On the Way (12/11/16)

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

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Texts: Psalm 146: Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-6

On the way. We’re anxious to be on the way, but then we’re not entirely sure which way it is we are to be on? Where are we headed and how will we know we’re following the right route? There’s no electronic voice assuring us that our route guidance will begin once we’ve backed out of the driveway. However, we have some voices in today’s texts which we may find helpful. Isaiah says of the wilderness, stretched out between Babylon and Jerusalem, A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way…” Dietrich Bonhoeffer proclaims that “God travels wonderful ways with human beings…” John the Baptist wants to know if he and his followers should journey with Jesus or wait for another guide.

Continue reading On the Way (12/11/16)

Itching Ears (10/16/2016)

A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, October 16, 2016

Texts: Psalm 119:97-104; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 18:1-8; 2 Timothy 4:1-5

I probably should have entitled this sermon something like, “Itching Ears and Open Hearts,” because I think each of the lectionary texts this week shows deeper interest in the condition of the human heart than the state of our ears. I rarely try to weave all the texts for a given week into one sermon, but these four texts seem to invite it.

To begin with, Psalm 119, which is a kind of love song or hymn to God’s law is much less concerned with the letter of that law than its spirit. The section chosen for today begins, “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long.” Now I don’t know about you but I don’t generally think of the law as something to love. It will take some time and effort to understand the 17 ballot measures that may or may not become law on November 8, but I don’t plan to spend all of the next 24 days meditating on them, though I may have more to say about them between now and November 8. I’ve already grown so tired and disgusted with the overgrown and misleading advertising for the various measures that I’ve taken to muting all political ads as soon as they appear on my television screen.

Continue reading Itching Ears (10/16/2016)

All Together (9/25/2016)

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

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Texts: Psalm 148; Proverbs 8:22-31 (The Message); Colossians 1:15-20 (The Message)

PTL! There was a time when some Christian evangelicals might have responded by waving their hands and shouting “PTL” in response. It was something of a fad in the 1970s and 80s. PTL! Praise the Lord! In 1974 televangelists, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, took the acronym as the name for their new TV show – “The PTL Club.” I don’t know if anyone here was a member of the club or a fan of the show, but I will confess that I never saw it.  When Jimmy Bakker got in trouble for financial and sexual impropriety, the show and its assets were taken over by Jerry Falwell, who ran it for a couple of years. In all, it ran from 1974 to 1989, when, plagued by scandal and bankruptcy, it left the air.

Continue reading All Together (9/25/2016)

Where is Your Faith? (9/18/16)

A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, September 18, 2016

Texts: Psalm 29; Luke 8:22-25

Have you ever found yourself in difficulty, caught between a rock and hard place, up the creek without a paddle? Then you have some sense of what Jesus’ disciples experienced on the lake that day. It all started innocently enough. They pushed off from the shore near their home base in Capernaum headed for the Gerasene shore. At least some of them were experienced sailors. They’d made their living fishing this shallow lake. They were also familiar with the brief, fierce storms that could arise on the lake when the wind off the Mediterranean came roaring through Pigeon Pass and hit the lake hard.

Jesus was asleep. I wonder if he wasn’t exhausted from the effort involved in preaching, teaching, healing, and exorcising. This is not the only time the gospels tell us Jesus took to the sea, hoping for a little relief from the press of the crowd, from their constant demands and insistent expectations. It seems he was sound asleep, sleeping so soundly that the storm did not wake him. If we take the tale at face value, the disciples were terrified by the storm. The boat was taking on water and the prospect of drowning rose before them. “Master, Master, we are perishing!” they cried. In Mark’s older version, from which Luke draws this story, the disciples are a little snarky, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:39b). Desperate, and a little whiney, they call on him to save them.

Do you ever feel like that – “Jesus, we’re dying here. Don’t you care?” When you get between a rock and hard place, when you find yourself up the creek without a paddle, “when the storms of life are raging, when the world is tossing [you] like a ship upon the sea?” Do you ever cry out, “Stand by me!” “Jesus, savior, pilot me,” “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to your bosom fly,” “Help of the helpless, O abide with me”? Song and scripture alike lift up our cries for help. At the same time, we hear the words of assurance: “God will take care of you,” “God, who holds the future, is the One who holds my hand,” “God walks the dark hills,“ “The voice of Love is heard in every storm…and in their hearts all cry, ‘Glory!’ The Beloved lives in our hearts; Love dwells with us forever.”

Continue reading Where is Your Faith? (9/18/16)

Note from Pastor Rick (8/24/2016)

mitchell01What a wonderful time we had in the park on Sunday. Thanks to everyone who worked to make the joint service and potluck a joyful experience. Chip worked overtime setting up, breaking down and ushering. Jan pulled together a good combined choir and played all the hymns. The Tongan Dancers, the drama (which included Pastor Gregory) and the powerful preaching were highlights of the day. Then there was a lot fabulous food and fellowship around the tables. Truly, we came together in “Unity with Purpose.” Continue reading Note from Pastor Rick (8/24/2016)

A Most Improbable Daddy (6/19/2016)

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

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Texts: Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26: Matthew 17:14-21 (The Message); Horton Hatches the Egg

This has been a hard week – more difficult for some than others, I’m sure – but still a hard week for anyone with an ounce of compassion. Orlando is not the first murderous tragedy to scar the body of this nation and I don’t imagine it will be the last. It joins a long litany of hate and destruction that wounds our souls, individually and collectively, and threatens to undo all that we have hoped for and striven for in creating a land that promises “liberty and justice for all.”

At a time when it seems hopeless to bear witness against the principalities and powers of darkness, when feel numb and hopeless in the face of overwhelming violence and colossal evil, when the most vulnerable are under vicious attack and we don’t know where to turn or what to do, here comes Horton, the elephant with a heart as big as his body. Has he come to save us from all that threatens us? Has he come to rescue us from ourselves? Is his witness one that might lift us, as the first Christians were inspired by that great cloud of faithful witnesses in long ago times of terror? Continue reading A Most Improbable Daddy (6/19/2016)

God’s Good Earth (4/24/2016)

Watery Earth NASA photoA sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Text: Psalm 121; Psalm 148; Matthew 6:19-21, 24-34

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

There is a profound sense in which this great poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins captures for me the dilemma with which we have wrestled throughout this Earth Month. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” “This is my Father’s world…“ “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and, when it was done, “God saw everything that she had made, and indeed, it was very good.” God’s good earth.

And yet,

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

Do we really see and understand this as God’s good earth, or have we taken the position that, while God may have created, creation itself was left for us to use and abuse was we will? What footprint have we left on God’s good earth as we trod across it, our heavy human boots searing and blearing, smearing and smudging? How do we reconcile the goodness of creation with some of the callous and careless decisions humans have made in the exercise of dominion?

My intent here is not to condemn progress. There is a place for human ingenuity or God would not have given it. Nor am I exactly on a back to nature kick (though there may be something for me to consider in that regard.) My primary concern here is for the disconnect, the ways in which we pit progress against nature in a false dichotomy that does not recognize sufficiently that all we have and are is gift from God. That is, God has given us certain abilities, among these a sort of intelligence that allows us to reason, to figure some things out, to build and even to create, in the image and likeness of God. God has also placed us in the midst of an amazing aggregation of resources. And God asks us to appreciate it all, to see its value, to delight in its goodness, and to care for it as an intricately interwoven whole of grand design. We approach it as Gordian knot, with sword in hand, at our own peril. “Touch the earth lightly, use the earth gently, nourish the life of the world in our care,” urges Shirley Erena Murray.

My friend, Mark Liebenow is a wonderful writer. A good deal of his work is nature writing in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver. He has written a lovely book, Mountains of Light: Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite, journaling his experiences in that wilderness. When he lived in California, Mark would spend a week at a time, almost always “off-season,” alone in Yosemite. October or January would yield beauty and mystery that the casual camper seldom experiences amid the crush of summer visitors. Of course, it also helps that Mark is dedicated to paying attention, as I suppose most good writers are.

After being awakened in the middle of the night by a bear rummaging around his campsite, he writes this reflection:

At 6:30 a.m., tired from conjuring danger from every stray noise and stiff from sleeping on the ground, I pull on clothes that froze overnight and step gingerly into the darkness, cautious of wild animals still prowling around. Leidig Meadow and the Merced River, whose waters sing nearby, are barely visible in the predawn light of the young moon. Night hides the canyon walls under a cloak of blackness while overhead thousands of sparkling, spinning stars, scattered like seeds across the infinity of the universe, dance in the dark silence that surrounds the earth. Into this wonder arises the crisp beauty of dawn, a narrow orange band of light that pierces the eastern horizon. The mountain’s scent condenses on my upturned face as I breathe in the valley and its peacefulness, then slowly exhale. My breath rises straight up in the still air.

As daylight floods over the mountains, the grandeur of Yosemite emerges and surrounds me with rivers, waterfalls, forests and sky. The fresh pine air quickens my pulse. I do not know where I am going now that I am here, but I know this is the beginning of something that has been waiting (pp. 2-3).

Surely “the world is charged with the grandeur of God” and God is praised from the depths of valley floor to the heights of the sparkling heavens. “Let the whole creation cry, alleluia!”

As much as I love reading what Mark writes, I find it difficult to imagine myself spending a week alone, camping in Yosemite, at any time of year. In book group on Saturday, Hugh and I agreed that we would prefer to visit nature but stay in a hotel. I confess that something is most likely lost in this perspective. Maybe this is what Hopkins is critiquing when he rues that the foot cannot “feel, being shod.” What do we miss? What is lost when we distance ourselves from God’s good earth, enshrining ourselves in protective palaces that divorce us from the goodness of the creative order?

Our friend, Greg Griffey, has posted a couple times now on Facebook a picture of two legs, pants rolled up, feet bare, standing in the grass, seeming to revel in contact with God’s good earth. He writes of his own journey to feel at home in this new place, “4 months out and I’m only beginning to feel the ground beneath my feet in this place of bay, mountains, ocean, fog, city, and traffic.” He says, “I don’t know when I began the journey from getting here to being here, but my resistance to this beginning did not stop it from quietly forming, just waiting until I was ready to live more fully into it.” A place on God’s good earth. Praise God with ten fine toes that wiggle in the grass!

“Let the whole creation cry, alleluia!” Praise to God! This ought to be the beginning and ending of all life, ours included. If we start with praise and end with praise, how might our lives be different? How might we define or re-define our concept of dominion? How might we organize or re-organize our relationship to creation? How would we approach God’s good earth? As I’ve said before, it is difficult for us to see beyond our own self-importance. Perhaps this the curse of being sentient beings. Our self-awareness often blinds us to any thought that it is not “all about me.” Maybe that’s why I don’t want to hang out alone in a tent in Yosemite, ironically. My comfort and security are more important to me than anything I might learn by coming so close to God’s good earth. I’d rather keep my boots on than feel the “first dewfall on the first grass…sprung in completeness where God’s feet pass.”

You know, and I know, as the expression goes, “we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” We do experience anxiety and insecurity. We feel we need to short circuit any threat to our existence through hoarding resources, accumulating goods for our own personal well-being, building fortresses, and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. It’s pretty difficult to praise God from that position.

In Psalm 121 we are reminded that all the help we need “comes from the Holy One who made heaven and earth. Ultimately, it is God in whom we live and move and have our being. What more can we need? Jesus sits in the grass on a hillside, grounded in God’s good earth, and proclaims, “…where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” He says, “…do not worry about your life…can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” “Look at the birds of the air…consider the lilies of the field…” If God cares for them, will God not also care for human creatures, made in her image and likeness? “…you of little faith,” he bemoans. Ouch, we didn’t want to hear that. We’re trying, Jesus. We want to be faithful. Sometimes it is so hard for us to trust, let alone take responsibility for right living.

We may live our lives somewhere between the glory of creation and the paving of paradise, but even in the deepest darkness of our fears, Hopkins holds hope for us. Our heavy human boots searing and blearing, smearing and smudging,

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

What if we focused our gaze on morning breaking, on the bright wings of the Spirit hovering over us, on the God who broods over us like a mother hen? What if we were to find our “treasure” in praising this God whose very essence is compassion and care? How would it affect our hearts, shape them, move them? How might our lives be transformed? If we were to stop and look around, where might we find creation praising God? Creation was praising God long before human beings ever came on the scene. What might we learn there? In that observation, the key to a renewed heart, one free of fear and insecurity, one made to sing God’s praise, can still be found. Think on these things. Pray about them. Let them become the ground –  God’s good earth –  from which you live your life.

Praise be to the Blessed One,
the very Breath of our breath,
the very Heart of our heart! Amen.