Love Comes Down

Love Came DownThank you for everyone who joined us for caroling last Sunday. We sang for most of our residents at The Terraces of Los Altos in the health facility and the main dining room. It was fun to greet Janet Maxwell, Ruth Owen, Mary Martin and Ron Fredlund. Special thaks to Sachiko Berry and Carolyn Shepard for staying behind to make sure there was a delicious chili supper waiting for us on our return.

This is a busy weekend. Please join us at 10:00 AM on Saturday to set up for Sunday’s brunch. Then at 11:00 AM the choir will rehearse in the sanctuary. Sunday morning the choir will gather again at 9:00, followed by worship for the whole family at 10:00. We are grateful to Bay Choral Guild, iSing Girlchoir and Daniels Ha and Ramirez for providing extra music. Right after worship we will hold our annual finger-food Christmas brunch. Please bring food to share. The word is that the children and youth are working on a special video pageant that will be premiered at the brunch. (Move over Star Wars!)

Sunday’s theme is Love Comes Down. We will focus on Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, with the shared dreams of these two remarkable pregnant women. Then we turn to Mary’s great hymn to the justice and equity that will be central to God’s Beloved Community. Love comes down, is born in them – and in us – and nothing is ever the same.

See you Saturday morning and again on Sunday at 10:00 AM ready to worship, learn and share. Bring someone with you to experience the beauty, the wonder, the challenges of life lived in hope, peace, joy and love.

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

Pastor Rick

 

Peacelovers and Peacemakers

Advent CandlesA big thank you to everyone who stayed Sunday to help decorate the church for the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season. Many hands made light work and the result is beautiful. As the mind is fed by words and the ear by music, so is the eye fed by art and decoration. May all our efforts be blessed in this sacred season.

In this week in which the focus theme is peace, it is hard to face another horrible act of gun violence. One friend said she is tired of thoughts and prayers and looking for action to end the madness. She has a point. Prayers for peace are important; sometimes that’s all we can do. But prayer without some involvement in being the change we want seems like an exercise in futility. Passivity is not peace. What can we do as peacelovers to be peacemakers as well? Surely one thing is to continue to press our legislators for reasonable gun control laws. Speaking up, loudly and clearly, for justice (without which there can never be real peace) and compassion is crucial. It is not enough to sing our songs and pray our prayers of peace. We must find ways to follow actively the Prince of Peace.

The ancient word for Sunday is Zechariah’s song at the birth of his son, John. As he exults in the improbable child of his old age, he also holds hope that the “dawn from on high” will “guide our feet into the way of peace.” It’s not just our hearts or our minds that need to know the transforming way of peace. It’s also our feet that need to put us physically on the path that leads to God’s Beloved Community.

In Adult Spiritual Formation, we will continue with the video series, “Saving Jesus Redux.” This week we will consider “The World into which Jesus Was Born.” Was it so different from our own time? If so, what can we learn from his context about Jesus’ ministry and our own?

See you Sunday at 10:00 AM ready to worship, learn and share. Bring someone with you to experience the beauty, the wonder, the challenges of life lived in hope and peace.

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

Pastor Rick 

Communion Service                 

ANGELIC AIRS AND EARTHY ECHOES (December 21, 2014)

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Texts: Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 2:8-20

It was quite a racket that night. I awoke with a start, thinkin’ it was an earthquake or one of those rare winter thunderstorms that sweep these old hills. Then I thought I could make out words and a voice, loud as a trumpet. My first notion was, don’t these young’uns know that an old man needs his sleep. This is no time to be carryin’ on, out here with the sheep, in the middle of the night. We all need a nap now and then to make it through these long, cold nights. Have they been into the wine again?

But then my eyes were drawn up, toward a dazzlin’ light hangin’ in the sky, just above the flock, and I realized somethin’ strange was ahappenin’.   I could see the lads down on their knees, shieldin’ their eyes against that light. What was goin’ on?

The voice seemed to come right outta that light, “Don’t be afraid,” and us all quaking in our boots! “Don’t be afraid?” Sure, that’s easy for you to say. You seem to be runnin’ this show. But me and the lads were shiverin’, and I can tell you it weren’t from the cold. Still, the voice kept repeatin’, over and over, strong, yes, but also gentle, kinda’ soothin’, “Don’t be afraid.” After a while we got kinda’ used to it. Some sort of heavenly presence, so it seemed to me. “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…” I guess we were ready to think about that possibility. Lord knows we coulda’ surely used some good news. You know shepherds don’t have a lot to celebrate – out here with the sheep day and night, rain or shine, hot or cold. It’s a crummy job but someone’s gotta do it. I can tell you it ain’t the “cream of the crop” that ends up out here tendin’ the flocks.

Alright, we’ll bite. What’s this good news that’s gonna give everyone such great joy? “…to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Now wait a minute, you’re sayin’ that the Messiah is comin’ to us, to a buncha tired, dirty shepherds out here in the hills? How can that be? We know all about the promise of the Messiah. We be may be ignorant but some of us listen, ya know, maybe even hope a little. We’ve been awaitin’ all our lives for the Promised One, but this is too much. To us the savior comes? How can that be?

“…to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”  You say the Messiah is agonna’ be born over yonder in Bethlehem, that sleepy little back water? I dunno’…and we’re agonna find him wrapped in some old rags, lyin’ in a feed trough? Well, if that don’t beat all! You expectin’ us to buy that? We may be livin’ out here on the edge of everything but we’re not abuyin’ that line.

You can see my point, can’t you? Why in the world would an angel show up with such a crazy message for a ragtag buncha shepherds on some hillside in Judea? Weren’t angels supposed to show up in Jerusalem, somewhere around the temple, to make such an announcement? And weren’t the Messiah supposed to powerful and rich and leadin’ an army outta heaven? Weren’t the Messiah supposed to liberate us from the Romans and make us all rich and powerful, too? What are we supposedta make of some poor peasant babe born in a barn in Bethlehem, of all places?

You know that angel weren’t havin nothin to do with our lacka believin’. He repeated the message one more time to be sure we heard it. Then just so we knew he was darned serious, there was whole mess of that dazzling light, like an angel choir, singin at the top of their lungs, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  After a good long while wrapped up in that sound the music seemed to fade away. We were all alookin’ at one another with our mouths wide open. Did you hear that? Did ya see the light? Whaddaya think? I’ve never seen anythin’ like it. Suppose we oughtta go on over to Bethlehem and check it out? Well, I don’t suppose there’d be any harm. Once we get the sheep quieted down, we could leave Benjamin and Nathaniel and Jacob. They’re good, strong lads. They could look after the flocks for a while. Now, now, don’t fuss. We’ll tell you about it when we get back, and if there’s anythin’ to it, you can make your own way into town after. It’s settled then. We’re off to Bethlehem to check out this thing the angel told us.

This is the redeeming truth, God comes to surprising people. No one at the time of Jesus’ birth would have predicted angel choirs, singing to shepherds on a windswept Judean hillside. No one would have expected the Messiah to be born in a stable in the little village of Bethlehem to an unwed, teen aged mother.   No one, except God who seems to delight in surprising us by coming near when and where we least expect it.

Our McLaren resource gives us two texts for this morning. One is this familiar and beloved tale of angelic airs and earthly echoes. The other is much less glamorous.   In fact, it’s so obscure, it doesn’t make the lectionary. Matthew, like Luke, gives us a genealogy of Jesus. Matthew’s begins with Abraham and traces Jesus’ heritage through David to Joseph, which, of course, is curious because he claims Joseph is not Jesus’ father. Luke, as some of our guests from Choral Project will remember, traces Jesus lineage from Joseph backward through David, Abraham and Adam to God. Though you wouldn’t think singing someone’s family tree would be desirable, a few years ago we sang a very moving rendition Luke’s list by the great Estonian composer, Arvo Part. However our point today is not to sort out the intention or meaning of these highly creative genealogies.

In support of his argument about surprising people, McLaren notes that in Matthew’s list, five women are uncharacteristically mentioned. Tamar, who pretended to be a prostitute; Rahab, who was a prostitute and Gentile; Ruth, a Gentile, who climbed under the covers with the wealthy Boaz to ensure a future for herself and her mother-in-law; Bathsheba, married to a Gentile but drawn into adultery by the great King David himself; and finally the teen-aged Mary who claims to be pregnant without the assistance of Joseph, her betrothed. A curious collection, to be sure, yet all are plucked from Jesus’ family tree.

McLaren writes that this “must be Matthew’s point. Jesus isn’t entering into a pristine story of ideal people. He is part of the story of Gentiles as well as Jews, broken and messy families as well as noble ones, normal folks as well as kings and priests and heroes. We might say that Jesus isn’t entering into humanity from the top with a kind of trickle-down grace, but rather from the bottom, with grace that rises from the grass roots up” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, pp. 75-6).

Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the World comes in and through a collection of women who were not only undervalued simply for being women but in these cases were women of questionable reputation – at least by the world’s standards. Of course, we know from their stories that each was remarkable in her own right and one of God’s delightfully surprising people.

Women of questionable reputation and shepherds, surprising people indeed! McLaren says, “Shepherds were marginal people in society – a lot like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. They weren’t normal ‘family men,’ because they lived outdoors most of the time, guarding sheep from wolves and thieves, and guiding sheep to suitable pasture. A younger son, for whom there was no hope of inheriting the family farm, might become a shepherd, as might a man who for some reason was unsuitable for marriage. It was among poor men like these that Jesus’ birth was first celebrated” (Op. cit., p. 77).

So often it is the least and the lost and the last to whom God reaches out, embracing them with everlasting arms, regaling them with good news, empowering them to transform their own lives and the world around them. Surprising people, like fishermen and tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners of every stripe. Perhaps even people like you and me. Can you hear the angelic voices calling again? Don’t be afraid. We bring good news of great joy for you and all the world. Friends, to you, to me, to all of us is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord. Are you ready to go where the angels send you, to see for yourself what God has done? Are you willing to hang out with women and men, who, having been shoved to the margins of society, now gather around a tiny baby, born in improbably difficult circumstances, offering to them and us hope for the world? Angelic airs and earthy responses – Glory to God in the highest; peace and good will to all the earth. Amen.

Adopt a Family

Ecumenical Hunger ProjectECUMENICAL HUNGER PROGRAM:
ADOPT A FAMILY FOR CHRISTMAS AT FIRST BAPTIST
From Thelma Tuttle:

Again this year the members of First Baptist Palo Alto will be participating in Ecumenical Hunger Program’s Christmas Family Sharing.

First Baptist Church is adopting 4 families this Christmas. We need 7 more gift-givers for these families. If you can help, contact the church office. You can also make food contributions to this project. This is a great opportunity for you, your children and/or grandchildren to share some time shopping, wrapping and celebrating gifts and prayers for others. Suggested donations include: gift certificates for Sears, Kohl’s and grocery stores; non-perishable food staples; personal hygiene items and toiletries; detergent. There are also volunteer opportunities at E.H.P. during the holidays. Ask Thelma or Pastor Rick or check the website at ehpcares.org.

The unheard, the unseen, the unwelcomed

Heavens are telling
The Heavens Are Telling- art by Oscar Ramirez

In light of disturbing news flashes from Ferguson, Oakland and other US cities, what does one say about Advent, this sacred season in which we wait – with anxiety, hope and wonder – for the transforming presence of the Word made flesh? As we seek to celebrate this baby, born to peasant folk, in an obscure Palestinian village, yet who comes to save the world, how will we also mourn the tragic loss of life on the mean streets of our cities? How will we pair Zechariah’s prayer of blessing with the outrage of grieving  fathers or Mary’s song of praise with wail of grief‐stricken mothers?

If you move in any of the same circles as I, your social media outlets and television screens have been flooded with news “coverage,” op ed pieces and laments in the aftermath of the grand jury decision in the case of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. The struggle for me has been to understand the depth of the rage without letting that cloud the crying need for change in the social order. Where will the demonstrators and the pundits be when the tear gas clears, the smoke settles and the broken glass is replaced? Will it be business as usual, one more opportunity for transformation drowned in feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that overwhelm people of good will everywhere?

I have shared this before but it bears repeating, perhaps every year as we approach Christmas. It is from a Christmas card produced by the Fellowship of Reconciliation back in the ‘60s. The cover has the image of child of color, sitting naked in the dirt, tears streaming down its face. Inside, the greeting contains these words from Thomas Merton,

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, his place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of person, who are tortured, bombed and exterminated. With those for whom there is not room, Christ is present in the world.

I suppose these words were penned during the Vietnam War, yet they ring true today when we consider the proliferation of refugees, the debate about immigration in this country, the “New Jim Crow” and the deep‐seated institutionalization of racism in our social order. Once again, the Christ enters this world in which there is no room. That is to say, we sing our carols, decorate our space, join in the feast, sentimentalizing the sweet little Jesus child and leaving no room for that baby’s power to transform us or our world.

My friend Betty Wright‐Riggins, posted this comment on Facebook, which raises a crucial question for people of faith as we once more enter the season of Advent, to watch and wait for the birth of the Christ. She says, “I, like many, am saddened and yet not surprised by the results of the grand jury in Ferguson. Wondering how do we minister with great hope to so many who are hopeless. This sense that the lives of our people and other persons of color are ‘less than’ is gaining credibility. A community leader in Ferguson last night said, ‘People across this country will see all of this violence and anger seemingly out of control behavior and dismiss us. But this is what hopelessness looks like. When your voice refuses to be heard.’” I imagine the leader is referring to Martin Luther King Jr’s observation that “A riot is the
language of the unheard.”

The unheard, the unseen, the unwelcomed – with Betty I wonder how we minister with great hope to so many who are hopeless. How do we let people know that they matter, and I don’t mean just shouting the watchword but preparing the way for that word to become flesh and dwell among us. Betty concludes her comment by quoting Richard Rohr, ʺWhen all appears to be out of control, thatʹs when God does a new thing.” Do you think so? Can you see it, feel it, touch it, taste it – God’s new thing coming among us, not so much in power and glory as in grace and truth? Betty urges us to “pray for the ‘new coming.’ Let us pray, our eyes wide open to see God in the midst of all of this chaos.” And if we see, let us also follow, dig in, get to work to bring in the justice‐bearing, peace‐making, relationship‐building of the God’s beloved community – in Ferguson, Oakland and our own backyards.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
born to set Thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in Thee.

But before we rest, let us find first our hope, our peace, our justice, our joy, our compassion and our love in you. Come, Christ, set us free and transform our lives as we seek to serve you and walk your way. Amen.
Pastor Rick

Bring Gifts Sunday for Adopt a Family

Ecumenical Hunger ProjectPlease bring your wrapped gifts by Sunday December 15 for the Christmas Family Sharing project.

Again this year the members of First Baptist Palo Alto will be participating in ECUMENICAL HUNGER PROGRAM’S CHRISTMAS FAMILY SHARING.

First Baptist Church is adopting 4 families this Christmas. Look for the basket in the church entryway and take a tag (or two or three) to purchase a gift for a neighbor in need. You can also make food contributions to this project.  This is a great opportunity for you, your children and/or grandchildren to share some time shopping, wrapping and celebrating gifts and prayers for others.  Suggested donations include: gift certificates for Sears, Kohl’s and grocery stores; non-perishable food staples; personal hygiene items and toiletries; detergent. E.H.P. will also tell us of any other Christmas events in which we might participate.

(From Thelma Tuttle)

Preparing to Celebrate

Advent 2013Advent is a time of preparation. Like Lent before Easter, Advent is a time to get ready for the joyous celebration of Christmas. Christmas is much more than the sights, sounds and conspicuous consumption that have come to characterize the “Holiday Season.” Christmas is not that “Holiday Season.” Christmas is a celebration of God coming near in the form of a human infant. It is the soul of a sacred season in which incarnation of the holy is both remembered and experienced again as a living reality. It is a time for taking stock of our own lives; it is a time to consider what it would be to have Christ born in us once again.

In the best of all possible worlds, babies don’t come as a complete surprise. The birth is eagerly anticipated and the preceding days are filled with preparation for the coming child. Advent is that time of preparation for the birth of Christ. The ancient story says that the baby Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger. Even if Joseph had tried to phone ahead for reservations, the accommodations in first century Bethlehem would have been minimal and healthcare virtually nonexistent. The preparation for the birth of Jesus was apparently adequate, but clearly improvised. Now, all these centuries later, we need not improvise. The liturgical calendar allows us enough time to get ready for the birth as it comes around each year. We have time to prepare for the coming of Christ in this new church year.

In her beautiful Advent hymn, “People Look East,” Eleanor Farjeon encourages us to “Make your house fair as you are able, Trim the hearth and set the table. People, look east and sing today: Love, the guest, is on the way.” It is such a
magnificent way to describe what is about to happen, “Love the guest is on the way.” The King of Love is coming, is coming to your house, to your heart. What must you do to prepare?

Every year, the Spiridons host a lovely open house during this season for the whole congregation (as did Soo Kim and Doug Lee not long ago.) Putting on a party like that takes time and energy before the guests arrive. Preparations are
critical for the party to be a success.

For many years my former partner and I hosted a holiday open house for 150 people on a Sunday before Christmas. It was a joyous occasion. We loved having our home filled with family, friends and colleagues. But it took a lot to plan and prepare for the party. He would start early in December decorating the house from top to bottom, front to back, side to side. Over time I developed a menu of favorites that kept me busy in the kitchen. When the doorbell rang on the given Sunday afternoon the feast was on, but the whole thing would have been a disaster without preparation. The full affect, the desired outcome, the shared community, came into being because we spent a lot of time and energy preparing.

I know Advent preparation is not quite the same thing, but I also believe the parallel is there. The party was about joy and love – love for the people in our lives and the joy of sharing our home with them. Christmas is also about love
and joy, but a deeper love and grander joy than a good party. If we put that amount of our resource into planning a party, what would be needed to prepare for the Christ, the King of Love, the Savior of the World?

I know love and joy can be spontaneous, but in the seasons of the church year, the love and joy of Christmas call for preparation. I am very excited about Advent at FBCPA this year. Led by our intern, Naomi, we have been preparing
for this season for some time. Naomi, who interned this summer with Marcia McFee in her Worship Design Studio, brought creativity and grace to this process. We had a wonderful Advent to Epiphany Worship Brainstorming Party,
involving 20 members of the congregation preparing for our Advent/Christmas/Epiphany celebration. The theme for this season is drawn from the prophet Isaiah (2:3), “Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of God….” There we will engage in building that house of God as a place where Christ might come and dwell with us, bringing peace and goodwill to all creation.

Starting Saturday, November 30 at 9:00 AM we will begin to build our house and make it ready by “Hanging the Greens” (decorating the sanctuary.) Then on Sunday, December 1, we will share the first of four worship services that
will help us to make our hearts ready as well. Preparations are in order; love the guest is on the way.

Pastor Rick