Sometimes it’s difficult to believe I’ve been around as long as I have. Other times – not so hard. I suppose it depends on the day and the time and the circumstances. Several friends and colleagues, in commenting on my “dual” anniversary (10 years at First Baptist, Palo Alto; 20 as an ordained minister,) remembered older times when it was challenging to see that something like this would ever happen. Now it’s not that uncommon to find clergy who identify as lgbtq people, serving congregations that embrace them and support their ministry. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to see these changes over the years. I have been blessed to be part of the process. Continue reading Mixon Muses: Blessed and Grateful
Oh, the places you’ll go! Oh, the places you’ve been! Oh, the places you are now! That about sums up my life – promises, memories and present reality. We are playing this month with the work of that great children’s writer and illustrator, Theodore Seuss Geisel. This brilliant and original man, had dreams of a PhD and a professorship in comparative literature. He studied at Dartmouth, Oxford and the Sorbonne, but he never achieved this original goal. He was “Dr. Seuss” by public acclamation, not the board of trustees of any institution of higher education. Apparently he was just a little too quirky to fit into the academic regimen.
He made strange proposals like publishing Milton’s “Paradise Lost” with new illustrations by him. It didn’t seem serious enough for Oxford University Press. I imagine, he was serious, though seeing something in the project that others didn’t or wouldn’t. Well, in the end, academia’s loss was the world’s gain. A broad, multicultural audience was the beneficiary of his wild and wacky imagination, his ability to grab language from thin air, his gift for creating characters who spoke to us with a wise wink and a knowing chuckle. Sometimes we sing the hymn “Earth Is Full of Wit and Wisdom,” a claim that Dr. Seuss personified and willingly proclaimed.
As I approach the end of my 6th decade, I am aware that I’ve been a lot of places and done a lot of things. For most of it, I am grateful. Like most people, there are moments I’d just as soon forget, but, of course, those are the very moments you can’t forget because they taught you something invaluable. Anyway, this June holds a couple of significant anniversaries for me, both of which represent promises fulfilled, an accumulation of rich memories and the blessings of my ongoing life.
It was 10 years ago in June that this congregation called me as its pastor. The official anniversary is July 1 but June is good enough for celebrating. As many of you know, I left the Bay Area 13 years ago to become interim pastor of the First Baptist Church, Granville, Ohio. While that was a significant step in my calling to ministry, I assumed that, at my age (mid 50s,) I would be doing interim pastorates along the eastern seaboard for the rest of my working years. So it was surprising gift to receive the call from this congregation to be its settled pastor. God works in mysterious ways.
We have certainly had our ups and downs over the years, but I thank God for bringing us together and for the profound blessing that is this community of faith. I am grateful to you all for giving me the chance. With this anniversary, I become the third longest serving pastor (after Dr. Offenheiser and Harold Bjornson.) Even though I’m passing Chuck Syverson in longevity, I am glad he is still around to share his wisdom and cheer me on.
Secondly, June 30 marks the 20th anniversary of my ordination to Christian Ministry. On a hot Gay Pride Sunday in 1996, I was ordained in a meaningful service at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland. Lakeshore chose to ordain me after a 23-year struggle with larger Baptist bodies to get assent to proceed with its desire to ordain me. Though my ordination was by local congregation, some 25 other congregations from around the country sent letters of affirmation and support. I treasure the presence of the Granholms and Hunwicks at that service, representing this congregation and the time I served as Minister-in-Training here in 1973. Again, God moves in mysterious ways.
Of all the places I might have gone, might have wanted to go, did, in fact, go, here I am now. Dr. Seuss says,
You’ll get mixed up of course, as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.
A Great Balancing Act, indeed. Strange birds, for certain – and some of them quite wonderful! Careful, tactful steps – sometimes, other times, plunging stubbornly ahead. What a glorious journey it is. Thank you all for being my journey partners – in the past, in the present and, I hope, for some time to come. Of course, we don’t know for certain where the road will lead, or what lies ahead, except that we journey with the knowledge that the future, the journey, we, ourselves, are in God’s hands. Thanks be to God for the great gift of life, whatever it brings, wherever it leads. And while we’re at it, thanks to Dr. Seuss for a little wit and wisdom and joy along the way.
“I meant what I said and said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.” Well said, Horton. May it be said of us as well.
A sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon,
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA, Sunday, February 1 2015
“We are the people of God, come to this hallowing place. We are the body of Christ, bonded together by grace.” We will close our service today with this lovely hymn, written by David Bartlett and John Landgraff for another beloved congregation, Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland. I especially like the lilt of this refrain which helps set the tone for our theme for this year – “To Be God’s People.”
In one sense, of course, we are God’s people because all of creation comes from God and returns to God. We are beloved children, made in the image and likeness of God, the same God who made the “blue sky, the delicate flowers of the tulip poplar tree, the distant blue hills, the sweet-smelling air full of brilliant light, the bickering flycatchers, the lowing cattle and the quails that whistle over there.” Still, as did Jesus himself, we also grow and mature into a deeper understanding of what it means to be God’s people. We are both blessed and called to be God’s people.
The text that I’ve selected to support the theme is 1 Peter 2:9-10: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of the shadows into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” What a great gift and rich responsibility – to be God’s people. Obviously the audience to which the letter is addressed knew a time when they did not see themselves as God’s people nor did they know God’s mercy. There was a time when they lurked in the shadows but now they live in God’s glorious light. They are called together in order to proclaim the mighty acts of God as they grow into their understanding of what it means to be God’s people.
The risk in this text is that “chosen” is a loaded term. The Hebrew people, as well people of other lands and cultures, including the one in which we live, have believed themselves to be God’s chosen people. This belief has caused a lot of grief when people were convinced they had “God on their side.” It is important to remember that when God calls on any of us to carry responsibility for spreading God’s light and love, goodness and grace, righteousness and mercy over the face of the earth, we must be careful not hear this call as an affirmation of superiority. To be chosen is not to be elevated, rather it is to be beloved. It is a call to humble service for God to others of God’s family everywhere, especially those who still dwell in the shadows and have not known mercy. We may be set aside to do a certain task but it never makes us any better than any other member of God’s family. The very essence of grace is God’s unconditional love and compassion for all that God has made. It is always gift and never merited.
This is essentially the word and the way that Jesus came to teach. Brian McLaren writes that “Jesus truly was a master-rabbi, capable of transforming people’s lives with a message of unfathomed depth and unexpected imagination. But what was the substance of his message? What was his point? Sooner or later,” McLaren claims, anyone who came to know Jesus would hear one phrase repeated again and again: the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven” (Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking, pp. 103-104). It seems to me that claiming the kingdom of God is the primary work of the people of God. This is the task to which we have been called.
In today’s Words of Preparation, McLaren makes it clear that “for Jesus the kingdom of heaven wasn’t a place we go up to someday; it was a reality we pray to come down here now. It wasn’t a distant future reality. It was at hand, or within reach, today.” It is not something we merely hope for; it is something we commit our lives to bringing about in the here and now. I know kingdom language is not as meaningful now as it has been in the past. To claim the God’s reality as a kingdom was a direct challenge to the kingdoms of this world. It was a shocking reversal of accepted reality. God rules a kingdom to which all the kingdoms of the world are subject, to which all earthly power is beholden.
For contemporary ears and minds, McLaren suggests some alternative terms – “nation [of God], state [of God], government [of God], society [of God], economic system [of God], culture [of God], superpower [of God], empire [of God] and civilization [of God]…global commonwealth of God, God’s regenerative economy, God’s holy ecosystem, God’s sustainable society or God’s movement for mutual liberation.” I have sometimes used realm or reign of God though those also have kingdom overtones. I experimented with culture for a while, but Betsy Koester took offense at that term. You can experiment with these, see if any of them trip off the tongue and stick in your consciousness. Each captures at least a significant part of what Jesus came to teach. Or come up with a creative phrase of your own. Of all the ones McLaren suggests, I like “God’s beloved community” best. It seems to me the right goal toward which God’s people might aspire. Don’t be surprised to find me trying on that expression moving forward.
Friends, God’s beloved community is at hand. “God’s beloved community is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground…” “With what can we compare God’s beloved community, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed…the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” To be God’s people and live into God’s beloved community, this is what the Teacher came to teach us.
Jeremiah proclaims that God is making a new covenant with the beloved community, a covenant in which God says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” God’s rule of right living, God’s way of compassion and grace, God’s way of peace and justice…these will be written on the hearts of God’s people and be so familiar that they shape their way of living. Jesus, the teacher, was steeped in this tradition. I can’t believe that Jeremiah’s great promise of the new covenant, the renewed relationship with the Holy One, would not have echoed in the Teacher’s consciousness as he taught about God’s beloved community.
Truly, to be God’s people and to commit ourselves to the fulfillment of God’s beloved community, may this be the focus and purpose of our life together in the year ahead. Amen.