Sunday, September 24, 2017

"It's All About the Love." A Sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on Good News Sunday.

"It's All About the Love"

Matthew 22:34-40; 1 John 4:7-21

            Today is officially Good News Sunday at Littlefield!   We told people that—if they brought someone to worship today—we promise that they would hear some good news! 
            Have you heard some good news?  In the scripture lessons or in the songs?  [I hope so.  That takes a bit of the pressure off me, now.  Though I’ll do my best.]
            I do believe we have good news to share-- important and life-changing good news.  Sometimes I think I risk sounding like a “broken record.”   Some of you have heard me say this over and over again, in various ways.   But the more I’ve studied the scriptures over the years and looked for the main themes and the big picture, the more I’ve become convinced that our Christian faith is really all about love. 
            God loves us.  We are—all of us-- God’s beloved children.  Our faith is about responding to God’s love for us and for all God’s children by loving God   and loving all the people God loves. 
            The Hebrew Scriptures include some stories and verses that a lot of us find puzzling and troubling.  Yet one of the major themes is of God’s steadfast loving-kindness.
            One of my teachers at Princeton Seminary did her doctoral dissertation on the recurring theme of “hesed”, which is a Hebrew word that can be translated as “mercy,” or “steadfast loving-kindness.”
            One of the other prominent themes in the Old Testament is how God keeps sending prophets to call people back to living in right relationship with God and neighbor…  and how those right relationships are characterized by love and justice and mercy.
             The gospel message in the New Testament proclaims in various ways how Jesus came to live among us, full of grace and truth, to embody God’s love for us, and to show us how to live in the way of love.   Jesus preached about the “kingdom of God” or the “reign of God” and how we are called to live into it.            
            When people asked Jesus what the most important commandment is, he said what’s most important is two-fold:  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus made it clear that your neighbor is anybody we encounter, anybody God puts in our path—even people who are different…  people we might even see as sinners or enemies. 
            In his last talk with his disciples, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  People will know you are my followers by the way you love one another.”[1]
            Jesus made it very clear that it’s all about love.  So, I keep wondering how so many people who call themselves “Christians” could be so confused about this, who they could exclude and condemn people Christ has shown us we are to love and welcome.
            So many people in our society fear and mistrust those who are different:  Muslims…  people whose skin is a different color…  immigrants… refugees…people of different sexual orientations.    
            There are so many people in our nation who are hungry or food insecure or lack the basic things they need to live a life of dignity. In the midst of all this brokenness and fear and injustice, how are we-- as people of faith-- called to live?
            “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.  Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.   Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.    No one has ever seen God.  If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us.”[2]
            I hear the scriptures saying that loving one another is an essential part of our spiritual practice and life.  As we work at loving one another, God is living in us and working in us and perfecting love in us….

            “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love casts out fear.  Whoever fears has not reached maturity in love.”
            We love because God first loved us.   If we say, “I love God” but hate our brother or sister, we’re lying about loving God.   As we heard in First John, “those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen—cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
            Fear divides us.  It leads to violence and destruction.   Hatred and fear are toxic.  They harm us as persons and as a society.
            But there is a way out.  It is not the way of fear, and hate and violence.  It is the way of love.  In Dr. Martin Luther King’s words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”[3]
            If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we have a long way to go to drive hatred and fear out of our lives and out of our society.  Living in the way of love is not easy.  Living in the way of love is too hard to do on our own power alone.
            And so, we need to be in prayer.  We need to open our lives to God’s call in our lives, as we live further into God’s dream for the world—the world that God so loves.
            We need each other.  The Greek word ekklesia which we translate as “church” literally means an “assembly,” or those who are gathered together.   We need to come together as a community of faith-- not for the sake of coming to a place called church-- but for the sake of coming together as part of the Body of Christ, for the sake of gathering as disciples who need to learn and practice living in Christ’s way of love.
            We need to love one another and encourage one another.  We need to love one another into becoming more and more the beloved children of God we were created to be.   We need to love one another into becoming the beloved community. 
            God isn’t finished with any of us yet.  Our love isn’t yet perfect, and it hasn’t yet cast out all our fears.   But God is still working in and among and through us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, leading and empowering us to become more patient and kind and generous, and helping us to become less envious or controlling, less irritable or resentful.
            God is still working in us, guiding us further into the truth, re-forming us, teaching us what it means to go out and be the church in the world, in this time and place.
            The good news is that as we grow more and more into God’s way of love, God’s love will cast out our fears.
            In a broken and fearful world, we can trust in the Holy Spirit to give us courage to pray without ceasing.[4]   As we work with others for justice, freedom and peace, our lives will be transformed, and together we can change the world.       
            Thanks be to God!

[1] John 13:31-35

[2] 1 John 4:7-12
[3] Quoted from Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (1963).  I have read that he first said it in a sermon around 1957.
[4] This is an allusion to the “Brief Statement of Faith of the Presbyterian Church (USA)”, 1990.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Interfaith Prayers for Peace at Littlefield Presbyterian Church: My Brief Meditation on Luke 4:14-21

We heard brief meditations from the Rev. Fran Hayes and Imam Elahi today, and Cantor Roger Skully sang prayers and scripture passages.

Let Us Work Together for a More Just & Peaceful World

Interfaith Prayers for Peace at Littlefield Presbyterian Church

In the scripture passage we just heard, Jesus is quoting from the prophet Isaiah[1] and declaring that his mission is about liberation and mercy.
            The Christian tradition shares the Hebrew scriptures with Judaism,  and we are challenged by the prophetic tradition.  We hear the prophet Micah proclaiming: “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”[2]  The prophet Amos lamented for Israel’s sin, accusing them for trampling on the poor and taking from them an unfair share.[3] 
            The prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “Woe to those who enact unjust policies and institute unfair regulations, to turn aside the needy from justice and rob the poor of their rights….”
            In the Torah, we are taught “when an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”[4]
            Near the end of the gospel of Matthew in the Christian scriptures, we hear Jesus teaching his followers that the nations will be judged by how we treat those are marginalized and in need, and that when we are merciful to them, we are doing it for Jesus: I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

            For those of us who long for a more peaceful and just world, it’s painful to see the violence and need and destruction, and we may long to do something.  But it can feel overwhelming.  What can one person or just a few people do?
            The good news is that we don’t have to do it alone. We can find common ground and people who share our concerns and work together.
            For example: I was reminded recently that, in 2015, two Muslim groups--Islamic Relief USA and the Michigan Muslim Community Council-- gave $50,000 each to help Detroiters whose water had been shut off, saying, “It’s part of our faith to help.” They said they were hoping this would be contagious and would encourage others to help their neighbors.
            Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others have been working in various ways to address the immediate needs and the systemic causes of water injustice.

            At a meeting to launch the new Poor People’s Campaign, we heard Rabbi Alana Alpert tell about when the Poor People’s Campaign went to Washington DC in 1968-- 49 years ago-- they approached a downtown Jewish Community Center, asking that the building’s showers be made available.  The leaders of the center rejected the request -- and the story could have ended there. But a group of young rabble-rousers known as Jews for Urban Justice threatened a “pray in”. The leaders changed their decision and opened the building to the campaign.[5]
            This victory meant the campaign gained some structural support -- a tiny step.  “But,” Rabbi Alana said,  “it means more to me. To me it means that ancient tradition can be harnessed by activist youth to push their community to participate in the important movement work of their time.”
            Rabbi Alana told us that learning about this was part of a series of events that eventually convinced her not to give up on her community and her tradition.  And now she is leading Detroit Jews for Justice, a new organization inspired by the legacy of Jews for Urban Justice, who 50 years ago pushed their community to share their resources.  
            As Rabbi Alana said, “From generation to generation. Who knows what chain of events will come from brave actions we take today?”
            As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools."
            Our commitment to peace and justice and reconciliation, and our love for our own children, demands that we provide a better inheritance for them.”
            For all people of faith and goodwill, this is a time for us to find ways to come together and work for a better, more peaceful, merciful, and just  world--for everyone.
            There’s hard work to be done.   But we can work together to make a difference.

             After worship, we invite you to stay for a time, to enjoy refreshments and conversation.   We hope you’ll make a new friend today.  Talk with one another about your families—especially your children or grandchildren and what kind of a world you want to leave for them.
            Talk about what teachings from your faith inspire and challenge you…and about what common ground you see in our various traditions. Talk about the people who inspire you and challenge you in your commitment.
            Let’s renew our commitment to change the world, beginning today. 

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
September 17, 2017

[1] Isaiah 61
[2] Micah 6:8
[3] Amos 5:12-15
[4] Leviticus 19:33

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"God Is With Us". A Sermon on Matthew 18:15-20 from Littlefield Presbyterian Church.

"God Is With Us"

Matthew 18:15-20

Today as we’re gathered together as a congregation, we hear Jesus  remind us that where there are two or three are gathered in his name, he  is here with us.  Jesus’ words of God-with-us are words we need to hear. We’ve been watching the news and praying for the victims of Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma. A powerful earthquake has caused devastation in Mexico. The list goes on and on.  In the midst of all this, sometimes we need to be reminded that we are not alone.
            There can be great comfort in the promise of Jesus’ presence, in knowing that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” But sometimes, if we’ve been busy trying to do things our own way, we might not be so comfortable having Jesus so close.
            Life together in Christian community isn’t easy. Sometimes we might think it would be easier to carry on as if Jesus weren’t in the room. If we believe what the scriptures tell us about what Jesus taught, we might need to think twice about some of the things we say or do.
            Immanuel-- God-with-us-- isn’t always the God we wish for--a convenient God we can pin down and control, a God who approves our agendas and priorities.
            When we come together in Jesus’ name for church meetings or fellowship time or Bible study or worship, Jesus is here among us. When we’re making decisions about how the church will spend its money or whom the church will welcome, Jesus is here among us. When the church looks around at what’s going on in the world and questions whether it should speak up or stay silent, Jesus is here among us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, guiding and encouraging us and urging us further into God’s beloved community.
            In the day-to-day dealings we have with one another, Jesus is here among us. And that can be a real challenge, because churches are full of troublesome people,  like the rest of the world.  
            Sometimes people join a church thinking that they’ve entered some holy community where everyone is good and kind and loving all the time and nobody ever gossips or spreads rumors or disagrees on anything. If somebody does have this kind of naïve expectation, all it would take is serving on a committee or doing something for the church, before they realize this isn’t a perfect church made up of “perfect” people-- because there isn’t such a thing.
            In contemporary North American church life, it’s not uncommon for people to respond to hurt or conflict by losing enthusiasm or leaving the church in anger or disappointment.  Maybe they decide it’s time to do some church hopping or shopping, hoping they’ll find a more perfect church somewhere else. Maybe they give up on church altogether.    When this happens, the congregation and those involved may carry scars for years to come, and there’s no resolution or healing. Among the very people called to extend God’s grace and reconciliation to the world, God’s will is thwarted.

            Clearly, Jesus wasn’t naïve . He knew there were going to be disagreements and misunderstandings and conflicts when well-meaning people come together in his name.  Conflict is inevitable.  People will fight, disagree, or wound one another.  The issue is how we go about addressing and resolving these issues when we have them.
            Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy. In the ancient world and in the church today, we have a terrible time handling confrontation, disagreement, and mutual accountability. We have to keep learning how to live together, how to fight fairly and constructively, and how to stay together in healthy community.
            So Matthew gives us this instruction to help us handle our sin and its consequences within Christian community.  I like the way David Lose summarizes what the passage teaches us:  “People sin. Communities are made up of these sinning people. When that happens and you’re involved, do something about it;  namely, go talk to the other person directly like a mature adult, rather than behind his or her back. If that doesn’t work, involve some others of the community” as a way of involving and preserving the larger community that is affected by the dispute. [1]
            The wisdom of our scriptures teaches us that we are not to deal with conflict like the world often does, through yelling, slandering, gossiping, or humiliating one another. But we’re also not to sweep things under the rug as if the conflict doesn’t exist, because that won’t lead to resolution and reconciliation.

            So, what should the church do if resurrection seems impossible because an offending person insists on his or her own way? 
            Jesus’ answer isn’t as simple as it may seem: “Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”   What does that mean?

            Some church communities have seen this as an instruction to excommunicate, exile, or shun the person. That might seem like common sense. It may feel satisfying for a while.  But I don’t think this is consistent with Jesus’ teachings.
            Jesus often interacted with Gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes, and other outsiders, so we need to be careful to interpret this faithfully.
            Far from shunning people, Jesus commands us not to give up on people, never to stop reaching out in love to them-- to yearn for grace to restore what has been broken.
            I think context can help us understand what this passage is saying.
            In the verses that lead into today’s gospel lesson, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.
            What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the nine-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.  So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”[2]

            In the verses that follow today’s lesson, Peter needs to make sure he has heard correctly. “Lord, if a brother sins against me, how often should I forgive?” Jesus tells him “seventy times seven”-- or, I think, as long as it takes.[3]

            Authentic community is hard to come by. It’s work, and it can be messy at times.  But living in Christian community can also give us a taste of heaven on earth, when we experience the reality of God’s fellowship and presence in our midst. When we gather in Christ’s name, with honesty and integrity, even when it’s hard, amazing things can happen because Jesus is with us, in our midst, as we are formed by our life together.

            As Barbara Brown Taylor says, Jesus is letting his disciples know that they need each other-- not only for practical reasons, but for spiritual ones as well. “They need each other because two heads are better than one; they need each other because they can accomplish more together than they can apart. They need each other like brothers and sisters need each other, to remind themselves that they belong to one family.”
            “When families work right, they are God’s way of teaching us important things, like how to share and how to work together and how to take care of one another. A healthy family has a way of smoothing our rough edges by making us rub up against each other, like tumbling pebbles in a jar. Living with other people, we learn that we cannot have everything our own way. We learn to compromise, giving up some of the things we want so that other people can have some of the things they want, and while it is never easy, learning this give and take is part of learning how to be fully human.”[4]

            Now, some of us didn’t learn these healthy ways to fight and make up and forgive each other in our families. Some of us may have learned that rules are more important than people. Some of us may have learned things like, “if you can’t say something nice, _________.” [I paused to let people finish this sentence, and, apparently, many people had learned this: “Don’t say anything at all.”] 
            Some of us may have been taught that if we have a problem with someone, we should keep it to ourselves, because harmony--even the illusion of harmony-- is the most important thing, more important than telling the truth. More important than your feelings. More important than you.
            The problem with these unhealthy, unholy ways of dealing with conflict and hurt feelings is that-- if we don’t have good ways of resolving them and working to reconciliation, we end up collecting hurt feelings and resentment. We nurse grudges. We can feel sorry for ourselves. And we can feel hopeless about ever changing things for the better.
            I think that’s very sad. 

            In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis paints a haunting picture of hell.  Hell, Lewis says, is like a vast, gray city that’s inhabited only at its outer edges, with rows and rows of empty houses in the middle-- empty because everyone who once lived in them has quarreled with the neighbors and moved, and quarreled with the new neighbors and moved again, leaving empty streets full of empty houses behind them.
            That, Lewis says, is how hell got so large-- empty at the center and inhabited only on the fringes--because everyone in it chose distance instead of confrontation as the solution to a fight.[5] 

            If you look up “confrontation” in the dictionary, you find it’s about bringing two people face to face, front to front, to sort out what is going on between them. I think that’s what Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel lesson.
            We are gathered here in Christian community, as disciples of Jesus Christ, to learn to live in the way of Jesus-- the way of love. We have been entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation.
            Today’s gospel lesson challenges us to work toward reconciliation when someone sins against us.  In order to do that, we need to decide what’s important to us.  What do I want most?  Do I want more than anything to be right? Do I want the other person to feel bad before I would want to be reconciled to them?  Or can I accept that we have some differences but that we are brothers and sisters in Christ and that the relationships are more important than rules and reconciliation is more important than retribution?

            We are called to witness to the world Christ’s ministry of reconciliation, which overcomes all divisions. There is so much in our world that troubles and challenges us-- hurricanes and earthquakes and fires, displays of hatred, and injustice. The world desperately needs us to be the Body of Christ.
            When we live together in Christian community, there will be conflict, but it is precisely through conflict that we can model for the world how to bind and loose one another in healthy and holy ways. This is how we can witness to the world Christ’s ministry of reconciliation, which overcomes divisions through the power of Christ’s self-giving love. This is how we show through our lives that goodness is stronger than evil, that love is stronger than hate, and that life is stronger than death.

            May it be so among us and through us!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
September 10, 2017

[1] David Lose, “What Kind of Community Will We Be?”

[2] Matthew 18:10-14.
[3] Matthew 18:21-22.
[4] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Family Fights: Matthew 18:15-20” in The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew. (Westminster), 2004.
[5] C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce. (1945).  This fictional work is a theological dream vision in which he reflects on Christian understandings of Heaven and Hell.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

"Hard to Imagine:" A Sermon on Matthew 16:21-28 from Littlefield Presbyterian Church.

Crosses for pilgrims to carry as they walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem

"Hard to Imagine"

Matthew 16:21-28

One minute, Jesus is telling Peter “You’re the rock on which I will build my church” and the next minute he’s calling him “a stumbling block.”  Can you imagine? Maybe, as David Lose suggests, that’s the difficulty. Peter couldn’t imagine. 
            In last week’s gospel lesson, Jesus asked his disciples who the people were saying he was, and they repeated what they’d been hearing: that Jesus was one of the prophets. Then Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God!”  And Jesus sternly commanded the disciples not to tell anyone he was the Messiah.

            Many Biblical scholars believe that when Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah, he was imagining a warrior-king, like David-- who would drive out the Roman occupiers and liberate the Israelites. When you think about it, that’s a reasonable hope. The Romans were foreign occupiers. They imposed Roman law, and they taxed the people to pay for the occupation.  They enforced the occupation and taxation by violence. So many people hoped that God’s Messiah--the “anointed” would set them free from the Roman Empire, transform the world and set things right.

            The problem with Peter’s expectation isn’t that it’s unreasonable--but that it doesn’t really change anything. Rome is holding Palestine by force and violence. If Jesus were a warrior-king, he would have to use greater force and violence to drive them out. Eventually, another empire with even more force or willing to do even greater violence could come along and take over. So, who’s in charge might change-- but the cycle of force and violence keeps going.

            Jesus knows this.  In his preaching and teaching about God’s kingdom of forgiveness, mercy, and love-- rather than retribution, violence, and hatred-- he’s challenging the powers that be.  And he’s challenging their understanding of how the world can be, if God’s will is done.

            Jesus tells his disciples that some of their religious leaders will inflict great violence upon him and kill him. When you step back and remember the gospel story, it isn’t surprising that Jesus was killed. From the time of his birth, Jesus was such a threat to the rule of force and violence that Herod was frightened “and all of Jerusalem with him.”[1]. Herod was willing to slaughter all male children under the age of two in and around Bethlehem, to try to destroy the one who might someday replace him as Rome’s puppet king. Herod counted on the chief priest and scribes to cooperate with his agenda and that of the Empire.
            Peter hears all this talk of suffering and death. Clearly, this isn’t what he’s imagined or hoped for. He’s sure this is no way to be the Messiah or to successfully build the kind of organization he had in mind, so he takes Jesus aside and rebukes him.   “Listen, Jesus, this can’t be what God intends for you. There must be a different way. Our deliverer is supposed to save us from our enemies and rule the nations with power and might.! That’s what we thought we were signing on for--not a cross!”
But Jesus turns and looks at his disciples, and he sternly rebukes Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then he says, “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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” 
            Can we imagine what that means? What does that look like?  I think it looks different in different times and contexts.
            Many of the leaders of the movements to abolish the slave trade and the institution of slavery in Great Britain and the United States were Christians who felt called to speak truth to power, to work for the cause of God’s justice for all.  Those who were part of the Underground Railroad and helped fugitive slaves to escape to freedom faced personal danger and legal consequences.
            During the most terrible years of World War II, when inhumanity and political insanity held most of the world in their grip and the Nazi domination of Europe seemed irrevocable and unchallenged, a miraculous event took place in a small Protestant town in southern France called Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. There, quietly, peacefully, and in full view of the Vichy government and a nearby division of the Nazi SS, Le Chambon's villagers and their clergy organized to save thousands of Jewish children and adults from certain death.  The story of “how goodness happened” there is told in a beautiful book entitled Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed.[2]
            Also during World War II, ordinary Danish Christians who saw their Jewish neighbors being rounded up by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps… and responded by ferrying many of them by night to safety in Sweden.
            These people knew that taking up the cross and following Jesus would be a way of sacrifice and risk.  And yet, in the book about what happened in Le Chambon, when villagers were asked about what they did, they were rather matter-of-fact about it. The people needed to find sanctuary and safety, they were able to work together and do it, and they seemed to do it with hope and confidence. Someone even shrugged their shoulders and said, “It was our hobby.”

            A few months ago, I re-watched the movie “Selma”, which shows how the march to Selma, along with the larger struggle for civil rights was filled with confrontation and suffering and sacrifice. And yet the theme song sings of “Glory.”
            I agree with David Lose when he says, “Precisely because we find glory—and for that matter power and strength and security—only in those moments when we surrender our claims to power and strength and security in order to serve others.”[3]

            I think we know this--though sometimes we forget and need to be reminded.  Every time we let ourselves be vulnerable to the needs of those around us…every time we give ourselves in love to another…every time we get out of our own way and seek not what we want but what the world needs, we come alive, we are lifted up, we experience the glory of God made manifest.
            We do this most naturally as parents, sacrificing all kinds of things in the hope of caring for our children. But we also do it as friends and partners and neighbors. 
            But sometimes it’s hard for us to believe or to imagine.  It’s counter-cultural. So much in our culture wants to make us believe that we’ll be secure and happy if we have certain things. But none of the things on offer has the power to make us feel more complete or accepted or loved. The only thing that does is connection to others, in community, and a purpose beyond ourselves. And this requires sacrifice.
            The good news is that--when we move beyond being preoccupied with ourselves and look to the needs around us, and others begin to do the same, we discover more life and joy and acceptance and love than we could have imagined.
            And so, we work to feed the hungry at the school down the street and in our region and throughout the world.  We send help to those whose lives have been devastated by Hurricane Harvey. We pack bags of school supplies for needy children. We work to dismantle racism and other injustices. We do these things because the needs are great. But we also do these things because we need to do them, as we follow Jesus on the way of the cross… as we set our minds, not on human things, but on divine things.         
            On both of my pilgrimages to the Holy Land, we walked the Via Dolorosa-- the way of the cross.  Near the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, I saw a group of crosses propped up against a wall, where pilgrims could take up a cross and carry it as they walked the Via Dolorosa.
            Paul Shupe suggests that perhaps what we need is a multitude of crosses, one for each of us, at the doors of our sanctuaries, to be taken up as we return to the world of home and family, work and commerce, service and play—symbols of the call to discipleship that we have heard-- for us to accept anew.[4]

            When we prepare to celebrate the Lord's Supper, we proclaim one of the great mysteries of our faith:  Christ has died.  Christ has risen.  Christ will come again."
            We believe in a God who is powerful to overcome sin and death in the resurrection.  We believe in a God who keeps promises.  We believe that, in the fullness of time, Christ will return.
            If we really believe in the resurrection, deep in our bones, it changes the way we see everything.   When we pick up the cross and follow Christ, there may be darkness and death on the road.  But we know that the darkness does not overcome the world, because we have God's promises.           
            The cost of discipleship seems high.  And it is. 
            But we have Jesus' promise:  Those who lose their lives for his sake-- will save their lives. 
            Thanks be to God!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
September 3, 2017

[1] Matthew 2:3-4.
[2] Philip Halle, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, 2008.
[3] David Lose, in “The Theory of Everything,” at
[4]  David L. Bartlett; Barbara Brown Taylor (2011-05-31). Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 2623-2625). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.