Holding Hope in Hard Times (10/2/2016)

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

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Text: Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:19-26

I realize that our Seasons of the Spirit resource chose Paul’s letter to Timothy as our focus scripture for today, but I found myself more intrigued with these writings from the ancient book of Lamentations. Lamentations is a text we seldom turn to. I don’t believe I have ever preached from it. It is a set of five poems or songs of lament, traditionally identified with the prophet Jeremiah. Since their focus is the Babylonian exile, which is also that of Jeremiah, and since Jeremiah is sometimes referred to as the “weeping prophet,” there is a certain logic to the connection. Indeed, as Judah is conquered, Jerusalem devastated, and the temple destroyed, there is real cause for weeping and wailing on the part of the poet, the prophet, and the people.

Continue reading Holding Hope in Hard Times (10/2/2016)

Straight on Till Mourning (March 29, 2015)

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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Text: Luke 19:28-46 (The Message)

Who knows how to get to “Neverland”? According to J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, it is reached by flight, and Peter gives its location as being “second to the right, and straight on till morning,” but Barrie writes that Peter made up these directions to impress Wendy. In the end they find the island only because it was “out looking for them”. He says it is near the “stars of the milky way” and it is reached “always at the time of sunrise.” Walt Disney’s 1953 version of Peter Pan adds “star” to Peter’s directions: “second star to the right, and straight on till morning” and from afar, these stars depict Neverland in the distance.

I suppose it’s a stretch, but I wonder how many in that crowd the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem were looking for “Neverland”? How many were hoping that Jesus would teach them to fly away to some distant spot beyond the stress and strain of their daily life under Roman oppression? How many wanted to escape to a place among the stars, where the land would flow with milk and honey? Some of them may even have hoped for a place in which they would never have to grow up.

They shout and cheer, they wave tree branches and throw their cloaks onto the dusty road to create a sort of first century “red carpet.”

Blessed is he who comes,
the king in God’s name!
All’s well in heaven!
Glory in the high places!

How they hope that he will be the Messiah of their dreams, of their long-held expectations, the one who will lead a mighty army to drive out the Romans, put the collaborators and traitors in their place and restore the glory of Davidic rule. But Jesus is realistic enough to recognize this as a dream of “Neverland”, a place that promises wonder and magic but doesn’t exist beyond their imaginations.

How many of you think Jesus was a good student? I mean he didn’t go to school like you do or read a lot of books or have a lot of homework. His books were long scrolls written in Hebrew. They were the books of the Bible. Still, he must have been a good student. For instance, he knew well the book of Zechariah. How many of you have read Zechariah? Do you know where to find it? We had fun in Bible study last Tuesday finding Zechariah. For those of you who didn’t memorize the books of the Bible in Sunday School like I did, Zechariah is the next to the last book in the Hebrew scriptures, the Bible as Jesus would have known it – Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi – the last four books in Hebrew scripture. They were all minor prophets and nowadays we don’t spend a lot of time studying them. But Jesus must have.

He knew Zechariah 9:9-10:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As we’ve acknowledged before, this so-called “triumphal entry” into the old city is an act of guerilla theater. Jesus knows what Zechariah had written and many in the crowd would have also, but he understands the prophet’s words at a level the others do not grasp. They are dreaming of “Neverland,” he is riding on straight on till mourning. Right, I am making a play on words. They are hoping for a bright, “gettin’ up morning,” a day when all their troubles will be over and everything right with the world. Jesus knows that the one who comes riding on a donkey, a great symbol of humility, peace and nonviolence, will inevitably face mourning (with a “u”) before seeing the morning that breaks like the first morning “with God’s recreation of the new day.” He knows there will be a lot pain and suffering and death before Easter sunrise.

The crowd wants a great warrior king; Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The crowd would be happy with the destruction of their enemies; Jesus comes to save them all. The crowd wants it their way, “Give us Neverland”; Jesus offers instead the Beloved Community of God. Pilate comes riding in through the East Gate on his war horse, leading a heavily armed Roman legion; Jesus rides through the West Gate on a donkey, trailing a rag-tag crowd of peasants and children, in an act of nonviolent witness to a different way toward peace. Pilate comes to enforce the infamous Pax Romana, an uneasy peace dependent on the exercise of Roman military might; Jesus comes promising “peace the passes human understanding,” a genuine peace, grounded God’s love for the whole creation.

No wonder Jesus stops as the procession crests the hill, looking at the great city and weeping over its fate. He can see the destruction that is come, the leveling of the city and the Temple after those who trust violence rebel against the Romans. As the great apostle of nonviolent resistance, Martin Luther King, Jr., insisted, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.” Jesus knows this. The Prince of Peace, the Lord of Love sees the terrible consequences of dependence on power founded on force and violence.

But he doesn’t stop with weeping. We see him next in another act of guerilla theater. He disrupts the normal commercial routine that has grown up around corrupt religious practice in the Temple. The tradition teaches that the Temple is the very residence of God on earth, but they have fouled it. Once again, the student of the Bible proclaims the word:

“It’s written in Scripture,
My house is a house of prayer;
You have turned it into a religious bazaar.”

God’s way, the way to the Beloved Community, involves the simplest, humblest practice of prayer. Relationship with God is not dependent on or even facilitated by the religious trappings that traditions take on. Jesus understands that those trappings and their requirements often lead to further oppression of the poor and struggling. Jesus is no more interested in those ritual practices than he is in the exercise of power and might through violence. You can hear the echo of Amos, another minor prophet, rattling around in his brain as he clears the courtyard:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream (Amos 5:21-24).

Justice and peace. This is the Jesus way. He knows full-well it will cost him his life. Still he cannot find, nor will he walk, any other way. Before the week is out, we will find him pleading in the garden that his fate might not be sealed. We will witness him in monkey trials before Caiphas, the high priest, and Pilate, the Roman governor. The “high priests, religion scholars, and the leaders of the people” will have finally found a way “to get rid of him.” He will be convicted on trumped up charges and subjected to the most heinous form of execution the Romans could devise. At the end of this week, he will be buried in a borrowed tomb and the entry will be sealed with a great stone.

The way he walked leads straight on till mourning. Will it also lead to morning? We must wait to see. Only time will tell.

Trip Notes from Dan Buttry in Israel

Dan and Sharon Buttry with friends in IsraelDear Friends,

Greetings from Nazareth in Galilee!  Sharon and I flew into Tel Aviv after finishing our time in Lebanon.  We spent a few days in Jerusalem before going up to Nazareth to stay with Bader and Rula Mansour.

Bader is the General Secretary for the Association of Baptists Churches in Israel (ABC in this trip notes edition).  Rula is a professor at Nazareth Evangelical College.  Rula is working on a PhD in conflict transformation at Oxford University, so she’s very interested in our work.  She’s also working on developing peace studies programs at NEC and their sister institution Bethlehem Bible College.

Before we got to Nazareth Sharon and I had a few days in Jerusalem.  Of course, we enjoyed the Holy Land sights, especially where Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they did not “know the things that make for peace” (Luke 191.41,42).  We also did some work.  We visited Bethlehem Bible College (where we’ll be next week) to hear Alex Awad speak on a Palestinian Christian perspective on the Arab/Israeli conflict.  Then that Sunday we preached at the East Jerusalem Baptist Church where Alex has been pastor for some 20 years.  Our topic was on being prisoners of hope, from Zechariah 9.  (Pop me an e-mail if you want a copy of the sermon.)  Back in the early 1990s I was part of an advocacy effort with our government and the government of Israel to allow Alex back to Jerusalem after his seminary studies in the U.S., something he was denied for 8 or 9 years despite the call of the East Jerusalem Baptist Church.  We also got an amazing 4-hour tour of East Jerusalem related to the politics of the Separation Barrier, the expansion of Jewish settlement, and the social and legal pressures to push Palestinians out.  The tour was led by a former Israeli tank commander working with Ir Amin, an Israeli NGO doing educational work about Jerusalem for a sustainable peace.

In Nazareth Rula and Bader lined up a series of trainings for us to do:  in the local Baptist church, for the Nazareth Baptists School staff, and for women in Musalaha (Christian Palestinians and Messianic Jews working on reconciliation in Christ).  We also met with Baptist pastors, sharing with them the resource of my “Bible Study Manual on Conflict Transformation” which we have in Arabic.  The centerpiece was a two day conference sponsored by the Nazareth Evangelical College for therapists and counselors from the Arab evangelical churches.  We had an outstanding group from across Galilee including pastors, professional counselors, and many people involved in family ministries.  We were also struck by how many were involved in grassroots reconciliation work in Israel and in Palestine.  We focused on the dynamics of mainstreams & margins as well as trauma healing.

One thing I’ve loved is the music.  Here and in Lebanon we’ve heard some great Christian music in Arabic forms.  In the times when there has been an English translation I’ve been moved by the depth of the lyrics, especially for people who face deep struggles in faith.  It’s great to worship in music that isn’t just translated from the English praise songs but is an expression of people’s heart language.  If U.S. American Christians could hear God’s praises in some of the fires of suffering these sisters and brothers have been through it might shift our way of thinking about what God is doing in the Middle East.

From Nazareth to Bethlehem–that will be our journey in the coming week.  Of course, we plan to see the holy sites, but our main task will be teaching in Bethlehem Bible College as we’ve been teaching in Nazareth.  We won’t be taking a donkey or foot, but rather car.  Still we will be crossing the border between Israel and Palestine, a tightly controlled crossing.  Our hearts are heavy to be amid such intense lingering conflict in a place where the message of peace was brought so powerfully by so many.  Join us in prayer!

Peace,
Dan

 

 

 

 

 

In the World: Jews, Christians and Muslims break bread for peace

Middle East: Jews, Christians, and Muslims break bread for peace

from Kids4Peace

Children sharing breadKids4Peace Jerusalem protested against the violence. We left our families, we left our bomb shelters, our neighborhoods, our villages, to come together as a community. Yes, many of us were terrified. Some community members and even staff sent messages of love and support but were too afraid to join.

In Kids4Peace Jerusalem, many members of our community have been directly affected by the terror and violence. Whether it be close personal relationships with the teenage boys who were murdered, military lock-down, inability to enter Jerusalem, violence in our neighborhoods, cities, and even inside some homes. Everyone in Jerusalem has felt threatened, felt afraid, and had run to a bomb shelter at least once, and the war in Gaza and the violence around us is growing.

What was our action? We had dinner. We: Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis. We broke bread together. We caught up with old friends. We lent each other our ears, our shoulders, and our hearts. We feel that now more than have to take a stance against violence and this interfaith Iftar was just the beginning.

Read more at the Anglican Communion News Service

Moving On (June 30, 2013)

MOVING ON

A sermon preached by
Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, June 30, 2013

Text:  Luke 9:51-62

This has been a momentous week on many fronts.  Supreme Court rulings have held the headlines.  All over the country lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer and questioning folk are celebrating along with our allies the recognition of our right to marry under the laws of the land.  There may be a million or more celebrants on the streets of San Francisco this morning as we worship here.  To tell you the truth, there is a little tug on me to be sharing in that celebration.

It was 17 years ago on an equally hot Pride Sunday that I was ordained at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland.  We have come a long way since that day in providing a fair and equitable society for lgbtq people in this country.  Last Sunday, I worshiped at Crossroads Church in Kansas City, Missouri.  Crossroads is one of 88 congregations that both welcome and affirm lgbtq folk as part of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.  It was AWAB day at the American Baptist Mission Summit.  Since we are not allowed to be officially a part of the biennial meetings, we usually hold some sort of alternate event at a site nearby.

The day began with a worship service at which the Executive Director of the Association, Robin Lunn, preached.  I was invited to read one of the scriptures, Revelation 21:1-6.  The Association is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, having had its first meetings at the American Baptist Biennial, down the road in San Jose, in 1993.  However, part of my role as member of the current Association board is to be a kind of living history, reminding folks that the birthing organization of the Association was American Baptists Concerned for Sexual Minorities, an organization, advocating for full inclusion of lgbtq people in the life of the church.  I was involved in ABConcerned leadership for some 20 years before the Association came into being.

Before I read the scripture, I reminded people that our little movement within Baptist circles is 40 years old, not 20.  It seemed significant, as we read the passage from Revelation, to remember that the full sanctuary and the growing movement started as the dream of a few faithful people a long time ago.  It also seemed important to recognize that, whatever progress we have made in building an inclusive witness in Baptist circles, there are still dreams to be dreamed and long, dusty roads to walk.  For many it is rightly a time to celebrate, but we must not forget that tomorrow will, of necessity, be a time for moving on.

Jesus set “his face to go to Jerusalem,” Luke writes.  As an old friend of mine used to say, he was “a man on a mission.”  Up to this point in Luke’s gospel we have heard the wonderful stories of Jesus’ birth, witnessed him wowing the elders in the temple at 12 years old, the same age as Daniel Ha.  He has proclaimed in his home church that “The Spirit of [God was] upon [him], because [that Spirit had] anointed [him] to bring good news to the poor…[had] sent [him] to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of [God’s] favor” (Luke 4:18-19).  He has taught and healed and driven out demons and fed the hungry throughout Galilee.  He has established his credentials.  He has assembled a large group of followers.  Now he is off to Jerusalem to confront the forces that have corrupted the religious tradition of his people and forsaken their covenant with the living God.  He is going to challenge the imperial powers where they hold people captive in systems unjust and evil.  Along the way and in the heart of the holy city itself, he will proclaim the in-breaking reign of God on earth with the promise of salvation for all who turn to God and God’s reign.

The text is tough.  Here Jesus has no time for villages that will not readily receive him nor for those who are not prepared to hit the road.  This is not the tender and compassionate Jesus we would prefer to meet along the way, the old friend who will sit and chat with us in the corner café, the beautiful dreamer who takes to time to consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.  This is someone intently focused on the road ahead, a man on a mission, one completely absorbed with moving on.  There is a certainty to his step, a sharp focus to his gaze, an urgency to his voice.  The reign of God is breaking through all around.  There is good news to proclaim the poor and oppressed.  A new age is coming.  It is vital that people see and understand, that they repent of being on the wrong road and come along with him on his journey to new and abundant life in the realm of God.

We ought to be careful not to read this text as saying that we should not be concerned for family life.  Jesus still loves and cares for those around him.  One could read the hyperbole of his pronouncements here as instructing his followers to let go of anything that binds them to a past that does not see and move on toward that realm of God in which they will be free of anything that has ever bound them.  As Ecclesiastes reminds us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  There is a time for mourning, a time for getting your affairs in order, a time for reflection, a time for play.  For Jesus and his followers, this time was one for moving on.  The reign of God was breaking out everywhere.  He had to show the way.

I have to confess that I have never been behind a plow, but according to those who have, you cannot look back and maintain a straight furrow.  Long and winding roads have their charms.  The twists and turns of a mountain stream follow the natural contours of the land.  Up and down and all around can be a merry adventure.  But for farming, furrows need to be as straight as possible, otherwise you have chaos in the crops and have not made maximum use of the land.  “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” says Jesus.  “Got my hands on the gospel plow.  Wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now.  Keep your hands on that plow, hold on,” sings the spiritual.  “We’re moving on toward the realm of God.  Times are tough, the journey will not be easy, but, in time, the goal toward which we move will eliminate all our troubles, free us from every chain and wipe away every tear.

Here’s the challenge as I see it in this week in which so many of us want to be celebrating the in-breaking of justice and equality for people who have been marginalized and treated as second-class citizens.  When the party is over and the streets have been cleaned up, we have to see that “it’s not all about us,” that Monday or Tuesday is time for moving on.  In the same week that DOMA was overturned and Prop 8 struck down, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was gutted by the same court along with a delay for the dreams of affirmative action for people of color.  The prospects of immigration reform were shot down by a recalcitrant House of Representatives and its leadership.  Legislators are making headway in taking away a woman’s right to choose how she handles pregnancy.  War is being waged in the Middle East and elsewhere, its living victims huddled into refugee camps while others wail and weep the loss of life and livelihood.  The very life of the planet is being threatened.

In our Association board meeting, one of our members rightly reminded us that justice is a whole cloth.  None of us is free to all of us are free.  Too often little victories are won at the expense of others.  Sometimes we are unwilling to look beyond our self interest.  We are too preoccupied to hit the road when Jesus calls us to be moving on.  In the end, however, we can’t stay put or we will suffer the dire consequences.

I know the burden can seem overwhelming, the road impassible, the work impossible, God’s realm unreachable.  But we just can’t afford the luxury of giving up or resting on our little islands of security. Ethicist Sharon Welch challenges people like us when she writes, “The despair of the affluent, the middle class, has a particular tone: it is a despair cushioned by privilege and grounded in privilege. It is easier to give up on long-term social change when one is comfortable in the present—when it is possible to have challenging work, excellent health care and housing, and access to the fine arts. When the good life is present or within reach, it is tempting to despair of its ever being in reach for others and resort to merely enjoying it for oneself and one’s family…Becoming so easily discouraged is the privilege of those accustomed to too much power, accustomed to having needs met without negotiation and work, accustomed to having a political and economic system that responds to their needs” (Sharon Welch, A Feminist Ethic of Risk, 15 quoted in Alyce M. McKenzie, “Keep Your Hand on the Plow!” Edgy Exegesis, 6-24-2013, patheos.com).

In a sense, this is the same challenge Jesus gives to those along his way who are not ready to join in the journey.  There some things, things that are sacred to us, that we have worked long and hard to develop and preserve, that we must let go of in order to move on with Jesus.  I really don’t want to be so presumptive as to say what those things are for you.  All I can do is invite you to listen to Jesus’ call.  What is being asked of you to help ensure the reign of God in your here and now, in this time and place?

If Jesus walked into our sanctuary today – his face set steadfastly toward Jerusalem, or Washington, or wherever captives need to hear a liberating word, wherever the poor need to find economic equity, wherever the oppressed need to be lifted up, welcomed and affirmed, wherever the blind need to see, the deaf hear and the mute speak, wherever the year of God’s favor needs to become a living reality – how would you or I respond?  Would we be prepared to let go of the past and dream of God’s new thing?  Would we be ready for moving on?  As my friend, D. Mark Wilson, sang at my ordination service long ago, on one of those days when we stopped to celebrate as millions are celebrating today, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes” (Bernice Regan Johnson, “Ella’s Song”).  Today, tomorrow, the next day, in the strong and steadfast name of Jesus, it’s time for moving on.  Amen.