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

November Mission Offering: Ecumenical Hunger Program

Ecumenical Hunger Project

ECUMENICAL HUNGER PROGRAM

Our November Special Offering goes to the Ecumenical Hunger Program located in East Palo Alto. The EHP, a private, non‐profit, community‐based organization, has been in existence since 1975. It provides emergency food, clothing, case management, and household essentials to families in need in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto. Staff and volunteers work in partnership with families to provide immediate and long‐term assistance essential for survival and success, providing referrals to resources available to low‐income families and individuals in our community. Their programs include women’s support groups, nutrition and health classes, holiday programs, youth programs and a computer access program. All programs and services are available free of charge and open to those in need. EHP is supported entirely by contributions from the community. Our church has been involved with this very worthwhile program for many years by contributing food, clothing and other household items. Church members volunteer their time, and we give monetary support through this annual offering. This year’s offering goal is $600.00.

To read more, please visit the Ecumenical Hunger Program’s website www.ehpcares.org, or pick up a flyer in the narthex or church entry with this year’s Holiday Wish Lists.

It’s hard to believe that November is here already. November at FBCPA means the gathering of food, money, and turkeys. Lots of turkeys and chickens also. Thanksgiving for the people of East Palo Alto is hard for families to cope with, putting a turkey dinner on the table.
Ecumenical Hunger Program gathers and distributes the food we donate, and delivers them to needy families to help with their turkey feast. We can collect money and canned goods all month. A basket will be in the Narthex, or put EHP on the memo line of your checks placed in the collection plate. The turkeys, chickens and perishables can be brought to church on the day of our FBCPA Gratitude Dinner, Friday, November 22, or the last chance will be on Sunday, November 24th. Everything will be taken to the EHP on Monday, November 25th.”

Thelma Tuttle

October Mission Offering Update (10/9)

World Mission OfferingOctober’s Special Mission Offering is our annual WORLD MISSION OFFERING

American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (operating as International Ministries (IM) began its pioneer mission work approximately 200 years ago in Burma and today works in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas.  More than 100 full-time missionaries along with short-term missionaries and mission partners serve in more than 70 countries.  Its central mission is to help people come to faith in Jesus, grow in their relationship with God and change their worlds through the power of the Spirit.  This year’s theme is Embrace the Cause. 

To date we have received $740 toward our goal of $1,000.

This Week, November 3, 2013

worship

DON’T FORGET THAT DAYLIGHT SAVINGS ENDS SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 2!

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 3, ALL SAINTS SUNDAY

  • 10:00 a.m. Worship:
    Little Man, Big Gifts
    Communion & Sunday School for Children and Youth
  • 11:30 a.m. Adult Spiritual Formation: 
    Contemplation of the book, Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber, led by Pastor Tripp. Rev. Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor in Denver, CO. Her memoir is capturing the attention of many. It is a New York Times bestselling spiritual memoir. Some suggest hers is a voice for our present time. Copies are available.  (Note: the book contains adult language.)

THIS WEEK

  •  BIBLE STUDY, Tuesday, November 5, 10:30 AM at the Terraces of Los Altos at Janet Maxwell’s apartment.  The address is 373 Pine Lane, #2106, Los Altos.  Let Pastor Rick know if you need transportation.
  • MEN’S BREAKFAST, 8:00 AM, Wednesday, November 6, at Hobee’s Restaurant, 4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto. All the men from our Church family are welcome.
  • CONGREGATIONAL LIFE TASK TEAM meeting, Friday, November 8, 2:00 PM in the Parlor
  • OPEN HOUSE, Sunday, November 10 at 3:00 PM.  Soo Kim, Doug and Hegene Lee invite the congregation to join them in a celebration of their new home at 2320 Byron Street in Palo Alto.  Please drop by to join in the festivity and warm their home.

Pumpkins, All Saints, and Advent

PumpkinsWe had two great creative events this weekend – Friday’s potluck and pumpkin carving.  Thanks to Pastor Tripp and the interns for organizing the festivities.  The creativity was “scary.”  Then on Sunday, Naomi led us in an excellent Advent-to-Epiphany Worship Brainstorming Party.  About 20 people participated.  We came up with some exciting ideas for this year’s Advent worship.  It was great to have so many join in.  It will surely enrich our worship experience during this special season of the church year.  Thanks to Naomi and everyone who participated.  If you have further input, don’t hesitate to let one of the pastors or interns know.

Please plan to come out Friday night for our very special service of “All Saints in Song,” led by the wonderful Ana Hernandez.  This will be another opportunity to exercise your creativity, this time in a devotional setting.  We are very blessed to have Ana with us.  Invite friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, seekers and strangers to join in this worship experience.

Sunday’s service will focus on one of everybody’s favorite Bible stories.  The tale of Zaccheus and the tree is one of the first many of us encountered in Sunday School, probably because children can identify with Zaccheus’ small stature.  But Zaccheus also had a big heart that was more than generous in its moment of repentance and transformation.  In adult Spiritual Formation, we will begin a study of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber.  It is a fine spiritual memoir in the tradition of Cathleen Falsani’s Sin Boldly.

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

Pastor Rick

A Lesson in Humility (October 26, 2013)

sermonsA LESSON IN HUMILITY
A sermon preached by
Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Monday, October 27, 2013

Luke 18:9-14

A long time ago, when I was first coming out, I participated in support groups led by a pioneering psychologist named Don Clark. In addition to weekly group meetings, we would have periodic weekends of intense sharing, all focused on what it meant to be a man in general and a gay man in particular. I will never forget an incident from the end of one of those marathon weekends. As I recall, I was feeling pretty good about the work I was doing in self-understanding and ways to make my way in the world as a self-affirming gay man. Another participant was a young man from Los Angeles who was really struggling to find his way and claim his worth.

I must have had a lot to say that weekend, sharing freely all I was discovering and the good feelings I was having about myself. When it came time for the closing circle, in which we shared some personal feed-back with each of the other participants, this young man fixed his gaze on me and said something like, “You’re so sure of yourself, so certain you’ve got it all figured out. You’re just as messed up as the rest of us!” His language was actually more colorful, but you get the idea.

Needless to say, I was rocked by his attack. It seemed to come from nowhere. I don’t remember what my response was, if anything. Surely he was calling out his own pain and I could have attributed his remarks to envy. Still, his words caused me to pause and consider where I really was in my life. How had I been presenting myself? Maybe I had been a little too confident, a little too eager to share my perspective, a little too determined to articulate what I was learning. It may be, in fact, probably was so, that I had learned more than I had actually integrated into my life and he could see through the veneer to my inevitable limitations. He could sense what I still lacked before arriving at any ideal. It was a hard thing to hear and it was good for my growth. It was a lesson in humility.

We are never really all we can be or as good as we want to be. There are lessons to learn and there is growth to experience. We are all journeying together on this road of life. Compassion for our companions will always get us further down the road than self absorption.

I think about this story of mine when I read today’s parable. I think the point of the stories is very similar – a lesson in humility for the self-righteous. Jesus’ parable sets a very clever trap for his hearers, as indeed all his parables do. If you follow conventional wisdom, you’d think that the Pharisee would be the good guy and the Tax Collector the bad guy. Pharisees could surely be a pain but they were people of faith in search of righteous living, weren’t they? Tax Collectors were lower than dirt. They collaborated with the Roman oppressors and they made a living cheating people out of their meager resources. A Pharisee was redeemable but a Tax Collector? Never.

That analysis would work if Jesus hadn’t already turned the tables quite thoroughly. By the time Luke recounts this parable, most of those listening would have been familiar with Christ’s criticism of the too-often hypocritical self-righteousness of Pharisees. They would have been aware his habit of dining with Tax Collectors, bringing transformation to their lives and calling them as disciples. The crowd would have known by now that, from Jesus’ perspective, the Pharisee was the bad guy and the Tax Collector the good. You could hear the murmurs of disapproval for the Pharisee and pity for the Tax Collector. The catch in the parable is this reversal of social status, this flipping of respect for cultural roles, right?

Well, not exactly. Here’s the real catch. According to Richard Vinson, “We knew before this one started who the good guys and the bad guys were going to be. The Pharisee was going to get whacked for being a self-righteous, self-satisfied, judgmental hypocrite, and we were going to thank God that we are not like him. Gotcha!…That’s the trap this parable lays: we knew when the parable began that the Pharisee would get whacked, but we didn’t expect that we would be the Pharisee” (Richard B. Vinson, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, Luke, p. 572).

How easy is it for any of us to drift into self-righteousness when we are feeling good about ourselves, or, conversely, when we’re covering for our missteps and limitations? If we took an anonymous poll, how many of us might confess to feeling just slightly superior to some individual or class of persons at some point in our lives? It’s subtle, insidious. It infects us without our knowing until it’s too late and someone has to remind us that we are as messed up, or limited, or vulnerable as everybody else. Vinson, again, paints the picture this way: “We begin praying, ‘Thank you God, for the blessings of my life’…” It sounds innocent enough, right? Don’t we often begin our prayers this way? But then, he says, we “…slide into, ‘I thank you that we are the most prosperous, most freedom-loving, most righteous people on the planet.’ Or we begin praying, ‘Lord, I’m sorry for what I did,’ but veer off into thinking, ‘but they made me, and they do it, too, worse than I do.’ Or start, ‘Lord, please bless so and so,’ and in the next breath, ‘even though I’d like to tell him where to get off’” (Vinson, op. cit., p. 572).

Am I wrong about this? Am I the only one with this tendency to slip into judgment? Am I the only one who needs to hear again this lesson in humility?

Thomas Merton believes that “There is something of this worm in the hearts of all religious [people].” He writes, “As soon as they have done something which they know to be good in the eyes of God, they tend to take its reality to themselves and to make it their own. They tend to destroy their virtues by claiming them for themselves and clothing their own private illusion of themselves with values that belong to God. Who can escape the secret desire to breathe a different atmosphere from the rest of [humanity]? Who can do good things without seeking to taste in them some sweet distinction from the common run of sinners in this world?” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, pp. 48-50, quoted in Vincent, op. cit. p. 571).

I believe there is something in human nature that struggles with grace and it challenges our ability to be humble. We fear that we will never truly be good enough. We believe that somehow we have to earn our keep, to work for our worth, to merit love and understanding. After enough practice, self-righteousness can become a way of life that masks our inner challenges. Richard Rohr reminds us that “We each need to stand under the mercy of God, the forgiveness of God, and the grace of God—to understand the very nature of reality. When we are too smug and content, then grace and mercy have no meaning—and God has no meaning. Forgiveness is not even desired. When we have pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps, religion is always corrupted because it doesn’t understand the mystery of how divine life is transferred, how people change, and how life flows” (Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, “A Central Point,” 10-26-2013, cac.org).

Neither self-flagellation or self-aggrandizement is God’s way. That is what Jesus keeps teaching and living. There are no second-class citizens in God’s realm nor are their superior beings. God’s love is equally distributed among all – because it is love – and that is the nature of love, to reach out to all to provide healing and wholeness, to bring full and abundant life. It’s just that we have so much trouble accepting that there really is enough for everybody – for you and me and all the world.

This lesson in humility is given “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt” and its message is that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” That’s the way it is with God’s love and grace. We are lifted up when find ourselves bowed down and we are leveled off when we have come to think more highly of ourselves than is warranted. Both the lifting up and the leveling off are acts of love and grace. To be humble is to have an accurate sense of worth, neither underestimating nor over-valuing one’s self. We are loved and valued for our very being, as children of God, made in God’s image and likeness. Healing and wholeness is available to all who turn to God and accept what is freely given. The healing may be an enlarging or a scaling back as humility requires.

Lift me, Lord, when I am sinking down and level me when I overreach. Help me to live always in the humility of a common humanity that will bring the joy of salvation to me and all creation. Amen.

Congratulations to Mary Granholm!

Mary Granholm
Mary Granholm

NEWS FLASH!  Thursday, October 24 at the United Nations Day Reception at the UN Film Festival, our own MARY GRANHOLM will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the UN Association.  Members of the church as well as friends and admirers of Mary are encouraged to attend and honor Mary for a remarkable and steadfast legacy.

The event will be held at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, Cultural Art Hall, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto, 6:00 – 7:00 pm.