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   

When Darkness Falls (3/20/16)

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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Text: Luke 22:39-46; 23:44-49

Dinner is done. Bread has been broken and the cup shared. The candles have begun to flicker. It has been a warm and wonderful evening, for the most part; yet something ominous lingers in the air as darkness falls. He has taught them and blessed them, promising them each a role in the Beloved Community. But he has also talked of denial and betrayal, of suffering and death, and this is troubling.

Well, it has been a strange week and a full one at that. Just last Sunday there had been the thrill of entering Jerusalem in a kind of crazy make-shift processional when the crowd had broken into cheers, waving tree branches and tossing their coats onto the road – “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Eternal One! Peace in heaven! Glory in the highest!” Hadn’t that been a day?! Yet, afterwards, some had seen him sitting and weeping over the old city, “Ah Jerusalem! If you…had only recognized on this day the things that [really do] make for peace!” From cheers to tears in one short day – how strange.

Then there he was, wildly driving the sellers from the Temple grounds, shouting, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” They had never seen him so angry. In spite of the threats of those in authority, they had spent the rest of the week on the temple grounds where he had dazzled them all with his teaching. Some of the lawyers and religious experts had tried to trap him with trick questions but he outsmarted them every time. All the people were spellbound by his wisdom and charisma. It was truly a week of wonders!

Now they were feeling a little drowsy. A combination of the full week, the warmth of their intimate dinner, the effects of the wine and the fading of the light was making them sleepy. They cleaned up, packed their belongings and headed back to the campground on Mt. Olivet. In the peace of the old olive orchard they would stretch out on the grass under an ancient tree and gaze at the stars through leafy branches until they drifted off to sleep.

But Jesus seemed agitated. He was not ready to turn in. Something on his mind had to be worked through in the stillness and beauty of this night. He was going to pray and he wanted them to join him. “Pray for yourselves, that you will not sink into temptation.” Well yes, that seemed like a good idea, but maybe it could wait till morning. He went off by himself a little distance. At first they could see him clearly in the moonlight. He seemed to be wrestling intently with something. A couple of them caught words wafted on the night breeze, “…take this cup…your will…my will.” But their eyelids grew heavy and the next thing they knew, he was shaking them awake. “Why are you sleeping? Wake up and pray that you will not sink into temptation.”

There is much more to come, but let’s pause here. Today’s reading from Barbara Brown Taylor speaks of finding one’s self in a liminal space, in thin place, caught somewhere between heaven and earth or, in this case, between light and darkness. The quotation refers to an experience she has intentionally sought out, spending some time in the complete darkness of a cave. She has lined up friends who are seasoned spelunkers to take her deep into a cave, beyond the large and lighted chambers where the tourists go. This is all part of her desire to understand darkness better and to walk in it without so much anxiety and fear.

Here she is, caught between the opening to the cave and the deep darkness that awaits. It is decision time and it turns out not to be such an easy decision to make. She stands for a while in a kind of “twilight zone.” She writes, “On this threshold between dark and light, it is still possible to go either way: farther in or back out. It is still possible to see what you are about to lose” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark.). Bright daylight on one hand, bleak grayness on the other hand.

Isn’t this the same situation in which Jesus finds himself that night in the olive grove, on the threshold of dark and light? It is still possible to go either way. Shall he go further into his experience of God and God’s way or will he back out? Luke says he prays to God for deliverance. “God, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me.” I take this to mean he does not want to die. It seems to me a very human longing. God has given us the gift of life. We will all die eventually, but not now, not if it’s not necessary. The truth is, I don’t think God wants Jesus to die either. But Jesus knows that if he continues to walk God’s way and the world around him fails to change, the consequences are inevitable. He can’t keep speaking truth to power, love to fear, justice to corrupt systems and equity to those who have grown rich at the expense of the poor without stirring their ill-will. He can’t continue to be faithful to his calling and not pay the price.

On this night on the hillside, he can still “go either way…farther in or back out.” He can still see what he is about to lose and he has to make a choice. Luke makes it sound easier than Mark or Matthew does. “Yet not My will, but Your will, be done.” The right response, but is it really so easily arrived at? Well, Luke, or some later editor, concedes that as he “prayed more intensely…his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Learning to walk in the dark is not easy after all, even for Jesus. He wrestles with God, as we all do, sooner or later, if we’re willing to pay attention, if we’re willing to listen for God’s voice and look for God’s way. It may be a hard road but, in the end, it is the right road. “Pray for yourselves, that you will not sink into temptation.”

We have already seen Jesus handle temptation in his own life and ministry. More than once he has turned his back to ways that are easy, popular, self-serving. As with the disciples, any of us is vulnerable to closing our eyes in sleep when life gets to be too much. It may be the easiest way to handle the stress. When darkness falls around us, it’s easier to turn on the lights and tune out anything that “goes bump in the night.” We keep ourselves occupied until bedtime or we fall asleep on the couch in front of the television or computer. But what do we miss when we choose not to explore the deep darkness of the cave that is before us? What do we lose when we won’t face the fears that arise in those moments when we turn away from every distraction and give ourselves over to wrestling with the questions and concerns that haunt the center of our being? What would it be like if we decided to encounter more intensely the Holy One and explore more completely our role in creating and occupying God’s Beloved Community?

We are especially likely to shy away when we read the rest of the story – the betrayal by one of his own, right there in the olive grove; the harsh denial in the courtyard; the mock trials; the unjust sentence; the fleeing followers; the now jeering crowd as he parades once more through Jerusalem, this time carrying a Roman cross; the ignominious execution. Could we please skip these parts and go directly to Easter? We don’t like this twilight zone. We don’t want to go deeply into the darkness of this cave. There is too much to lose in these elements of the story. Let’s run away. Let’s pretend it never happened. Let’s take a nap and hope it will be over.

Only there he is, hanging on that wooden cross, stretched out to die an agonizing death in the blistering sun. No glowing moon, no twinkling stars, no cool night breeze, just the scorching light of day. We can ignore, deny, pretend all we want, but this is part of our tradition. It is not a pretty picture, but it is one with which we are asked to wrestle.

One irony is that here he is left to burn in the brightness of the day and what happens? Luke says that “darkness fell over the whole region” and lasted through the hottest part of the day. I had never thought of it this way before, but maybe that darkness was like a cup of cold water to a thirsty soul, a small gesture of relief on an awful afternoon. And when that darkness fell, Luke says Jesus was able to turn his gaze toward God, shouting, “Father, I entrust My spirit into Your hands!” Maybe that sounds hollow to you, given the circumstances, but I’m going to guess that Jesus is able to place his dying self into God’s hands with such profound trust precisely because he has learned to walk in the dark. He knows, in the core of his being, that, even in death, God goes with him all the way.

This is why Jesus was so eager that his disciples keep awake and pray that they wouldn’t give in to temptation. This is why Barbara Brown Taylor has invited us to share her experiences of learning to walk in the dark. This is why John of the Cross opened for us the dark night of the soul and Thomas Merton writes of the Holy One that “I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.”

Of all the weeks of this Lenten season, we come now to the one called Holy. Now when the darkness falls, where will you find yourself? In this recurring “twilight zone” in which we stand on the “threshold between dark and light,” when “it is still possible to go either way: farther in or back out,” when you “see what you are about to lose” but also have a glimpse of what might be gained, which way will you turn? Whichever way you turn, whether the crowd cheers or jeers, I hope you know that God goes with you, in the darkness and in light, in life and death – all the way. Amen.

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

This Week at First Baptist (3/9/16)

CalendarThis Week at First Baptist

  • Thursday, March 10, 7:30 PM: Church Choir in the Parlor. Join us in joyful song in the new year.
  • Sunday, March 13: Fifth Sunday of Lent
    10:30 AM: Worship for the whole family
    Blessing of Darkness and Defeat,” Genesis 15: 1-18, Rick Mixon preaching.
    11:30 AM: Adult Spiritual Formation: Saving Jesus Redux: Who Was Jesus? We will continue our discussion of this video series.
  • Tuesday, March 15, 10:30 AM: Bible Study at Marylea McLean’s apartment, 373 Pine Lane, #4204, Los Altos.
  • Wednesday, March 16, 8:30 AM: Men’s Breakfast at Palo Alto Breakfast House, 2706 Middlefield, Palo Alto. All the men from our Church family are welcome.
  • Wednesday, March 16, 10:30 AM: Meditation Group at Thelma Parodi’s house. All are welcome.
  • Wednesday, March 16, 12:00 Noon: Baptists Lunching Together, featuring Allison Tanner and Louann Roberts reporting on the “Space for Grace” conference last November in Los Angeles. Grand Lake Gardens, 401 Santa Clara Avenue, Oakland. $10.00 for lunch. RSVP to Joan Thatcher, (510) 350-7008, by February 15.

LOOKING AHEAD:

  • Thursday, March 17, 12:00 noon: Senior Connections Book Group Our book is Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart by James R. Doty MD. Growing up in the high desert of California, Jim Doty was poor, with an alcoholic father and a mother chronically depressed and paralyzed by a stroke. Today he is the director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University. Brown Bag Lunch (beverage will be provided).
  • Sunday, March 20: Palm/Passion Sunday
    10:00 AM: Worship for the Whole Family:

    “Twilight Zone,” Luke 19:28-40, Rick Mixon preaching.

    11:30 AM: Adult Spiritual Formation:
    Saving Jesus Redux: Who Was Jesus? We will continue our discussion of this video series.

Palm Sunday and Youth

Pontius Omar Carries the World
Pontius Omar Carries the World

The Lenten Season draws to a close as we remember the witness, arrest, trial and execution of Jesus. We do this in preparation for and in anticipation of Easter Sunday and the promise of Resurrection. Last Sunday we had some fun with the Palm Sunday end of our service. Thanks to Pastor Tripp, Doug, Melanie, Jan and the choir and our children and youth for their contributions to the service.

The rest of the service, in which we read aloud long passages of Matthew’s Passion account, I found very moving. It’s one thing to sit down and read those verses on your own, in silence. It is quite different to hear them read aloud with feeling and a sense of the great drama they contain. I understand why some traditions make a point of reading an entire Passion story annually in Lenten worship.

 

Jesus (Clara) Leads the Procession
Jesus (Clara) Leads the Procession

Thursday we will hold our annual Maundy Thursday supper and service. The meal will be simple as will be the service as we celebrate Communion around the

tables where we eat. Friday the Sanctuary will be open from noon to 3:00 PM, the traditional hours of the Crucifixion. You are invited to make use of the space for prayer and meditation. There will be some written resource available to guide you. There will also music playing softly. In addition, you are invited to make use of our new labyrinth as another form of prayer and contemplation. We will have a guide to using the labyrinth available as well.

Sunday we will celebrate the Resurrection with music and the spoken word. As we have done the past couple of years, we are inviting anyone who wants to bring cut flowers (one or many) to place on the flower cross at the beginning of the service.   In addition, this year we are inviting everyone to bring some nonperishable food items to share with the hungry of our community. This is will be the culminating, corporate act of our Lenten emphasis on hunger. There will be a basket to collect the items in the Sanctuary and we will bless them before sending them off to EHP or one of the food pantries.

Bring some folks with you to share in worship, the Easter Egg Hunt for children and the best brunch in Palo Alto. See you Sunday at 10 AM.

God grant us more light, more love, more life as we journey together.
Pastor Rick            

Dan Carries the Cross
Dan Carries the Cross

 

This Week at First Baptist (4/9)

  • CalendarThursday, April 10, 7:30 PM: Church Choir  in the Parlor.
  •  Friday, April 11, 10:00 AM: Senior ChatWe will be blessed to have Inez Powell be our presenter. Covenant Presbyterian Church, 670 East Meadow Drive.
  •  

    Saturday, April 12, 9:00 AM: Renewal Task Team meeting in the Parlor.

  • Saturday, April 12, 2:00 PM: Memorial Service for Greg Powers in the Sanctuary, followed by a reception in the Parlor.
  • April 13, 2014: PALM/PASSION SUNDAY

    10:00 AM:
    Worship for the Whole Family:
    “Not through this Gate,”
    Pastor Rick preaching, communion.

    11:30 AM
    Adult Spiritual Formation:
    Revolution of Love, Part 3.
    We continue to consider our hunger emphasis for Lent.

    12:30 PM:
    Finance Committee
     in the Parlor.

  • Tuesday, April 15, 10:30 AM: Bible Study at the Terraces of Los Altos at Janet Maxwell’s apartment. The address is 373 Pine Lane,#2106, Los Altos. Let Pastor Rick know if you need transportation.
  • Wednesday, April 16, 8:30 AM: Men’s Breakfast  at Palo Alto Breakfast House,
    2706 Middlefield, Palo Alto. All the men from our Church family are welcome.

LOOKING AHEAD:

  • April 17, 6:00 PM: Maundy Thursday
    Soup supper and communion for the whole family in the Fellowship Hall.
  • April 18, Noon to 3:00 PM: Good Friday
    Sanctuary Open for Prayer and Meditation
  • April 20, Easter Sunday

    10:00 AM
    Worship for the Whole Family:
    “Not from this Tomb,”
    Pastor Rick preaching, communion.

    11:15 AM Easter Egg Hunt for the children.
    11:30 AM Brunch
    for all.  Please bring finger food to share.