STEWARDSHIP: Live Free

freedomLIVE FREE is the theme for our yearly stewardship drive, ending in Stewardship Sunday on November 22.

In I Timothy 6: 7 (RSV), Paul states “For we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world.” He speaks about the rich in this world, in verses 18 and 19, saying that: “They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.” We are all rich in God’s grace—therefore, LIVE FREE to take hold of life.

We need to realize that stewardship is not only giving money to the Church, but encompasses giving of our time and talents as well. We may not all be rich in monetary means, but we can give a portion of what we have by helping in other ways. Paul also states in II Corinthians (SRV) 9: 6-8: “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.” LIVE FREE to do God’s work from what God has given you.

I can remember while growing up that whenever there was something we needed, my parents would say, “don’t worry, the Lord will provide” and He always did. This is just one example we all need to remember as we think about our commitments to our Church and humankind. Can we follow the example of those who donate their time, talents, and money for the good of others? First Baptist Church of Palo Alto is a very giving congregation for both the budget and the chosen missions. But each year we must review our Church expenses and missions. Give freely so that you may LIVE FREE to do God’s calling.

Laura Garcia
Stewardship Chairman

Living is Christ (8/30/2015)

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

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Text: Psalm 90; Philippians 1:20-30

“We all will die someday. Mortality rates remain at 100 percent, and nobody among us is getting any younger.” So writes Brian McLaren, tongue in cheek, in the beginning of this week’s chapter from We Make the Road by Walking. However, turning quickly to the point, he completes his opening by asserting that “Among the Spirit’s many essential movements in our lives is this: to prepare us for the end of our lives, without fear” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 249). It seems a curious thing to take a chapter entitled, “Adventures in the Spirit of God: Spirit of Life” to focus on death but that is indeed what he does this week.

As we come to the end of this journey with McLaren, it seems appropriate to spend time considering matters of life and death. He offers three scriptures from which to choose – the great 90th Psalm, with its contrasting claims for God’s eternal majesty and the fragile, limited life of humanity; Jesus confrontation with Sadducees about marriage in the afterlife (Luke 20:27-38); and Paul’s deep sharing about life and death with his friends at the church in Philippi. Each text says something significant about the nature of mortality and of eternity. In each case we are challenged to see death as part of life, inevitable in its coming, but not inevitably to be feared. Each tries to give us a view of life and the Giver of Life that will allow us to move from the limitations of the past through the present to God’s good and glorious future.

McLaren writes that “So many of us are afraid to even think about death much less speak of it.” Now I don’t know how that is for all of you but I have heard some of you say you are not afraid of death. Others may not be so certain. We won’t take a poll this morning, but McLaren continues to argue that “That fear [of death] can enslave us and can rob us of so much aliveness” (McLaren, op. cit. p. 249). What do you think? It makes sense to me. You know how it is when you worry so much about something going right that you ultimately spoil it? Surely those who live in fear of death are proportionately robbed of life. That is both sad and unnecessary for those claim to follow the way of Christ.

McLaren asserts that “The Spirit moves within us to help us face death with hope, not fear…with quiet confidence not anxiety” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 249).  Does that sound right to you? Can you feel the Spirit of Life moving in you, bringing hope, quiet confidence, as with Paul, even joy? In spite of being in prison, in chains, Paul writes to the Philippians, “Rejoice in God always; again I will say, Rejoice…Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4: 4, 6-7).

How can someone in such dire straits be as positive, as hopeful as Paul? The only answer I can discern is that, for Paul, living is Christ. That’s what he tells his friends in Philippi. He does not seem to be boasting or showing off for them. Of all the churches he planted, this is the one for which he seems to have the most affection and hope. This is a community in which he is freer to bare his soul than any of the others. So he lays it on the line for them, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” How many of us can hear ourselves making such a claim – living is Christ, dying is gain?

If you love life as much as I do it is difficult to imagine how dying would be gain. I hear the old song, “I love life so I want to live, and drink of its fullness; take all it can give…” or Dylan Thomas urging us to “rage against the dying of the light.” Is Paul suffering from a martyr complex here? A few scholars have speculated as to whether or not he was suicidal. I hear none of that in this passage. I think that, living in Christ, Paul had overcome any fear of death.

Whatever had driven his early rage against followers of Jesus was subsumed in and transformed by his encounter with the living Christ. Lying on the ground dazed and helpless he saw through blinded eyes that living is Christ and he gave himself over to that new reality. For someone who had given himself so completely to Christ, Paul believed that dying to this present life would only bring him closer Christ, lead him deeper into the reality of that life-giving relationship. But what is this reality? What does it mean for us today? What would it mean for you or me to make as our central life claim that living is Christ?

As I was working on this sermon, I recalled a verse from Rosemary Crow’s song, “Weave.” I think many of us are familiar with the chorus,

Weave, weave, weave us together,
Weave us together in unity and love.
Weave, weave, weave us together,
Weave us together, together in love.

As I learned it, the final verse of the song sings,

A moment ago we did not know
Our unity, only diversity.
Now the Christ in me greets the Christ in thee
in one great family.

When I first heard those words, that last line struck me as a curious claim – “the Christ in me greets the Christ in thee.” Isn’t that sort of absurd and a touch heretical? Christ in me? I don’t think so. At least that’s not how I learned it in Sunday School. Jesus is Christ and I’m a sinner headed for hell if I don’t get my act together. As I’ve come to let go of any notion of hell – except that which we create for ourselves, maybe even through fear of death – I have come to wonder about this way of Christ we walk. “For our days on earth are a mystery, a searching for You, a yearning for the Great Mystery to make itself known” (Nan C. Merrill, “Psalm 90,” Psalms for Praying).

I said to the Bible study group recently that I have come to wonder about the role of “Christ-consciousness” in our lives. I know this may sound heretical for some, but what if a dimension of the Great Mystery was the willingness of Jesus of Nazareth to allow Christ to take root and grow in himself. There is then an evolution of consciousness as Jesus lives into his Christness. Perhaps part of the mystery is that, if Jesus can own his Christness, we might at least follow him along that road, growing into our own Christness. Is this what he means when he invites to come and follow him? If this sounds silly to you let it go, but what does it mean to claim that living is Christ, that Christ in me meets the Christ in you?

Indulge me for a few minutes more to explore some of what it might mean to be Christ. What do you think were characteristics or qualities of Jesus that made him Christ? Might you also claim these as the Christ in you? I realize this list came from our human consciousness, what we know or think we know of goodness or righteousness, God’s desire for creation, the Jesus way. But maybe we can claim that these characteristics and qualities show us what it means to say living is Christ. Paul writes to the Philippians,

8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4: 8-9).

Remember that one of the truth claims of our tradition is that in Christ death has been defeated. Through the resurrection Christ has shown that death, though a necessary rite of passage, has no real meaning for God who is all about life and living in every form. “Think about these things,” Paul instructs. McLaren picks up the challenge, “To be liberated from the fear of death – think of how that would change your values, perspectives and actions. To believe that no good thing is lost, but that all goodness will be taken up and consummated in God – think of how that frees you to do good without reservation. To participate in a network of relationships that isn’t limited by death in the slightest degree – think of how that would make every person matter and how it would free you to live with boundless, loving aliveness” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 250).

These seem to be the sort of things Jesus and Paul thought about that shape our faith tradition. These sound like the kind of qualities that might form a Christ-consciousness. These feel like qualities that will bring to life God’s Beloved Community to reality. In these ways, living is Christ. Can we claim it for ourselves? Amen.

A Strong Foundation (8/16/15)

Sanctuary is openA Sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church of Palo Alto
Sunday, August 16, 2015

Text: 1 Corinthians 3:9-17

Twice in the last three years I have made a pilgrimage to Overland Park, Kansas, for the biennial Mission Summit of the American Baptist Churches in the USA. These trips have been particularly evocative not only because Kansas is my birthplace but also because my earliest memories come from that part of the world.

Overland Park is a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas, where our family lived from 1950 to 1953. For me, that period spanned ages three to six. As I have mentioned before, during those years my father was the founding pastor of Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, the suburb next to Overland Park. In that time of the post-war boom in the church, American Baptists had a program called “Churches for New Frontiers,” in which they purchased land and planted churches in promising suburbs.

My father, following a missionary yen, left a church of 1000 members to pastor a congregation of 13, which met in someone’s living room where the pulpit was the top of a new-fangled television set. At least this is the story I’ve been told. The vivid memory I do have from that time is of my father, wearing work clothes and his grey fedora, helping to roof the first building on the lot at 75th and Roe. That building was eventually the parsonage, but in the beginning it served as the church building. Upstairs was left open as a single large room which served as the sanctuary and the rooms in the lower level functioned as classrooms.

I don’t know how much of that building beyond the roof was the work of parishioners, but I’m certain someone laid a strong foundation there. I don’t mean only the foundation of the physical plant. After 65 years, that little house is long gone, but Prairie Baptist Church seems to be going strong.

I also can’t tell you the full extent of my father’s evangelistic passion that led him to leave a large congregation for one that didn’t even exist when he signed on. It must have been some of that same passion that led Paul to travel all around the Mediterranean carrying the gospel to the Gentiles and planting churches all along the way. Part of the story of my father’s missionary journey across Kansas was that, in spite of low pay and a growing family (my younger sister, the last of four siblings was born in 1951,) he stayed long enough to lead the congregation through its first crisis. He helped the congregation through the tension that arises when a second wave of members arrive, challenging the comfort and control of the charter members. I believe my father, like Paul, was a “master builder” who laid a strong foundation and the congregation weathered the challenge and grew and prospered.

People in Palo Alto also laid a strong foundation for this congregation now in its 122nd year. We have a long and rich history of faithful witness and service. But, as we face an unknown, uncertain future, I wonder what it is that constitutes a strong foundation for a church. In the hymn we just sang Rod Romney wrote that the “The church’s strong foundation is God’s eternal love…” Does that sound right to you? Is that the rock on which our church is founded, the pillars sunk deep in the soil that lift our spire towards heaven, the grounding from which our ministry rises and shines? Is it a foundation on which we can continue to build?

We know that Paul was dealing with a contentious congregation in Corinth. He believed he had laid a strong foundation – the one foundation of Jesus Christ, the sure foundation of the empowering Holy Spirit, the strong foundation of God’s eternal love. But he was worried about what was being built on that foundation. He was afraid that false prophets, bad teachers, and self-centered preachers were leading the people astray and creating chaos in the congregation. I suppose my father must have worried that the charter members of Prairie Baptist Church would not be hospitable to new folk, would not offer a warm welcome to strangers so that the message of God’s eternal love would distort and die from inbreeding.

How do we encourage one another and work together to carry the gospel forward into God’s future? In a column on “adaptive change,” Amy Butler reflects, “The old ways just are not working. The church is in need of creative leadership to take it into the future. We might need to think outside the box, to consider solutions we have never thought of before, to pursue adaptive change. What will this mean?” she asks, then answers, “Well, it will mean that people will not be happy…but life moves on…and the Spirit of God blows fresh wind wherever it wills. It’s our job to respond, discomfort or not. It’s adaptive change, and it’s true for our individual lives and for the church.”

In conclusion, she wonders, “When will we have the courage to boldly embrace this kind of change, to encounter the new opportunities that come as possibilities and opportunities instead of problems? Change is hard. This is a true statement. But change comes, whether we want it or not. The Spirit of God is always creating new possibilities where we prefer to endow old institutions. Will we have the courage to embrace this change? Or will we keep searching the aisles, hoping to replace what we had?” (Amy Butler, “Choosing Adaptive Change,” 8-11-2015, baptistnews.com).

The strong foundation is laid, foundation of God’s eternal love. The question is what will we build on it moving forward? Paul says we might resort to “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw.” But we know that, literally, wood is the only one of those resources with which we might build a building. Paul is more concerned with the qualities that characterize a congregation than he is with building a church building. He is wants us to consider when the refiner’s fire is lit, what will be destroyed and what will be purified?

Remember the three little pigs? Neither the house of straw nor the house of twigs survived the wolf’s bad breath. Only the sturdy brick structure built on a strong foundation withstood the horrible huffing and puffing. We have been given this strong foundation of God’s love for us and all creation, a foundation that can withstand any evil powers that threaten to disrupt us and consume us. What will we build on it?

I don’t mean to be a prophet of gloom, but the good news is being undermined, distorted and destroyed by the false prophets, bad teachers and self-centered preachers of our own time and place. The threatening powers are not just individual, they are also structural and systemic. Some of the biggest challenges to the church are embedded deep in our traditions and too often operate outside our consciousness – like racism, classism, sexism, power and privilege. As Amy reminds us change is hard.

Brian McLaren writes that “Jesus promised his followers three things. First, their lives would not be easy. Second, they would never be alone. Third, in the end all will be well.” “But,” he continues, “all is not well now, and that raises the question of how…how does God get us from here to there? How does God put things right?” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 245).

In this chapter on the “Spirit of Holiness,” McLaren focuses on God’s judgment, which, at first, struck me as a curious emphasis. As I imagine some of you do, when I hear the word “judgment” I think of “hellfire and brimstone.” We were raised to believe in a literal separation of the “sheep and goats.” It was better to be scared into heaven than to burn in hell. It was a terrible legacy that led us far from any strong foundation based on God’s eternal love. For me, anyway, the notion of eternal punishment simply will not reconcile with a God who is love and eternally loves by definition.

McLaren’s argument sounds to me something like the parent who expects the best of us because she loves us so. In his view, this a God of restorative justice not a God of vengeful retribution. The place of judgment is to make things right, to restore the blessed order of creation, to build the Beloved Community on the strong foundation of God’s eternal love. The call to be the best self, the best community that we can be is a call to fulfill God’s vision for us from the beginning of time.

Paul says we – you and I collectively, the church of Jesus Christ – we are “God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in” us. To live into that reality is not an easy thing. To establish God’s temple in the here and now, to be God’s dwelling place will constantly shape and re-shape our witness. It is inherently counter-cultural, not easy but worthwhile work. If we trust that we are never alone in the work, we can also trust that in the end all will be well.

In our words of preparation, McLaren writes, “If we believe in judgment [as] God’s great ‘setting things right,’ we won’t live in fear. We’ll keep standing strong with a steadfast, immovable determination, and we’ll keep excelling in God’s good work in our world. If we believe the universe moves toward purification, justice and peace, we’ll keep seeking to be pure, just and peaceable now. If we believe God is pure light and goodness, we’ll keep moving toward light each day in this life. Then, someday, when our time comes to close our eyes, we will trust ourselves to the loving Light in which we will awaken, purified, beloved, forever” (McLaren, op. cit., pp. 247-248).

A strong foundation is laid. “Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.” Let the church continue to be built and re-built on God’s eternal love. Amen.

Dangers, Toils and Snares (May 17, 2015)

He Qui- Calling of St. PaulA sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Text: Isaiah 40:27-31; Acts 9:1-25; 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, 11:16-29

Take a look at the cover of today’s bulletin (picture at right). He Qi’s brilliant painting of the “Calling of Paul” portrays the fire-breathing avenger, Saul, in the moment before he is knocked to the ground in a dramatic encounter with the living Christ. Is the  terror in the picture meant to convey Saul’s murderous intent or his shock at the blinding light or, perhaps, something of each? With fresh orders in hand from the religious authorities in Jerusalem, he is off to persecute the followers of the Way in Damascus and he clearly means to do them some harm.

Why is Saul so full of venom, so hell-bent on hating these first followers of Christ? We don’t really know what drives him to such terrible action, but we do know that the name of Saul struck fear wherever Christians gather in the earliest days of the church. It’s interesting that Qi’s painting, as so many others do, shows Saul riding on or falling from a horse. However the text says nothing about a horse. It says Saul saw a dazzling light and suddenly he was down on the ground. A voice calls from the light: “Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?”

In his own state of fear, Saul manages to ask who it is that’s speaking to him. “I am Jesus, the One you’re hunting down. I want you to get up and enter the city. In the city you’ll be told what to do next.”

Pretty dramatic stuff, huh? I wonder if any of you have had such an encounter with the risen Christ. It’s no small thing to meet holy as we walk the road before us. I doubt many of us have had this kind of experience, though. I imagine that most our conversions have been of a gentler, more incremental variety. Here his companions struck dumb and Saul, blinded by the light, do what they are told. It’s a pretty radical turn around as Saul has to be led by hand the rest of the way into Damascus. Not a very intimidating image!

For three days Saul’s troubled soul experiences something like PTSD. He neither eats nor drinks as he tries to make sense of what has happened to him. Don’t you think he must have been wondering, “Why me?” His companions must have been confused as well. And then there is poor Ananias.

“Uh…you want me to do what, Jesus?  You can’t be serious. Everybody’s talking about this man and the terrible things he’s been doing, his reign of terror against your people in Jerusalem! And now he’s shown up here with papers from the Chief Priest that give him license to do the same to us. You want me to go help him find his way out of his troubles. Let’s just leave him confused and helpless and in the dark, OK?”

But God doesn’t work that way. Whatever the reasons, God has plans for this persecutor of his people. He’s got work for Saul to do. The trouble is, Saul can’t even begin without help. In the article I featured in this week’s Midweek Message, Beth Scibienski writes that this is “Not Just Saul’s Story.” First there are his traveling companions who have to help him find his way into the town, all the time wondering what was to become of them as well as their fiery leader. Then there was Judas, either friend of the persecutors or friend of Jesus, who opens his home and looks after the wounded warrior as he struggles to understand. And Ananias shows up finally, likely with a friend or two to serve as bodyguard in case Saul turns on him.

Scibienski writes, “There’s a full room at Judas’ house.  It’s not just Saul’s story. The story is about two worlds colliding because people listen for voices, hear voices and follow voices. The story isn’t just about Saul and his new calling. It’s [also] about the new calling for his friends who had to lead their leader by the hand when needed. The story isn’t just about Saul’s blindness. It’s [also] about Ananias and the others having to see Saul as an instrument of God before it had happened. There’s a full room at Judas’ house.” She concludes, “Even we are in that room somewhere” (Beth Scibienski, “Not Just Saul’s story,” April 9, 2013, bethscib.com).

“Even we are in that room somewhere.” Are we? Can you see yourself, put yourself into the picture? Scibienski is suggesting that God’s work cannot be done by any one person alone, even if it’s the Apostle Paul, who will eventually become a principle architect of Christianity. As Paul himself will proclaim in time, there are many parts necessary to the Body of Christ and no one part can dismiss another as unimportant to the functioning of the whole. Regardless of role, it takes all of us together to make the church, to bring the Body of Christ alive.  Some of us may be out front leading the way while others offer support, some may be doers and some healers, some may be teachers and others pray-ers, some may work from home and others at the ends of the earth. but God has a place and task for each of us in bringing the Beloved Community into the fullness of being. Think about it this morning. If this is not just Saul’s story and you are somehow, somewhere in that room, who are you and what is your role in the emerging witness of the Good News?

Let’s leap ahead. It’s some years later and Saul, now Paul, is nearing the end of his remarkable ministry and, indeed, his life. He is in prison in Rome, writing another letter or two to that contentious bunch at First Church, Corinth. Brian McLaren speculates, “Paul is getting older now. He is constantly plagued by eye troubles and other aches and pains. Being under house arrest means poor food, cold, restricted movement, and uncertainty about what the future holds…And he carries constant concern for the ecclesia [the fledgling church] spread out across the empire, the way a mother carries her children in her heart even after they’re grown” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 198).

In this very spirit of concern he writes to these problematic Corinthians in hope that he can keep them on the “straight and narrow” to being the church that he has envisioned them to be. One of the things the old Apostle has to contend with among the Corinthians is a a challenge to his authority.  In chapter 11, he gets carried away in defense of his right to claim authority in proclaiming the Good News. Let’s listen in on what he has to say.

 16-21 Let me come back to where I started—and don’t hold it against me if I continue to sound a little foolish. Or if you’d rather, just accept that I am a fool and let me rant on a little. I didn’t learn this kind of talk from Christ. Oh, no, it’s a bad habit I picked up from the three-ring preachers that are so popular these days. Since you sit there in the judgment seat observing all these shenanigans, you can afford to humor an occasional fool who happens along. You have such admirable tolerance for impostors who rob your freedom, rip you off, steal you blind, put you down—even slap your face! I shouldn’t admit it to you, but our stomachs aren’t strong enough to tolerate that kind of stuff.

21-23 Since you admire the egomaniacs of the pulpit so much (remember, this is your old friend, the fool, talking), let me try my hand at it. Do they brag of being Hebrews, Israelites, the pure race of Abraham? I’m their match. Are they servants of Christ? I can go them one better. (I can’t believe I’m saying these things. It’s crazy to talk this way! But I started, and I’m going to finish.)

23-27 I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.

28-29 And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an  angry fire burns in my gut. (The Message).

The fire still burns in the belly of the old warrior. Many are the dangers, toils and snares he’s already faced in his years of ministry, Still, he looks to God’s grace to lead him home. He trusts that “The Holy One is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth [and that] God does not faint or grow weary…” In fact, he believes with all his heart that “God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” He knows from experience that “those who wait for the Holy One shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” And so he presses on.

We now sit with Paul in that prison room. He looks deep into our eyes, desperately desiring  that we understand. In the face of hardship, in any season of dangers, toils and snares, he has a word for us, for the church, which he loves like a mother, and it is this,

… now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly  . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all (2 Corinthians 6:1-10 The Message).

Today, when we live in an environment that is at least tolerant and often hospitable to the church, I wonder if we don’t have it too easy. I’m not advocating increased suffering as a means of strengthening our faith, but these texts make me think of those people around the world who hold on to their faith at great risk. I think of Christians in Myanmar, India, the Middle East, parts of Africa, who are persecuted and even killed for holding fast to what they believe about the Gospel. There is something stirring about sisters and brothers in the family of faith who are willing to lay down their lives for what we often profess so easily and glibly.

So McLaren – and Paul – challenge us to see the Gospel as fomenting a “global uprising” for peace and justice, for love and compassion, for establishing the Beloved Community of God on earth today. As people of privilege we have unique challenges in keeping the faith and living into that Beloved Community. How do we let the Gospel be so rooted in our lives that it transforms us in the way it transformed the lives of those in the early church and now transforms those around the world willing to risk their lives to make it real? But it’s not just their story alone. How do we partner with them in bringing the Body of Christ fully alive?

Could it be that “in this very room there’s quite enough love, joy, hope, power  for all of us, indeed, for all the world? For Jesus, Christ Jesus, is in this very room.” 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)

 

Hope of the World (November 23, 2014)

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Texts: Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 15:4-13

 

It seems that today’s worship service is, of necessity, a hybrid. To begin with it is Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. As one liturgical year draws to a close and we anticipate a new one in the season of Advent, it seems appropriate to recognize and celebrate the fulfillment of the Christhood in life of the child whose birth we will soon recognize and celebrate. The story comes full circle and begins again. The little boy soon to be born once more ascends into heaven to sit at the right hand of God in glory.

And of course it is the season of the great US holiday, Thanksgiving, with its dual emphasis on family togetherness and conspicuous consumption. Surely we must sing either “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” or “We Gather Together,” along with other songs of thankfulness for God’s blessings. Before facing “Black Friday and its aftermath, we will gather around tables groaning with the abundance of the feast. We will share the things for which we are grateful before eating ourselves into a stupor and falling asleep before televised football games or seasonal spectaculars.

Many congregations plan their annual stewardship drives to culminate on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, taking advantage of the generous spirit the season evokes. We are no exception.   Today we have asked you to bring your pledges of support so that we might budget responsibly for the ministries of First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, in the coming year. Laura and I and others have asked and will continue to urge you to give generously in the spirit of gratitude for all that with which you have been blessed. As I have said once already this season, I am not embarrassed to ask you to give to support the budget because I believe in the ministries of this church and I believe in your witness as part of God’s beloved community. This congregation – that is, us – matters in this community and in the larger world as we worship, learn, care and serve together.

Then we have been on this journey with Brian McLaren, trying to understand how “we make the road by walking.” Because we need to move on to Advent next week, there were two chapters of the book and six wonderful scripture texts to consider for this week. If you’re not feeling a little overwhelmed by all this, you can rest assured that I am. However, undaunted by the overabundance of possibilities, we plunge ahead. Perhaps we will find a convergence of all the themes laid out before us for today. It is not unlike the rich array of dishes laid out for us at Friday’s Gratitude potluck, which, in the end, made a meal!

So let’s pick up where we left off last week. If you remember, our “Song for Sending Out” was the great hymn by Georgia Harkness, “Hope of the World.” This is one of my favorites and its words remained with me through the week, especially its opening phrase, “Hope of the world, O Christ of great compassion.”

I suppose on Christ the King Sunday the tendency is to think of Christ enthroned in glory. I know that when I googled images there was a rich collection of paintings, carvings and mosaics of the triumphant Christ, crowned in splendor. Still, there is something compelling in the Harkness image of Christ who, because of his compassion, is the hope of the world. We can glory in Christ ascendant. We can sing wholeheartedly the hymns to the Christ who reigns with God in heaven: “Blessing and honor, glory and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne…” But how well do we understand this God who takes on human form and dwells among us out of concern for the well-being of creation?

It’s a challenging paradox, this God of glory who is also the Christ of great compassion. Hear Harkness’s prayerful words once more:

Hope of the world, O Christ of great compassion:
speak to our fearful hearts by conflict rent.
Save us, your people, from consuming passion,
who by our own false hopes and aims are spent.

In the midst of abundance and celebration, do these words speak to you? Fearful hearts, conflict rent, consuming passion, false hopes and aims? Does any of that sound familiar? I think both Isaiah and Paul heard something of Harkness’s longing in today’s texts.

Paul is writing to a people by “conflict rent.” There was a battle going on among the Christ followers in Rome between Jews and Gentiles. If it was not an all out dispute between who was in and who was out, there was certainly tension between who was more and less favored. We may not be caught up in that particular conflict, but how many such battles can we identify in our world today and how many of them affect our own lives, at least indirectly? Can you name a few?

Paul says that this is the “hope” we find in the scriptures, that “…the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant[s us] to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together [we] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He goes on to explain how the Jewish Messiah is also the Christ who welcomes all, Gentiles included, from before the beginning of time. In Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike find their hope. Hope of the world – not just part of the world, not just some of the people, not just aspects of creation – it’s the whole wide world.

Perhaps Paul’s vision was well summarized in this morning’s special music:

Many members, one body; many hearts, one hope, one faith in You.

            And when we disagree teach our eyes to see that we are one

in the family of faith, the family of faith, joined by the miracle of grace.

 

We are brothers, we are sisters…children of the one Creator of all.

            So as we live and grow, help us always know, that we are one

in the family of faith…

Compassion does that to you. It makes you aware of all that’s around you. It helps you hear the hopes and fears, the dreams and challenges of others. It give you access to the hearts and minds of everyone you encounter, if you will let it function in yourself. This is one of the crucial identifying characteristics of the Christ, the capacity for compassion, to feel as the others feel, to see as the others see, to share, ironically, in a common humanity. Christ sees and understands our fearful hearts, our conflicts, consuming passions, false hopes and aims. Christ also shares our dreams and joys, our laughter and play, our communion with one another and all creation. Compassion offers a uniting vision of what the world might yet be.

Isaiah’s vision is somewhat different but perhaps still related. You may also remember from last week that I began my sermon with several “texts of terror” – Joshua’s instruction to obliterate the seven tribes that occupied Canaan and a couple of the more violent passages from the Psalms. These verses from the second chapter of Isaiah come as a kind of oasis in the grim landscape of destruction promised for a disobedient, unfaithful people. Most of the first chapter of Isaiah and much of what follows today’s text is a prophecy of doom, related to all those empires that have and will conquer Israel and Judah. “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and calling of convocation—I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:10-15).

Not exactly an encouraging word, is it? But here is the hope in these first verses of chapter 2. Walter Brueggemann points out a rhythm to Isaiah. He says, “For all its harshness, the tradition of Isaiah characteristically moves to hope” (Walter Brueggemann, Westminster Bible Companion, Isaiah 1-39, p. 24). He affirms that “There is hope, but it is deeply postsuffering hope. Yahweh’s wrath is deep and serious and will be outlasted only by Yahweh’s resolve to bring Jerusalem to its true and proper function as a place of justice. The poet looks historical threat full in the face but holds out for the holy purpose of Jerusalem…” (op. cit., p. 22). The day will come when the nations will stream to God’s holy mountain, seeking instruction in peace and justice: “…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Hope of the world, God’s gift from highest heaven,
bringing to hungry souls the bread of life:
still let your Spirit unto us be given
to heal earth’s wounds and end our bitter strife.

I don’t mean to be a wet blanket on the glitter of the holiday season. There is much to celebrate and much for which we can be grateful. Still, even in a time of celebration, it is important to remember that there is much to concern us in the world around us and in our own lives. There is still trouble all over this world and parties and shopping and even celebratory worship services will not make it less so. Maybe in this season we can celebrate and be grateful for the Hope of the World. Maybe we can be touched by the Christ of great compassion. Maybe we can share the hopes and fears, the joys and concerns of all those we encounter. Maybe we can learn to live in harmony with one another as one family of faith. Maybe we can beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Maybe can pledge ourselves not to learn war anymore. Maybe we can heal the earth’s wounds and end all bitter strife.

Hope of the world, who by your cross did save us
from death and dark despair, from sin and guilt:
we render back the love your mercy gave us;
take now our lives and use them as you will.  Amen.

 

Powerful Foolishness (May 11, 2014)

Doug DavidsonPOWERFUL FOOLISHNESS

A sermon preached by Doug Davidson
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, May 11, 2012

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

I want to share a concern with you.

Or, maybe I should say it another way: I’m a little worried.

Yes. Worried. Let me explain.

I think some of us have been hanging around the church for too long.

No, really–I mean it. I think some of us have spent so much time in church that we’ve gotten the wrong idea. We’ve been soaking in these waters of Christianity for so long, that we’ve developed a certain… misconception.

We’ve started to think the message of the cross is just good common sense.

We think the Gospel blends nicely with conventional wisdom.

We think the word of the cross is easily harmonized with the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Let’s see, it’s “1. Be Proactive, 2. Begin with the end in mind, and #3. If you want to be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me.Or we think it fits well with the practical suggestions of Ben Franklin and his Poor Richard’s Almanac. Get up early, eat your vegetables, brush your teeth, work hard, oh, and bless those who persecute you. It’s the recipe for success, right?

I think maybe we’ve heard so many sermons, we’ve sung so many hymns, we’ve spent so many hours and days and week and years in churches, we’ve gotten used to it. We’ve lost sight of how crazy this message of a crucified Jesus is. How foolish. How improbable and unacceptable. How radically ridiculous.

The apostle Paul understood how extraordinary it was to suggest that God’s power is revealed to the world on a cross. Paul was a Jew, so he knew it didn’t match Jewish expectations of what a messiah would look like. Nor did it match the wisdom for which the Greeks were famous. Yet in this letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul lifts up the cross. God’s power and wisdom are revealed, says Paul, through Jesus’ crucifixion—an event the world understands only as weakness and foolishness. This cross, Paul says, offers an upside-down wisdom that causes religious folks to stumble, and makes philosophers shake their heads.

God’s power is revealed in a Jesus who, in faithfulness, empties himself of everything that looks like power.

Here’s the shape of God’s saving power, Paul says. It’s not in kings and generals and armies. It’s not in wealth and degrees. It’s in a Jesus who is betrayed and abandoned; who is stripped, beaten, and executed like a common criminal. And this one hanging on the cross calls us to follow him.

Now, maybe some of us have been around churches for so long that we’ve forgotten how ludicrous this word of the cross might sound. And that’s one reason it’s important to remember that Paul didn’t write these words with us in mind. Paul was writing a personal letter to the church in Corinth, a community of Christ followers living just 20 to 30 years after Jesus’ death. Paul wasn’t writing for the twenty-first century seminarians in Berkeley or the Baptists in Palo Alto. We’re eavesdropping. We’re reading someone else’s mail.

What’s more, as we read Paul’s words about the foolishness of the cross, we need to understand that we’re stepping into an ongoing drama. Now, if we open our Bibles, and see that we’re reading from the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we might think we’re getting the beginning of the story. But as Suzanne Watts Henderson reminds us, First Corinthians “plunges readers into a conversation well underway.”[1] We’re jumping right into the middle of the scene. It’s like we’ve come home and grabbed our popcorn, sat down on the couch and turned on the TV, only to find out the show has already started. And we need to try to piece together who the characters are and what’s already going on.

In fact, it’s clear that in First Corinthians, we’re not just in the middle of an episode, we’re already several seasons into the drama. In chapter 5, verse 9, Paul refers to an earlier letter he’d written to the Corinthians, about some major issues that had entered the church. We don’t have that letter. So we need to remember that this invitation to embrace the foolishness of the cross isn’t really from “The first letter of Paul to the Corinthians,” despite what it says at the top of the page in my Bible. It’s from the first letter we have.

So figuring out exactly what word God might have for us, here, today, is a major task. Because we’re starting with a letter written 2,000 years ago that picks up in the middle of an ongoing conversation with another community in another time and another place.

But knowing a little bit about Corinth can help us begin to unpack it. Corinth was a Roman colony situated between two seaports. It was a city of diversity, “a thriving melting pot where social mobility and economic opportunity fostered vigorous competition.”[2] Sounds a little bit like Palo Alto. And the Corinthian church reflected the city’s diversity. There were Jews and Greeks, and slaves and free persons, rich and poor—a wild mix of cultures, and classes and customs. And the followers of Christ there, reflected that diversity. And from everything we can gather, they were at each other’s throats, arguing about what they thought be doing, and where the church was headed.

Paul refers to different factions within the church. Some of the believers claimed loyalty to other preachers who’d been with them, like Apollos, or Cephas. Others claimed allegiance to Paul himself—and he wasn’t really any happier about that. See for Paul it’s not about the preacher; it’s about the cross. In fact, in verse 17, Paul celebrates that he really wasn’t much of a speaker. He claims that his own proclamation was “not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” Paul seems to think the Corinthians are getting caught up in the rhetoric of their teachers. Their ability to craft brilliant arguments and communicate human ideas of knowledge—it’s getting in the way. Because it’s not about the skill and technique of a particular teacher. It’s about the power of God, which comes in the unexpected form of a crucified Lord. And it’s this power that Paul heralds as the one thing that could unite the Corinthians across all their diversity and differences.

But two thousand years later, in this heavily Christianized culture, I think we can lose our sense of how scandalous and improbable the cross is. We see crosses in our churches, some of us wear them as jewelry around our necks, or have them tattoed on our biceps. It’s become the symbol of our faith. But Beverly Gaventa says Paul’s assertion that the cross demonstrated God’s power “must have struck some of Paul’s contemporaries as the ravings of a madman.” The cross wasn’t a symbol of power. It was, in fact, “the antithesis of power–except as it revealed the power of the Roman Empire to crush those regarded as opponents.”

But the reality of the cross can still shatter our presuppositions. I was reminded of this one day when our family was living on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, where my wife was working on her M.Div. Our son, Elliot, was probably about three years old at the time. One afternoon Elliot and I walked into the seminary library to drop off a book for a friend.

As we stepped through the bright red doors, moving from the bright sunlight into the darkened vestibule of the library, Elliot stopped in his tracks. There, on the wall to his right, hung a sculpted crucifix, nearly life size. I watched his young eyes study Jesus’ agonized face, the dying body nailed to a tree, the nails piercing his hands and feet.

I knew the image was a new one to him. He wasn’t used to it. He’d spent much of his young life in churches, but the crosses in our Baptist church were all clean and sanitized; their Jesuses were all resurrected and ascended.

For a moment, I considered hustling him back out the door, thinking maybe I should try to shield him from this holy horror in the same way I would sometimes “rewrite” the violent plots of his Batman comic books when I read them aloud. But he’d already taken it all in.

I thought he might cry. Instead, without ever taking his eyes off the dying Jesus, he slowly spoke words filled with great sadness and wonder: “What happened?”

Elliot reminded me of the great mystery of it all. He felt the horror of it. He’d heard stories about this Jesus who welcomed children, and healed sick people, and chased after lost sheep. But somehow this Jesus taught and healed and forgave and loved others with an intensity that threatened the religious and political powers of his day. Jesus didn’t color within the lines. He hung out with prostitutes, and ate with sinners, and welcomed the marginalized and forsaken. And he talked about a different kingdom, one that belonged to the poor, and the hungry, and downtrodden. So they made a symbol out of him: Here’s what happens when you mess with the system. You end up dead on a cross. That’s the way the world’s power works. We dare not shield ourselves from the horrible reality of this.

But that’s not the whole story. Because on the cross, Jesus demonstrated his devotion to the same love that he incarnated throughout his life. He was willing to trust in faith that the future was in God’s hands, not in the hands of the religious and political authorities who conspired to kill him. In his death, Jesus embodied the same radical devotion to God’s exorbitant love that he revealed throughout his life.

You see, Jesus lived in ways that weren’t very…practical. They don’t match up well with common sense. And he called those who would follow him to this same way. Here’s the path to life, says Jesus. It’s foolishness. Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you. Forgive without end. Give away all you have. Drop everything and follow me. Don’t worry about the future. Live a life of radical devotion to the one who created you. That’s God’s wisdom. Yes, it may put you at odds with the rulers of this world, who think they have the key to life. But it aligns you with something greater, with a love so powerful that even death cannot extinguish it.

So what does this mean for us, for this group of believers here at First Baptist Church of Palo Alto? How do we live into this new age? Here we sit, a few blocks from Stanford University, one of the preeminent educational institutions in the world. We’re in Silicon Valley—our neighbors are Facebook, Google, Apple, and tons of other technological companies that are reshaping the world. Palo Alto has more than it’s share of the world’s wisdom and power. How can this little church have any impact? What can we offer in light of the technological and economic power, unimaginable wealth, and knowledge that surrounds us?

What we have to share with the world is a knowledge that’s rooted in something very different. It’s a power revealed in weakness. In serving others. In practicing forgiveness. In humility. In foolish acts of faithfulness. In grace and welcome to all. This is the way God’s spirit breaks into the world.

What does it mean to worship a God whose wisdom is revealed on a cross? It means we seek to embody that same faithfulness to God that Jesus lived. It means inviting God to break our captivity to worldly conceptions of power and wisdom. It means finding our true unity by committing ourselves ever more fully to the upside-down logic of the cross. And it means knowing that when we fall short in our efforts to be faithful, and we will, we have a God’s whose forgiveness and love cover our failures.

Paul declares that God has chosen the weak of this world to shame the wise. Let us learn to let go of our own futile grasps at power and wisdom, that we might deepen our commitment to the crucified Christ. Amen.

[1] Suzanne Watts Henderson, “1 Corinthians,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible One-Volume Commentary, Beverly Roberts Gaventa and David L. Petersen, eds. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 788.

[2] Henderson, 788.