Peace Camp and Joint Worship Service

Joint Worship serviceIt was good to be away for two weeks, attending Peace Camp and visiting with my family, but it is also good to be home in Palo Alto where the temperature never stretches to triple digits.  (It got up to 102 in Boise, though it’s nice, dry heat.)  Peace Camp went very well.  Spokane and the Gonzaga University campus were attractive.  Highlights included a plenary address and workshop by Miguel de la Torre, an outstanding Christian ethicist from Iliff Seminary in Denver.  Miguel, who claims Southern Baptist identity, is Cuban American with a strong voice for justice.  Right now his focus is on both immigrant and lgbtq people.  There was a documentary film series, including a fascinating movie on the rise and fall of the Aryan Nation in northern Idaho in the 70s and 80s.  (Coeur d’Alene is only 16 miles from Spokane.) There was excellent worship, fine workshops and even a wedding for April and Deborah, who are long-time leaders in the BPFNA.  (Washington is a state that recognizes marriage equality.)  As usual, young adults, youth and children helped lead worship and were highlighted in the open mic sessions.  It was also great to see friends and colleagues, old and new.

This Sunday will be our annual joint service with Covenant Presbyterian Church.  You can see the details above.  The service is intergenerational and will feature a drama rather than a sermon as well as communion.  Afterwards we will share a potluck meal together.  This service, held in the “bowl” in Mitchell Park, was a hit last year.  I hope you will plan to be there for the celebration.  This is a great opportunity to bring someone along with you.  See you Sunday at 10:30 AM (unless you can help set up at 8:00 AM or want to sing with the choir at 9:30 am.)

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

Pastor Rick

iSing Concert, July 27, 2013

Oleta and everyone else who helped things run smoothly in my absence.  By all reports our mission project, iSing (girls’ choir camp,) was a great success, highlighted by a concert and cook out on the last day.  The program was led by Jennah Delp and Shane Toll.  Both Pastor Tripp (banjo) and Jan Gunderson (piano) participated in the concert.  We are looking forward to the growth of this program in the coming school year.

13-08-01.ising

iSing Showcase

tripp-banjo.fwFriends of God,

There’s a lot to report this week. Thank you all for your continued work here at First Baptist. This church continues to be a ministry to the people of Palo Alto, an outpost of God’s Kin-dom here on earth. Thank you for all you do.

This week I’ve been enjoying the sounds of the children in iSing as they practice and prepare for their showcase this Saturday. I’ve been practicing my banjo part for one of the songs (Jennah promises it will be easy…I dunno). The kids sound great. I’m looking forward to spending Saturday with them. I hope a few of you can make it Saturday afternoon to greet them and their parents. Your presence is a simple but powerful witness of hospitality.

Pastor Rick will return to us on Sunday ready to preach and share some of his adventures from Peace Camp. Please join us for worship on Sunday at 10:00am as we welcome him home.

Peace and All Good Things,
Pastor Tripp Hudgins

12.00

Friends of God,

There’s a lot to report this week. Thank you all for your continued work here at First Baptist. This church continues to be a ministry to the people of Palo Alto, an outpost of God’s Kin-dom here on earth. Thank you for all you do.

This week I’ve been enjoying the sounds of the children in iSing as they practice and prepare for their showcase this Saturday. I’ve been practicing my banjo part for one of the songs (Jennah promises it will be easy…I dunno). The kids sound great. I’m looking forward to spending Saturday with them. I hope a few of you can make it Saturday afternoon to greet them and their parents. Your presence is a simple but powerful witness of hospitality.

Pastor Rick will return to us on Sunday ready to preach and share some of his adventures from Peace Camp. Please join us for worship on Sunday at 10:00am as we welcome him home.

Peace and All Good Things,
Pastor Tripp Hudgins

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A Living Prayer (July 21, 2013)

sermons.fwA LIVING PRAYER
A sermon preached by
George V. (Tripp) Hudgins
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, July 21, 2013

Texts:  Genesis 18:1-10; Luke 10:38-42

And here we are again. Gathered. Us. Together.

Have you ever wondered about this habit we have of gathering together to sing, to pray, to listen to old stories, and to share what is happening in our lives? Have you ever wondered why we spend our financial resources in this manner? Have you ever wondered why we do it?

I have. I wonder about these particular spiritual habits all the time.

Several months ago in our Adult Spiritual Formation class someone asked what the great theological debate of our present time in history in the Church might be.
Is it over human sexuality?
The environment?
Global poverty?
What is The Great Concern?
What is the present debate about Christian Belief?
Well, might I humbly offer this possible response to that great question: It’s not about what we believe at all. The great theological debate of our present time is more fundamental than that. It is about what we do.

The Great Question is this: Why do we gather together?

Those of you who have been in the Adult Spiritual Formation class know a lot about this already. We’ve been talking about it for more than a year. We’ve been addressing issues of culture and change and generational relationships with every cultural institution, not just Christian congregations. We’ve spoken about the “spiritual but not religious” (those who claim no single religious identity) and the ongoing critique of the Church from those who consider themselves to be outside of the institutional structures but still a part of the Body of Christ.

Wait. Did you catch that? There are a bunch of people who understand themselves to be Christian. They work for justice and peace. They give generously of their time and money. They are devoted to Biblical study. They are liberal and conservative and everything in between. Yet, these same people do not “go to church.” They claim “We are The Church. We don’t go to Church.”

This challenge comes from every generation within the church. It’s not about being young. It’s not about community or family. One of my favorite theologians (and Executive Minister of Chicago), Larry Greenfield and I would tangle over this issue all the time. So the critique is not limited to a small group of disenchanted young people. Not at all.
“We are The Church. We don’t go to Church,” they say.
“Stop putting the cart before the horse,” they say.
“Stop spending money on rock-n-roll liturgies when people are starving in our own neighborhoods.”

The Church is not a destination or a social club. It is a People. We aren’t members of institutions, but are instead members of a Body. We are part of one another. Tear down all the buildings tomorrow and the Church still stands. So, explain to us why we gather. Why do we worship?

It’s a powerful critique of the institutions and our communal practices that many of us, myself included, treasure.

And, to be candid, it’s a question that causes me to doubt everything I’m doing right now. It sends my head spinning and I end up with more questions than answers.

In our story about Mary and Martha we’re presented with a familiar dichotomy. Devotion or “work.” Are we to be Mary or Martha? Every time I read this passage or hear a sermon about how we need to be more like Mary and less like Martha I become more and more convinced that the passage has little to do with the two of them. I mean, sure, yeah. That works. I get it. But really? Is this all?

We are distracted by many things. We are even distracted by Mary’s devotion. Look at her! She’s doing it right! Be like her! I’m so distracted by Mary!

What? Wait…what is this passage all about? Who is actually the central character in this story?

Well, it’s not Mary. It’s not Martha, either. It’s Jesus. Jesus. This passage is about Jesus. Luke wants us to know something about the nature of Jesus.

That a woman welcomed Jesus into her home when he was visiting her village.
(Luke loved to point out the scandalous nature of Jesus’ ministry.)
That Jesus taught women when the tradition of his day would have prohibited it.
(Jesus pushes those conventions around, you know.)
That Jesus is worthy of devotion and emulation.
(Brian Savage, a friend in Chicago reminded me this week that it’s dangerous to be in the presence of Jesus. Devotion is not safe.)

Now what do we do?

So, Abraham and Sarah are old. They’ve been wandering the deserts and cities of their time for quite a while. One day they receive visitors. Abraham starts ordering everyone around. Sarah makes herself scarce but useful. They are hospitable. They are generous to their guests. And then there’s this promise, this old forgotten promise of God that Sarah and Abraham will be the parents of multitudes. The visitors, the messengers of God offer this word, a reminder of God’s promise. We know how the story goes. Sarah laughs. Of course she does. It’s absurd.

Old. Out-dated. Barren. What good is Sarah? What good is Abraham? They have seen their time. They are people of the past and not of the future.

Not so, says God. Not in the least.

It’s similar to what I hear about the Church. Old. Outdated. Barren. It has seen its day. Let it go.

Not so, says God. I’m not done with you yet. I still have grace to give. I still have life to offer. I’m by no means done with you. Make room. There are children coming. There are little ones. There are sons and daughters too numerous to count. Stop counting. Stop sighing. Stop all the striving! Listen for the promise!

Listen to the messengers.

So much of this conversation about the present and the future of the Church neglects the promises that God has made God’s people again and again throughout human history.

There’s a kind of striving going on here, an attempt to purify the Church’s practices in some way. We think there’s a right way and a wrong way to be Church. And there is, be assured, but this conversation about the pure form, the ideal form of worship, does us no favors. We have all kinds of metrics for this, too…theological metrics as well as things like counting church attendance or the kind of music we play. We distract ourselves with many, many things. We strive. We sigh. We laugh.

We have this habit of trying to articulate the ideal liturgy rather than understanding the liturgy we actually take part in every Sunday. We keep striving for some perfect ideal when the truth is that no such ideal exists. What we have is, well, us. We have who we are.

We are all the characters from scripture this morning. We are Mary, Martha, Abraham, the unnamed servants, and Sarah. We all serve God and we are God’s messengers. That’s who we are. This collection of people is a description of what it means to be human. This is who we are.

We are a mess and we are the Body of Christ. We are a living prayer.

Imperfect, though we may be.

So, why do we gather together? That’s up for us to find out together. That’s up to us to continue to work out with one another over cups of coffee in one another’s kitchens.

But here’s what I think…

We gather because Christ is present. We gather because God is real. We gather as an act of devotion. Christ stirs our hearts every day and it is on this day that we gather and share the stirrings of our hearts. This is the Lord’s Day.

Our gatherings are symbols of God’s beauty. Our worship services are symbols of the divine encounter. They are opportunities to share our stories of encountering God every day. They are icons of Divine Love. Worship is a proclamation.

Worship is an art form.

Liturgy doesn’t produce anything. Asking what liturgy or worship contributes is like asking what the Mona Lisa contributes or what Beethoven’s Ninth contributes. They don’t contribute. They don’t feed the hungry. They don’t set the captives free. They don’t right great wrongs. No. Of course not. And we don’t expect them to.

And yet, they are profound…earth shattering. Dare we say revelatory? I hope so. Beauty matters.

Just before I moved out here to begin school at Berkeley, I had a conversation with the Episcopal Bishop of Chicago. We were both in attendance at a wedding of a friend. Bishop Lee was presiding and I was preaching. We struck up a conversation at the reception about liturgy and music and why any of it matters. He said, “I want liturgy to be so heartbreakingly beautiful that the only response is to go into the world and feed the poor, release the captives, and to end oppression.”

It’s not a bad idea.

To be made a living prayer takes so many forms. To be a living prayer is to do many, many things. We’ll be plenty busy. We’ll give who we are and what we have away at every turn. We’ll offer our lives. We’ll work to end oppression and injustice. We’ll give our time and financial resources away. We’ll make ourselves vulnerable in many ways.

And we’ll gather.
Some days we’ll be bored.
Other days we’ll be on the edge of our seats with excitement.

We’ll sit in adoration.
We’ll distract ourselves with many things.
We’ll order other people around.
We’ll laugh at the promises of God.

And we’ll do all of these things in the presence of Christ. We’ll gather. It’ll be messy.

We gather because of whose we are. We are Christ’s. We are all, no matter what our frame of mind, in the presence of Christ at all times. Our gatherings on Sunday are a service to one another and the world, a reminder, a symbol, a gesture.

We gather to make something beautiful, good, and true.

 

Who Is My Neighbor? (July 14, 2013)

sermons.fwWHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
A sermon preached by
Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, July 14, 2013

Text:  Luke 10:25-37

Let us pray:  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).  Every observant Jew in Jesus’ hearing would have been familiar with these words.  They come directly from the Torah and were prayed twice daily.  To love God with one’s whole being was central to Jewish law.  Every other element of the law sprang from this great commandment.  So when the lawyer questions Jesus about eternal life, it’s not at all surprising to find he already knew the answer.

Some would argue that the lawyer is trying to trap Jesus.  It certainly is not the first time on this long journey to Jerusalem that a religious authority has tried to trip him up.  But I’m not altogether certain.  I think it’s in the nature of lawyers to want to pin things down, to ask clarifying questions and to try to establish precedents that people can practice.  His question may be a test of Jesus’ knowledge or wisdom, but it could be that he really is looking for an answer. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Does that question have any ring of authenticity for you?  Have you ever found yourself wondering along with the lawyer?  Do you ever worry about the heavenly road and whether or not you’re on it?  I know we largely think of ourselves as too sophisticated to put questions in these terms.  But if you found yourself in this attorney’s shoes what would you ask Jesus?  What would you want to know – about his authenticity, his message, his leadership, the way he was walking, the choices he was making, the reign of God he kept promoting?  What must I do to secure my place in this in-breaking, life-transforming, reign of God?

Now in typical fashion of argumentation for the time and territory, Jesus turns the lawyer’s question back on him.  He answers the original question with a sharply pointed question of his own.  “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”  Jesus knows this man is no dummy.  This lawyer is well-read, literate in the law, perfectly capable of answering his own question, if he stops to think.  Here we get Luke’s version of the Great Commandment, but it does not come from the lips of Jesus.  It comes from the one who has just challenged him.  Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor just as you love yourself.   The law, the way, the truth, the life – all are rooted and grounded in these words about the power of love.

I imagine the lawyer was a little embarrassed at being shown up by Jesus.  He engages in a little stuttering before he comes up with a face-saving follow-up question.  “And just who is my neighbor?”  Surely, he will either get Jesus to engage him on his own terms or he will catch Jesus short in his understanding of neighborliness.  But again, Jesus does not follow the lawyer’s lead.  He says, “Let me tell you a little story.”

The crowd is enrapt as they watch the volleys back and forth between the two.  They settle in to hear one of Jesus’ famous stories, the kind with a surprise ending that will surely put his challenger in his place.  I’m sure we could all tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan from memory.  Along with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it is the most familiar of all Jesus’ stories.

Jesus himself will soon walk the steep, rugged road from Jericho to Jerusalem.  Even if it is not actually familiar to his hearers, they all know of its dangerous reputation.  I can imagine they might begin by wondering what this fool was doing traveling the road alone, unless he was on some urgent business that required his taking off by himself.

Now he lies bloody and beaten in the ditch robbed of all his resources, including his robe and tunic.  The listeners are conflicted.  They understand why the priest and Levite don’t stop.  The risk of being robbed themselves and the risk of ritual impurity were just too great.  Truth be told, most of them would not have stopped either.  They could think of a dozen reasons not to get involved.  But they’d also been around Jesus long enough to begin to understand how important compassion was to the reign of God.  They had a nagging feeling that Jesus believed the priest and Levite should have stopped.  They knew that, for Jesus, human need trumped rules and standard practice every time.

So what would the catch be, what was the punch line for this parable?  A Samaritan wanders onto the scene.  Well, surely this is a turn for the worse.  Everyone knew that a hated Samaritan could be up to no good.  See, we’ve heard this story so many times it’s tamed for us, but the first century Jews, listening to Jesus talk, had been carefully taught to hate Samaritans.  The ending, so familiar to us, would have been shocking to them.

That’s right.  It’s the Samaritan who shows compassion and extravagant generosity.  The lawyer is not the only one dumb-founded.  The whole crowd is astonished, speechless.  Jesus, looking the lawyer right in the eyes, asks one last question.  “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor…?”  Stuttering again, the lawyer cannot bring himself to say the word Samaritan…“The one who showed…mercy.”  Finally, the answer to that original question about eternal life, about residency in the reign of God:  “Go and do likewise.”

If we were to put ourselves into this scene today, how might the story unfold?  Who would we find in need and why?  Who would be likely to walk by on the other side and who would stop to help?  Where would you place yourself – lying in the ditch, hurrying by, taking time to lend assistance?  My guess is that each of us has had some experience of all three roles.  We’ve been down and out, hurting, in need of help.  We’ve been too busy, too frightened, too preoccupied to stop for a neighbor in need.  And there have been those moving, miraculous moments when our compassion has kicked in and we’ve stopped to help even when it was not perceived to be in our best interest.

Some would argue that it’s human nature to follow an instinct for self-preservation, to give one’s self over to caring only for one’s self and one’s own.  Michael Rogness reminds us that the shrinking world in which we live challenges our understanding of neighbor.  He says, “We are all ‘tribal’ by instinct and by habit. We are most comfortable with and usually care most about those like us. But now we live side-by-side with people of many different tribes” (Michael Rogness, Commentary on Luke 10:25-37, workingpreacher.org).  Whomever is on our personal “Samaritan” list are the ones for whom we are least likely to have time or energy.  No compassion for those folk; too hard to get inside their skin and see with their eyes.  It’s important to look after one’s own kind.  How subtly does racism, classism, sexism, homo-hatred, ablism creep in to erode our ability to love, to crush our capacity for compassion?

Gerald May argues that this very capacity for compassion, this awakening of the heart to loving and being loved is what distinguishes human beings from other animals (The Awakened Heart).  Marcus Borg says that the call to compassion is one of two key marks that distinguish Jesus’ ministry from all others (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time).  Anne Howard says of the parable, “There are two kinds of people in [this] story: those who see life with eyes of fear and the one who sees with eyes of love.”  She continues, “Jesus makes it very clear to the lawyer: there is really only one rule to the game: be a neighbor. Be the one who doesn’t count the cost, be the one who doesn’t measure the boundaries, be the one who doesn’t calculate the limits of kindness, be the one who sees” with eyes of love (Anne Howard, “Two Ways to See,” A Word in Time, July 8, 2013, beatitudessociety.org).

Compassion, love for neighbor, may not be part of our animal nature, but it is certainly central to that second nature, that higher self into which we can grow.  God has made us a little lower than the divine and crowned us with honor and glory (Psalm 8:5).  We are created and called to something beyond our base nature.  To give ourselves to God and neighbor is to commit ourselves to a life of love and compassion.  “Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.  Go and practice compassion.  You already know the foundation – love of God and love of neighbor.  Go and live out what you see to be true.  Amen.

 

Who Is My Neighbor?

13-05-22.pentecost_banner.fwThanks to everyone who helped with last Sunday’s worship service and church picnic.  Special kudos go to Eleanor Satterlee (and her sidekick, Hugh) for organizing and overseeing the picnic.  It was a very enjoyable occasion.  It was also great to have Pastor Tripp back from his sojourn in Virginia.  We missed his guitar, banjo, mandolin and mellifluous tones, among other things.

This Sunday we will consider one of the most familiar stories in the Bible, the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  This is a very familiar territory.  Still, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves from time to time of what this story teaches.  It grows directly from Jesus’ affirmation of the Great Commandments – to love God with your whole being and to love your neighbor as your self.  It is interesting to have a focus on this second commandment two weeks in a row, as Paul quoted it in his letter to the Galatians, which we looked at last Sunday.  Maybe it really is important, even crucial, that we continue to try to understand, embed, live out this great commandment – to love others as we love ourselves.

“So. just who is my neighbor,” the Pharisee asks?  This is a relevant question for us as well.  Obviously Jesus is talking about more than the family next door or your co-worker in the next cubicle.  Neighborliness seems to have broad connotations in Jesus’ thinking – maybe extending to strangers, enemies, reaching around the globe.  One question implied in Jesus’ story is who are the people we would find it most difficult to claim as neighbor?  Look there if you want to know the challenge of neighborliness for yourself.

Come this Sunday at 10 AM dressed for the picnic and ready for celebration.  Bring someone along to share the morning with you.

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