sermons

You Want to Live? (February 16, 2014)

sermonsMORE LIFE

A sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, February 16, 2014

 Text: Deuteronomy 30:11-20

 Sunrise by Mary Oliver

You can
die for it—an idea, or the world. People
have done so, brilliantly, letting
their small bodies be bound
to the stake, creating
an unforgettable
fury of light. But
this morning, climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought
of China, and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun
blazes
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises
under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many! What is my name? What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it
whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter fire.”

This Ancient Word is an old story – it’s an interesting story but it’s not really our story, is it?  Here we have the children of Israel, gathered on the Jordan’s bank, looking over into the land of promise.  They’ve gathered to hear the last words of their leader, Moses.  He has led them through 40 long years of wandering in the wilderness while they grumbled and complained, often looking longingly back to Egypt, wondering if they would ever come to this new place that God and Moses have promised them.  Now we find them on the verge of realizing the promise.  Their old leader will not join them as the promise is fulfilled.  They will journey forward without him.  He has hard words of warning for them as they move ahead.  If they fail to journey with God, they will journey alone and the consequences will be disastrous.

But in the comfort our lives, settled already in a land of promises fulfilled, experiencing wonders and blessings beyond our imagining, this is not our story.  We’ve got it made.  We’ve already arrived, haven’t we?  What more could we want or expect?

The way I tell the story, my father had a photographic memory.  As a preacher, he would study all week, reading and reflecting on his text; then on Sunday morning, he would get up early, scribble six words on the back of an envelope, enter the pulpit and preach for thirty-five minutes, a well-thought out, well-reasoned and eloquent sermon.  That is not my story.  I approach preaching differently, and I know those of you who already think my sermons are too long are glad that I don’t preach for thirty-five minutes.

When I was in Granville, the little town celebrated its 200 anniversary.  Founded in 1805 by pioneers who headed west from Granville, Massachusetts, Granville, Ohio, felt in many ways like a New England village.  At First Baptist Church, we decided we would do a historical service to celebrate the anniversary.  It was an historical mish-mash but we had a good time remembering the long legacy of the village and the church.  I wore a frock coat and top hat.  We sang gospel songs and hymns from the mid 19th century and I “preached” a sermon written by Charles Baldwin, who was the congregation’s longest tenured pastor, serving for over 35 years.

The reason I could use one of Reverend Baldwin’s sermons was that the entire collection of handwritten manuscripts had been bequeathed to the archives of the village historical society.  I was granted access to those manuscripts and spent some time looking through them.  The obvious problems were that the language, style and theology were quite dated, not exactly what Granville’s current congregation would want to hear.  Also, Reverend Baldwin’s sermons were pages and pages long, typically lasting 45 minutes or more.  The people in Granville in 2005 were no more interested in listening to me preach that long than you are.  I finally found a manuscript that was adaptable and I edited it to an appropriate length for the day and age.  It was good compromise for an occasion of historical remembrance, but Reverend Baldwin’s story was not mine, nor did his sermon speak directly to his old congregation 125 years after he first preached it.

What’s the point of these digressions?  Nothing profound, I guess, except this morning’s scripture comes at the end of what some scholars call a very long sermon.  This is Moses’s farewell exhortation of his people and it covers the first 30 chapters of Deuteronomy.  I’m quite sure you would not be comfortable listening to me proclaim the first 30 chapters of Deuteronomy.  Maybe, if Moses himself was here, we might tolerate it.  But it’s really not our style nor is it our story.  Or is it?  Is there more life in this ancient tale than appears on the surface?

The verses we read this morning are the final words of Moses’s sermon, the climax that includes the invitation.  And, by the way, both my father and Reverend Baldwin would have concluded their sermons with such a climax and invitation to make a critical choice.  They would have urged a decision for discipleship, for following God’s way by following Jesus Christ.  We’re not comfortable with that sort of invitation these days.  Many of us are not comfortable with forced choices of any sort.  We don’t so much like, “It’s this or that.  You must choose; now is the moment of decision.”  We see life as much more nuanced and ambiguous.  We find ourselves living with the questions.  Very often there are no clear or easy answers.  So this is not our story, is it?

But perhaps there are moments in our lives when we need to step out in space and make a choice.  Might there be points at which we decide, placing our trust in God and God’s promises?  We may not be moving toward a literal land of promise but is there a symbolic land of promise for us, a place, a time, a state in which we would know more light, more love, more life if we were to make a clear choice, if we were to answer “yes”?  Brian Jones writes of our ancient word that “The choice is laid out bluntly. It is yes or no. The options presented do not include ‘maybe’ or ‘I’ll have to think about it’ or ‘I’ll give it a try.’”  Quoting from Star Wars, he reminds us, “As Yoda famously tells Luke Skywalker who has half-heartedly promised to ‘try’ to do as Yoda asks, ‘No. Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try’” (Brian C. Jones, “Commentary on Deuteronomy 30:15-20,” 9-18-2013, workingpreacher.org).

Moses and his people had been wandering together for 40 years.  They had been freed from captivity in Egypt but they had not found the place God had for them.  Now it was in sight, so close they could smell it across the river, but, before they entered, Moses had a last word for them.  “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity…I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.”  There it was all laid out before them.  Sometimes God does put it to us in just such a fashion.  Here is the opportunity, now is the moment, how will you decide?  As you can see, the decision you make, the direction you choose will have consequences.  Are you willing to take the chance?

There are problems with this ancient text.  It can certainly be seen to support a prosperity gospel, though I believe that is a misreading.  It can be read as presenting God as a harsh and punitive parent, though again that’s not how I read the conditions.  And, because, for the original Israelites, claiming the land of promise meant occupying a literal land, often through bloody, genocidal means, the metaphor of promised land can be tainted for many of us.

Still, I see a promise of more life here and a challenge for us to claim it for ourselves and all creation.  Let us ask ourselves what God has set before us – what dimensions of life and death, of blessing and curse, of happiness and distress, of fulfillment and disappointment.  Then, what would it mean for us to choose life, blessing, happiness, fulfillment of God’s promises for us?

Thelma Parodi is responsible for the title of this sermon.  She brought it to us at Bible study on Tuesday – “You want to be happy?”  She was clear it’s not a statement.  It comes with a big question mark.  Do you want to be happy?  I don’t think she meant smiley faces with giggles and facile laughter.  Do you want to be happy?  To be blessed? To feel fulfilled?  To know deep joy and peace that passes understanding?  Then you need to choose God, thereby choosing life in its richest, fullest sense.   Carolyn Sharp argues that in “[t]his deeply moving text… Moses is urging his people to commit, heart and soul and body, to a vibrant relationship with the God in whom they live and move and have their being.”  You want to be happy?  There it is.  Love God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself.

If we want to be happy, to know the joy of the promise fulfilled, then we must turn to God, we must center ourselves in God, we must commit ourselves to following God’s ways, we must turn ourselves over to life-giving relationship with the Giver of all life.  It is not conditional in any obligatory sense.  The great irony is that God does not wish to punish us ever. God wants only the best for all us and all creation.  It is our self-centeredness, our selfishness, that does us in.  We think we’re in charge or we can do it by ourselves.  The awful consequences of not walking with God are the inevitable consequences of being outside that life-giving relationship.  It is in the very nature of choosing life that we find light and love.  The alternative is to choose death and to lose both light and love.

In today’s Words of Preparation, William Sloane Coffin speaks eloquently of what it is like to choose life.  He says, “For joy is to escape from the prison of selfhood [where we often encounter obfuscation, apathy and death when left to our own devices] and to enter by love into union with the life that dwells and sings within the essence of every other thing and in the core of our own souls.  Joy is to feel the doors of the self fly open into a wealth that is endless because none of it is ours and yet it all belongs to us” (William Sloane Coffin, Credo, p.  123).  When we choose life, this is our “land of promise,” if you will – to be in concert with the Creator and all creation, to dwell with the riches of infinite blessing.  Even in the midst of our most difficult times and most painful struggles, this is the promise to which we assent.  This is the life to which we utter our inextinguishable “yes.”  You want to be happy?  Choose life.  More life, O God, more life.  Amen.

 

 

 

12.00

MORE LIFE

A sermon preached by

Randle R. (Rick) Mixon

First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Monday, February 16, 2014

 

Text: Deuteronomy 30:11-20

 

Sunrise

Mary Oliver

 

You can

die for it—an idea, or the world. People

have done so, brilliantly, letting

their small bodies be bound

to the stake, creating

an unforgettable

fury of light. But

this morning, climbing the familiar hills

in the familiar

fabric of dawn, I thought

of China, and India

and Europe, and I thought

how the sun

blazes

for everyone just

so joyfully

as it rises

under the lashes

of my own eyes, and I thought

I am so many! What is my name? What is the name

of the deep breath I would take

over and over

for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is

happiness, it is another one

of the ways to enter fire.”

 

 

This Ancient Word is an old story – it’s an interesting story but it’s not really our story, is it?  Here we have the children of Israel, gathered on the Jordan’s bank, looking over into the land of promise.  They’ve gathered to hear the last words of their leader, Moses.  He has led them through 40 long years of wandering in the wilderness while they grumbled and complained, often looking longingly back to Egypt, wondering if they would ever come to this new place that God and Moses have promised them.  Now we find them on the verge of realizing the promise.  Their old leader will not join them as the promise is fulfilled.  They will journey forward without him.  He has hard words of warning for them as they move ahead.  If they fail to journey with God, they will journey alone and the consequences will be disastrous.

 

But in the comfort our lives, settled already in a land of promises fulfilled, experiencing wonders and blessings beyond our imagining, this is not our story.  We’ve got it made.  We’ve already arrived, haven’t we?  What more could we want or expect?

 

The way I tell the story, my father had a photographic memory.  As a preacher, he would study all week, reading and reflecting on his text; then on Sunday morning, he would get up early, scribble six words on the back of an envelope, enter the pulpit and preach for thirty-five minutes, a well-thought out, well-reasoned and eloquent sermon.  That is not my story.  I approach preaching differently, and I know those of you who already think my sermons are too long are glad that I don’t preach for thirty-five minutes.

 

When I was in Granville, the little town celebrated its 200 anniversary.  Founded in 1805 by pioneers who headed west from Granville, Massachusetts, Granville, Ohio, felt in many ways like a New England village.  At First Baptist Church, we decided we would do a historical service to celebrate the anniversary.  It was an historical mish-mash but we had a good time remembering the long legacy of the village and the church.  I wore a frock coat and top hat.  We sang gospel songs and hymns from the mid 19th century and I “preached” a sermon written by Charles Baldwin, who was the congregation’s longest tenured pastor, serving for over 35 years.

 

The reason I could use one of Reverend Baldwin’s sermons was that the entire collection of handwritten manuscripts had been bequeathed to the archives of the village historical society.  I was granted access to those manuscripts and spent some time looking through them.  The obvious problems were that the language, style and theology were quite dated, not exactly what Granville’s current congregation would want to hear.  Also, Reverend Baldwin’s sermons were pages and pages long, typically lasting 45 minutes or more.  The people in Granville in 2005 were no more interested in listening to me preach that long than you are.  I finally found a manuscript that was adaptable and I edited it to an appropriate length for the day and age.  It was good compromise for an occasion of historical remembrance, but Reverend Baldwin’s story was not mine, nor did his sermon speak directly to his old congregation 125 years after he first preached it.

 

What’s the point of these digressions?  Nothing profound, I guess, except this morning’s scripture comes at the end of what some scholars call a very long sermon.  This is Moses’s farewell exhortation of his people and it covers the first 30 chapters of Deuteronomy.  I’m quite sure you would not be comfortable listening to me proclaim the first 30 chapters of Deuteronomy.  Maybe, if Moses himself was here, we might tolerate it.  But it’s really not our style nor is it our story.  Or is it?  Is there more life in this ancient tale than appears on the surface?

 

The verses we read this morning are the final words of Moses’s sermon, the climax that includes the invitation.  And, by the way, both my father and Reverend Baldwin would have concluded their sermons with such a climax and invitation to make a critical choice.  They would have urged a decision for discipleship, for following God’s way by following Jesus Christ.  We’re not comfortable with that sort of invitation these days.  Many of us are not comfortable with forced choices of any sort.  We don’t so much like, “It’s this or that.  You must choose; now is the moment of decision.”  We see life as much more nuanced and ambiguous.  We find ourselves living with the questions.  Very often there are no clear or easy answers.  So this is not our story, is it?

 

But perhaps there are moments in our lives when we need to step out in space and make a choice.  Might there be points at which we decide, placing our trust in God and God’s promises?  We may not be moving toward a literal land of promise but is there a symbolic land of promise for us, a place, a time, a state in which we would know more light, more love, more life if we were to make a clear choice, if we were to answer “yes”?  Brian Jones writes of our ancient word that “The choice is laid out bluntly. It is yes or no. The options presented do not include ‘maybe’ or ‘I’ll have to think about it’ or ‘I’ll give it a try.’”  Quoting from Star Wars, he reminds us, “As Yoda famously tells Luke Skywalker who has half-heartedly promised to ‘try’ to do as Yoda asks, ‘No. Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try’” (Brian C. Jones, “Commentary on Deuteronomy 30:15-20,” 9-18-2013, workingpreacher.org).

 

Moses and his people had been wandering together for 40 years.  They had been freed from captivity in Egypt but they had not found the place God had for them.  Now it was in sight, so close they could smell it across the river, but, before they entered, Moses had a last word for them.  See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity…I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.”  There it was all laid out before them.  Sometimes God does put it to us in just such a fashion.  Here is the opportunity, now is the moment, how will you decide?  As you can see, the decision you make, the direction you choose will have consequences.  Are you willing to take the chance?

 

There are problems with this ancient text.  It can certainly be seen to support a prosperity gospel, though I believe that is a misreading.  It can be read as presenting God as a harsh and punitive parent, though again that’s not how I read the conditions.  And, because, for the original Israelites, claiming the land of promise meant occupying a literal land, often through bloody, genocidal means, the metaphor of promised land can be tainted for many of us.

 

Still, I see a promise of more life here and a challenge for us to claim it for ourselves and all creation.  Let us ask ourselves what God has set before us – what dimensions of life and death, of blessing and curse, of happiness and distress, of fulfillment and disappointment.  Then, what would it mean for us to choose life, blessing, happiness, fulfillment of God’s promises for us? 

 

Thelma Parodi is responsible for the title of this sermon.  She brought it to us at Bible study on Tuesday – “You want to be happy?”  She was clear it’s not a statement.  It comes with a big question mark.  Do you want to be happy?  I don’t think she meant smiley faces with giggles and facile laughter.  Do you want to be happy?  To be blessed? To feel fulfilled?  To know deep joy and peace that passes understanding?  Then you need to choose God, thereby choosing life in its richest, fullest sense.   Carolyn Sharp argues that in “[t]his deeply moving text… Moses is urging his people to commit, heart and soul and body, to a vibrant relationship with the God in whom they live and move and have their being.”  You want to be happy?  There it is.  Love God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself.

 

If we want to be happy, to know the joy of the promise fulfilled, then we must turn to God, we must center ourselves in God, we must commit ourselves to following God’s ways, we must turn ourselves over to life-giving relationship with the Giver of all life.  It is not conditional in any obligatory sense.  The great irony is that God does not wish to punish us ever. God wants only the best for all us and all creation.  It is our self-centeredness, our selfishness, that does us in.  We think we’re in charge or we can do it by ourselves.  The awful consequences of not walking with God are the inevitable consequences of being outside that life-giving relationship.  It is in the very nature of choosing life that we find light and love.  The alternative is to choose death and to lose both light and love.

 

In today’s Words of Preparation, William Sloane Coffins speaks eloquently of what it is like to choose life.  He says, “For joy is to escape from the prison of selfhood [where we often encounter obfuscation, apathy and death when left to our own devices] and to enter by love into union with the life that dwells and sings within the essence of every other thing and in the core of our own souls.  Joy is to feel the doors of the self fly open into a wealth that is endless because none of it is ours and yet it all belongs to us” (William Sloane Coffin, Credo, p.  123).  When we choose life, this is our “land of promise,” if you will – to be in concert with the Creator and all creation, to dwell with the riches of infinite blessing.  Even in the midst of our most difficult times and most painful struggles, this is the promise to which we assent.  This is the life to which we utter our inextinguishable “yes.”  You want to be happy?  Choose life.  More life, O God, more life.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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We are a progressive Baptist Church affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA. We have been in Palo Alto since 1893. We celebrate our Baptist heritage. We affirm the historic Baptist tenets of: Bible Freedom, Soul Freedom, Church Freedom, Religious Freedom

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