This Sunday: October 27, 2013

church-circleThis coming Sunday:

  • 10:00 AM – Worship:   A Lesson in Humility (Luke 18:9-14) with Sunday School for Children and Youth. 
  • 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM – Advent-to-Epiphany Worship Brainstorming Party, led by Naomi Schulz.  Everyone in the congregation is invited and encouraged to help plan a wonderful Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season.

October Mission Offering Update (10/23)

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 $505 toward our goal of $1,000.

Advent to Epiphany Worship Brainstorm Party

“Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of God….”     Isaiah 2:3

Advent-to-Epiphany Worship Brainstorm Party
Sunday, October 27th, 11:30 am to 1:30 pm

This Advent, Isaiah invites us to “go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of God”, and a Psalmist assures us that “For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.” This season’s scriptures are redolent with messages of new hope and rebuilding the house of God. But, what is this house of God? What is the hope the scriptures promise? And, what do the house of God and hope have to do with First Baptist Church, Palo Alto this Advent and Christmas season?

Come join Pastor Rick, Pastor Tripp, and Interns Naomi and Doug for fun brainstorming around how we’re building our “house of God” in worship this Advent-to-Epiphany season!

mcfee.fw

We’ll be drawing on the wisdom of worship specialist Dr. Marcia McFee to inspire us through images, scripture, poetry, music, and other arts to prepare our house of God, and bless our lives with hope. Intern Naomi worked with Marcia over the summer and will be bringing the fruits of her learning to share with us. Come prepared to have a good time!

Lunch and childcare provided

Marcia’s bio, blog, and samples of her work are available on her website:

http://www.marciamcfee.com/

AWAB and Worship Planning

a new thingI had a wonderful trip to the East Coast to participate in the 20th anniversary celebration of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists – “Coming of Age: A Living Jubilee.”  The weather was beautiful.  We met in two historic churches – First Unitarian in Providence and the First Baptist Church in America.  The program was well-received and meaningful. It was good to see old friends and colleagues and to meet new ones.  The work of full inclusion of lgbtqiq folk in Baptist circles has come far in the past 40 years (beginning with American Baptists Concerned in 1973) but there is still much work to be done.  I hope you will join me in prayer and work for that day of when we will have learned to embrace of all God’s children in love.  If you would like to hear more about the event, I’d be glad to talk to you.  For those of you who expressed concern, this trip was vacation time for me.

This Sunday we will focus on the familiar parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  The crowd might have had some trouble with the Pharisee, but they would have despised the tax collector.  What is Jesus doing when he blesses the tax collector over the Pharisee?  What lesson is he trying to teach his first disciples and us about the way we see ourselves and others?   It’s so easy to see the speck in someone else’s eye.

We are in for a special treat after worship when Naomi will be leading us in an “Advent to Epiphany Worship Brainstorming Party.” Naomi has been interning with well-known worship design artist, Marcia McFee, and will be bringing some of that work to share with us.  This is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to engage in planning worship and other events for the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season that will be meaningful to us and we can claim as our own.  Please plan to be here at 10 AM for worship and Sunday School and then to stay for the workshop.  A light lunch will be provided.

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

 

New Day, New Covenant (October 20, 2013)

sermonsNEW DAY, NEW COVENANT

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

Sunday, October 20, 2013

 

Text:  Jeremiah 31:27-34

Well, now, what has become of our “Weeping Prophet”?  If not optimistic, Jeremiah at least has taken a turn toward the hopeful in today’s text.  He has left the gloom and despair, the pain and destruction of exile long enough to bring a word about a new day and a new covenant.

This section of Jeremiah, beginning with chapter 30, is known as the “Book of Consolation.”  Jeremiah, in the midst of the dire predictions he brings to Judah, is still touched with a deep empathy for his people, for their failures, for their pain, for their suffering, for their desires.  Like God, he feels with the people, suffering when they suffer.  That is why he is known as the “Weeping Prophet.”  Perhaps one attraction to Jeremiah over the centuries has been this capacity to see the harsh realities of life around him at the same time he holds a vision of a new day and a new covenant.  Some prophets just proclaim their hard word and let the chips fall. Jeremiah is a man of both hard truth and deep compassion.  He cares about the pain and possibility of his people as much as he cares about their failures and consequences.  It seems very much to foreshadow the way that Jesus walked this earth.

The new day is surely coming, he reassures the people – a new day when God will replenish the earth, will redeem all of Creation.  Ultimately, salvation is not just for God’s wayward people, it will somehow be for all that God has made.  It has taken Jeremiah 29 painful chapters to get to this element of his prophecy.

If you go back to chapter one, to the language of his call, you will find that he was given a six-point charge.  The first four points of his charge as God’s spokesperson, God’s representative, were “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow.”  However, the final elements of his charge were “to build and plant” (Jeremiah 1:10).  I don’t think Jeremiah’s charge was so much literally to engage in these activities himself as to lay out for his people the inevitability of each – first, the plucking up and pulling down, the destruction and the overthrow, through which they all experienced the same anguish; and then these great words of hope for building and planting to which God and God’s people would ultimately turn.

A new day is coming, a day of hope and promise, a day in which Jeremiah claims “thus says the Lord: I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:10-14).

It seems that this promised new day is tied closely to a new covenant.  But is it truly a new covenant, or is it a new approach to a covenant that is as old as creation?  More than one commentator argues that there has never been more than one basic covenant between God and humanity.  It is that fundamental agreement that God will be our God if we will be God’s people.  The trouble is we have tried to make that covenant conditional when God’s forgiveness and grace have been constant and unconditional.  We have burdened this covenant of loving relationship with expectations and demands, with laws and codes, with rules and regulations, with systems of reward and punishment.  The evidence of this is clear in the very ancient words that we claim as sacred scripture.  A huge part of Jeremiah’s prophetic enterprise is to convince his people that they are being seiged, killed and carried into exile because they have failed to keep God’s laws.  They have broken the ancient covenant.  It’s simply a system of punishment and reward.  When they mess up, God smites them.  Then, when they say they’re sorry, God forgives them and makes everything nice again.

But we know God doesn’t work that way.  We know it from our own experience.  Of course there are consequences for our behavior, but God doesn’t pull strings of reward and punishment like some cosmic puppeteer.  What we label good or bad happens to people we also label good or bad, and it happens indiscriminately.  Is there another way to look at this ancient covenant that is more consonant with what we know of life?

It seems to me the essence of covenant is this:  God brought creation into being as an original blessing and called it good.  God created human beings in God’s image and likeness and called us good.  In a profoundly simple sense God desires nothing more to than to live in communion with us, to be our God as we are God’s people.

It is a relationship of deep and transforming intimacy.  It is a relationship characterized by nothing more – and nothing less – than love.  In fact, the writer of Jeremiah describes God as husband to Israel.  When the word translated “know” in the phrase, “No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest…,’” the word thus translated is the one that often means sexual intimacy.  There is no need to obsess over the literalness of the language.  The point is that we are made to be in the most profound, intimate relationship imaginable with God.

Of course that kind of relationship will have a radical affect on how we live our lives.  Bruce Epperly writes that this text asks us to see “a vision that God acts in ways that invite us to be part of a greater adventure, companionship with God in healing the world.”  God delights in sharing life and care for creation with us.  Epperly continues, “[Our] alignment with divine evolving order, sharing the good news of an open-spirited gospel that reflects a living, moving God, and prayerful persistence in seeking the greatest good are all responses to God’s vision of Shalom,” of the peace and well-being, healing and wholeness God desires for all creation (Bruce Epperly, “Prayer, Scripture, and the Law of our Being,” The Adventurous Lectionary, 10-20-2013, patheos. com).

This is the new covenant that leads to God’s new day, or rather the new approach to the ancient covenant built into the very nature of things that will take us to that day.  No more unrealistic expectations and demands, binding laws and codes, restricting rules and regulations, impossible, oppressive systems of reward and punishment!  We are invited to live in the dangerous freedom and close embrace of God who loves us and desires the best for us and from us in the living of our lives.

Jeremiah’s ancient wisdom is absolutely contemporary and draws us toward God’s amazing future of abundant life.  It invites us to work with God in the building of that future.  Last week, Pastor Tripp said, “I want to know how to live here and now but as someone who believes that God is here and that the Kingdom is now.”  Isn’t this a desire we hold in common as children of God and followers of Christ?  I hear this as a desire for the new day and the new covenant that Jeremiah promises

Epperly again writes, “Jeremiah aspires toward a heart-felt relationship with God in which we do the good as a result of our relationship with God.”  He says, “Jeremiah imagines a new day for Israel. Divine help is on the way. The broken country can be healed. Alienation can give way to reconciliation. The law…can become our deepest reality, written on our hearts.”  In response to this deep desire to know God and God’s way, he says, “…the prophet imagines a day in which the nation will walk with God again. The laws of God, written in our hearts, will no longer be a source of dissonance, but flow out of our relationship with God. Every action can reflect the intimacy we feel toward our Creator and Lawgiver. Law is no longer an external judge or something we need to live up to, it is the inspiration to a new way of life, loving justice and walking humbly in relationship with God” (Epperly, op. cit.)

A new day, a new covenant.  Can you see it, feel it, taste it, smell it, imagine it? A day and a way in which God will dwell in us and we will dwell in God.  Thrilling, frightening, challenging, appealing!  It is coming.  See it breaking through?  May it be fulfilled in us – and soon.  Amen.

The Impossible Dream (Providence, October 14, 2013)

Don QuixoteTHE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM

A sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
AWAB XX
First Baptist Church, Providence, RI

Monday, October 14, 2013

CERVANTES:

May I set the stage? I shall [recall] a man. Come, enter into my imagination and see him!
His name…Alonso Quijana…a country squire, no longer young…bony, hollow-faced…eyes that burn with the fire of inner vision. Being retired, he has much time for books. He studies them from morn to night and often through the night as well. And all he reads oppresses him… fills him with indignation at [humanity’s] murderous ways… And he conceives the strangest project ever imagined … to become a knight-errant and sally forth into the world to right all wrongs. No longer shall he be plain Alonso Quijana…but a dauntless knight known as – Don Quixote de La Mancha!

DON QUIXOTE:

Hear me now
Oh thou bleak and unbearable world,
Thou art base and debauched as can be;
And a knight with his banners
all bravely unfurled
Now hurls down his gauntlet to thee!

I am I, Don Quixote,
The Lord of La Mancha,
My destiny calls and I go,
And the wild winds of fortune
Will carry me onward,
…whithersoever they blow…
Onward to glory I go!

Hear me, heathens and wizards
And serpents of sin!
All your dastardly doings are past,
For a holy endeavor is now to begin
And virtue shall triumph at last!

I am I, Don Quixote,
The Lord of la Mancha,
My destiny calls and I go,
And the wild winds of fortune
Will carry me onward,
Will carry me onward,
…whithersoever they blow…
Onward to glory I go!

When I participated in the AWAB service in Kansas City this summer, the seeds of this sermon were sown in the texts Robin chose and in the experience of the word brought with power and authority.  In this, our anniversary year, our year of jubilee, we are looking at dreams that have seemed impossible in the past and dreams that may seem impossible moving forward, but when dreams and dreamers come together in constellation around a sacred center, who is to say what is possible or not, save the Holy One herself?

We started on Broadway, a perfectly plausible place for a gay preacher to start.  Don Quixote, whether in the original of Cervantes or as shaped by Darion and Lee, is a dreamer.  You heard what Cervantes said, “a country squire, no longer young…bony, hollow-faced… eyes that burn with the fire of inner vision.”  Some say an old fool, some say certifiably insane.  Imagine tilting at windmills as if they were fierce giants, treating a coarse farm girl as an elegant lady, riding a broken down horse with a short, stocky farmer following behind on his donkey, playing squire to your not quite shining knighthood and trying to keep you from the gravest dangers.

But, oh the dreamer and the dreams, that ineffable human capacity to see beauty where others see squalor, to hold hope where others hold cynicism and despair, to yearn for a better life, a more gracious world where others have sold out or given up.  Don Quixote, the Man of La Mancha, has captured the imagination and fueled the dreams of many a human being down through the centuries.

Though the comparison may be neither obvious nor easy, Paul was a dreamer.  In fact, the story says he had life-transforming vision that knocked him off his horse and turned his life around.  Saul, the clever Pharisee, student and defender of the ancient law, persecutor of the followers of the Christ, had an encounter with that same Christ that made a new being of him. He became Paul, the apostle, by his own confession “a fool for Christ.  He was willing to weather the ridicule and abuse of admitting he was wrong and spent the rest of his life trying to undo the damage he had done.

Jesus, himself, stood in the middle of his home synagogue and proclaimed that he had come “to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  And don’t you think more than one of those present though, “Isn’t this the son of that day worker, Joseph?  Who does he think he is?  He’s making a fool of himself and us in the process!”  A fool, a dreamer, a man with a vision of the realm of God, a man who proposed to walk God’s way through this world and wasn’t afraid to ask others to come along with him.   It was the impossible dream of an improbable dreamer.  In the end, it only cost him his life – yet he went willingly, with compassion, love and grace.

Forty years ago, in a seedy bar in Lincoln, Nebraska, there was another improbable dreamer with an impossible dream, another fool for Christ, another man who believed deeply that God’s reign might come on earth, especially for lgbtqiq folk.  Rodger Harrison, a Baptist preacher, from his own imagination put together a phantom organization he called American Baptists Concerned.  He named a President, Louise Rose.  I doubt he had asked her if he could put her name in nomination, let alone appoint her.  He would be vice-President and I think that’s as far as he got that night.  A fool, a dreamer, a man with a vision?  Who knew that night?  But by all rights, we are standing, upright and healthy, in his long shadow today.

I believe it takes a fool, a dreamer, a visionary to bring about changes in this world.  Those of us who turn too quickly to tradition and familiar structures for our security, nearly always have to wait for someone like Rodger or Don Quixote or Paul or Jesus to shake us up and draw us out of our shells.  We need people of every persuasion and orientation, of every shape and size and color, of youth and age, of every ability, of heart and spirit, to dream dreams and see visions in order to draw us out and on toward that realm of God.

Right in the middle of that realm sits the Welcome Table, that visionary place, often dreamed of, too seldom realized, where every single being made in the image and likeness of God is invited, welcomed, encouraged to sit and eat until we are filled with the bread of life and made whole through the cup of salvation.  That means you and that means me and, frankly, that means all the world.  No one has the right to tell anyone that they are not welcome at Christ’s table in the middle of God’s realm.  “There is plenty good room.”

It’s foolishness, an impossible dream, to imagine that there is really room for all.   There have to be some exceptions right?  Surely not everyone is included?  D. Mark Wilson, whom you saw directing the Rainbow Choir a few years back after a barrage of abuse was received from the preacher that night, a preacher who had a long list of people he was convinced were not welcome at the table, D. Mark loved to remind us of the old hymn that says, “Whosoever will may come.”  The hymn repeats that phrase several times to make sure we get it, “Whosoever will, whosoever will, whosoever will, may come.”

Cindy gave us some material to dream about last night.  Did anyone see the pots of gold at the end of those rainbows of grace?  What are your impossible dreams?   For that matter, what are your accessible dreams? Some of us are timid, some frightened, some anxious and insecure, some burned out, some who don’t trust ourselves or what see.  That’s right, people like you and me.  We’re not likely to go tilting at windmills.  We haven’t had visions that knocked us to the ground.  We see in a mirror dimly, with only glimpses of the coming reign of God.  We’re not likely to start movements or give up our security or dignity in pursuit of a cause. Or are we?

Another wise character from Broadway chides a young lieutenant with these words, “You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” (Bloody Mary in South Pacific).  So what’s your answer?  Is there a little residual Don Quixote in you?  Is there some small place in a corner of your being in which you dream dreams and see visions?  Would some small voice inside you like,

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear the unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
The reach the unreachable star

Well, here’s some good news.  The prophet proclaims for God, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  That’s not some obscure promise.  It’s not a word reserved for improbable dreamers with impossible dreams.  God is doing a new thing.  God is always doing new things.  We are a part of God’s new thing.  AWAB is one of God’s new things.  Love and compassion, grace and acceptance, holy welcome for lgbtqiq people and our allies is God’s new thing.  And, if we’ll trust this promise, follow our dreams and our dreamers, even when – maybe especially when – they seem improbable and impossible, God will make a way in our wilderness and provide rivers in our deserts.

So let me close with one more Broadway text.  I believe it was in 1996, the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Revolution, that we strange Baptists held a retreat in Manhattan.  During that time, several of us had the privilege of seeing both parts of Tony Kushner’s great play, Angels in America.  The key character, Prior Walter, is pulled in many directions in the play as he (and Kushner and the audience) wrestle with, among many things, the significance of the AIDS epidemic. At the end of the play, Prior Walter utters these words.  He’s talking about AIDS but he could be talking about anything that makes us ill, wounds us, undoes us, steals our dreams and crushes our spirits.  He may be talking about the very wound you wrote on a strip of paper and wove into this tapestry Friday night.  He says,

This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More life. The Great Work Begins” (Prior Walter in Angels in America.)

The great work begins – again and again and again – in each of us, in our impossible dreams and sacred visions.  We are eternally blessed with more life.  Let us – fabulous creatures, each and every one – take up the great work, dream impossible dreams, see the reign of God and the Welcome Table and make it so.   Amen.

 

All Saints in Song

Ana HernandezA SPECIAL SERVICE: Friday, November 1. Join us as we welcome Ana Hernandez to our sanctuary to sing and pray with us for this very special All Saints worship service. In partnership with All Souls Episcopal Parish in Berkeley, CA, we are grateful for the chance to welcome Ana. We hope you will join us. Bring an instrument. Bring your voice. All are encouraged to play. You can learn more about Ana and her music here: www.anahermusic.tumblr.com

“Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.” – Episcopal Book of Common Prayer