Live Free!

Mixon Muses“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Live Free! That is the theme of our stewardship emphasis this year. At first glance, it seems somewhat curious, given there are other texts that point more clearly to generosity and giving. But after a second look, it makes sense to consider Christ’s gracious gift of freedom as meaningful motivation for good stewardship. We don’t make a big push for supporting the life and work of the church each year. At least in part, I believe this is because we are a congregation with a deep understanding and commitment to stewardship. We come back to the importance of stewardship over and over in the course of our worship, learning and mission because we understand it as fundamental to our faith and practice.

Live Free! Take Hold of the Life that Really Is Life (1 Timothy 6:18-19). The stewardship material we received from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center suggests this theme and the additional text from First Timothy. They divide the overall theme into four considerations. The first is “Free – from the Money Trap.” I think we all must have some familiarity with this phenomenon. If we just had a little bit more, we could… You name it! Money becomes very much a “yoke of slavery.” What is it money can buy that we just HAVE to have? A bigger house, a better neighborhood, designer clothes, the latest gadget, the fastest car? Who is it we have to impress and why?

Jesus says “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!…Instead, strive for God’s Beloved Community, and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:22-23, 29). Again it takes a moment to grasp Jesus’ meaning, to see how this word really does offer freedom from the “money trap.” Part of our freedom is the recognition that there is so much more to life than accumulating wealth, making money, living for a fragile and faulty security.

The second consideration is that we are “Free – to Be Rich.” It almost sounds like a contradiction of point one. But there are ways to be rich that are a function of freedom. Remember the old song that sings “the best things in life are free”?

The moon belongs to everyone
The best things in life are free
The stars belong to everyone
They gleam there for you and me

The flowers in spring
The robins that sing
The sunbeams that shine
They’re yours, they’re mine

And love can come to everyone
The best things in life are free

In his letter to Timothy, Paul exhorts his young protégé, “…to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, thus storing up…the treasures of a good foundation for the future…take hold of the life that really is life.” This is wealth born of accepting what is so generously and freely given; then giving rather than getting. We are free to gather in and spread around riches like this because Christ has set us free.

In part three, they suggest that we are “Free – from the Uncertainty of Riches.” “It is easy to confuse our wants with our needs, especially in a culture that continually urges us to buy more.” Related to point one, we are asked to place our trust in the one who clothes the lilies of the field and numbers the hairs on our head (if we have any left!) We are encouraged to understand that “all belongs to God, there is no transfer of ownership. As God’s stewards, we don’t own anything.” This is difficult for us to wrap our minds around. We are conditioned to believe that somehow we are in charge of ourselves, our relationships, even our world. To have responsibility for these things does not put us in charge, though. “When we recognize that the entirety of life is a gift from God, we are less likely to hold on so tightly, as gifts are intended to be shared.” Can we buy into that freedom, that gifts are intended to be shared? It really can be liberating to share with grace and generosity.

Finally we are enjoined to be “Free – to Take Hold of Life.” We circle back to Paul’s invitation to “life that is truly life.” Christ sets us free to live this life that is truly life. This is the life of the Beloved Community that Christ came to proclaim, to demonstrate, to call us to. It is life in which we let go of the insecurity of all scarcity belief and recognize that there truly is enough to go around, especially if those of us who are so blessed, so privileged learn these lessons of stewardship. For freedom Christ has set us free – free to be the best and brightest, the most compassionate and generous, the happiest and loveliest of what God created us to be. Live free so that you may take hold of the life that really is life.

Yours on the journey, Rick

Live Free!

jack-o-lanternsWe had a good time carving pumpkins last Friday even if the pumpkin crop was limited by the drought to pumpkins that were pretty hard to carve. Sunday we all managed to “fall back” and still make it to worship on time. Thanks to Gregory for his thoughtful reflection on Naomi and Ruth and deep and lasting friendship.

This is Stewardship time. Our theme this year is Live Free! Take Hold of the Life that Really Is Life, using texts from Galatians (5:1) and 1 Timothy (18-19,) as our scriptural base. You soon will receive a letter with your pledge form for 2016. I hope you will carefully and prayerfully consider your financial support for our congregation in this fertile time.

This Sunday we will consider Jesus’ battle with some of the ostentatious religious leaders of his time along with his classic tale of the widow who gives “all that she has.” Is he lifting her up as an example of sacrificial giving, risking all that she has for her love of God? Or is he using her as an illustration of how the temple system has come to exploit the very people it was meant to serve, demanding more of them than they can afford to give?

In Adult Spiritual Formation, we will be privileged to hear from Doug and Hegene Lee who have traveled to Haiti the past two summers to work with social entrepreneurs to bring clean, affordable water to the Haitian people. I am looking forward to learning from them.

See you Sunday at 10:00 AM ready to worship, learn and share. Bring someone with you.

May we continue to grow together as God’s people.

Pastor Rick

An Attitude of Gratitude (May 10, 2015)

Valentine's DayA sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Text: Deuteronomy 15:7-11; 1 Timothy 6:6-12, 17-19

Now wait a minute. Something’s wrong here. It’s only the middle of May. Why are we talking about stewardship? Isn’t the pitch for stewardship supposed to be reserved for November? Every year, as we approach the time of thanksgiving, Jane Chin asks me about the Sunday I plan to deliver the stewardship sermon. The truth is, I don’t try to limit our consideration of stewardship to just one Sunday or just one season of the year. Perhaps you’ve picked that up by now.

For whatever reasons, in our journey with Brian McLaren, this is the Sunday he’s selected to focus on stewardship. I don’t think it will do us any harm to stay with him on this phase of our walk together. Of the many biblical passages that consider money and resources, he chooses three, two of which we have as texts today. The ancient word from Deuteronomy addresses how we handle resources in the context of Sabbath. The letter to Timothy seeks to establish in the young man a proper appreciation for the place of money in the economy of God and in the development of his own sense of godliness.

Among other things, McLaren says stewardship is “love in action.” I like that idea but maybe it needs a little unpacking. What would love in action look like to you? How would it shape a practice of stewardship? What I like about this notion is it grounds giving, sharing, caring in an attitude of gratitude.

In his commentary on Deuteronomy, Mark Biddle argues that “The economic aspect of Deuteronomy’s understanding of the Sabbath principle – release from slavery, release from debt, release from need – underscores the Old Testament’s very this-worldly viewpoint.” He argues that “Deuteronomy does not speak of a ‘spiritual freedom’ only, or of merely emotional responses to God’s Grace. One freed from the very real hardships of slavery in Egypt will find it difficult to enslave another! Can gratitude and greed co-exist?” he asks. “To begrudge the needy, among whom one was formerly numbered, is to hardheartedly and tightfistedly deny YHWH’s redemption and blessing…Deuteronomy understands Sabbath as a principle of liberation from oppression and need. In order fully to participate in the Sabbath, then, it is not enough to be freed. One must extend liberty!” (Mark E. Biddle, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy, p. 270.)

Have you ever seen someone freed from some form of bondage, let off from promised punishment, given a second chance, then turn on another seeking similar freedom and possibility? Remember the parable Jesus tells in which a debtor, released from a great debt by playing on the pity of the ruler, then cruelly demands that another who cannot repay a small debt to him be thrown in prison? In the end he meets a worse fate when the ruler finds out about his lack of mercy (Matthew 18:21-35).

The whole Sabbath tradition is centered in good stewardship. It insists on learning to care for creation which, of course, means caring for our sisters and brothers. It calls is to work and play and rest in the joy of our relationship to God who made us and loves of us with unending love. The writers of Deuteronomy, as does Jesus, insist that stewardship is grounded in attitude of gratitude – gratitude to God for the wonders of creation, for the invitation to share with God responsibility for creation and, above all, for God’s grace and mercy when we manage to mess things up. In her wonderful book, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott tells us that the two best prayers are “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” In an interview, she expands: “The full prayer, in its entirety, is: Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. But for reasons of brevity, I just refer to it as Thanks.”

First Timothy, too, expands on the attitude of gratitude. The early church developed within the rule of the Roman empire. In this context, Christian Eberhart writes that “For the most part, riches could only be acquired through continuous cooperation with the Roman administration. Those who were rich, therefore, usually supported a system that oppressed the vast majority of the population for the benefit of only few at the center of the Empire” Christian A. Eberhart, “Commentary on 1 Timothy 6:6-19, September 29, 2013”, workingpreacher.org).

While the early church was largely counter-cultural, they didn’t exactly eschew wealth. People of means helped to fund the enterprise and keep it viable. In some cases those with resources pooled what they had with those who had little or nothing so that everyone had enough. Remember the passage from Acts we read a couple of weeks ago? “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people” (Acts 2:44-47). Remember I said that one of the things that stood out for me in this passage was that they ate their food with glad and generous hearts”? Talk about an attitude of gratitude. And the result, they had the “goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

The problem is not wealth per se. It is people’s attitude toward it. The writer tells the young Timothy that “those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” It’s the attitude that matters. It’s not money itself that’s the root of so much evil, as we have often heard it misquoted. It’s the love of money, the lust for wealth, that gets people into all kinds of trouble, but we don’t know anything about that, do we? Bill Leonard reports that “In the May 3 Times Nicholas Kristof noted, ‘Just the annual bonuses for just the sliver of Americans who work just in finance just in New York City dwarfed the combined year-round earnings of all Americans earning the federal minimum wage’ (Bill Leonard, “Sifting the Conscience,” May 6, 2015, baptistnews.com).

The clearly counter-cultural words of the writer of First Timothy hold a different perspective for those with wealth. “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” Enjoyment? Doing good? Generosity? Sharing? Sounds like an attitude of gratitude to me. What if we were to cultivate just such an attitude, not only for stewardship season, when the whole culture suddenly rediscovers thanksgiving, but all the time, every day, every moment? Thank you, thank you, thank you. Wouldn’t this be liberating, the very freedom that the Gospel offers so freely? An attitude of gratitude – I think it’s worth a try.