Sunday, February 26, 2017

"Holy Transformation." A Sermon on Transfiguration Sunday from Littlefield Presbyterian Church.

Freedom Stairway: 100 steps led up the hill to the Rankin house where, over a period of approximately forty years, hundreds of fugitive slaves were hidden until they could be moved safely to the next station on the Underground Railroad. 

"Holy Transformation"

Matthew 17:1-9 

We know from reading the gospels that after his baptism, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness.   He spent forty days alone in the wilderness, fasting and being tested, before he began his ministry. 
            Jesus had been praying alone, with only his closest disciples near him, when he began teaching them that he would have to undergo great suffering, be rejected by the religious authorities, be killed, and the third day be raised.  Then he told them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it..."
            It's six days after this when Jesus takes his inner circle of disciples and goes up on a high mountain to pray.   Peter and James and John saw Jesus transfigured before them.  His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Then the three disciples saw Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah.
            Then a bright cloud comes and overshadows them-- a of God's presence. From the cloud, a voice speaks, echoing the voice heard when Jesus was baptized:  "This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
            At his baptism, there's a moment when the veil of the present is stripped away to reveal who Jesus is and who he will be.  Now, the disciples are told not only who Jesus is-- but they also hear that they are to "listen to him."

            How would you respond to an encounter of the transfigured Jesus?  The disciples seem overwhelmed!  They want to put up some tents, to somehow contain the glory they’d seen.  But Jesus tells the disciples to get up… and to not be afraid.  And then they go back down off the mountain, into the valley.  What they’ve seen and heard has changed them.  This is Jesus, God’s beloved Son.  They need to listen to him and follow his commandment to love God in every aspect of their lives and to love one another.  That means they need to be merciful and peacemakers and righteous and just.  The light of God’s love needs to shine through their lives so that others may see their good deeds and moral excellence so that others will God will be glorified.
            What does that look like? 
            In the scriptures, we hear prophets who saw the suffering of those around them, the injustice of those who were living comfortably at the expense of others, and their world was changed.   They were moved to call God’s people to live in the ways of righteousness and justice that God demands.
            Like the prophets of old, we look around at our world, and we see that it’s filled with injustice.  People are hungry or lack clean, safe water to drink.  Women and children are trafficked into sex slavery.  There are workers who are cheated out of fair wages in sweatshops so that our clothes and electronics can be cheap. 
            If we open our eyes we see some of the same injustices in our world that Amos and Isaiah and other prophets saw in their time.  If we choose to look in the right way, our mountaintop experience can call us to lives of discipleship, to lives of prophetic action, and we will work to turn the world to God’s ways.
            In the parable in Matthew 25, Jesus taught that whatever we do for the least of those among us, we do for him.  “When did we see you, Jesus,” the disciples ask.  Jesus is transfigured every day when we see him in the faces of those who are hungry, in the poor, in refugees, the oppressed worker, the homeless, and the sick.  If we have eyes to see, we encounter the transfigured Jesus every moment of every day.
         Moments of transfiguration show us that change is difficult-- but needed.  The Transfiguration is that moment between what was and what is to come.  Like Peter, we get a glimpse of what could be.
            Over the centuries, people of faith have looked around at their world, and they have had transfiguration moments.  For most people in the early centuries of this nation’s history, slavery was simply part of the American way of life, a necessary part of agriculture and of the economy in the southern and northern parts of the country. Slaves were considered property and a major part of slave owners’ wealth.  This is a part of our nation’s history that a lot of people would rather not think about, but it is a part of our history, and we’re still dealing with our history today.
            Runaway slaves were seen as a problem as early as colonial times, and the United States Constitution explicitly required that fugitives “from service or labor” must be delivered back to their owner.  By 1793, the first Fugitive Slave Act empowered slave owners or hired slave catchers to hunt down fugitive slaves and return them to their owners.  This was the social and legal context.
            In his book, Bound for Canaan,[1] Fergus Bordewich tells how ordinary people, black and white, slave and free, joined together to do what they believed was right in a movement of civil disobedience that challenged prevailing social mores and local and federal law.  This network of clandestine operators eventually became known as the Underground Railroad.
            As Bordewich writes,” Most members of the underground uncompromisingly regarded their work as answering only to a law higher and more sacred than those enacted by mere men….”

            Most of us recognize names like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.  But there were many others who were part of the underground movement that carried as many as 100,000 fugitives to the far northern states and Canada. 
            There was David Ruggles, who invented the black underground in New York City…William Lambert, a black abolitionist who founded Detroit’s Vigilance Committee.  There were many bold Quakers like Isaac Hopper in Philadelphia and Levi Coffin and his family in Indiana.  Arnold Gragston, who remained in slavery to ferry hundreds of runaways across the Ohio River from Kentucky to Ohio, until he and his family became his last passengers.
            Bordewich estimates that the network of men and women who harbored or conducted fugitive slaves, plus those who assisted with food, clothing, and legal assistance, numbered more than 10,000. 
            One of the most celebrated stops in Underground Railroad history was Ripley, in Ohio.  Hundreds of locals were involved in the resistance work, even before the Rankin family patriarch, Rev. John Rankin, moved to Ripley in 1822. 
            The Underground Railroad network in the Ripley area had three components.  The first were Presbyterian ministers, most of whom were Southerners, who had begun around the year 1800 to come north to escape the horrific climate of slavery. Later, there was an administrative body known as the Chillicothe Presbytery that helped to connect the web of relationships that linked Ripley to Ripley to several other towns in southern Ohio.[2] 
            The second component included activist abolitionists.  The Ripley Anti-Slavery Society, which held its organizational meeting in Red Oak at the Presbyterian Church, enlisted 337 members in its first year. 
            The third component was a sizable population of free blacks including John Parker and William Atwood, and a small number of courageous slaves who lived across the river in Kentucky. 
            Perhaps the most famous fugitive slave to come through Ripley was Eliza Harris, who pushed her baby ahead of her on the thin ice and is thought to be the inspiration for the character Eliza immortalized by Harriet Beecher Stowe in her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin which was the best-selling novel of the 19th century.  It reached millions as a novel and a theatrical production and energized anti-slavery forces in the American North.
            Rev. John Rankin arrived in Ripley in 1822.  He and his family built a house on top of Liberty Hill, overlooking the town, the river, and the Kentucky shore.   They kept a lantern burning through the night as a beacon that could be seen from across the river, signaling slaves when it was safe to cross the river and guiding them as they made their crossing to the north side.
            The United States Constitution and the Fugitive Slave Law permitted slave owners to reclaim fugitive slaves, even if they were in a free state like Ohio.  When abolitionists sheltered runaway slaves, there was always the possibility that Federal marshals, hired slave-catchers, or local law enforcement officers could demand to search your property.  Over the course of the more than 40 years, the Rankin family kept hundreds of fugitives safe until they could safely be moved on to the next station
            “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”[3]

            We are changed through our relationship with Jesus Christ.  We look around our world and see the face of Christ in those who are oppressed or marginalized.   When we have eyes to see and ears to hear, what we see and hear changes us.  
            God isn’t finished with us yet.  God keeps shedding new light on our understanding and lights our faces with the radiance of Christ’s glorious self-giving love.  God continues to shine upon us, to transform us, almost imperceptibly, one degree at a time, so that we can work with God to transform our world.
            And that, my friends, is good news!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
February 26, 2017

[1] Fergus M. Bordewich, Bound for Canaan:The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America’s First Civil Rights Movement. Amistad/HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.

[3] Matthew 5:14-16


Sunday, February 12, 2017

"A Greater Righteousness." A Sermon on Matthew 5:17-37, from Littlefield Presbyterian Church.

"A Greater Righteousness"

Matthew 5:17-37

I sometimes wonder why so many Christians speak fondly about the Sermon on the Mount.  Public and private figures talk about the Sermon on the Mount as if it’s a safe way of showing that they are respectfully religious… that they believe religion is generally a good thing. 
But anyone who has spent any time soaking up the Sermon on the Mount knows, as one of my colleagues suggests, that “this sermon is no pretty, comforting set of teachings, but one apparently meant to drive off followers.”[1]  As Jesus instructs his followers on what it means to be disciples, he demands huge sacrifices.
The Rev. Amy Butler, a Baptist colleague, shared what happened the Sunday she decided to scrap her plan to preach the sermon she’d written on the passage from the Sermon on the Mount the lectionary assigned and, instead, “preached” the entire Sermon on the Mount.  She read all three chapters.
At coffee hour, several people came up to tell her that they didn’t like or didn’t agree with some of the parts of the sermon that day.  As she says: “Read from the BIBLE.  The words of Jesus.” But, she continues, “The Sermon on the Mount is counter-cultural.  That’s the point.” [2]
            Of course, there are some parts of the Sermon on the Mount that we really like.  But then there are the hard parts.  The part about loving your enemies… about not being a hypocrite… hard words about divorce.  There are parts that can make us feel uncomfortable. 
            So, as Amy Butler suggests, we have been guilty of watering down the Christian faith, turning the practice of following Jesus into a tepid list of suggested behavior, or a fool-proof recipe for wealth and happiness, or worst of all, a license to exclude or even hate people who don’t believe exactly as we do.  In other words, we tend to distort the Christian faith. 
This week’s passage brings some major challenges:  dealing with anger… adultery… divorce… and taking oaths.  So, as a preacher, I wondered:  where to begin?   I could do a whole series of sermons on the text:  focusing one week on anger… one week on adultery… another on divorce… and so on.  
But I keep coming back to what Jesus said about the Law.  “Don’t think I came to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish—but to fulfill….   For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew wrote his Gospel to a community of Jewish Christians, people who had been raised on the law of Moses as the embodiment of God’s will for human life.  In family worship, Jewish children were taught to ask their parents, “What is the meaning of the decrees and statutes and ordinances that the LORD our God has commanded you?”[3]   Their parents were to answer:  The LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our lasting good, to keep us alive.”[4]
In the Jewish faith, the law is seen as a blessing… a good gift… a source of life.
But what about the Jewish Law for Christians?   This was an important question in the early church. 
Tom Long suggests that there are two obvious and diametrically opposed resolutions to this question.  What we have long called the Old Testament--Torah law-- remains in full effect for Christians—every commandment.  Or we can decide that the new freedom in Christ cancels and abolishes the requirements of the law.  So, in simple terms, either Christ leaves the whole law intact-- or Christ replaces the law with something new.[5] 
But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus rejects both of these options, and offers us a third way.  The law neither remains as it is-- nor is it abolished.  Rather, it is fulfilled and transformed in Jesus Christ. As we live into the kingdom of heaven, we need to see and interpret every aspect of the Law and the Prophets in the light of Jesus Christ.
Professor Long suggests that we think of a powerful searchlight scanning the night sky.  The way a beacon works is that a relatively small source of light is passed through a great lens, which magnifies it into a powerful radiance that spreads over the sky. Now, think of a laser beam.  Here the energy source is concentrated. Its power is transformed into a light of razor-shape intensity.
In Christ, the law becomes both a searchlight and a laser.  When the law passes through the person and event of Christ, it is both focused and enlarged.  Its potential to illumine and to guide human life are both amplified and intensified.
            Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.”  He isn’t saying, “Now, the old law said this, but I’m throwing it out and giving you a new law in its place.”    No, even the smallest commandment stands.   But now, each and every commandment is seen through the eyes of the new thing that has happened in and through Jesus Christ. 
            What we’re hearing here in Matthew’s gospel is Jesus interpreting the law for his disciples and followers and Matthew interpreting what Jesus said for the people in his community.
            So what does this mean for us as Christians today?  How do we view the commandments in the light of our Christian faith? 
As we live together in Christian community and try to discern God’s will for our life, we need to ask of every commandment, every piece of the law, “What is the will of God that stands behind this commandment?” 
Take the commandment to keep the Sabbath.  Later in Matthew, Jesus and his disciples get into trouble with the religious officials because the disciples eat grain and Jesus heals a man.  Both of these things are technically violations of the commandment to observe the Sabbath.  But behind the Sabbath commandment is a God who desires that human society be just and merciful and that human life be nourished and restored.  This is the heart of the Sabbath commandment.  Jesus, who came to live among us, full of grace and truth, argues with the religious officials that, by violating the surface of the commandment, they have fulfilled the deeper meaning of the commandment.[6]
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expresses this move to the deeper meaning of the commandments by saying: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” 
I agree with the scholars who suggest that the word “exceeds” is referring to the quality of righteousness, rather than to quantity. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to a different kind of righteousness—a righteousness that expresses the merciful, forgiving, reconciling will of God that is at the core of the commandments.
Jesus gave a series of practical examples where the heart of the law leads to a greater righteousness.  I think each of these examples is related to some concrete concern in Matthew’s church.  And they all have to do with personal relationships… with how we live together in human community.
In the verses we heard today, Jesus is addressing some of the more contentious issues of his time.  The verses on anger enlarge how we understand the commandment against murder.  Jesus isn’t rescinding the prohibition against murder, but he places murder on a continuum of outcomes related to anger.  He recognizes that human beings get angry, and he teaches that it can be transformed by living as a peacemaker, acting in ways that show the reign of God in our midst.[7]
In the verses on adultery, Jesus expands the meaning of the term so that it includes both action and intent.  According to biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine, when Jesus includes lust, it seems to suggest that no one should be regarded as a sex object.[8]
In the verses on divorce, Jesus recognizes the tradition that makes divorce possible-- but he places limits on the grounds for divorce. 
            The intent and the ideal is that the marriage will be forever.  But in the first century, most women were dependent on their fathers or husbands for their daily livelihood—indeed for their survival.   In a culture of male privilege, women could be used and discarded.  A woman who had been seduced brought great shame upon her family.  A woman who had been raped was considered damaged goods, and her ability to marry well would be jeopardized.  For those who were married, there would be the threat of divorce. Wives could be cast aside for ridiculous reasons, including burning bread,[9]  or to marry a younger woman. In a world where women were treated like property, where they could be coveted and used by men, Jesus reinforced the dignity of women, and he included women as disciples in his mission.
            God's in-breaking presence in Jesus Christ re-orders the relationships of this world and re-orients how we live.  During Epiphany, we claim once again that we have a living God, incarnate among us, not some far-off ruler up in the sky who keeps check-lists of when we’re naughty and nice.   We proclaim that the "Word became flesh and lived among us,” the Word embodied in everyday life—in inward attitudes and in outward actions.
            In the realm of God, relationships are not to be taken lightly.  When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said, “Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  On this hang all the commandments.”  When we honor our neighbor as ourselves, we live in mutuality and respect, in right relationship.  
Jesus calls us to see the world in a whole new way: to walk in God’s way of grace… forgiveness…mercy…and love.  When we live in God’s way of love, God’s love will shine through us for all to see.  People will know we are Christians by our love, and God will be glorified!
            The God who was born in a manger enters the messiness of our lives, seeking to heal and to save. This God offers us new life-- not a puny, flat life of avoiding a list of the "big sins"-- but a life deeper and wider than we imagined.   
            Life in the kingdom of heaven demands more and promises more. It is life abundant. Thanks be to God!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
February 12, 2017


[1] Lisa D. Maugans-Driver, in Lectionary Homiletics (February 20, 2011), p. 23.
[2] The Rev. Amy Butler, “The Sermon on the Mount is Counter-Cultural. That’s the Point,” in the Opinion Section of The Baptist News, February 17, 2017.

[3] Deut. 6:20
[4] Deut. 6:24
[5] Thomas G. Long, Matthew.  (Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), p. 53.
[6] Matt. 12:1-14
[7] I am indebted here to Marcia Y. Riggs, in Feasting on the Word   [Kindle edition]
[8] Amy Jill Levine, in Feasting on the Word.
[9] Craig Keener, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 192., cited by Carla Works, in Commentary on Matthew 5:21-37 at

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Welcome and Justice for Immigrants and Refugees: A Moral and Faith Matter

Welcome and Justice for Immigrants and Refugees: 

A Moral and Faith Matter

In the diverse city of Dearborn, Michigan, we love one another as neighbors and live together in peace. So in the days following the executive order that limited travel for people from 7 majority Muslim countries, a local group, Forward Action Michigan / Dearborn decided that it was important to show solidarity with Muslim neighbors by standing together. Earlier in the week, I stood and spoke in solidarity with Muslim neighbors at a press conference at the Islamic House of Wisdom.  On Saturday, February 4, elected officials, civic and religious leaders and others gathered for a  STANDING TOGETHER FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE rally.  My remarks for these 2 events follow.

For many of us, this is a faith issue.  A moral issue.

In the Hebrew scripture lesson many Christians heard last Sunday, we heard the prophet Micah telling the people very clearly how people of faith are to live:  “Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.”[1]

So it weighs heavily on my heart and on my conscience to know that our nation has placed an indefinite hold on admitting refugees who have fled Syria and elsewhere, people who have been in a vetting process that lasts 2 or 3 or more years, mostly women and children.

The Christian tradition shares the Hebrew scriptures with Judaism. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we are taught that we are to love those who sojourn with us. We are to treat them as natives, and we are not to oppress foreigners.[2]

As a Christian, I follow Jesus, who taught that the most important commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor as myself.[3]  For Christians, how we treat “the stranger” or “the other” is central to our faith and is seen as a test of our faith.  In the 25th chapter of Matthew, Jesus makes it clear that how we treat “the stranger” is how we treat him.  Also in Matthew 25, we hear our gospel telling us that the nations will be judged by how we treat those who are marginalized, including the stranger.[4]

When we are told that the executive order is simply a matter of fulfilling campaign promises, I remember how much that campaign was based on peoples’ fears, especially fear of those who are different. The truth is, when we live together in community, when we get to know each other, we learn that we have so much more in common than we have differences.  All of us whose ancestors were not Native American in heritage or brought to this country in chains are descendants of immigrants who came here to escape persecution or danger or hardship, to seek a better life for themselves and their children.

Those of us who live in diverse communities like the Dearborn area have learned that our neighbors and friends are loyal Americans who want the same things we all do:  to live in safety and peace, to make a decent living and provide for their families, to have their children get a good education.  We care for one another.  So we need to stand together in solidarity, because there is power in standing together. 

There are those in power who would like us to choose to live in fear of the other.  If we choose fear, they will convince us that we need a bigger and stronger military, we need war, we need more prisons, we need more walls, we need to keep people out of our country who are different and those who practice a different faith.

But my faith teaches us that we are commanded to love our neighbor and to welcome the stranger.  It also teaches that “There is no fear in love and that perfect love drives out fear.”[5] 

So we need to stand together, in love and respect, as friends and neighbors. We need to stand against injustice. We need to stand up for what is right and moral and just for all. 

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Convener of Dearborn Area Interfaith Network
February 4, 2017

[1] Micah 6:6-8
[2] Examples: Exodus 22:21, 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:17-19, 24:20-24; Jeremiah 22:3
[3] Matthew 22:38; Mark 12:28-34
[4] Matthew 25:31-46
[5] 1 John 4:18

"You Are the Light of the World". A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church.

"You Are the Light of the World"

Matthew 5:13-16; Isaiah 58:1-12

            We’re in the second of five weeks of passages from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mountain, as told by Matthew.  In last week's gospel lesson we heard Jesus speaking the Beatitudes:  "Blessed are the poor in spirit...  the mourners...  the meek... the merciful...   Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you....  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven."[1]
            How must these words have sounded to the motley gathering of Jesus' followers-- the cast-down, cast-off, downtrodden riff-raff that had latched onto this rabbi from Nazareth and were his congregation that day on the hillside.  In Jesus they caught a glimpse of a new way, the way of love and life.  They caught a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.
            Then Jesus moves on from comfort to something we might hear as more challenging.  "You are the salt of the earth,"  he says.  Switching metaphors, he continues, "You are the light of the world."
            But did you notice?  As Professor David Lose reminds us, Jesus doesn’t say,  "If you want to become salt and light, do this...." Or, "before I'll call you salt and light, I'll need to see this from you...." Rather, he says both simply and directly, in the present tense:  "You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world."[2]  These are words of blessing… affirmation… and commissioning.   We are salt and light now, not in some distant future.  Jesus’ teaching is not only about what the Kingdom of God is, but about who we are, and what our lives in this new realm look like. 
            You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.
            Do we believe that?  In the eighth chapter of John's Gospel, Jesus says, "I am the light of the world."  Through Jesus Christ, like no other, we have seen the light of God shining.   Who else has so illuminated our hearts, enlightened our minds, and guided our paths?   Christ is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
            But for Jesus to turn to us and say, "You are the light of the world."  Are we ready to believe it--that Christ sees in us the very light we have seen in him?  Because that's what our text tells us.: "You are the light of the world."
            The light that shone in Christ shines in us.   The light shone in Christ with a special brilliance which we can only dimly reflect.  But the light is still here, and it's our job to draw back the drapes in our lives and let it shine.  We are called to make a difference for others in the world.  
            The good news is that—to be the light of the world-- you don’t need to be an expert in theology.  You don't need to go to seminary.  You don't need to be able to speak eloquently.   All you need to do is have love--and share it.
            Christ gave us a gift of unspeakable worth when he told us that we are the light of the world. We have something precious to offer one another and the world. Our lives have great meaning, because we're part of God's plan to save the world. We are the light of the world.
            Now, Jesus must have anticipated the resistance to his trust and confidence in us. So he used a playful image to make his point. "No one lights a lamp and then hides it under a bushel," he said.  "They put it on a stand, and it gives light to the whole house.  Let your light shine so that others may see your good works and give glory to God..."

            As Christians, we're called to let the light shine in our lives, for all to see. Christ calls us to be lights that illuminate...lights that brighten the world...lights that light up the lives of others. 
            So-- how are we to do this?  The passage we heard from Isaiah can help us.  Those few verses list one specific thing after another: "Loose the bonds of wickedness...  undo the thongs of the yoke... let the oppressed go free...break every yoke."   In other words, we need to care about the disadvantaged.  If the system is unjust, we need to work to reform it.
            "Share your bread with the hungry," Isaiah says.  Help to feed those who don't have enough to eat, as we do when we collect our Two Cents a Meal offering and in our work with Gleaners and in other ways.
            "Bring the homeless poor into your house," Isaiah says.        "Don't hide yourself from your own flesh." Stop avoiding certain areas of Dearborn or Detroit as though the people there aren't part of our human family.  Stop thinking about calamities in far-away places as something that happens to someone with whom you have no relationship.  We are all family.
            Remove the pointing of fingers and speaking wickedness, Isaiah says. Stop blaming others and gossiping and treating others with contempt.
            Do these things, says Isaiah, and "then shall your light break forth like the dawn...then shall your light rise in the darkness."  Let your faith find expression in concrete acts of justice and love. 
            God knows we can't do all this on our own.  In Christ, God comes to us, broken in heart and broken in body, to be with us in our brokenness, to lighten our darkness.  God comes to us, not with rules and demands that overwhelm us, but with gentleness that invites and attracts and encourages and empowers and lightens our darkness.  God comes to us, claiming us and sending us forth from this place to illumine the lives of others...  to be the light of the world.

            What does being salt and light look like?  I think it may look different in different times and contexts.
            I know I’ve shared the story of Le Chambon before, but not for a while, and I think it’s a beautiful and amazing story.
            There’s a small mountain village in south-central France called Le Chambon-sur-Lignon.  The people there are descendants of the Huguenot Protestants, who were victims of religious persecution.
            When the Second World War broke out, Jewish families began to arrive in the train station at Le Chambon, trying to escape the Nazi death camps, and the residents made their village a refuge for them. Most of the village went to the same church.
            Now, of course, it was illegal to help these refugees, and the region was under occupation. But this small village of around 5,000 people defied the law. They took Jewish families into their homes and into the school, fed and clothed them, helped them obtain forged identification papers, and smuggled them across the border into Switzerland.  It is said that in the years from 1940 to 1943, there was not a wine cellar, an attic, or a hayloft in the village that had not sheltered a Jewish child.
            There was never a report that any refugee had been turned away or betrayed to the authorities by the citizens of Le Chambon. During the course of the war, it is estimated that this town saved the lives of somewhere between 3,500 and 5,000 Jews, mostly children and young families.   
            In 1990, the town was one of two collectively honored as the Righteous Among the Nations by the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Israel for saving lives in Nazi-occupied Europe, along with the Dutch village of Nieuwlande.
            After the war, the pastor of the local church was interviewed and was asked what motivated the heroic courage of this community to risk their lives and property for people they did not even know? The pastor responded that they were not trying to be heroes. They were simply trying to be Christians. This is what it means to be salt for the earth–-to so believe in the love of God and the call to justice that we stand apart from what is expected and normal.[3]

            Friends, you and I are the light of the world.  We are called to be the light that makes plain the justice way of the kingdom of God, in our time. Jesus calls us simply to be the people God has created us to be--to exercise the gifts we have been given, faithfully, and lovingly.
            So-- be the light.  Be the salt.  Be the person God created and called and gifted you to be.  Don't try to be anyone else.  Rejoice in the uniqueness of who God created you to be.  Brighten the corner of the world where you find yourself, and don't hide who you are.
            Let your life radiate with the love and joy and peace we have in Christ. Put your light out there for all the world to see.  Let it shine, friends!
             Let it shine!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
February 5, 2017

[1]Matt. 5:3-12
[2] David Lose, “Commissioned to Be Salt and Light”, at

[3] If you’d like to read more about this, I highly recommend Philip P. Hallie’s book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There (Harper, 1994).