October 2018

“Be the Hope” became our congregation’s unofficial motto after Hurricane Katrina. It’s taken on a life of its own, showing up on banners and on our beautiful lighted sign at the front door of our church campus.

My favorite “Be the Hope” story came to me via Pastor Robert who heard it from a Preschool dad. Seems that it had been a tough morning for dad and son that day. Getting up, clothed, breakfasted, stuff for the day gathered in the backpack…just trying to get out of the house had been especially stressful and nerve-racking that day. Dad was tense as he drove over to school and had been snapping at his son. Just before arriving at the church, the little boy piped up from the backseat: “Be the Hope, Dad!” he said.

I preached a sermon on “Words Matter” a few weeks ago that struck a chord with many of you. I stand by that, but even so, I know how very often what we DO and who we ARE matters even more than what we SAY. St. Francis put it this way: “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

Being the Hope means witnessing to the Gospel, to God’s Good News for each and every one of us and for the world and creation–in everything we do, everything we stand up for, every act of compassion and kindness. It means putting God’s Hope at the very center of our heart so that it radiates through the person that we are.

On Laity Sunday, October 14th, we’ll hear from several of our members of different ages and life experiences as they reflect on what “Be the Hope” means to them. Let’s all be in prayer with them, asking God to increase our faith, confirm our hope, and mold our lives accordingly.

“Let us hold firmly to the hope we claim to have. The God who promised is faithful.” Heb. 10:23

August / September Horizons

Anyone remember a bumper sticker that seemed to be everywhere just a few years ago? “Commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.”

Where did that go? The prevailing norm these days seems to be just the opposite. Alarmingly, public discourse is more often marked by polarization, demonization, ugliness and fear. As songwriter Joni Mitchell once observed: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

How did we get here and how do we find our way back to genuine communities of respect and compassion? As people of faith, we turn to God, prayer, and Scripture to help us find and re-find our way. Sermons through August in the “Bind Our Hearts in Love” series will explore the Letter to the Ephesians and its many teachings for the church about how to be a community worthy of the gospel, lessons essential both to the church and to our larger community.

And, week after week, we will gather together for worship, study, and service. A new year begins in the Preschool as it celebrates its 70th Anniversary. Sunday School classes, Youth group, and Children’s Church will gather. Opportunities for fellowship and service will be in full swing. Committees will meet and plans will be made.

All the “normal” stuff of church life will be happening, thanks be to God. For this is where we learn to “practice what we preach,” creating community united in love, and through it all, witnessing to kindness, beauty, compassion, justice and peace.

June / July 2018

You’ve heard the expression: “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” As Robert and his family move to Ohio this month to take on new ministries and be closer to family, I know that they’re thinking that they’re moving somewhere that will be really different from Santa Monica. There’s the weather for one thing, and the fact that it will be hard to find great Hatch Chili burritos there. But I’ve discovered a great similarity in the two places, found in their history. Turns out that Mt. Healthy, where Robert’s church is located, was originally called Mt. Pleasant. The community began to be known as Mt. Healthy in the late 1890’s because it tended to avoid the cholera epidemics of nearby Cincinnati. Similarly, around that same time, Santa Monica was known as a healthy place in which to avoid the smallpox epidemics of Los Angeles.

It’s hard to say good-bye and draw to a close this faithful, fruitful, and fun decade of ministry together. We wish the English family only the best and pledge to keep them and their new congregations in our hearts and prayers. In place of good-bye, we say “fare thee well,” an old-fashioned term that reminds us that good-byes are always blessings. We bless their coming and their going. And we are deeply grateful for God’s many blessings poured out through them that have enriched our lives so deeply.

May we and they stay strong and healthy in the days to come, entering into new chapters of life, service and ministry yet to unfold. In the words of 3 John 2: “Dear friends, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”

Thank you. And thanks be to God!

May 2018

Many are the ways in which First UMC witnesses our message of hope to our community. An outstanding proclamation of that hope awaits as, on May 6, our Music Department presents internationally acclaimed composer Kirke Mechem’s Songs of the Slave in our Spring Concert.  Featuring Wayne Shepperd, bass baritone, singing the role of Frederick Douglass, and Zanaida Robles, soprano.  Also, Maurice Duruflé’s  Requiem featuring Alexandra Grabarchuk, mezzo soprano, will be performed.

Mechem, a native of Kansas, graduate of Stanford and Harvard, has been honored and recognized for his contributions by the United Nations, the National Endowment for the Art, and the National Gallery.

The central figure in this cantata is Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), an escaped slave, who became the greatest African-American leader of the 19th century. The music and text are hauntingly beautiful, embracing the pain, the brokenness, the strength and the courage that together from the story of America.

In this time when our nation is again striving to address and heal the sins of slavery and racism, we hear, in the cantata’s climax, Douglass and choir proclaim the conviction and challenge of our Declaration of Independence: “all men are created equal.”

Bring your family, friends, and neighbors and together, through the beauty and power of music, let us again be inspired to “Be the Hope.”

Horizons – April

It’s not often that Easter falls on April Fool’s Day.  It’s fun to play with the juxtaposition of the two.  Seems to me that the very least we can say is that both are days for laughter, merry-making and joy.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “the earth laughs in flowers.”  What a wonderful way to bring together the laughter and joy of Easter in light of our Lenten theme:  Love God/Love Creation.  For Easter is the Day of Resurrection, the day all life and all creation are restored to the fullness of their beauty through the love and power of God.  The tomb is empty.  The flowers bloom!
An early church father born around 625 A.D. in Syria, St. John of Damascus, wrote a poem for Easter that was translated and adapted into a hymn text by John Mason Neale.  Be sure to come and sing  “The Day of Resurrection” on Easter Day with congregation, choir, organ and brass.  It will lift your spirits and open your hearts to the laughter of the very flowers themselves:  Now let the heavens be joyful!  Let earth the song begin!  Let the round world keep triumph, and all that is therein!  Let all things seen and unseen their notes in gladness blend–for Christ the Lord hath risen, our joy that hath no end.
Alleluia indeed!