Now What? (4/16/17)

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Text:  Matthew 28:1-10

For those of us old enough to remember movie spectaculars like The Greatest Show on Earth and The Ten Commandments, Matthew is the Cecil B. DeMille of the gospels. For younger generations, think George Lucas and Star Wars or Peter Jackson and Lord of the Rings. Only Matthew tells of a great earthquake as an angel of God descends from heaven. This angel, blessed with super powers, rolls back the enormous stone that seals the tomb. And talk about an outfit! His snow-white suit dazzles like lightning. Match that, Superman! Not exactly someone you want to mess with. High drama! Serious spectacle. Academy award worthy special effects. I wonder how some of you young movie makers in the congregation would set up this scene and film it.

Then this superhero angel dude, sitting on that mega stone, the Roman guards knocked unconscious at his feet, has the audacity to say to those two terrified Marys, “Don’t be afraid!” “Oh sure, Gabe. You put on a show like that and we’re not supposed to be afraid.” Shaking like leaves in the early morning breeze, teeth chattering, they back away from the empty tomb and the heavenly hero.

Sorry if this seems over the top. But that’s the problem with looking at a 2000-year old text for the umpteenth time. We’ve heard it all before and it doesn’t really jangle our last nerve in the way it must have for Mary Magdalene and that other Mary. We have to work to slip our feet into their sandals.

Continue reading Now What? (4/16/17)

Note from Pastor Rick (4/13/2017)

Once again we find ourselves in the midst of Holy Week. I hope you are finding time to contemplate the significance of the week in preparing us for Easter. Tonight we will hold our annual soup supper with Communion around the tables, commemorating Maundy Thursday. This will be a simple meal and service for the whole family. Friday, our sanctuary will be open from 12:00 to 3:00 PM for prayer and meditation. We will have available prayers and readings to assist you in your time of reflecting. Due to a scheduling glitch, we have to do the set up for Easter Brunch on Sunday morning. If you can come at 9:00 AM to help (or, if you can, stay afterward to help with clean up) that would be appreciated.

As I contemplate Easter in the crazy context of the world we currently inhabit, I have been thinking about the aftermath of the Resurrection. That is, we come together to celebrate, as well we should, the joy of Easter, when God, in Christ, said a resounding “No” to death and “Yes” to life. If that is our core belief, then how are we to live our lives in a post-Easter world? What difference did it make in the lives of those first women who found the empty tomb, and then all Christ’s followers, confronted with the astounding reality that “He is risen, indeed”? What difference does it make for us? We continue to grow into people who, in the face of every joy and every concern, every triumph and every tragedy, can still say a great “Yes!” to life and to the Giver of Life.

See you Sunday at 10 AM, if not before. There is no better time to invite family, friends, colleagues, strangers – anyone and everyone – to join us for joyful Worship for the Whole Family and a delicious Easter brunch. We will have child care and an Easter Egg Hunt for little ones. Please remember to bring cut flowers for the flower cross and finger food to share at brunch.

Our theme for this year is “All Are Welcome in this Place.” Let’s make certain that it is so.

Pastor Rick   

Note from Pastor Rick (4/6/2017)

The end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week is fast approaching. Sunday we will join together to celebrate both Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and all the challenging events of the week that followed, culminating in Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. This is the ancient flow of drama and travail that leads to the joy of Easter. If we take the time to focus, to meditate on this tale of Christ’s passion, perhaps Easter will dawn all the more glorious. In worship, we will continue our practice of dividing the service between Palms and Passion. Both are important as we look toward Easter. Please plan to arrive on time or a little early this week. Not only would it be good discipline for many of us, but will also give you the opportunity to join in the blessing and procession of palms, which will begin on the outside steps of the sanctuary at 10:00 AM

Stay after worship for Adult Spiritual Formation in which we will delve more deeply into Matthew’s version of this great drama that moves from Palm Sunday to Easter. J. S. Bach found enough material in these texts to compose a magnificent 3 hour choral work. Presumably, we will find enough here to fill an hour. Maybe we will even listen to a bit of Bach’s masterpiece.

See you Sunday at 10 AM for Worship for the Whole Family and Adult Spiritual Formation. This would be a great day to bring someone along with you to share joys and challenges of the ancient, familiar story.

Our theme for this year is “All Are Welcome in this Place.” Let’s make certain that it is so.

Pastor Rick   

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.