Or How Blessed You Are? (6/26/2016)

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

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Text: Philippians 4:4-13

Dr. Seuss has been a good guide for us through this month in which we’ve celebrated our graduates and all those moving ahead in their education. He helped us see the possibilities and challenges of the places we might go. Through the eyes of the Lorax, he helped us see the consequences of greed and the need to love creation and care for the earth. Horton, the elephant, taught us something about the compassion and care of a most improbable daddy. We have encountered the doctor’s wit and wisdom, his art and passion, his challenging expectations and his tender heart.

In his little book, The Parables of Dr. Seuss, Robert Short describes the good doctor this way: “Dr. Seuss is a doctor of the soul, a doctor of wisdom, or a healer of the heart. So I don’t think it would be stretching things too far if we thought of Dr. Seuss as a sort of ‘spiritual cardiologist,’ a doctor who can work on many levels and with many different types of people” (Robert L. Short, The Parables of Dr. Seuss, p. 84). Continue reading Or How Blessed You Are? (6/26/2016)

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Joy Bursts Forth (12/13/2015)

Advent- candelabraA Sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church of Palo Alto

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Text: Luke 3:7-18 (The Message); Philippians 4:4-7

Merry Christmas, you brood of vipers. Rejoice! And again I say, rejoice! You nest of snakes. Hardly the holiday greeting you were expecting this morning or wanted to hear. Is this some sepulchral spirit of Christmas past trying to scare old Scrooge into changing his wicked ways? Is God mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore? Has this prophet gone mad on locusts and wild honey, giving the business to those who have come out to hear him?

Is this the text we will really want read on Gaudete Sunday, that Sunday supposedly focused on joy? Yet, here it is, courtesy of the committee that sets the lectionary. I know the group that worked on this Sunday’s worship in our Advent Planning Workshop chose Paul’s exhortation of the Philippians to “Rejoice!” as the focus text for today. I apologize to them for straying into the wilderness with John. As we have wrestled the past two weeks with the stark contrasts between the anxieties, fears and terrors of the world in which we live and promises of hope and peace, it seemed disingenuous to leap directly into joy today. Still, we ought to get to rejoicing before we’re done The truth is my own feelings for you are much closer to Paul’s for the church in Philippi than John’s for the crowd at the Jordan.

In fact, you may have observed that I am not John, the Baptist. Instead I am Rick, the Baptist. I confess a fascination with John’s exhortation but I do not see you as a brood of vipers or our community as a nest of snakes. You may also have noted that most of the time I talk about we and us rather than you. I assume that whatever it is you wrestle with I do as well, that the challenges of my life are not altogether different from the challenges in yours. And certainly we inhabit the same planet, holding its difficulties and possibilities in common. John may feel free to shake his finger at those who come to hear him. Perhaps as an ascetic and prophet, promised of God to be proclaimer of the coming Messiah, he has earned that right. But I feel no more worthy of untying John’s sandals than he did those of Jesus.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, I wonder how we can connect John’s word of repentance to Paul’s words of affirmation and the joy of this day? The consensus among the reflections I consulted is that joy comes with righteousness, not the kind of perfectionism too often associated with righteousness, but with setting your heart right with God and finding right relationship with all creation. Both John and Paul affirm this, each in his own way.

John’s over-heated rhetoric is full of hyperbole. He shouts to get the attention of the crowd and to hold it. Perhaps that’s what you have to do when you’re preaching outdoors without the aid of amplification. The older I get the less I like people shouting at me. But, note that people are flocking to hear John, walking all the way from Jerusalem and the surrounding territory to the Jordan in the blazing sun, just to be called names and chastised. How many of us would make the effort? Right, I didn’t think we’d be organizing a field trip any time soon.

Still, look at the crowds being drawn to practitioners of overblown proclamation in our own time. How do you explain the appeal of many of our current candidates for political office? Why are people drawn to the bad news hurled at them? How many show up because it is “the popular thing to do”? I know John, the Baptist, doesn’t belong in the same category with Donald Trump and Anthony Scalia. Nor do I intend to do depth analysis of the psychological appeal of a negative word. Suffice it to say, humans often tend be fascinated, even obsessed with bad news. Just flip on your television for the daily broadcast.

But once John has their attention, he has something more to say, something that lowers the heights and lifts the depths and makes the rough places smooth. He may not articulate it the way Jesus or Paul will, but he, too, has a vision of God’s Beloved Community. He sees the possibility of it coming on earth and he longs for that coming. Maybe his rhetoric is over the top, but joy comes in the fulfillment of such longing. John has come to proclaim it so.

What John knows, however, is what we all know somewhere deep inside. In order for the Beloved Community to become real some things have got to change. When he shouts “Repent!” he’s not urging folks to writhe around in sack cloth and ashes, ruing their wrong doing and pleading for mercy at the hands of an angry God. He’s urging people to get with the program. Turn things around. God’s Beloved Community will come through our own practice of justice and equity, of peace and love, of compassion and care. Repentance is not meant to be the burden of self-flagellation and striving for perfection. It’s the joy of living in right relation to God, to neighbor, to all creation, even to one’s self.

To their credit the crowd gathered around John – at least some of them – don’t run in terror or turn their backs in disgust. They get the picture enough to hang in with him. They see good news in what he’s proclaiming and they want to tease it out. “What must we do, John? What must we do to be saved? What must we do to know health and wholeness? What must we do to experience real joy in our difficult lives and troubled world? And John is ready for them. He shows compassion for those that turn to him in much the same way Jesus will. The answers are simple – and challenging, but if it was too easy it wouldn’t really be satisfying, would it? Share, he says. Practice fair trade. Be honest in your dealings. In short look to right living, the living that links to right relationships. Another way to put it, love God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself. If your living, your relationships, are rooted in love, you will certainly see that that joy bursts forth. It’s like the old song sings, “Since love is Lord of heav’n and earth” – when I recognize it and embrace it as my way of life – “how can I keep from singing?”

Bruce Epperly writes of Luke’s account of the Baptist, “What is central to John’s speech is not the harshness of his language – indeed, his inflammatory rhetoric – but the possibility that we can change our lives.” He says, “We can let go of injustice, materialism, consumerism, and inequality to become citizens of a realm of freedom, love, and abundance.” God’s Beloved Community! He concludes, “John always points to Jesus’ messianic age: his refining fires temper the dross of our lives to make our lives something of beauty and love, and prepare us to meet the coming Christ. The good news is that when we change our lives, we open to a wellspring of new possibilities for ourselves and our communities” (Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary, Advent 3, December 16, 2012,” patheos.com). And joy bursts forth.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he is saying something similar to what John said but in a gentler tone. Still, Paul is urging his friends to get with the program and to stick with it. He is concerned with right living, the sort that brings in God’s Beloved Community. He urges his friends in Philippi, “Let your gentleness” – your generosity, your magnanimity, your compassion, your Christlikeness – “be known to everyone…Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And joy bursts forth. How can it not if we live like that?

Repent! Rejoice! They’re related, more than we had thought. As another old Quaker song sings, “to turn, turn will be our delight, till by turning, turning we come round right.” Or perhaps it is in our coming round right that we find our delight, that joy bursts forth. In a contemporary story of repentance, of making an about face, and rejoicing that may speak more to us than John’s preaching on the snake pit, Phillip Campbell tells of his grandmother who late in life left her long-time congregation to join another. When questioned as to this surprising move, she said “she liked it there because of the positive message she received. For the first time in her life, she felt God’s loving presence. ‘God wants me to be happy,’ she said. ‘I never knew that before. I thought church was about keeping me from doing what I was not supposed to do. And I never felt like I was good enough.’ Late in life, Campbell says, “my grandmother heard a word of God’s grace and experienced a joy she had never known before. She began to heed Paul’s instruction to the church in Philippi: ‘Rejoice in the Lord, always; and again I will say, rejoice’” (Phillip E, Campbell, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, “Philippians 4:4-7, Pastoral Perspective,” p. 62).

God wants us to be happy, to know joy in right living, to find the wonder, the grace, the healing of the Beloved Community. Yes, there is work to be done. Yes, times can be tough and the way hard. Yes, sometimes God seems far away and hope wanes, but then a voice is heard, crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Holy One. All creation shall see the salvation of God. The Beloved Community will be known on earth as in heaven. We will see Emmanuel, God with us. And, lo, in the midst of it all, joy bursts forth. Amen.

Living is Christ (8/30/2015)

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

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Text: Psalm 90; Philippians 1:20-30

“We all will die someday. Mortality rates remain at 100 percent, and nobody among us is getting any younger.” So writes Brian McLaren, tongue in cheek, in the beginning of this week’s chapter from We Make the Road by Walking. However, turning quickly to the point, he completes his opening by asserting that “Among the Spirit’s many essential movements in our lives is this: to prepare us for the end of our lives, without fear” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 249). It seems a curious thing to take a chapter entitled, “Adventures in the Spirit of God: Spirit of Life” to focus on death but that is indeed what he does this week.

As we come to the end of this journey with McLaren, it seems appropriate to spend time considering matters of life and death. He offers three scriptures from which to choose – the great 90th Psalm, with its contrasting claims for God’s eternal majesty and the fragile, limited life of humanity; Jesus confrontation with Sadducees about marriage in the afterlife (Luke 20:27-38); and Paul’s deep sharing about life and death with his friends at the church in Philippi. Each text says something significant about the nature of mortality and of eternity. In each case we are challenged to see death as part of life, inevitable in its coming, but not inevitably to be feared. Each tries to give us a view of life and the Giver of Life that will allow us to move from the limitations of the past through the present to God’s good and glorious future.

McLaren writes that “So many of us are afraid to even think about death much less speak of it.” Now I don’t know how that is for all of you but I have heard some of you say you are not afraid of death. Others may not be so certain. We won’t take a poll this morning, but McLaren continues to argue that “That fear [of death] can enslave us and can rob us of so much aliveness” (McLaren, op. cit. p. 249). What do you think? It makes sense to me. You know how it is when you worry so much about something going right that you ultimately spoil it? Surely those who live in fear of death are proportionately robbed of life. That is both sad and unnecessary for those claim to follow the way of Christ.

McLaren asserts that “The Spirit moves within us to help us face death with hope, not fear…with quiet confidence not anxiety” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 249).  Does that sound right to you? Can you feel the Spirit of Life moving in you, bringing hope, quiet confidence, as with Paul, even joy? In spite of being in prison, in chains, Paul writes to the Philippians, “Rejoice in God always; again I will say, Rejoice…Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4: 4, 6-7).

How can someone in such dire straits be as positive, as hopeful as Paul? The only answer I can discern is that, for Paul, living is Christ. That’s what he tells his friends in Philippi. He does not seem to be boasting or showing off for them. Of all the churches he planted, this is the one for which he seems to have the most affection and hope. This is a community in which he is freer to bare his soul than any of the others. So he lays it on the line for them, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” How many of us can hear ourselves making such a claim – living is Christ, dying is gain?

If you love life as much as I do it is difficult to imagine how dying would be gain. I hear the old song, “I love life so I want to live, and drink of its fullness; take all it can give…” or Dylan Thomas urging us to “rage against the dying of the light.” Is Paul suffering from a martyr complex here? A few scholars have speculated as to whether or not he was suicidal. I hear none of that in this passage. I think that, living in Christ, Paul had overcome any fear of death.

Whatever had driven his early rage against followers of Jesus was subsumed in and transformed by his encounter with the living Christ. Lying on the ground dazed and helpless he saw through blinded eyes that living is Christ and he gave himself over to that new reality. For someone who had given himself so completely to Christ, Paul believed that dying to this present life would only bring him closer Christ, lead him deeper into the reality of that life-giving relationship. But what is this reality? What does it mean for us today? What would it mean for you or me to make as our central life claim that living is Christ?

As I was working on this sermon, I recalled a verse from Rosemary Crow’s song, “Weave.” I think many of us are familiar with the chorus,

Weave, weave, weave us together,
Weave us together in unity and love.
Weave, weave, weave us together,
Weave us together, together in love.

As I learned it, the final verse of the song sings,

A moment ago we did not know
Our unity, only diversity.
Now the Christ in me greets the Christ in thee
in one great family.

When I first heard those words, that last line struck me as a curious claim – “the Christ in me greets the Christ in thee.” Isn’t that sort of absurd and a touch heretical? Christ in me? I don’t think so. At least that’s not how I learned it in Sunday School. Jesus is Christ and I’m a sinner headed for hell if I don’t get my act together. As I’ve come to let go of any notion of hell – except that which we create for ourselves, maybe even through fear of death – I have come to wonder about this way of Christ we walk. “For our days on earth are a mystery, a searching for You, a yearning for the Great Mystery to make itself known” (Nan C. Merrill, “Psalm 90,” Psalms for Praying).

I said to the Bible study group recently that I have come to wonder about the role of “Christ-consciousness” in our lives. I know this may sound heretical for some, but what if a dimension of the Great Mystery was the willingness of Jesus of Nazareth to allow Christ to take root and grow in himself. There is then an evolution of consciousness as Jesus lives into his Christness. Perhaps part of the mystery is that, if Jesus can own his Christness, we might at least follow him along that road, growing into our own Christness. Is this what he means when he invites to come and follow him? If this sounds silly to you let it go, but what does it mean to claim that living is Christ, that Christ in me meets the Christ in you?

Indulge me for a few minutes more to explore some of what it might mean to be Christ. What do you think were characteristics or qualities of Jesus that made him Christ? Might you also claim these as the Christ in you? I realize this list came from our human consciousness, what we know or think we know of goodness or righteousness, God’s desire for creation, the Jesus way. But maybe we can claim that these characteristics and qualities show us what it means to say living is Christ. Paul writes to the Philippians,

8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4: 8-9).

Remember that one of the truth claims of our tradition is that in Christ death has been defeated. Through the resurrection Christ has shown that death, though a necessary rite of passage, has no real meaning for God who is all about life and living in every form. “Think about these things,” Paul instructs. McLaren picks up the challenge, “To be liberated from the fear of death – think of how that would change your values, perspectives and actions. To believe that no good thing is lost, but that all goodness will be taken up and consummated in God – think of how that frees you to do good without reservation. To participate in a network of relationships that isn’t limited by death in the slightest degree – think of how that would make every person matter and how it would free you to live with boundless, loving aliveness” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 250).

These seem to be the sort of things Jesus and Paul thought about that shape our faith tradition. These sound like the kind of qualities that might form a Christ-consciousness. These feel like qualities that will bring to life God’s Beloved Community to reality. In these ways, living is Christ. Can we claim it for ourselves? Amen.

New Associate Pastor; Death and Life

Rev. Rick MixonI am personally thrilled that Gregory Stevens has accepted our call to serve as our Associate Pastor for Faith Formation and Family Life. Our candidating weekend went very well, with a fine cook out and time for sharing on Saturday evening, followed by an excellent worship service and special business meeting on Sunday. Gregory acquitted himself with grace, good humor and thoughtful reflection as we considered together how we might link our lives as pastor and people.

The latest word I have is that Gregory is hoping to join us as soon as September 4. He is eager to get started! I trust that we will offer him our customary warm FBCPA welcome and do everything we can to support him as ministers with us. Thanks to everyone who helped to make the weekend such a special time.

We are coming to the end of the road we have been making by walking with Brian McLaren. This Sunday’s theme is “Alive in the Spirit of God: Spirit of Life.” Ironically this chapter focuses as much on death and the afterlife as on life as we know it. Our focus scripture will be from Paul’s letter to the Philippians leading to an exploration of “Living in Christ.” “For me to live is Christ,” Paul proclaims. What would such a claim mean for you and me? Patio Hour will be hosted by Nana Spiridon.

Plan to be here to share in worship and Sunday School starting at 10:00 AM. We have a   special treat Sunday as our service and special music will feature the playing of several Native American flutes. What a great time to bring some others along to join us.

May we continue to grow together as God’s people.

Pastor Rick

To Be God's People

Down to Serve (July 12, 2015)

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

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Text: Matthew 23:1-12; Philippians 2:5-11

In Bible study last Tuesday, Thelma suggested that I use as my sermon title these words from We Make the Road by Walking, “The Spirit leads us downward” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 231). Those are the words with which Brian McLaren begins this week’s chapter on being “Alive in the Spirit of Service.” Truth be told, it is an idea that catches us by surprise, as Thelma pointed out. Downward? The Spirit leads us downward? You mean we’ve got to get down to serve?

In an age, a society, a neighborhood in which everything seems to be about getting ahead, achieving, climbing the ladder of success, tooting our own horns, making sure you know all that I’ve accomplished and you address me by the correct title with proper deference, downward mobility makes no sense. How can getting down to serve be a measure of success? Surely you want to see everything I’ve done well, better than anyone else, when I put together my resume or curriculum vitae, when I fill out my application for college or a fellowship or a job or the country club. Who is going to be impressed with how I’ve emptied myself in humility and given myself to service, service I’m not even supposed to talk about? This is not the way of the world – certainly not our world. It’s all about “moving on up,” isn’t it?

So what are we to do with these texts from Matthew and Philippians? What do we do with the text from John 13:1-15 that we did not read which tells the tale of Jesus washing his disciples dusty feet? Maybe we can just reserve these teachings for a few saints like Mother Teresa or Dorothy Day or Francis of Assisi or Nevida Butler, people who somehow managed to give it all up in service of God and God’s creation. Surely these texts weren’t meant for us, right? Give us a break. But the truth is, we can’t make any such escape, palming these instructions off on others born with a predilection to help because we believe it’s too much for us to handle. No, the Spirit leads us downward. As followers of Christ, we are expected to get down to serve.

Paul makes this very clear in his word to the church in Philippi. Obviously he loves these people and wants the best for them. And, because he wants the best for them, he also expects the best from them. Here he is trying to teach them about what Dorothee Soelle calls “the strength of the weak.” It is only in humbling oneself, in faithful imitation of the Christ who empties himself in faithfulness to God’s call, that one finds one’s true self, the self that longs to be bound in compassion and love, in understanding and service to all that God has created.

In the strength of the weak we discover that the only needed reward for service is the realization that we were created in love and made to love. As I have said before, the real power in our world is the power to love. As long we keep climbing over one another and stomping one another to get ahead, to accumulate might or wealth or fame or knowledge or whatever else falsely promises to make us more than we are, we will never understand the power of love to give life and to give it abundantly. Until we learn to see with compassion, to understand otherness, to identify with the least and the lost and the last, we will not grasp the full meaning of life for which we were created. The Spirit leads us downward. We have to get down to serve. It’s the only way to rise.

I went to see the movie, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” Friday night. This is a many faceted gem of a movie. I mean to do it no disservice by tracing one strand as an illustration of getting down to serve. The film centers on two high school seniors, who are acquaintances, not friends. Greg and Rachel occupy different worlds. Rachel is at least nominally Jewish, I would guess that Greg is a “none” and a descendant of “nones.” Greg is something of an uncommitted lost boy, getting along just well enough with everyone so that no one gets too close or confronts him. With his one friend, Earl, whom he will only acknowledge as his “co-worker,” he makes quirky send-ups of classic foreign films. They have been “co-workers” since Kindergarten.

The action centers around Rachel’s sudden diagnosis of leukemia. Greg is badgered by his well-meaning mother into befriending Rachel. Greg, probably rightly, sees this as absurd, but his mother is a force to be reckoned with. Without giving too much away, you can probably guess that Rachel and Greg do indeed become friends. In fact, they become such friends that his dedicated lack of commitment, his self-doubt, his prospects of college, his connection to Earl are all challenged as he gets down to serving his sick friend. Connecting to another deeply, discovering his innate compassion, In a sense, “emptying” himself in service to others can cost you a lot and give you a lot in return. It may even give you your life. It can certainly turn your life upside down. I can’t say with any certain that it’s the that Spirit leads Greg downward, but who knows? The Spirit is known to blow wherever it wants. If you want to know more Greg and Rachel and Earl, you’ll have to see the movie. But I will just say that I was impressed with the power of service to change lives. In losing himself, Greg surely finds himself.

Equality with God is not a thing to be grasped, nor in the case of Jesus, the Christ to be exploited. In fact, Brian McLaren suggests that we think of the “form of God” from Paul’s letter as being connected to what it means to be created in the “image of God” in Genesis. He writes,

If the true nature of God is not status-oriented but service-oriented, Adam [and Eve were] created to bear that humble image. Instead, [they] chose to grasp at equality with God, to ‘be like Gods’ by choosing rivalry and conflict over neighborliness and conviviality. In contrast, Christ truly reflected God’s self-giving nature of servanthood, and we should have this attitude as well. (Brian D. McLaren, “Author’s Commentary to We Make the Road by Walking, p. 74).

The Spirit, God’s Spirit leads us downward for that is God’s very nature. It’s what compassion does and where love leads – down to serve.

I realize that this is not all there is to say about God’s nature, but I do believe it is important, perhaps vitally important. It is not what we expect to hear. It is clearly counter-cultural. It asks something of us we weren’t really expecting. Barbara Lundblad, who teaches preaching at Union Seminary in New York City, says that “I often tell my students to read texts with their bodies.” She goes on to envision this text from Philippians in the shape of a large “V.” “If we read this hymn with our bodies,” she says, “we need to start on a high place – on a chair or a ladder [because] Jesus was ‘in the form of God,’ and shared equality with God.” As Christ empties himself in humility and obedience, we fall to our knees in awed reverence. By the time we get to the bottom of Christ’s descent to deepest depths of human degradation, we find ourselves lying prostrate on the floor. Nor should we be too quick to rise. We linger awhile at the foot of the cross, amazed, perhaps transformed, by the extent of such self-giving love and compassion. The Spirit leads us downward. Even Christ had to get down to serve.

When the time comes to look upward, to begin to rise, Lundblad suggests that it is not only we who are changed, but God is also changed, or at least the way we understand God is. She instructs, “From this lowest of all places, the poem moves upward. Get up slowly now, up off the floor. From this low place, this emptying place, God exalted Jesus. God lifted him up and gave him the name that is above every name. Up, up, up we go with Jesus, back to the very heart of God. But,” she says, “God is no longer the same. God has been changed. The one who was equal with God has gone to the depths of human life and brings his suffering, dying-slave-self back into the life of God. God is no longer far off, but near” (Barbara Lundblad, “Stories and Letters from Prison (Philippians 2:5-11)” March 23, 2015, odysseynetworks.org).

I think that was Jesus (or Matthew’s) argument with some of the Pharisees and scribes. They got so caught up in the letter of the law that they lost sight of its spirit, that Spirit that leads downward, that gets down to serve, that draws us into the heart of God, into holy communion with one another and all creation. They wanted to “be like gods.” I imagine that’s a temptation we all face now and then. Even Jesus faced it in the wilderness, “Hey, Jesus, do your ‘God thing.’ Grasp. Exploit. You know it’s part of your super powers.” “No, no, not God’s way, Satan. The Spirit leads me down, even to you, nearer and nearer, carrying God’s love and compassion all the way to hell and back. Nothing will ever be the same after I get down to serve. Don’t you know that ‘All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted'”?

“…the Spirit leads us downward. To the bottom, to the place of humility, to the position and posture of service…that’s where the Spirit, like water, flows” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 231). All of life is transformed, elevated, made whole when we get down to serve. Amen.

Annual Picnic 2015

Thanks to everyone who made Sunday’s Annual Picnic a fun occasion. It took the good work of everyone to make the day a good one. This Sunday we will have our bi-monthly, “Y’all come” luncheon, informally hosted by Melanie Ramirez and Alan Plessinger. Any and all are welcome to attend; just let one of them know so we have enough seats. This time we will be at Dinah’s Poolside Restaurant in Palo Alto.

In worship we will focus on cultivating a “Spirit of Service.” This is a concept and practice that is crucial to our faith. One of the texts is the great hymn from Philippians to Christ’s self-emptying service. It is a challenge and example for every one of us who claims to be Christian. In Matthew’s gospel, the writer is pretty hard on those who don’t practice what they preach and in John’s gospel we find Jesus on his knees washing his disciples’ feet. The model that Jesus the Christ sets before to serve one another and all of God’s creation is surely the work of a life time. Can we live up to it and into it?

Join us at 10:00 AM for worship, followed by food, fellowship and fun. It will be a great day for you to invite others to share with us.

May we continue to grow together as God’s people.

Pastor Rick

Walking the Way of Deep Desire

labyrinth01A sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Text: John 15:1-11; Colossians 3:12-17

My friend, LeAnn, is currently on pilgrimage in Spain, traveling the famous Camino de Santiago or Way of Saint James. Rather than walking the well-traveled (and crowded) route that wends its way from southern France across the Pyrenees and northern Spain, she began her journey in southern Spain near Sevila. Following a route known as the Via Plata, her plan was to walk 500 miles from Merida to the great cathedral in Compostela, which is said to house the remains of Saint James. It is the proverbial road less traveled.

The journey started well enough, with beautiful scenery, hospitable way stations and welcomed fellow travelers. She has posted lovely images on Facebook and given a moving account of her journey. But somewhere along the road, the trip became more strenuous and difficult than she had anticipated. One report: “Tough, grueling day, complete with plague of flies…not the spiritual experience I had hoped for. We climbed to the highest point on this route and climbed back down, then walked a very long way in the heat with no stops for food. 28 km/18 miles. One of the reasons for my change of routes is that this is supposed to be fairly typical of the route through the mountains. Don’t think I have it in me.” So she is opting to take a bus to another, less taxing route on which to finish her pilgrimage. I trust that she knows what she is doing to ensure that the walk is the spiritual experience she desires. It is not the physical challenge per se that drives the pilgrimage, but the spiritual longing.

Clearly we are not on this very sort of spiritual journey this morning but, as I considered these texts, I began to wonder, what makes us go? What fuels our journey? What do we really need to find our way in this world? John says it is the presence of God, known in the companionship of the Christ and the empowering movement of the Holy Spirit. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” What do you make of that? It does not seem literally true that apart from Christ we can do nothing. There are plenty of people who make their way through this world without the slightest attention to Christ. I imagine there are already several things each of us has accomplished today without giving Christ a second thought. So what do you think Jesus is saying here?

First, according to John, he is in intimate conversation with his disciples. This passage is part of what are known as the “Farewell Discourses.” That is, this is Jesus trying to prepare his disciples for the hard road ahead. It is important to note that he is talking to disciples, individuals who have chosen to follow him as he walked his way through the world. Now on his final pilgrimage from Galilee to Jerusalem and the end of this phase of his journey is near. For those who have chosen to follow, who have cast their lot with him, there is something in the relationship that is both sacred and empowering. To be a disciple then, to move with him toward the Beloved Community of God, may indeed mean that we can do nothing – at least, not about that commitment, that journey, that community to which we have dedicated ourselves – without him.

If we trust that discipleship means that we are friends of Jesus as John writes or even adopted children of God, as Paul argues, then what moves in us and through us, what motivates us and fuels us, ought to flow from a common source. The life-giving power of God moves by the Spirit though the vine to the branches so that we might “bear fruit,” so that we might walk faithfully the Jesus way and live fully into the Beloved Community of God.

You see there is the literal life of our existence on the planet but there is also the promise of abundant life in Christ Jesus. We can simply accept the former or we can commit ourselves to embracing the latter. In the Words to Contemplate from this week’s Midweek Message, Brian McLaren writes, “The wind can be blowing, but if your sail isn’t raised, you won’t go far. You can be surrounded by oxygen, but if you don’t breathe, it won’t do you any good. The sap can be flowing, but if the branch isn’t connected to the vine, it will wither. If you don’t have kindling and wood in your hearth, a lit match won’t burn long. It’s the same with the Spirit. We are surrounded with the aliveness of the spirit. All that remains is for us to learn how to let the Spirit fill, flow, and glow within us” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, p. 207).

“To to let the Spirit fill, flow, and glow within us.” What would that look like, feel like, be like for you and me? I was thinking it might be like an exercise in interior design. We look at what’s going on inside us. We take inventory of our inner chambers. We consider the condition of our hearts and we choose to make some changes. Maybe a little house cleaning is in order – some things to move out, to re-cycle, to let go of to make room for new furnishings, for new being. In John, Jesus suggests that we make room for the love of God, plenty of room because God’s love is likely to claim a lot space as well as our time and attention.

Then Paul suggests that we include closets for “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance and forgiveness.” These will enrich the environment greatly. Oh and don’t forget “gratitude” as well as “wisdom.” These ought to have prominent places. Finally, Paul comes to the same conclusion Jesus does, let love bind the it all together into a beautiful whole.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” Paul says. That is, let Christ abide in you as you abide in Christ. Let God’s Spirit move in you and through you to transform not only your interior but your relationships and the whole of creation. It may be that, in the end, what needs to be done in our lives and in the world can only be accomplished in and through Christ Jesus. It may be that we can do little or nothing by ourselves but we can do “all things through Christ who strengthens [us]” (Philippians 4:13).

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” I remember, in my youth, we used to sing, with gusto, around the campfire, “I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.” Now I wonder if we had any idea what we were singing. It was a catchy tune and we sang it at the top of our lungs, but did we really have a clue as to what it all meant.” Now I think the peace of Christ, the peace that passes human understanding is a dangerous thing, risky business, decidedly counter-cultural and a threat to turn the world right side up. The peace of Christ, the peace that passes understanding is built on compassion for all, justice, equity and work for the well-being of the whole creation.

You have heard me say more than once that the love that binds everything together is not simple greeting card sentimentality nor is the peace that passes understanding the absence of conflict. Those words of Paul come into play when we consider the love of God and the peace of Christ – compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, gratitude and wisdom.

Brian McLaren, again, says, “We start in the heart – the wellspring of our desires. That’s where our problems begin, and that’s where our healing begins, too. When we desire to be filled with the Spirit, the Spirit begins to transform our desires so that God’s desires become our own. Instead of doing the right thing because we have to, we do the right thing because we want to – because we are learning to truly desire goodness. Once our desires are being changed, a revolution is set in motion” (McLaren, op. cit., p. 207).

Later, LeAnn reports, “Lest it seem like all I do is talk about the challenges, today I am resting on a marvelous bed in a hotel in Salamanca…sharing the room with Andree, a woman from France, and Iris, my angel from Denmark. Today I am thankful for an incredibly beautiful sunrise, clouds that covered the sun for a spell when it was higher, for cooling breezes, for friends to walk with and for the frogs who were singing a glorious chorus of praise shortly after sunrise this morning. And every day I offer prayers of thanksgiving for my feet, my knees, my back, and the rest of me that all work together to enable me to have this amazing adventure…and for everyone supporting me and praying for me at home…and for my church family allowing me this time.”

I love her affirmation that the journey is not made alone. We need companions and we need community and we need Christ. I see the desire of Leann’s heart for a deep spiritual experience in line with God’s desire, with Christ’s way and with the Spirit’s lure. “Abide in me as I abide in you.” “Learn to let the Spirit fill, flow and glow within…” “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts [and] let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” Then, watch the global uprising take shape and the revolution begin. For, friends, when our deepest desires align with those of God, nothing in or around us can hold us back. Through the love of God, the compassion of Christ, the power of the Spirit and the witness of the faithful, the whole wide world will never be the same again. Amen.