February 17, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
What your minister wants you to know is that on a Saturday he or she works on a sermon, that the sermon didn’t start on a Saturday, but it is given time and care and love on a Saturday, and the point of a sermon is to share it with you on a Sunday morning. Your minister wants you to know that he or she hopes you will be in church the next day. I know it sounds simple but it’s true. The minister who writes a sermon does so because he or she believes people need to hear it, feel it, and be shaped by some theological idea or story. And it’s not just the sermon, but it’s the whole service that has been planned with care and attention. You may think that your presence doesn’t really matter on a Sunday morning, and ministers certainly understand how busy life is for everyone, but your presence does matter to your minister. It matters more than what any of them will ever say to you. Your minister doesn’t say it to you, because he or she doesn’t want to come across as needy, and for goodness sake, your minister doesn’t want you to attend church out of obligation to him or her. It’s just that, well, it’s just that it really inspires your minister to see you. It’s about the whole service, and seeing one another before church and after church that makes such a huge difference. Your minister wants you to know that 99% of being a church is showing up. Something special happens when people show up. Can you be a good person and not attend church? Of course! No minister in his or her right mind would say otherwise. It’s just that, well, it’s just that churches either work or don’t work. They work when people show up and they don’t work when people don’t show up, and your minister, perhaps young, perhaps old, perhaps tired, it doesn’t really matter, but your minister wants desperately for the church to work. Tomorrow is the beginning of the Lenten season. Six weeks leading up to Easter. Every minister around the country harbors a secret hope, namely, that church members will show up every Sunday during Lent. Again, he or she may not say it like that, but today he or she is thinking it. Sometimes ministers struggle because, again they never say this out loud, but sometimes they feel like they want something for the church more than the church wants something for the church. Churches don’t belong to ministers. Churches belong to the members of the church. It seems odd, and truth be told, it’s a little exhausting, when the minister wants the church to be the church more than the church wants the church to be the church. So it’s Saturday. Take a Breath. Take a Breath, because in all likelihood your minister, right now, is trying to find a story or word to conclude a sermon he or she hopes you will hear tomorrow. Your minister is doing this because he or she thinks it matters. I think I’m saying what every minister around the country would like to say to his or her church while working on a Saturday and thinking about a Sunday. I could be wrong, of course, but I don’t think so.
February 16, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
The pain of this shooting in Florida is unbearable. Of course, the same could be said of the Las Vegas shooting. Or that church shooting in Texas not many months ago. Or that school shooting that took place in Kentucky only a few weeks ago. But I just read the names and brief biographical sketches about each of these victims. I am sitting in the privacy of my library at home and cannot stop my tears from flowing.
Friends, we need each other. This coming Sunday is the first Sunday of the Lenten season. Could I make an modest request if you think of yourself as a Christian? Attend church this Sunday. At First Church we will remember these victims. Lighting candles doesn’t solve anything. But that doesn’t mean it is nothing. We need one another. Gun violence must stop. Common sense says it can stop.
I don’t often do this in a Take a Breath blog, but here goes . . . If you are part of the First Church community . . . please show up this Sunday. We need to be together. Bring your children. We need all the babies and smiling faces of children we can possibly see. We need to say hello and hug one another. We need to share the peace of Christ. We need to affirm life in a week that has been so very very bleak. If you are in the city this weekend, as your minister, as your friend, as someone who has journeyed with you for almost ten years now, I’m asking you — let’s come together this Sunday.
We need one another. And as I end every sermon every single week, I say to you today . . . I love you all. Let’s love one another.
February 15, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
My heart goes out. Such an strange expression, isn’t it? My heart goes out. It’s meant to be an expression of love and concern. My heart goes out to you. My heart goes out to them. It means I take the suffering of others and put it inside my heart, the deepest place of my being where I think and feel.
Yet, oddly enough, it can also be an expression of despair. The heart going out means being overwhelmed, overcome with grief, or paralyzed and damaged as a human being. It means something so devastating has happened that you hardly want to go on. I’m trying to take a breath this morning after hearing of that terrible school shooting in Florida. My heart is going out.
Most of all, I’m trying to decide if my heart going out is a expression of compassion or despair. This morning I think it is both.
January 30, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
Full Moon / January 30, 2018
Sometimes when the moon is full I feel empty.
There. I said it. I don’t know why.
But I still like it.
Who knew that January could have two full moons?
Is it an invitation? An invocation? A sign from God?
Or is it just the moon?
January 18, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
I’m so excited to offer a spiritual life retreat on February 10, 2018. We will begin on that Saturday morning at 8.30 and go to noon. I’m going to focus the retreat on a small book by Henri Nouwen titled: The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom. The format of the retreat will be one of joyful sharing and learning from one another. There will be plenty of discussion, and also time for personal reflection and quiet. Anyone is welcome to attend, and no, you don’t have to be a member of First Church. All are welcome. If you are interested in attending the retreat, held here in Los Angeles, and would like more details, please contact Karina Fernandez — firstname.lastname@example.org
A few quotes from the book . . .
“There are two ways of telling your story. One is to tell it compulsively and urgently, to keep returning to it because you see your present suffering as the result of your past experiences. But there is another way. You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you. You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom.”
“You feel a strange sadness. An enormous loneliness emerges, but you are not frightened. You feel vulnerable but safe at the same time. Jesus is where you are, and you can trust that he will show you the next step.”
“You are called to unity. That is the good news of the Incarnation. The Word becomes flesh, and thus a new place is made where all of you and all of God can dwell. When you have found that unity, you will be truly free.”
“When others stop loving you, you do not have to stop loving them. On a human level, changes might be necessary, but on the level of the divine, you can remain faithful to your love.”
“The great paradox of love is that precisely when you have claimed yourself as God’s beloved child, have set boundaries to your love, and thus contained your needs, you begin to grow into the freedom to give gratuitously.”
January 11, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
This coming Sunday we’re going to sing for justice at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. Literally and metaphorically.
Metaphorically, we’ll dedicate ourselves again to a vision of justice and racial equality. I’ll preach my sermon titled — “Why We Still Need Dr. King.” I plan to highlight some of the visits that Dr. King made to Los Angeles. Please join me if you’re in Los Angeles for what promises to be a very special Sunday. If you’re not in Los Angeles, take a minute this coming weekend and give thanks for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His vision of justice and peace are desperately needed today.
But we’ll sing literally too. In fact, our Director of Music, Dr. David Harris, is inviting anyone to join the choir for a Sunday! Show up this Sunday morning at 9.30 am and then sing for justice in our service with the Chancel Choir. If you have EVER sung in a choir, join them this week. If you’ve always wanted to sing in a choir, now is your chance. And if you want the best seat in the house, the sing this Sunday!
Let’s lift our voices for understanding and love and justice. Equality and peace and shared life together in our country. I love the diversity of our church. We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. We’re trying to be a place of radical love and hospitality. See you Sunday as we celebrate the legacy of our faith and the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Take a Breath. And then let’s sing this Sunday!
December 31, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
Thank you for reading and sharing “Take a Breath” this past year.
I wish each and every one of you a blessed New Year.
Full of good, clean, beautiful breaths.
Breaths of thinking.
Breaths of feeling.
Breaths of wisdom and awareness and kindness.
Breaths of love and compassion and forgiveness.
For those of you in Los Angeles, thank you for participating and sharing life together at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. Our congregation has become one of the most remarkable, dynamic churches on the West Coast. Seeing you each week makes all the difference in the world. Thank you.
And for those of you scattered around the country and world, who stay in touch by way of this “Take a Breath” blog, thank you for the many ways you bring encouragement and insight to my life. Please know that I will breath in gratitude for each of you in this New Year.
December 21, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
The Christmas we want is often idealized from our childhood. I want snow. (I’m not going to get snow in Los Angeles, but I want it.) I want kindness and tenderness, and I want everyone I know, including family and friends, to be happy. I want to have warm feelings and good memories, and I want to get a few presents under the tree too! I want the world to rest in peace on Christmas. That would be present enough.
And then there is the Christmas we need, and that is often very different from the Christmas we want. Sometimes the Christmas we need is not warm and fuzzy. It might not even be happy. Every now and then Christmas can be painful, but sometimes a painful Christmas is what we need. It becomes soul material for us. It changes us. Helps us grow and shapes our inner being.
And then there is the Christmas we get, and what we get is usually some combination of what we want and what we need. The Christmas we get invites us to be present with all that is — our happiness and unhappiness, our good memories and painful memories, the people around our table and the people not around our table.
Our wants becomes our prayers. Our needs become our soul material. And our gets become, simply stated, our real opportunity to embrace the God of the present moment. Take a Breath on this Winter Solstice day. Something is drawing close to us. I can feel it. It’s whispering our name. Breathing into our hearts. Christmas is coming, and if we’re lucky, we’ll get a little of what we want, a little of what we need, and we’ll get, well, we’ll get what we get.
December 20, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
To contemplate the Christ child is an act of simplicity. It is a pause. A break. A breath. To contemplate the birth of this child, recognizing again that God cracked open the world through is simple birth, is an act of faith. His message was love. His life was compassion. His teaching was wisdom. Oh how complicated it all becomes during this week of Christmas. Traveling through busy airports and driving down crowded freeways and shopping for one more gift. Families are still torn apart by ambiguous feelings and relationships remain unresolved for yet another holiday. But today, a few days before Christmas, a day that leads us to Christmas, I invite you to Take a Breath. Contemplate the bare bones of the story of a mother and child and a birth. Simplicity but never simplistic.
December 19, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
Try church. Sunday is Christmas Eve. Try church. All around the world congregations will hold services this coming Sunday. There is not a more sacred, beautiful, and meaningful day in the life of a church than Christmas Eve. Try church. If you’re in Los Angeles, I hope you will try First Congregational Church. We will have a service at 11 AM. We will celebrate the Christmas Story through the eyes of children. Our Chancel Ringers will play. We’ll have a baptism. I’ll preach (a very short) sermon incorporating art work by Henri Matisse into our service. Try church. In the evening we’ll have two services of Lessons and Carols and Candlelight at 8 PM and 11 PM. I’ve had a sneak preview of the music. It will be lovely. Christoph Bull, one of the great musicians in the country, will play a 30 minute concert before each service, 7.30 PM and 10.30 PM respectively. My homily is titled “The Human Touch of God.” We will sing “Silent Night” and raise our flickering candles into the air, a ritual affirmation of God’s light in the world. Try church. Take a Breath this week. Plan your menus. Wrap your presents. Be safe if you are traveling. Attend your parties. But do yourself a favor this Christmas. Try church.