for us is for us to live together and to live lives of righteousness and justice.  But 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.  But 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.  We help schools and clinics in Palestine when we buy crafts from PalCraft Aid or fair trade Palestinian olive oil, and we let the people know that we have not forgotten them.
            When we buy fair trade chocolate, children in Africa and Latin America get to go to school, because their families earn a fair wage, and our purchase of fair trade coffee changes the lives of families.
            Shopping ethically and buying locally as much as possible makes a different to 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 by contacting our elected officials about issues that matter to us, 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 children.
            In this season of waiting, God comes to us and nudges us: “Look! Look -- there on the stump. Do you see that green shoot growing?”
            Can you see it?
Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
December 4, 2016

[1] “Brief Statement of Faith of the Presbyterian Church” (USA), 1990.