Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Courage for Troubling Times." A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church.

Candlelight vigil to mourn massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue.

"Courage for Troubling Times"

Mark 4:35-41

During the dark days of World War II, the World Council of Churches adopted a symbol which had been important to the early church during times of danger, hardship, and persecution:  the church is depicted as a storm-tossed boat, with a cross for a mast.
            Over the centuries, the ship has been a prominent symbol for the church in Christian art and architecture.  This part of the church building is called the “nave,” which is the Latin name for “ship.”  If you look up, you can see how the designers of this building evoked the symbolism.
            When the early Christians tried to describe what it was like to be a Christian and to be a member of the church, they said it was like being on a ship with Christ in a storm.     The story we just heard from Mark's gospel seemed descriptive of the early church’s experience.  
            In the Gospel lesson, we find the disciples on a journey.  The journey is not one of their own choosing, but one they've been commanded to take.  
            It must have been a long day.  Jesus had been teaching beside the sea.  There had been a huge crowd gathered on the shore, while he sat in the boat and spoke in parables about the Reign of God.
            When evening came, Jesus said to the disciples, "Let us go across to the other side of the sea."  So, leaving the crowd behind, they set off across the sea. 
            The time I sailed across the Sea of Galilee, it was on a beautiful, calm, sunny day.  It was smooth sailing.  But Peter and the other fishermen among Jesus' inner circle of disciples knew from experience the danger of sudden storms on the Sea of Galilee.  As the wind and the waves fill the boat with water, the disciples are filled with fear.  They're sinking, and they’re afraid they might drown! 
            In terror, they turn to Jesus, who is calmly asleep in the stern of the boat.  The disciples woke Jesus with words we may use to address God when things get scary:    "Don't you care?"
            Mark tells us that Jesus had been sleeping through the storm.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, the ability to sleep peacefully is a sign of perfect trust in God's providential care.  So, when Jesus was sleeping through the storm it didn't mean that he didn't care about his disciples.  It showed that he had perfect trust in God to keep them all safe.
            Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace!  Be still!"
            The words Jesus addressed to the wind and the waves are exactly the same words he used in the exorcism of the demon-possessed man in the first chapter of Mark.   It's a forceful rebuke, as he commands the forces of the storm, saying,  "Be still.  Be calm!"
            And the wind ceased--   just like that.  There was a dead calm.
            Then Jesus said to them, "Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?"
            When you read through a gospel from beginning to end, you get a much better feel for what the evangelist means when he uses particular words and symbols that you miss if you read little parts of the gospel in isolation.  For Mark, faith isn't about holding correct, orthodox beliefs or living an upstanding moral life.  Faith is trust.  Fearfulness is the lack of faith.
            Mark tells us that disciples are sometimes called to do things that are risky or scary to us--  things that require that we trust in the power of God to sustain us, in spite of our fears.
            Mark wrote his gospel in a time of great persecution, under the emperor Nero.  Peter and Paul had in all likelihood been put to death by that time.  The young church was in danger of being wiped out.  So, Mark included stories in his gospel that would encourage the people in the church.

            We might like to think that if we follow Jesus, he'll keep us out of the storm.   But, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we're not promised a safe, successful, long, or trouble-free life.  He never promised it would be easy.  
I'm convinced that the storms and the struggles of life--  both on a personal level and as a church-- are part of how Christ teaches us to trust in God's love and power to save us.     If we're going to travel with Jesus, we have to weather some storms. 
            The good news is that--  when we begin to trust in God's love and saving power, we can overcome some of our fears.  We can begin to have faith we can weather the storms of life--  because Christ is with us. 

            We live in a tumultuous time—a time of great change and polarization and anxiety— in the world and in the church. But it isn’t the first time. 
            Today is Reformation Sunday, which is a good time to celebrate our history and be inspired by our ancestors in the faith.
            The outspoken Scottish reformer John Knox felt compelled to leave the British Isles after the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor rose to the English throne in 1553.  Eventually he joined a fellowship of religious refugees from across Europe who had thronged to Geneva, Switzerland.
            Geneva’s most famous resident, the French lawyer and humanist John Calvin, was himself a Geneva immigrant.  Calvin helped create an atmosphere in Geneva that was welcoming to outsiders. They established a hospital for refugees, as well as an academy for their education. Knox ministered to a congregation of English-speaking refugees.
            John Knox marveled at his time in Geneva, calling it ‘the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the apostles.’”[1]
            Calvin’s emphasis on placing full trust in God, as opposed to any earthly ruler, aimed to infuse life in the city with gratitude and faith.  He hoped that the doctrine of salvation through election would ease the anxieties of a people living in an age of plague, war, and dislocation. For Calvin and for Knox, growing in trust of God and love for God enlarged a community’s ability to respond to God’s call to love and service--  no matter where its residents came from.[2]

            Writing in the Baptist News, Alan Bean tells about a time a woman in his congregation called him in tears, insisting that he visit her without delay. When he got there, she told him how, in the middle of the night, a repressed memory from her childhood had worked its way to the surface of consciousness. She had remembered the boxcars crammed with desperate people passing through her German community and the hollow-eyed horror etched onto the faces.
            “Maybe I was too young to understand,” she told him, “but my parents and grandparents had to have known. Those people were Jews headed for the camps, weren’t they? Who else could they have been? And we said nothing. We did nothing.”[3]
             Bean writes that the Holocaust, or Shoah, has always haunted him.  “If I thought Nazi-era Germany was an aberration, I could probably move on,”  he writes. But in view of what is happening in our nation and the world today, who can think that?  Bean declares that  “the Church of Jesus Christ is confronted by an anti-Gospel once again. And once again we either celebrate effusively or lapse into pitiful silence.”

            In 1933, on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s birth, 20,000 German Christians flocked to a rally in which tenets of German Christianity were celebrated.  Many German Christians happily proclaimed their support for Hitler and what he stood for.
            Even some of those involved in the Confessing Church movement initially welcomed the rise of Hitler’s National Socialists. But they came to understand they were obligated to challenge state-sponsored evil, to minister to the oppressed (regardless of race or religion), and that they might even be required to sacrifice themselves.
            In 1934, the Theological Declaration of Barmen was adopted by Christians in Nazi Germany who opposed the heresies of the German Christian movement.
I believe God continues over time to work in people of faith, and is working to do a new thing in our time.  I believe that this is a time of new reformation--  re-formation,  and that God is working to create a new church,  in and through us.   I believe that God wants to use us as instruments of justice and reconciliation in the world. 
Luther’s reformation came out of a righteous anger against injustices and corruption. I think many of us are struggling with a kind of righteous anger about things we see happening in our world.
Yesterday, on the Jewish Sabbath, a shooter walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  He killed eleven people and wounded others, including four police officers.  His social media accounts included repeated attacks on Jews, references to white supremacist and neo-Nazi symbols, and attacks on the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, known as HIAS, which works with the federal government to resettle refugees in American communities.
The people at Tree of Life synagogue were carrying out the demands scripture placed on their consciences, scriptures that command Jews and Christians to care for the “stranger” or “alien,” and to love the stranger and remember that we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19)   The killer who decided that they should die for their support for immigrants was carrying out a mission based on fear and hatred.
The synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh is yet another example of the fury and bigotry on the fringes of our society. It reminds us of other active shooter incidents--some of them in houses of worship--that have horrified many of us in recent years.  It challenges us to consider the troubling frequency of mass shooting events in our nation in comparison to almost every other nation in the world.
The Pittsburgh massacre came days after the arrest of a Florida man, who allegedly sent more than a dozen pipe bombs to two former presidents, a former Secretary of State, and prominent Democratic elected officials and leaders, as well as a wealthy Jewish philanthropist-- all of whom have been singled out and named as evil and enemies, as well as CNN.  These pipe bombs put at risk the intended recipients, postal employees, and everyone who came near the packages.
We’ve heard very little about an apparently racially motivated shooting near Louisville, Kentucky a few days ago. A white supremacist tried unsuccessfully to enter a predominantly African-American church before he entered a Kroger market nearby and killed Maurice Stallard, who was there buying poster board for his 12-year-old grandson’s school project-- shooting him in front of the grandson. Then he went out in the parking lot and shot Vickie Lee Jones.
Friends, our thoughts and prayers are not enough.
So, on this Reformation Sunday, what do we hear the Spirit saying to us?
            In a blog entry a few years ago, Diana Butler Bass wrote of the Protestant Reformation movement:  “It strikes me as interesting that those who followed the teaching of the new reform movement did not come to be known as “Reformists.”  Rather, the moniker that stuck was “Protestant.”  Luther and his associates were protesters rather than reformers—they stood up against the religious conventions of the day, arguing on behalf of those suffering under religious, social, and economic oppression.
            These religious protesters accused the church of their day of being too rich, too political, in thrall to kings and princes, having sold its soul to the powerful.   The original Protestants preached, taught, and argued for freedom—spiritual, economic, and political—and for God’s justice to be embodied in the church and the world.” 
The early Protestants believed that they were not only creating a new church--  but that they were creating a new world,  one that would resemble more fully God’s desire for humanity.  They weren’t content with the status quo.   They felt a deep discomfort within.  They knew things were not right.  And they set out to change the world.”[4]        
Long ago God spoke through the prophet Isaiah:  “I am about to do a new thing.   Now it springs forth.  Don’t you perceive it?”[5]
I believe God is working to do a new thing in our time.  I believe that this is a time of new reformation--  re-formation,  and that God is working to create a new church,  in and through us.   I believe that God wants to use us as instruments of justice and reconciliation in the world.
So—on this Reformation Sunday, as we look around at the world we live in and see things that are not right, we can be glad that we are freed for a great adventure of faith.”
            For some of us, this might mean writing letters to our elected officials, demanding they stop using divisive language, and work for civility and unity. For some of us it might mean contacting local synagogues to offer condolences and support. For some of us it might mean committing to work with a local interfaith or anti-violence or anti-racism group. For some of us it might mean organizing supper conversation groups that bring people with diverse views together to bridge differences and promote understanding.  Some of you may have other ideas.
            There are ways to disrupt and dismantle racism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, Islamaphobia, ableism-- all the systems that divide us and distort our life in community and as a society.
            In the words of our Presbyterian “Brief Statement of Faith:”   In a broken and fearful world, the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.”[6]            
            In this ship we call the Christian life, we will go through some storms.  But we don't need to be afraid, because we know that Jesus is with us.  
            Thanks be to God!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
October 28, 2018

[2] Ibid.
[3] Alan Bean, “Silence in the face of evil: learning from an obscure schoolteacher who urged Karl Barth and other theologians to stand in solidarity with the Jews in Nazi Germany.”

[4] Diana Butler Bass, “Putting the Protest Back in Protestant” (October 28, 2011).

[5] Isaiah 43:9

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

Sunday, October 21, 2018

"Called to Live Courageously." A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on Luke 19 during Stewardship season.

"Zacchaeus Tree." Sycamore tree in Jericho.

"Called to Live Courageously"

Luke 19:1-10; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; Proverbs 3:5-10

         The story of Zacchaeus is pure gospel.  It's a story of how a person's life was changed by encounter with Jesus the Christ.  It’s a story of transformation. 
            Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree because he was trying to see who Jesus was. What he’d heard about Jesus, we don't know.  But somehow, somewhere, he had heard something that caused him to wonder.
            Now, Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, and a wealthy person.  What he needed, he could get for himself.  What he wanted he could buy.  Zacchaeus was not a needy person-- or so it seemed. 
            Yet, appearances can be deceptive.  Zacchaeus, as a chief tax collector, oversaw an operation by which taxes were collected from his people-- his fellow Jews-- on behalf of the Romans who had conquered and were now occupying the country.  A tax collector paid a certain amount for the franchise and was allowed to collect and keep for himself an amount over above what was owed to the governments.  In the right hands, it was a lucrative racket.
            As you can imagine, tax collectors were not popular.  They were resented, not only for their wealth, but for the way they came by it.  They were considered traitors, both to their country and to their religion.  As a tax collector, Zacchaeus was ostracized as a "sinner,” regarded as one of the lost sheep of Israel.
            Yet on that day, when Jesus walked through the streets of Jericho, Zacchaeus had the courage to step out of his comfort zone, to humble himself to climb a tree so he could see Jesus. 
            When Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today,” Zacchaeus responded by hurrying down and was happy to welcome Jesus into his home.
            The people who were there started grumbling and saying, “Jesus is going to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
            The story gives us a glimpse of another side to Zacchaeus.  None of his neighbors saw it.  The label they had attached to him-- “sinner"--- kept them from seeing it.  The people who knew Zacchaeus saw him as a "sinner"-- unredeemable...unchangeable.  Maybe Zacchaeus had heard it so often that he thought so too. 
            But there was something-- some kind of inner discontent...  a yearning, perhaps, that made him curious about Jesus, and ultimately, vulnerable to change.
            Most people who looked at Zacchaeus missed it.  But not Jesus.  He looked past the "sinner" label and caught sight of a "son of Abraham."  
            Jesus looked at Zacchaeus through the eyes of love, and, beneath the layers of greed and selfishness, he saw a glimmer of God's image. He saw a spark that could light a fire.

            Something inside of Zacchaeus had urged him to get to where he could see Jesus.  Maybe he had heard that Jesus had a different attitude toward "sinners" than most people.  But, by climbing that tree, Zacchaeus may well have been seeking more than a good view.  It may have been his way of reaching out to something or someone who might help him change whatever needed changing in his life.  So it was that Jesus spied Zacchaeus and called him down-- not just from the tree-- but into a new life.
            The story of Zacchaeus reminds us that human beings have more capacity for transformation than we are apt to think.  And the story goes on to suggest that what transforms people is love.   
            Think about it.  Can you think of anything else that can bring about lasting change in human beings?
            I'm convinced of this:  you can't change another person or yourself by demanding it.  You can't coerce someone into a new way of life.  It takes something else-- something we can see in the case of Zacchaeus.
            The transformation that took place in Zacchaeus started when Jesus looked at him through the eyes of love and spoke to him as if he counted for something.  Jesus looked up at him in the tree and said, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today."
            It's GRACE-- love and acceptance that Zacchaeus had done nothing to deserve.
            Zacchaeus met someone who looked at him through the eyes of love...  who gave him a taste of the love of God.  And that changed him.  
            If that's going to happen today, if some of the "lost causes" you know are going to experience that kind of love-- it needs to happen through you.  God's love can become real to them if they experience it in the way you relate to them.   
            The point of the story of Zacchaeus is what the whole of the New Testament wants us to know:  only love can save us.  There is no love so strong and powerful as the love of Christ. 
            But many people today will never experience that love, unless they know it through you… through us.   

            Jesus corrects the disciples' mistaken assumption about faith-- that faith is something we can measure...  something we possess or acquire. Faith is a matter of our relationship with God, that begins as a response to God's gift.  Faith is a matter of trust and confidence in the freeing power of God's love for us and the power of God to fulfill God's promises. 
            Faith means freedom-- the freedom to give up the anxious and impossible task of keeping ourselves from falling.  Faith means freedom to stop thinking of ourselves as the source of our own life and hope, freedom to give up the struggle to control everything by our own power.  It means freedom to be at home in the presence of a loving God.[1]
            Faith means trusting that God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.  Faith means relying on the power of God who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to God's own purpose and grace.[2]

            The membership of the Littlefield congregation has been in decline for decades, since the demographics in the surrounding neighborhoods began to change and then changes in society that have resulted in fewer and fewer people affiliating with faith communities.
            The people of Littlefield Church could have given up, saying “we’re too small to make a difference.” 
            But that isn’t what happened.  Over the years, Littlefield has reached out to the community and witnessed for peace and justice in a variety of ways.   Our summer Peace Camp has touched the lives of hundreds of young people who have learned how to be peace builders. 
            Over the years, Littlefield Church has provided a place where people can come together to hear the voices of peacemakers.  And we have brought people from different faith traditions together to learn about one another and to find ways to pray and work together.

We live in a world which gives us every reason to hunker down… to say we can’t do anything about all the injustice and violence in the world.  We live in a world that encourages us to define ourselves according to how different we are from others – from other cultures, other countries, other faiths, other tribes.   We live in a world that prompts us to be full of fear-- to hold on, and to close down, rather than to let go and open up.  We live in a world that feels like it’s tottering on the brink-- a world very like the world of first century Palestine into which walked an itinerant Jewish teacher who changed history forever.
As I was looking through some of my study notes this week, I was reminded that 7 or 8 years ago we hosted Jewish activist Mark Braverman.  Mark told us that we are living in prophetic times, and that the church is called.[3]    He quoted Jim Wallis: “when politics fail, broad social movements emerge to change the political wind.  Look at the movement to end Jim Crow in America.  Look at the global movement to end apartheid in South Africa.  Where were they born, who were the leaders?  The church in the U.S. is poised to fulfill this historic calling, as it has done before in recent history.”
This is no time for us to live small, safe lives, constricted by our fears that we don’t have enough, that we’re too small or inadequate to make a difference.
The words of Martin Luther King, writing from the Birmingham jail fifty-five years ago, speak to us with an uncanny resonance today, in the twenty-first century:
The judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.
            Twenty-first century North American culture is presenting unprecedented challenges for the church and a new sense of what it means to practice our faith courageously. This includes our understanding of the spiritual discipline of stewardship and how we live that out through our generosity. We are called to trust in God’s goodness and abundance…to think generously… to practice generosity… and to do so courageously.
            It takes courage to follow Jesus and live a life trusting in God, especially if we’re seeking to be good stewards, or managers, of all God has entrusted to us-- including our own lives and the Good News itself.
            When people have courage, they usually show mental or moral strength to overcome their fears and to keep moving forward.   In the midst of troubling times, it takes courage to reaffirm God’s presence, power and love as the only foundation on which we can stand.
            Psalm 31:24 says, “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.”
            We can live courageously when we learn to recognize ourselves as God’s beloved daughters and sons, despite our weaknesses and whatever frightening things might be going on around us.
            We can learn to live courageously when we trust in the LORD with all our heart. When we honor God with our substance and with the first fruits of our lives, we will taste God’s abundance.[4]  When we set our hopes on God, rather than the uncertainty of wealth, we can be freed to be rich in good works, to be generous, and willing to share…and we can take hold of the life that is real.[5]
            We can trust that “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power and of love and a sound mind.”[6]
            Thanks be to God!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
October 21, 2018

[1] Craig Dykstra, Growing in the Life of Faith (Geneva Press, 1999), p. 19.
[2]2 Timothy 1:7 - 9.
[3] Mark Braverman, “A New Thing Springs Forth.”  Sermon preached at Wyoming Presbyerian Church, Milburn, NJ March 21, 2010.
[4] Proverbs 3:5-10
[5] 1 Timothy  6:17-19/
[6] 2 Timothy 1:7.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

"God's Hands and Feet in the World." A Sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church.

"God's Hands and Feet in the World"

Mark 10:35-45

The twelve disciples had been going around with Jesus for some time.  He’d been teaching them about the way of self-giving love.  But they don’t seem to get it.  Mark tells us that James and John “come forward” to Jesus, pushing ahead of the other disciples. 
            “Teacher,” they say, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
            Jesus says to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  And they say, “When you come into your glory, grant one of us the privilege of sitting at your right hand…and one at your left.”
            Now, some people dismiss the Zebedee brothers.  They see them in this conversation, at least, as pushy, ambitious seekers of a place of honor and power. 
            But I think it’s obvious that James and John had great faith in Jesus.  They believed in him, and their personal hopes were completely woven into his destiny.  They loved Jesus.   But what Jesus is trying to teach his disciples about being a suffering servant is hard!  It’s hard to understand-- and harder to live.
            One of the reasons that the Christian message has been twisted and distorted and misunderstood—is that it’s so paradoxical.  The Christian paradox is that our Lord and Savior came as a suffering servant to save us… and to show us the WAY.
            Jesus defines greatness very differently from the ways we’re used to thinking about it.  When we follow Jesus, as his disciples, we need to struggle with the paradox that—in God’s kingdom—we gain by losing.  We become great by serving.  And we get to be first by being last.  In the kingdom of God, things look very different than they do in the world.
            “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be a servant.  This teaching is so critical to understanding Jesus’ ministry…and such a key to being a disciple—that the gospels record it no less than eight times.
            What does it mean for us to follow a servant savior?  
            Among other things, it means setting aside self  in order to take up the cause of others.  It means serving our neighbors.  It means living out our faith in terms of kindness, openness, empathy, and compassion.    Never perfectly, never fully—for we’re not capable of perfect servanthood.           
            As part of Christ’s body, when we’re at our best, we are a servant church.   When we’re not at our best, we’re an organization filled with people each trying to get their own needs met…  trying to get something out of church… and trying to get the church to be the church we want it to be.
            When we’re being the servant church, we’re feeding the hungry, calling on the sick…visiting the home bound.   We’re serving those in the community who are needy and hurting, through friendship and practical kinds of help.  When we’re being the servant church, we share in Christ’s ministry in the world by generously supporting the mission of the church with our tithes and offerings.
            Today has been designated as Bread for the World Sunday.   This Tuesday is World Food Day. 
            This is a time when we who have plenty to eat are reminded that many people don’t… and many of those who are hungry or food insecure are children.  On Bread for the World Sunday, we are challenged to consider some facts about hunger.  More than 41 million Americans, including 13 million children, lived in households that struggled to put food on the table in 2016. More than 40 million Americans lived below the poverty line in 2016; 1 in 3 were children. [1] Many of these children have parents who have jobs and work hard, but their wages aren’t high enough to cover the high costs of rent, transportation, and utilities and daily meals.[2]About two-thirds of SNAP recipients are children, elderly, or disabled.[3]
            Our federal government’s feeding programs serve as a lifeline for vulnerable children and families. Because children are hit especially hard by the effects of hunger and malnutrition, nutrition programs aimed at children are particularly important. 
            A healthy start in life — even before a child is born — pays off for years-- not only for individual children and families, but for communities and our nation as a whole.
Locally, and in the short term, we are helping to alleviate hunger as we contribute to Blessings in a Backpack…when we give to the Presbyterian Hunger Program through our Cents-Ability Offerings… when we support Church World Service…when we support the mission of the Open Door…or Zaman…or  Gleaners.
            But we also need to work on the systemic causes of hunger.   Only one out of every 20 grocery bags that feed people who are hungry come from church food pantries and other private charities.  Federal nutrition programs, from school meals to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), provide the rest.   Our government’s child nutrition programs serve millions of children each year.  It’s one of the ways we work together as a society to care for those in need.
            In the toolkit for Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters, I read about Stephanie Rice, the mother of four boys ages 3 to 10 in Ohio.   Stephanie and her husband have always had to plan carefully as they raised their family on modest wages.
            Early in their marriage, James worked at Babies R U and made $7.25 an hour. Stephanie earned $9 an hour as a cashier at Wal-Mart. The Rice’s were raising James’ daughter from a previous marriage and had a baby on the way. There just wasn’t enough money to put food on the table. They applied for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to fill in the gaps.
            “If that had not been there, I wouldn’t have been able to pay the bills,” Stephanie said. It was a situation where every penny had to be accounted for. Even the slightest interruption in food stamps would have completely upset the balance.”
            SNAP is just one of many anti-poverty programs funded by the federal government. Other programs include the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, Children (WIC), and school meals.
            These food assistance and child nutrition programs are a lifeline to millions of Americans every year.   How the federal government decides to spend taxpayer money has real-life consequences.
            It’s common for families receiving food assistance to have one or more adults earning a paycheck. Most benefits go to the working poor.
            Stephanie and James are doing better than during their hardest times, like the winters when they couldn’t pay the gas bill and their gas was shut off. Or the time their car was stolen and it took them a year to recover from the loss.
            These days, James and Stephanie’s family doesn’t need as much food assistance, but Stephanie is worried about potential cuts to food assistance to others in need. She’s majoring in social and political science, and has a goal of one day running a nonprofit for homeless people, giving back to those in need--just as she received help when she needed it the most.
            In the meantime, on her to-do list is calling her members of Congress. She says she has her senators and representative “on speed dial,” so she can tell them what it’s like to have a hungry family and receive temporary help to put food on the table.[4]
            Bread for the World is a faith-based education and advocacy organization that I’ve belonged to for some years.  The reason I support Bread for the World is because, over the years, they have had a remarkable record of helping win passage of bipartisan legislation that addresses hunger.   As a result of this advocacy, children in the United States receive vital nutrition.   Emergency food reaches refugees from famine and conflict in Africa and elsewhere.  Agricultural development is enabling hungry people in various parts of the world to grow enough food to feed their families.
            In the Hebrew scripture passage we heard today, we heard God speaking through the prophet Isaiah, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making  widows their prey and robbing the fatherless… [5]
            The scriptures teach us that God loves justice and requires us to do justice and love kindness.[6]  Our individual actions and societal structures should enable all to share in God’s provision. Deuteronomy commands, “do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”[7]
            In Exodus 16:13-19, God instructs the Israelites not to take more many each day than they need. In Leviticus 23:22, the Israelites reserved a corner of their fields for those who needed food. Jesus spoke of the importance of justice as an element of faithfulness: “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God. It is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.”[8]  
            The community in Acts 2 “had all things in common. They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” In Matthew 25, Jesus taught that the nations would be judged according to how they treated “the least of these”-- those who are marginalized and in need.
            When we support Bread for the World through our donations, when we call or write our elected representatives to advocate for those who struggle to feed their families, we are living out our calling to do justice.

            As Teresa of Avila famously put it, "Christ has no body now on earth but yours… no hands but yours…  no feet but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which God’s compassion will look upon the world.  Yours are the feet with which God will go about doing good.  Yours are the hands with which God will bless others now."

            We are called to serve—to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.
When we respond to Christ’s call and work together, we can help to change the conditions and the policies that allow hunger to persist. 
            We are called to share our bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into our house… to care for basic needs of those who are marginalized.
            Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God promises us that we will not have to do this alone.  When we call, the LORD will answer.  When we cry for help, God will say, “Here I am.”[9]
            And that, my friends, is good news!
Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
October 14, 2018

   [1] Income and Poverty in the United State: 2016, U.S. Census Bureau.  
   [2] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. policy-basicsintroduction-to-the-supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap
[3] USDA, Women, Infant, and Children Program Participation and Costs. les/pd/wisummary.pdf 
[5] Isaiah 10:1-2.
[6] Isaiah 61:8; Psalm 99:4; Psalm 33:5; Micah 6:8; Amos 5:22-24.
[7] Deuteronomy 15:7-11.
[8] Luke 11:42.

[9] Isaiah 58