Advent is Underway!

What? How can it be? It’s not even Thanksgiving yet and we’re talking about Advent? You betcha. The kids and I are working on the pageant. It’s going to be a cinematic short entitled “The Adventures of The Grinch, Nope, Dan Who Misplaced and Generally Neglected Our Holy Savior and Messiah, Christ Jesus (Amen): Episode I.” We’re having a good time. Be ready to participate. Filming will be ongoing!

Second, if you are online at all, we’re also going to try a little photographic meditation. Take a photo and post it on the church Facebook page and any other favorite social media platform with the hashtag #rethinkchurch or #redpoinsettias and we’ll be sure to feature them in the Midweek Message and the church bulletin. You’ll see here that each day of December has a theme! It has the potential to be fun and beautiful.

Advent photo a day

What is God’s New Thing?

a new thingLast week’s Adult Spiritual Formation provided a meaningful conversation about judgment and forgiveness as we continue to explore Nadia Bolz-Weber’s moving memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, led by Pastor Tripp.  We will take a week off form this study while Pastor Tripp is in Berkeley and conclude it on November 30.  If you have not had a chance to read the book (it is not a difficult read,) there is a copy or two available at the church.

Thanks to Soo Kim and Doug Lee who opened their beautiful home to the congregation on Sunday afternoon.  A goodly number of our community came to enjoy delicious food, great company and gracious hospitality.  It is a delight to have Soo, Doug and Hegene as part of us.

This Sunday we will focus on Deutero-Isaiah’s (or is it 3 or 4?) beautiful vision of the Holy Mountain.  We will consider this as another way to think about the reign of God.  “God’s New Thing” is our theme for this year, drawn from Isaiah 43.  The vision in Isaiah 65 is very much a complimentary one.  What is God’s new thing?  Where do we see it?  How do we live into it?  Adult Spiritual Formation will be led by Doug Davidson.  We will watch another of the Animate videos.  This Sunday will feature Mark Scandrette on “Jesus: the Revolution of Love.”

Invite someone to share both worship and educational experiences with you and the rest of the congregation.  You’ll be glad you did.

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

Little Man, Big Gifts (November 3, 2013)

sermonsLITTLE MAN, BIG GIFTS

A sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, November 3 2013

Luke 19:1-10

 “I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true… one was a doctor and one was a queen, one was a soldier and one was a priest,” one was a tax collector…ewwwww.  That’s not how it’s supposed to go.  Tax collectors can’t be saints.  There’s no way that one of them would find salvation and be welcomed into the kingdom.  Patient? Brave? True?  Not a tax collector.  No way.

Can’t you hear the crowd carry on like this, that day, in Jericho?  They couldn’t believe that Jesus would single out a tax collector, especially one as infamous as Zacchaeus to receive his favor.   That “wee little man, oh a wee little man was he!”  Right, Naomi?  He was not only small in stature, he was also small of heart, or so everyone said.  He defrauded everyone to line his own pockets and his henchman both collected and protected at every turn.  The term tax collector and the name Zacchaeus curdled on their tongues.

Now understand that, though most of them felt this way, they would never have said it to Zacchaeus’s face.  He was in bed with the Romans and protected by his own crew.  He was not only rich, he was powerful.  No need to stir up unnecessary trouble.  Ordinarily they would have bowed and scraped to him, keeping their resentment bottled inside.

But today was different.  Today they were marching along with Jesus as he made his way steadfastly to Jerusalem.  It was a day of celebration.  They borrowed just enough courage from him to grumble when he stopped to address Zacchaeus, sitting undaintily on the long limb of a sycamore tree.  A tax collector…ewwww.  How could he engage such a scoundrel – and spoil their good time in the process?

Luke gives us more information about Zacchaeus than most of the characters that inhabit his gospel.  First, we have his name and his occupation and his social status.  He was rich and despised.  He was not just any tax collector.  He was wealthy enough to have bought up the tax collecting franchise for all of Jericho, a significant city on a major trade route.  He was no small time thug.  But he was small.  Luke makes a point of telling us this.  It seems a necessary prelude to Jesus finding him up a tree.  A “wee little man was he!”

According to Mikeal Parsons, “Luke has spared no insulting image to portray Zacchaeus as a pathetic, even despicable character. He paints a derisive and mocking picture of a traitorous, small-minded, greedy, physically deformed tax collector sprinting awkwardly ahead of the crowd and climbing a sycamore tree like an ape.” In addition, Parsons “suggests that Luke’s audience would have heard ‘small in height’ and thought ‘small in spirit’—greedy, but also with low self-expectations, the opposite of ‘great-souled’” (Richard B. Vinson, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, Luke, p. 590).  You get the picture.  They saw Zacchaeus as an all around little man and there was no compassion in their assessment.

There is cause to wonder just what Zacchaeus was up to that day.  Why was he out in the crowd alone?  Where was the rest of his crew?  Why did he not demand deference and move to the front of the crowd?  Though thoroughly disliked, he wielded the sort of power with which he could easily have commanded the best position along the parade route.  Why was he skulking around by himself?

Something was going on inside Zacchaeus that day.  With the rest of the crowd, he would have heard the stories of this remarkable rabbi from Galilee – how he healed and freed and fed and taught and challenged local authority while claiming the authority of the coming reign of God.  Something had seeped into the tax collector’s consciousness and into his shrunken heart.  He was ill at ease.  He had not slept well the night before.  Something was gnawing at him and he needed to have answers.  He needed to see for himself.  Somewhere deep inside he knew he was venturing into territory that was completely incompatible with his daily routine.  Everything he had heard about this Jesus disturbed his comfortable way of life, filled him with doubts about the path he was on, and disoriented his settled sense of himself.

In this troubled state he wandered down to the roadside.  He saw the crowd had already gathered and it was too late summon his crew to clear the way.  The buzz indicated that Jesus was very near.  What was Zacchaeus to do?  Being the highly resourceful fellow that he was (after all it does take brains and skill to be a highly successful tax collector, a “chief” tax collector,) he climbed up the nearest tree.  He gave no thought to the indignity of this action.  He had to see for himself.  He had to have some clearer sense of what this Jesus was all about.

In Bible study, Alan thought that this behavior on the part of Zacchaeus required courage and that may be so.  He certainly is putting himself out there, taking significant risks in his search for…what?  What is it he’s searching for?  There is more than curiosity here.  His behavior indicates someone whose drive is far beyond curiosity.  He’s looking for something, something more in his life, something that satisfies his deepest longing, something that wealth and power clearly cannot provide.

We know the rest of the story.  We learned it early in Sunday School.  There is Jesus, wondrously stopped at the base of the very tree in which Zacchaeus is ensconced.  “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”  Don’t you imagine that little man nearly felt out of the tree in his haste to descend?  He didn’t have to be asked twice.  The moment he saw that face fixed on him, looked into those piercing eyes, felt the commanding presence of the Christ, he sensed that he had found what he was looking for – way, truth and life.

Wouldn’t you have loved to have sat at the tax collector’s table that day as Jesus laid it all out for Zacchaeus, told him everything he’d ever done, looked at that longing in his little heart while it cracked open and grew three sizes, as he blessed that growth.  As we’ve already affirmed, Zacchaeus may have been small, but he was smart and he was quick.  It didn’t take him long to understand what was required of him.

Gifts, big gifts flowed from that house that day.  Not only did he throw a feast for Jesus, he stood up from the table and gave away everything he had.  Oh, I know preachers over the years have tried to make it appear that Jesus blessed Zaccahaeus in spite of his wealth and maybe it is possible to be rich and still love Jesus.  However, if you analyze the formula the tax collector lays out, it ought to leave him pretty much penniless.  First, and perhaps best, he’s going to give half of what he possesses to the poor, right off the top.  Then he’s going to give a fourfold return on all the surcharges he’s added to the state’s tax burden.

Richard Vinson writes of these big gifts, “Start with the last statement: if he does not defraud, he makes no profit…The tax-farming system was based on greed and fraud, and if tax collectors only collected what was actually owed to Rome, there would be no incentive to collect taxes, and things would grind to a halt.  So of course Zacchaeus has defrauded people; so have all the underlings who work for him, who actually collected the taxes. If he pays each taxpayer four times more than the difference between what he collected and what they owed, then he is returning 400 percent of his profits. And if he begins his giving by disbursing half of his savings, then he is going to end up poor” (Richard B. Vinson, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, Luke, p. 592).  Regardless of whether or not we have ever defrauded anyone, just imagine what it would be like literally to give away half of what we have to care for the poor. Uncomfortable, yes?  Yet Jesus blesses this very transformation in Zacchaeus.

These are not just big gifts from a little man, these are the joyful sacrifices made by a man who has decided to follow Jesus.  Luke doesn’t tell us that Zacchaeus joins the entourage headed to Jerusalem, but it is surely conceivable that he goes with Christ – all the way.  The little man has opened his home and his heart to the Christ.  In joy, he has given big gifts and, in the process, found his way.  In the end he receives the biggest gift of all – the gift of life abundant and eternal.  “Today salvation has come to this house…”  In our searching, in our giving, in all our living, may we come know that same salvation.  Amen.

November is Stewardship Month

candleringFound Faithful In Little With Much With All

This is our 2013 theme for our stewardship month this November. We are aiming to grow joyful stewards in our congregation.

A stewardship program must first start out with all participants following the scripture of Matthew 6:33‐ Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given you as well.

We must remember that our monetary pledge is to God. It is not a vote of confidence about anything or person in the church or the world. It is an anonymous gift that God will see fulfilled. We all work hard to earn and save our money especially in these times but it has been said that what has been done for Christ will last and all else will pass. We need to be reminded to be thankful and enjoy what God has given us. Can you consider giving 10% of your monetary income on Pledge Sunday?

Stewardship also means helping other who are struggling or have fallen on hard times and need our assistance. Can you lend a helping hand using your time and talents in Christ’s name? God never forgets our service to him. We do not need to be recognized by the public. We need to be good stewards for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors.

Every Christian has been placed into the body of Christ, therefore we are an integral part of the community of faith. We all work better together for Christ using our spiritual gifts and skills to do the Lordʹs work. Again, we must be grateful for what God has given us to serve others on his behalf. 1Corinthians 10:13 Therefore … whatever you do, do all in the glory of God.

There are many examples of giving and tithing in the Bible, such as the widow giving of her last coins, the feeding of the five thousand and the giving of 10% of their worldly goods. Please consider how you may imitate their actions while you consider what you will pledge for the operation of our Church. Please remember that God loves a cheerful giver.

Bring your pledge to our worship service on Stewardship Sunday, November 24.

Laura Garcia, Stewardship Chairman

Worship in the Works- Advent Brainstorming

Advent WorkshopMany thanks to all who came to the Advent‐Epiphany Brainstorming Party on Sunday, October 27th, after worship. It was a deeply productive session resulting in many great ideas for planning worship this Advent and Christmas season. With twenty‐one such creative and thoughtful folks in the room, it couldn’t have been otherwise!

We began the workshop by exploring how planning worship together is also a way of reflecting on, and lovingly holding, the Christian community we already are and that we hope to become. Picking up the Advent scripture theme of ʺBuilding the House of Godʺ from Isaiah, we talked about how bringing our ideas and gifts to designing worship together is one of many ways we can build our House of God this year. Indeed, already your ideas, creativity, time, energy, and commitment are the bricks and mortar for a potentially very exciting Advent worship season.

We remembered the world in which we live through Douglas Ha sharing his experience and memorable conversion of their family in the refuge camp in Vietnam where missionaries learned their language and lived as they did… Many thanks to Naomi as she enthusiastically led us through brainstorming of how to enrich the worship service to be more meaningful through various media as we enter Advent and Christmas. — Jin and Jane Chin

An unexpected computer virus interrupted my hope of introducing Marcia McFeeʹs ʺWorship Design Studioʺ online platform as a possible tool for helping to organize a worship team. However, if anyone has questions about it, or would like to learn more, please feel free to let your pastoral team know. Some churches find it helpful because it allows worship teams to do creative work without having to attend yet another meeting, but each church finds what works best for them and their particular needs.

We broke into four small groups to brainstorm ideas for each of the Sundays in Advent, and then came together at the end to share our thoughts. Some of the ideas that got us most excited included finding ways of integrating the youth more fully into worship, and incorporating multi‐sensory activities to enrich our Advent and Christmas Eve services. Folks came up with many specific ideas on how to do this that we will incorporate. More details to follow! In the meantime, if any of you have poems, readings, music, visual art, or other ideas youʹd like to contribute to our worship planning for Advent/Christmas, please pass them along to Rick, Tripp, Doug or me and weʹll add them to the creative pot weʹre stirring. Thanks again for all your support and input! It sure was fun, and we look forward to doing it again.

In peace and passion,
Naomi Schultz, Intern

Naomi arranging flowers
Naomi arranging flowers

What does fellowship mean?

Friends of God,

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be called together.

When we are drowned in the overwhelming seas of the love of God, we find ourselves in a new and particular relation to a few of our fellows. The relation is so surprising and so rich that we despair of finding a word glorious enough and weighty enough to name it. The word Fellowship is discovered, but the word is pale and thin in comparison with the rich volume and luminous bulk and warmth of the experience it would designate.

~ Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion

13-08-01.isingWhat does it mean to be in fellowship with one another? What does it mean to be members together of the One Body which is Christ Jesus? Woah. Big questions, but Kelly offers me some new (at least to me) language to begin to wrap my mind and my experience of the holy in community.

The word “fellowship” is a familiar word to most of us. We have a fellowship hall. We may even sing “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” and shout the words, “What a fellowship! What a joy divine!” but how do we experience it here together at First Baptist Church in Palo Alto, CA?

Kelly helps me out here. First, there’s really no word that begins to describe what it is to know God in one another. There’s simply not. No language is adequate. The “glory” of it, the “weight” of it is too much, but we use this word “fellowship” in the hopes that it will at least point us in the right direction. Does it do that work for you?

I’d love to know what you think. Send me an e-mail (tripp@anglobaptist.org), Facebook me, or you can call me, too. I think I still remember how to use a telephone. And I love a letter.

What word do you use to describe the kind of community we intend to have here at First Baptist? Are these more than friends? Family? Fellowship? The Holy City? The Body?

As we move forward as a congregation, being able to share what it means to be fellowship, the Body, with one another will increasingly important. I think I may be right when I say that we have been called together, called into one another’s lives in this place and this time. But the only way I can be sure I’m right is to hear from you. Reach out. Let me know what you think.

Peace and All Good Things,
Pastor Tripp Hudgins