The Divine Mind Meld Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Sunshine Cathedral (9/25/11) Philippians 2.1-2, 5; Matthew 21.23-27, 31b-32 I grew up watching Star Trek, the television series. Then there was the Saturday morning animated Star Trek series. Then there were the Star Trek films. Then there were new Star Trek series: Star Trek – the Next [...]
The Divine Mind Meld
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Sunshine Cathedral (9/25/11)
Philippians 2.1-2, 5; Matthew 21.23-27, 31b-32
I grew up watching Star Trek, the television series. Then there was the Saturday morning animated Star Trek series. Then there were the Star Trek films. Then there were new Star Trek series: Star Trek – the Next Generation (LOVED IT), Star Trek – Deep Space Nine (kind of liked it for a minute but got over it quickly), Star Trek – Voyager (LOVED IT), and Enterprise (Snore).
Of course in the Trekkiverse, Klingons are mighty warriors, Ferengi are super-capitalists, Betazoids are telepathic, the Q are omnipotent, and Vulcans can perform what they call a mind-meld. A mind-meld is when a native of the planet Vulcan mentally connects with another sentient being, sharing memories, thoughts, and knowledge. The Vulcan and the one with whom she or he mind-melds essentially achieve a psychic unity, a mental inter-connected oneness.
That is exactly what I think of when I read St. Paul’s words to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
There is a prayer often used in the Unity church. The prayer states, “I am centered and poised in the Christ Mind and nothing can disturb the calm peace of my soul.” To have the mind of Christ, to fill our minds with the mentality or attitude that was demonstrated by Jesus, we might say, to mind meld with Jesus is to find ourselves centered and poised, not allowing anything to rob our peace and joy.
We’ll get back to Paul’s exhortation to have the same kind of mind, or psyche, attitudes and habitual thinking as Jesus had. But first, let’s notice three important things about Jesus’ mindset from the gospel reading today:
1. Jesus trusted his own relationship to and with God.
2. He didn’t let his critics define him.
3. And he didn’t let the critics define others for him (Jesus affirmed those the religious establishment would call “sinners”).
In other words, Jesus chose what he would believe about himself, about God, and about his fellow human-beings. Jesus demonstrates that belief is a choice! Religious tradition said that certain people were sinners; Jesus said that many of those so-called sinners were closer to God than the religious institutions that condemned them! Jesus chose to not accept the prejudices that others claimed were the will of God! Jesus chose to believe that God was better than that and that God’s grace was more accessible than many had been preaching.
What we believe can’t be dictated to us in a creed; we must, as Paul said, “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” that is, we must take responsibility for our own thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. Our hearts are not controlled by Salt Lake City or by Vatican City or by any centralized location of supposed religious authority. WE are responsible for what we believe, and we can choose to believe the best about ourselves, about our world, and about the God in whose image we are all made!
Our first reading this morning reminds us that our beliefs are like magnets. What we believe attracts circumstances, relationships, and situations that will validate those beliefs. If you believe you are an unworthy sinner, you will find ways to make terrible mistakes so you can then tell yourself, “See?!”
If you believe you are unattractive or loveable, you will repel people from you and you will find yourself being lonely or overlooked…not because you aren’t perfectly wonderful, but because you believe you aren’t perfectly wonderful, and so the people who show up in your life are those who will share the negative view you have of yourself.
If you believe you are unlucky, bad luck will seem to stalk you like a bad date who just couldn’t take the hint!
If you believe you can’t do something, then you will surely fail at that thing if you even pretend to attempt it in the first place.
If you believe God is punishing, you’ll never feel safe with your spirituality.
If you believe that illness is more powerful or more natural than the state of health, then your health may suffer as a result.
If you believe the world is out to get you, you fill find betrayal around every corner. No amount of praise will ever make you feel safe or appreciated or good enough until you choose, even without the praise of others, to feel good about yourself.
If you believe the world is intrinsically unsafe, you’ll find accidents and mishaps and danger all around.
It’s like this: when you are bowling, you want to keep your eyes on the pins you want to knock down; the ball tends to follow your focus. When you are driving, you want to keep your eyes on the road because the car will tend to follow your focus…if your attention drifts, the car may drift into a telephone poll! What we focus on we drift toward, create or attract. A belief is an opinion we have rehearsed until it has taken up residence in our consciousness; it is a thought we have focused so much energy on it seems obviously true to us. And having focused so much thought and energy into that belief, we will drift toward or attract that very thing. The writer of the book of Job said, “The thing I feared has come upon me.” Of course it did; fear is focus, and what we focus on we tend to drift toward, create, or attract.
But the good news is that focus works regardless of what we place our focus on. So, once we learn that our focus is on what is destructive or sabotaging or unhelpful, then we can change our focus and thereby change our experience! The situation itself will often change, but even when it doesn’t, how we interpret the situation and respond to it will change, and that in itself can seem like a miracle sometimes.
I have found myself in toxic situations…where people mostly want to gossip, complain, criticize, scheme, or hurl insults. When I get trapped in that, sometimes even participating in it, that never really feels good and nothing good much comes of it. But if I will inject positive speech, or choose to ignore the negative speech, or remove myself entirely from the situation, then my focus returns to what is positive, life-giving, and joyous. It may not change how others think or behave, but it totally changes my experience. I can’t change you; you can’t change me. We must each take responsibility for our own thoughts and beliefs.
In the gospel lesson today, Jesus chastises his opponents for not being willing to change their beliefs. He doesn’t tell them what opinions they have to hold or what non-provable thing they must blindly accept; he just challenges them to trust that God may be bigger and better than they have so-far imagined, and to believe themselves and others to be a little better than they’ve supposed as well.
When we change our thoughts, our attitudes, our habits, our focus, we change the direction of our lives. As Ernest Holmes and Norman Vincent Peale would say, “Change your thinking and change your life.” When I believe in scarcity, I experience it. When I believe that I am somehow separated from the Source of life, I experience lack or loneliness or fear or sorrow. But when I change my belief, and thank God we can, then my life gets back on track and things start to work out better again.
Napoleon Hill was a writer and teacher of success principles; he was also an advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt. Hill taught that beliefs determine much of our experience of life and if we are unhappy with our experience, we can change our beliefs and thereby change our experience.
Napoleon Hill is the one who famously said, “what your mind conceives and believes it can achieve…no matter how many times you’ve failed or how loft your goals might be.” He also said, “What your mind feeds upon it will attract” and, Hill also said, “We have the power to take possession of our minds.” In other words, we can change our beliefs. We can believe in ourselves. We can believe ours is a world full of potential. We can believe we deserve the best. We can believe we are capable of forgiving, worthy to be loved, and capable of success. Remember Jesus often said, “Let it be done to you according to your belief.”
Now, sometimes we’ll not be very honest with ourselves. We’ll say, “I’m very optimistic; I’m one of the most positive people I know…arrrgggghhhh!” Okie dokie. And we want that to be true. But our beliefs are really our habitual thoughts, and our habitual thoughts create feelings. So, once we notice how we feel, we know what we really believe. If we feel anxious, afraid, bitter, resentful, jealous…these aren’t happy or peaceful or constructive feelings. We didn’t get those feelings by holding onto hopeful, happy thoughts! If our feeling isn’t joyful, our thoughts aren’t positive, and once we realize that our thoughts aren’t what we’d like them to be, we can change them.
Now, some will argue that negative thoughts are sometimes appropriate. We do vehemently argue for our perceived limitations sometimes. And, true enough, no one is ever going to say, “Hallelujah I broke my toe” or “Zippity Do Dah the house is on fire” or “Oh happy day the dog just bit me.” There may be times that a moment of fear or caution is understandable, even appropriate. When the hurricane or tornado is coming your way, take cover! But if we are often angry, often resentful, often scared, often bitter, often complaining, then we aren’t just responding to a rare difficult occurrence; we are continuing a habit that is sabotaging our success, our happiness, and our fulfillment. And once we realize that, we can make a course correction. What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.
In the final analysis, we are each our own greatest asset, and/or our greatest obstacle. If we want to change our lives, we start by choosing beliefs that will serve us better. We start by choosing our thoughts more carefully. We start by letting the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus; that is, we open ourselves up to a divine mind meld. And we can, and as we do miracles will flow into our lives. And this is the good news! Amen. © Durrell Watkins 2011
I am centered & poised in the Christ Mind…
And NOTHING can disturb the calm peace of my soul.
We’ll Never Outrun God’s Love Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Sunshine Cathedral Jonah 3.10, 4.1-11; Matthew 20.1-16 I love that song of Louie Armstrong’s. The song takes some liberties with the details of the story of Jonah, but even so, it shows something very important…that Jonah tried to run from his purpose in life but even [...]
We’ll Never Outrun God’s Love
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Sunshine Cathedral
Jonah 3.10, 4.1-11; Matthew 20.1-16
I love that song of Louie Armstrong’s.
The song takes some liberties with the details of the story of Jonah, but even so, it shows something very important…that Jonah tried to run from his purpose in life but even trying to run from God he actually finds his true purpose. He doesn’t like it, but he can’t escape from it.
We know this story from childhood, but there may be more to it than we realized as children.
There are three points that I want to share from this ancient myth:
1. God’s love is all-inclusive; it leaves no one out.
2. God really does answer prayer.
3. We have a purpose and nothing short of embracing it will make us happy.
We’ll return to those points in a few minutes.
As the story goes, a man named Jonah is suddenly (in the first verse of the story) called by God to go to Nineveh. This seems strange and even distasteful to Jonah because Nineveh is the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Assyria had conquered the kingdom of Israel and so Israelites tended to think of Assyria as their enemy.
Immediately, Jonah decides to book passage to what we now call Spain. Instead of dealing directly and generously with his perceived enemies, Jonah tries to go in the opposite direction. While on the ship sailing for Spain, a storm starts to brew. The superstitious crew members on the ship are afraid the storm is the result of the weather gods being displeased with someone on their ship. Superstitious people still tend to blame difficult situations or unpleasant experiences on the wrath of a deity rather than trusting the divine presence within them to help them successfully navigate the difficulty.
The crew members draw straws to see who on the ship has offended the spirits of the sea, and poor Jonah draws the short straw. As they believe he is guilty of causing the stormy weather, the crew sacrifices Jonah to the sea.
Then, as so often happens, a HUGE fish comes along and swallows Jonah whole. Jonah lives for about half a week in the belly of a fish. And having nothing else to do, Jonah reflects on what has happened. He tried to do exactly the opposite of what he believed God wanted him to do; he did the very opposite of what he knew was good. Along the way he gets in trouble and almost drowns; but is rescued by a fish of all things. So he gives thanks that he survived drowning and he reluctantly tells God as he understands God that he will go to Nineveh after all.
Just then (could the timing be more perfect?), the fish gets a tummy ache and projectile vomits Jonah right onto the shore of guess where…Assyria! Jonah brushes himself off and starts walking to the capital city, Nineveh.
Parenthetically – Nineveh is named for the fish god, Ninos, which is one of the Assyrian deities. Jonah is called by God to go to Fish City, and when he refuses, he winds up being carried to Fish City by a FISH. Whatever else you think about the story, that’s darn good writing!
In Nineveh, Jonah keeps his promise by interacting with the Ninevites. But he does as little as he can. In fact, he preaches a sermon and his sermon is one of the shortest sermons in human history, just one sentence long. He says to his audience, “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed.” And he walks away.
“See God? I went to Nineveh. I interacted with the Ninevites. I even preached for them. Mission accomplished.”
Really Jonah? That’s your sermon? God hates you and is going to drop kick you into oblivion?
Well, the people of Nineveh don’t like to think that there is some angry deity laying a trap for them, so they start doing the spiritual work of discovering God for themselves and trying to serve God authentically. And apparently, that has a pretty good pay off, since 40 days came and went and Nineveh was not destroyed.
Jonah is devastated to learn that God does not in fact hate the people he hates. God is not going to destroy the people Jonah wanted destroyed. Apparently, God listens to their prayers and loves them too! Who knew? How could God be so gracious to the Hindus, I mean the agnostics, I mean the Leather community, I mean people living with HIV, I mean people in recovery, I mean people who have made difficult procreative choices, I mean Gay and Lesbian people, I mean transgender people, I mean the Ninevites…”those people”?
Jonah can’t stand that God is so gracious, well, so gracious to his enemies. He was happy enough to believe that God would rescue him from drowning even when he was trying to run from God; but being gracious to him is one thing. Being gracious to THOSE people is just something else!
And then Jonah starts to pray again, and this time, he gets pretty real. He’s desperate enough to tell God the truth! You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you start being brutally honest with God. Jonah prays, “I knew all along that you weren’t going to destroy Nineveh!” Jonah suspected all the time that God was better than he was portraying God to be. And so he stomps off to hide and sulk and pout. While he’s having his ongoing temper tantrum, a big weed pops up. And Jonah becomes very attached to the weed. This weed is suddenly his best buddy. Jonah, seriously, it’s a weed.
Then, overnight, as suddenly as the weed popped up, the weed dies. And Jonah is bereft! And in agonizing grief, drama queen Jonah cries out, “I wish I were dead!” And God finally says, “For real? Jonah, do you really need to feel so out of sorts?” And Jonah answers, “Sure do!”
And God shames him by saying, “Really? You care so much about a weed that that came into your life and left in just a couple of days? You didn’t plant it. You didn’t care for it. It was a weed already! But you can care so much for a weed and yet you can’t understand why I would care for all the people in Ninevah?” And that’s how the story ends.
The story reads like a dream or a fantasy or a fable. It is clearly more literary than literal. This is a fictional tale, but powerful and while it isn’t factual, it is very true. And what is true about it are the three points I mentioned in the beginning.
1. God’s love is all-inclusive; it leaves no one out.
Have you ever felt like a Ninevite? Someone that others seemed to want annihilated? Well, that was their prejudice, their hatred, their issue; not God’s. God’s love has never, will never, could never exclude you for any reason.
On the flip side, have you ever felt like Jonah? Glad and reasonably certain that God loved you, regardless of your mistakes, but you just didn’t understand how God could care for “them”? Maybe your worst fear was that God loved “them” too? Well, you may as well face your fear; because as St. Paul told the Romans, God shows no partiality. And as the writer of 1 John told his audience, God is love. How could Love ever be less than loving to anyone at any time for any reason?
Jonah didn’t want to believe that God could love the people he couldn’t yet love. That put him in a pickle, or between a rock and a hard place, or using the idiom of the story itself, in the belly of a fish. Whenever we are drowning in our own fears, hatreds, prejudices, and ill-will toward others, we find ourselves in the belly of fish. But healing comes from knowing that God’s love is all-inclusive; it leaves no one out.
2. God really does answer prayer.
Jonah prayed to God in the belly of a fish, in the quandary he found himself in when he knew that he should share the good news of God’s all-inclusive and unconditional love; but instead he simply wanted to run from the people he didn’t like, or if he had to deal with them, tell them that both he and God didn’t care much for them. Such hatred never feels good, never leads to wholeness or joy. And so Jonah turned to God in prayer and God responded by nudging him toward Nineveh to do what was right and good.
Then the Ninevites turned to God in prayer so that they could know God for themselves and live in the joy of an awareness of the divinity within them; and that prayer changed their lives.
And then when Jonah was miserable because he had to face that God really does love everyone, even those people we don’t, once again Jonah turned to God in prayer. And God spoke to his heart saying, “If you can care so deeply about the things in your life, how much more must I care for all life?” A life of real prayer will be a life of generosity, change, growth, renewal, and insight. God really does answer prayer.
3. We have a purpose and nothing short of embracing it will make us happy.
What is your purpose? To grow, to learn, to give, to share, to love, to discover the presence of God within you and then to see that same divine presence in All Life. We aren’t living our purpose when we are stuck in selfishness, or revenge, or self-pity, worry, or hatred. We’ve all been in the belly of that fish, and the healing comes when we stop running from God and embrace the light of love that is always with and within us. We’ll never outrun God’s love for us! The love that God is will never let us go. To accept our oneness with God and to share the light of that truth is our true purpose.
The story of Jonah, like our gospel today, is a story of grace. Grace isn’t earned and it can’t be lost. It’s freely given and no one is excluded from it. Grace is the nature of divine love. Maybe it’s time to stop running from the empowering truth that God’s love embraces us, and our friends, and our enemies. To remember this is to experience peace and hope and joy and even our share of miracles. God is Love and we are eternally in and of God. The Love that God is will never let us go; it will never let ANY of us go. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2011
God is Love.
Divine Love includes me.
Divine Love includes us all.
And God’s love is working miracles now.
“Love one another and help others to rise to the higher levels, simply by pouring out love. Love is infectious and the greatest healing energy.” –Sai Baba
Rescuing God from the Rubble Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Sunshine Cathedral Sirach 27.30, 28.3-4, 7; Matthew 18.21-22 Robert and I were living in Western Maryland on September 11th, 2001. We lived an hour from DC, where one of the attacks occurred, and we lived about half an hour from where the plane in rural Pennsylvania [...]
Rescuing God from the Rubble
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Sunshine Cathedral
Sirach 27.30, 28.3-4, 7; Matthew 18.21-22
Robert and I were living in Western Maryland on September 11th, 2001. We lived an hour from DC, where one of the attacks occurred, and we lived about half an hour from where the plane in rural Pennsylvania went down. We lived 4 hours from New York City and I preached in a New Jersey suburb of Manhattan the very next Sunday. Two years later I was I a resident of Manhattan.
I had friends who were even closer to the catastrophe. A friend of mine in Brooklyn was walking across the bridge to her office in Manhattan and she actually witnessed the terrible event. We had friends who were on the subway on their way to the Trade Center that morning. We had friends who were separated from their spouses for hours without communication and were of course worried sick until they finally found their loved ones.
I had also friends in large cities all over the country, Chicago, LA, Boston, Dallas…wondering and worrying that the places they called home could be next. It was probably the scariest day I remember since the days before there were effective treatments for HIV.
But of course, we got past that terrible day. People from all over the country flocked to New York City to offer help in any way they could. People just showed up with garbage bags and shovels and water bottles, offering to donate blood, volunteering their time and concern in an effort to help our largest city heal.
Stories came out about courageous people confronting their attackers on the airline that went down in Pennsylvania.
We learned about the bravery of Father Mychal Judge, a Fire Department chaplain who lost his life that day.
We heard stories of people being lifted from the debris by anonymous heroes they never saw and were never able to thank.
We saw Broadway and Off-Broadway performers inviting the world to New York with a stubbornness that suggested that in truth, the human spirit is indomitable.
We saw people of many religions coming together to pray together in ways that some of them had not done before.
We saw musicians giving concerts to raise money to help relieve suffering.
We saw signs at barber shops and doughnut shops and auto repair shops invoking blessings upon America.
We saw people helping one another, moving past their fears in the moment of crisis, showing compassion for those who were hurting, and finding ways to face their grief and heal from it.
About an hour from New York City, a group gathered at a coffee shop on 9/11. It was a small group of Christians and members of the Jewish faith. The coffee shop was convenient for them so they stopped by every morning for coffee on their way to work, and they just saw one another so often they learned each other’s names and occupations and one of them was a Protestant minister. The owner of the coffee shop was an immigrant from the Middle East, and he was Muslim. He treated his customers very well and just as this group grew fond of each other they were also fond of him; after all, it was his establishment that had brought them all together. They were friends because of his business.
On 9/11, even though they had already all been to the coffee shop for their morning breakfast on the run, those friends returned to the coffee shop to see about their friend, the owner. They were worried that he would be grieving that people had so misrepresented his religion; that people had done terrible things in the name of the God that is shared by Christians, Muslims, and Jews. They worried that unkind or unthinking people would take out their pain and grief on him, even though he was a friendly neighborhood shopkeeper. Christians and Jews and at least one Muslim gathered that day to support one another, to offer love and friendship and goodwill, and they even, can you believe, prayed together. What a sacred, God-filled moment that must have been.
Hatred struck a blow on 9/11, but the Spirit of Life would not, could not be snuffed out.
The Nazis in World War 2 couldn’t defeat the omnipresent Spirit of Life.
The devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki could not defeat the Spirit of Life.
Jim Crow could not defeat the Spirit of the Life.
The Vietnam War couldn’t defeat the Spirit of Life.
The AIDS crisis couldn’t defeat the Spirit of Life.
Misogyny, violence against women and children, racism, homophobia, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, Alzheimer’s, addictions, economic downturns have all failed to wipe out hope and resilience and the determination to not only survive but to also thrive. Whenever we have been tempted to believe too much in the diabolical, collectively we have time and again corrected that mistake by rising up and proving that the fiercest illusion of evil cannot destroy human dignity or the divine spark from which that dignity shines.
We can and ought to celebrate our resilience. We ought to be filled with reverence and gratitude that even such a terrible tragedy is not beyond the hope of healing. But there are also lessons to learn.
Every Sunday we pray, “May peace prevail on earth.” It’s a powerful and beautiful prayer in its own right. But it is even more incredible when we consider its origin. Masahisa Goi thought of the Peace Pole and the Prayer that is on it, “May peace prevail on earth.” We have such a pole on our front lawn. Masahisa Goi dreamed up the Peace Pole and its prayer in Japan in 1955, just one decade after the nuclear holocaust two cities in his country experienced. He didn’t pray for revenge, or even for safety or healing just for his people, but his prayer was that PEACE would prevail throughout the entire world. There are now over 100,000 peace poles with that prayer on them in almost 200 countries. What a powerful witness; what a powerful prayer. May peace prevail on earth.
That prayer represents a generosity of spirit that absolutely must lead to healing. Jesus tells Peter in the Gospel today that we must try to forgive over and over and over until we actually are able to let go of our rage and our thirst for vengeance. Forgiveness takes work, we may have to attempt it repeatedly, but our own healing is tied to it, so it’s worth the work.
We are given that same lesson in the reading from Sirach. Roman Catholics grew up with Sirach in their canon of scripture. Anglicans grew up with it as instructive if not canonical, as part of a group of texts connecting the Old and New Testaments. For others, Sirach may be new.
Jesus ben Sirach wrote his book of wisdom teachings about 180 BCE. He revealed in his opus the tensions in Jerusalem at the time. In an environment of conflict, which included economic injustice and political intrigue, one might wonder how individuals could experience personal, emotional healing. Sirach suggests that forgiveness is the way. Forgiveness heals personal hurts and strained relationships; in fact, forgiveness is a staple of a just society.
We naturally demand accountability, but we often confuse holding people accountable with exacting revenge. We forget that restorative justice is more healing than retributive justice tends to be. Confrontation without vengeance is possible.
A few hijackers committed odious acts on 9/11/01. They blasphemed their religion when they did; and we blaspheme our own when we use their reprehensible act as an excuse to hate people who had no part in it.
I can promise you that God in no way ordained those attacks, and every cry for help and every moan of agony was heard by God that day and the first tear shed on 9/11 was God’s. But while God’s heart was broken that day, as were ours, that painful moment was not the end of the story.
People helped one another. People grieved their losses and remembered their loved ones. People shared. People hoped. People demonstrated courage and compassion, diligence and dignity. And those moments were resurrection moments where the glory of God was allowed to shine and where healing began to take place. We saw humanity at its worst that day; and we saw humanity at its best. Jesus son of Sirach, and 200 years later, Jesus son of Mary, both tell us how to be our best. We pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We pray, “may peace prevail on earth.” We pray, “wherever I am, God is, and all is well.” And those prayers will be answered.
The attacks of 9/11 are well behind us now. But there are other sources of pain in our lives, other opportunities to forgive, other opportunities to express generosity, hope, goodwill, compassion; other opportunities to heal from the past and move forward into a glorious future. Are we ready to embrace those opportunities in our lives?
In the Tim McGraw song we heard at the opening of the service, “Live Like You Were Dying,” we heard good advice. When faced with mortality, the character in the song shares how he decided to make the most of the time head, no matter how long that time might be. He says: “I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”
Could healing be that simple? Could it be as simple as loving, and giving, and forgiving? If we can rely on the witness of scripture, then such healing really is possible; it’s always possible. No matter what has happened in our lives, we can still turn within and find that God, divine love is with us no matter what is happening around or even to us; and as we express that love we can rescue God from the rubble, and in turn, God can rescue us. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2011
I am loving, giving, and forgiving.
In the name of God,
And by the power of God,
I am experiencing healing now.
“We’re not about what happened on 9/11. We’re about what happened on 9/12.”
–Jeff Parness, founder of New York Says Thank You
A Golden Gospel for a Golden Life Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Romans 13.8-10; Matthew 18.18-20 Golden Girl clip (1:35) Everything I ever needed to know I learned from “The Golden Girls.” The Golden Girls offered a sort of corrective for religion gone bad. First, they formed an ecumenical community. Rose was Lutheran, Blanche was Baptist, [...]
A Golden Gospel for a Golden Life
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Romans 13.8-10; Matthew 18.18-20
Golden Girl clip (1:35)
Everything I ever needed to know I learned from “The Golden Girls.” The Golden Girls offered a sort of corrective for religion gone bad.
First, they formed an ecumenical community. Rose was Lutheran, Blanche was Baptist, and Dorothy and her mother Sophia were Catholic. Sophia practiced a syncretic form of Catholicism that included rural Sicilian folk-magic. Many of their friends were Jewish. They didn’t have to all believe the same things as long as they believed in themselves and in one another.
Secondly, they realized that humanity is diverse and there is something good in all people. And there are all kinds of people in the world of the Golden Girls:
Each of the four women has a healthy attitude about her sexuality and celebrates her the physical experience of life by sharing intimacy with a partner, or in Blanche’s case, a long series of many partners (let the one without a lifetime of tricks cast the first stone!).
Rose has a sister who has lost her sight.
Dorothy has a son who marries an older woman.
Dorothy also has a dear friend who is lesbian and Blanche has a brother who is gay.
And Blanche’s widowed father winds up marrying a much younger woman.
Sometimes these differences cause them to need to examine their attitudes and beliefs, but in the end, their love for their dear ones is always what matters most and differences are finally embraced and often celebrated.
Thirdly, they demonstrate the prospering power of generosity. While Blanche owns property, none of the women make enough money on her own to live alone. Sophia lives on a pension and the other three women work part time, until Rose later becomes a television producer. But their limited incomes don’t mean they have to have a limited experience of life. They live together, sharing the burden of the mortgage and utilities and food, and by sharing they find they have plenty and actually live quite a comfortable lifestyle. Sharing empowers them to prosper, and connects them intimately with one another so that they are never alone in moments of need.
Finally, The Golden Girls demonstrate the need for the Golden Rule. We know the Golden Rule from Matthew 7.12, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” (I remind our fundamentalist friends of this teaching when they try to deny same-gender loving people equal rights and standing in our society).
In the clip we started with this morning, we see Blanche and Rose sniping at each other, and in their petty personal battle, they wind up insulting and hurting Dorothy. When they behave selfishly, they hurt one another. But eventually they always realize that they their love for one another is more important than the petty issues that try to divide them from time to time, and so they always reconcile, reaffirm their love and commitment to one another, and return to a life of shared joy as a result. They always get back to treating one another with the love and respect with which they would like to be treated themselves.
The Golden Girls ought to be a required course in every seminary and a standard part of every church’s religious education curriculum! At Sunshine Cathedral, it kind of is.
We can find the Golden Girls Gospel in the Gospel reading we heard this morning.
We picked up with verse 18, but if we backed up just there more verses we would see Jesus giving the spiritual community instruction on how to avoid destructive conflict. In verses 15-17 Jesus acknowledges that in communities people will sometimes act out and cause unnecessary trouble. He challenges the community to deal directly with the person who is being cantankerous and if repeated attempts at direct dealing fail, then the community should stop giving energy to the antagonist all together.
After his missive on direct dealing and fair play, Jesus continues with verses 18-20 which we heard this morning, where he says that what we bind will be bound in heaven and what we loose will be loosed in heaven. That is, what we hold onto in consciousness sticks with us, and what we release from our habitual thinking and attitudes can no longer drag us down. Binding and loosing is about forgiving one another. Either by dealing directly with one another and working out our problems, or if that doesn’t work, then moving on and releasing the person who won’t embrace fair play, but one way or the other we have to release our animosities, our grudges, our complaining, and our bitterness because until we release them, loose them, they remain bound in our souls and they keep us bound and unable to thrive.
And then Jesus gives the most encouraging statement. He says when we gather together, in our large, corporate worshiping community or even in small gatherings where there may be just two or three of us…in a class, at lunch or dinner, having coffee or drinks, or chatting in the social hall or on Facebook or on the phone…when we gather together, no matter how small the gathering, when we do it in Jesus’ name, that is, with the integrity and goodwill that Jesus modeled, then all the goodness he represents is present with and in us, and we’ll be stronger as a group, and happier as individuals. “Wherever two or three or gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
Jesus is helping us today build authentic community, an orderly and loving community. When there are disagreements, deal directly with the offending party rather than telling everyone at Scandals and Rosie’s and Starbucks that he or she is Satan’s toe jam. And if you just can’t work it out one on one, and if mediation doesn’t seem to help or if all parties aren’t open to it, then release the relationship so you can find it in your heart to forgive the person and move on with what matters in life. You don’t have to hang out with someone who isn’t nice to you, in fact, you probably shouldn’t! Who wants to be around negative people?! But until you forgive, you are hanging out with them anyway, in your head. You want them out of there…then let them go, loose them…forgive them.
Release the hurt feelings. Release the grudges. Release the temptation to gossip. Release the habit of complaining. Release it; let it go. Loose it, and move back into the light of healing. It’s a process…we all have to work on it – God knows I do; but it’s worth the effort. At times I have resisted forgiving, but I have never once regretted forgiving once I’ve done it.
Until we truly learn to love ourselves, we’ll never have much harmony in our lives. Until we release our fears and anxieties and worries, how could we ever release our hatreds, since they are usually projections of how we feel about ourselves?
Jesus quotes Leviticus 19.18 when he says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10.27). And the fact is we will never love our neighbor until we love ourselves. Love your neighbor as yourself, because really, that is what we’ve always been doing…loving our neighbor as much, or as little, as we love ourselves. The racist, the homophobe, the sexist, the xenophobe, the anti-Semite…they’ve found a group to attach their hatred to, but their real dissatisfaction is with themselves. You can’t love yourself and hate an entire group of people; it just isn’t possible.
We try to bully our way to importance, or buy our way to importance, or manipulate our way to importance, but none of that ever makes us feel truly good about ourselves. We have to start accepting our innate importance! We are going to have to start believing in ourselves, forgiving ourselves for those silly mistakes we’ve made along the way; we’re going to have to be good to ourselves before we are going to be able to be consistently good to others.
That’s why the bible counsels us over and over to examine and work on our thoughts and feelings and attitudes:
“The worries of this life…come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Mark 4.19; “Let the Spirit change your way of thinking…” Ephesians 4.23; “…Do not conform to the unhealthy attitudes you had when you lived in ignorance…” 1 Peter 1.14. We know a better way now, and by practicing what we know, we’ll demonstrate more peace in our lives.
We have to release the fears, the self-condemnation, the anxieties, the sense of not being good enough, because until we do, we will never love ourselves enough to show love to others sufficiently enough to heal our world. How do we start loving ourselves more, feeling better about ourselves, believing in ourselves? A Course in Miracles says a miracle only takes a little willingness. And Dr. Robert Holden said in this morning’s second reading, “Intention rules the world.” We begin with the desire, the willingness, the intention to start loving ourselves more, believing in ourselves more, and demonstrating our divine goodness more and more, starting today.
We’ve been doing a lot of binding in our lives; it’s time to do some loosing…loose the fear and worry and all those other negative attitudes by which we sabotage our relationships and our happiness. As we remove those things from our consciousness, we will begin to develop the life of achievement and joy that we all deserve and desire. We can do it; together we will do it. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2011
I am willing today to love myself. I choose today to believe in myself.
I allow healing to take place in my emotions now.
I am blessed. I am a blessing to others.
Divine light shines through me now.
And so it is.
“Light of the world…Shine on us all, set us free. Love is the answer.” England Dan & John Ford Coley