Walking in the Light (11/27/2016)

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

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Text: Isaiah 2:1-5

“Isaiah is clear that we are not the ones who usher in a new era; it is God who brings it forth. Some would therefore say that Isaiah’s call is not to action but to hope; but hope, in the end is action, with the power to overturn old assumptions and sad cynicism, to give new eyes, and to heal our warring hearts.”

Stacey Simpson Duke, co-pastor, First Baptist Church, Ann Arbor, MI

In the spring of my freshman year of college the Glee Club went on tour. I had never experienced anything quite like it. We traveled by bus to Washington, DC, for our first concert. The rest of the tour was by train – to Cleveland, Cincinnati, Memphis, and on to Little Rock, our western terminus. While in Little Rock, we sang a concert at the Arkansas School for the Blind. Our conductor, J. Bailey Harvey, affectionately known as “Oats” for reasons I can’t remember, was a “hail fellow well met.” He was a big man with a booming baritone, an English professor at City College by occupation and an amateur conductor driven by his love of the male chorus tradition and memories of his own bight college days. He always insisted we sing like men, not boys and we did our best to comply with eager desire to fulfill his hopes for us and sound grown up.

Continue reading Walking in the Light (11/27/2016)

Light Shines Out (1/3/2016)

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

Sunday, January 3. 2016

Text: John 1:1-18 (An Inclusive Version)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The Word was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through the Word, and without the Word not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 

10The Word was in the world, and the world came into being through the Word; yet the world did not know the Word. 11The Word came to what was the Word’s had made, and the Word’s own people did not accept the Word. 12But to all who received the Word, who believed in the name of the Word, power was given to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of human will, but of God. 

14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen the glory of the Word, the glory as of a parent’s only child, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to this child and cried out, “This was one of whom I said, ‘The one who comes after me ranks ahead of me because that one was before me.’”)16From the fullness of the Child we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Child, who is close to the heart of the Father-Mother, who has made God known.

Well, it’s almost over isn’t it? This year’s holiday season is particularly long, especially in the liturgical sense that we have two Sundays between Christmas and Epiphany (which really is Christmas in some places.) We’re not sure how much more celebrating we can stand. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you stopped a while back. We were inundated with carols and other trappings of Christmas long before the actual occasion and now, when we ought to be singing the songs of Christmas, we’re sick of them.

Is anyone particularly tired this morning? Are you feeling the accumulated stress of the holidays? Are you ready for the peace and quiet of a little ordinary time? I’m sure you’re not alone. The “holiday season,” as we have come to know it, assaults all our senses from before Halloween through the after-Christmas sales and celebrations of the New Year. By now, it makes perfectly good sense that we would be worn out, even if we did not overindulge in welcoming the New Year.

So how many of us got everything we wanted for Christmas? What did you find in your stocking, “hung by the chimney with care”? What wonders waited for you under the tree? Were you completely satisfied with your giving and receiving? I don’t mean to be a Scrooge this morning. I enjoy many of the more secular traditions of the season as I am sure you do. However, as a people of faith, the meaning of Christmas should be more than the festivities of the “holiday season.” It is even more than the beloved stories of the angels and shepherds and Magi and Mary and Joseph and a baby born in a stable.

The writer of John tries to capture the deeper meaning in the Prologue to his gospel. “The Word,” he writes, “became flesh and lived among us…” But note this word is not just any word – like pancake or football or swimming or listen or speak or good or bad or heaven or hell. It is written with a capital “W” but it is not a name like Rick or Oscar or Kathy or Thelma or Daniel or Gerardy or Gandalf or Darth Vader or even Dumbledore. The word is “Word” and John says it is very special. He says this Word was “in the beginning with God” – you know, way, way back when God created everything. How can that be? What do you think John is talking about? What or who is this Word and what does it have to do with the true meaning of Christmas?

At first, John says “the Word was God;” then he says the Word was light and life and glory and truth and grace. That’s a lot of lovely, but abstract terms, challenging to take in and comprehend. So, he says, “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Now wait a minute. Have you ever encountered light or life or glory or grace or truth walking around your neighborhood? Has God been seen recently at your school or workplace? Was God in line for the “Star Wars” premiere? How is it that God became human? Who is this mysterious Word who is light and life and glory and grace and truth and is both God and human?

Could it be Jesus, the baby whose birth we celebrated at Christmas? How is it that Jesus can be this Word? Let’s play with the question a little. The dictionary says that a word is “A sound or a combination of sounds, or its representation in writing or printing,that symbolizes and communicates a meaning…”
So the Word “symbolizes and communicates meaning.” The Word has come from God to show and tell us something about the meaning of God’s creation and our existence in it.

In Greek “the Word” is translated as “logos” and it means, philosophically, “the principle governing the cosmos…Identified with God, it is the source of all activity and generation and is the power of reason residing in the human soul.” That’s heavy! In biblical Judaism logos is “the word of God, which itself has creative power and is God’s medium of communication with the human race.”

It appears that, after God had tried to communicate with humanity through the law and the prophets, through wisdom and history, through poetry and song, God decided the only way to get our attention was in the flesh, in human form. You know how someone showing up in your space is more likely to get your attention than a text or an email or even a clever meme? So the Word became Jesus, a baby born to an unmarried peasant couple in a backwater village of a small-time country some 2000 years ago, and that same Jesus became the Word – filled with light and life and glory and grace and truth – in the flesh.

Barbara Brown Taylor comments on this passage, “In Jesus, John says, the word becomes flesh. The intangible light, glory, grace, and truth of God are embodied in him. God puts skin on those divine attributes so that followers who want to know how they sound and act have someone to show them” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1, pp. 189, 191).

Suddenly light shines out, infiltrating the darkness and wrapping us in its warmth. “To all who accept the Word, who see the significance of that name, power is given to become children of God. Is this the meaning that Jesus came to communicate, that we are meant to be children of God? From the beginning of the time, God has been reaching out to draw us to her bosom. Is this the ultimate Word, illuminated by the Light that has come into the world? God so loved the world that God sent God’s only-begotten child. That’s us – you and me.

In the light of this Word made flesh, Taylor suggests that we each may have a word – potential or realized – that is our word. She says, “Almost everyone has a word that he or she has a gift for bringing to life.” She suggests words like” compassion” or “justice,” “patience” or “generosity.” If you were to allow the light to shine out and illuminate it, what your word would be? Take a moment, reflect prayerfully. What is the word you have the gift for bringing to life? Taylor says, “Until someone acts upon these words, they remain abstract concepts – very good ideas that few people have ever seen. The moment someone acts on them, the words become flesh. They live among us, so we can see their glory” (Taylor, op. cit., p. 191). Light shines out.

She suggests that congregations might also have their defining words – like “hospitality” or “prayer” or “service” or “prophetic.” It is impossible for any one congregation to be all things to all people, but it might have a particular word that is its gift to bring to life. Again, take a prayerful moment to consider what might be a characteristic word for our congregation. Perhaps it is something you see or perhaps it is something you hope for. What word would you like for us to put flesh on and live out?

I encourage you to take your words – for yourself and for our community – reflect on them, pray about them, share them with someone you trust and consider how to make them real in your own life and in the world around you, to put flesh on them in your own living.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen the glory of the Word, the glory as of a parent’s only child, full of grace and truth.” “The true light, which enlightens everyone, is always coming into the world.” Light shines out. Darkness cannot overcome it. Let your little light shine. Amen.

More Light (February 2, 2014)

A sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, February 2, 2014

Text: Matthew 5:1-12

candleringWhen I saw you last it was Epiphany, that special day in which we celebrate the coming of the Magi to find the Christ, led by the light of a remarkable star.  Imagine my surprise, returning a month later to find that we are still stuck in Epiphany, if not the day, at least the season.  Furthermore, it seems the season will go on for another 4 or 5 weeks.  I guess there is no harm in holding onto Epiphany a little longer, continuing to mark a time when the light of God entered the world in a way that illuminated every corner.  We can always use more light, can’t we?

The theme of light runs all through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.  “God is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear” (Psalm 27:1)?  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2).  “…they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy” (Matthew 2:9-10).  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). Mystery of mysteries, God joins us, you and me, in human form, Jesus, the Light of the World.

Now I know it’s somewhat risky to focus on light at the beginning of black history month.  Unfortunately, our recent history is blighted by the association of darkness as evil with those whose skin is darker.  While we celebrate the brilliance of the light, we need to remind ourselves of the beauty of the dark.  Some light is blinding and some dark is healing. There are times when the light which we are exploring this morning glows in and through the very heart of darkness.  When John of the Cross speaks of the “Dark Night of the Soul,” he envisions experience beyond nights of trouble and anguish, something more than a crisis of faith, or those difficult times when one experiences the absence of God.  The dark night can also include a kind of ultimate religious experience when one lets go of all that is familiar in world around and enters fully into the Sacred Presence, when one steps out on the high wire without benefit of a net.  Paradoxically this step can be crucial to reaching for more light, for something deeper, more intense, more intimate and, therefore, fearful, than one has ever known before as one enters more fully into the powerful presence of the Holy One.

The interplay of light and darkness is at the core of our being.  In searching for a theme for this year, the words that came to me were these:  “More Light…More Love…More Life.”  Oleta pointed out to me that these same words can be found on the masthead of the website of First Presbyterian Church.  It may be that I subconsciously pilfered them.  If I did, I apologize.  However, neither the words nor their order are copyright so far as I know.  If they’re good enough for the Presbyterians, they should be good enough for us.

Alex Spiridon asked me a while back what my goal or vision is for this congregation.  He could list for me what he understood as the foci of the last several pastors and was wondering if I could identify mine.  It was good question and a good exercise in which to engage.  What keeps returning for me is the notion that I would like to assist us all in going deeper spiritually, to find ourselves, individually and collectively, moving closer to the heart of God in both our living and our witness.  This is an important growing edge for me personally, which is part of why I am using my sabbatical to do a diploma in the art of spiritual direction.  How may I assist you as pastor and how may we assist one another as companions on the way to find more light, more love, more life for ourselves and those we serve?

Though we won’t linger long here, there is spiritual direction in today’s text.  We know the beatitudes.  They are among the most beloved and challenging verses in scripture.  Jesus looks out at the crowd that he’s collected on his journey through Galilee.  He must have seen that some of them were excited, some were joyful, some were wondering, some were curious, some hopeful, some wandering, some lost, some hurting, some longing, some desperate.  He sat down on that sun-drenched mountain side and said, “Let’s see if I can shed a little more light on the situation.”  And he launched into a litany of ways that those who were following him might find themselves closer to living fully in the commonwealth of God.

Blessed, happy, fortunate, to be congratulated are those who are “poor in the sense of being oppressed and abused…downcast and depressed because of their situation”; they will find a place in the coming commonwealth of God.  Those who are “disenfranchised, overcome with helplessness…because of their allegiance to God in a lost world” will find comfort in the Comforter.  Those who are “gentle…who are totally dependent on God will in due course inherit the land.”  Those “who long for what is truly right and long that right be done in general are reflecting God’s wishes and will.”  “God will show mercy to those who have exhibited it themselves.”  Only those with “personal holiness…can enter into the holy presence of God.”  Peacemakers, reconcilers, “the people who establish shalom, well-being, wholeness for all concerned…shall be…sons and daughters of God.”  Those who have suffered and “experienced the scars of persecution” belong to the commonwealth of God and it belongs to them.  Those who suffer for “Jesus’ sake…have a good pedigree – they stand in a long line of the great biblical sufferers for God’s cause…” They will have a great reward in heaven (See Ben Witherington, Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary: Matthew, pp. 121-123).  Blessed, happy, fortunate, to be congratulated are these.  Do any of these familiar words and images speak to you today, draw you into their sacred light?

Jesus is not trotting out an ethical laundry list here.  He is not saying do all these things and you will be saved, or if you follow these instructions you will go straight to heaven.  Rather, in wisdom and grace, he seeks to shine light on what it means to be a child of God, what it’s like to inhabit the commonwealth of God, what it’s like to sink into the Holy Presence as a way of life.  More light than they could assimilate and, I imagine, the same could be said for us.

Still, as consider our future as children of God, individually and as a congregation, what light may we desire to shine on us?  Take a moment to examine yourself as you relate to God and to our faith community.  Where do you need, where do we need, more light?  Excited, joyful, wondering, curious, hopeful, wandering, lost, hurting, longing, desperate – how do you look to the Light of World and ask for a little more – a little more grace, a little more wisdom, a little more understanding, a little more faith, a little more stamina, a little more commitment, a little more of that very Light?

I believe there are light-filled days ahead for us.  Stepping out on that high wire, taking a risk in search of more light, may be uncomfortable, scary even, but if we want to explore more deeply, to look more fully, to listen more intently, to follow more faithfully, to live more gracefully, we must put our trust in God who goes with us all the way.     In our living, in our dying, and in our renewal, more light, O God, more light.  Amen.