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!

March 2018

Love God/Love Creation. Our Lenten journey this year invites us to examine and re-examine our commitment to be faithful and passionate stewards of God’s creation. The challenge to each of us is put succinctly by essayist Wendell Berry: “If God loves the world, then how might any person of faith be excused for not loving it or be justified in destroying it?”

How, indeed?! The environmental crisis, or creation crisis as we might put it, is at heart a spiritual crisis. As one young adult, a high school science teacher and United Methodist, reflected: “Answering to God about what has happened to God’s creation should put most Christians, me included, into a spiritual crisis.”

Throughout Lent this year, we walk with Jesus from the wilderness to the Tree of Life and deep into the darkness of the earth towards the brilliant light of Easter morn. The worship and music of the church offer us space to listen and reflect. The art in the Fireside Room, titled “KNOW, LOVE, DO–Changing Nature and Us,” provides much to celebrate and ponder. The Blessing of the Bicycles on Palm Sunday and taking stock of the environmentally-sensitive practices we have in place here at the church inspire
us to go farther along the path of responsible living. Our new sign board out front invites passers-by to add their own word of testimony and hope for a healed creation. A new meal-time grace shared around our family tables in our congregation and Preschool families gives us pause each day to live as grateful stewards.

Our April Book Study author, UM Sharon Delgado, writes: “Love makes this possible…the experience of God’s love for us enables us to face the reality of climate change and our love of God and neighbor can motivate us to compassionate action as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.” For as the old hymn puts it: “Dear to God is the earth Christ trod. No place but is holy ground.”

Let’s walk this walk with the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.