Praying With the People

Our Joys and Concerns are:

  • Birthday joys for Philip Hayes (July 7), Betsy Anderson (July 8)
  • Prayers for Cole and his family – especially his siblings.
  • Prayers of thanks and joy for all of your well wishes to Pastor Gregory on his birthday.
  • Prayers for immigrants and refugees escaping to the United States, may we welcome them with open arms.
  • Prayers of thankfulness and gratitude for our denominational biennial conference: The American Baptist Biennial Mission Summit. Lots of hard working went into creating a wonderful experience for all.

Ongoing:

  • For Laurie and Dan Cudworth who celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in Santa Cruz
  • For Sean Cervera who is home and healthy after recovering from heart surgery
  • Charlotte for Keith who visited last week with Jocelyn, and for a visit from Brice
  • For Chuck and Nancy Syverson and for healing for Chuck
  • For Thelma Parodi on hospice care at home
  • For Joanne Jones living at University House, Issaquah, WA
  • For Janet Maxwell in the Health Unit at The Terraces
  • For Steven Shepard as he faces life’s challenges and for Carolyn as she supports him
  • For Paul Tuan recovering at home from heart problems
  • For Alex Spiridon at Palm Villas in Redwood City; for Nana as she manages his care (please check with her before going to visit)
  • For E. Y. Fung in assisted living in Carmel Valley
  • For Marcia Heydon, Jean Anderson, and Ruth Owen
  • For Dan Chetti, who teaches at the Arab Baptist Seminary, and Sarah Chetti, who works with the Center for Ministry for Migrant Domestic Workers, in Lebanon
  • For Dan and Sharon Buttry in global peacemaking
  • For Ramesh Kumar and the ministry of Balasore Technical School in India
  • For Gavin Grimm and others working for justice for transgendered people
  • For justice for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
  • For an end to racial injustice and unrest throughout our land
  • For our sister church in Corinto, Nicaragua
  • For the work of Ten Books A Home
  • For the work of Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco
  • For the ministry of the American Baptist Seminary of the West
  • For Ruriko Uda’s congregation, Izumi Parktown Church, in Sendai, Japan
  • For the work of Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy of Santa Clara County
  • For the work of EHP and the Opportunity Center with the homeless and hungry
  • For the ministry of Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America/Bautistas por la Paz
  • For the economies of which we are a part (global, national, state, and local)

Free at Last!

Free at Last!
Pastor Gregory Stevens
2 July 2017
First Baptist Church of Palo Alto

When I lived in Florida and was working as a youth minister at the local Methodist megachurch in town, we would take the middle schoolers to summer camp just around this time when they were on break. We’d all pile into the church vans and head to the woods. The camp we always stayed has this rustic feel that transported you into a safe space, far from the troubles of home. You and your friends could do and be whoever you wanted! It was a sense of freedom from the drudgery of everyday life that made every kid and volunteer pleased to be there.

We’d tire the kids out with field games, scavenger hunts, and team building exercises. They’d shovel camp food down to re-fill each day, but by the fifth night we had them right where we wanted them: dead tired and ready to hear the “gospel.”

The last night was Cross Talk night where we told the strange rendering the gospels with God as a cosmic child abuser ready to send you to Heaven or eternal damnation at the mere repetition of a prayer spoken from the camp speaker.

Tired and heavy hearted their little hands would fly up when the alter call was made, they would rush crying to the front to “pray the prayer.”

Right as the prayer ended our worship band flipped on the laser lights and fog machines, and blasted the last worship song of the night. It’s a terrible song that repeats the chorus so many times you want to scream, or pray their silly prayer and get it over with so we could go home. But then again, the kids loved it, because we allowed all the newly “saved” kids to run around the worship area during the “I am free to run” repetitive chorus.

Sunday would roll around and we’d shovel the kids into the final worship service of the trip before heading home. I remember the camp speaker one year used the scripture from Romans that we are looking at today. Except he interpreted Paul’s talk about sin and freedom in the strangest way possible.

In the conservative Christian mind, individual sins are equal to if not worse than social sins. So for example, if I were to get up in front of an evangelical megachurch and say, “10,000 children die of starvation every day and you don’t give a shit.” The majority of complaints would actually be about my use of the word “shit” rather than the fact that 10,000 children are dying every single day. If God really was up in Heaven tallying up sins and weighing out their severity for a just punishment, you’d think a society based on starvation and impoverishment of children would deserve far more frightening a punishment than saying the word “shit.”

The “Freedom” we were selling at our camp that summer was all about a very specific culture’s understanding of bad behavior. For us at the time, it was about the freedom to go to church because God wants you to, the freedom to decide Heaven or Hell, it was the freedom to get rich because God wanted you to, it was the freedom to ignore the world’s problems and flourish as an individual without recognizing the community that supported and created the person you’ve become.

In studying anthropology, this last year it became clear that in our country the leaders and rulers do the same sort of controlling thing, calling it “free” or “freedom.”

Free Market and Free Trade, are the two that first come to mind. Neither of which are free of anything but regulations, and what are regulations but safety measures for workers, for the environment, and for the products being produces. De-regulation creates poverty and ecological destruction while being called “the market working itself out.”

The deceptive naming is intentional as the terms Fair Trade and Collective Markets don’t sound as good. But if Freedom is about an individuals ability to gain wealth and power while ignoring the ones suffering under their flourishing, is totally false and unfaithful to the witness of Paul in this scripture.

What Paul is suggesting is that we shouldn’t go on sinning, even though God’s love and grace are sufficient for anything you could possibly imagine, and Paul says this not because he’s asking everyone to live an individualistic and legalistic Christian lifestyle, checking off al your personal bible times, prayer times, and volunteer times.

But you see, that central to the Christian lifestyle is relationality, remember on Trinity Sunday we used reflected on our creation in the image of such a Trinitarian relational dynamism. Our freedom, isn’t about my freedom alone, our freedom is bound up in the freedom of everyone else.

A quote attributed to multiple authors, all women of color, as saying, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

In our country and in our religiosity we must begin to understand freedom as a collective freedom and not an individualistic freedom.

Sin in this sense is the act of taking away the freedoms of others, it is to force your own ideologies and ways of being onto the others without allowing them the freedom to participate in the decision-making process.

To be faithful in God to Jesus, is to be faithful to the well-being of relationships: the relationships we have with one another, other people groups, religions, and ethnicities, in those relationships we have with non-human animals and critters of all kind, and in those relationships with have with the ecosystems we inhabit.

Freedom is social rather than individualistic: it approaches liberty as a collectively produced relationship to our potential, not a static bubble of private human rights.

No person is an island, no community or ecosystem exists in isolation. For example, the safety and health of human populations are inextricably linked to the safety and health of our planet and Her creatures. None of us are truly free until even the most vulnerable communities and ecosystems among us are safe and flourishing.

Freedom in God, when I was growing up a Southern Baptist, was really about restrictions, limitations, and an almighty pastor dude telling you how to live your life, in Jesus name of course.

Freedom in God meant, voting for the pro-war and ironically pro-life candidates, it meant no rated R movies and no cusswords, it was a freedom bound up by a false sense of reality, a restrictive authoritarianism, and a terrible rendering of the Biblical tradition.

The biblical tradition speaks to community and collective action over and above the individual. As if to say the individual matters and deserves the ability to express oneself, but when freedom is understood as self-interested and self-involved it misses the mark, it must be known and embodied collectively.

Our lives, our Christianity, is bound up in the lives of others. May we honor these relations with grace and peace. Relations to the immigrant, the other, the queer, the transgender, the Muslim, the Leftist, the Methodist, and whomever else might be an outsider that we might join in solidarity.

Heal your relations, mend the wounds, pay reparations, and join me in incarnating the holy Spirit of Pentecost where diversity is described as divine.

This is the good news: God so love the world God moved into the neighborhood and can be found in all the least likely places with all the wrong people. Relationships might be torn and disjointed, maybe messy and uncomfortable, but this is our work: to incarnate the Gospel of inclusion, love, and radical hospitality in all our relations, for in doing so we find our liberation, our freedom.

Amen.

This Week at First Baptist (6/28/17)

  • CalendarNo Bible Study We will resume Tuesday, July 11, 10:30 AM at Marylea McLean’s apartment, 373 Pine Lane #4204, Los Altos.
  • Sunday, July 2: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
    10:00 AM, Worship for the whole family with communion: …even a Cup of Cold Water, Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Matthew 10:40-42; Romans 6:12-23, Gregory Stevens preaching.
    11:15 AM: Patio Hour: Everyone is invited to gather on the Patio after Worship for refreshments and community time. A sign-up sheet for hosting this summer event is posted in the Church Entryway.
  • Monday, July 3: Church Office Closed
  • Tuesday, July 4: Fourth of July Holiday Observed
  • Wednesday, July 5, 8:30 AM: Men’s Breakfast Bill’s Café, 3163 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
  • Wednesday, July 5, 10:30 AM: Meditation Group at Eileen Conover’s home, 1075 Space Park Way #217, Mountain View.

Looking ahead:

  • Sunday, July 9: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
    10:00 AM, Worship for the whole family: The Jesus Way Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45:10-17; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Note from Pastor Gregory (6/28/2017)

I don’t usually preach from Paul’s letters and I definitely don’t usually preach from the book of Romans. Luckily one of my professors John B. Cobb Jr. (read anything and everything he’s written! It’s all so good!) wrote a commentary on the book of Romans to help us pastors and scholars decipher what was going on in the early Jesus movement.

Dr. Cobb makes an interesting point about the ways in which these letters have traditionally been interpreted. The word Paul uses for “faith” in Greek is pistis which is more accurately translated as “faithfulness.” Paul is calling us into faithfulness to God through Jesus. In Jesus we see the image of the invisible God, the image of a poor Palestinian who is faithful to God’s call on our lives to love all beings.

This Sunday we will explore the lectionary passage from Romans 6:12-23 where Paul speaks to our new found freedom in our faithfulness to the Christ. This freedom might at first seem restrictive and not actually freedom at all (often falling into a legalistic debate about right living) but I hope to explore the ways in which the freedom Paul says can be found in God through faithfulness to Jesus’ teachings is truly liberatory.

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God we are Free at Last!

Pastor Gregory

Joys and Concerns

Birthday Joys for Anthia Lee Halfmann (July 2), Gregory Stevens (July 3), Philip Hayes (July 7)
Joys:
For Laurie and Dan Cudworth in Santa Cruz to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary
For Sean Bell
For Sean Cervera who is home and healthy after recovering from heart surgery.
For Chris Dodson and his safe travels from Grenada.
Charlotte for Keith who visited last weekend (with Jocelyn?); for a visit from Brice
And for
Ralph Baisner
Kevin
Victoria
Carol Stevens

How Can the Creature Say…? (6/25/2017)

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

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Text: Genesis 21:8-21; Matthew 10:24-39 (NRSV)

God of the sparrow
God of the whale
God of the swirling stars
How does the creature say Awe
How does the creature say Praise

When I was growing up, I remember being taught that God was omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent – all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present. I don’t intend to do a word study on those terms this morning, but they did have an effect on my young faith, an effect that, in retrospect, was not altogether beneficial. I know that the inner conflict of these qualities, combined with the inevitability of judgment and the threat of heaven or hell, was, at times, terrifying. God, who held the whole world in his hand, could destroy any part, or all of it, at any time, if we didn’t straighten up and fly right. I’m not sure what that might mean for sparrows, but it surely was not good news for me.

Continue reading How Can the Creature Say…? (6/25/2017)