Christ of Great Compassion (6/18/17)

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Text: Matthew 9:35 – 10:1 (The Message)

Several years ago now, Kathy Gillam was instrumental in organizing a conference on compassion at Stanford, hosted by the medical school and its Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. The conference presenters included two great modern champions of compassion – the Dalai Lama and Karen Armstrong. At the time, Karen Armstrong was touting her evolving work with the Charter of Compassion, a sort of semi-religious creed, based on the Golden Rule. In Adult Spiritual Formation, Dan Cudworth led us in a study of the Charter. Last year the Satterlees and I read Into the Magic Shop, an inspirational memoir by James Doty, the director of the Stanford Center, about the origins of his own understanding of the connections between the brain and the heart in shaping and guiding our lives.

Thus we see that compassion has become a surprisingly popular topic of thought and conversation in a world like ours so often characterized by competition, success, accumulation, greed, bullying, enmity, and hatred. Hopefully there is a recognition, a growing one, that unless we learn to look out for one another and for the planet, prospects for the future are grim and perhaps even slim. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a lovely idea but come on. Get real. You have to take care of number one first, right? Well, maybe if you’re especially generous, you could make the focus of living you and yours. But that’s the extent of it.

Continue reading Christ of Great Compassion (6/18/17)

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LOVE! RESIST! (2/19/2017)

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

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Texts:  Leviticus 19:1-2; Matthew 5:38-48

On the short list for today’s worship service was an old hymn from the early twentieth century revivalist tradition. The hymn didn’t make the cut, but listen to some of its text:

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

I suppose it sounds slightly sentimental and a little dated, but I wonder if there isn’t still truth in its urging – “Take time to be holy.” How many holy ones are here today? Raise your hand if you consider yourself holy. No takers? I wonder why? What does it mean to be holy? What do you hear when you hear that word?

Continue reading LOVE! RESIST! (2/19/2017)

Pastor Gregory Says… (7/27/16)

broken wallH. L. Mencken described Puritan fundamentalism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.” There really is something to this. Religious and political thinking that robs people of their freedoms to live and think freely stands in direct contrast to our Baptist heritage. It’s no wonder Roger Williams got kicked out of the Puritan communities in his quest for soul-freedom. We were reminded of this in Pastor Rick’s sermon on Sunday as we reflected on the Hebrew holiness codes of old and Jesus’ newer vision of radical love: “Love, which is at the center of holiness, is not a downer. We need to remember that. We break down the wall between the sacred and profane because an ever-present God demands it of us. Taking on holiness does not allow us to put up walls of superiority and judgment.”

How might we make decisions about how we govern ourselves, our communities, our families, and our own lives if we take the route of free-love rather than limiting-fear? Self-expression, conscious exploration, and social engagement flow from this space of freedom and compassion, they also teach us more about the world and its Maker.

On Being God’s Person (7/17/2016)

Earth in your handsA sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Texts: Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Micah 6:1-8; 1 Peter 4:7-11

What does God require? Well, really, who cares? We’re free, independent people, right? We get to live our own lives however we please. What does God have to do with it?

“Who cares?” might be the cynical response of one who finds the “God question” irrelevant and believes he is on his own in this world. Even if there is a god, where is he? What has he done for me lately, let alone what has he done for this poor old world? Looking at the state of the world today, even people of faith may question God’s presence, let alone God’s relevance.

To ask the question, “What does God require?” And to care about the answer, of necessity, means that there is a relationship with God on which to ground the concern. If I am not God’s person, if we are not God’s people, then concern for God’s requirements is meaningless. I suppose I am stating, maybe overstating, the obvious, but I don’t think it hurts to be reminded that, for the most part, we gather here week after week because we are or want to be God’s people. And if that’s true, what God requires of us is critical, perhaps even a life and death matter. Continue reading On Being God’s Person (7/17/2016)

Or How Blessed You Are? (6/26/2016)

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

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Text: Philippians 4:4-13

Dr. Seuss has been a good guide for us through this month in which we’ve celebrated our graduates and all those moving ahead in their education. He helped us see the possibilities and challenges of the places we might go. Through the eyes of the Lorax, he helped us see the consequences of greed and the need to love creation and care for the earth. Horton, the elephant, taught us something about the compassion and care of a most improbable daddy. We have encountered the doctor’s wit and wisdom, his art and passion, his challenging expectations and his tender heart.

In his little book, The Parables of Dr. Seuss, Robert Short describes the good doctor this way: “Dr. Seuss is a doctor of the soul, a doctor of wisdom, or a healer of the heart. So I don’t think it would be stretching things too far if we thought of Dr. Seuss as a sort of ‘spiritual cardiologist,’ a doctor who can work on many levels and with many different types of people” (Robert L. Short, The Parables of Dr. Seuss, p. 84). Continue reading Or How Blessed You Are? (6/26/2016)

How Can We Turn Information into Transformation?

Gregory StevensEach month in this section of the Spire, I will be asking, “How can we turn information into transformation?” In searching for a response to this question, I won’t be highlighting our wonderfully long straight-white-male tradition. Rather I’d like us to look to the margins of our own tradition and to the rich variety of other spiritual traditions. I hope this diversity in spiritualties, theologies, and practices help illuminate the Christ within your own heart. For this first practice, let’s look to the Interreligious Center for Compassionate Living at the Claremont School of Theology and their guided meditation for multi-faith engagement.

Anchor yourself in whatever way you have found most helpful. Perhaps with attention to your breathing or some other physical experience; or allowing yourself to dwell interiorly with a Sacred Presence or in a sacred place; or immersing yourself in music, sacred words, or memories.

Ask yourself: What seemed least…freeing…inviting…gracious…loving…in my day?”

  • Let your mind wander across the day and settle on what it will.

 Ask yourself: What seemed most…freeing…inviting…gracious…loving…in my day?”

  • Let your mind wander across the day and settle on what it will.

 Ask yourself: What grace or gift is offered to me through considering these questions?

  • Note to yourself what emerges in response.

 Ask yourself: What invitation is there for me in all of this?

  • Note to yourself what emerges in response.

 Offer a prayer in response to what has come to you in this time or express your response in some other way, a way that seems appropriate for you.  

Gregory Stevens

Plotting the Jesus Way (July 26, 2015)

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

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Text: Ephesians 5:15-6:9; Philemon 1:3-21; Hebrews 13:1-8; James 5:1-6

As we have worked to make our road by walking it with Brian McLaren this past year, we have been given a set of three or four scripture passages to consider each week to direct us on our journey. This week we have four particularly challenging passages, especially for our contemporary context. I chose the one from Philemon for this morning’s ancient word but any of the four could have been used to explore what McLaren calls “the Spirit Conspiracy.”

The dictionary defines conspiracy as “an evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons; a plot.” It also indicates that it is a combination of persons for a secret, unlawful, or evil purpose.” This is hardly language we want to apply to the work of the Spirit or claim for our Christian enterprise. The last definition offered seems more in line with McLaren’s word play: a conspiracy is “any concurrence in action; combination in bringing about a given result.” So the Spirit Conspiracy is more a “concurrence in action,” a coming together in service of a common goal that will lead to a radical change in a situation. It’s plotting to upset of the status quo. It’s working in community toward a transformation of life.

In commenting on these passages, McLaren actually plays with the language of Mission Impossible – “Your mission, if you choose to accept it…” Conspiring with the Spirit in bringing about the Beloved Community of God is exhilarating but challenging work that we must choose and commit ourselves to. Sometimes it operates underground, works behind the scenes, is downright surreptitious in its progress toward bringing newness to life.

In each of the four passages from New Testament Epistles there is at least a hint of subversion to the status quo following the Jesus Way. The first passage is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:15-6:9). This is the passage in which Paul urges wives to “be subject” to their husbands,” husbands to “love” their wives, “children to obey” their parents. These are some of the words Southern Baptists and others use to “keep women in their place,” specifically, outside leadership in the church. But when Paul urges that the husbands love their wives and children and that familial relationships be characterized by honor and respect, he is subtly challenging patriarchy in which the male head of household had the right to treat wife and children as property with which he could do as he pleased. Is there conspiracy with the Spirit here to undermine the status quo in service of family life rooted and grounded in love? Love brings power to disrupt might, control, domination in establishing and sustaining human relationships.

Paul’s little letter to his friend, Philemon, is highly controversial. Paul has been faulted for not challenging the institution of slavery head on. That may be a fair critique. In this very personal communication, Paul sends the slave Onesimus back to serve his master. We know that this is one biblical passage that has been used to support institutional slavery. At the same time, apologists note that though Paul sends Onesimus home, he also urges Philemon to receive him as Paul’s adopted son and a brother in Christ. Instead of invoking legality, Paul appeals to Philemon on “the basis of love.” Again, we see the subversive power of love lifted up with Paul’s hope that it will transform the relationship of these two children of God and brothers in Christ.

In the passage from Hebrews (13:1-8), the writer addresses issues of undocumented aliens, prisoners, torture, marriage rights and the love of money. Here the writer more directly challenges the status quo. Fear of the foreigner, incarceration of poor debtors, torture of those arrested (as Jesus himself experienced,) marital infidelity and ruthless accumulation of wealth at the expense of the poor were social ills in the first century as much as they are today. Some things seem never to change.

Make room for strangers, care about and for those in prison, those who are victims of every kind of torture, learn to live in faithful relationship and honor all those who have committed themselves to one another, free yourselves from the love of money and be content with all with which you have been blessed. And, once more, it’s all undergirded by that transformative power of love. The writer begins his exhortation with these conspiratorial words, “Let mutual love continue.” Life in the Beloved Community depends on this mutual love.

Then James, perhaps the most outspoken of all, pulls no punches in his challenge to business practices that cheat the worker for the greed of the owner and to an economy in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. “Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you” (James 5:1-6). Not a text many preachers would choose to preach on most Sundays, and yet here again we hear the word that undermines the status quo in the service of justice and equity, in service of building up the Beloved Community of God.

When it comes to the Spirit conspiracy, to plotting the Jesus Way, there are three key elements to consider. I am indebted to our friend and webmaster, Andy Kille, for sharing these in our ministers’ support group last week. He says there are three concerns that the world’s great religions hold in common – compassion, hospitality and service. My response was to say that most surely these are foundational to Christianity, necessary to plotting the Jesus Way – compassion, hospitality and service. In each of these difficult passages we see one or more of these elements at work, transforming the situation into something closer to Jesus’ vision of God’s beloved community.

Compassion, the capacity to feel with another, to walk in another’s shoes, to get inside another’s skin. If we take the time and make the space for compassion, it will be hard to hate, difficult to judge, challenging to mistreat. Compassion carries forward empathy, that capacity to care for another and to work for their well-being, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Compassion is crucial to Paul’s advice about how husbands and wives, parents and children, lovers and partners, ought to treat one another – with love and respect, tenderness and care for the well-being of all.

Hospitality is essential to the Jesus Way. All are welcome in this place. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,” the author of Hebrews says, “for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Make room at the table, open your door, cheer the weary traveler, who knows what wonders God has in store for the hospitable. Ask Mary Granholm and others in our congregation how their lives have been blessed by the practice of hospitality. As the old spirituals sing “There’s plenty good room in my Father’s kingdom, just choose your seat and sit down” and “We’re gonna eat the welcome table one of these days.” Hospitality asks, why not now? And it’s not just the strangers. It’s prisoners, those who have been beaten down and tortured, those who have been left out and left behind, those who have been lied to and cheated, terrorized and abused, poor and struggling, the least and the last and the lost.

Service is the Jesus Way. It’s not enough to feel compassionate and hospitable. Something has to be done, making room, making a way, making life better for all creation. This is crucial work in the Jesus Way. To love God with your whole being, to love your neighbor as yourself, to let mutual love continue means there is work to be done. Earlier in his letter, James writes “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).

Husbands and wives, partners and lovers, children and parents, families of every size and shape, friends and neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances, strangers and enemies, rich and poor the Jesus Way insists that we all come together in one big tent, that we learn to live together and share with one another and care for one another wherever we find ourselves in whatever circumstances on this small, fragile planet. Indeed we need to extend compassion, hospitality and service to the whole of creation.

“The Spirit that moves among us,” writes Brian McLaren, “is the same Spirit that moves in and through all creation. If we are attuned to the Spirit, we will see all creatures as our companions…even as our relatives in the family of God, for in the Spirit we are all related” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 238). This is the wisdom of the Spirit Conspiracy. This is how we come to walk the Jesus Way – “to see all creatures as companions…as…relatives in the family of God.” So the plot thickens as we conspire with Spirit, as we make the dangerous, thrilling decision to walk the Jesus Way, as we devote ourselves to working for the Beloved Community. In today’s Word of Preparation, McLaren offers the challenge, “There are circles of people that the Spirit of God wants to touch and bless, and you are the person through whom the Spirit wants to work. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to conspire with the Spirit to bring blessing to others” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 235).