Pastor Gregory Says… (4/6/16)

Pastor Greg with childrenLast week began our journey into Earth Month. I was excited to share with you the quirky things running through my mind this Easter season and how I feel God calling us to be a Resurrection people in a Good Friday world…gardening with God the paradise of delight here in Palo Alto! This week I’d like to highlight Wednesday night’s film screening, “Journey of the Universe.” Written by Brian Swimme and Yale University historian of religions Mary Evelyn Tucker, they have drawn together scientific discoveries in astronomy, geology, biology, ecology, and biodiversity with spiritual insights concerning the nature of the universe. From the Big Bang to the impact humans have on creation today, this film is designed to inspire a new and closer relationship with Earth in a period of growing environmental and social concern. I look forward to see you in the Youth Room at 7 pm. We will have the big screen and buttery popcorn!

Holy Week: Death and Life

easter_cross.fwEaster Sunday was surely a day of celebration as we looked to claiming our own “ressurection power” to make a difference in this world in the name of the risen Christ.  Thanks to everyone who helped make it a special day – to Jan, Daniel Ha, Daniel Ramirez, Dominique and the choir with extra singers for wonderful music; to Pastor Gregory fo his work with the children and youth and fo his work, alongside Carolyn Shepard and Soo Kim, in making the Sanctuary so beautiful; to Laurie Cudworth, Thelma Tuttle, the Satterlees, among all those who helped with the lovely brunch; and to Chip Clark for – well, only he knows all he does! I agree with Thelma Parodi and Pastor Gregory in the their celebration of our wonderful church “family.’

With the advent of April comes a special emphasis on “Loving the Earth.” Since Earth Day is April 22, this seems like the right time to take up our opportunities and obligations to share with God in good stewardship for all of creation. Pastor Gregory is taking the lead in this programming with some wonderful offerings from people whose life and work is focused on loving the earth. I hope you will “think outside the box” – that is, consider participating beyond your own version of “church as usual.”  I know I will.

Worship will be focused on loving the earth as will the education hour afterward. Even if you don’t usually attend Adult Spiritual Formation, I think you will want to take advantage of these sessions. There will be a couple of film nights for the whole family on the first and third Wednesdays and an all church Earth Day pot-luck on April 17. There are selected books in the library, if you want to do some background reading. “The Earth is God’s and the fullness thereof.” Let’s gather as a community to learn and to celebrate.

This Sunday Pastor Gregory will be preaching on “Easter Ecology,” following John 20:19-31. The education hour will feature Greg Grifffey, who is a farm boy from Appalachia and a fan of the great American essayist and poet, Wendell Berry, in addition to being a hospice chaplain. He will share with us about spirituality and love of the land.

This would be an especially good time to invite others to join you in sharing these experiences celebrating creation and loving the earth. Join us at 10:00 AM for family worship and communion, followed by adult education and Lunch Bunch at 12:45. Let’s carry the joyous spirit of Easter throughout these 50 days of Eastertide and beyond.

Together, let us strive…to know God’s love!

Pastor Rick

 

Pastor Gregory Says… (3/30/16)

Gregory StevensThrough the sniffles and the sneezing, the coughing and the scratchy eyes…I am still shouting: Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen indeed!! Easter morning was rough for my allergies. I was hot in my suit and the flowers had my allergies off the charts but there was no other place I would rather have been. As I told all of you on Sunday my biological parents, David and Carol, don’t do much family-ing because of my queer sexuality. That is painful. But that is also Friday’s news. Sunday has come, Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen, indeed! That’s the news I heard in your words of love and acceptance after service, it’s what I felt in your wrap-around hugs and forehead kisses, it’s what I tasted in your home-cooked finger foods, it’s what I see when you stay and work to help clean the church up for hours on end, and it’s what I understood to be your commitment in always showing up. Resurrection is the Spirit of this church! When it is the rambunctious, resurrecting spirit of Christ that brings us together we are not bound by the barriers of old but can spring forward into new and creative possibilities. I am reminded of where Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

Early One Morning (3/27/16)

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

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Text: John 20:1-18

She showed up very early in the morning, while it was still dark. She was alone. What was she doing there? What had drawn her to the burial ground in the gloom of a barely emerging dawn? The other gospel versions of this story say that it’s a group of women that shows up very early on Easter morning. The tradition suggests that these women come to finish preparing the body for its final resting place. There was simply not enough time between his death on that Friday afternoon and the beginning of the Sabbath at sundown. He was hastily placed in the tomb without the proper anointing, so these women arrived at the tomb at their first opportunity to finish their work.

But in John’s account Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus have already taken care of the burial. At great risk to fortune and reputation they have claimed the body and buried it properly. John writes, “After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there” (John 19: 38-42). Under the cover of growing darkness they had cared as best they could for this one who was so cruelly and wrongly executed. It was finished – or so it seemed.

So here Mary is, all alone, in the fading darkness of the early morning. Why is she there? The text does not say for certain but I assume she has come to grieve. Graveside grieving is not for everyone, but some find comfort in being near the burial site of a lost loved one. And I believe Mary Magdalene loved Jesus. He was crucial to her life, her faith, her sense of well-being. His death is devastating for her. Somehow mourning is more meaningful for her in the cool, dark, damp of early morning in the graveyard.

Here in the lessening shadows she is searching for something – a quiet, private place to shed her tears, away from the confused and grieving company of his followers? Answers to her own questions? A bit of solace? There is no sense that she, or the others, expect what is to come. Her repeated concern makes this clear. “They have taken away my friend, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She assumes that the body has been moved for political purposes or by body-snatchers or for some other mysterious reason. No thoughts of resurrection are apparent for her, Peter or “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.” I know the text says the latter disciple “saw and believed,” but I take this to mean that he saw and believed that body was indeed missing. He had no more idea what was happening than Mary did.

Once more we find Mary alone, still pained and confused in her sorrow in the waning darkness in front of the open, empty tomb. Suddenly a shadowy figure appears in the garden. She assumes it is the gardener, and why not? In the dim light of a breaking dawn, who else would show up to begin his day’s work? Through her red and swollen eyes, with a downcast gaze, not expecting anyone else, least of also Jesus, she makes a logical assumption. She sees a stranger. The truth does not dawn on her until he gently calls her by name. “Mary.” The half-darkness may still surround her but something blazes deep inside her as it never has before. Here is the living Christ, calling her by name. As he calls out her name, she begins to see that even in her grief and confusion, she is not alone. She never really was. She never will be. This is a great truth of learning to walk in the dark, we are never alone. The Holy One, God’s Steadfast Love, goes with us every step of the way.

We want to celebrate Easter with voices raised, instruments blaring, flowers in full bloom and hearty alleluias. There is nothing wrong with Easter joy, but in Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor points out that resurrection actually happens in the dark. In today’s Words of Preparation, she writes that “By all accounts, a stone blocked the entrance to the cave so that there were no witnesses to the resurrection.  Everyone who saw the risen Jesus saw him after.  Whatever happened in the cave happened in the dark.” She says, “As many years as I have been listening to Easter sermons, I have never heard anyone talk about that part.” I will confess that I had never really thought of resurrection this way.

She continues, “Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light.  But,” she insists, “it did not happen that way.  If it happened in a cave, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air…new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark, p.  ).  ”Now the green blade rises from the buried grain…”

Mary is prepared to grieve, to spend her time mourning what is lost. She is heart-broken and feels alone. “My God, how could you let this happen? Why have you forsaken me?” Neither she nor the rest of the disciples are prepared for resurrection. “What have you done with the body? Where have you taken him?” It doesn’t matter that he has told them more than once that he would die and rise again. It is a claim that does not compute, has not registered in their reality. Do you think it would be any different for you or me if we had been in their sandals? That lack of awareness may still be too true today.

My friend Tim Phillips writes of death and resurrection, “Maybe the worst thing about death in all its forms is that it robs us of the energy to imagine anything else.” Isn’t this Mary’s truth in the early morning shadows. She couldn’t imagine anyone else. She assumed she was talking to the gardener. Tim continues to speak of death and its equivalents, “Addiction robs us of the energy to imagine healing. Violence robs us of the energy to imagine peace. Sickness robs of the energy to imagine some kind of wholeness beyond a cure. The burdens of life rob us of energy for a sense of humor that can put things in perspective. Death robs us of the energy to imagine that anything has power great enough to outlive its hold on us” (Tim Phillips, “Resurrection Power,” The Spire, Vol. 80, No. 3, March 2016, Seattle First Baptist Church). On this Easter morning, what, if anything, might rob you of the energy to exercise your own resurrection power?

Most of the time we live in what Melanie May calls the “tensive drama of Holy Saturday,” somewhere between the deep and terrifying darkness of Good Friday and the brilliantly overwhelming sunshine of Easter. Because of this, she says we have to learn to “practice resurrection.” I’m assuming this something very much like learning to walk in the dark or claiming our resurrection power. Consciously or not we wrestle with death and its equivalents – addiction, violence, illness, the burdens of existence. Practicing resurrection, learning to walk in the dark, claiming our power, entails a recognition that there is life-giving energy beyond anything we ever imagined, that there is resurrection power in all creation, that, somewhere out there, God, in Jesus, the Risen Christ is gently calling our names – yours and mine. Do you have eyes to see? Ears to hear? Hearts to open?

Here’s the resurrection reality. Mary Magdalene and the other disciples experienced a Living Christ. We can speculate all we want on what exactly that meant for them and what it means for us. But, whatever happened in the early morning darkness that first Easter changed Mary’s life, transformed the lives of us Jesus’ first disciples and ushered in the new creation, God’s beloved Community, here on earth as in heaven. At times, we may have difficulty seeing, hearing, holding onto our resurrection power.  In our current context, with so much distrust, hatred and evil, we may not recognize Jesus at first, but he is there in all that claim the promise of abundant life offered to each of us and, indeed, the whole creation. He is present in all who serve and seek to do God’s will. He can be seen wherever compassion is practiced and love made manifest. If you’ve been there for one of the least, you’ve been there for him. We may live for now in the “tensive drama of Holy Saturday;” there may be times we come to the tomb alone and heart-broken; there will be days when it’s hard to believe our eyes, but, early one morning, we will find the transformation complete. We will know that God has gone with us all along the way. There will be singing and dancing and shouts of “Alleluia!” Since we know that day has both come and continues to come, we might as well practice resurrection today, right here and right now. “Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.” Amen.

Holy Week: Death and Life

easter_cross.fwIt is the middle of Holy Week and with it comes that sad news of the death today of Dr. Paul Martin, President of the American Baptist Seminary of the West. Paul led the school through some difficult times with grace, good humor and a big heart. He will be sorely missed. We will keep his family and the seminary community in our prayers in this challenging time. I will personally miss his good humored teasing and the warmth of his welcome.

Tomorrow night I invite you all to attend a simple soup supper and Maundy Thursday Communion Service in the Parlor. In this service we will extinguish the last of the Tenebrae candles as we anticipate the pervasive darkness of Good Friday. On Friday,  from Noon to 3:00 PM, we will open the Sanctuary for prayer and mediation. We will have resources on which you may reflect as well as contemplative music playing. You may also choose to walk the labyrinth as you recall the events and power of Christ’s passion.

Saturday morning at 10:00 AM we will gather to prepare the Fellowship Hall and Sanctuary for the Easter celebration. Don’t forget to bring blossoms for the flower cross on Sunday. As always, Jan has planned extra music for Easter. We will have several people helping out the choir as well as Daniel Ramirez on saxophone and Daniel Ramirez on cello. I want to alert you that worship will begin at 10:00 AM. The welcome and announcements will not come until later in the service.

The service will begin in the “darkness” of that first early morning when Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb to grieve, only to find the sealing stone rolled away and the grave empty. She was at a loss. She didn’t know what to make of it and rushed off to tell the others what had happened. As we confront the empty tomb we, too, are left to wonder what to make of it all.  What does Easter and Resurrection mean to you? How would you tell the story and to whom?  What have we learned from walking in the darkness that will help us walk in the emerging light of an Easter dawn?

After worship, we will hold our annual Easter Egg hunt for children and brunch for everyone. Please bring finger food to share. Come Sunday morning at 10:00 AM for reflection on and celebration of the new life that is offered in Jesus, the Christ. Invite your family and friends, neighbors and colleagues, acquaintances and strangers to join us in the joy of this Easter Sunday.

love quiltTogether, let us strive…to know God’s love!

Pastor Rick

Palm Sunday to Easter

This Sunday will be filled with all the drama of the Passion of the Christ as we look forward to Holy Week. We will begin with the traditional procession of palms and end at the foot of the cross. It is a lot to cover in one service but it is not good for us to skip directly from Palm Sunday to Easter without remembering the pain and struggle of the week between. The service will be for the whole family as we remember together.

In Adult Spiritual formation we will continue our exploration of “Who Jesus Was,” following the video series Saving Jesus Redux. This material has generated lively and meaningful discussion. We’d love to have you be part of it if you aren’t already.

The other events of Holy Week include a simple soup supper on Maundy Thursday followed by communion around the tables and extinguishing the last of the Tenebrae candles. Our tradition on Good Friday is to open the sanctuary from Noon to 3:00 PM with recorded music and written resources for contemplation. It may also be a good day to walk our labyrinth. We will gather at 10:00 AM on Saturday to set up for Easter service and brunch. Your assistance would be much appreciated. Then, of course, Easter Sunday will be a celebration of the Resurrection with extra music and the creation of the flower cross.

Join us Sunday at 10:00 AM for worship, study and the sharing of community. Bring someone along share in the experiences of the day.

Together, let us strive…to know God’s love!

Pastor Rick

Holy Week is coming…

LentThanks to Greg Griffey for bringing the Word last Sunday. I very much appreciated his insight into the “Conversion of Paul” story and the importance of connecting to the “other.” This Sunday we will return to a story from Genesis. This ancient tale of Abram bargaining with God involves a time when falls into a sort of terrifying asleep and yet, in the darkness, he is reassured by God that God is with him and will keep the covenant they have made.

Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter are rapidly approaching. March 20 we will have a Palm/Passion service, beginning with a procession of palms, and ending at the foot of the cross. Maundy Thursday we will have a simple soup supper and Communion around the tables. Friday the Sanctuary will be open from 12 noon to 3:00 with recorded music and reflective reading available. You might even walk the Labyrinth as you recall the events and significance of that ancient Friday when Christ was crucified. Easter will begin in quiet and darkness as it must have been on the first Easter morning as Mary made her way to the tomb. Of course there will be plenty of music and celebration of the Resurrection, and we will hold our annual brunch in the Fellowship Hall afterwards with all of us bringing finger food to share. I look forward to sharing this sacred season with you.

In Adult Spiritual Formation this Sunday, we will pick up where we left off in the video series, Saving Jesus Redux: Who Was Jesus? This well-done video series has generated good questions and lively discussion among those who gather for our Sunday class. Everyone is invited to join in.

Join us Sunday at 10:00 AM for worship, study and the sharing of community. Bring someone along share in the experiences of the day.

Together, let us strive…to know God’s love!

Pastor Rick