It feels like summer here in Palo Alto today. I hope you are enjoying some of the beauty of this springtime. Thanks to everyone for joining to make Holy Humor Sunday a joyous event. I know it’s not the way we want to approach worship every Sunday, but it is good and healthy to laugh and to fill our service and ourselves with joy. So, on a day like today, “Sing a happy alleluia!”
This coming Sunday we will consider the added epilogue to John’s gospel with its lovely stories of Jesus’ tender care for the fishing apostles and the great reconciliation between Jesus and Peter. It seems that this Easter season is filled with “Amazing Grace.” Lord knows we can never have too much of that. In a day and age in which fear – of neighbor, others, difference, insecurity, scarcity, destruction, death, you name it – seems to rule so much of our social structure, deeply affecting how we live our lives, it is challenging to give ourselves over to a God characterized by forgiveness and grace, joy and love. How can we engage in that countercultural way of letting love rule our minds, bodies, our interactions, as well as our hearts as we seek to serve the One who promises to save us from the bondage of conventional cultural expectation? Join us in worship as we consider “The Care and Feeding of…” How would you fill in the blank? See you Sunday at 10. Bring someone along to share.
May God’s new thing flourish within us and among us.
March was full to o’er flowing with opportunities for fellowship and prayer (sometimes the two together). I hope you found a way to include yourself in the goings on in Lent. There was much to be enjoyed. The kids put together a little Passion play. Their were many, many prayer services with Covenant Presbyterian Church. We were a busy group of people! To that end, however, I’d love to hear from you. What’s working for you in what we offer? What could be different? Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to know what you would like to see happen here. I’d especially like to know what times of the week are best for you. Don’t me shy! Send me a list!
In April we’ll spend some time in Adult Spiritual Formation talking about Sonic Theology. That’s right. Sonic Theology. I hope you’ll join in. At the end of the month we’ll begin a new book study, Cathleen Falsani’s Sin Boldly. Martin Luther, the old German reformer once exclaimed “Sin boldly so that grace may abound!” Cathleen is a journalist and this book is about times that she has witnessed grace…perhaps in unexpected places. We’ll spend three Sundays with this book beginning with the last Sunday of the month. Cathleen will join us on Sunday, June 2. Keep your calendars clear!
I know it’s hard to believe but summer will soon be upon us. As I write this, baseball season is just under way (my fantasy team is terrible). We’ll be in the thick of summer fun before you know it. We’ve already started planning pot-lucks for the coming months (Keep May 10 open!). I hope you can join in the fun.
In December, I wrote and asked Ricardo Castillo, pastor of our sister church in Corinto, Nicaragua about the School. I wanted to confirm my translation that they were only offering secondary school for 2013. So this is his reply on Feb. 11, 2013.
“For the educational year 2013, we will not offer a Primary level because of certain difficulties in enrollment. There are very few students enrolled (20) and with that number it is not possible to pay 7 teachers!
We hope that next year will have a better enrollment so that we can continue our education programs. Therefore, we are only promoting and offering secondary level.
A wall was constructed (one of the projects named in January’s Spire to enlarge the classroom for secondary). The cost of materials was $455 and labor was $100, with the total investment being $550.
Forgive me for being so late to answer your question, but the work at the beginning of the year has been intense and my fractured right hand has not yet healed completely. (I believe from his Facebook page that this fracture occurred as a result of an earthquake.)
Greetings to the congregation in Palo Alto. Please accept greetings from our growing, young congregation in Corinto, Nicaragua. I wish you all the peace of God,”
Pastor of the Primera Iglesia Bautista
Addendum: Since receiving this e-mail, I received another 2/25 which explained that our $500 was used specifically for renovation of the electrical system for 5 classrooms, fans for ventilation, and materials for the repair of 120 student desks.
In commenting on the Easter texts for this year, David Lose writes, “…when God raised Jesus from the dead God was creating a new reality; overthrowing death, sin, and all that would oppress us; and declaring once and for all that life is more powerful than death and love more enduring that tragedy.” A new way of seeing things, a new reality, a new creation, a new thing – God’s realm, God’s reality, God’s creation, God’s thing. Sunday we used Isaiah 65 as the text for the Easter sermon – “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people…” (Isaiah 65:17-19b).
This text is consonant with our theme for this year, “God’s new Thing” – “Look! I am doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?” (Isaiah 43:17). Sunday I said that, among other things, God’s new creation is character-ized by liberating freedom, radical hospitality and amazing grace. These are rea-sons to shout “Alleluia!” and to dedicate ourselves to making God’s new thing instrumental in our lives and in the world around us. Following Barth’s famous reminder that we should carry the gospel in one hand and the newspaper (or internet?) in the other, I want to just touch on four issues currently “in the news” that I believe need to be addressed in making God’s new creation a reality on earth.
The first is marriage equality. Two organizations to which I belong, the Alliance of Baptists and Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists were official participants in a Service of Prayer for Love and Justice held Monday evening, March 25, at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington D.C. in advance of the Supreme Court hearings in regard to California Proposition 8 and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. If I had been closer, I would have joined in. It is quite appropriate to pray for wisdom and justice in this matter.
To me, it is absurd for Christians to continue to argue for the sanctity of our cur-rent marriage practices as if they were somehow scripturally ordained and ancient. They are neither. Marriage has rarely been a sacred practice throughout history. If you want to read a trenchant commentary on this absurdity, I refer you to an essay by Christian ethicist, Miguel de la Torre on Christianity’s struggle to correctly interpret the gift of marriage.
As I have argued before, a Baptist perspective on God’s new creation would not allow us clergy to act as agents of the state (i.e., signing marriage licenses and making proclamations for the state). It would encourage us to bless all sorts of relationships in God’s name. It would challenge us as a community to support and sustain healthy relationships among all God’s children. It is past time for the church to treat all of God’s children equally and fairly, regardless of their God-given sexual orientation or gender identity.
Equally absurd and even more deadly are the specious arguments being used by various firearms advocates to oppose gun control. Twice in Isaiah, the prophet envisions God’s holy mountain, a place where “they shall neither hurt or destroy.” There is simply no room for assault weapons, large magazines of ammunition and the unmonitored sale of firearms in God’s new creation. In fact, “the wolf lies with the lamb” in a sacred image that moves us beyond enmity, the projected need for security and, I suppose even hunting. We may not be ready to become vegetarians and we may feel some need to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our homes from the difficult exigencies of modern living, but reducing the type and amount of weaponry generally available can only move us closer to God’s new creation. It is shameful that a powerful gun lobby can hold the nation’s leadership hostage when a growing majority of our citizens favor gun control and evidence from all over the “first world” testifies to the effectiveness of gun control.
Immigration Reform is in the news because the president has committed himself to this as a legacy issue for this administration. This week the Associated Press has made a (belated) decision to drop the hateful moniker, illegal immigrant, from the repertory for its reportage. Just yesterday, I saw on facebook this pro-vocative quotation from Elie Wiesel, “No human being is illegal. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?” Spoken like a true citizen of God’s new creation, Wiesel has long been one of its key prophets for our times.
We do not have the authority to declare any of God’s children illegal, unwanted or unwelcome. I know that immigration reform is complicated but that is not a justification for avoiding it. People who come to our shores looking for relief from oppression or just looking for a better life for themselves and their families need to find a welcome. Without delving into economic injustice and inequity, in God’s new creation (as we find on this planet for which God has given us responsibility,) there is enough resource for everyone to live well, without fear of hunger and homelessness. Hymn writer Brian Wren urges us to “Break the bread of belonging. Welcome the stranger in the land. We have each been a stranger; we can try to understand.”
Finally, there is ongoing news coverage of war and threats of war. As we try to scale back our military operations in Afghanistan, there are new threats in Syria, Iran and Korea. Deep-seated, irrational enmity, ancient and new, threatens to destroy the earth and its people. God’s new creation is a “peaceable kingdom” and as followers of Jesus, we have committed ourselves to the Prince of Peace. It becomes vital for us actively to bear witness to and work for peace on earth and good will among all God’s people. As no one is illegal in God’s new creation, neither is any-one enemy. Jesus, himself, taught us that the one we judge to be enemy is actually our neighbor! Somehow we must gain the perspective, believe it and hold on to it that we are all God’s children…everyone of us, regardless of the differences we may want to emphasize. God’s amazing grace extends to and embraces one and all.
In another commentary on Sunday’s text, biblical scholar, Arland J. Hultgren writes, “Easter…marks the beginning of a new creation. It begins with the resurrection of Jesus, and it continues in the passing of time where the gospel is proclaimed and people come to faith.” In the passing of time and in living out the gospel, the new creation comes closer and becomes more real. Hultgren concludes with a challenge to all of us who would be Easter people, citizens of God’s new creation, the living body of Christ. “The church,” he says, “at its best continues to be the community of the new creation in a world that is too often headed for dissolution by violence, abuse, death, and destruction. Being peo-ple of the resurrected Lord Jesus, the church is in the business of praying for the renewal of the world and seeking to renew it.”
This is God’s new thing for us, ancient and timeless as God’s own being. We are to pray for and to work for the establishment of God’s new creation, of God’s realm (as Jesus kept proclaiming it) on earth, here and now. It is a challenge and it is a gift to be called to such a life. More reasons to join the chorus and shout, “Alleluia!”
Just a note to say thank you for allowing me to be with my family last week at the time of my brother-in-law’s death. It was very meaningful for our family to be together. I presided over a committal service and a memorial service while in Boise. Our entire family is grateful for your concern, prayers, cards, emails and calls. You are a caring and generous congregation.
Now once more we have come to Holy Week. In cooperation with Covenant Presbyterian Church, we are offering a number of opportunities to worship and commemorate this blessed time that leads toward Easter. Tomorrow night we will host the Maundy Thursday service with a simple soup supper, Communion around the tables and a visit to some of the “stations of the cross.” Friday night, Covenant will host a lovely an d moving service of Tenebrae, which includes a reading of the Passion account from Luke’s gospel interspersed with music, prayer and an extinguishing of the light, as we recall the Crucifixion and its aftermath. Saturday, Covenant will host an Easter Celebration for Children of the community to which we are invited. We can also use a number of helpers on Saturday morning at 11:00 AM to set up for the brunch and get the church ready for Easter.
And then Easter Day itself! As we find again our alleluias, we will gather for Sunrise worship in the bowl in Mitchell Park (where we held joint worship last summer.) Dress warmly to greet the Easter dawn. This will be followed by a pancake breakfast at Covenant. Then at 10:00 AM we will gather at First Baptist to celebrate Easter in music, prayer and proclamation, followed by an Easter Egg Hunt and our annual Easter Brunch, for which we are all encouraged to bring finger food to share.
This is a beautiful, intense, and ultimately joyful time in the life of the Church and in the life of our congregation. I hope to see you – as well as your families, friends, colleagues, neighbors and anyone else you might ask to come along – at any and all of these events.
May God’s new thing flourish within us and among us.
This Friday night we will have another movie night at FBCPA. Starting at 6:00 PM, we’ll gather in the Parlor for pizza, popcorn and The Prince of Egypt. This is an event for the whole family – young, old and in-between. You won’t want to miss it.
Last Sunday we were privileged to have the Santa Clara Chorale present a concert in our sanctuary. This Sunday we will be graced by the presence of The Bay Choral Guild at 4:30 PM. There concert is entitled “Pilgrimage” (an apt theme for this Lenten season,) will feature the premiere of a new work on the ancient pilgrimage, Camino de Santiago. At 6:30 PM we will continue our own Lenten pilgrimage with vespers in the Parlor.
Sunday’s theme is “Anointing,” as we consider John’s account of the symbolic preparation for burial offered by Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, as Jesus dines in their home just prior to the Passion week. One big controversy in the text is the use of such an expensive ointment to honor Jesus when there are so many needs that could have been met by selling it and disbursing the proceeds. What does Jesus really mean when he says, “The poor are always with you”? Come for worship and Sunday School at 10 and stay for Adult Spiritual Formation as we continue to consider Good News in Exile: Three Pastors Offer a Hopeful Vision for the Church. We had a good start last week. Hugh Satterlee will lead us this week. See you at 10:00 AM. Bring someone with you to share the day.
May God’s new thing flourish within us and among us.
A brief note this week encouraging you to take advantage of several things going on at FBCPA during this Lenten season. There are several choral events coming up. We have been invited to a free concert by the Austin College Choir in the sanctuary of Covenant Presbyterian on Saturday night. Sunday afternoon in our sanctuary we will be hosting the Santa Clara Chorale and next Sunday afternoon we will host the Bay Choral Guild in our sanctuary. (Jan Gunderson sings with this group.)
You are all welcome to attend the lovely contemplative services on Sunday evening. The week we will be at Covenant. Our Mission Task Team is among the groups partnering with Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice in an exhibition of the powerful public art piece, “Eyes Wide Open,” on Saturday March 16. This will be a day of prayer and reflection on the cost of war. The moving display of empty boots and shoes will be monitored at all times. The boots will be in place by 10am in the morning on Saturday, March 16, and taken up again at sunset that day (approximately 7:30 p.m.). There will be speakers and music at 10am and after Muslim prayers at 1:30pm. There will be a reading of names of the dead at 3:30pm. A closing program of memorial words, prayers and songs will begin at 6:30pm, ending at sundown with the playing of “Taps.”
I also want to continue encouraging you to plan to attend Peace Camp this summer with others from FBCPA. This is a wonderful opportunity for community building, for learning about and practicing peacemaking and for just enjoying the beautiful country in and around Spokane, Washington. Let Pastor Tripp or me know if you’re interested.
Sunday we will continue our Lenten journey on the theme, “More Second Chances.” This week’s gospel text is the very familiar story of “The Prodigal Son.” Is there any story that shows more clearly the art of love and the nature of grace? Join us in Worship, Sunday School, and Adult Spiritual Formation as we begin a new series on Good News in Exile, about what it’s like to be a mainline Protestant church in our current ethos. Bring someone along to share the experiences of the day. See you Sunday at 10:00 AM.
May God’s new thing flourish within us and among us.