This Week at First Baptist (3/15/17)

  • CalendarThursday, March 16, 7:30 PM: Church Choir in the Parlor.
  • Sunday, March 19: Third Sunday in Lent
    10:00 AM: Worship and Sunday School for Children and Youth:
    “Finding Refreshment,” Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; John 4:5-42; Romans 5:1-11, Rick Mixon, preaching.
    11:30 AM: Adult Spiritual Formation:
    Speaking in Parables.” We will continue looking at Jesus’ Parables, focusing this week on  “The Rich Man and Lazarus,” Luke 16:19-31, “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant,” Matthew 18:23-35, and “The Parable of the Talents,” Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27.
  • SIGN UP FOR HOSPITALITY. We need volunteers to host the fellowship time, beginning with Sunday, March 12. A new signup sheet is in the church entryway. Thanks to everyone who helps with this important ministry.
  • Tuesday, March 21, 10:30 AM: Bible Study at Marylea McLean’s apartment, 373 Pine Lane, #4204, Los Altos
  • Tuesday, March 21, 7:00 PM: Church Council Meeting in the Parlor.
  • Wednesday, March 22, 10:30 AM: Meditation Group at Eileen Conover’s home, 1075 Space Park Way #217, Mountain View.

This Week at First Baptist (3/8/17)

Calendar

DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME: Spring Forward on Sunday!

  • No Church Choir this week. in the Parlor. We will resume on Thursday, March 16, 7:30 PM
  • Sunday, March 12: Second Sunday in Lent
    10:00 AM: Worship and Sunday School for Children and Youth:

    “Glimpses of Grace,” Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; John 3:1-17; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, Rick Mixon, preaching.
    11:30 AM: Adult Spiritual Formation:
    Speaking in Parables.” We will continue looking at Jesus’ Parables, focusing this week on “The Parable of the Wicked Tenants,” Mark 12:1-12, and “The Rich Man and Lazarus,” Luke 16:19-31.
  • SIGN UP FOR HOSPITALITY. We need volunteers to host the fellowship time, beginning with this Sunday, March 12. A new signup sheet is in the church entryway. Thanks to everyone who helps with this important ministry.
  • Tuesday, March 14, 10:30 AM: Bible Study at Marylea McLean’s apartment, 373 Pine Lane, #4204, Los Altos
  • Wednesday, March 15, 8:30 AM: Men’s Breakfast at Bill’s Cafe, 3163 Middlefield, Palo Alto. All the men from our Church family are welcome.
  • Wednesday, March 15, 10:30 AM: Meditation Group at Eileen Conover’s home, 1075 Space Park Way #217, Mountain View.

A Note from Pastor Gregory (1/4/2017)

Our 2017 theme is “All are welcome in this place” and it comes from the hymn “All Are Welcome” (1950) by Marty Haugen. We sang the first verse last Sunday:

Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live, a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace; here the love of Christ shall end divisions. All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

As Christians in the 21st century it is our calling to be a place of radical hospitality and welcome to those who have been mistreated, kicked out, religiously registered, or deemed illegal. In the past few years at our church this has meant welcoming people of diverse sexual orientations, different class and social status, and various racial and cultural backgrounds. As we move into 2017 may continue this welcome by raising our flag of inclusion to immigrants and refugees as they face incredible challenges in the four years ahead. Historically our church has been a place of sanctuary for refugee families from all over the world and now we step into this role again by opening ourselves to “the stranger” and offering support and care in the struggle. May we begin to discern what it is we are capable of and how we can offer our skills and abilities to migrating families of all kind.

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the stranger, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt.”  -Deuteronomy 10:17-19

See you Sunday,

Pastor Gregory

Mixon Muses: Coming Home

Pastor Rick Mixon“Coming Home” is the theme we chose for August worship and study. We chose it largely because our special offering this month is for Habitat for Humanity. In some ways, it is not an easy theme to work with – maybe because the possibilities are large. There are many approaches we could take – biblically, theologically, socially, and practically – to address the idea of home, and, more specifically, “Coming Home.” I suppose the most obvious biblical text would be the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or Waiting Father. But that’s too easy. We’ve chosen other texts which you will see elsewhere in this Spire to challenge us and lead us along the way home.

Continue reading Mixon Muses: Coming Home

Note from Pastor Rick (7/20/2016)

Rev. Rick MixonThis Sunday we conclude our consideration of refugees and welcoming the stranger. The texts include the classic instruction from the Levitical Code to embrace and care for the resident alien in the land, and Paul’s poetic meditation on breaking down the dividing walls of hostility. It is sad to see walls threatened and built to keep those “not like me” out of “my backyard.” For strangers in the Ancient Near East, hospitality was a life or death matter. Unfortunately, it’s not so different today. Paul urged the new Christians in Ephesus to bring down the wall between Gentiles and Jews that they might dwell together, unified in God’s Beloved Community. What are the “walls” in our world that need to be broken down so we might occupy the planet in peace and harmony, compassion and well-being, justice and love? Continue reading Note from Pastor Rick (7/20/2016)

Pastor Gregory Says… (7/13/16)

Hospitality is hard work. After almost two weeks of hosting one of my closest friends Rony Francois in my tiny one bedroom apartment I have learned a few lessons. Hosting friends takes time and patience that I wasn’t prepared for as everything from my work schedule to my shower schedule had been jumbled around. I’m one to enjoy lists and pre-planned schedules so the in-the-moment-adventures created moments anxiety and frustration. I ended up spending more money and time on my guests than I had originally expected – a punch in the pocketbook is never fun. Hospitality is hard work. As I was writing this I had this scriptural passage from Luke 6 jump out at me and remind me how silly I am to think the opportunity of hosting a friend is difficult. The work we have ahead of us in hosting strangers and enemies is far more dangers and more difficult; this is the work of the church:

Luke 6:27 “But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Mother God is merciful.

 Gregory Stevens signature

Pastor Gregory Says (6/29/16)

Pastor Greg with childrenWelcoming the Stranger: Radical Hospitality

Hospitality is a word with rich Christian history. Monasteries grew up around the 5th century and are known to be some of the first primitive hospitals providing strangers care. Hospital, hospice, hospitable, hospitality—all from the same root word, meaning generous, caring, sustaining. The most famous of these monasteries was that of St. Benedict. Benedict created a book of rules to live by, called The Rule of Benedict. In his Rule St. Benedict specifically identifies two groups: the sick and the guests, especially guests who are poor and in prison, with reference to Matthew 25. Both groups are made up of vulnerable people, suggesting that Jesus Christ is particularly identified with those who are vulnerable. Continue reading Pastor Gregory Says (6/29/16)

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).

Help needed during March

FROM ELEANOR SATTERLEE AND THE CONGREGATIONAL LIFE TASK TEAM:

Many opportunities are available to assist with hospitality needs during the month of MARCH.  Please consider offering to be a Host on a Sunday Morning during Lent or during Holy Week. Join Laura Garcia and Alan Plessinger who have each offered to assist or to host two Sunday mornings, one each in early March. The Congregational Life Task Team has opportunities for visiting others as well as assisting the team with special events.  Please contact Lois Ville and/or other members of the task team for specific information.

Entertaining Angels (September 1, 2013)

sermons.fwENTERTAINING ANGELS
A sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, September 1, 2013 

Text:  Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Today’s title and text were those used for this summer’s Peace Camp.  The full title was, “Entertaining Angels:  Peacemaking through Radical Hospitality.”  Plenary speakers, Bible study, workshops and incidental conversation all addressed this theme.  How can the practice of radical hospitality lead to a more peaceful world?  Indeed, how can it not?  The program booklet for the week was headed by these words from Radical Welcome:  Embracing God, the Other, and the Spirit of Transformation by Stephanie Spellers:  “In practicing radical welcome, we ask God, ‘What would you have us do?  Who would you have us embrace?’  And when God presents us with the holy opportunity to be stretched beyond our comfort – either by welcoming a particular group or by allowing that group’s culture and perspective to transform us – then we leap forward in faith…”

How does this challenge sound to you?  When you hear the word hospitality these days, what do you think?  Maybe hosting a family gathering or open house or a holiday party for folks you know and love?  Or perhaps, if we turn to the hospitality industry, we think of hotels, bars, restaurants, resorts and retreats, places where travelers find respite and refreshment, pleasure and play.  From our position of privilege we don’t give a lot of thought to hospitality as a necessity, as being a life or death matter as it was in the time when today’s text was written.

The writer of Hebrews encourages us “not [to] neglect to show hospitality to strangers.”  Why is this important?  Well one argument the writer makes is that “by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  You never know for certain how your guests may affect your life.  You may not even know with absolute assurance who your guests are.  The reference in the text is probably to the experience of Abraham and Sarah who welcome strangers under the oaks of Mamre that turn out to be messengers from God with messages that change their lives forever.

In those days hospitality was often a matter of survival in a wild and hostile environment.  Christine Pohl reminds us that “Before inns, hotels, and restaurants, every stranger needed someone’s hospitality.  Whether or not they had resources, when people were away from home, they were dependent on the kindness and generosity of others, often strangers” (Christine Pohl, “Building a Place for Hospitality,” Christian Reflection, The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2007, baylor.edu).    Hospitality was a moral imperative in many ancient cultures.

In addition, Erik Heen tells us that “The Greek word…traditionally translated…’hospitality’ is philoxenia, literally, ‘love of the strange.’”  He continues, “Many ancients were locked into lives of routine and did not stray far from their places of birth. Life was difficult and mobility was limited.”  He then speculates that “One way in which the world became ‘larger’ was to open one’s home (however poor) to those that came from ‘outside’…The unknown seekers of hospitality brought news (and stories!) of the wider world and broke open one’s little provincial world. There was a kind of marvelous exchange, then, of mutual benefit between host and guest. The guest received protection (inns were dangerous places), food, and company. Hosts were led out of themselves and their ‘little’ worlds. Those locked into deadly routine were engaged by that which was ‘outside’ the camp” (Erik Heen, “Commentary Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, 2013,” WorkingPreacher.org).

The challenge for us, it seems to me, is whether or not we might recapture some of the significance of these ancient perspectives on hospitality.  Might we look beyond our comfort zones to see that are there still people on this planet in desperate need of hospitality?  Are we willing, indeed open, to loving the strange – and the stranger – not only because of their need but also for the ways such love might expand our consciousness and appreciation of the world in which we live?

“Break the Bread of Belonging” was the first hymn I encountered by the great British hymn writer, Brian Wren.  I am still moved by the way it attempts to capture the experience of people who are refugees and immigrants, people who, for whatever reason, have left country, culture, family, friends, home and livelihood in search of freedom and a better way of life.  “Break the bread of belonging.  Welcome the stranger in the land.  We have each been a stranger.  We can try to understand.”  And is this not true?  Have we not, each of us, had some experience of being a stranger, even if it was only the benign moment of being new to a neighborhood, school or church?  We can multiply the affects of those experiences on our own lives to try to understand the experiences of those who have fled the terrors of war, oppression, poverty, natural disaster.  We can see and embrace the need of some, whether they are deemed “legal” or not, to be offered hospitality, to be welcomed because their ability to survive and thrive depends on it.

And then there is the wonder and delight of sharing the stories of those who have come seeking hospitality and found welcome.  Some of those sitting here this morning have provided education, insight and understanding in this area for me.  I won’t go down the list calling you out, but let me tell just one little vignette from last week’s picnic.  I sat across the table from Paul Tuan as he shared some of his story of leaving China as a young man, coming to this country for educational opportunity, eventually finding his legality challenged in an age when the US still had laws on the books limiting Chinese immigrants to 105 a year.  Ask Paul to tell you the rest of the story of how playing the flute in an army band led to citizenship.  His story and those of others of you are fascinating and enriching.  Many of us have traveled broadly, but we have not always taken the opportunity to get to know with any intimacy the people and cultures we have encountered.  Indeed, we still have much to learn from the stories of those who gather here week after week.

What strikes me most deeply about the writer’s exhortations in this chapter of Hebrews is the opening line: “Let mutual love continue.”  Our acts of hospitality, of social reform, of individual and communal fidelity, of generosity, of trust and of worship are born of our ability to live lives of mutual love.  In the end, those we encounter, in whatever circumstance, are our sisters and brothers.  We are all children of God, made in God’s image and likeness, regardless of color, creed, national origin, orientation, identity, status.  We are all sisters and brothers, common kin in the family of God.  How do we, any of us, all of us, receive our kinfolk?  How hospitable can we be to one another?  How can we ground our lives in mutual love?

On this weekend of my mother’s 95th birthday, I think back to those days when her family – parents, 10 sisters and brothers and their children- would gather in my grandparents’ yard before tables groaning with the most delicious food imaginable.  In spite of our differences – politically, socially, theologically, economically – I can still remember the mutual love that drew us and bound us together.

“Francis Taylor Gench reminds us that ‘love, in the New Testament, is not something you feel; it is something you do.”  She says, “Love seeks the well-being of others and is embodied in concrete efforts in their behalf” (Hebrews, Westminster Bible Companion quoted in Kathryn Matthews Huey, “Open Table,” SAMUEL, 9-1-2013, ucc.org).  “Entertaining Angels:  Peacemaking through Radical Hospitality” – how might the mutual love we practice in acts of radical hospitality lead to peace on earth?  This is a particularly acute concern as our government considers an attack on another country in the Middle East.  How will military action against Syria, no matter how we justify it, lead to peace, hospitality or mutual love.  The expense of a military strike alone would be better allocated toward acts of peace, hospitality and love.

What if we were to order our actions as if everyone we met was a messenger from God?  If not a messenger per se, surely a child of God?  How would we live differently, how would our actions and attitudes be transformed?  Would we experience a leap forward in faith?  Would the reign of God come just a little closer?  What if we were to ask God, in all seriousness, “What would you have us do?  Who would you have us embrace?”   Just for this week, let’s not neglect to show radical hospitality to strangers.  Let’s see if by doing so we find that we are entertaining angels.  Above all, let us continue in mutual love.  Amen.