Note from Pastor Rick (5/24/2017)

Well, last Sunday was a challenging day. In a small community like ours, missing a couple of key people can way lay the best made plans. And still we managed to worship and share, to sing and pray, listen and learn, which are the really important things. Thanks to everyone for pulling together at the last minute. It was also challenging to say good-bye to our friends Soo Kim and Doug Lee as they return to Korea. Doug, Soo, and Hegene have become beloved members of our “family” over the past five years and we will miss them very much. We promise to hold a place for them and they promised to come back to visit.

This Sunday is known as Ascension Sunday in liturgical tradition. On the Sunday before Pentecost, we remember that the Christ ascended into heaven as recorded in Acts or returned to God as he predicted in John’s gospel. After the Ascension, when Christ was no longer plainly visible to his followers, the Holy Spirit descended on them, imbuing them with great power to carry on Christ’s mission in the world. In the Ascension story in Acts 1, the angels ask the dazed disciples why they’re standing there looking into heaven when there is work to be done on earth. This is a fair question to ask every follower who may be more focused on what is to come than what is needed now to usher in God’s Beloved Community.

In Adult Spiritual Formation, we will wrap up our study of the Parables with a look at “The Parable of the Talents.” Please join us for worship, education, and community time and bring someone along to share the day. At 2:00 PM, we will hold a memorial service for our beloved Marilyn Hunwick, which will be followed by a reception hosted by the family. If church members are wanting to help with the reception, please contact the church office.

Remember, our theme for this year is “All Are Welcome in this Place.”

Let’s make certain that it is so.
Pastor Rick   

To An Unknown God (5/21/2017)

A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Text: Acts 17:22-31

For a little bit of context, let’s look at the verses which precede today’s text:

16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.

Now it may be that the Athenians were superstitious people – people who covered all their bases by erecting a shrine “to an Unknown God,” just in case they had missed a god in the creation of their pantheon of deities.  Or perhaps they were sophisticated enough to know that there were gods or dimensions of deity that would always extend beyond the human capacity to know.  At any rate, the writer of Acts indicates that Paul was unhappy to find such a proliferation of gods throughout the city of Athens.  However, he did not vent his anger with the Athenians over their polytheism in the same manner he would later with the Romans (Romans 1:18-23.).

Continue reading To An Unknown God (5/21/2017)

Note from Pastor Rick (5/17/2017)

Our focus scripture for this Sunday will be Acts 17:16-34. In this story Paul has stirred up trouble in Athens by preaching the gospel. He is called before the Areopagus, a kind of civic council, to account for himself and the claims he was making. He takes the opportunity to make a brilliant speech about the “unknown God” to whom the Athenians have erected a shrine. He goes on to challenge them to consider whether this might be an entry point to knowing the “living God” he serves, the One in whom we “live and move and have our being.” This is an inspirig tale and a powerful early witness to the faith tradition we claim as our own.

After Worship, we will hold the first cook out of the season and the weather is promising to cooperate. So, bring salad or a side dish to share. The rest will be furnished. Come early to help set up or stay after to help clean up.

Sadly this Sunday we will say farewell to Soo Kim and Doug Lee as they return to Korea. It has been a joy to have them sojourn with us the past 4+ years. We will miss them very much. We celebrate them in the service and at the cook out.

Remember, our theme for this year is “All Are Welcome in this Place.” Let’s make certain that it is so.

Pastor Rick

Glad and Generous Hearts (5/7/2017)

A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Text:  Acts 2:42-47

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day 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, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

I imagine that most of us would agree that this is not the best of times. Is it the worst of times? I can’t say for certain. There are many things within the current social and political scenes that feel pretty awful, about as bad as we can remember. The problem with judging this as the worst of times is that we lose sight of some terrible times that have gone before.

For instance, I have been reading Ron Chernow’s great biography of Alexander Hamilton. Interestingly, it is the work on which the contemporary hit musical is based. Let me tell you, the book is an excellent historical account of a key figure in the founding of this country, but it seems a highly unlikely source for a musical. I haven’t seen the musical, so I can only give credit to Lin Manuel Miranda’s genius from afar, for it must take genius to make music of such an account of a most challenging time in US history.

The political infighting in the late 18th century between the Federalists and the Republicans was fierce. Each side believed the success of the new nation was totally dependent on its point of view and each feared the other was selling out America’s new-found independence. The Republicans believed the Federalists were a front for the British monarchy and the Federalists saw the Republicans as tools of the chaos and bloodshed of the French Revolution. This was the beginning of party politics, and if you think today’s news conferences – fake or otherwise, tweets, leaks, hacks, and other political chicanery are bad, you should read about the terrors of politics in the 1790s. The diatribes, name-calling, mud-slinging, etc., was vicious and offered up under pseudonyms that purported to keep the authors anonymous. Libelous commentary and threats to honor were still settled with duels, one of which took Hamilton’s life. As I said, I can’t affirm with any certainty that this earlier time was worse than the present but it was surely not good.

This week we have seen the President abruptly end an interview with a respected journalist in a childish pique because he didn’t like the questions that challenged unsubstantiated claims he had made about his predecessor. We watched as he signed an executive order undermining religious liberty.  Amanda Tyler of the Baptist Joint Committee of Religious Liberty writes, “The vast majority of congregants and clergy from all religious groups oppose candidate endorsements in their houses of worship. Pastors will continue to speak truth to power and preach on moral issues, no matter how controversial, and they don’t need a change in the tax law to do it. But getting rid of the protection in the law that insulates 501(c)(3) organizations from candidates pressing for endorsements would destroy our congregations and charities from within over disagreements on partisan campaigns.”

For me, the most egregious event of the week was the passage in the House of Representatives of a health care bill that promises more harm than health for the many Americans. I was especially impressed with these comments by Massachusetts Congressman, Joe Kennedy. They seem intricately entwined with today’s text. He observes:

“It is among the most basic human truths: Every one of us, someday, will be brought to our knees. By a diagnosis we didn’t expect, a phone call we can’t imagine, or a loss we cannot endure.

That common humanity inspires our mercy. It fortifies our compassion. It drives us to look out for the sick, the elderly, the poor, and the most vulnerable among us.

Yesterday’s bill — yesterday’s devastating bill — does the opposite.

The bill is more than premiums and tax cuts. It is a cold and calculated world view: One that scapegoats the struggling, and sees fault in suffering. One dead set on dividing us based on who we love, where we come from, the direction of our faith and the size of our fortunes.

We must reject it.

We must decide, instead, to take care of each other — because, but for the grace of God, we will all one day wake up in need of a little mercy.

This nation’s character has never been defined by the power we give the already strong — but by the strength we give the weak.”

Is Kennedy right? Do we believe we are part of a “common humanity”? Has our national character overall been defined by the “strength we give the weak”? Would God it were so. It certainly sounds like gospel truth to me. I am not sure that it has ever been consistently American truth. But it does seem like Kennedy has caught some of the vision of that first community of Christ-followers in Jerusalem, what some refer to as the first church. In Luke’s, perhaps overly idealized, summary of what that community was like, the strength given to the weak was crucial – “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.”

It’s easy to look at this passage from Acts and read “communism” between the lines in big red letters. That’s what happened in Bible Study on Tuesday. Because of the great Cold War waged between American capitalism and state communism, it is still a dirty word in the vernacular, and this text raises old specters for those who remember. In his sermon, “A Vibrant Communism,” Australian Bruce Prewer begins by sayingGiven the fears, suffering and massacres caused by the Marxist/Leninist/Maoist/Pol-Pot brands of political communism during the twentieth century, the word communism has been corrupted. Maybe irredeemable? Can I even dare use the word ‘communism’ without raising barriers and arousing hostility in many people?  I guess I’ll know, by the feedback, after this sermon.”

Rather than focus on the worst of times, I would rather attend to the good news in today’s text. It is actually a favorite of mine.  Even if Luke is embellishing what really happened among those first followers, this still seems to me to be a fitting account of the Jesus way. First and foremost, it says the early disciples “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” In other, words, they grounded their lives individually and communally in spiritual discipline. I know you’ve heard me say before that this sort of spiritual practice is vital to understanding and living out the gospel.

Then, because they engaged in this spiritual discipline, they were not only able to do “signs’ and wonders,” as Jesus had, they were able – at least for a while – to sustain a community in which they shared, not only their possession, but their lives. They could live communally, praying, breaking bread and eating together with “glad and generous hearts.” Isn’t that a wonderful way to describe a community – one that is characterized not only by giving strength to the weak but also by living their lives with glad and generous hearts? Maybe, in these troubled times, especially in these troubled times, we, as people of faith, as followers of Christ, ought to work at cultivating glad and generous hearts. I don’t mean we should stick our heads in the sand while the world crumbles around us. It is always appropriate to speak truth to power. But listen to the result of those first Christians living with glad and generous hearts. They experienced the “goodwill of all the people. And day by day God added to their number those who were being saved.” There was actually something salvific in their witness, something infectious in the spirit of joy and generosity with which they approached life.

Prewer, looking back at this first community, ends his sermon suggesting to his contemporary congregation, “Such idealistic communism would be truly a bit of heaven on earth. Those first Christians bravely and lovingly practiced it in Jerusalem. Think of the witness that such a caring and sharing way of life must have had on the community around them. Folk would really sit up and take notice. No wonder new converts were being baptized every day.”

Though holding all things in common, selling our possessions and goods and distributing the proceeds to those in need, may be a vision of God’s Beloved Community for which we are not yet prepared, we can still live our lives caring and sharing, building up our common humanity, giving strength to the weak, inspiring mercy, fortifying compassion, and looking out for the sick, the elderly, the poor, and the most vulnerable among us. And very importantly, because we have been loved, cared for, and blessed, we might live our lives, even in tough times, with glad and generous hearts. What do you think? Shall we give it a try? Amen.

Prairie Burning And New Life

Molly MarshallMolly Marshall
President of Central Baptist Seminary, Kansas City, Kansas

On a recent road trip through southern Kansas, I witnessed a spring rite, the burning of the prairie. The billowing smoke and red glow of distant fires are quite the vista — and a sign of renewal. The distinctive smell permeates the environs, even in a speeding presidential Ford with windows tightly closed. Lightning strikes have lit up dead trees and overgrown pastures for centuries. Seeing the benefits, farmers and ranchers now set controlled times of burning so that new life may come.

It is hard to believe that from charred grasslands and withered, blackened brush can come a healthy ecosystem. Yet, that is exactly what happens. The prairie always blossoms with new vibrancy after this time of seeming ruin.

Continue reading at Baptist News Global…

Double Vision (June 21, 2015)

Black Lives MatterA sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Text: Acts 10:1-17

Somewhere in the back of mind I had begun a different sermon this week. I suppose it might have been a kinder, gentler one until a lone gunman entered a church and murdered nine people at prayer. Everything changed. At least, it did for me. Once more gun violence has reared its hideous head in our so-called sophisticated society. Once more racism runs rampant in a heinous act of bigotry. Once more we are at risk to wring our hands in dismay only to move on shortly after, shaking our heads and changing nothing. I don’t have ready answers to either racism or gun violence but I believe with all my heart that something has to change.

I look at the pictures and read the reports about the young man who perpetrated this evil and I cannot help but think, he did not love himself, so he could not love his neighbors. This is neither an excuse or rationalization for what he did. It’s just an observation of what I see as an exceedingly sad reality. I will not be so presumptive as to try to analyze Dylan Roof. I’ll leave that for others more experienced, more expert, than I in the present and for history to determine in the future. But I do know that his action did not stem from love for self or love for neighbor.

Let me leave my rant for the moment to consider the theme and text for today. Maybe it well help to bring some balm from Gilead, some healing to the wounds. Perhaps it will tell us something about how we might move forward in this troubled, troubling world. The portion of Acts 10 that Alan and Melanie read for us this morning does not make the lectionary. I’m not sure why. It tells a powerful story of double vision brought into focus through the work of love for self and neighbor.

First, we have Cornelius, a man of might and privilege, a high-ranking Roman official, a man used to giving orders and having them followed. Surely he evoked fear and disdain in those over whom he ruled. We know the Jews of this period had no love for their oppressors. But there was something different about this warrior. Luke writes that Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God…gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.” Not your prototypical Roman officer. Something or someone had touched Cornelius at the depths of his being. He didn’t have all the answers, but somehow he knew he was a child of God. He also could sense God alive in those around him and thus his compassion. I suppose you could attribute his respect or love for himself to his position of power and influence. That must have been a factor. Still, Luke says something more was going on. It looks a lot like love.

When he has his vision, he doesn’t hesitate to send for Peter. From his place of privilege, it is not surprising that he would simply go after what he wanted. Note he has slaves and soldiers to do his bidding. But I also think he was eager to hear what God had to say to him, to teach him through the Apostle. It was a word he longed to experience.

Now Peter, over in Joppa, is about to have his own vision as God brings this odd couple together. He was hungry. His stomach was growling. He was ready for dinner but dinner wasn’t ready for him. He thought he would just stretch out for a bit, take a little nap before the meal was put on the table. His physical hunger invites the dream, and what a dream it is! Rutabagas, liver, pickled herring, limburger cheese – all those things he was loathe to eat – appeared before him. Definitely appetite killers. Yuck! If this is the menu, I’m starting my diet today!

OK, I’m being a little flippant. What appeared before Peter was not just stuff that he would find personally disgusting, it was all stuff by ancient law and sacred tradition forbidden for him to consume at all. It wasn’t just yucky. It was a little frightening. It was so shocking, it took three appearances before he realized the invitation to “kill and eat” was a serious one, not just hunger pangs or indigestion.

“Lord Almighty, no! I’ve never let anything unclean or profane pass my lips. My religious identity, my sense of self-respect, is wrapped up in keeping the law. How can you ask me to do such thing?” Is this some sort of test? Well, yes and no. Is God hoping Peter will say “no” and earn God’s favor? No, I don’t think God works like that. God’s not likely to trick us into doing the right thing. But God is asking Peter to take a risk, to step outside his comfort zone, far outside his comfort zone. Does he trust God enough to take a risk? Cornelius has. Will Peter reach out to meet him somewhere along the way?

I may be wrong, but I think it takes a measure of self-love to take such a risk. You see, this kind of self love is not self-absorption, not self-aggrandizing, not selfishness. It is a self-love, a self-respect, that leads to a certain righteousness, to right living, to right relationship with God, with self and with your neighbor. Brian McLaren writes about love for self. “God wants you to love you the way God loves you, so you can join God in the one self-giving love that upholds you and all creation. If you trust yourself to that love, you will become the best self you can be, thriving in aliveness, full of deep joy, part of the beautiful whole. That’s the kind of self-care and love that is good, right, wise, and necessary” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 224).

You hear that? “God wants you to love you the way God loves you…” There’s a challenge for us. Love the way God does – with infinite patience and amazing grace. “Don’t call profane what I have made clean.” Take a risk. Get outside your comfort zone. Join “in the one self-giving love that upholds you and all creation.”

So how does the story end? In Peter’s case, the messengers show up with Cornelius’s invitation, Peter decides to take the risk in the service of God’s call, he travels to Caesarea, the gospel is proclaimed and Cornelius and his household find salvation. How will we respond to such a challenging vision and risky call? Will we find the sort of love for ourselves that allows us to love others? Again Brian McLaren reminds us, “Where the Spirit is moving, love for God always, always, always overflows in love for neighbor. And according to Jesus our neighbor isn’t just the person who is like us, the person who likes us, or the person we like. Our neighbor is anyone and everyone – like us or different from us, friend or stranger – even enemy” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 216).

So it seems to me that Dylan Roof could not see, could not understand, could not embrace, his neighbor in love. But before we pass final judgment on him, we might ask ourselves where we, too, fail to see, to understand, to embrace in love, our neighbor. “Don’t call profane anything I have made clean.” We would never do that, would we? Love as God loves – yourself and your neighbor. Jesus said that everything depends on this, along with our love for God. In fact, are they not they not two sides of one coin? Is this not a bringing into focus any double vision about love in its essence? Out of a growing understanding, respect, love for themselves as children of God, Peter and Cornelius come together in Beloved Community. Will we commit ourselves to such gracious activity across all the lines that divide us and threaten to do us in, whether see them as sacred or secular?

Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. and DePayne Doctor bowed their heads as Pastor Pinckney led them, along with other members of “Mother Emmanuel” AME Church in prayer. Tragically they were not able to finish their prayers last Wednesday, so I’m thinking this morning we might lift some words from Martin Luther King, Jr. on their behalf:

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

“I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

And if they take your life, then let the wounded body of Christ take up your prayer and sing your song. “Our lives,” yours and mine, “begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” And black lives matter. The lives of Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., DePayne Doctor and Pastor Clementa Pinckney matter. We cannot live with double vision here. We need to focus clearly on what matters. No more gun violence. No more racism. No more self-loathing. No more hatred of our neighbors.

I imagine as the service comes to an end, with heads still bowed and eyes closed someone began to softly hum that gently powerful refrain: “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart. Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart. Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart.” As an act of solidarity and hope, would you sing that last verse with me right now – “Lord, I want to be more loving…” Amen.

A Night Well Spent

Rev. Rick MixonA sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Text: Acts 16:16-40

This week we have a long and powerful passage from the book of Acts to use as our text. Thanks to everyone who helped with the reading. Originally, I thought I would focus on the beginning of Acts, chapter 16, in which Paul and Silas wend their way toward Macedonia, led by the Spirit. Once in Philippi they seek out the other Jews and “God-fearers” living there to share the Good News. Here they meet a wealthy merchant named Lydia who not only responds positively to their witness but also takes them in. It’s a great story of conversion and hospitality. But in Bible study, Thelma suggested the title for this sermon – “A Night Well Spent” – and Doug noted that the text talks about prison and prisoners, a topic that is very much in the news today, so the sermon and service took a different direction.

Let me be clear from the outset that I am not suggesting a one to one parallel between this tale of Paul and Silas and we are seeing in the news today, but I do see parallels, if you will indulge me. Now I do have a few questions about this story we read. We know something about contemporary legal process through following the news and watching crime dramas. There is always right and wrong in these stories, someone is clearly innocent and someone guilty, right? In this story, as recounted by Luke, who are the bad guys and who are the good ones? It’s conflicted, isn’t it? Paul is our hero but he gets arrested. Isn’t the one arrested supposed to be the bad guy? In our own time we are coming to see that those arrested aren’t always the villains and those in power are not always righteous, are they?

What have Paul and Silas done to get themselves in trouble with the law? What exactly is their offense? Again, it’s conflicted, isn’t it? They were just minding their own business, walking their daily route to the place, down by the river, where their new community gathered to pray. But this strange girl kept following them and yelling at them. How do you think you might have responded if you had been in their sandals? It’s not difficult to imagine Paul’s annoyance. I think I would be annoyed if someone followed me down the street, calling me out.

“These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” Actually, that’s not so bad, is it? She wasn’t calling them nasty names or making false accusations, was she? She was telling the truth. She was really lifting up their Good News, assisting them in their witness, helping to make their case. It must have been the loud way she was crying out that irritated Paul. The text says she was a fortune teller, she had an ability to read people and predict the future. What do you make of that? Was it a good or bad thing? Again, a conflicted situation. Apparently Paul decided it was an evil spirit that needed to be driven out of her. From Luke’s perspective, any such spirit was likely to be demonic. We don’t so much believe in “evil spirits” these days. We think more in terms of mental and emotional illness. But, whatever the label we put on it, Paul drove out that Spirit, he healed the girl, he liberated her, or did he?

After all, she was still a slave, wasn’t she? But now she was a slave without the gift that had made her unique and valuable. Luke’s story doesn’t say any more about her. You will have to complete the tale for yourself. Maybe she found some freedom, at least freedom and peace in Christ through the Good News of God’s Beloved Community. But I worry that her lot in life got worse, just because Paul was annoyed with her for telling the truth. Yes, I know that exorcism was common practice in those days; Luke and Paul are following Jesus’ own practice in liberating people from these “spirits.” I hope she was happier and healthier from that day on, but we just don’t know.

Moving on, what happens next? Are the girl’s owners thrilled that she has been healed, freed of her demon divination? Hardly. They are really ticked off. They have lost their lucrative prize, the source of their wealth. They are not happy at all. They grab Paul and Silas and drag them into the market place to appear before the local magistrates. In their anger, do they tell the truth? “These two fellows have taken our source of income. They have robbed us of what was rightfully ours.” That’s not exactly what we hear, is it? Instead of being honest about what has made them mad, they start slinging every angry allegation they can think of, a whole list of dubious and dishonest charges.

“These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” What do you see as problematic about these charges? In first place, they were not disturbing the city. They were strolling down the street, attending to their own affairs. It is true that they had this subversive message they were trying to spread around, this Good News of the Beloved Community of God, but they really weren’t disturbing the peace at the moment they were seized – except, perhaps, for the peace of a couple of slave owners. What they were disturbing was the exploitative scheme of these so-called business men to make money at the expense of a poor girl who was mentally and emotionally vulnerable. We never encounter a thing like that today, do we?

Oh, yes, they were Jews alright, but what does that have to do with anything, except to appeal to the bias and bigotry of their fellow Philippians? Paul and Silas are simply singled out for appearing different. Antisemitism, along with racism and any number of other “isms” we might name, should not be legal arguments, should they? This charge smacks of “racial profiling” on the streets of ancient Philippi, something we almost never see on our own streets today, right? And what of these “unlawful customs” they are supposedly advocating? The charge is brought without a shred of evidence that anything inappropriate is being done. They were just walking down the street, minding their own business. Was it that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time? We never see anyone busted on those grounds, do we?

By the time the “businessmen” have stopped slinging their slanderous charges, they have whipped the crowd into a frenzy, appealed to all the prejudice and stirred all the anger they can. I imagine the crowd becomes a mob, not unlike those who shouted, “Crucify him!” or “Burn, Baltimore, burn!” We know something of how anger and pain, frustration and fear can evolve into mob mentality, whether the cause is just or not. No one wants to listen and so eventually people lash out, right or wrong.

We don’t know exactly what motivated the mob in Philippi , but we do know that in this case, no one is interested in hearing Paul and Silas make their case. The magistrates have made up their minds, swayed by the mood of the mob and their own bias and bigotry. Our friends are simply whisked off to jail without another word. Is this justice? Is this a fair trial? I ask again, who is right and who is wrong here? Who is really guilty and who is righteous?

Whether or not this story is literally true – there were no reporters on the scene or video at 11 – it is still a telling tale, powerful in its witness to wisdom, truth and the grace of God to make a difference in human life, in partnership with faithful followers who are willing to take the Good News anywhere and everywhere. Though the situation may not be as grim, Paul and Silas, singing and praying in the bowels of a horrible prison, reminds me of Viktor Frankl’s observation that those who find meaning in life, who have something to hold on to, can survive the most horrific circumstances and eventually transform the world.

In this story, Paul and Silas bring the house down, quite literally. I don’t want to romanticize the earthquake, given the awful earthquake in Nepal last week. This shaking seems like a sort of deus ex machina in that chains are broken and doors opened but no other destruction is reported. Still, the idea that God holds real power to liberate is essential to the Good News. In this passage, we see God’s desire to liberate life wherever it is bound, in whatever circumstances. The liberation may not be realized perfectly in one particular moment, but the way is cleared for freedom as chains fall, doors open and spirits flee.

Something about this story that Paul and Silas come to share, the Good News they bring, the Christ to whom they bear witness, the God they serve, partners with the Spirit to bring about change. By rights, the prisoners ought to have fled, but they are all present and accounted for. Whether they are justly or unjustly imprisoned, they do not flee, all – the story says – so their jailer may find his own liberation. Improbable as this seems, it also tells a tale of compassion and grace, prisoners caring for the jailer and his liberation from his own binding. To make time and space for another, even at one’s own expense, is the sort of partnership that turns the world right side up.

A night well spent? You be the judge. I imagine Paul and Silas would say it was. Oh it was painful. The jail was rotten and their wounds ached, but somewhere, deep inside, they believed that the God who had liberated them and transformed their lives could work the same wonder in the lives of others. They gave their lives over to living out what they believed. The challenge for us is to do the same in our own time and circumstances. Will we give ourselves over to working for liberation, for justice, for peace, for the well-being of sisters and brothers everywhere, to bearing faithful witness to the coming of God’s Beloved Community in our lives and the world around us?

 Can we practice emancipation and resistance?

Listening and seeing?

Hope and healing?
Can we weep and pray together?

March and sing together?

Organize and mobilize together?
Until we forge and formulate together

The balm of peace and right relationship.

The salve of opportunity and self-determination.

The ointment of community and love.
Make it so, we pray.

Let us make it so. Amen.

(Michael-Ray Mathews, Disinherited: A Prayer of Lament, Longing and Love)