A Note from Pastor Gregory (8/2016)

gregory_stevens_16-06-05The stories of Jesus begin in a ditch with a few astrologist-wise-men huddling around teenage parents hastily birthing their baby boy on the run from an angry political leader. It is in moments like these that Christianity locates divinity. Right in the midst of incredible chaos and struggle, we find our God; our God is a God of the oppressed.

When Jesus is back on the scene as an adult, his ministry begins with a declaration from the prophet Isaiah about bringing “good news to the poor” and “setting the oppressed free.” Immediately after this, he calls two uneducated peasant-class fisherman to join his team of misfit-love-radicals to then go heal a leper who has been marginalized for his entire life from the community as his skin rots from his body. Jesus is portrayed as the embodiment of Good News—he is Gospel, and he is incarnating the God the Hebrew people have been talking about all these years. In almost every story, the Christ slices through the walls of division created by race, gender, class, religion, and able-bodied privileges. Jesus’ life shines like a brilliant star through the gospels, illuminating a clear path of justice, humility, and love for God. Continue reading A Note from Pastor Gregory (8/2016)

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On Being God’s Person (7/17/2016)

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

Sunday, July 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

Bearing Witness, But Never Finding Justice

RIP Alton

The Problem We All Live With: Bearing Witness, but Never Finding Justice

Emilie Townes

We do not love ourselves. We have become cavalier with each other’s lives and we, as a nation, have not yet decided that we have reached the point where we will now practice willful and strategic eradication of the complex character that makes us an unloving society.

Let me be clear, the kind of love I am talking about is not romantic. It is a love forged out of the gospel call to dig deep into our innards and find the spaces of compassion sequestered there, to pull them out into our social and political lives to create a society that values the great diversity of folks that shape us into a nation. The kind of love we tend to practice is not this kind of love—it is hoarding. It is protecting what we have, protecting who we are, circling the wagons around our ideas and beliefs, failing to look up and out into the faces of the many-ness of this country. Continue reading Bearing Witness, But Never Finding Justice

Fulfilled. Today.

Martin Luther King, Jr.One joy of my expanded role during January while Pastor Rick is away is having the opportunity to share in our congregation’s Tuesday morning Bible study. Yesterday, I spent an hour and a half at Marylea McLean’s home with eight members of our church, discussing this week’s three Scripture passages. As most of you know, we have been following the year-long alternative lectionary presented in Brian McLaren’s We Make the Road by Walking in planning our worship as well as our weekly Bible studies this year.

Among the passages we examined today was the section from Luke 4 where Jesus enters the temple, picks up the scroll, and inaugurates his public ministry by reading the familiar yet powerful words from the 61st chapter of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (4:18-19). Luke reports that after reading, Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down, before asserting, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21).

Fulfilled. Today.

In our discussion at Bible study, Thelma Parodi picked up on a point Brian McLaren emphasizes in his commentary on this passage. Jesus makes the bold claim that, in him, Isaiah’s promise has been fulfilled. As of that moment, the prophet’s words no longer reflect some hope for the distant future. McLaren notes that if someone declares things will improve someday, that may be “interesting and acceptable,” but it serves to “postpone until the future any need for real change in the hearers’ lives.” On the other hand, “For Jesus to say the promised time was here already, fulfilled, today…that was astonishing. That required deep thinking and radical adjustment.” And apparently, those who heard Jesus say these words found such a call to change more than a bit disconcerting. Although their immediate response seems gracious, it’s not long before they’ve driven him out of town and are seeking to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-30)

As I thought about the immediacy of Jesus’ claim, I found myself thinking about a phrase from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in the 1963 March on Washington. In calling for an end to racial injustice, King spoke of the need for action amid the “fierce urgency of now.” King declared:

We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check—a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

I hear in the words of Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. an immediacy that speaks to our task as disciples today. The “fierce urgency of now” presses upon us to build communities where every life matters, where all people are treated with justice, dignity, and respect. Similarly, Jesus invites us to get swept up in God’s reign today, immediately, in this moment.

God is moving in our world today. Can we perceive it? Are we ready to participate in it? The need is urgent, and the time is now.

Doug Davidson
Minister with Children, Youth, and Families

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.

June is bustin’ out all over

13-06-01.mixon.fw“June is bustin’ out all over.” In the midst of a heat wave, windows are open to catch any little breeze, everything is green and blooming, allergies are operating full throttle, and we’ve entered, post Pentecost, that long, lazy season in the liturgical life of the church called Ordinary Time. Ordinary though it may be, we still have some excitement on the horizon. The first Sunday of this month we will be privileged by the presence of Cathleen Falsani, sharing with us some mutual experiences of grace. “Story = Grace” is our theme. This is the culmination of a month‐long study of her excellent book, Sin Boldly: A Field Guide to Grace. I commend it you as ideal summer reading. One of the key things Cathleen says in her book is this: “Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. And grace is getting what you absolutely don’t deserve. Benign goodwill. Unprovoked compassion. The unearnable gift.”

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound…” Indeed, it is a sweet sound, sometimes a sound too sweet for our very pragmatic understanding. We all know that salvation can’t be earned but do we really believe it? Do we grasp how thoroughly God loves and accepts us with whatever our limitations and failures? It’s often a struggle to let grace enfold us, to feel its warmth, to bask in its light, to let its healing wash over us, making us whole. So we fail to see that amazing grace is around and within us in the simplest beauties and wonders of daily life – the tree, the flower, the breeze that blows, the stream that flows, the warm smile, the helping hand, the love that forms and sustains friendship and builds community.

Later this month, I will represent us at the inaugural session of a new phase in American Baptist life. The biennial meeting will no longer be a business meeting for the denomination. It is now called a Mission Summit and is designed to inspire
and build up the missional life of the ABC‐USA. This is an interesting experiment in a way to do church at a denominational level that will enable all American Baptists to work together in the service of God. I am very pleased
that Don Ng, the distinguished pastor of First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco, is the nominee for President of the ABC‐USA and is taking a key leadership role in this effort at denominational transformation. Don is an old friend whose vision and judgment I trust deeply.

It is interesting that this Mission Summit (and the next, in 2015) will be held in Overland Park, Kansas, a place where I lived from 1950 to 1953. Some of my earliest memories are of those days when my father was the founding pastor of Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, Kansas. So, this represents a kind of homecoming for me. I hope to attend that church on Sunday morning of the Biennial. In addition, I will attend the pre‐biennial theology conference at Central Baptist Seminary (the school from which my father earned 3 degrees,) led by our friend, Jennifer Davidson, from ABSW. Then I will stay for the board meetings of the Association of Welcoming Baptists. It will be a full and, I trust, rich week. Wally Bryen will preach on June 23 in my absence.

What else can we say about June? There will be an intergenerational cookout and time for volleyball and visiting on Friday, June 14, in honor of Father’s Day. The church choir will end its season on June 16. Adult Spiritual Formation for
June will include our Sunday with Cathleen Falsani; a follow‐up on our Sunday with her and our study of her book on June 9; some reflection on The Awakened Heart: Opening Yourself to the Love You Need by Gerald May, one of the books from my spiritual direction program; and a last go for the season at “The Newspaper in One Hand…an occasional discussion of what’s happening in the world in light of the gospel.”

And there will be singing. Jan reminds us that The Bay Choral Guild, the group with which she sings will be performing in our sanctuary on Sunday, June 9 at 4:30 PM. The concert is entitled “Our American Heritageʺ and will feature music
from colonial days to the present. You won’t want to miss the wonderful opportunity right here in our building. And if you’re feeling a little more adventuresome, The Choral Project, the group in which Dan Cudworth, Ruth Winter (who is helping us out in the church choir through June) and I all sing will be presenting concerts in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz on June 8 and 9. Our concerts, entitled “Earthsongs” will cover a cross section of music from the classical to world music to pop music. It will be a fun event as well. More detailed information is available for both groups is available elsewhere in the  June Spire.

Which brings us back to grace. For me there is no more open door to grace than in the experience of music – heard and performed. I thank God for all the amazing music that has graced my life and, I hope, yours as well. May our lives flow on in endless song and may the God of grace author the music of all our days.

Pastor Rick