Wear red for Pentecost!

Joanne Jones plays violin
Joanne Jones plays violin

Thanks again to Joanne Jones for her lovely music last Sunday.  It was also a delight to have so many from her family, including all 5 of her beautiful daughters with us in worship.  In spite of her decision to retire from the Palo Alto Philharmonic after 25 years, Joanne still plays with grace and beauty.  And, of course, she also oversees our hospitality, in addition to all the other ways she serves our congregation.  We are blessed to have her.

This Sunday is Pentecost.  Everyone is encouraged to wear red (or orange or yellow – something to help symbolize the tongues of flame that lit on the disciples’ heads when the Holy Spirit came to them.)  The children and youth created some stunning décor for the sanctuary.  This will be an intergenerational service in which we celebrate the “birthday of the church.”  So come prepared to join in the festivities.

We began an excellent series in Adult Spiritual Formation, with our consideration of Cathleen Falsani’s book, Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace.  We will continue the conversation this week and next.  Then on June 2, we will be privileged to have Cathleen with us for worship and Adult Spiritual Formation.  Invite someone to come along for this exploration of grace and to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit as well.  Looking forward to seeing you Sunday at 10.

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

Sin Boldly

Cathleen Falsani
Cathleen Falsani, author of “Sin Boldly”

We’re on the verge of one of those big transitions in the liturgical year.  This Sunday (which is also Mothers’ Day) marks the end of Eastertide with a celebration of the Ascension.  The following Sunday, May 19, we will celebrate Pentecost, the “birthday of the church.”  Some theologians believe that the Ascension is as important as the Resurrection.  Here the Gospel comes full circle as the Christ, who descended from God, returns to God.  This is the ultimate homecoming on which all homecomings are patterned.  The course of our lives on earth is this journey from God to God.  It is the driven by the desire to nest our restless hearts in the heart of God.  It is the culmination of communion, now face to face with the Creator.  Jesus shows us the Way.

We also begin a three week study in Adult Spiritual Formation of Cathleen Falsani’s book, Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace.  Falsani argues that “Grace makes no sense to our human minds.  We’re hard-wired to seek justice, or our limited idea of what that means, and occasionally dole out mercy.  Grace is another story.”  This is a great opportunity to explore the author’s work before she visits us in person on June 2.  It is also a great opportunity to invite someone(s) to come along with us on the journey.  I’m sure we all know folks who would benefit from an encounter with grace.  Looking forward to seeing you Sunday at 10.

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

Pastor Rick

 

The Heavenly City (May 5, 2013)

THE HEAVENLY CITY
A sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA  Sunday, May 5, 2013

 Text: Revelation 21:10-22:5

I am a poor pilgrim of sorrow
I’m tossed in this wide world alone
No hope I have for tomorrow
I’ve started to heav’n my home

Sometimes I am tossed and driven, Lord,
Sometimes I don’t know where to roam
I’ve heard of a city called heaven
I’ve started to make it my home Continue reading The Heavenly City (May 5, 2013)

Meet Our New Interns

Naomi Schultz and Doug Davidson
Naomi Schultz and Doug Davidson

As most of you know, Pastor Tripp will be finishing up his course work this month and will be working on his comprehensive examinations in the coming year. This, plus some needs of his family in Virginia, means he will be working fewer hours at FBCPA. We are delighted that he will continue to be our Minister for Faith Formation and Family Life. We are equally delighted that we have two outstanding seminary students coming to work with us in the coming year, both to fulfill their field work requirements and to help with Pastor Tripp’s responsibilities.

Tripp and I have dreamed of having multiple interns working as a team ever since he started working with us. I had an opportunity like this in Granville where I was privileged to work for a year to work with three wonderful women – two interns and a pastoral associate. Everyone benefited from the project, especially the congregation. Let me introduce you to our interns.

  • Doug Davidson will be a second‐year M.Div. student at the American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley. Before beginning seminary, Doug worked for more than two decades as an editor for religious publications, including thirteen years as coeditor of the late, great Christian peace‐and‐justice magazine The Other Side. Read more …
  • Naomi Schulz will be a third year student at the Pacific School of Religion. Her areas of academic interest include: Theologies and Best Practices of Christian Parish Ministry; Theologies of Embodiment and Care related to Disability and Illness; Intersections of Art and Spirituality; and, Faith‐based organizing. Read more …

Of course there is much more to both Doug and Naomi but I wanted you to know something about them before they started. I hope you will take every opportunity to get to know them better as they serve our community in the coming year.

Pastor Rick

 

“edgy, largely inconvenient and a little strange”

a new thingThe church and the gospel are not the same thing. I doubt they ever were, though there may have been times when they were more closely aligned than today. With acknowledgement of its ancient roots, the church that most of us have known and loved in this country was the product of the post‐war “boom” of the 1950s and 60s. I am a relatively early boomer (1947) so my experience of church life was thoroughly steeped in that tradition. The church was often the center of the community, a place where traditional, nuclear family life was idealized, where you went to make significant business contacts and your name known in the neighborhood. Denominations strategized church planting throughout suburbia, “silk‐stocking” downtown churches thrived.

The church my father served from 1945 to 1950 was in a small Kansas railroad town of 14,000 people. First Baptist, Newton, had a thousand members when he left to start one of the American Baptist “Churches for New Frontiers.” The denomination had purchased a large, well‐situated plot of land on which to build. He started out preaching to 13 people in the Borel’s living room, using the top of the TV as his pulpit. When he left that congregation in 1953, it had grown significantly and had built a parsonage on the site that was used as the church building for worship and Sunday School. He lived (1964) long enough to see Prairie Baptist Church, in the suburbs of Kansas City, Kansas, grow to several hundred members and become the largest American Baptist mission giving church in Kansas.

My point is not to brag, though I hold my father and his ministry in high esteem. The point is to give you a taste of the times, not that many of you don’t have your own stories to tell from that glorious period in the life of the church. None of this is new to you. You’ve heard it all before. Now the church of the 50s and 60s is in rapid decline and I would guess will largely disappear in the next 50 years. Some church people are caught up in mourning what is passing, some are dedicated to moving back to the future, some are in despair of what can be done to save the church. One problem is that all of these folk have taken the burden on themselves. Either they are stuck in grief and guilt, they are busily replicating the methods of 50 years ago, or they are writing blogs, columns (like this one!) or books recounting the downward spiral, the reasons for it and myriad untested ideas about what the church should be and do next.

Our congregation has a mixture of all these, but for now we have voted to work toward renewal. Dan Cudworth has raised a question as to whether or not “renewal” is the right word to describe what some of us are looking toward. Renewal implies a resuscitation of that which is dead or dying. Should we let it go? Should we instead look for God’s new thing, for an outcome that we have yet to image, for transformation in service of the Gospel? You see the church as we know it may be disappearing but there is no reason that God’s good news should disappear with it. The Jesus movement has weathered the coming and going of any number of institutional forms that have attempted to encapsulate it. Still the gospel lives. The promised reign of God still looms on the horizon and trickles down into contemporary culture all the time.

I met today with Eric Swanson, pastor of Westhope Presbyterian Church and director of The Contemplative Center of Silicon Valley. Eric is working to turn around a congregation that was pretty much on its last leg. He has challenged
that community to turn from more traditional church life to a congregational life that is centered in the Spirit. They are not growing by leaps and bounds –not in numbers, that is – but they are clearly growing in the Spirit. One thing they do very deliberately is to ground everything they do in prayer and contemplation. They look to discern rather than dictate God’s will and way for them. Is that something we might explore as means of transformation rather than renewal?

There’s been whole lot of discussion in recent times about the SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) and how they have either turned their backs on the church or else have never darkened its doors. Amy Butler, pastor of Calvary Baptist
Church in Washington, DC, in her latest blog, writes an open letter to the SBNR. She says to them, somewhat tongue‐in‐cheek, “I want to tell you that despite our collective panic attacks here on the Spiritual And Also Religious side of things, I am increasingly finding myself less and less interested in trying to find just the right song and dance to make you wake up one day and want to be part of a faith community.

It’s not you. It’s me. I just think that finding a way to be popular again may not be the most pressing work of the church these days.” I think she’s on to something. I think there was a time when we were popular and some of us long to be popular again. I think that’s more the name of the game than we’re willing to admit. We want to be popular, well‐liked, influential, just like Jesus was(n’t). Oops! Have we been on the wrong road, barking up the wrong tree, looking for love in all the wrong places? Maybe so. Amy continues writing to the SNBR, “I hear you when you say the church is irrelevant.
I get that you don’t care what we’re doing to catch your attention. If we’re smart, we’ll listen to what you’re saying to us and believe that you mean what you say. And then we’ll stop trying to package the institution to make it palatable and just get busy leading the church to faithfully do its work in the world.” If we’re smart we’ll listen, we’ll pay attention – not only to the witness of the SNBR but also to the witness of the Spirit.

What is the Spirit whispering to us? Where is God leading us? What does Jesus have to offer us today? The Gospel is not the church but the Gospel can and must surely shape any meaningful future we have. Amy concludes with an image of the body of Christ that may not be comfortable but is surely challenging. “I suggest to my angst‐ridden colleagues [SAAR] that your [SNBR] blatant rejection of the church, rather than a challenge to us to scramble for new ideas and back peddle when churches screw up, is actually a glimpse of what the church of the future will be: less attractive, more alternative, kind of edgy, largely inconvenient and a little strange.”

Less attractive, more alternative, kind of edgy, largely inconvenient and a little strange! Can you hear God calling us to such a reality? Can you feel the Spirit moving us in that direction? Does it seem like that’s exactly the way Jesus
walked? Uncomfortable, challenging, and still, good news, the Gospel that draws all creation into holy communion with God, leads us in the Jesus Way and empowers us with the Spirit. May we learn to pray, to discern and then say, “yes.”

Pastor Rick

 

ABSW and theological education

Rev. Wilkins, Pastor Rick, and Pastor Tripp
Rev. Wilkins, Pastor Rick, and Pastor Tripp

Greetings on this very warm first day of May.  It was a privilege and a pleasure for us to have the Rev. Robert Wilkins last Sunday, giving us insight into the American Baptist Seminary of the West and the current state of theological education.  His sharing was informative and helpful as we consider how we might assist seminary students in preparation for ministry.  One exciting prospect we have to look forward to is that we will have two very fine seminary students working with us as interns next year.  I am very pleased that Naomi Schultz from PSR and Douglas Davidson from ABSW have signed on to work with Tripp, me and the congregation.  You will hear more about them in the days ahead.  We are indeed blessed.

For the next couple of weeks our worship will focus on the last two chapters of Revelation, John’s vision of the Heavenly City and all it promises for the glorious fulfillment of God’s reign.  I know there is much in the book of Revelation that is troublesome and confusing, especially if it’s taken literally.  Even in John’s grand vision of the ultimate destination of God’s creatures and God’s creation, we find ideas and images that do not sit easily with us.  But the promises of healing and wholeness may still stir to us to live into those promises as we journey in the here and now.  There is much to praise in God’s eternal presence around and in us.

Adult Spiritual Formation will be one of those periodic Sundays when you’re invited to share whatever is on your mind.  Lord knows there has been plenty in the news lately to keep us occupied far beyond our hour.  Still let’s join in open, honest and respectful conversation.

See you on Sunday at 10 as we as we gather as Christ’s beloved community.  Invite someone to come with you.

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

 

Loving as Jesus Loved

absw_logoAfter a particularly trying week last week, this week has seemed calmer.  Beautiful weather helps, as do the many words of affirmation and hope that people have penned.  As followers of Jesus, we are caught up in the very specific challenge to love one another, in particular, our enemies.  This is never easy and the closer, more real, more evil our enemies seem, the more difficult the challenge.  I want to focus on two of the lectionary texts this week.  The first is Jesus “new commandment” as recorded in John 13, to “love one another as I (Jesus) have loved you.”  That little qualifier at the end of the sentence throws the challenge of love into an entirely different dimension.  We know something of love from our individual collective experiences, but to love as Jesus loved?  With the same compassion, forgiveness, grace?  That is going to take some work!

I see the story of Peter and Cornelius, as recounted in Acts 11, as a very specific illustration of what “loving as Jesus loved” might look like.  Peter is challenged to grow far beyond his comfort zone in the service of a God who is much more inclusive than Peter had ever imagined.  “You just keep bringing the good news, Peter.  God will make sure there is room at the table for everyone who hears and desires to join in the feast.”

We also have the privilege of having Robert Wilkins with us Sunday to share an update on the American Baptist Seminary of the West.  Robert, who heads the YMCA of the East Bay is a delightful person.  I hope you will all stay to hear him in the Adult Spiritual Formation hour.

See you on Sunday at 10 as we as we gather as Christ’s beloved community.  Invite someone to come with you.

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