Come Together! (4/10/2016)

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

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Text: Genesis 1                        Genesis 1: Beginningness               Paraphrase by Timothy Wayne Good

Before the beginning of time was the eternal God. Our beginning was God’s creation of   space and a nascent mass we would someday call home. The earth was an assemblage of primordial solids, liquids, gases and plasmas still without form; still unlit. God’s Spirit    moved across its face as God said: “Here is light. So be it.” The light’s embracing and     warming of the cold dark world pleased God. God spun the planet to separate the hours   into days and nights. The first day came to a close.

The next day, God separated the waters above and below: “So be it.” God called the moisture above “sky”, and the sunset and dawn of the second day in this primeval atmosphere created a global rainbow.

On the third day, God next separated the solid particles from water below to create land and sea.  “So be it” God said, and it was pleasing. But land needs roots to bind it together and make it alive, so God caused plants of all kinds to spring forth from the once       sterile ground. Fertile soil was created. “So be it.” God was pleased as another evening and morning brought an end to the third day.

On the fourth, God separated the nebulous glow of light by allowing celestial bodies to   shine through the clearing atmosphere. It was as it was willed. The cosmos danced across the heavens, and the sun and the moon raced. God was pleased.

The next day, God made the waters below and above alive with new life: leviathans; bugs; whales; bats; birds; and fish. They all pleased God, and God blessed them with the fruitfulness of ongoing creation. Evening passed and then the dawn; fifth day done.

God continued populating the planet by introducing land animals into the green paradise; and it pleased God. God said: “This next creature I will make in My own image with My own essence so that it may be able to rule over my earthly kingdom with wisdom and compassion.” So God formed humanity in all its many visages in God’s image, in the image of God made them all; God made them like Godself, male and female. God blessed them, too, with fruitfulness, and gave them responsibility for the care of   creation. “See,” God said, “I’ve given you everything you need to thrive, and abundance to sustain you and give you joy.”

God looked at the intricate relatedness of each of the worlds God created. We too see the intricate intimacies of life on earth – the chains, webs and circles of mutualism and dependence. God was pleased with His work; it was bustling, teeming, complete and whole – perfect. So God finished and took the final day off. God blessed this seventh day and made it a holy day to enjoy creation and to remember the Creator.

            These are the generations of God’s creation of all.

(Timothy Wayne Good, “Beginningness,” June 15, 2011, thenakedalien.blogspot.com)

Interconnection is not a particularly pretty word. It doesn’t really roll off the tongue. It’s difficult to imagine a poet using it to shape a phrase or complete a rhyme. Nor has it been a common concept in theological work, though we may find it moreso with the “greening” of theology. What today’s text teaches us is that God has carefully and lovingly interwoven the elements of creation into a grand and sacred whole, an entity that God shapes and calls “good.” There is much to explore, to understand, to embrace, to enjoy and, yes, to love in the intricate interconnectedness of creation.

For God’s own reasons and purposes, She sings out, “Come together!” And from every atomic particle, from the “primordial solids, gases and plasmas still without form,” God begins to create. Or, in the words of James Weldon Johnson (from “The Creation” in God’s Trombones),

AND God stepped out on space,
And He looked around and said,
“I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world.”

To show off, to cure loneliness, for the sheer delight of it all, just because She could, God sang out, “Come together!” Things began to coalesce all around her and universe upon universe came into being. All that came into being was interconnected in and through the Creator, who saw it and said it was “good.”

When we talked about this creation story in Bible Study, I said it sounded to me as if God created from a sort of “roiling cauldron of stuff” rather than from nothing. As is often the case, Alan raised the challenging question, “But where did the ‘stuff’ come from, if God didn’t create it?” Of course, it’s a good question. The best response my little mind could come up with is that it pre-existed along with God. In actuality, it may be part of God, inextricably interconnected with the Holy One. To the degree we can visualize infinity, God and the “stuff” of God have always existed and always will. Alright, my head is starting to hurt. As we sometimes like to affirm, God is always the ”More.”

In a blog entitled, “The ‘Not-nothingess’ of Space,” Russ Dean writes, “I was surprised when I learned that outer space wasn’t made up of nothing. ‘What do you mean, it’s not ‘nothing’ out there? What’s out there?’” he asked. “I wasn’t talking about stars and planets, moons and asteroids, but about all the nothingness of space between them. I was told that that’s not nothing, either.” With the recent observation of “gravitational waves,” Russ says, “it reminds us that across the sea of whirling galaxies, the energy and the matter, the space and the time are really the same stuff, and the quarks and the stars, the waves and the wind — even the ‘red and yellow, black and white’ — are all part of One grand and unifying Spirit” (Russ Dean, “The ‘Not-nothingess’ of Space,” 4-4-2016, baptistnews.com). One grand and unifying Spirit that we call God, the One in whom we live and move have our being. Interconnection!

A couple of other things we considered as we studied this ancient word is how compatible it is with other current scientific thought. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not in any way suggesting that Genesis is or was ever meant to be a scientific text, but read it carefully and see if you don’t hear echoes of evolution in its poetry. And then, Alan, again, suggested that that first act of creation, that sudden separation of light from dark sounded a lot like the “big bang” theory. God sang out and suddenly, “boom,” things started to happen.

Part of the genius of this ancient explanatory myth is the way in which God carefully crafts each element and then gives it its appropriate place in a magnificent whole. To each lovingly shaped dimension of creation, She sings, “Come together!” and then she delights in the intricate beauty of her handiwork – “oh, that’s good.” In today’s Words of Preparation, Elizabeth Johnson writes, “Woven into our lives is the very fire from the stars and genes from the sea creatures, and everyone, utterly everyone, is kin in the radiant tapestry of being” (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit).  Interconnection!

Dan and Afan and I are in the midst of a set of concerts with The Choral Project, so you can imagine that singing in the choir has been on my mind this week. As I thought about today’s theme, it struck me that choirs and choral music are wonderful images for coming together and interconnection. In fact, a choir is interconnection by definition. If we practice long enough and hard enough we may create something of great beauty, infused by one great and unifying spirit.

But here’s the thing, you might not appreciate immediately all the different sounds the choir makes. This wondrous entity that is the music may sound strange to your ear or be alien to your experience. Our choir sings a lot of contemporary classical music, which is not to everyone’s taste. Sometimes you may have to work to understand, if not embrace, the genius of the composer.

Let me give you a couple of examples. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a beautiful chorale that sounds like this. [Jan plays on the organ.]  He wrote this almost 300 years ago. In the 20th century, a fine Norwegian composer, Knut Nystedt, took this excerpt from the chorale and re-arranged it as a tribute to Bach’s genius. In his version, entitled, “Immortal Bach,” Nystedt divides the choir into five smaller choirs. Each small choir, in turn, sings the excerpt from the chorale, only each choir sings it at a different tempo. Now you might imagine that sounds like cacophony or chaos, and, frankly, to me it does, but Nystedt, the creator, heard something in that configuration that shaped the old elements of the chorale into a new sound, one that may come close to capturing the music of the spheres, which often sound beyond our easy listening.

Or as another example, we sing some music in which the choir divides into six or eight or twelve or sixteen parts. In this music, each part may sing its own note, creating a “sound cluster.” [Jan plays.] Again, you may not find the sound exactly beautiful, but in the context of a given work of music, this cluster may be a powerful way for the individual elements of the choir to come together in a new and exciting way. It is challenging to sing and challenging to hear but it also invites us to join with the creator who is constantly creating and drawing us into new and exciting configurations. Interconnection!

As we celebrate this earth month and beyond, we are likely to come up against ideas and images that are not easy to see or hear or necessarily to our liking. We can argue about the details of science and technology until the cows come home or the sun burns out. But there is a theological and spiritual underpinning for our conversation in the recognition of the interconnectedness of creation. It is all God’s doing. And God has blessed it and called it good. As God called creation to come together, the same God calls us to come together in appreciation, in love and care for what God has brought in to being. It is both a responsibility and great gift that calls us into a co-creative process of stewardship of creation. We may find it difficult at times to see with God’s eyes, to hear with God’s ears, to feel with God’s heart, or to reason with God’s mind, which is why we need to come together – to hear the beauty in the tone cluster, to admire the creative genius of gravitational waves, to discover the web-like intricacies that make up the earth, and to wonder at the constant shaping and re-shaping of creation.

“’See,’ God said, ‘I’ve given you everything you need to thrive, and abundance to sustain you and give you joy.’” Then, “God looked at the intricate relatedness of each of the worlds God created. We too see the intricate intimacies of life on earth – the chains, webs and circles of mutualism and dependence. God was pleased with this work; it was bustling, teeming, complete and whole – perfect.” And God sang out, “Come together! See how good it is. Share with me the delight of its existence and the joy of caring for it all.” Interconnection! Amen.

Youth Sunday

Rev. Rick MixonThis coming Sunday is Youth Sunday at FBCPA. Doug and our children and youth have been working on a wonderful service in the spirit of Pentecost. The theme is “Alive in the Spirit: Dreams and Visions. Doug will be preaching, Clara Ramirez, graduating from high school will offer a reflection and we will celebrate Communion. This is a great opportunity for us to support our remarkable children and youth as well as Doug Davidson and Elizabeth Ramirez who work with them faithfully. We will also recognize those who are making transitions from one level of education to another.

Though it appears we will not be giving a scholarship this year, I still encourage you to give as generously as you can to the special offering for the Granholm Scholarship Fund. Building up that fund so that we have resources to give scholarship as needed in the future is very important. Thanks to Laura Garcia who has made a generous donation to the fund in memory of her sister, Janice.

If anyone is interested in going with me to the PCBA Spring Conference in Alameda please let me know as soon as possible. I will also give a plug for The Choral Project Concert in our Sanctuary Friday night at 8:00 PM. I think you will find the music will be moving and fun. Remember children and youth can come free if they obtain passes.

In Adult Spiritual Formation, we continue with the series, “Painting the Stars: Science, Religion and an Evolving Earth.” The videos are challenging and informative and our discussions have been spirited as usual. This week we will look at an “Evolutionary Christianity” as we consider what it means for us a followers of Christ to live into an “evolutionary paradigm” rather than a static one in terms of how we see and understand the world.

Please plan to be here by 10:00 AM for worship and Sunday School, followed by Adult Spiritual Formation.

May we continue to grow together as God’s people.

Pastor Rick

From the Pastor

God's PeopleThank you all for your cards, condolences and kind words on the death of my sister, Joan. I will be headed to Boise this Wednesday, April 22, to conduct the memorial service and see my family. I will be back on Saturday in time for the Evergreen Planning Meeting as well as worship and the Quarterly Business Meeting on Sunday. We all have our ways to handle loss. It has been good for me to have my classes to teach at PSR and ABSW and The Choral Project. Both of these feed me as does the opportunity to share life and ministry with you all. Thanks for every effort you make to live into the Beloved Community of God.

In a bit of shameless shilling, I would like to encourage any and all of you within range to attend one of The Choral Project concerts this weekend – Friday night in our Sanctuary, Saturday evening in Santa Cruz and Sunday afternoon at Mission Santa Clara. (Details at www.choralproject.org/)The brief but powerful program explores some music of incredible spiritual depth and beauty. Under the theme, “Chiaroscuro,” we sing of the interplay of light and dark. What is especially meaningful to me at this moment is the way God is present and active in the darkness as in the light.

Sunday we continue our journey into a “Global Uprising” with consideration of “The Uprising of Discipleship.” The texts for the week cover Jesus’ call and commissioning of his followers to walk the Way and carry out his ministry of bringing the Beloved Community on earth in the here and now. How do we respond, centuries later, to the echoing call to “feed my sheep,” to “tend my lambs,” to heal the sick, to care for the needy, to spread the Good News far and wide?

In Adult Spiritual Formation we welcome representatives of the United Campus Christian Ministry at Stanford, a ministry which we helped found and have long supported. They will update us on the work that they are doing among progressive Christians at the university.

Please be here by 10:00 AM on Sunday for worship and Sunday School and stay for Adult Spiritual Formation. What better time to bring others along to share in the life of our community than this blessed Easter season?

May we continue to grow together as God’s people.

Pastor Rick  

Farewell to “big sister”

easter2015-panelIt’s a hard day in this season of resurrection to have to face the death of my older sister this morning. Joan was almost five years older than I. All my life she was my “big sister.” It will be strange to no longer have an older sibling to call on. Thank you for all your prayers and concern during her long illness. Now I ask your continued prayers as we mourn, especially for her daughter, Cathi, my nephews, Kyle and Shawn and my younger sister, Charlotte, for whom Joan was “best friend. Remember my also my 96 year mother who has outlived two husbands, two children and a grandson.

Thanks to everyone who made Easter Sunday so wonderful, including thanks to God for the rain (and that it held off till after the Egg Hunt.) Thanks to Jan for arranging, preparing, conducting and playing so much good music; to friends from the Choral Project who helped augment the choir; to Clara and Daniel Ramirez and Dona Smith-Powers for extra musical support on clarinet, saxophone and piano; to Sook Kim and Carolyn Shepard for flower duty, including lilies and flower cross; to Eleanor Satterlee and all her crew – Hugh Satterlee, Laurie Cudworth, Sachiko Berry, Thelma Tuttle, Jane Chin, Carolyn Shepard, Sook Kim, Alan Plessinger and Chip Clark for the beautiful brunch; and to Chip Clark for everything else he does as well.

Sunday we will continue to consider the “global uprising” brought on by Easter. This week’s text is the very familiar twentieth chapter of John, including Jesus post-resurrection appearances to the disciples and the tale of “doubting Thomas.” “Peace with you” is Jesus’ refrain as he seeks to comfort his rattled followers and then encourage them to get on with the business of bringing to life God’s Beloved Community. To help them along the way, he breathes the Holy Spirit into them that they – and we – might have strength for the journey.

In Adult Spiritual Formation we will take some time to consider what lies ahead for us after the celebration dies down and daily life in the here and now stretches before us.

Please be here at 10:00 AM on Sunday for worship and Sunday School and stay for Adult Spiritual Formation. What better time to bring others along to share in the life of our community?

May we continue to grow together as God’s people.

Pastor Rick

Touring and uprising

The Choral Project had a wonderful time on our brief tour to southern California, including the lovely experience of rain along the way. Some of you came to our “get away” concert at Los Altos United Methodist Church on Friday. Saturday night we sang in a beautiful Catholic church in Visalia; Sunday afternoon in a charming little Episcopal Church in Los Olivos and Monday night in the large Episcopal church in Palm Desert (where Gerald Ford’s memorial service was held.) We were well received by good audiences in all venues and it was a joy to travel and make music with my fellow choristers. Thanks to Ra Amen and Doug and everyone who “held the fort” last Sunday. It is not too late to give a gift in support of CIC ministries in Santa Clara jails.

This week we will continue our Lenten journey into “Adventures in Global Uprising.” The texts that Brian McLaren is giving us from the “Sermon on the Mount” are indeed revolutionary, if read and practiced with open eyes and ears, hearts and minds. Jesus tells his followers that we are “salt of the earth” and “light to the world.” These are both foundational and transformative claims. How do they apply to us as contemporary followers of the Christ? Doug will be preaching this Sunday and we will celebrate communion.

In Adult Spiritual Formation we will consider the question of “what to do about bullying.” When we focused on peace and peacemaking last fall, several of you asked that we explore this more deeply, especially around issues of bullying and just war. So Sunday we will have one of those discussions.

Come at 10:00 AM and stay for Adult Spiritual Formation. Then join us for brunch/lunch at Olive Garden at 12:45 PM. Bring some others along to share the day.

May we continue to grow together as God’s people.

Pastor Rick  

God's People

Around and about

Through the month of May I will be teaching at PSR and ABSW on Tuesday afternoons and evenings. As a result I will be working for FBCPA on Monday afternoons. However, this Monday, February 16 is a holiday and the church office is closed and next weekend, February 21 through February 24, I will be using vacation days to participate in The Choral Project Tour to southern California.

While I am away this Sunday, we are delighted to welcome the Rev. Dave Robinson to our pulpit. As lead chaplain with CIC, he has been with us before. He will preach and also lead Adult Spiritual Formation, taking us deeper into the ministry the chaplains do in our county jails. Please come out to support him and hear about the important work of CIC.

In this Lenten season, Brian McLaren invites us to be “Alive in a Global Uprising.” The Lenten texts are from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. This week we begin with the Beatitudes. On this Ash Wednesday, Marcus Borg, of blessed memory, reminds us that Lent and Easter are “about following Jesus from death through resurrection.” This is a journey that promises a global uprising as we move ever toward that new creation that is the beloved community of God.

Come Sunday at 10:00 AM; stay for Adult Spiritual Formation and bring some others along to share the day.

May we continue to grow together as God’s people.

Pastor Rick  

For a song

Mixon MusesSummer has come and, with the turning of the calendar, another anniversary. July 1 marks the beginning of my ninth year as pastor of FBCPA. It has been quite a journey. I am happy to be continuing with you as we look to the future. We had a good meeting of the Assistant Pastor Search Committee last week and we are moving forward with the search. If you have thoughts or questions to share, feel free to speak to any of us – Dan Cudworth, Doug Ha, Melanie Ramirez, Hugh Satterlee, Carolyn Shepard or myself.

This last week of June has been especially full with extra meetings and the final Choral Project concerts of the season. We had a nice audience in our sanctuary on Friday, including a number of church members; a full house at Mission Santa Clara Saturday night; and a good crowd at Peace Congregational Church in Santa Cruz on Sunday afternoon. I have to say it is a real joy making music with this group, probably the most satisfying choral experience I have had. And the set of concerts we just finished were among my favorites ever.

Under the banner, “Americana,” we sang a collection of songs from the USA, Canada and Latin America. It was not a collection of patriotic songs. Rather it was 20th century works masterpieces along with folk songs and early American hymns in settings by superb composers and arrangers. All the songs seemed beautifully constructed and fit the voice in a way that made it extremely satisfying to sing. Some of it was just fun like “Cindy” (“Get along home, little Cindy. I’ll marry you some day”) and a French Canadian nursery song about a mill wheel. Some songs were tender and moving like the early hymn “Bright Morning Stars” or “Let Us Break Bread Together.” Some were deeply stirring like Randall Thompson’s setting of Robert Frost’s “Choose Something Like a Star” or Aaron Copeland’s “The Promise of Living” from his opera, The Tender Land.

I quoted this last number in my sermon last Sunday on “Prophets of Peace.” Copeland’s librettist (and partner) Erik Johns penned these words, “The promise of living with hope and thanksgiving is born of our loving our friends and our labor. The promise of growing with faith and with knowing is born of our sharing our love with our neighbor. The promise of ending in right understanding is peace in our own hearts and peace with our neighbor.” In a time in our world when there is still too much enmity and fighting, these are words of wisdom, a little gospel. There is nothing like cooperation, sharing, loving to bring about peace among neighbors and strangers alike.

Then Robert Frost encourages us with these words about a star,

It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

There is part of me that would love to forward these words to our political leaders (and some religious leaders, as well.) Surely there is a higher calling, something like a star, to lift us above the vicious, self‐serving politics that too often plague our land (and our churches.) There is a word here about grace and humility from which we can all learn.

And there were hymns, with words familiar and perhaps sentimental, yet speaking of that universal longing for heaven and home, for that place where we may yet live in peace and harmony, in love and thanksgiving with all of creation. “Come fathers and mothers, come sisters and brothers, come join us in singing the praises of Zion.” “Oh where are our dear mothers? They have gone to heaven shouting.” “Let us break bread together on our knees.” “What wondrous love is this, oh my soul?” “Are  there anybody here like Peter sinkin’? Call to my Jesus and he’ll draw nigh.” “If I could, I surely would stand on the rock where Moses stood. Elijah rock – shout, shout – Elijah rock, I’m comin’ up Lord.”

Well, maybe this is a mish‐mash that makes little sense. If so, thank you for your indulgence of my re‐hashing a great choral experience. Hopefully you get a little sense of what it means to me. Maybe you had to be there. In fact, I wish you had. There is real joy in sharing the magic and mystery of music with you. As our conductor always says, “without the audience it would
just be another rehearsal.” Beauty, truth, hope, love, something of the eternal – so much can be conveyed in a song. I’ll close with a line from one of my favorite hymns, “If love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”

Yours for a song,
Pastor Rick