Holding Hope in Hard Times (10/2/2016)

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

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Text: Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:19-26

I realize that our Seasons of the Spirit resource chose Paul’s letter to Timothy as our focus scripture for today, but I found myself more intrigued with these writings from the ancient book of Lamentations. Lamentations is a text we seldom turn to. I don’t believe I have ever preached from it. It is a set of five poems or songs of lament, traditionally identified with the prophet Jeremiah. Since their focus is the Babylonian exile, which is also that of Jeremiah, and since Jeremiah is sometimes referred to as the “weeping prophet,” there is a certain logic to the connection. Indeed, as Judah is conquered, Jerusalem devastated, and the temple destroyed, there is real cause for weeping and wailing on the part of the poet, the prophet, and the people.

Continue reading Holding Hope in Hard Times (10/2/2016)

Note from Pastor Rick (9/28/2016)

This is a busy weekend coming up. We start Saturday morning with a first attempt at Blessing the Animals. We’ve talked about this for a long time. You’re invited to come by with your own pets or bring a family member, friend, colleague, or neighbor to share the occasion. The service will be brief and Pastor Gregory or I will offer a blessing to each critter present – even the human ones!

Continue reading Note from Pastor Rick (9/28/2016)

Make Room for the Kids

Rev. Rick MixonA Sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church of Palo Alto
Sunday, October 4 2015

Text: Mark 10:13-16

Observant fellow that he is, when I asked Chip to read the scripture today, he pointed out that I had left out the first part of the reading – and that is true. You see the lectionary actually gives us Mark 10:2-16 as the gospel text for today, but I really didn’t want to deal with this difficult text about divorce om World Communion Sunday, a day in which I hope we can celebrate the joy of being embraced and held by Jesus in the wonder of the Beloved Community of God.

Let me say this word about the verses dealing with divorce. First, there context is first century Palestine, a culture with social structures radically different from our own. One cannot draw easy parallels about the meaning of marriage and divorce from that time to ours. Second, the Pharisees who challenge Jesus with the question about divorce are not interested in having a meaningful discussion about the issue; they are trying to catch him in a heretical statement they can use against him. As usual, he deftly sidesteps their trap.

Third, there is the placement of this discussion in a literary context in which the writer of Mark is trying to show how Jesus’ mission was to include the least and the lost, the broken and needy in God’s Beloved Community. This grouping of teachings begins with Jesus taking a child in his arms and proclaiming, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:37). It includes the teaching about divorce, which among other things, lifts up the plight of women in this culture and ends with his rebuke of the disciples for blocking those parents who were trying to bring their little ones to him for a blessing.

He’s trying to show his disciples and anyone else who will listen that there is room for everyone in God’s Beloved Community and he wants them to understand that this is especially true for women and children who were at the very bottom of the social scale in this cultural context. One focal problem is that his own disciples have set themselves up as sort of gatekeepers for the Beloved Community. They are trying to exercise their power to decide who gets in and who doesn’t.

You know how that works, right? You’ve been an outsider, a cast off, a victim of oppression, forced to the bottom of the pile. Then you get a little recognition, a leg up, some enhanced social standing. You’re part of Jesus’ inner circle and suddenly you think you’re in charge of the whole operation. Your little bit of affirmation goes to your head and suddenly you are a very important person. Jesus’ message about being the servant of all is not very appealing. You’re really hoping to sit on his right or left hand when he comes to glory.

But the point is that you haven’t been lifted up, rescued from the pit, affirmed in your brokenness, so that you can put others down. You have been blessed precisely so that you can be a blessing for others. Make room for the kids. They belong as much as you do and you need to make space for them.

It’s difficult to read this passage without thinking about Pope Francis. It may be that he is a sort of Christ figure, even in his very human fallibility. Over and over he tells people not to elevate him to the special status that’s supposed to go with his office. Instead he pleads, “Pray for me.” He must know something about the traps and tragedies of holding a little power on this earth. Making room for the kids is hardly a priority among those around him who have been elevated to positions of authority in the church. Yet there he is, frustrating his security detail and his handlers, delighting the people by leaving his entourage to kiss a boy suffering from cerebral palsy or lift up a little girl dressed in a pope outfit. Isn’t there some delicious irony in that scene? He skips lunch with the power elite of Washington to dine with the poor and he washes the feet of real impoverished prisoners. Unlike those first disciples he seems to have grasped Jesus’ vision of the Beloved Community and he means to live it out as best he can.

“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Unless you learn to make room for the kids, you’ll never find space for yourself. What is it about kids? They can be rascally, unkind, sometimes really mean. Kids are no more perfect than the adults around them. But at their best they possess a quality of innocence and a sense of wonder that time and circumstance has beaten out of so many of us older folk. If we try really hard we may be able to recall the wonder of Disneyland or Christmas or Yosemite or a bicycle or a doll when first encountered. There is something magical in moments like that. Make room for the kids for they help us remember the moments of magic, the ways of wonder, the innocence of feeling love unconditional.

A couple of weeks ago there was a great story in the news about the discovery of a new human subspecies. If you recall, the bones were found in a cave in Africa somewhere. The problem was that access to the cave was narrow and the cave itself very small. From the news footage I saw I’m pretty sure I would not have fit. So in order to do the work of excavating the site the lead scientists put out an appeal for smaller people with backgrounds in spelunking and science to do the work. In the end, there were six small female graduate students who were chosen. They were able to slither through the narrow opening into the small cave to retrieve this wonderful body of evidence.

Is there some sort of object lesson here? You’ve got to be small to get in? It takes a woman to get it done? Sometimes it’s the least likely who lead the way. You’ve got to make room for the kids in order to experience the wonder of discovery. If you let your sense of self-importance become over-inflated, you will never fit through the entrance or stand in the presence. In today’s Words of Preparation, Maggie Ross testifies, “I know the only way to cope with growing up is to become a little child, to choose to evolve with all our complexity toward simplicity; to accept and trust as a little child trusts, only now with the second innocence born of sin and pride transfigured that is more precious than the first, that enables us to walk into dark corridors knowing we will be clobbered, but walking in anyway; to love whole-heartedly with wonder and astonishment and delight; to not be afraid of a child’s self-forgetful absorption in life, approached uncritically and with suspended judgment, so that we may learn true critical discernment” (Maggie Ross, The Fire of Your Life: A Solitude Shared).

To evolve toward simplicity, to accept and trust as a child; to love whole-heartedly with wonder and astonishment and delight – all will help us walk down dark corridors, crawl through the tiniest of spaces, and slip through the thin places into the heart of God’s Beloved Community. We need to make room for the kids who will show us the way, Make room for your own kid, held deep inside your being who, will lead you along the path to that place where we find ourselves delightfully lost in wonder, joy and praise, where Christ takes us up in his arms, lays his hands on us and blesses us. Amen.

Evergreen Region Meeting is near

Dr. James ForbesThis is a busy time for our congregation. In just a little over a week we will be welcoming our friends from Evergreen Region for our annual meeting. I am delighted that they have chosen to come our way and I am even more delighted that the preacher for the event will be Dr. James Forbes, one of America’s great preachers and advocates for social justice. You can see the schedule above. I urge you to participate in as much of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as you can. You will not be disappointed.

If you can only make the worship services, please do. There is no need to register for them but if you plan to attend any of the meal functions, the Sacred Conversation (on race) or the excellent workshops, please register so we can have a good estimate for food, beverage and space allotment. A number of us are already working on the planning team. If you are willing able to help with hospitality – shopping, hosting, providing transportation to and from the airport (SJC or SFO) or between the church and hotel, etc., please let me know as soon as possible. This is a wonderful time to show just how hospitable we can be. And don’t hesitate to invite your friends and neighbors.

This Sunday we will return to the lectionary. The current gospel is Mark and the text includes Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “make room for the kids.” On World Communion Sunday how do we make sure to make room for the least at our table of plenty? Afterward, Adult Spiritual Formation will take a look at the news, so come prepared with an article, a question, a comment and we will try to make connections to our faith

20th Anniversary of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists

Rev. Rick MixonJust a quick note this week to thank everyone who made Sunday a grand adventure as we “traveled the world” and celebrated World Communion Sunday.  From those who helped with music and liturgy to those who decorated and fed us, it was a blessed day.  We come from many places and backgrounds.  It is great to bring as much together as we did Sunday.  I keep saying, it takes all of us to BE US.  Thank you all.

Pastor Tripp will be preaching Sunday as I will be in Providence, Rhode Island for the 20th anniversary celebration of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (and the 40th anniversary of American Baptists Concerned.)  As an AWAB board member, I have chaired the planning team for this event and will be preaching at the concluding communion service on Monday.  The theme is “Coming of Age: A Living Jubilee.”  If you’d like to know more about it, check out the web site at www.awab20.org.  I will take an extra day of vacation while I’m in the East and will be back in the office on Thursday, October 17.  Please call the church office or Pastor Tripp if there is a pastoral emergency.

Sunday, Pastor Tripp will be preaching on “The Welfare of the City” based on Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon instructing them to pray for the welfare of the city in which they were exiled.  It must have been quite a challenge to those captives to be told to pray for the well-being of their captors, yet that is the word Jeremiah brings from God.  For whom would it be most challenging for you to pray, to desire their well-being?

Our intern, Doug Davidson, will be leading Adult Spiritual Formation, continuing the series, Animate:Faith, this week focusing on a video with Nadia Bolz-Weber as she reflects on the significance of the cross.   Come at 10:00 AM on Sunday for worship.  Bring along a family member, friend, colleague, neighbor or stranger to share in worship; then, stay for Adult Spiritual Formation.

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

Celebrating the World

ABC missionaries
International Ministries missionaries Dan and Sarah Chetti, Dan and Sharon Buttry

This month of October begins something of a journey outward as we celebrate World Communion Sunday and take our annual World Mission Offering.  Sunday you are invited to wear something from your native country or a country you have visited as we acknowledge our common bond with Christians all around the world.  The music, liturgy and décor will reflect this multicultural emphasis.  And it is particularly significant for us as we continue to claim our identity as a multicultural congregation.

The World Mission Offering not only supports the work of the American Baptist Board of International Ministries as a whole, we also share the money raised between our two special interest missionaries.  Dan and Sarah Chetti do remarkable work both in the Arab Theological Seminary in Beirut and in ministry to the women who are brought to Lebanon to serve as domestic workers.  Dan (and now Sharon) Buttry travel all over the world, planting and nurturing the seeds of peace in conflict-ridden situations.  (Read more about the work of the Chettis and Dan and Sharon Buttry on the International Ministries site.)

The worship focus for Sunday is taken from an old hymn we used to sing, “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations.”  I assume we have stopped singing that hymn because of its overtones of an arrogant kind of Christianity that many of us have struggled to let go of and leave behind.  Modern missionaries very much see themselves as partners with those they serve.  The wisdom of the West is not automatically superior to the rich resources and traditions of people from other parts of the world.  Still, when Ann and Adoniram Judson left Massachusetts in 1813, headed for the Indian subcontinent, they believed with all their hearts they had a story to tell.  What was the essence of that story for which they were willing to risk their lives?  Do we have a story to tell today?  What is it?  How do we share it? What, if anything, are we willing to risk for it?

Please join us at 10:00 AM on Sunday.  Bring along a family member, friend, colleague, neighbor or stranger to share in worship; then, stay for Adult Spiritual Formation when Pastor Tripp will lead us in the second of a series, this week featuring a video of Brian McLaren and a discussion of the question, “If you ask me, ‘Is God real?’ I first have to ask you, ‘Which God are we talking about?'”

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

Pastor Rick

Pastor Rick: October 3

October is the month we focus on the world in which we live and celebrate the diversity of its people and cultures. In many ways, Baptist denominational life began with congregations joining together to support missionaries around the world. Though the missions scene has changed considerably in recent years, there is still a significant amount of good work being done for the sake of the gospel by American Baptist missionaries around the world. In addition to supporting our American Baptist mission boards, we have also committed to helping two mission teams as our special interest missionaries. For several years now, we have been sending money to Dan and Sarah Chetti, working in Beirut, Lebanon. Last year we added Dan Buttry, who travels the globe, serving as a peace consultant in troubled lands.

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday. We will gather around the table to share the common meal that Christians everywhere will be sharing with us. We will use songs and liturgy from many countries and we will set the table with a variety of breads. You are encouraged to wear something from a different land – that of your origin or a place you have visited or with which you are fascinated. If you have some art or artifact you want to share, we will have tables, easels, etc. to help with display. (Please bring those ahead of time, if at all possible.) Pastor Tripp will be preaching on the Holy Family, using Mark 10:2-16 as his text. In Adult Spiritual Formation, we will conclude our work with Brad Berglund’s, Reinventing Sunday, as part of our journey into the Spirituality of Worship.

See you 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