Fishing Lessons Rev. Dr. Mona West Jan. 29, 2012 – Sunshine Cathedral In these verses from Mark’s gospel we see Jesus at his first day on the job. Mark’s gospel has no birth narrative or genealogy of Jesus. Instead it begins with Jesus ‘all growed up’ as my Mamaw would say. In this story, read […]
Rev. Dr. Mona West
Jan. 29, 2012 – Sunshine Cathedral
In these verses from Mark’s gospel we see Jesus at his first day on the job. Mark’s gospel has no birth narrative or genealogy of Jesus. Instead it begins with Jesus ‘all growed up’ as my Mamaw would say. In this story, read so soon after Christmas, the baby Jesus (who made no noise in his manger remember) is long gone, an adult Jesus who has found his voice has been let loose on the world…and he knows our names. In the movie about NASCAR racer, Ricky Bobby, called Talladega Nights, there is this great scene in which Ricky Bobby refuses to let the baby Jesus grow up. He will only pray to the Lord Baby Jesus…
Mark’s Jesus is not a tame, cherub cheeked, magical baby Jesus. And his message of repentance and becoming fishers of people is not tame either. But often this message gets tamed when we reduce the notion of the realm/kingdom of God to a place we go when we die, if we have been ‘saved.’ We tame Jesus’ invitation to repentance by making it a one time event in which we say we are sorry for our sins which is our guarantee to get to heaven. And we tame his mandate to be ‘fishers of people’ by making it applicable only to missionaries.
What might the untamed adult Jesus be saying to us in this pronouncement if we take a closer look? His first day on the job, Jesus proclaims, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.” We need to remember that the gospel of Mark was written right around the time that the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Romans, so it has war and political conflict as its background. For the hearers of this gospel, the word ‘kingdom’ would have had a political reality to it. God’s kingdom is greater than the Roman kingdom. Today, the concepts of kings and kingdoms do not translate in the same way. A more helpful image is to speak of the realm of God. In his words and actions Jesus understood the ‘kingdom’ in this larger way. He brought in the kingdom through acts of compassion and healing as well as through his teaching.
The word used in Mark to speak of time is kairos time, which is different from kronos time. The realm of God is not a linear event. It is always happening. It is always coming near. The way Jesus talks about the kingdom or realm of God throughout the gospels is that it is already AND not yet. It is now, but always coming. It is within you. He taught us to pray for it to come on earth as it is in heaven. The challenge and invitation is to always be on the lookout for it, to find ways to participate in it, to welcome it into our lives, to stay awake to its nearness. Like Jesus, the way we participate in the realm of God is through our acts of compassion, our participation in the healing of ourselves and others, and in our efforts to bring about an alternative socio-economic order that seeks justice for the poor and marginalized.
The grown up Jesus says that the key to participating in this kind of kingdom–the way we recognized the nearness of the realm of God is to ‘repent.’ Now, I don’t know about you but I believe we need to reclaim the word ‘repent’ for the church. We have made it such a bad, guilt ridden, static word. Repent means to change one’s behavior based on new insights or goals, or changed understandings of key principles. Sure, repenting might mean we are sorrowful or have regrets about certain behaviors we want to change, but we can also be joyful or hopeful about new behaviors we are embracing as we participate in the work God is doing in the kingdom and in us. The verb form used for ‘repent’ in this passage literally means, “keep on repenting.” So repentance is not a one time event. It is a ‘lifestyle.’ It is the essence f our spiritual growth.
Notice that the realm of God is not a one man or one woman show. Jesus calls Andrew, Peter, James and John by name and says ‘follow me.’ A better translation would be ‘come behind me.’ “Imitate me, do what I do.” Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t about adhering to a bunch of beliefs about Jesus, it is about following his example. The adult Jesus challenged oppressive religious and political systems. He partied with prostitutes and tax collectors; touched and welcomed the outcasts.
That is really what is behind this metaphor of ‘fishing.’ In Jesus’ day fishing was done at night so that the catch could be sold fresh first thing in the morning. Jesus comes to Andrew, Peter, James and John alone at night and they leave their families and profession to ‘come after’ Jesus. The neighbors would have veiwed this as abnormal, deviant behavior. A threat to ancient near eastern ‘family values.’ Hmmm, ‘abnormal,’ ‘deviant’…aren’t those definitions of the word Queer? When Jesus calls us to by name to come after him, to follow his example, he is calling us to be Queer–do something that subverts the status quo, challenge notions of ‘normal’ that demonize certain groups of people based on gender identity, sexual orientation, race, or health status.
Jesus says “I will make you fishers of people. In the ancient world fishing was a metaphor for either judging or teaching. Jesus call to be fishers of people meant working for justice and spreading the news about the way the realm of God operates. On some level we all have to be fish in order to do this kind of fishing. And what happens to fish when they are caught in the net? Eventually they die. Being caught by God means dying to old ways of thinking and behaving–the end of an old life so that a new life might be born. And we are not caught just once. We are called and caught over and over again when we engage in this kind fishing
The image of casting a fishing net captures just what it means to follow Jesus in this way:
Blessing the Nets, by Jan Richardson
You could cast it
in your sleep,
its familiar arc
embedded in your
of gathering in
what you thought
would sustain you
You would not
it would be so easy
to cast aside,
would never have believed
with which your hands
could release their
could let it go,
could let it simply continue
its arcing path
away from you.
But when the call came
you did not hesitate,
did not pause,
did not delay
as if your body
had suddenly remembered
the final curve
of the arc,
as if the release
begun in your hands
now passed through you
and you let go
to cast yourself
upon the waiting
Knowing Where to Look Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Jan. 22, 2012 (Sunshine Cathedral) The Deuteronomy reading this morning tells us that the divine word is in our hearts. St. Paul says today that the divine wisdom we call Christ offers water, or flowing spirit to all people; and that Paul interprets the water filled rock […]
Knowing Where to Look
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Jan. 22, 2012 (Sunshine Cathedral)
The Deuteronomy reading this morning tells us that the divine word is in our hearts.
St. Paul says today that the divine wisdom we call Christ offers water, or flowing spirit to all people; and that Paul interprets the water filled rock of the wandering in the wilderness story to be divine reality also shows that the divine can be found in the common, the ordinary, in daily life…in the arts, on the radio, in nature, in the kindness and warmth of loving people…in fact, there’s not a spot where God is not.
The Gospel of Thomas tells us to seek and find; and when one reads the rest of Thomas, one discovers that the search and what the search leads to are within.
And then John’s gospel says in chapter 1, verse 3, “Through the Word all things were made…” Then, 40 some verses later the question is asked if anything good can come from Nazareth, from “those people.” But what are “those people”? After all, the writer begins by telling us that everything that exists is an expression of divine wisdom, a manifestation of the divine word. Those people are God’s people. Can anything good come from Nazareth, from Iran, from red states or blue states, from the Mormons, the Methodists, the Muslims, the Mennonites, or from MCC…can anything good come from “them”? Come and see, the writer says! Come and see the divine word made flesh in and as all people.
Some folks may doubt, some folks may scorn
All can desert & leave me alone
But as for me, I’ll take God’s part
For God is real and I can feel God in my heart
Yes, God is real, real in my soul
Yes, God is real for God has blessed and made me whole.
God’s love for me is like pure gold.
Yes God is real for I can feel God in my soul.
Yes, God is real, real in my soul/Yes, God is real for God has blessed and made me whole.
God’s love for me is like pure gold./Yes God is real for I can feel God in my soul.
That’s what we are committed to sharing with people here at the Sunshine Cathedral. No message of sin, guilt, fear, or shame here. Of course, we are challenged to live into our true nobility, to express more fully our innate dignity and sacred value. And, along the way, we make mistakes, obviously; but who we are, what we really are, is good.
At our core, the light of God is always shining, but outwardly, we may sometimes temporarily draw the shades. But we learn and we improve and we find that as Jesus said, we are the light of the world! (Matt 5.14)
Someone will sometimes point out that in the name of religion people will post hateful things on our YouTube channel and send scathing emails. They call us names and warn that an angry God is plotting against us. How can those people who seem so hateful be good we might wonder?
Obviously, their attacks aren’t good, nor are the fear or ignorance that inspires those attacks. But if they believed they were good enough, they wouldn’t need to demonize others to feel better about themselves. The problem isn’t that they aren’t innately good; the problem is that they haven’t yet learned to believe in their true goodness so they resort to bullying, threatening, vilifying, whatever to make themselves feel better. They may feel inadequate, but if they can paint us to be super vile, then they can feel better by comparison. If they had been taught that they are as much a part of God as a wave is one with the ocean, they wouldn’t need enemies to feel good about themselves.
Bette Midler once said, “The worst part of success is trying to find someone who is happy for you.” Well guess what, you have been very successful in letting this community know there is a place where their sacred value will be affirmed.
You have been very successful in building a spiritual home that values thinking as well as feeling and that will not give up when times are hard and will not give in to the threats or insults or attacks of our detractors.
You have built up a place that is fun and joyous and optimistic. We aren’t building up a church, we are building up people and the people who have found hope and healing are building up a church. You are succeeding marvelously in sharing the power of hope and goodwill.
Maria Callas said, “When my enemies stop hissing, I shall know I am slipping.” Well, from the viciousness sometimes directed toward us, we aren’t slipping yet! If they aren’t trying to stone you, shackle you, or throw you to the lions, you’re probably not doing prophetic work. But we are a prophetic movement and we are changing lives. The hate mail and harsh criticisms are just proof that what we are doing is too important to be ignored; and we will not stop.
We will not stop! In the name of God and for the cause of Christ, that is, for the cause of hope and healing, justice and equality, we will not stop!
And you know what? Even some of those who think they hate us are really just puzzled because we don’t hate ourselves, because we embrace heterosexuals and homosexuals and bisexuals and transgender people and people who play with the fluidity of gender. They don’t understand how we can value human potential more than ancient dogmas or how love is more important to us than canon law. They haven’t yet imagined a spirituality that is joyous, that celebrates secular and sacred music, Christian and non-Christian texts, women and men, science and art. They didn’t realize that hope and healing, challenge and comfort, justice and jubilation, critical thinking and generous hearts can all blend together into a life-changing, world changing faith experience. They don’t really hate us; they are simply projecting their pain, their fear, and their self-doubt onto us, but we need not accept it. Because we dare to live out loud, to celebrate all of who we are without shame, to show the world that we are people of courage and compassion, we are troubling the waters; but it is the troubled waters at the pool of Bethesda that offered healing.
We are stirring up settled nests, but in Deuteronomy we read, “Like a Mother Eagle stirring up her nest and hovering over her young, God spread Her wings and carried the people on divine feathers” (32.11). When the waters are moved and the nest is stirred, those are the times when divine power is released and lives begin to change. The critics aren’t our enemies; they are confirmation that through and as us God is moving and making miracles in our midst! And some of those critics will decide they want in on the fun and they will be amazed and delighted to learn there is a place for them right here with us.
We won’t change the world today; but we can change ourselves. Not our true selves, which have always been good, but our attitudes or our fears or our regrets or our bitterness or whatever has kept us from connecting with and expressing that goodness which is our truth. We can make that change and let that divine light shine a bit brighter today.
And we can stay the course, using every tool at our disposal to share this good news with more and more people so that they might begin to love themselves, believe in themselves, and allow their inner divinity to shine more brightly than ever before.
The Deuteronomy passage reminding us that divine wisdom is already in our hearts and in our mouths just ready to be expressed brings to mind an ancient story from the Hindu tradition. The story goes: In the beginning, the gods were afraid that humans might discover the divine reality. They debated about where they might hide the spark of divinity. On a mountain top? No, they decided, clever humans would just climb and find it. In the ocean? No, they decided, clever humans would just dive and find it. Finally, they thought of the perfect hiding place. They decided to hide the divine presence within the human heart where humans would never think to look for it.
Well, at Sunshine Cathedral, we’ve thought to look and we are finding the divine presence powerfully within and among us. And we are going to keep teaching and celebrating the goodness of all creation and more and more and more people are going to find hope, empowerment, healing, joy, peace, and fulfillment. We’re on a mission. We have a purpose. It is divinely ordained and we will remain faithful to it!
There is a song from the Broadway musical version of The Color Purple where the character Shug says to Celie,
“God is inside you and everyone else that was or ever will be. We come into this world with God but only them that look inside find It…and when you feel the truth so real and when you love the way you feel, you’ve found It.”
Will you worship with us throughout 2012? Will you invite someone to join you? Will you volunteer your energies to help us do and be more than we’ve ever been? Will you make a generous pledge of support this month and honor that pledge all year long? Will you collectively be the voice telling the world, “God is inside you and everyone else…and when you feel the truth so real and when you love the way you feel, you’ve found It.” I hope you will make that commitment today, because I believe this message with my whole heart and I believe in you. And this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
God is in me.
I feel it.
I know it.
I’m thankful for it.
“We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us…it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we…give other people permission to do the same.” Marianne Williamson
The Baptismal Dream Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Jan. 15, 2012 Wade in the water; wade in the water children. Wade in the water; God’s gonna trouble the water. This is baptism of Jesus Sunday (it’s also Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday – and we’ll see how they relate to each other, but first, let’s look […]
The Baptismal Dream
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Jan. 15, 2012
Wade in the water; wade in the water children. Wade in the water; God’s gonna trouble the water.
This is baptism of Jesus Sunday (it’s also Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday – and we’ll see how they relate to each other, but first, let’s look at the baptism narratives). Notice that in Acts, Luke allows for a new perspective. Baptism isn’t something locked into a single, once and for all understanding.
John offered a baptism of repentance. Repentance means change. To repent is to have a change of attitude, a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of behavior. Repentance is change. It isn’t self-hatred or groveling for pardon; it is daring to change; it is doing what must be done to facilitate healing and growth, personal and communal. John’s water ritual wasn’t an invitation to embrace self-condemnation, it was an invitation to embrace healing change, to release the past and dare to create a different and better kind of future.
Luke focuses on empowerment rather than repentance.
He tells of a baptism of the spirit. What is spirit? The Hebrew and Greek words for spirit both suggest power, wind, breath, life-force, energy. So a baptism of the spirit is a baptism of power.
In fact, Luke doesn’t just say spirit, he says holy spirit, or the whole spirit of God…all of the power and presence of God is what we are immersed in as we grow spiritually and broaden our understanding.
Repentance is change…empowering change.
Spirit is power.
Whether we are talking about the baptism of John or the baptism of the spirit in the book of Acts, we are actually talking about newness, positive change, moving forward, embracing new attitudes and new possibilities. Both baptism stories are stories of new ideas, new beginnings, new possibilities, new experiences of empowerment.
It is at Jesus’ baptism, in Mark’s imagination, that Jesus is affirmed as a child of God. The spirit descended on him and affirmed his sacred value. Of course, Mark thought the world was flat and that God lived separately from us above the sky somewhere. But even though Mark’s cosmology is different from ours in the 21st century, we can still take his point that being immersed in the spirit of wholeness is what helps us live into our full humanity.
Baptism, then, isn’t a washing away of original sin; it is, instead, an affirmation of original blessing! It is an affirmation of our sacred value. At baptism we are reminded that we are God’s children. This, compatible with the text in Acts, suggests that baptism can be a symbol of empowerment (an immersion in divine power/spirit).
The texts (especially the Acts pericope) show that baptism isn’t primarily an individual experience. Baptism is a communal celebration reminding us every time someone is baptized that we are meant to work together to promote justice and healing in the world.
Mark says Jesus will baptize with spirit. Luke says than an immersion in spirit is a new (and perhaps better) way to understand baptism. It’s not about how much water we use, it’s about being immersed into a life of spiritual purpose. A sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace; it isn’t an external imposition of power; it’s a reminder of the divine light that is always within us.
Luke says they were “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” To call Jesus “Lord” is a seditious act (in the Empire only Caesar is dominus/Lord). So, baptism in the name of a Lord other than the Emperor is to affirm loyalty to something greater than Empire – divine justice and healing for all people.
To be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus isn’t about water or about the formula (“magic words”) used ; it’s about being immersed into a life of purpose, a life of promoting hope and healing, joy and justice, peace and empowerment (power with instead of power over).
The baptism of the spirit in Jesus’ name is a commitment to working toward building God’s kin-dom here and now. We can, if we choose, embrace a water ritual, but the ritual isn’t the point…the ritual points toward purpose, and the purpose is the point.
As we are affirmed as God’s children we are then commissioned to build God’s all-inclusive kin-dom, that is, to share the positive message that all people have innate dignity and sacred value. This is the baptism of the spirit in Jesus’ name.
Wade in the water; wade in the water children. Wade in the water; God’s gonna trouble the water.
Dr. King’s activism is an example of the baptism of the Spirit in Jesus’ name.
By affirming the sacred value of all people and dedicating his life to promoting justice and healing, he was immersed in the power of divine purpose.
That’s what our ministry is about, isn’t it?
It isn’t about preserving what was; it’s about imagining what can yet be.
It isn’t about clinging to the past; it’s about exploring the infinite possibilities of the future.
It isn’t about revering history; it’s about making it!
We are being called to a life of purpose. We are being challenged to be immersed in purpose.
We affirm that purpose every Sunday when we say, “Sunshine Cathedral is a different kind of church where the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities.”
Wade in the water; wade in the water children. Wade in the water; God’s gonna trouble the water.
In the past, women were told they could not be ordained. We remember that only to learn from it and to do better; we are committed not to preserving the sexism of the past but to challenging it and creating a religious experience where sexism cannot thrive.
In the past, same-gender loving people were told that they were somehow beyond the reach of divine love. We remember that only to learn from it and to do better; we are committed not to preserving the homophobia of the past but to challenging it and creating a religious experience where homophobia cannot thrive.
In the past the church failed to address the evils of racism and racial exploitation. We remember that only to learn from it and to do better; we are committed not to preserving the racism of the past but to challenging it and creating a religious experience where racism cannot thrive.
In the past, religion was used against us to promote fear, division, self-loathing, self-doubt, or suspicion of others. We remember that only to learn from it and to do better; we are committed not to preserving the religion of fear and prejudice but to challenging it and creating a religious experience where fear and hatred cannot thrive.
In his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
…we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism…Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
That’s the dream, Dr. King’s, Jesus’, ours.
That’s the baptismal calling…the calling to a life of purpose and growth and evolution and inclusion.
We are called to change and to be agents of change in our world.
The early church changed the world by confronting poverty, disease, and imperialism.
Dr. King changed U.S. society by confronting poverty, racism, and unjust war.
Our spiritual ancestors did not merely revere their history, they built upon it. They remembered the past but they did not try to resurrect it. They learned from history so as NOT to repeat it, but rather to change the present and make the world a bit more like the kin-dom of God, the Blessed Community where all people are affirmed, valued, uplifted, and cherished. That is the divine dream for humanity.
Will we, today, allow ourselves to be immersed in the power of purpose and continue to move forward to celebrate our sacred value and to tell more and more and more people that they too, just as they are, are part of the creation that is very good? Will we work for justice? Will we offer hope? Will we embrace joy? We will commit to being the embodied presence of God on earth? Will we wade in the waters of positive change? If so, we will be living the baptismal dream and THIS is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
AffirmationsI am immersed in divine grace.
I am immersed in abundant hope.
I am immersed in the power of purpose.
I am drenched with God’s love.
And so it is!
Final Word“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
No Day But Today Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins New Year’s Day 2012 It’s a new day and a new year and we have an amazing opportunity to seize the newness at hand and to do incredible things with it! Take a minute right now and remember something wonderful from the past. Remember some of those […]
No Day But Today
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
New Year’s Day 2012
It’s a new day and a new year and we have an amazing opportunity to seize the newness at hand and to do incredible things with it!
Take a minute right now and remember something wonderful from the past. Remember some of those good old days. Remember when you were the star athlete in high school, or when you made straight A’s your freshman year in college, or your first kiss, or the day you learned to swim. Wow…what great days they were. And we can recall them like we’ve just done and smile. We can enjoy our memories if we allow them to be memories. When we confuse the way things were with how we wish things were now, then we aren’t enjoying our memories we are using them as an excuse to not be present in this moment.
Remember your first Pride Parade. Remember how good it felt when they took that cast off your leg. Remember the thrill of getting your cosmetology license or your driver’s license or your voter registration card. Remember and smile and let that memory fill you with warmth and joy and then come back to this moment and let’s start making new memories! The past is past. It can be remembered, but it cannot be relived, and time wasted trying to recreate the past only sabotages our opportunities in the present. Remember. Smile. And get back to living right now.
Of course not all memories are pleasant.
There was that first break up, or that last one.
There was that job that you just didn’t do your best at and opportunities for promotion or raises passed you by.
There was that beloved pet that died.
There was a friend who proved not to be a very good friend after all.
We can remember those difficult moments too, but to learn lessons, not to get stuck in bitterness.
We look back on those hard times either to learn how we can do better next time or at least to say, “At least I survived all that and I’m still here!” But if we look back on the difficult times to fuel the feelings of victimization and regret, then again, we are just sabotaging the present by not leaving the past in the past. The past can be remembered, but it can’t be relived, and trying to only keeps us from living fully in the present.
2011 is now behind us. I hope it was a year of success and joy and miracles for you. If it was, be glad. And now let’s get to work on making 2012 even better.
If on the other hand 2011 was a year of challenge and disappointment, then I hope you will realize that even in the midst of the hardship there were moments of opportunity, healing and joy and in spite of the difficulties you’re still here and the future is yours to create starting right now. Be glad you got over all those hurdles in 2011 and now let’s get to work on making 2012 much better.
Whether your memories are good or bad, whether they are from childhood, last year, or last night…let them be what they are…MEMORIES. Not blue prints for how things ought to be, not fantasies that the past will somehow rise again in your life, but just remembrances of what was. Some good times, some challenging times, some cherished moments, some learning and healing opportunities. We can visit those memories now and again, but then we leave them to re-enter life which is always happening now. There are new memories to make; let’s not make idols of the old ones.
Now, listen carefully. Sometimes when we talk about releasing the past to the past, someone will try to twist the meaning and use it against us. They will say that their abusive behavior should be overlooked since it is in the past and we should be open to letting them ambush us again. That is not what I’m saying and I hope you don’t fall for that. Yes, I may forgive those who have harmed me, but I’m no fool. I’m not willing to drink the poison again! No, if someone apologizes, tries to make amends, of course second chances can be given. But without such goodwill gestures, trust may also be a thing of the past regarding someone who has abused that trust before. Just because I don’t hate you for being mean to me does not mean that I’m willing to allow you to be mean to me over and over again. Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice and be served with a restraining order. Yes, the deed is past, and so is my willingness for it to be repeated. As Jesus said, we must be wise as serpents as well as gentle as doves.
The story in Luke is a story of change and how the past gives way to new beginnings.
First of all, Luke is writing sometime between the end of the first century and the early part of the second century. That means he is writing sometime between 50 and a hundred years AFTER Jesus’ execution, and a couple of decades or more after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. The Jesus movement is growing and changing. It is less and less the fringe movement within Judaism that it started as. And the Jerusalem Temple as a pilgrimage spot no longer exists. The world just keeps changing.
Luke remembers when there was a Temple, as he imagines this story taking place in the Temple. But that begins a longer narrative that goes on to tell of Jesus’ life and then the life of the church beyond Jesus’ life.
Luke remembers the past only to show how this moment is a continuation of what was begun. We aren’t to venerate the past, but to be the living embodiment of our highest ideals just as our ancestors in the past were.
We aren’t limited to their situations, understandings, habits, or preferences, but as they embodied their ideals in ways that were relevant for their time, we are to continue doing the same. Not mimicking how they did, but in our own way continuing what they did, which is to be relevant in this time and to reach out to new people in new ways so that more lives can be enriched, empowered, and healed.
We use pop culture, varieties of music, science, and technology to communicate good news. It’s not the way we did things 50 or 20 years ago, but the eternal verities must be communicated in ways that will reach new generations of people. Religion should be a movement moving forward, not an historical museum cherishing the memory of a world long since faded from view. Religion can no longer be the excuse to cling to ignorance in the face of scientific discovery, nor can religion with any integrity be used to promote hatred and prejudice toward any group of people. Religion, using the language and media of the day, must facilitate life-giving spirituality that affirms human dignity, calls for peace, and offers hope even when circumstances seem hopeless. Surely only that kind of religion will endure in the 21st century; I hope that is the only kind that will endure.
Look what Luke’s story tells us this morning. He dares us to think in new ways about some things so that we can create a new experience of life going forward:
First we see a poor family. How do we know they are poor? Because they are offering doves instead of lambs or goats. They are offering the least expensive sacrifice; not because they are cheap, but because the small birds are the best they can give. But that is a new way of understanding economics, isn’t it? We aren’t expected to give what someone else gives; we are expected to give our best gift. Our tithe may not look like someone else’s tithe, but it is our gift from the heart, giving as much as we can to something we believe in expecting nothing back other than the joy that giving offers. My gift doesn’t have to look like your best; for it to be holy, it only needs to be my best. We all have to something to share, and as we lovingly share what we can, we are making a huge difference in the lives of others.
Secondly, we see that even the most vulnerable can have a huge impact. It’s a baby that is causing Simeon to be so happy. Just a baby, but even in what seems small or weak or insignificant by common standards might in fact contain divine potential that will bring hope and joy to someone’s life.
And third, we see a very aged Simeon. And yet, even in the winter of his life, Simeon isn’t too old to learn. He isn’t too old to experience and express hope and joy. He isn’t too old to experience something new. As long as Simeon is alive, he has life to experience and express. Simeon chooses to live for as long as he is alive. He isn’t limited to just his memories, there is still life right now for him to enjoy.
The lessons of the gospel reading today are perfect for the first day of a new year. Let’s today renew our determination to overcome fear with hope, to in the moment of challenge go to peace instead of to pieces.
Let’s today renew our commitment to believe in ourselves and to love ourselves and to affirm our sacred value.
Let’s today renew our gratitude for and support of this amazing spiritual community that gives us so much, which has drawn us all together so that we might bless one another with the light we each carry within us.
Let’s today commit to learning more, giving more, praying more, and being more present to the moment at hand.
Each day is new and brings new opportunities.
Today, bless your memories and leave them as memories, and be present to the newness that this new day offers. This moment is the only moment we have. The past is over and the future isn’t here yet; now is all there ever really is. New Year’s Day reminds us to be present to this day, this moment, the miracle that is now at hand. There is no day but today, and with each today there is newness and as we are present and open to the newness, we too become new and renewed.
This is the day our God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Release the fear. Release regrets. Release despair. Release the past to the past and remember the future has infinite possibilities. Those possibilities begin to become visible as we fully embrace today. And this is the good news.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
This is a new year.
This is a new day.
There are new opportunities for me.
I am renewed today.
Miracles are possible for me.
And so it is.
It’s Time for an Epiphany Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Jan. 8, 2012 – Sunshine Cathedral In seminary three of us were chatting over coffee about what we’d like people to say about us our own funeral. My friend Elsa said, “I want someone to say that I was a very good preacher.” My friend Christa […]
It’s Time for an Epiphany
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Jan. 8, 2012 – Sunshine Cathedral
In seminary three of us were chatting over coffee about what we’d like people to say about us our own funeral. My friend Elsa said, “I want someone to say that I was a very good preacher.” My friend Christa said, “I hope someone says that I was a very kind person.” I of course, had a much more practical desire. I said, “I would like to someone to say, ‘Look, he’s moving!’”
Sometimes, we try to make religion be more other-worldly than it needs to be. We all know people who are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good; but I believe religion should be more practical than that. Religion should engage our minds as well as our emotions, and it should offer us skills for navigating this life as well as hope that there may be something beyond this life. Today’s gospel story is one that is often presented as an other-worldly tale, but I believe it may be more practical than that.
The story of magi traveling to discover the Christ Child appears only in Matthew’s gospel. It isn’t one of the stories that is told over and over in scripture nor is it a story that is referenced throughout scripture. Matthew alone mentions it one time only. Within the biblical canon itself, it receives very little attention. But once each year, we give it attention. And so, today we are challenged to look at it with a fresh perspective, to mine it more deeply for new treasures, and to let it be something awe-inspiring again for us.
Matthew doesn’t tell us how many magi he’s imagining in his story. We know they bring three kinds of gifts…money, incense, and herbs. Magi is plural, Matthew is imagining at least two, but as few as two could carry these gifts, or as many a dozen could carry the gifts. The number of magi isn’t important, at least not important enough for Matthew to specify.
We know what the gifts are, but we don’t often ponder what they mean. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh seem like odd gifts. I mean, gold is pretty nice, but smoky incense and bags of herbs don’t seem all that special. Gold, diamonds, and pearls…now those are some gifts. But incense and myrrh seem odd companions for gold. That is, until we look at them allegorically.
Gold, representing abundance, myrrh, an herb used medicinally, representing health and healing, and frankincense representing ritual and prayer: the gifts the magi bring are gold (a portion of their income), myrrh (their health and vitality), and incense (their prayers). Money, action, and prayer, or time, talent, and treasure. Time (the journey took a commitment of time), talent (they are using their astrological skills), and treasure (the gifts they bring) are together the model for faithful worship. They are worshiping with all they have and all they are; in fact, that’s what worship really is.
Now, what about this slow moving navigational star. If a star moved slowly through the sky for months or years, someone other than “Mathew” would have noticed and mentioned it. And P.S. – Matthew isn’t present for Jesus’ early years. Matthew is writing about 90 years AFTER Jesus’ birth. Not only did he not witness it, he probably wasn’t even alive when it happened. Remember, this is a story Matthew is imagining…this is a work of literary genius, not literal recollection.
In Greek and Roman pagan mythologies, deities and demigods and super-heroes were announced with cosmic portents at their births. The notion of astrologists finding signs in the heavens announcing the birth of a hero seems much more pagan than Jewish, and that may be Matthew’s point.
Vanderbilt University’s New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine says that Matthew’s story could be a parody of the very similar pagan myths about divine-human children being miraculously conceived and their births announced with cosmic portents. Matthew might be saying, “We don’t need that.” And Levine suggests the original hearers of the story would have gotten Matthew’s intent.
What is important isn’t that astronomical oddities happen following Jesus’ birth, but that this baby will grow up to make a huge difference in the world. He is so real he doesn’t need to be shrouded in myth. He will be so fully human that his divinity will be experienced in that fully embraced humanity. He doesn’t need the trappings of the pagan myths; his significance will be in how he courageously and generously lives his life among real people.
Matthew isn’t creating one more unbelievable story…he’s making fun of such stories and inviting us to embrace a real life faith where untouchables are touched, and the sick are made to feel whole, and the oppressed discover glimpses of liberation in the midst of their circumstances. Ours isn’t one more other worldly tradition of myth and magic; ours is Good News that empowers us to live real lives of hope and service and empowerment and radical change.
One final point I want to make about the story of the magi. The Magi are from a different culture than Matthew’s and a different religion, and yet these “Other” people, these Persian Zoroastrians are the ones who find what Christ symbolizes. They have the Christ experience in their own context and return to their culture and religion. They are not converted; just as they are, they are able to find what they need in their spiritual lives. The incarnation, the experience of divine love in our human earthly lives is what the Christ-event symbolizes for Christians; but the experience is not limited to Christians. Our stories and our vocabularies are Christian, but the experience of longing for and encountering the divine in one’s own context is universal. Jewish people, Muslims, Buddhists, Humanists, Hindus, and as Matthew points out, Zoroastrians, all people can experience the Sacred whenever and however they are open to it.
Gays and lesbians, Americans and non-Americans, men and women…all people can experience, and ultimately must experience the perfect wholeness that many of us call God.
This Universalist message is consistent with other times Matthew affirms the “Other” throughout his gospel. It is also consistent with the message from Sirach this morning that suggests divine Wisdom is everywhere, all throughout the earth and the cosmos.
Now, how is this story relevant for our lives today?
The word epiphany suggests an appearance. In common usage, it refers to a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the essential meaning of something. The epiphany isn’t the appearance of an impossibly low positioned star. The epiphany isn’t that strangers from Persia found a baby. The epiphany that Matthew wants his readers to have is the discovery of their own sacred value.
A poor family is affirmed in the story- Jesus’ family.
Strangers from a distant land, Persians who in the past had oppressed Matthew’s own people – these foreigners are affirmed in the story. Former enemies are seen as God’s friends in Matthew’s imagination.
They aren’t just Persian, they are practitioners of astrology, reading the stars and making meaning from their observations…they are occultists, and they are affirmed.
They aren’t just astrology buffs from Persia, they are magi, the root of the word of magician…they are priests in another religion entirely, but they are affirmed.
Poor people, foreigners, people of other religions…in Matthew’s imagination, everyone can have an epiphany of God’s universal and unconditional love. The epiphany is that God is among us, with us, expressing through us, WHOEVER we might be. Everyone is part of the divine, ultimate reality. That is the epiphany that Matthew offers, and that is the epiphany for too many centuries too many people have missed.
YOU – whoever you are – you are a child of God, loved unconditionally and eternally by God – that is the epiphany Matthew wants us to have. Are you starting to see the light? Not a far away star, but the light of divinity shining right in your life right now.
This is a new year, and the new year offers us opportunities to reflect, to start over, and to have our own epiphanies.
1. Will you dare to be believe, or at least be willing to believe that in essence, regardless of whatever mistakes you may have made, but that in the truest sense, you are good, you are nothing less than an expression of God? Can you let yourself have that epiphany this year?
2. Will you let yourself see the amazing gift this spiritual community is? We are a different kind of church…an intellectually honest church, a church that affirms the sacred value of all people, a church that is unapologetic in its commitment to hope and in its expression of joy, a church where the comforted are challenged and the challenged are comforted, a church determined to be relevant in the 21st century, a church that is available to people where and how they actually live, a church that stands for justice and equality and liberation. Can you let yourself have an epiphany of what a special community this is that we are forming?
3. Will you let yourself see the growth that is happening and commit to continuing that growth? If everyone here brought one more person to this church in 2012 just think of the hope and joy that would be shared in our community. In 2010 our attendance in worship grew by almost 1000 people, and in 2011 our attendance grew by another 1200 people, and that doesn’t count the 6000 people each month who watch us online. Can you see and celebrate the amazing growth and then do what you can to help us grow even more? Can you see that people need what we have to offer?
4. And will you begin to see how your prayers, your generosity, your service, your positive attitude, your loving speech, your goodwill, your light can a make a difference?
It’s time for an epiphany. It’s time for each of us to believe in ourselves and it’s time for us to believe in and fully support our mission of sharing healing love with a wounded world. It’s time to know that the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities. Will you know that today? Will you be open to that kind of epiphany? If you will, then together in 2012 WE will be the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
In my life, I see God today.
In my world, I see God today.
And with all that I am…
I worship God today.
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” William James