Christ of Great Compassion (6/18/17)

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Text: Matthew 9:35 – 10:1 (The Message)

Several years ago now, Kathy Gillam was instrumental in organizing a conference on compassion at Stanford, hosted by the medical school and its Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. The conference presenters included two great modern champions of compassion – the Dalai Lama and Karen Armstrong. At the time, Karen Armstrong was touting her evolving work with the Charter of Compassion, a sort of semi-religious creed, based on the Golden Rule. In Adult Spiritual Formation, Dan Cudworth led us in a study of the Charter. Last year the Satterlees and I read Into the Magic Shop, an inspirational memoir by James Doty, the director of the Stanford Center, about the origins of his own understanding of the connections between the brain and the heart in shaping and guiding our lives.

Thus we see that compassion has become a surprisingly popular topic of thought and conversation in a world like ours so often characterized by competition, success, accumulation, greed, bullying, enmity, and hatred. Hopefully there is a recognition, a growing one, that unless we learn to look out for one another and for the planet, prospects for the future are grim and perhaps even slim. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a lovely idea but come on. Get real. You have to take care of number one first, right? Well, maybe if you’re especially generous, you could make the focus of living you and yours. But that’s the extent of it.

Continue reading Christ of Great Compassion (6/18/17)

Note from Pastor Rick (6/15/2017)

We had a terrific Youth Sunday. Thanks to Pastor Gregory, the children and youth for leading us. Again, congratulations to our graduates and best wishes to all our kids moving up a grade. We pray a wonderful summer for all of them as well as for school teachers and staff.

The theme for this Sunday is a timely word – Compassion. With all the mean spirited talk and behavior, not to mention the violence going on all around us every day, there needs to be space for more compassion. Matthew writes of Jesus, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). It’s not surprising to note that some of us may feel this lost these days. But Jesus’ solution is to send the disciples out to provide comfort and care, courage and well-being for the people who made up those crowds. We, too, are tasked with a ministry of compassion in Jesus name.

This week, after worship, we will have our long-awaited first cookout of the season. This one is in honor of Father’s Day. Bring your hat, your appetite and salad, side or dessert to share. Bring someone else to share the day with you.

Remember, our theme for this year is “All Are Welcome in this Place.” Let’s make certain that it is so.
Pastor Rick

Speaking Out Boldly (6/4/2017)

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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Text: Acts 2:6-21 (The Message)

With the crackle of flame and a whoosh of wind Pentecost is ushered in in this fantastic and familiar tale. It’s an important story that cycles around every year as we celebrate the “birthday of the church.” There are many angles a preacher could take in addressing this ancient word, but the thing that stuck out for me as we considered this text on Tuesday at Bible study is Peter’s role. In particular, I was caught by the text recording that Peter “raised his voice” (NRSV) or as The Message puts it, “spoke out with bold urgency.”

On the surface, it’s not a particularly remarkable thing. Surely someone addressing a large crowd, especially without the aid of amplification, would raise his voice or speak out boldly. The text tells us that, with the coming of the Spirit in wind and flame, all disciples are stirred up to speak out boldly. Not only do they speak out, but they are enabled to speak in such a way that people from a number of different language groups understand them. It’s something of a miracle, isn’t it? After all, these disciples are mostly Galilean peasants, poor, uneducated, unlikely to speak any language other than their own.

So, it’s a sort of circus, a kind of crazy block party, as the disciples pour out of the quarters where they have remained locked away since Jesus’ death. This week Carnaval was celebrated in San Francisco’s Mission District. It’s the largest multicultural festival held on the West Coast. Did you see and hear, either in person or on the news, the different cultures, brilliant costumes, and colorful languages represented as people took to the streets in celebration? I know Pentecost did not unfold exactly like Carnaval, but it gives you some sense of the rich diversity that gathered on the streets of Jerusalem that first Pentecost morning.

The writer of Luke says the crowd was baffled by the behavior of the disciples. He reports that “When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, ‘Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?’”

We’ve played on Pentecost in the past with the variety of languages that might be spoken in our own congregation, including English, Spanish, French, Creole, Japanese, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Hindi, Orilla, and Lebanese. Imagine how it would be in our little group if people started speaking in all of these languages at once and everyone somehow understood what was being said. It would be strange, exciting, confusing, a minor miracle. Or what if I stood up to preach and each of you understood in the non-English language with which you are familiar? Crazy, huh?

Well, whatever happened that day, the writer of Luke says the crowd cried out “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” At the very least, the crowd understood the words they heard and some of them understood the Word that was behind those words. In the end, the writer reports that more than 3000 people joined the church or “their number” that day. It was the sort of evangelistic meeting that Billy Graham would envy, a mighty revival of sorts!

And speaking of evangelistic preachers, the preacher that day was none other than Peter. But before we crown Peter the chief spokesperson for emerging church for speaking out boldly on this day, let’s do a little background check. From the various gospel accounts, what do we know about Peter before this day? In my mind he was impulsive, inconsistent, an ignorant Galilean fisherman. I picture him as large, dominant, loud, opinionated, slightly boorish. One minute he has brilliant insight into the nature of Jesus’ calling and the next he is trying to stall Christ’s mission. He thinks he can walk on water until he discovers he can’t. He is a rock that is susceptible to crumbling at the most inopportune time.

In fact, in Luke’s gospel, the last time Peter is mentioned before Pentecost morning is on the night they arrested Jesus. We find him huddled in the courtyard outside the high priest’s house. Remember, earlier in the evening, when they we were all gathered around the table for the last supper, it was Peter who boldly proclaimed, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” (Luke 22:33). A form of bold speech, to be sure, but listen to Peter’s prologue to Pentecost:

When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. Christ turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered Jesus’ word, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:55-62).

The camera pans out on a weeping Peter, bowed down in shame, devastated by his own words of betrayal.

So, you see, for Peter to speak out boldly on Pentecost something has to have happened in his life, something that radically transforms him, for, indeed, from this day forward it is reported that he was a strong witness for the Jesus Way, capable of performing his own signs and wonders in Jesus’ name. When the Spirit comes and lights upon you, chances are that you will be changed in ways you never imagined. For Peter, there is apparently forgiveness, redemption, and empowerment in Pentecost; he is never the same again. A Galilean fisherman becomes the Rock on which the church is founded. If it can happen to him, why not you and me?

You see, speaking out boldly is not reserved for heroic figures from long ago, for the canonized saints of the church, for folk with special spiritual gifts, it is a way of life for those who claim to follow Jesus. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everyone who loves Jesus needs to get on a soapbox on the nearest street corner and win souls for Christ. But I am reminded again of that old Baptist hymn that affirms:

My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

And, no, that does not mean I expect any really committed Christian to join the choir (though we would be happy to have you.)

Another lectionary text for today is from the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians in which Paul proclaims:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).

As the choir sang last week, there are “many gifts, one Spirit.” The challenge for each of us, as Christ followers, is to find our gifts and to use them, empowered by the Spirit, to bring about God’s Beloved Community. Each of us is encouraged to be “speaking out boldly,” in their own way, the truth of the gospel as we have come to know it. The great German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, has written, “The sending of the Holy Spirit is the revelation of God’s indestructible affirmation of life and [God’s] marvelous joy in life. Where Jesus is, there is life. That is what the Synoptic Gospels tell us. Where Jesus is, sick people are healed, sad people are comforted, marginalized people are accepted, and the demons of death are driven out. Where the Holy Spirit is present there is life” (Jurgen Moltmann. The Source of Life, p. 19).

To the degree that you believe this is so – that God affirms and finds joy in all life, including yours and mine, and that “where Jesus is, there is life,” in the richest, fullest sense of the word, I invite you to take the strip of paper that was given you and write out what you might say (or do) in speaking out boldly in the Spirit of Pentecost. Take that truth claim with you. Pray about it. Invite the Spirit to move you to action. Be the church as best you can, be the Body of Christ, dream dreams, see visions, prophesy, if it comes to that. And remembering, now and then, that old affirmation of faith, sing to yourself, “Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?” Amen.

Note from Pastor Rick (5/31/2017)

Sunday was a full day here at FBCPA. Not only did we honor Christ’s ascension in worship, we also shared refreshments in the Entryway, and gained a new perspective on “The Parable of Talents” in Adult Spiritual Formation. Then, in the afternoon, we celebrated the life of Marilyn Hunwick in a lovely and meaningful service featuring the Hunwick’s granddaughter, Chloe, singing, Anthia Lee Halfmann on piano, and, of course, Jan Gunderson on the organ. Thanks to Dona Smith-Powers, Betsy Anderson, and Chip Clark for their assistance as well. After the service we were treated to a lovely reception, provided by Beth Hunwick and the family as well as church members. It was a long day (I got home about 6:15) and a rich one. I couldn’t help but think that Marilyn would have been pleased.

This Sunday is Pentecost, so everyone is encouraged to wear red (or orange or yellow) as your own personal “tongue of flame.” The texts for the day focus on the ways in which the Holy Spirit, represents all the wonderful life-giving gifts of God to God’s people. We control neither the Giver nor the gifts, but we can always express our gratitude and make the most of that with which we have been blessed. Come to celebrate the “birthday of the church.” Stay for the first Patio Hour of the season and join in the Lunch Bunch as we enjoy Indian cuisine. Bring along someone with whom to share the events of the day.

Remember, our theme for this year is “All Are Welcome in this Place.” Let’s make certain that it is so.

Pastor Rick   

From There to Here and Back

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Text: Acts 1:6-11 (The Message); John 17:1-11 (NRSV)

“Well, dear Theophilus, God-lovers all, the story continues…” writes Luke at the very beginning of the book of The Acts of the Apostles. His aim is to show how Jesus lives on in the life of the church through the empowerment and direction of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the one who fills Christ’s followers with courage and strength.  The text tells us that life in the Holy Spirit is not only promised to the disciples in the days to come, the Spirit is actually the One through whom they have received instructions from Jesus.  The Spirit has already been active in their lives indirectly; now they are promised direct experience of that same Spirit.

Much of Christian tradition has made a claim for the Resurrection as the culmination of Jesus’ life and ministry, but a case can be made for the Ascension.  John, in particular, argues this. “…now I am no longer in the world…I am coming to you… glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed,” Jesus prays to God. John wants us to understand that Jesus’ journey is, most importantly, from there to here and back. But, just as important is the message that this journey is also ours. We come from God; we return to God; and always and forever it is in God that we live and move and have our being. This is crucial to what Jesus was trying to show those first followers – and us – in the Incarnation.

Continue reading From There to Here and Back

Note from Pastor Rick (5/24/2017)

Well, last Sunday was a challenging day. In a small community like ours, missing a couple of key people can way lay the best made plans. And still we managed to worship and share, to sing and pray, listen and learn, which are the really important things. Thanks to everyone for pulling together at the last minute. It was also challenging to say good-bye to our friends Soo Kim and Doug Lee as they return to Korea. Doug, Soo, and Hegene have become beloved members of our “family” over the past five years and we will miss them very much. We promise to hold a place for them and they promised to come back to visit.

This Sunday is known as Ascension Sunday in liturgical tradition. On the Sunday before Pentecost, we remember that the Christ ascended into heaven as recorded in Acts or returned to God as he predicted in John’s gospel. After the Ascension, when Christ was no longer plainly visible to his followers, the Holy Spirit descended on them, imbuing them with great power to carry on Christ’s mission in the world. In the Ascension story in Acts 1, the angels ask the dazed disciples why they’re standing there looking into heaven when there is work to be done on earth. This is a fair question to ask every follower who may be more focused on what is to come than what is needed now to usher in God’s Beloved Community.

In Adult Spiritual Formation, we will wrap up our study of the Parables with a look at “The Parable of the Talents.” Please join us for worship, education, and community time and bring someone along to share the day. At 2:00 PM, we will hold a memorial service for our beloved Marilyn Hunwick, which will be followed by a reception hosted by the family. If church members are wanting to help with the reception, please contact the church office.

Remember, our theme for this year is “All Are Welcome in this Place.”

Let’s make certain that it is so.
Pastor Rick   

To An Unknown God (5/21/2017)

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Text: Acts 17:22-31

For a little bit of context, let’s look at the verses which precede today’s text:

16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.

Now it may be that the Athenians were superstitious people – people who covered all their bases by erecting a shrine “to an Unknown God,” just in case they had missed a god in the creation of their pantheon of deities.  Or perhaps they were sophisticated enough to know that there were gods or dimensions of deity that would always extend beyond the human capacity to know.  At any rate, the writer of Acts indicates that Paul was unhappy to find such a proliferation of gods throughout the city of Athens.  However, he did not vent his anger with the Athenians over their polytheism in the same manner he would later with the Romans (Romans 1:18-23.).

Continue reading To An Unknown God (5/21/2017)