Mission Offering for May: Baptist Peace Fellowship (5/18/16)

Blessed are the PeacemakersOur May Special Mission Offering is for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) web site has this to say about the organization: “What comes to mind when you hear the word Baptist? Do you think peacemaker? How about folks who care for the poor, resist racial discrimination, speak out about worldwide injustices and care for the environment? If that is not your vision of Baptist, then we invite you to stay a while, find out more about us and learn what the word Baptist means around here. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America works to gather, equip and mobilize Baptists to build a culture of peace rooted in justice.

For further information, see the website at bpfna.org. FBCPA is a charter member congregation of BPFNA. We urge to you give generously. To date we have received $365 toward our goal of $500.

Pentecost and Peace

13-05-22.pentecost_banner.fwAfter a “peace-filled” Mother’s Day, we turn our attention to Pentecost. This Sunday everyone is encouraged to wear red (or orange or yellow,) symbolic of the flames of Pentecost, and our custom. Because Pentecost coincides with Peace Month this year, we are not using the traditional Pentecost texts. We are looking at what happens in our lives, after the Spirit comes, that moves us more toward peacemaking. Psalm 85 speaks of peace and righteousness kissing; Galatians lists peace as one of the “fruits of the Spirit”; and we find Jesus’ first followers living together in peace and harmony, caring for each others daily needs. What can we learn from these ancient texts about living more peacefully on this planet, aided by the breath of the Spirit?

In Adult Spiritual Formation, we will spend time considering the theme for this year’s Baptist Peace Camp, When Did We See You in Prison? Breaking Social and Structural Injustice. Many of us believe that the criminal justice system in this country is long overdue for reform, given harsh sentencing, overcrowded conditions, and racial injustice, among other issues. How can we practice peacemaking in regard to the prison reality in our land?

Sunday afternoon, the fine community choir, “Resounding Achord,” will present a concert in our sanctuary. I highlight this not only because the artistic director is my niece, Kristina Nakagawa, but also because the concert focuses on songs about “social injustice, oppression, resolution, and peace.” They will be performing a couple of spirituals, as well as the Cherokee version of Amazing Grace, which they used to heal their wounds, and a two-chorus arrangement of “Weeping,” a story about arms proliferation and peace, which is a mash up with the South African National Anthem. The Carlmont High School Chamber Singers will be guests, singing “Matthew” — a heart-wrenching choral work in memory of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in Wyoming for being gay. So, you see, the concert fits right in with Peace Month.

Come join us for any or all of these opportunities Sunday, starting at 10:00 AM. Invite your family and friends, neighbors and colleagues, acquaintances and strangers to join us as we explore the things that make for peace.

Together, let us strive…to know God’s love!

Pastor Rick

Mission Offering for May: Baptist Peace Fellowship (5/11/16)

Blessed are the PeacemakersOur May Special Mission Offering is for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) web site has this to say about the organization: “What comes to mind when you hear the word Baptist? Do you think peacemaker? How about folks who care for the poor, resist racial discrimination, speak out about worldwide injustices and care for the environment? If that is not your vision of Baptist, then we invite you to stay a while, find out more about us and learn what the word Baptist means around here. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America works to gather, equip and mobilize Baptists to build a culture of peace rooted in justice.

For further information, see the website at bpfna.org. FBCPA is a charter member congregation of BPFNA. We urge to you give generously. To date we have received $345 toward our goal of $500.

Two flags…

twoflagsSunday we dedicated two flags that are now hanging in front of our building. The flags are symbols of our desire to be welcoming and inclusive and to be good stewards of creation. We know that Baptists often get lumped together as Bible-thumping, right-wing fundamentalists. It is important that we say to our neighborhood, our community, and the world, this is a different kind of Baptist community. All are welcome in this place.

Here is the litany we used in Sunday’s service:

God, we have long proclaimed to the world that “we are a welcoming, inclusive community of faith.” As we seek to live into that claim we recognize that symbols are important.

We also recognize that “faith without works is dead” and symbols without commitment are meaningless.

We ask you to bless these symbols of our desire to live out our welcome and inclusion and to love your creation and care for the earth more completely. At the same time, we ask you to bless the work of our hands, our hearts, and our minds as seek to live out our commitment to inclusivity and creation care.

Guide us always in your way, bless us and keep us in your tender care.

We join you, hand and heart and mind, in bringing your Beloved Community to fullness of life, right here and right now. Amen.

Peace month has begun in earnest. This Sunday we will celebrate Mother’s Day by focusing on mothers who have stood for peace and justice. Our texts are the two hymns – one by Hannah at the birth and dedication of Samuel and the other by Mary at the prospect of giving birth to Jesus – recorded in 1 Samuel and Luke respectively. Each in her way praises God for the gift of life and the possibilities for new life that each son offers to those who will listen. The wise leadership of Samuel and the ministry of Jesus both focused on the well-being of their followers and advocated for a just and equitable social order. Did these passionate prayers of their mothers help to shape their lives and bring forth their witness? We will consider these possibilities Sunday in worship and in Adult Spiritual Formation. What role do mothers play in bringing about God’s Beloved Community, rooted in justice and grounded in shalom?

Come Sunday morning at 10:00 AM for worship, study and shared community. Invite your family and friends, neighbors and colleagues, acquaintances and strangers to join us as we begin to explore the things that make for peace.

Together, let us strive…to know God’s love!

Pastor Rick

 

Mission Offering for May: Baptist Peace Fellowship (5/4/16)

Blessed are the PeacemakersOur May Special Mission Offering is for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) web site has this to say about the organization: “What comes to mind when you hear the word Baptist? Do you think peacemaker? How about folks who care for the poor, resist racial discrimination, speak out about worldwide injustices and care for the environment? If that is not your vision of Baptist, then we invite you to stay a while, find out more about us and learn what the word Baptist means around here. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America works to gather, equip and mobilize Baptists to build a culture of peace rooted in justice.

For further information, see the website at bpfna.org. FBCPA is a charter member congregation of BPFNA. We urge to you give generously. To date we have received $60 toward our goal of $500.

Not As the World Gives (5/1/2016)

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

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Text: John 14:25-27; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:2

Today we transition from a month-long emphasis on love of the earth and creation care to things that make for peace. The theme for May is “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.” In part, this new emphasis is shaped by this month’s special offering for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America/Bautistas por la Paz. We have been a supporting congregation of this organization for many years.

What I am wondering, as we consider peace today, is what does the word mean to you? Off the top of your head, what do you imagine or think or feel when you hear the word peace?

Today’s gospel reading comes from the book of John. We used it as our Words of Assurance after Reflecting on our Need for God. It is interesting that this text and the Ancient Word from Revelation are actually lectionary readings for this sixth Sunday of Easter. Is it coincidence that the lectionary would give us such peace laden texts on the first Sunday of “Peace Month”? or is it the work of that Advocate, the Holy Spirit, trying to teach us something about peace and peace-making?

Most often I use these words from the fourteenth chapter of John for funerals and memorial services. That seems to be an appropriate time to call forth peace, especially peace that offers comfort and soothes the grieving heart. Jesus begins his teaching, recorded in this chapter, by assuring his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In God’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Many a grieving soul has found peaceful comfort in these words through the centuries. And surely this one way to look at peace.

But this time, reading this text, the sentence “I do not give to you as the world gives” stood out for me. What exactly does Jesus mean when he makes that claim or what was the writer of John trying to say when he wrote down these words? “Not as the world gives” – the peace that Jesus promises is something different than what we usually think of as peace. It is other than the absence of violence or freedom from struggle. It is more than comfort and assurance. The ancient Hebrew word used here is shalom. Shalom is something like the Hawaiian word aloha. It carries multiple meanings. It can be used to hello or good-bye. In addition to peace, it carries connotations of harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, tranquility, welfare, and well-being. When Jesus gifts his followers with is peace, it is something more than what the world has to offer.

Robert Kysar writes that “…the peace that you and I most commonly seek – is best described as the absence of things. The absence of war, the absence of crime and strife and violence, the absence of pain, conflicts, struggles, unfulfilled desires.” In fact, he says, “It almost sounds as if the peace we seek is something like a vacuum…What we strive for is the absence of all struggle which sounds like the absence of life itself” (Robert Kysar, Preaching John, p. 108). And Geoffrey Hoare observes that “Many people yearn for peace in the world’s terms: cessation of conflict, whether psychological tension or warfare; a sense of calm or a serenity of spirit” (Geoffrey M. St. J. Hoare in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide, p.494).

“No, not this,” Jesus says, “not as the world gives.” Both Kysar and Hoare insist that what Jesus offer is not cessation or absence but rather it is presence, the presence of God though the Holy Spirit. The Jesus Way will continue to be available to those who embrace it and follow it. He is not going away; he is going on ahead, and where he goes, we, too, may go,  in the power of the Spirit.

In Earth Month we tried to emphasize the spiritual and theological grounding for love of the earth and creation care. God made it; God delights in it; God loves it; God cares for it and, as creatures made in the image and likeness of God, we are invited to approach creation in similar ways. Love it, care for it, delight in it, even join in the ongoing process of creation. God is present with us in the world all around us; we are encouraged to embrace that presence, to live into all the possibilities it offers to us.

Part of living with God’s ongoing presence in our lives is, then, to live in peace, in shalom – in harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, tranquility, welfare, and well-being – with God, with ourselves, with our neighbor, with our enemy, with all creation. Again, this is not nothing, absence, cessation; it is something, something to give our lives to as we walk the Jesus Way. Remember how Genesis gave us a vision of the goodness, the well-being, the peace, if you will, of creation when God first laid it out and breathed life into it? Now the writer of Revelation offers another vision of something similar.

Beyond the pain and struggle of life as the world knows it, there is a promised land, a new creation, a heavenly city. Yes, it’s always risky to talk about heaven. Too many of us have been indoctrinated to believe that it is somewhere out there beyond this life. “This world is not my home. I’m just passing through.” But what if it just isn’t so? What if heaven is right here in our midst if we’d look more closely. “Your Beloved Community come on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus teaches us to pray. Not “just hang on; it will be over soon and you’ll get your robe and crown over there.” Nor does Jesus offer peace somewhere down the road and beyond the sunset. He offers it in the here and now.

This vision of the new Jerusalem is a poetic description of the Beloved Community, not unlike Isaiah’s dream of God’s Holy Mountain where they neither hurt or destroy because they recognize that God’s presence covers the earth as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). Jesus gifts his followers – and us – with that same presence, and he offers it now, not later.

In the vision of Revelation, ”…the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” In the middle of the vision we find the river of the water of life and the tree of life spread out on either side, offering all the nourishment we could ever need or want. Even the leaves are for the healing of the nations. The difference between the peace that Jesus offers and that which the world chases is in its great “Yes” to life. Faced with his own imminent death, Jesus says “Yes” to life. The powers and principalities have no ultimate say in his life. He is at peace in God’s embracing presence. It’s a different kind of peace – not as the world gives – and he offers it to us. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Amen.