January 2020 Horizons

The beginning of a new year offers the gift of looking out over the horizon and imagining new possibilities of all kinds. Most of us make resolutions of various sorts around how to improve our personal lives. Whether or not we follow through, the burst of excitement and potential that we experience gives a nice boost to our soul and heart.

The beginning of a new year also affords the opportunity to imagine new beginnings for our community and world. The spiritual writer and teacher, Eberhard Arnold, has written: “In today’s world situation it is essential that here and there among people there continue to exist rays of light and hope, spiritual realities by which the unity of God’s peace and the [kinship] of true justice are recognized.”

As this new year begins, let us resolve anew to Be the Hope, as the light of Christ shines on us, in us, among us, and outward from us, bringing new light and life to all.

Horizons – December 2019

As we enter into the season of Advent this year, we are blessed by the work of John August Swanson in his “Festival of Lights.” John says: “it is a dark night with a star-filled sky. Tiny lights are seen on the distant hillsides, gradually becoming figures carrying candles as they come closer to the foreground of the painting.” John imagines the stars touching the hills, the children in the procession reaching to bring the light of the stars into the world, bringing peace.

We are grateful for this beautiful season in the church year when we are drawn by the candles’ lights to remember that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never overcome it,” as the Gospel of John proclaims. The candles in the Advent wreath and the candles we will light together on Christmas Eve all witness to the birth of Christ, bringing light and life to all.

This is a time of deep darkness in many parts of our world. Still, God comes to be with us. God’s light is given, that we might become people of the light, people who travel together in the light toward the light who is God. How we need God’s light to come to us and transform us from within, that we might be light-bearers who, with the children, witness to hope and peace.

Amidst all the busy-ness of the season, I encourage you to calm your mind and nurture your soul. Ponder the Advent devotionals. Delight in the music of the season. Find some moments of prayer, silence, worship, fellowship, service, and giving—the spiritual practices that form us from the inside out into those who live with the deep assurance that Christ is the Light of the World.

May the light of Christ shine in you.

Horizons – November 2019

Church is a School of Love. It is a place and a people that teach us how to live a life of love. We learn the ways of Christ’s love in prayer, Scripture, and worship. We learn the ways of love in the smiles of children and the questions of youth. We learn the ways of love in shared tears and laughter. We learn love sharing meals and mission projects with one another. The church is a School of Love.

Love teaches us patience and endurance. It teaches us selflessness and living for others. Love teaches us joy and gratitude. Love invites us to give generously and joyfully. It teaches us to strive to make our giving reflect our deepest priorities. Love teaches us to live and give after the example of Christ Jesus.

Love shines strong through the people of God and through the ministries and mission of Santa Monica First UMC. In this season of Thanksgiving, as we remember our saints, celebrate our annual church/charge conference, and renew our pledge of our financial resources to the glory of God, we rejoice in this School of Love and are grateful for this place and people that grow us into the disciples Christ calls us to become.

Let the sound of God’s love be heard! (Psalm 66-CEB)

Horizons – October 2019

One eye on the past, one eye on the future. This is how a chameleon is described in proverb from Madagascar. It speaks of this amazing creature whose two eyes can turn independently, allowing a large field of vision embracing many directions at once.

As conversations swirl around at every level in the United Methodist Church these days, we’re keeping one eye on the past and one eye on the future. Here at First UMC, we started with a fresh look at the “Five Marks of a Methodist,” remembering John Wesley’s description of what makes a Methodist “methodist.” A Methodist loves God, rejoices in God, prays always, gives thanks, and loves others.

We’ve also revisited some of our foundational affirmations here at First UMC:
– Inspiring the world as passionate followers of Jesus Christ so all may experience God’s life-giving love. – Vision of the California-Pacific Conference
– We welcome you into our community of faith – to be transformed by God’s love through Jesus Christ. – Mission of First UMC 2003
– We pledge to fulfill our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ and as members of the United Methodist Church, commissioned and empowered by the Holy Spirit to transform the world for the sake of the Reign of God, by freely extending all the ministries of the church to all God’s children. We pledge to welcome and embrace all the members of our church families in God’s boundary-less love and grace and to welcome all those in our communities through the inclusive hospitality of the Holy Spirit. – First UMC Church Council 2012
– God is real. God is love.
Everyone matters. You matter.
Together we can change the world. – First UMC 2013

As we gather for lunch, prayer, and round table conversation after worship on October 20, we’ll have all these “eyes on the past” as our foundation and springboard. At the same time, we’ll cast an eye to the future. For indeed, our God is always doing a new thing, as the Scripture promises.

We’ll be asking ourselves and one another where we see evidence of God’s ‘new thing’ already coming to life here at First UMC and in the larger church. We’ll ask what new areas of ministry and mission God might be calling us to in our community, nation, and world. And we’ll be listening for God’s voice in our hearts calling you and me into new ministries of love and service.

Our moment is now, somewhere on the eternal continuum of past present/future. Who is God calling us to be and to become?

August/September 2019

Back-to-School time for me as a kid meant new shoes, new notebooks, a new teacher, and the new clothes my mother had made for me over the summer. It brought a sense of new beginnings and new possibilities. And because we didn’t move around, but lived in one house through my school years, it also brought a lot of reassurance in continuity—continuity of place, family, and holidays. There was newness built on a foundation of familiarity and love.

Our California-Pacific bishop, Bishop Hagiya, set “I See a New Church” as the theme of our annual conference session this past June. He is now inviting local churches to consider this same theme in our own setting this Fall. Our First UMC Lay Leadership Team will be creating some opportunities for us to come together to listen for the voice of God and to dream with God.

At First UMC, we have a strong and faithful heritage to build upon—in ministry, in mission, and in the character of our life together. We respect and love one another, despite what might be differently held opinions about a whole variety of things. We’ve embodied John Wesley’s maxim: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

Confident in our calling, we are free to imagine and to dream. Are there needs in our community that God’s Spirit is urging us to see? Are there new opportunities for mission and ministry percolating in our hearts? Is there something God might be calling you/me to undertake?

This is a season for the fresh winds of the Spirit to blow through us, opening our minds and hearts to God’s great scope and purpose. Let’s enjoy the adventure!