Stay Alert (August 11, 2013)

sermons.fw STAY ALERT
A sermon preached by
Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, August 11, 2013

Text:  Luke 12:32-40

Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.
Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.
Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.
The time is drawing nigh.

So sings the old spiritual, with words of warning to stay alert and be prepared for the coming “Day of the Lord.”  Or is it the day of freedom?  Is this one of those great signaling songs about the underground railroad and the way to liberation?  Stay alert. “There’s a better day a comin’, fare thee well, fare thee well.  In that great gittin’ up morning, fare thee well, fare thee well.” “My Lord, what a morning when the stars begin to fall!”  These songs and many others like them sing the hope of a people for freedom from slavery, for a better life lived in liberty, for the promises they heard in God’s word and longed to claim for themselves and their families.

Earlier this summer I saw a semi-staged version of West Side Story, the great American musical about life among poor white and Puerto Rican youth in 1950s New York City.  Early in the musical, Tony, the white boy who is the musical’s hero, is persuaded by Riff, the leader of the Jets, his former gang, to join them at the neighborhood dance that night, not knowing that Riff intends to start a rumble with the rival Sharks.  Tony agrees to go along with his old friend, though he is clear he wants no more part of gang activity.  At the end of the scene with Riff, he breaks into this powerful song of hope for a better future.

Could be
Who knows?
There’s something due any day
I will know right away
Soon as it shows
It may come cannonballin’ down through the sky
Gleam in its eye
Bright as a rose!
Who knows?
It’s only just out of reach
Down the block, on a beach
Under a tree
I got a feeling there’s a miracle due
Gonna come true
Coming to me
Could it be?
Yes it could
Something’s coming
Something good
If I can wait
Something’s coming I don’t know what it is
But it is
Gonna be great!
With a click
With a shock
Phone’ll jingle
Door’ll knock
Open the latch!
Something’s coming, don’t know when
But it’s soon
Catch the moon
One handed catch
Around the corner
Or whistling down the river
Come on – deliver
To me
Will it be? Yes it will
Maybe just by holding still
It’ll be there!
Come on, something, come on in
Don’t be shy
Meet a guy
Pull up a chair
The air is hummin’
And something great is coming
Who knows
It’s only just
Out of reach
Down the block, on a beach
Maybe tonight
Maybe tonight…

Stay alert, Tony.  Keep your lamp trimmed and burning.  The day is drawing nigh.  Something’s coming, something good, something great…maybe tonight.

Of course, Tony doesn’t live to see the day.  Neither did many of the African slaves in the USA.  Nor did those who first heard Jesus’ words as recorded in Luke.  Nor did many an Israelite who wandered in the wilderness.  The “Day of the Lord” did not come soon enough for them – at least not that grand apocalyptic day of radical transformation.  God’s kingdom did not come on earth as it is in heaven.  Still the hope lived on and it lives on today.  Stay alert.  You don’t know when the Bridegroom may return – or the thief break in.  You’re never sure when God may show up in your life – or the evil one challenge you from within or without.

We know that, for those who first heard Luke’s gospel, there was an eager expectation that Christ would return soon and make all right with the world, that the day of God’s final judgment was imminent and they’d better be prepared.  We don’t live so much with that expectation or even hope anymore.  I suspect most of us are not at all eager for the “Day of the Lord.”  We are not looking for God’s final judgment any time soon.  So, maybe these ancient words don’t have much to say to us.  Maybe we live in such comfort that we are not caught up in the Hebrews’ hope for a promised land, in the slave’s longing for freedom, in Tony’s dream of something better than the poverty and violence of the city’s streets, in the early church’s longing for Christ’s return.

Stay alert.  For what, we might ask.  We don’t live in that three story universe in which we hope to achieve heaven and avoid hell.  Most of us don’t worry about the devil.   We know there is evil in the world, but by and large it bypasses us.  We’re not so directly affected.  Our fears are not much the imminent danger of poverty, war, displacement, hunger, homelessness, street violence.  So when Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock…” does it have any meaning for us?  Does it touch you at all where you live?

Well, let’s take a minute and consider these words, “Do not be afraid, little flock…”  Of what might we be afraid, you and me?  Are you ever afraid of not being in control?  Do you ever worry about a lack of security?  Have you saved enough, accumulated enough to keep you comfortable and safe?  Are you ever concerned about thieves breaking in?  Any anxiety about the kind of future your children might face?  Perhaps our fears are not as dramatic as those of the most needy of our sisters and brothers, but they are certainly real for us.

Now the point is not to encourage us to dwell on our fears, to overinvest in them, to make them worse.  The encouraging, hopeful word in Luke’s story is just the opposite.  Before today’s text, Jesus has been talking to his followers about letting go of their fears and anxieties.  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:22-31).

Life is more than food and the body more than clothing.  Strive for the reign of God and you will have all that you need.  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  We need to hear very clearly.  The word is not that God wants us to work hard and do right so we can earn God’s favor.  It’s not stay alert and don’t mess up because that’s your heavenly insurance policy.  It’s that God wants to give us the delights of God’s realm.  God wants to shower us with the abundance and joy of God’s reign.  It’s God’s pleasure to welcome us home.  We don’t need to worry about anything.  God will take care of us, if we let her.

In our words of preparation, Alyce McKenzie writes of the place of fear in our lives: “We are all wrong about fear. We think it is our protective shield. But fear is the thief. When we dwell on our fears, they become our treasures. Jesus says, ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’. Faith is the genuine treasure we are to be accumulating, but we get it backwards when our fears fill our hearts and faith cannot gain entrance.”

So when I say stay alert, it’s not meant to be an admonishment to fear and anxiety.  Rather I see it as an invitation to faithful living.  It’s a word about watching over our lives so that unwarranted fear and anxiety do not come creeping in as a thief in the night and take over.  Stay alert, be mindful, so that the mighty movement of God in our lives and in the world all around us will be so obvious to us that we fall right in.  McKenzie again writes, “Live in the past and you will be depressed. Live in the future and you will be anxious. Live in the present with gratitude and you will be at peace.  From our Christian perspective the message is that that we need to be preoccupied, but not with fear and anxiety. We need to be preoccupied in the present with faith in God’s future.”  As children of God and disciples of the living Lord are our eyes and ears, our hearts and minds focused with faith on God’s future rather than self-absorbed with the petty details of our daily existence?  Stay alert to what is so much larger and more wonderful than we could ever imagine on our own.  Stay alert for that which can only nourish us and make us whole.

Friends, something’s coming, something good, something great.  Stay alert.  It may not be the apocalyptic “Day of the Lord” but “there’s a better day a comin’.”  Not only will it be showered upon us liberally without our ever lifting a finger, we can also be a part of making it happen – not because it demanded of us as a way of earning our salvation – but because that is where our treasure lies and, with it, our hearts.  Stay alert.  It can only lead us to the goodness of God.  Amen.

Who Is My Neighbor? (July 14, 2013)

sermons.fwWHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
A sermon preached by
Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, July 14, 2013

Text:  Luke 10:25-37

Let us pray:  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).  Every observant Jew in Jesus’ hearing would have been familiar with these words.  They come directly from the Torah and were prayed twice daily.  To love God with one’s whole being was central to Jewish law.  Every other element of the law sprang from this great commandment.  So when the lawyer questions Jesus about eternal life, it’s not at all surprising to find he already knew the answer.

Some would argue that the lawyer is trying to trap Jesus.  It certainly is not the first time on this long journey to Jerusalem that a religious authority has tried to trip him up.  But I’m not altogether certain.  I think it’s in the nature of lawyers to want to pin things down, to ask clarifying questions and to try to establish precedents that people can practice.  His question may be a test of Jesus’ knowledge or wisdom, but it could be that he really is looking for an answer. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Does that question have any ring of authenticity for you?  Have you ever found yourself wondering along with the lawyer?  Do you ever worry about the heavenly road and whether or not you’re on it?  I know we largely think of ourselves as too sophisticated to put questions in these terms.  But if you found yourself in this attorney’s shoes what would you ask Jesus?  What would you want to know – about his authenticity, his message, his leadership, the way he was walking, the choices he was making, the reign of God he kept promoting?  What must I do to secure my place in this in-breaking, life-transforming, reign of God?

Now in typical fashion of argumentation for the time and territory, Jesus turns the lawyer’s question back on him.  He answers the original question with a sharply pointed question of his own.  “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”  Jesus knows this man is no dummy.  This lawyer is well-read, literate in the law, perfectly capable of answering his own question, if he stops to think.  Here we get Luke’s version of the Great Commandment, but it does not come from the lips of Jesus.  It comes from the one who has just challenged him.  Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor just as you love yourself.   The law, the way, the truth, the life – all are rooted and grounded in these words about the power of love.

I imagine the lawyer was a little embarrassed at being shown up by Jesus.  He engages in a little stuttering before he comes up with a face-saving follow-up question.  “And just who is my neighbor?”  Surely, he will either get Jesus to engage him on his own terms or he will catch Jesus short in his understanding of neighborliness.  But again, Jesus does not follow the lawyer’s lead.  He says, “Let me tell you a little story.”

The crowd is enrapt as they watch the volleys back and forth between the two.  They settle in to hear one of Jesus’ famous stories, the kind with a surprise ending that will surely put his challenger in his place.  I’m sure we could all tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan from memory.  Along with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it is the most familiar of all Jesus’ stories.

Jesus himself will soon walk the steep, rugged road from Jericho to Jerusalem.  Even if it is not actually familiar to his hearers, they all know of its dangerous reputation.  I can imagine they might begin by wondering what this fool was doing traveling the road alone, unless he was on some urgent business that required his taking off by himself.

Now he lies bloody and beaten in the ditch robbed of all his resources, including his robe and tunic.  The listeners are conflicted.  They understand why the priest and Levite don’t stop.  The risk of being robbed themselves and the risk of ritual impurity were just too great.  Truth be told, most of them would not have stopped either.  They could think of a dozen reasons not to get involved.  But they’d also been around Jesus long enough to begin to understand how important compassion was to the reign of God.  They had a nagging feeling that Jesus believed the priest and Levite should have stopped.  They knew that, for Jesus, human need trumped rules and standard practice every time.

So what would the catch be, what was the punch line for this parable?  A Samaritan wanders onto the scene.  Well, surely this is a turn for the worse.  Everyone knew that a hated Samaritan could be up to no good.  See, we’ve heard this story so many times it’s tamed for us, but the first century Jews, listening to Jesus talk, had been carefully taught to hate Samaritans.  The ending, so familiar to us, would have been shocking to them.

That’s right.  It’s the Samaritan who shows compassion and extravagant generosity.  The lawyer is not the only one dumb-founded.  The whole crowd is astonished, speechless.  Jesus, looking the lawyer right in the eyes, asks one last question.  “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor…?”  Stuttering again, the lawyer cannot bring himself to say the word Samaritan…“The one who showed…mercy.”  Finally, the answer to that original question about eternal life, about residency in the reign of God:  “Go and do likewise.”

If we were to put ourselves into this scene today, how might the story unfold?  Who would we find in need and why?  Who would be likely to walk by on the other side and who would stop to help?  Where would you place yourself – lying in the ditch, hurrying by, taking time to lend assistance?  My guess is that each of us has had some experience of all three roles.  We’ve been down and out, hurting, in need of help.  We’ve been too busy, too frightened, too preoccupied to stop for a neighbor in need.  And there have been those moving, miraculous moments when our compassion has kicked in and we’ve stopped to help even when it was not perceived to be in our best interest.

Some would argue that it’s human nature to follow an instinct for self-preservation, to give one’s self over to caring only for one’s self and one’s own.  Michael Rogness reminds us that the shrinking world in which we live challenges our understanding of neighbor.  He says, “We are all ‘tribal’ by instinct and by habit. We are most comfortable with and usually care most about those like us. But now we live side-by-side with people of many different tribes” (Michael Rogness, Commentary on Luke 10:25-37, workingpreacher.org).  Whomever is on our personal “Samaritan” list are the ones for whom we are least likely to have time or energy.  No compassion for those folk; too hard to get inside their skin and see with their eyes.  It’s important to look after one’s own kind.  How subtly does racism, classism, sexism, homo-hatred, ablism creep in to erode our ability to love, to crush our capacity for compassion?

Gerald May argues that this very capacity for compassion, this awakening of the heart to loving and being loved is what distinguishes human beings from other animals (The Awakened Heart).  Marcus Borg says that the call to compassion is one of two key marks that distinguish Jesus’ ministry from all others (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time).  Anne Howard says of the parable, “There are two kinds of people in [this] story: those who see life with eyes of fear and the one who sees with eyes of love.”  She continues, “Jesus makes it very clear to the lawyer: there is really only one rule to the game: be a neighbor. Be the one who doesn’t count the cost, be the one who doesn’t measure the boundaries, be the one who doesn’t calculate the limits of kindness, be the one who sees” with eyes of love (Anne Howard, “Two Ways to See,” A Word in Time, July 8, 2013, beatitudessociety.org).

Compassion, love for neighbor, may not be part of our animal nature, but it is certainly central to that second nature, that higher self into which we can grow.  God has made us a little lower than the divine and crowned us with honor and glory (Psalm 8:5).  We are created and called to something beyond our base nature.  To give ourselves to God and neighbor is to commit ourselves to a life of love and compassion.  “Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.  Go and practice compassion.  You already know the foundation – love of God and love of neighbor.  Go and live out what you see to be true.  Amen.

 

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.

Justice & Grace

13-06-01.mixon.fwPastor Tripp just left for three weeks in Virginia.  We will miss him while he is back East teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary (Episcopal) but we are delighted that Naomi Schulz, one of our interns for the coming church year is able and willing to step in.  She will be with us for the first cookout of the season and will work with education for children, youth and adults for the next two Sundays and then one more Sunday in August.  We are grateful to have such a delightful fill-in while Pastor Tripp is gone.

This coming Sunday our theme is “Justice and Grace.”  We will focus on Luke’s version of the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet.  It is a powerful story, one of my favorites.  The drama includes a religious leader who thinks he has things all figured out, a woman of questionable reputation with a great and expanding soul, and Jesus who sees through them both, calling the first to accountability for his neglect of hospitality and offering the second forgiveness and healing as she practices both repentance and hospitality at a remarkably deep level.  The lack of love closes Simon, the Pharisee, to the miracle of grace being enacted in his dining room; her openness to love transforms the woman’s life and makes her whole.

In Adult Spiritual Formation we will consider some of the work of the eminent psychiatrist and spiritual director, Gerald May (brother of Rollo May.)  One of the texts for my program in Spiritual Direction is his book, The Awakened Heart: Opening Yourself to the Love You Need.  In this book he writes about the ways in which love is foundational to our human existence and how the best of our living flows from that source when we let it.

Come Sunday at 10 AM and bring someone along to share the morning with you.

May God’s new thing flourish within us and among us.
Pastor Rick

Pastor Rick: November 7

Communion TableThis Sunday will conclude our three week “adventure in worship” with Professor Jennifer Davidson from ABSW.  Last week Jennifer led us through some creative exercises in worship, focused on an upcoming Advent text, Luke 1:68-79, “Zecariah’s Song.”  We listened to the text and then responded to it in words, clay, drawing, music and silent meditation.  Then, we shared with one another what we had discerned.  Jennifer encouraged us to read this text over each day this week as a means of deepening our understanding and gleaning new insights.  We will continue to work with this text this Sunday with an eye toward how we might use it in our Advent worship.

As I said last week, “the next two Sundays we will not be worshiping in the traditional mode with which we are familiar.  Consider these Sundays as sort of mini-retreats, in which you are invited and encouraged to be present from 10:00 AM to 12:30 PM.  Jennifer will be leading us in some new and exciting ways to approach worship that will be beneficial to you as a worshiper and to us as a worshiping community.  Childcare will be provided for younger children, but youth will join with the adults.  There will definitely be elements of traditional worship in the experience.  This is a wonderful opportunity for us to share with a skilled leader – and with one another – in deepening our understanding and practice of worship, which is such a vital element to our mission as a church.”

Apparently some people were confused about the structure for the day so I repeat above what I said before about how the morning will proceed.  I have also heard that the path we took was not comfortable for some of you.  I appreciate that and realize that anything we do with worship will not please everyone.  Still, I thought some lovely things came out of last week’s exploration and I encourage you to give it another chance this week.  Remember what Jennifer said about how our resistance itself may be prayer and try to understand your own response to the experience.

Since this is also a stewardship month, I want to share with you some wise words that Jim Hopkins from Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland shared with his congregation about the significance of giving.  “…we leave you with two challenges. First, make your commitments with the understanding that they are not a fringe benefit to your church but an essential contribution to our life together. Second, a generation to whom giving to the church was almost second nature is passing away. Those of us who have benefited greatly from their steadfast generosity need to consider how we can rise to their level of commitment.”  These are good words for us as we consider our own pledges for 2013.

See you Sunday morning at 10:00 AM in the sanctuary for worship, sharing and learning.  Bring a family member, friend, colleague or neighbor (or three!) to join us.  Strangers are welcome, too!

May God bless us and keep us on the way,

Pastor Rick

Pastor Rick: October 31

Rev. Rick MixonLast Sunday, we made a good start to our three-week excursion into the spirituality of worship, led by Professor Jennifer Davidson from ABSW.  It was good to hear Jennifer preach on “Same Road, Different Journey,” based on the Luke 24:13-32 (the “Emmaus Road” story,) challenging us to take the old story and make it live in our worship.  Then, in Adult Spiritual Formation, we began to wrestle with such questions as what it means for us to “practice the presence of God,” and what we bring to worship as well as take from it.  Following contemporary French Catholic liturgy scholars, Jean-Luc Marion and Louis-Marie Chauvet, we began an exploration of the difference between an icon and an idol in our worship experience.  An icon leads us to fleeting moments of grace and invites us to gaze beyond its obvious symbolism to a God who is the “More”; an idol tends to fix us in the moment and distract from our worship of a living God.  Icons and idols can both be physical objects but they can also be patterns and beliefs around which we grow or stagnate.

The next two Sundays we will not be worshiping in the traditional mode with which we are familiar.  Consider these Sundays as sort of mini-retreats, in which you are invited and encouraged to be present from 10:00 AM to 12:30 PM.  Jennifer will be leading us in some new and exciting ways to approach worship that will be beneficial to you as a worshiper and to us as a worshiping community.  Childcare will be provided for younger children, but youth will join with the adults.  There will definitely be elements of worship in the experience, including communion this Sunday.  This is a wonderful opportunity for us to share with a skilled leader – and with one another – in deepening our understanding and practice of worship, which is such a vital element to our mission as a church.

See you Sunday morning at 10:00 AM in the sanctuary for worship, sharing and learning.  Bring a family member, friend, colleague or neighbor (or three!) to join us.  Strangers are welcome, too!

May God bless us and keep us on the way,

Pastor Rick