Note from Pastor Rick (11/16/2016)

Life moves on, though not so placidly, in this post-election environment. As we noted Sunday, there are deep feelings which need to be attended – grief, anger, confusion, elation, fear, hope. And there is important work to be done. There is much to be revealed in the days ahead, much yet to consider as the future unfolds. For us, my vision continues to be that we will be a faithful people, standing for justice, peace, kindness, compassion, and the well-being of all creation. There are likely to be challenges to this stance just over the horizon. Our witness may seem increasingly counter-cultural (much like the first church,) which makes it all the more important, especially if the promises of the recent campaign begin to become reality.

This Sunday holds a rich mixture  of themes. It is our annual Stewardship or Gratitude Sunday. You are encouraged to bring your completed pledge forms and Time and Talent Surveys as well as food for the EHP holiday drive. During the offering, we will ask everyone to bring their forms and their food and leave them at the table. If you need additional copies of the forms – pledge or Time and Talent Survey – we have them in the church office or you can pick them up Sunday.

Continue reading Note from Pastor Rick (11/16/2016)

Note from Pastor Rick (11/9/2016)

Many of us are reeling from the surprising results of yesterday’s presidential election. At a minimum, we need to be in prayer for this nation, it’s leadership, and all its people in this time of transition. Clearly there are challenges ahead.  As a community in service to Jesus Christ, we need to remember our common commitment to compassion for all, to peace, including the well-being of all creation, and our love for God and our neighbors – all of them! Justice, mercy, and humility are still our hallmarks. Several friends on Facebook have risen above their grief over the election returns to claim a commitment to the work for God’s Beloved Community, which still lies ahead. It reminds of the South African Freedom Song, “We shall not give up the fight; we have only started.”

Continue reading Note from Pastor Rick (11/9/2016)

Live Free!

jack-o-lanternsWe had a good time carving pumpkins last Friday even if the pumpkin crop was limited by the drought to pumpkins that were pretty hard to carve. Sunday we all managed to “fall back” and still make it to worship on time. Thanks to Gregory for his thoughtful reflection on Naomi and Ruth and deep and lasting friendship.

This is Stewardship time. Our theme this year is Live Free! Take Hold of the Life that Really Is Life, using texts from Galatians (5:1) and 1 Timothy (18-19,) as our scriptural base. You soon will receive a letter with your pledge form for 2016. I hope you will carefully and prayerfully consider your financial support for our congregation in this fertile time.

This Sunday we will consider Jesus’ battle with some of the ostentatious religious leaders of his time along with his classic tale of the widow who gives “all that she has.” Is he lifting her up as an example of sacrificial giving, risking all that she has for her love of God? Or is he using her as an illustration of how the temple system has come to exploit the very people it was meant to serve, demanding more of them than they can afford to give?

In Adult Spiritual Formation, we will be privileged to hear from Doug and Hegene Lee who have traveled to Haiti the past two summers to work with social entrepreneurs to bring clean, affordable water to the Haitian people. I am looking forward to learning from them.

See you Sunday at 10:00 AM ready to worship, learn and share. Bring someone with you.

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

Pastor Rick

Found Faithful (November 10, 2013)

sermonsFOUND FAITHFUL

A sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, November 10, 2013

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Today’s text contains the theme for this year’s stewardship campaign – “Found Faithful.”  Actually the New Revised Standard Version we read this morning says “found trustworthy.”  Trustworthy doesn’t carry the same theological weight that the word faithful does, but it still makes Paul’s point about the deep and abiding connection that is an essential element of good stewardship.  Giving grows, at its best, from that faithful, trusting relationship we hold with the God in whom we live and move and have our being, and in the Christ who leads the way to God.

The theme “Found Faithful,” while a good one for a stewardship campaign is not exactly what Paul is trying to say in this passage.  Paul is concerned about the Corinthian church, about its divisions, about its backsliding, about its failure to live into the gospel as he had so carefully laid it out for them.  He also was feeling a little defensive about the way some of the Corinthian Christians had bad-mouthed him in the process of doing church their own way.

“Think of us this way,” he says of himself and Apollo, “as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” As apostles, as missionaries, as people who had given over their entire lives to the building up of the body of Christ, they were entitled to a little respect.  And writing to a group of people who would understand the steward’s role in the maintenance of a well-run Graeco-Roman household, the vision of a trustworthy or faithful steward would be a standard they could all affirm and easily embrace.  So the moral is a simple one, Paul and Apollo have been trustworthy, faithful stewards of the body of Christ and the mysteries of God, so should the Corinthian Christians be, so should all God’s children, Christ’s followers, be in all places and all times.  That means us, folks.  Through thick and thin, joy and pain, good times and challenging ones, through it all, we are called to be faithful followers of Christ and trustworthy stewards of the reign of God.

Now our stewardship theme is further spelled out in terms of three areas in which we might be found faithful.  First, the people who developed these stewardship materials suggest that we need to be “Found Faithful in Little.”  I like this emphasis.  We are all familiar with Jesus’ saying about the way the big old mustard bush grows from the tiniest little seed.  We remember that day in Sunday School when we were given a little seed to plant in a paper cup.  We were to water and nurture it in hope that it would grow into some sort of recognizable plant.  If we were patient and caring and faithful, the experiment worked more often than not.  The illustration became a living thing.

The developers of the program use John’s account of the feeding of the 5000 to illustrate this aspect of the theme.  5000 men, not counting the thousands of women and children who accompanied them, were gathered on that hillside to listen to Jesus.  They were so enwrapped in the grace of his words and the power of his presence that they lost track of time.  Their stomachs began to growl; they realized they hadn’t eaten all day.  But there was no McDonald’s or Burger King or Subway on the corner.

Jesus turned to Philip and asked, “Where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat?”  Poor old Philip, caught off guard by the question, finally manages to sputter, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  Of course, his economics are spot on.  It’s a hopeless task that Christ has set before him.  But Andrew, who is perhaps a little less practical than Philip, suggests to Jesus that there is a boy present with a boy-sized lunch of five small barley loaves and two little fish.  “But what are they among so many people?”  Well, you know the rest of the story, when Jesus blesses and breaks the bread there is enough to feed the crowd with 12 baskets of leftovers (John 6:1-21).

Hermann Weinlick tells this story about the importance of keeping faith in small ways.  He writes, “My sister had been recently widowed and was now living alone, more than a thousand miles from me, the relative with whom she had the most contact and closest relationship. She asked me to do her a favor: to send her an email every day. I said yes and did what she asked. This was a little thing—often only a few words, sometimes something forwarded that I had received from someone else, sometimes about a conversation with a friend, sometimes about what I was doing. I did it for about a year and a half, until her death.”  He concludes, “Life is made of little things. We are shaped by little things, little things that add up” (Hermann Weinlick, “Companion Resource for the ‘Found Faithful’ Stewardship Emphasis,” p. 19-21).  Found faithful in little can make a world of difference in the life of an individual or family or community in which there is need.

Then we are reminded to be “Found Faithful with Much.”  As we are capable of being faithful stewards in little things and small ways, we are also people who have been blessed with much.  Surely this is evident when we think of the resources we have, living where we live, compared to folk in the rest of the world.  Think today of those in the Philippines and Vietnam or Balasore Technical School or even our neighbors on the other side of the freeway.  We are called to be faithful servants of Christ and trustworthy stewards of the reign of God with the much we have been given.

Here we might draw on the parable of the talents as recounted by Luke.  “Well done, good slave, because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities” (Luke 19:17), because you have proved faithful with much, I will give you more.  So says the king to the servant who has taken all that she has been given and made it worth so much more.

The problem I sometimes have with this parable is that the servants who do well seem, at least partly, motivated by the fact that their master is a harsh and demanding man.  They respond in fear.  In the economy of God, I would rather think that I might give much for my faith because what I have has been given to me in faith.  I take that with which you have entrusted me, O God, and multiply it in the joy of being your faithful servant and trustworthy steward.

Herman Weinlick again writes of the parable, “We usually think of this parable of the talents as about money. But it is really about much more. It is about the varied gifts God has given to all of us and how they can multiply when we put them to work.” And he concludes, “So much of Jesus’ words and his life with his closest followers is about reminding them of how much they can do, how much they can be used by God in continuing the work of Jesus in bringing God’s healing and reconciling touch, when they are faithful stewards of what God has given them.”

Then there is “Found Faithful with All.”  Here we are reminded of Matthew’s stories of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price.  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).

God’s reign is of such value that it is worth risking all to invest in its coming.  Those who are faithful stewards of all they have will know the joy of God’s gracious welcome into that realm.  The money, the stuff, the material resources we accumulate are nothing compared to the treasure hidden in the field or the pearl of great price that is God’s reign on earth.  It is worth everything.

Once more Weinlick tells this tale.  “I have two friends who, in different cities, lead intentional communities: persons who live under one roof, share space, share income, and try to minister in their neighborhood. They do this because they understand all things as a gift from God. They do this because they are trying to live in solidarity with their neighbors who are poor or homeless.”  Ironically this is may be precisely what that treasure in the field, that pearl of great price, the kingdom of heaven, looks like, if we have eyes to see.

Writing also of the early church described in Acts in which “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32), Weinlick says, “…such communities, both in the first century and now, remind us that we are responsible, as stewards, to be faithful, to use well all that we have, including money.” “We give thee but thine own, whate’er the gift may be; all that we have is thine alone, a trust, O God from thee.”

So we are in that season of the year when we are asked if we will be found faithful – in little, making the most of the smallest resource that we have; with much, sharing from our abundance with those in need; with all, recognizing that all we have and are is rooted and ground in the grace and generosity of God who made us in God’s own image with that same possibility of grace and generosity.  Will we be able to claim, with Paul, that we are faithful servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries who have been found trustworthy?  For with the blessings we bless, we will be blessed.  Amen.

Gratitude, stewardship, support, sustenance & compassion

Rev. Rick MixonThe seasons change. The weather changes. And we cycle around once more to a time to focus on gratitude. November brings trees changing color, cold nights, Thanksgiving and the stewardship campaign. In the time I have been your pastor, we have never made a big deal of promoting stewardship. We have not needed to. For whatever reasons, ours seems to be a congregation that understands the need to undergird our life together with financial resources.

When asked about our church, I tell people we are located in the most expensiveneighborhood in a very affluent city. Our neighbors are the Page and Jobs families. However, I am quick to offer the disclaimer that those kind of wealthy people do not make up our congregation. We are not particularly affluent. We are ordinary folk. But we are generous with what we have. We recognize that our life as a congregation depends on that generosity.

A while back we took a vote of confidence in the future of our congregation and decided to work toward renewal. There are many good and exciting things happening in our space and a significant number of those things are generating income to keep us functioning. It has been particularly exciting to watch the growth of iSing – Silicon Valley Girls Choir under our sponsorship. Other groups continue to enjoy and value our hospitality. They frequently comment on the “good vibe” that comes from sharing our space.

Our long awaited patio project is underway. The sound system upgrade is on the drawing board. We have a dedicated group of leaders and committed, creative staff, including our interns. We have hard‐working task teams, one of which is our Renewal Task Team that is focusing on our future. It is a difficult time anywhere to function as a church in ways with which we are familiar. We are challenged to find ways to be a church that responds positively to God’s call to faithful creativity. Renewal may well cost us something moving forward, at least during the time it takes to live into a new reality. We may be called on to invest in our future.

Gratitude, stewardship, support, sustenance, compassion – these are all characteristics and qualities that call on us to step up our generosity to the degree that we can. We know that some of us are simply not able to give more than we already do. For that level of commitment, we are grateful. That level of commitment enhances deeply the quality of our life together. At the same time, there may be some of us who can give more to sustain our community. As I said  last month, it simply takes all of us to be us. Our present and our future depend on us all pulling together to make this the congregation God – and we – want it to be.

You’ll see other places in the November Spire that our stewardship theme for this year is “Found Faithful – in Little, with Much, with All.” The text is 1 Corinthians 4:1‐2 in which Paul urges the church at Corinth to keep the faith in the face of many complicated challenges: “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” The “us” of Paul’s encouragement is all of us – you and me included. We are called to be and we have committed ourselves to living as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. As I mentioned a few Sunday’s ago, we have a story to tell, a witness to bear, compassion to practice, wisdom to share. It is essential that we continue to be faithful to the enterprise, even if we’re not entirely
sure of where we’re headed.

To be faithful in little, if that is what we have to offer. Remember trees grow from small seeds. To be faithful with much. Whatever our limitations, we are still blessed far beyond most folk on this planet. To be faithful with all. Trustworthy stewards make the most of everything with which they have to work. So we thank God for what we have been given, we pledge ourselves to share as generously as we possibly can and we trust that God will take our gifts and multiply them for the work of God’s realm in the ways that only God can. As God’s people we are blessed to be part of the system of support for God’s church. Let us bless as we have been blessed.

Pastor Rick