Fear, Love, Christmas, and a new song from Brian McLaren

Syran Refugees
Syrian Refugees

My friend Brian McLaren, known mostly for his many wonderful books, is also a very talented songwriter. He and I and a number of other folks are about to launch a new worship music company called The Convergence Music Project or CMP (click here if you’d like to learn more about CMP).

Brian is quite humble about his singing and performance abilities, but a few days ago he sent me a simple demo of a new song of his called “Not Welcome Here.” I asked him if it would be okay with him for me to share this song publically, and he agreed. I hope you’ll listen to it. Not only is it timely in terms of the Christmas Story, but it speaks deeply to this whole tension between fear and Love.

Read more at Bryan Sirchio Blog

Party On! (9/27/2015)

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

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Text:   Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32; Romans 8:31-39; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

A little over a year ago we began a journey with Brian McLaren. It was a journey through scripture as a sort of alternative lectionary. A big focus of the journey was a set of questions and considerations of what it meant to be alive. We journeyed through four major themes – “Alive in the Story of Creation,” “Alive in the Adventure of Jesus,” “Alive in a Global Uprising” and “Alive in the Spirit of God.” Covering the traditional church year, we began in Genesis and ended last week in Revelation – Alpha and Omega, beginning and ending, the story of our faith stretched out from start to finish. Today we are given a sort of epilogue – three of the most powerful and moving texts in the New Testament – the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Paul’s great assurance to the church in Rome that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” and his affirmation to the Christians in Corinth that “the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable” for “death has been swallowed up in victory” as God “gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Start to finish, we are invited to share with God in a kind of aliveness party. Celebrate, revel in the goodness of all that is and is to be. God is the great Host. Let the good times roll. Glasses will be full, tables groaning and the entertainment fabulous. Rejoice, the lost is found, the wanderer is home, the dead are alive. It’s time to party.

In the past I had not paid a lot of attention to the placement of the Parable of the Prodigal among the lectionary readings for Lent. We certainly don’t see Lent as party time. There is Mardi Gras, which is definitely party time, but that is before Lent, one last hurrah before we shut down for a season. Lent, at best, is a time of sober reflection before the celebration of Easter. It is preparation for a big party that comes after, but Lent itself usually means giving up indulgences and letting go of excess, not exactly party mode. Of course, a big part of the parable is the practice of repentance and that is surely Lenten material. This is a powerful story of the opportunity to turn one’s life around, whether one chooses to walk that road or not.

I especially love the line in which the gospel writer says the younger son “came to himself” or, better yet, “came to his senses.” “What a mess I’ve made of this precious life I’ve been given. Even daddy’s hired help are better off than I am. If I head home, maybe there will be a place for me to help out in the stables or the kitchen or the fields. Anything would be better than the fine fix I find myself in today.” This is a huge turn around, as the chastened child heads home, humbled and wiser for having come to his senses. This looks like big time repentance.

On the other hand, the older brother, who seems so upstanding and respectable, who has stayed close to his father’s side and who has been the “best little boy in the world,” is outraged by his father’s generosity and grace. If you stop to think about it, isn’t that a curious thing, to be angry with another’s generosity and grace? How dare you be kind and forgiving?

The story seems to say that the older brother has some repenting to do of his own, repentance that may be bigger and tougher than that of his naughty little brother. The opportunity is there. His father pleads with him to come inside and join the celebration of his brother’s return. The unanswered question, the question that Jesus is putting to the grumbling scribes and Pharisees, is whether or not the unrelentingly self-righteous can come to their senses, whether they can see their way clear to turning their lives around and joining the party.

Central to the Lenten discipline is the question of whether we can give up those things that get between us and God and others, whether we can let go of anything that separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Paul says nothing really can – unless we allow it to. Or as Richard Rohr writes, “… no love is lost in the universe,” asserting that he believes that “you are actually punished by your sins; whereas Western religions tend to teach that you are punished for your sins. Goodness is its own reward and evil is its own punishment” (Richard Rohr, “Karma,” September 21, 2015, cac.org). And that brings us to party time.

As we read the entire fifteenth chapter of Luke in Bible study, I was struck more strongly than ever that each of the three parables ends in joy and a party – certainly not the way we usually approach Lent. But listen to what the texts tell us. When the shepherd has found the lone lost sheep, “he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” And Jesus instructs, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:6-7). When the woman finds her lost coin, “she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’” Jesus comments, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:9-10).

Then there’s the patient papa, waiting for his wandering boy to return so he can throw the most extravagant party the village has ever seen. Even the bitter, recalcitrant older son can’t stop the celebration. The people gathered in his father’s house party on, with or without him, though the invitation to join in is a standing one. No one wants him left out. But, as with each of us, he has to decide to accept the invitation.

Whatever else we find in this oh-so-familiar chapter of Luke’s gospel, there is joy, rejoicing, celebration, party time! And note that celebrating is never done in isolation. It’s not even the sort of private party the older brother wanted with just his friends. In each case the whole village is invited, friend and neighbors. Y’all come. Everyone’s welcome.

In fact, it was just a few verses before telling these parables that Jesus had said, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14). Didn’t the Pope practice something like this just this week when he declined to dine with the power elite of our nation’s capital in order to lunch with some of the city’s poor citizens?

Barbara Brown Taylor writes of the parable, “…this is an alarming story. It is about hanging out with the wrong people. It is about throwing parties for losers and asking winners to foot the bill.” Contemporizing the parable, she projects, “…Jesus told this story to the ministerial association that was complaining about his dinner parties. He told them he could not hear them all the way across the restaurant, that they should come over and pull up some chairs. Because he saw them eating and he knew who they were — so clean, so right, so angry — he wanted to help them too, so he said, ‘Come meet my friends. Dessert is on me!’ And,” she concludes, “as far as I know, he is still waiting to see how the story ends” (Barbara Brown Taylor, “Table Manners,” The Christian Century, March 11, 1998. P. 257).

The invitation to party on is extended. Who knows how they – or we will respond? We make the road by walking. We are free to choose our way. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –/ I took the one less traveled by,/and that has made all the difference” (Robert Frost, “The Road not Taken”). Or, as Yogi Berra intoned, perhaps less elegantly, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” In order to participate in the party, you have to accept the invitation and show up, no matter how you get there.

So here is route we’ve been walking the last year. “In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1). Now, “God in the End.” We move from God to God. It’s the rhythm of life. In fact, it’s all about life, aliveness, liveliness, and, in the end, an invitation to party on. Yes, there are rough times, hard tasks, pain and suffering, detours, disappointment and even death, such as it is. But, in the end, the God who created everything and called it very good chooses to fulfill all the promise of that creation, to redeem it and reconcile it to God’s Self through Christ Jesus. McLaren writes, “…we look forward to a festive celebration that beckons us from the future. The story began in God’s creative love, and it ends in God’s creative love, too…if such an ending can even be called an ending…The whole story flows toward reconciliation, not in human creeds or constitutions, but in love, the love of the One who gave us life and being (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, pp. 261, 262).

In the beginning God; in the end God; and all along the way, God – with us, in us, through us. God and the eternal invitation to party on. Amen.

End of the Road

Picnic at FBCWe had an excellent Rally Day last Sunday. Thanks to everyone who pitched in to help with the last cook-out of the summer, especially when Eleanor Satterlee became ill. We are grateful for all the good work she does organizing our hospitality. We don’t always see what a task it is until we have to step up. Hugh reports that she is “on the mend.”

This week the road we have been walking with Brian McLaren sadly comes to an end.

We have spent a year working our way through Brian’s book, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation and Activation. I hope you have been as refreshed by this lectionary alternative as I have.

Appropriately, the final chapter is entitled, “Alive in the Spirit of God: God in the End.” Of course, God in the beginning and God in the End. McLaren saves three significant scriptures for our final consideration – Luke 15:11-32, The Parable of the Prodigal Son or the Waiting Father or the Dysfunctional Family (you choose); Romans 8:31-39, “nothing can separate us from the love of God”; and 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, “the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised, incorruptible”! We will focus on the passage from Luke and its joy when the lost is found, the dead resurrected. Come, everyone! Join in the party!

We will also kick off this year’s Adult Spiritual Formation class as Hugh Satterlee leads us in a consideration of the The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein. There are copies available in the church library.

Come, everyone! Join in the “party” Sunday at 10:00 AM. Share the joy with your family friends, colleagues, neighbors or a stranger off the street.

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

Pastor Rick

Come! (9/20/2015)

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

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Text:   Revelation 21:1-7; 22:16-17, 20-21

 Does anyone besides me share a love for a good mystery? I wouldn’t say I was obsessed but I enjoy Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis, Sherlock Homes in his many manifestations, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and most of the other British mysteries on PBS. I have read all of Joseph Hansen’s Brandstetter series and several of the Wallander tales by Henning Mankell. Now I confess, I am not very good at figuring out “whodunit.” I actually enjoy being surprised in the end when the erstwhile detective reveals it all to you. Maybe you’re one of those people who reads the end of the book first because you are impatient to know how it will all turn out. Personally, I would rather savor the story, even delaying the final disclosure in order to remain immersed in the experience of the adventure. Revelation will come in its own time; there is something satisfying for me in the enjoyment of the journey.

Or how many of you predicted the outcome of all the college football games yesterday? Who knew that the Texas kicker would miss the extra point and Cal would hang on to win 45 to 44? Who had scripted ahead of time Stanford’s masterful victory over 6th ranked USC or Mississippi’s upset of Alabama? There’s an old adage that proclaims that no one can guarantee the outcome in advance, that’s why you play the game. I suppose in this age of fantasy football one could make a fortune if she could predict accurately the outcome of all the games.

Sometimes we are eager for all to be revealed; sometimes we would rather give ourselves over to the journey. Often, we have no control over the outcome of a given story or situation and must patiently await its unfolding over time. We may find ourselves living in hope of a certain something that is to come but find we have no way to guarantee that our particular desire will be fulfilled.

Sometimes we dream. We may have a vision of the future. We may be flooded with imagery of some thing or some place or some story. It may be a revelation, but dreams and visions are not always clear, at least on the surface. They offer curious characters and situations and relationships that we cannot easily grasp. I know over the years some of you have engaged in dream work through this church. I admit that I am not a great or gifted interpreter of dreams. When I have done dream work with clients or parishioners or spiritual directees, I have always begun by asking the dreamer what they think the dream meant. I believe that that is the most fruitful way to enter another’s dream world rather than offering pre-packaged interpretations.

However, with John of Patmos, his vision was written down and distributed to his community. Others picked it up and, strange as it may seem, included it in the Bible. That means, as people of the Book, we are at least invited to consider it. Volumes have been written by scholars and schemers, seekers and dreamers, trying to make sense of John’s vision. More than one purported prophet or eschatologically-oriented community has tried to use it to predict the actual unfolding of the future. This great beast or that bloody battle are indicators that some tyrant or other fierce being is foreordained to bring about the end of the world. In spite of Jesus’ clear instructions to leave end things to God, many a Christian claimant has given over ministry and even life to following the belief that a particular piece of Revelation will lead them through Armageddon to the gates of heaven, avoiding the eternal flames of the lake of fire.

I suppose it is partly because Revelation comes at the end of the Bible that Brian McLaren has chosen to treat it in the penultimate chapter of his book. I actually like that he pairs John’s great apocalyptic vision with hope. I believe he is right about this. More than anything, John’s vision is an offering of hope for the fulfillment of God’s Beloved Community. I know there are lots of beasts and battles, bloodshed and burning, before one reaches the golden shores of the River of Life. But, following McLaren and other scholars, I can see how Revelation offers hope for an oppressed people.

We have considered before how little most of us know about oppression, at least the sort that John’s community was facing. Although it was not necessarily a period of wide-spread persecution, it was a time when Christians were a decided minority. In a polytheistic culture, it was tolerable for Jews and Christians to worship their God, but it was a curiosity that they would limit themselves to only one God when a multiplicity of gods could be so much more useful. I imagine that today we don’t understand their world view any better than ancient peoples understood monotheism. In our culture, we turn exclusively to “our God” and often treat other religions with disdain, both subtle and obvious. As Christians in the USA we don’t really grasp the oppression those early Christ-followers faced nor do we see the elitist attitude we often take toward faith traditions outside our own today.

In addition to the general skepticism and disdain for the religious practices of the early church, there was also the problem of emperor worship, which had social and political implications for Christ-followers. If the emperor claimed to be a god and demanded worship as well as tribute and if the emperor was as mad as Nero or Diocletian, any noncompliance could be met with bloody persecution. So you can see how those first followers of Christ were caught in a dilemma. If they spoke up for their faith they were liable to experience social ostracism and outright persecution. If they kept their mouths shut they were guilty of failing to spread God’s Good News to the ends of the earth. It was not a comfortable position to be in. Today, we may choose to keep quiet about our faith in order to maintain social nicety or not rock the boat or respect others’ points of view, but I doubt that most of us know well the dilemma our ancestors faced in following the faith.

McLaren and others suggest that Revelation functions as kind of code – not code for us to use in deciphering literal end times and the disposition of heaven and hell. Rather it is an allegory about the ultimate failure of all principalities and powers that place themselves in opposition to the living God and the final fulfillment of creation in God’s Beloved Community. We can get hung up on the intricate and gory details of John’s dream. Many have, but in the end John means to offer a word of hope to a people who were struggling to maintain their faith in an inhospitable environment. In the end, John says the powers that be will be overcome and God’s reign will be fulfilled on earth. How exactly that will happen is in God’s hands. It will be accomplished in God’s time and God’s way. In the meantime, God’s people are asked to remain faithful, to put their trust in God, to live in hope for the fulfillment of God’s future.

McLaren writes, “Rather than giving its original readers a coded blueprint of the future, Revelation gave them visionary insight into their present situation. It told them that the story of God’s work in history has never been about escaping Earth and going up to heaven. It has always been about God descending to dwell among us. Faithfulness wasn’t waiting passively for a future that had already been determined. Faithfulness meant participating with God in God’s unfolding story. God wasn’t a distant, terrifying monster waiting for vengeance at the end of the universe. God was descending among us here and now, making the tree of true aliveness available for all” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 256).

Hear again these words that sum up John’s vision, his great revelation, the way the story ends – “’See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away…See, I am making all things new.’” Then,”The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. “

It’s a complex invitation. On one side we hear the invitation from heaven to come, partake of the wedding feast of Christ and the church. On another we are encouraged to speak up, to invite others to come, share the feast with us. And from a third perspective, we shout to heaven, “Even so Christ Jesus quickly come,” as we long for the fulfillment of our hope that the Beloved Community will become our reality as soon as possible.

As McLaren writes in our Words of Preparation, “What was true for Revelation’s original audience is true for us today. Whatever madman is in power, whatever chaos is breaking out, whatever danger threatens, the river of life is flowing now. That’s why Revelation ends with the sound of a single word echoing through the universe…It is a word of invitation, welcome, reception, hospitality, and possibility. It is a word not of ending, but of new beginning. That one word is Come! The Spirit says it to us. We echo it back. Together with the Spirit, we say to everyone who is willing, Come!” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 256). “…let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” Come!

A Note from Rick

To Be God's PeopleThanks to Gregory and everyone who covered while I was away last week. I’ve heard very good reports about the worship experience and the Lunch Bunch. I’m sorry I missed it all. I did have a good trip to Boise where we celebrated my mother’s 97th birthday and I attended my 50th high school reunion, which was a very nice event. It was good to see some folk I haven’t seen for all these years.

In this Midweek Message you will see information on several important upcoming events in the life of our congregation. Tomorrow at noon is the first meeting of our new Senior Connections Book Group. Then see the information on the Crop Walk on October 4. Sign up to walk or sponsor. October 9-11 we will host the Evergreen regional meeting with Dr. James Forbes. Sunday we will have registration forms for you all. This will be an exciting event and a wonderful opportunity to share with our Baptist friends.

This Sunday is “Rally Day”. We will kick off the church school year, share in worship and enjoy the last cook out of the season. I know Gregory has some special things planned for our children and youth. We are almost at the end of our journey with Brian McLaren. Our focus will be on “Adventures in the Spirit of God: Spirit of Hope.” The texts are from the Psalms and Revelation so they reflect especially on hope for the future. This seems timely as we focus on our own future.

Looking forward to seeing you all on Sunday at 10:00 AM. Bring some others along to share in worship, education and fellowship around the tables on the patio.

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

Pastor Rick

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.

New Associate Pastor; Death and Life

Rev. Rick MixonI am personally thrilled that Gregory Stevens has accepted our call to serve as our Associate Pastor for Faith Formation and Family Life. Our candidating weekend went very well, with a fine cook out and time for sharing on Saturday evening, followed by an excellent worship service and special business meeting on Sunday. Gregory acquitted himself with grace, good humor and thoughtful reflection as we considered together how we might link our lives as pastor and people.

The latest word I have is that Gregory is hoping to join us as soon as September 4. He is eager to get started! I trust that we will offer him our customary warm FBCPA welcome and do everything we can to support him as ministers with us. Thanks to everyone who helped to make the weekend such a special time.

We are coming to the end of the road we have been making by walking with Brian McLaren. This Sunday’s theme is “Alive in the Spirit of God: Spirit of Life.” Ironically this chapter focuses as much on death and the afterlife as on life as we know it. Our focus scripture will be from Paul’s letter to the Philippians leading to an exploration of “Living in Christ.” “For me to live is Christ,” Paul proclaims. What would such a claim mean for you and me? Patio Hour will be hosted by Nana Spiridon.

Plan to be here to share in worship and Sunday School starting at 10:00 AM. We have a   special treat Sunday as our service and special music will feature the playing of several Native American flutes. What a great time to bring some others along to join us.

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

Pastor Rick

To Be God's People

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.

Children of the Day (August 2, 2015)

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and Rev. Rick MixonA Sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

In this week’s “Midweek Message,” I offered these “Words to Consider” from Brian McLaren;

As we walk this road together, we are being prepared and strengthened for struggle. We’re learning to cut the strings of ‘unholy spirits’ that have been our puppet masters in the past. We’re learning to be filled, led, and guided, not by a spirit of fear but by the Holy Spirit instead…a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind to face with courage whatever crises may come.
(Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 243).

As we come near the end of our year long journey with Brian, he reminds us that walking this road entails a combination of struggle and joy, challenge and fulfillment, trial and the satisfaction of achievement. The road we make by walking may take us to the gates of hell or home to the Beloved Community of God. How we walk, with whom we walk, the resources we draw on for the journey, all will make a difference to the outcome.

Is he right to assert that we are being prepared and strengthened for the struggle? What do we know of struggle? For the most part, we’re pretty blessed, aren’t we? We’re people of power and privilege and wealth. Oh, I know it doesn’t feel like when for most of us there are always people next door who have more power and privilege and money, right? We’re just kind of average. We’re middle class folk. Some of us had to work hard to get to where we are and some of us are still working hard. But if we open our eyes and minds and hearts to the way most of the world lives, it’s hard to say we have any real struggle by comparison.

Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica was written to people who were having a rough time. There weren’t very many in the congregation. They were the only people in the city who followed the Jesus Way and that wasn’t very popular among all the religious options of the day. And then these Christians had beliefs and practices that seemed strange and unacceptable to most of their neighbors. We don’t run into that so often, do we? In our society and among our neighbors a certain brand of Christianity is commonly known and experienced. Christianity is still the dominant religion in our culture. It’s not much of a struggle to be a Christian in the USA today – or is it?

McLaren argues that, like our sisters and brothers from long ago, we may still be confronted with something like Satan and the demonic. In our modern sophistication we may not like or use that language but he suggests that we might see “…Satan and demons as powerful and insightful images by which our ancestors sought to describe shadowy realities that are still at work today. In today’s terminology,” he continues, “we might call them social, political, structural, ideological, and psychological forces. These forces,” he says, “take control of individuals groups, and even whole civilizations, driving them toward destruction” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 240).

What do you think he means by destructive forces in this so-called Christian environment in which we live? What are some of the powers with which we might struggle in order to remain true to our Christian calling? McLaren, again, suggests that “The real enemies back then and now are invisible realities like racism, greed, fear, ambition, nationalism, religious supremacy and the like – forces that capture decent people and pull their strings as if they were puppets to make them do terrible things” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 242). Does this sound right to you? Are you aware of any of these realities operating around you? Do you ever feel a pull – subtle or obvious – on your own strings to stray from the road we’re walking, to give up on the Jesus Way, to abandon hope for the Beloved Community of God – all for the good life on easy street?

What we struggle with may seem much less obvious than what those first Christians had to face, but that may make it more invidious and dangerous. To walk the road of compassion, hospitality and service may be more difficult than we imagine. It may ask more of us than we expected to give. It may lead us into conflict with our culture, our community, our families, friends and neighbors, maybe even with ourselves, as we have to make challenging choices about what road we walk, how we walk it and with whom. McLaren reminds us that “If we confront the love of power (which lies at the heart of all ‘unholy spirits’) with the power of love (which is the power of the Holy Spirit) we will understand why the New Testament emphasized suffering and persecution as it did” (Brian D. McLaren, “Author’s Commentary on We Make the Road by Walking,” p. 76).

Monday night several of us attended a screening of the powerful documentary film, “White Like Me.” I don’t how others felt about it but it surely convicted me of how easily I get caught up in racism and white supremacy. I don’t mean to but these undesirable perspectives are endemic to the culture I inhabit. They are woven into the social systems and cultural fabric of my life. There is struggle in that for me. “Lord, I want to be a Christian” but it surely is hard sometimes.

When Pastor Smith from University AME Zion kept asking the crowd on Monday to consider what we might do in our community to confront racism and white supremacy, one passionate woman stood up and said we have to speak up. As someone who works in social media, she said that whenever and wherever we encounter these demons we need to say something. On Facebook or Twitter or other social media sites we are all likely to encounter a friend or acquaintance making racist, white supremacist comments. The easy way out for most of us is to remain silent or quietly unfriend the offender. But she argued that we need, then and there, to say, “No, this is not acceptable. It’s not OK with me and let me tell you why.” I see this as a potential struggle, but also crucial to my Christian witness. As Martin Luther King, Jr., observed, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” and ” Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Our witness matters, even if only a little.

This is where the Spirit of Power comes into play. You see we don’t have to walk the road alone. We’re not without resource to face the struggle. We have more power than we imagine to make a difference in the world around us. We don’t have to settle, to give in, to go along with the crowd. We don’t have to get caught up in what is satanic or demonic. We don’t have to be less than what God has made and called us to be. We are children of the day.

The Spirit of Power calls us to be sober. And, no, I don’t think that means grim, narrow-minded. hard-hearted and judgmental. I believe it means to be thoughtful, considerate, and wise. It means to be compassionate, hospitable and oriented to service. Frankly, I see the potentiality for a lot of joy and fulfillment in that sort of sobriety. Take your time. Think it through. Pray about it. Ask God to lead you by the Spirit of Power to walk the way that leads to the Beloved Community. Put on that “breastplate of faith and love” and that “helmet [of] the hope of salvation” – healing, wholeness, peace and well-being. Oh, and don’t forget to sing a song of praise and thanksgiving as you wend your way – up on the mountain top and down deep in the valley.

The Spirit of Power is not just out there blowing around randomly as it sometimes seems to do. It also blows in and through us. When Paul urges the Thessalonians to “encourage one another and build up each other,” he is talking about calling on, incorporating and sustaining the Spirit of Power. Together we can do and be so much more than we can be alone. That is why we gather round this table. We need nourishment for the journey. We need a healthy helping of the Spirit of Power. We need to share a common meal in the bright light of the dawning day, God’s new day for all creation. As children of day let us shine out, on, for and with one another to bring about the blessed day of God when the road reaches its destination and the struggle ends, that day when the Beloved Community of God is fulfilled and all is peace and well-being. And until that day, let’s walk together, keep up the struggle and let our little lights shine. Amen.

Moving Change Along

God's PeopleA large group gathered at First Methodist Church to watch the documentary film, “White Like Me.” I found it to be a powerful analysis of white privilege and racism in this country. No one is exempt from the effects of these phenomena. They are deeply embedded in our cultural values and social systems. Though I imagine most of us long for the day when privilege and prejudice may be laid to rest, we aren’t there yet. Whatever progress we’ve made toward social and cultural change is not nearly enough. We still have a long way to go.

One of things that Pastor Kaloma Smith kept asking us Monday night is what are we going to do. It’s one thing to sit and watch a powerful movie, to feel the struggle and pain, to share our stories of the past and present; it’s another thing to seek out and commit ourselves to the actions that will make life different. One commitment is to keep talking and listening and learning from one another. Another suggestion is to speak up when we are aware of the exercise of white privilege and racism whenever and wherever we encounter them, regardless of the personal or social price. Chip Clark attended a pre-screening planning meeting for an event for children in our community to be held at Mitchell Park in September. What ideas do you have to move along this needed change in our own community and the wider world?

Sunday as we continue our journey of “Adventure with the Spirit of God,” we will focus on “The Spirit of Power.” Again, there are several texts suggested by Brian McLaren. I’ve chosen one from 1Thessalonians, the oldest writing in the New Testament. Here Paul exhorts the congregation to “encourage one another and build each other up.” What better way to consolidate and motivate the power of a community to bear witness to and work for God’s Beloved Community on earth?

Join us at 10:00 AM for worship, followed by Patio Hour. Alan Plessinger will be hosting us for a special treat – an ice cream social! Bring someone along to share the experience with you.

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