When Darkness Falls (3/20/16)

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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Text: Luke 22:39-46; 23:44-49

Dinner is done. Bread has been broken and the cup shared. The candles have begun to flicker. It has been a warm and wonderful evening, for the most part; yet something ominous lingers in the air as darkness falls. He has taught them and blessed them, promising them each a role in the Beloved Community. But he has also talked of denial and betrayal, of suffering and death, and this is troubling.

Well, it has been a strange week and a full one at that. Just last Sunday there had been the thrill of entering Jerusalem in a kind of crazy make-shift processional when the crowd had broken into cheers, waving tree branches and tossing their coats onto the road – “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Eternal One! Peace in heaven! Glory in the highest!” Hadn’t that been a day?! Yet, afterwards, some had seen him sitting and weeping over the old city, “Ah Jerusalem! If you…had only recognized on this day the things that [really do] make for peace!” From cheers to tears in one short day – how strange.

Then there he was, wildly driving the sellers from the Temple grounds, shouting, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” They had never seen him so angry. In spite of the threats of those in authority, they had spent the rest of the week on the temple grounds where he had dazzled them all with his teaching. Some of the lawyers and religious experts had tried to trap him with trick questions but he outsmarted them every time. All the people were spellbound by his wisdom and charisma. It was truly a week of wonders!

Now they were feeling a little drowsy. A combination of the full week, the warmth of their intimate dinner, the effects of the wine and the fading of the light was making them sleepy. They cleaned up, packed their belongings and headed back to the campground on Mt. Olivet. In the peace of the old olive orchard they would stretch out on the grass under an ancient tree and gaze at the stars through leafy branches until they drifted off to sleep.

But Jesus seemed agitated. He was not ready to turn in. Something on his mind had to be worked through in the stillness and beauty of this night. He was going to pray and he wanted them to join him. “Pray for yourselves, that you will not sink into temptation.” Well yes, that seemed like a good idea, but maybe it could wait till morning. He went off by himself a little distance. At first they could see him clearly in the moonlight. He seemed to be wrestling intently with something. A couple of them caught words wafted on the night breeze, “…take this cup…your will…my will.” But their eyelids grew heavy and the next thing they knew, he was shaking them awake. “Why are you sleeping? Wake up and pray that you will not sink into temptation.”

There is much more to come, but let’s pause here. Today’s reading from Barbara Brown Taylor speaks of finding one’s self in a liminal space, in thin place, caught somewhere between heaven and earth or, in this case, between light and darkness. The quotation refers to an experience she has intentionally sought out, spending some time in the complete darkness of a cave. She has lined up friends who are seasoned spelunkers to take her deep into a cave, beyond the large and lighted chambers where the tourists go. This is all part of her desire to understand darkness better and to walk in it without so much anxiety and fear.

Here she is, caught between the opening to the cave and the deep darkness that awaits. It is decision time and it turns out not to be such an easy decision to make. She stands for a while in a kind of “twilight zone.” She writes, “On this threshold between dark and light, it is still possible to go either way: farther in or back out. It is still possible to see what you are about to lose” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark.). Bright daylight on one hand, bleak grayness on the other hand.

Isn’t this the same situation in which Jesus finds himself that night in the olive grove, on the threshold of dark and light? It is still possible to go either way. Shall he go further into his experience of God and God’s way or will he back out? Luke says he prays to God for deliverance. “God, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me.” I take this to mean he does not want to die. It seems to me a very human longing. God has given us the gift of life. We will all die eventually, but not now, not if it’s not necessary. The truth is, I don’t think God wants Jesus to die either. But Jesus knows that if he continues to walk God’s way and the world around him fails to change, the consequences are inevitable. He can’t keep speaking truth to power, love to fear, justice to corrupt systems and equity to those who have grown rich at the expense of the poor without stirring their ill-will. He can’t continue to be faithful to his calling and not pay the price.

On this night on the hillside, he can still “go either way…farther in or back out.” He can still see what he is about to lose and he has to make a choice. Luke makes it sound easier than Mark or Matthew does. “Yet not My will, but Your will, be done.” The right response, but is it really so easily arrived at? Well, Luke, or some later editor, concedes that as he “prayed more intensely…his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Learning to walk in the dark is not easy after all, even for Jesus. He wrestles with God, as we all do, sooner or later, if we’re willing to pay attention, if we’re willing to listen for God’s voice and look for God’s way. It may be a hard road but, in the end, it is the right road. “Pray for yourselves, that you will not sink into temptation.”

We have already seen Jesus handle temptation in his own life and ministry. More than once he has turned his back to ways that are easy, popular, self-serving. As with the disciples, any of us is vulnerable to closing our eyes in sleep when life gets to be too much. It may be the easiest way to handle the stress. When darkness falls around us, it’s easier to turn on the lights and tune out anything that “goes bump in the night.” We keep ourselves occupied until bedtime or we fall asleep on the couch in front of the television or computer. But what do we miss when we choose not to explore the deep darkness of the cave that is before us? What do we lose when we won’t face the fears that arise in those moments when we turn away from every distraction and give ourselves over to wrestling with the questions and concerns that haunt the center of our being? What would it be like if we decided to encounter more intensely the Holy One and explore more completely our role in creating and occupying God’s Beloved Community?

We are especially likely to shy away when we read the rest of the story – the betrayal by one of his own, right there in the olive grove; the harsh denial in the courtyard; the mock trials; the unjust sentence; the fleeing followers; the now jeering crowd as he parades once more through Jerusalem, this time carrying a Roman cross; the ignominious execution. Could we please skip these parts and go directly to Easter? We don’t like this twilight zone. We don’t want to go deeply into the darkness of this cave. There is too much to lose in these elements of the story. Let’s run away. Let’s pretend it never happened. Let’s take a nap and hope it will be over.

Only there he is, hanging on that wooden cross, stretched out to die an agonizing death in the blistering sun. No glowing moon, no twinkling stars, no cool night breeze, just the scorching light of day. We can ignore, deny, pretend all we want, but this is part of our tradition. It is not a pretty picture, but it is one with which we are asked to wrestle.

One irony is that here he is left to burn in the brightness of the day and what happens? Luke says that “darkness fell over the whole region” and lasted through the hottest part of the day. I had never thought of it this way before, but maybe that darkness was like a cup of cold water to a thirsty soul, a small gesture of relief on an awful afternoon. And when that darkness fell, Luke says Jesus was able to turn his gaze toward God, shouting, “Father, I entrust My spirit into Your hands!” Maybe that sounds hollow to you, given the circumstances, but I’m going to guess that Jesus is able to place his dying self into God’s hands with such profound trust precisely because he has learned to walk in the dark. He knows, in the core of his being, that, even in death, God goes with him all the way.

This is why Jesus was so eager that his disciples keep awake and pray that they wouldn’t give in to temptation. This is why Barbara Brown Taylor has invited us to share her experiences of learning to walk in the dark. This is why John of the Cross opened for us the dark night of the soul and Thomas Merton writes of the Holy One that “I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.”

Of all the weeks of this Lenten season, we come now to the one called Holy. Now when the darkness falls, where will you find yourself? In this recurring “twilight zone” in which we stand on the “threshold between dark and light,” when “it is still possible to go either way: farther in or back out,” when you “see what you are about to lose” but also have a glimpse of what might be gained, which way will you turn? Whichever way you turn, whether the crowd cheers or jeers, I hope you know that God goes with you, in the darkness and in light, in life and death – all the way. Amen.

A Note from Pastor Gregory

Gregory StevensI’m sitting at my desk with one of our pew-Bibles open to the Gospel attributed to Mark.

Before Jesus has even uttered a word, Mark’s story has situated him historically and culturally in the wilderness with the wild, camel-hair-wearing John the baptizer as his predecessor. In a few short paragraphs, Jesus denies Satan’s offer of imperial power, calls working class fisherman as his disciples, includes the unwanted man of Capernaum and outcasts throughout Galilee, practices contemplative morning prayer, and joyfully wraps his healing arms around a leper. I haven’t even turned the page yet.

When the second chapter begins on the next page, Jesus welcomes a paralytic man into wholeness, calls a tax swindler to give up his senseless ways, and subverts the popular orthodoxy around Sabbath teachings by acting out in love.

Now we’re just on the third page of the Gospel attributed to Mark, and Jesus has already turned his religion, his culture, and the political atmosphere upside down.

I wonder what it means to have this kind of Jesus-imagination in today’s world. I wonder how American politics might change if Americans read the stories of Jesus. I wonder why Christians haven’t given more credit to alternative economic systems, ones that work for the very same blue-collar fisherman Jesus called as his disciples. I wonder why Jesus was famous for healing the sick, but many of today’s vocal Christians are anti-free-health care. I wonder what happened to the Jesus so easily found on just the first two pages of Mark’s gospel—dare we turn the page even further?

Pastor Gregory

 

The Road to Freedom (November 2, 2014)

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

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Texts: Exodus 1:1-14; 3:1-15; John 8:1-11; Galatians 5:1, 13-23 (The Message)

 

1Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.

13-15 It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?

16-18 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?

19-21 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.

22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

 

Once again our McLaren resource has gifted us with a rich selection of texts. We can choose among the stories of Moses and how he came to lead his people to liberty or John’s account of the woman caught in adultery or Paul’s riff on freedom as he tries to straighten out the good folks of First Church, Galatia. All of this is gathered under the theme of “Freedom!” The challenge is that each of these texts approaches freedom from a different perspective.

We considered the call of Moses not long ago, the story of the burning bush, Moses’ reluctance to go and God’s promise to go with him to set God’s people free. McLaren writes that this story “makes one of history’s most audacious and unprecedented claims. God is on the side of slaves, not slave owners! God does not uphold an unjust status quo but works to undermine it so a better future may come” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 39). Once again, McLaren shows us how the God of Israel is distinguished from other gods of the ancient world who would have been firmly on the side of the ruling classes. Shockingly good news! The living God, the great God of the universe, is for the oppressed and downtrodden. God hears the cries of those who are bound by chains of every sort.

The Moses story is about freedom on a grand scale. It’s about the liberation of a entire people, a people with whom God has covenanted to be their God as they will be God’s people. This is a tale of God’s desire that these people live together with one another and with God in peace, harmony and well-being. It holds a promise of the restoration of the rich, abundant life that God laid out in creation. This story has held hope for enslaved people in all generations, from the slaves of the ancient Greco-Roman world to the African slaves brought to US shores, from contemporary structures of apartheid to the poor, downtrodden people of slums and barrios everywhere. The song that begins, “Let my people go,” ends with the refrain, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty. I’m free at last!”

Still, as we know only too well, the road to freedom is long and arduous. The Children of Israel go grumbling and complaining, dragging their feet through forty years of wandering in the wilderness. God may desire that God’s people live free, but we make it difficult to find fulfillment of the promise. Take the story of the woman caught in adultery. Her wrong-doing, her sin is not in question here. She is guilty and she knows it and she feels it. The point of the story is the self-righteous judgment of the community that wants to keep her bound to her guilt rather than offer her the liberation of forgiveness and restoration. The great irony is that the community’s self-righteous judgment has them tied up knots as well. They are bound to the letter of an ancient law that serves neither the woman nor the community.

Jesus sees through the hypocrisy and offers freedom to all. But the road to freedom is challenging. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Well, well, that’s not exactly what they were expecting from the teacher. He has turned their blood lust back on themselves. I wonder if, after they have slunk away and spent some time considering his words, they didn’t find some freedom in Jesus’ challenge. Humbling, yes, but liberating as well. “You mean it’s enough to take care of the log in my own eye without worrying about the speck in my neighbor’s eye?” Can you feel the release in not having to carry the burden of another’s sin and guilt along with your own? And, in the process, are we not freed to work together then for the welfare of the whole community? As Richard Hays writes, “freedom in Christ manifests itself through the formation of concrete communities where the old barriers of nation, race, class, and gender are overcome in communion at the one table” (Richard B. Hays, “The Letter to the Galatians,” New Interpreter’s Bible XI, p. 310).

“For freedom Christ has set you free.” What a word of hope and promise! Paul is writing to a congregation caught between some who insist on adherence to the law, to certain religious rules and practices in order to secure God’s favor, and those who insist that they are free of any such rules and practice. It is not unlike the situation with the community that comes to Jesus ready to stone their neighbor. Keep the rules or you’re headed for hell. But that sort of judgment is beyond our pay grade and, in fact, Jesus has liberated us from such a burden.

Remember how Jesus summarized the law – love God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself, the irony being that he drew these mandates directly from the ancient texts. This is a liberating word, easy to remember, enough to focus the practice of a life time. Love God, love neighbor.

In his teaching on freedom, Paul reinforces this liberating word, “…everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.” Then, in case they don’t get the full import, he adds a timely warning, “If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?”

Just to be clear, he reminds the members of First Church, Galatia, that the freedom he’s talking about is not license. The freedom we find in Christ is freedom that comes with responsibility. As a reminder of our exploration of “Rivalry and Reconciliation,” Elisabeth Johnson tells us that “Self-centeredness inevitably leads to seeing others as rivals rather than beloved children of God. The resulting behavior is the opposite of loving service and destroys life in community” (Elisabeth Johnson, “Commentary on Galatians 5:1, 13-25, June 27, 2010,” workingpreacher.org).

We’re not free to do whatever we want, certainly not without consequences. Paul says the road to freedom leads to a crucial fork. If you take the fork toward getting your own way all the time, you’ll find yourself wandering through “…repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.” Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

The other fork leads to the freedom to serve, the freedom to care for one another and the community, the freedom to love as we are loved. It’s not cheap freedom. It comes at a price, but is well worth it in the end. Here we find ourselves immersed in “…things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity…a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people…involve[ment] in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, [the ability] to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

Well, there you go, the road to freedom. Walking this road has implications for people and nations and creation itself. It also has implications for you and me and First Baptist, Palo Alto. When we come to that crucial juncture in the road which route will we take, the one to self-interest, self-righteous and selfishness or the one to love for God and neighbor and ultimate freedom? “It’s a long road to freedom, awinding steep and high, but when you walk in love with the wind on your wing and cover the earth with the songs you sing, the miles fly by.” Amen.

Not From This Well (3/30/2014)

sermonsNOT FROM THIS WELL

A sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Monday, March 30, 2014

Texts: John 4:1-42 (The Message)

Well – a deep subject for shallow minds. How many have us been victimized by that old joke when you were simply using the word as placeholder while you pondered the breadth and depth of your response or next comment? Mercifully, many will shorten the joke to “a deep subject” not insulting another’s mind or thought process by calling it shallow. Of course, that’s not the sort of well we’re dealing with this morning, though the subject is a deep one.

In so many places and so many ways wells provide a life-giving function, bringing water, one of the fundamental necessities for nourishing and sustaining life on this planet. Where rivers and streams, lakes and reservoirs are not easily available a well can make the difference between life and death for fauna and flora alike.

Speaking of wells reminds me of a project taken on by the Granville church when I was there. An active family in our congregation had a relative who was a missionary in Nicaragua. He had helped set a cooperative farm on a hillside called Rancho Ebenezer. Ebenezer, you may have noted, was expunged from the second verse of our opening hymn this morning for being too obscure, I suppose. It was the name Samuel gave to a large stone placed between two villages in Judea, representing a time of repentance and renewal for his people and a great victory over their enemies. The word means “the stone of help” for, as Samuel announces to the people, “Up to this point, God has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12).

Anyway, since Rancho “God Is Our Help” is up the hill, it was necessary to carry water from the river to service the residents and the crops. It’s hard work lugging buckets of water uphill. A well had been envisioned for the property but there was no money for the project. 14-year old Leah, who had gone with the family for a week’s work on the farm her uncle had helped start, was frustrated, among other things, by the scarcity of water for washing her long hair. She came back to Granville determined to raise money for that well, not just for her hair but for the welfare of the farm and all those poor water-luggers. Following her inspirational leadership, people in our church and village were able to raise over $11,000 in a short time to facilitate the drilling of a well at Rancho Ebenezer.

Then a little over a year ago, Marilyn Hunwick suggested to our children and youth that they lead us through a January special offering to raise money for pigs in Haiti. The project, led by American Baptist missionary Nzunga Mabudiga, purchases pigs to be raised by children in Haiti to help finance their schooling and their future. We raised enough money to provide 20 pigs for poor children in Haiti.

When I spoke to Nzunga at last summer’s American Baptist Mission Summit in Kansas City, he was very appreciative of that gift but he was even more excited to tell me about a new project he and other missionaries were working on to provide clean, safe drinking water in Haitian villages. It includes providing more sanitary latrines, water purification and digging wells. So, when we considered mission projects to support with some of the money from the sale of the Annex, this was one we settled on.

The truth is wells can be deeply meaningful and life giving, whether the farm is on the hillside above the river or safe, clean water supplies have been destroyed by a devastating earthquake or you live in an arid land like ancient Samaria. Jacob’s well was essential to the well-being of the village of Sychar. It is a deep well, hewn in solid rock. The people of the village depended on it as their source of water. Of course, the water had to be drawn from the depths of the well and carried in jars to homes and shops, wherever it was needed.

Our nameless protagonist shows up at the well in the blazing sun of midday.   Much has been made of this by scholars and tradition. The speculation is that she comes at noon to avoid the other women of the village who would have come at sunrise or the cool of the evening. Is it because she is a woman of questionable reputation or a major introvert or just late on this particular day? We don’t know. The story doesn’t really tell us.

What it does tell us is that she, very surprisingly, discovers a Jewish rabbi sitting by the side of the well and he speaks to her! Such a human Jesus appears here – tired, hungry, thirsty, traveling the hot dusty road from Judea, headed home to Galilee. “Excuse me, ma’am. Would you give me a drink of water?” She’s taken aback. A simple yes or no would suffice, but her incredulity causes her to blurt out, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”

Not very polite or hospitable. Isn’t this a no-brainer? Obviously he’s a tired, dusty, thirsty man, just another human being who needs a drink of water. She can understand that, can’t she? It’s a pretty common human condition. And as she will comment shortly, he is a little handicapped here. The well is deep and he has nothing with which to draw water. Just give the thirsty man a drink.

Of course these wonderful stories of John’s are never that simple. There’s always a catch. Is this encounter really just a coincidence or was it meant to be? My friend, Rob Hopcke, writing on the Jungian concept of synchronicity, says there are no accidents (Robert H. Hopcke, There Are No Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Lives). The universe or the collective unconscious or perhaps God causes the confluence of circumstances that bring these two together on this day at this hour for purposes that unfold as the story unfolds.

Both Jesus and the woman are keenly aware of the ancient enmity that separates them. Why is Jesus even trekking through Samaria? Though it takes longer to travel, there was an alternate route from Judea to Galilee that skirted the “enemy” territory. But here he is deep in an alien land, about to be deep in conversation with an alien and a woman at that! What kind of God shares the secrets of the universe with the wrong people?

Again out of shock, perhaps, but also because she is really made of the right stuff, this woman takes Jesus on in a candid, adult conversation, the kind peers engage in. She doesn’t seem intimidated in interacting with the teacher.

He begins the lesson by promising her something beyond her imagining, “living water.” She stays with the literal. “Where is this water coming from since you have no obvious means of producing it? Just who do you think you are?” On the surface it seems like a fair challenge. She doesn’t know who he is. He’s a stranger and an alien to her and he’s making some pretty audacious claims. “Living water? Not likely. Not from this well. I’ve been drinking here all my life and nothing like that has ever been encountered here.”

Jesus reinforces his offer. “If you just understood, if you knew who was talking to you, would see the possibilities of abundant and eternal life that I can give you, an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” Can you try for a minute to put yourself in her place? Imagine Jesus sitting at a table at Peet’s, asking to share with you a cup of that delicious Fair Trade blend. You think you’re talking about a coffee when suddenly he expands the conversation somewhere beyond the known universe. He’s talking with you about life like you’ve never known. He’s offering you opportunities you never imagined. You’ve just met and he’s already giving you gifts that are priceless. What would you think? How would you feel? In what ways might you respond?

Oh, and just like the woman at the well, he knows you in ways that astound you. Yes, he knows you by name and, as the old spiritual sings, “he done tol’ me everything I’ve ever done!” Don’t you think that must have been terrifying in the moment? There is that in us which longs to be known, truly, deeply, thoroughly, but we can also feel ambivalent about being that open. Remember those times when you said to yourself, “I just can’t keep this in any longer. I’ve got to tell someone, even if there is pain and distress in the sharing.” Well, with Jesus it appears there is no necessity to share or confess because he already knows.

With this woman, he not only knew her past but he also knew her present and her future. He saw in her that potentiality that led to transformation for herself and her whole village. Once she was free, there was no keeping her quiet. Whatever caused her to avoid the other women at the well was gone. She had a story to tell and she wanted everyone to hear it. She didn’t care what they thought of her. She was quite willing to be a fool for Christ. He had touched her life in a healing way that changed her forever. He had given her living water. “…the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter… God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship [God] must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” And as he tells the disciples a little later, “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One – that God who is sheer being itself – who sent me, finishing the work he started.” He drinks living water and feeds on the will of God. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after right living for they shall be filled.”

As with the one born blind, could there be any more unlikely or more ready person to hear and receive the Good News? There are no accidents. Jesus sees deeply and chooses carefully those whom he calls to each task. His time is limited and he needs someone as willing and effective as this Samaritan woman to tell the truth of God’s reign on earth. Living water, yes, but not from this well of Jacob’s, not from Mount Gerizim, not from the temple in Jerusalem. It comes from the very depth of Being itself. Bread of heaven, feed me til I want no more; living water gush up in me like an artesian spring bringing eternal life. Amen.

Worship and Study in February

worshipWORSHIP THEMES FOR FEBRUARY

  • February 2 — More Light Matthew 5:1-12
  • February 9 — More Love 1 Corinthians 13
  • February 16 — More Life Deuteronomy 30:15-20
  • February 23 — Sure Foundations 1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23

ADULT SPIRITUAL FORMATION
(Sundays at 11:30 in the Parlor)
Returning to the Jesus Dojo
What does it mean to practice the way of Jesus? During January we discussed the historical Jesus: Who he was, what we can know, and whether it matters. In February, we will make plans. Together, we will decide what to let go and gather up as we seek new and relevant practices for walking in the way of Jesus.

  • February 2: Annual Meeting
  • February 9: Returning to the Jesus Dojo
  • February 16: Framing Our Practices of Love
  • February 23: Generating Ideas: Letting Go & Gathering Up
  • March 2: Inviting Others to Participate

 

More Jesus, Not Less (January 12, 2014)

sermonsRev. Tripp Hudgins
Baptism of Christ Sunday, January 12, 2014
First Baptist Church of Palo Alto

Let us pray.

Lord, I believe. Help, Thou, my unbelief. Make these words more than words and give us all the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.

 

First they heard the music.

Maybe you know the song.

“As I went down to the river to pray, studyin’ about that good old way,
and who shall wear the robe and crown, good Lord, show me the way.”
Oh brothers, let’s go down
Let’s go down, don’t you wanna go down,
Oh brothers, let’s go down
down in the river to pray.”

Yeah, it always starts with the music for me. It ends with the music, too. Be ready.

In the Cohen brothers film, “O Brother, Where Art Thou” the conversation between our three fugitive anti-heroes goes a little like this. You see, Delmar has been saved. So Pete says:

Pete: Well I’ll be . . . Delmar’s been saved.
Delmar: Well that’s it, boys. I’ve been redeemed. The preacher’s done warshed away all my sins and transmissions. It’s the straight and narrow from here on out, and heaven everlasting’s my reward.
Everett: Delmar, what are you talking about? We’ve got bigger fish to fry.
Delmar: The preacher says all my sins is warshed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.
Everett: I thought you said you was innocent of those charges?
Delmar: Well I was lyin’. And the preacher says that that sin’s been warshed away too. Neither God nor man’s got nothin’ on me now. C’mon in boys, the water is fine.

Pete goes in. Everett does not.

Pete: The preacher said he absolved us.
Everett: For him. Not for the law. I’m surprised at you Pete. I gave you credit for more brains than Delmar.
Delmar: But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.
Everett: That’s not the issue Delmar. Even if it did put you square with the Lord, the state of Mississippi’s a little more hardnosed.
Delmar: You should’a joined us Everett. It wouldn’t have hurt none.
Pete: . . . at least it would’a washed away the smell of that pomade.
Everett: Join you two ignorant fools in a ridiculous superstition? Thank ya anyway. And I like the smell of my hair treatment – a pleasin’ odor’s half the point. [laughs] Baptism. You two are just dumber than a bag of hammers. Well, I guess you’re just my cross to bear.

We do so much with Baptism.
We do so much.
We welcome.
We bless.
We renew.
We cleanse.
We return.
We rebirth.
We heal.
We give up.
We give.
We take on.
We take.
We claim.
We die.

Baptism.

This morning, I want us to focus on this one little bit from the scripture we heard. I want us to hear it like we hear music. Listening to the one melody, the one instrument, that one refrain while the rest of the sound washes over us like water, and holds us up. So, hold Isaiah’s song of the coming Messiah. And keep John the Baptist in the forefront right where he belongs (You know he’s going to insist upon being there anyway). But hear the Voice this morning.

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Good morning, Beloved.

When has anyone ever called you that? Beloved?

“In you I am well pleased.” Has anyone ever said that to you? I hope so.

When was the last time you looked at someone and said, “In you I am well-pleased.”

“I really like you.”
“I love you. . .completely.”
“You are still fun to be with even after all these years.”

Beloved. You. Me.

Turn to your neighbor and say it, “Beloved, in you I am well-pleased.”

How did you feel? Did it make you uncomfortable saying it? Receiving it?

It’s a little embarrassing, perhaps, especially in such a place as this at a moment such as this. Church is a rather public place for such a personal and even private declaration. But think on those words for a moment. Think on that as a declaration of who we all really are deep down no matter what has happened to us in our lives, no matter what others have also said, or what we may have done.

Can you imagine it?

No matter what you have done, you are still God’s Beloved. The story of Jesus is about how God has moved heaven and earth, pushed everything else aside, to tell you so.

There is no government, no power, no principality, no system, no individual, who can take that away from you. . .

. . .and yet.

. . . it’s a seemingly uncommon sentiment, an uncommon idea that we might be God’s beloved after all. It’s uncommon enough that we have made up many excuses for why we don’t behave like we are Beloved or treat others like they are Beloved. It’s why we have standing armies and criminal justice systems. We have a lot of data to suggest we are unaware of our status as God’s beloved. Big data wins, you know.

Day to day, we struggle to live life as the Beloved of God. Maybe this is why we single one person out as an example. We single out Jesus. We Christians console ourselves, “Well, he did it. I’m not him. So, I can’t. But at least Jesus did it.”

But an interesting thing happens, I think, when we make such statements. We distance ourselves from Jesus when we do this while the whole time Jesus is trying to get to us. We hold Jesus at arms length. “I am not like you” or John’s “I am not worthy” claim from today’s Gospel. “But, Tripp, the Bible says Jesus is the Beloved, not us.”

We look at Jesus and try to make sense of him and in the effort try to make sense of ourselves. We consign Jesus to his “belovedness.” We call it “divinity,” that otherness of Jesus that keeps him safely at arms length . . . when all along it is Jesus who is trying mightily to show us our belovedness, who is fulfilling all righteousness, by giving us this moment to witness divinity. This moment where the Voice of God, this moment when the Spirit descends like a dove and alights upon Jesus is an introduction to who Jesus truly is and to who we are.

Created in the image of God. Created, as John’s Gospel reminds us, with Jesus in mind from the beginning of all things, fully in our present moment, to the end of all things. God proclaims it all Good. God proclaims it beloved. You. Me. All of it. And as it is all made through and with God, it is divine.

It’s terrifying to me, truth be told, that I might also be divine. It’s not an original idea either . . . “God became human so that humanity might become divine” are words from Athanasius of Alexandria, a third century bishop. It is a very old idea.

Even Delmar gets it, “The preacher says all my sins is warshed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.”

God becomes human. God walks among us and when God does, what we see is Jesus’ life and ministry. Or put another way, if you want to know the nature of God, look at the life of Jesus the Christ. The entire nature of God is enfleshed in the life of Jesus. Born poor, vulnerable, outcast, in an occupied land, Jesus did not live an easy life. . . a carefree existence. Jesus did not die easy. There’s much to learn about God by looking at Jesus’ life.

This morning we’re invited to look at this one moment in the life of Jesus. We’re invited to look at his baptism and in this story perhaps see our own stories.

Look in the mirror. Have you forgotten you are Beloved? Have you forgotten that you are divine? In that forgetfulness have you (have I) lived as if our neighbor, the stranger, the alien in a foreign land, the poor (and the list goes on) are not also The Beloved?

Each act of violence, ignorance, uncaring, and thoughtlessness contradicts this.

We are all the Beloved . . . even after we knocked over that Piggly Wiggly in Yazoo.

***

 As a Baptist, I know that we say that baptism is an affirmation of faith. I suggest that the realization of our belovedness is that faith. This is the impulse for baptism. This is the reason for the rite; it reveals what is already true and has been true since the beginning of all things.

It is faith. It is nature. It is ritual and rite.

We are Beloved.

It’s in our DNA. We are divine. It is The Image of God.

Nothing can take that away from us. God’s reaching out to us knows no end.

We are the object of God’s unending love, we are The Beloved.

We are divine because God has become human.
This is what we discover in the water.
This is what we reveal in the water.
This is what we proclaim in the water.

The world needs more of us to embrace the gift that baptism reveals for us.
We are the beloved. You are. I am. They are. We are. And in us, God is well-pleased.

So, what will we do now?

“Wade in the water.
Wade in the water, children.
Wade in the water.
God’s gonna trouble the water.”

Visions of Jesus: Adult Spiritual Formation

“Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle
worker walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what
he called the ‘Kingdom of God.’ The revolutionary movement he
launched was so threatening to the established order that he was captured,
tortured, and executed as a state criminal. Within decades after
his shameful death, his followers would call him God.”

–Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus mosaicPlease join us for our Adult Spiritual Formation hour during the month of January as we consider the topic, “Visions of Jesus.” Beginning with the engaging portrait that Reza Aslan offers in his provocative new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, we will consider how different views of Jesus’ life and teachings point toward different understandings of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. We will examine Aslan’s image of Jesus as a radical political revolutionary whose goal was to liberate his people from Roman occupation. We will also look at the cultural controversy that has arisen surrounding this Muslim religious scholar’s authorship of a book about Jesus. In addition
to examining Aslan’s portrait of Jesus, we’ll also consider our own images of Jesus, and how they shape our faith and our understanding of God. We’ll also review the unique glimpse of Jesus that emerges in each of the four Gospels, giving attention to the nuances, variations, and differing emphases that characterize each biblical author’s sketch
of Jesus’ life. Please plan to be with us for worship and stay for the second hour for conversation about how a closer consideration of the “historical Jesus” can enliven and transform Christian faith and discipleship in the twenty-first century.

–Doug Davidson