Look What We Can Do! Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Pride Sunday 2012, Sunshine Cathedral My God, where can we begin for Gay Pride Sunday? I mean, same-sex attraction and pairing happens in every culture in every age and in almost every species on the planet. How can we boil that down to an hour and […]
Look What We Can Do!
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Pride Sunday 2012, Sunshine Cathedral
My God, where can we begin for Gay Pride Sunday? I mean, same-sex attraction and pairing happens in every culture in every age and in almost every species on the planet. How can we boil that down to an hour and some change?
And then, there are the bisexuals who really just enjoy an embarrassment of riches.
And there are brave, noble, heterosexual allies who support their same-gender loving friends, neighbors and family members and cannot be overlooked or forgotten or taken for granted.
We could mention good news from recent history. There was the Kinsey Report (1948) telling us that a significant percentage of the general population is same-gender loving, and there was the work of Dr. Evelyn Hooker (1957) telling us that homosexuality is not a disorder but is in fact natural for those who experience it, and there was the creation of Metropolitan Community Churches (1968) with its special affirming outreach to LBGT people, and there were the Stonewall Riots (1969) where gays and transgender folk stood up and fought back when their bar was under siege by harassing police. And we’ve witnessed the American Psychiatric Association removing homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses (1973), and even more recently we have seen same-sex marriages take place in states and in other countries.
Of course, there is the bible. We should probably at least look at the bible.
I guess we could mention the six, and only six verses in the entire bible that appear to be anti-gay. 2 come from Leviticus…a book otherwise universally ignored in the Christian tradition. Leviticus forbids the eating of shrimp and pork? Seafood and barbecue are absolute abominations, according to Leviticus. Wearing of mixed fabric, also a Levitical no-no, which means the 1970s were abominable…and I might give you that anyway. Leviticus even condemns tattoos. We don’t take any of that to heart, so to ignore all of that to lift up two verses to support anti-gay prejudice is ridiculous.
The other 4 verses that are used for ecclesiastical gay bashing are attributed to the Apostle Paul, a closet case if ever there was one. And anyway, his condemnations are never of attraction, commitment, love, or mutually beneficial relationships. His condemnations are always of behaviors that he views to be exploitive or abusive. In short, the few times same-sex behavior is ever condemned in scripture are always in the context of rape or temple prostitution. Genuine affection honestly shared is never condemned, and if it were, I would rave against the condemnation.
Some people will embarrass themselves by suggesting the creation myth is proof of divinely initiated heteronormativity. Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve they’ll say. Of course, in our post-Darwinian world, such a statement wreaks of deplorable ignorance.
In Genesis 2, Adam is created to till the soil, to be the gardener for Paradise. If who does what in the story is a prototype for what all people must do in life, then everyone who isn’t a horticulturist is damned. It’s Adam the gardener, not Adam the barber! “How do you like those eggrolls Mr Goldstone?”
And finally, there are those misguided souls who suggest that Sodom and Gomorrah is a story condemning same-gender love, which shows they’ve never read it because there isn’t a single loving moment in the whole story! There is violence, attempted rape, the protagonist offering his daughters to be ravished to protect his male guests (and that is not condemned in the story), there is dislocation, drunkenness, even incest committed by the protagonist without a hint of condemnation, but no violins, no wine, no roses, not even a mutually enjoyable bar pickup in the whole story. The story is full of reprehensible behavior, but two people enjoying dinner and movie before a rousing game of slap and tickle is not in the narrative, at all, not once.
But we’ve covered that ground time and again, haven’t we? Why go back there?
For the occasion of gay pride I guess we could point out that Jesus is silent on the subject of same-gender love and attraction, except for praising the faith of a pagan centurion who sought help for his male servant, and the word he uses for servant would usually be the word used to identify a lover. A Roman pagan goes to a Jewish faith healer to heal a mere slave? No, such dramatic lengths to help someone are the desperate attempts one makes for someone very special to one’s heart. And Jesus doesn’t condemn the centurion for loving his servant so; he praises him and affirms him.
And I suppose we could highlight that Jesus did favor one of his male disciples above all others and that one was even referred to as the one Jesus loved.
We could notice that a reading that is common at heterosexual marriage ceremonies, “Whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people will be my people and thy God will be my God” is from the book of Ruth and is a vow that one woman makes to another woman, Ruth to Naomi. Churches that condemn same-sex love will often use the vows one woman made to another in their heterosexual weddings. Irony.
And we could lift up the obvious warrior love story of Jonathan & David, and when Jonathan is killed, David weeps for Jonathan saying, “My dear Jonathon, my love for you passed my love for women.” Any questions?
But really, who cares? I don’t need to play Find Queer Waldo with the bible to feel good about myself, even though in a collection of stories of human lives covering more than 1000 years, there would obviously be occasions of same-sex love and attraction. But just as we can’t hide behind isolated verses of ancient scriptures to justify our prejudices, we also shouldn’t have to look up our lives in a book to make sure that we are worthy to exist. We should be able, using our own minds and intuition and experience of life, to come to the same conclusion that even the Apostle Paul came to: By the grace of God I am what I am!
Of course, not only should we challenge the homophobia that is promoted by a misuse of the bible, we should challenge all prejudices that have been promoted in the name of religion. The bible has been used to justify slavery, segregation, child abuse, the divine right of kings, wars, and anti-semitism (even though every writer whose words wound up in our bible was Jewish, and Jesus and Paul themselves, to their dying days, were Jewish). The bible has been used to suggest a privileged status for Christianity in the community of religions and it has been used to control and exclude and silence women and even to colonize their bodies. The bible has been used to make people reject science, reason, and critical thinking. And in each of these cases, the bible has been misused and must be liberated if it is to have any relevance in the 21st century.
Even our gospel lesson today can be good news for Pride Sunday. I doubt that Jesus controlled the weather. Not only is that not very good theology, it’s absolutely appalling meteorology. And how insulting to those who suffered the ravages of Katrina or any hurricane, tornado, or tsunami to suggest that Jesus could calm a storm to teach his disciples a lesson but there was no help to be had in their very real time of need. No, this story isn’t about the weather.
Mark is writing during a “stormy” time (post-destruction of Jerusalem) and the point is that even when all hell seems to be breaking lose, we can still choose to “go to peace instead of to pieces.” And to be effective justice workers, we need to be centered and poised. We need to have faith in the justice of our work, and in the goodness that we dare to affirm. Such faith will give us rest and renewal, even when life all around us seems stormy. And if we have peace about who we are in the world, then we can extend that peace to others, to the world around us. We can bring a bit of calm to some of the storminess around us. That will probably have very little impact on the weather, but it can have a huge impact on people’s lives. We can not only challenge injustice, we can help those waiting for the day of justice to go to peace instead of to pieces.
We are called to confront transphobia, heterosexism, misogyny, economic injustice, and other forms of oppression; we are called to work for peace and justice; we are called to bring healing to people who have been deeply wounded by homophobia/homohatred promoted as values by preachers and politicians, we are called to be a peaceful presence to those who are still tormented in the midst of the storm.
Will we defeat our own efforts by focusing exclusively on the challenges and setbacks, or will we choose to be the peaceful presence keeping optimism and commitment alive in our communities?
The work is ours to do, and we are good enough and strong enough and wise enough to do it! But again, the work is OURS to do.
God didn’t take the “cup” from Jesus in his hour of despair in the garden, or the “thorn” from Paul’s flesh, and God didn’t with lightning bolts from heaven topple Hitler (or any other Empire), and didn’t instantly wipe out AIDS or other diseases, but through people answering the call to “do justice, love mercy, and live humbly” was able to bring hope and healing to these situations.
Moses confronted Pharaoh. David confronted Goliath. Paul ministered to the people on Malta. The woman with the issue of blood wasn’t magically healed, but after 12 years of searching reached out one more time, and as a result of her faithfulness (she didn’t give up), she received her blessing. The man at the pool of Bethesda waited decades for a magical cure; Jesus told him to rise up and embrace his own power. Miracles aren’t forced on us; we must participate in them by choosing to change our focus. It is up to us to be the hands of God doing the divine work still today. What God does for us, God does through us. God has no hands but ours, and can do very little until we agree to be divine love in action in our world.
It is we who must be the prophetic voices, the angelic ministers, the healing hands. We do God’s work; God doesn’t do ours.
God isn’t going to fix homophobia or any other injustice for us, indeed, God can’t fix it without us; but God is the power within us that can compel us to face the storms of life, to go to piece instead of to pieces, and to believe in the justice of our cause until the work is done. We, the community calling ourselves Sunshine Cathedral, are not just one more church in a town, a county, a state, a nation, and a world of countless churches; we are incarnation of divine power and when we let ourselves be our best we saying to the winds of intolerance and the waves of injustice and to the rolling thunder of oppression, PEACE, BE STILL! We are God’s hands holding and healing the world. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
By the grace of God, I am what I am.
My hands are God’s hands.
I am God’s love in action.
And so today I choose…
to go to peace instead of to pieces.
Is This Parable a Joke Rev. Tania Guzman So we know by know how our senior pastor loves to tease me, especially about me being short. Sometimes I forget about it and then when I least expect it I am remind about it. As the senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Durrell, is the one who assigns […]
Is This Parable a Joke
Rev. Tania Guzman
So we know by know how our senior pastor loves to tease me, especially about me being short. Sometimes I forget about it and then when I least expect it I am remind about it. As the senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Durrell, is the one who assigns the preaching schedule. Knowing that my time to preach was coming up, I looked at the schedule and the readings for the day I was to preach, and in my head I could hear my loving pastor laughing when I realized he scheduled me to preach on the day of the reading of the parable of the mustard seed, the proverbially smallest of all seeds.
The parable of the mustard seed is one of the shortest parables attributed to Jesus. It appears in the three synoptic gospels (Matt, Mark, Luke) and also in the non canonical gospel of Thomas. Today’s gospel reading is from Mark and in his version he has Jesus saying, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
Since I was a kid, hearing people teaching and preaching on the parable of the mustard seed, the dominant interpretation has been that the miracle or the message of the parable is that, “God can use small things to do great things”, or that “Big things may have small beginnings”. Although there is nothing bad or negative about this interpretation, I think that the gospel writer’s intention is for the reader to look deeper than that, especially as we know that the sayings and parables of Jesus or attributed to Jesus tend to be risky and disturbing.
This parable is something that Jesus listeners probably would have not expected to hear. They probably expected to hear something like, “The Kingdom of God is like a great Ceder of Lebanon”. The Ceder of Lebanon was the greatest of all trees; it grows to be about two to three hundred feet tall. As a magnificent tree, to the Jewish people of Jesus’ time, the Ceder tree was a symbol for the might and power of the coming of God’s grandiose ruling on earth.
But instead, the Gospel of Mark has Jesus comparing the Kingdom with a mustard seed, a small and insignificant mustard seed that turns into a shrub. What? Really? Is this a joke? Could Jesus keep a straight face saying this?. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke have the mustard see turn into a tree which is not really possible. The Mustard plant was a pest, it was a weed that would take over the garden very fast, it was an unwanted plant.
The point of the parable is not just that “big things have small beginnings”. Any other seed could have been used to come to that conclusion; all seeds start small and then grow into something bigger. But the mustard seed was used in this parable for a reason, which by the way is not the smallest of all seeds but it is identified as the least of all seeds because it is a weed, it is insignificant.
Theologian John Dominic Crossan says that, “The point, in other words, is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows into s shrub of three, four or even more feet in height. It is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas, where they are not particularly desired. And that, said Jesus was what the Kingdom was like. Like a pungent shrub with dangerous take-over properties. Something you would want only in small and carefully controlled doses—if you could control it.”
The Kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming was not the powerful and mighty kingdom that his listeners were expecting, and it is not an afterlife reward in “heaven” as some preach today either. The Kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming was a Kingdom of social justice in this world, free of all oppressions, where the poor would be cared for and everyone could worship God without being turned away. But the religious leaders and the social and political powers did not want this kingdom; it did not benefit them, it threatened their profits and it exposed their evil doing. So this Kingdom became a pest, a weed, an unwanted plant to them.
The same still true today. The Kingdom of God that Jesus taught and preached about, a kingdom of social justice attracts what some religious and political powers would consider unwanted people; the poor, GLBT people and anyone who is different. And as Crossan pointed out, like the mustard plant, we may be to them “like a pungent shrub with dangerous take-over properties” something they want to make sure they can control.
But there is no controlling the mustard plant. Jesus parables, although disturbing, conceal messages of hope and liberation for the oppressed. In this parable his listeners, wanted justice, they wanting to overcome the powers that oppressed them and Jesus said to them that the kingdom is like a mustard plant. At first it does not make any sense, but then it does; the uncontrollable mustard plant can take over the carefully planned crops of the cruel and oppressive Romans living them in ruins.
I love this parable, it is actually funny, the writer of the gospel is making fun of the Roman Empire. He is telling the Roman Empire, we don’t need to be like the powerful, mighty and grandiose Ceder tree to overcome your oppression, we are going to do that as a bunch of weed, so the joke is on you
There is so much said in such a short parable. The Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus was not according to the expectation of his listeners. One of the most firmly held expectations of the people of Israel was that the Kingdom of God would be manifested in a future final triumphal arrival rescuing them from the Roman Empire. With this parable, Mark has Jesus telling them and us, the kingdom of God is right here, right now, in your midst, not as something great and glorious but in the most ordinary of forms. Unfortunately that is why so many people do not even notice.
And don’t even get me started with those prosperity gospel preachers; with their big mansions, private jets, who think that God is so obsessed on blessing them and apparently oblivious of the rest of the world affected by this economy. They think they are God’s Ceder tress, followers of Jesus, but Jesus would not put up with none of that. Little do they know they just suppose to be shrubs.
The parable also tells us that since there is not triumphal manifestation of the Kingdom of God, that means that God is not going to directly intervene in the work for justice that needs to be done in this world, that is our job. But we are encourage by this parable of the mustard seed, to take the confidence, the attitude, and the courage of the gospel writer and do our work of Justice as we say to the oppressive powers, we don’t have to be mighty and powerful to overcome your homophobia, discrimination, religious intolerance, racism, sexism, capitalism, and any kind of injustice.
An example of this is one of my spiritual heroes, Archbishop Oscar Romero, one of the world’s greatest champions of the poor and the oppressed, “the voice of the voiceless”. He left behind not just a comfortable life, but a life of grandiose opportunities within the Catholic Church to bring hope and liberation to the poor in El Salvador. He was killed, but before he was killed he said, “I have often been threatened with death, but If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people”. So the work of Romero did not stop but continues in the lives of the Salvadoran people.
When we do our work, like the uncontrollable mustard plant, there is no stopping the work of the “kingdom” Jesus proclaimed. As the parable describes it, this kingdom is not something that can be controlled, rather it is something that takes over, it is something that transforms the world and moves us into action.
You know I have to tell you, as a feminist, it was hard writing this sermon and doing all this talk about “Kingdom” which is a patriarchal and sexist word. So I am going to close with one of my favorite feminist theologians, Ada Maria Isasi Diaz, who coined the phrase “Kin-dom” of God. Ada Maria Said, that the Kin-dom of God is present When the fullness of God becomes a day to day reality in our lives, where we are Kin to each other, true brothers and sisters where the good of the whole is the good of the individual.
Spirit Talk Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins June 10, 2012 – Sunshine Cathedral Spirit is the breath of life, energy, universal life-force energy. The Psalmist prays for a continuous awareness of the spirit of life. Mindfulness of one’s place in the web of existence is energizing. “Take not your holy Spirit from me” is an expressed […]
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
June 10, 2012 – Sunshine Cathedral
Spirit is the breath of life, energy, universal life-force energy.
The Psalmist prays for a continuous awareness of the spirit of life. Mindfulness of one’s place in the web of existence is energizing. “Take not your holy Spirit from me” is an expressed desire to be in communion with the whole (holy) spirit of divine life, which would, of course, result in the experience of wholeness in one’s own life.
And Mark in today’s gospel reading describes the “spirit” as the presence and power of goodness.
The biblical traditions have more spirit ponderings, of course.
The Hebrew word for spirit is Ruach. Ruach is the creative force, the wind that blows over the waters of chaos to bring forth order and life in the Genesis 1 creation myth. Ruach is feminine, and she is the creative and sustaining principle of life.
Shekinah is another feminine, Hebrew word for the spirit. Shekinah means “to inhabit.” Moses you will recall from Exodus 40 was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting because a glorious cloud of stunning light, the Shekinah, the divine presence, was so overwhelming. In that context, the spirit, the power, the presence of divinity is described as light, or glory. The spirit is the light of the divine presence.
In the book of Proverbs we meet divine Wisdom, Sohpia. She, too, is feminine not only in name and pronoun but in characterization. The spirit is Wisdom herself, the companion and emanation of the divine source.
Over and over in scripture, the spirit is pondered. When we say spirit, we aren’t talking about the dogmatic assertions made by institutional church councils in the 4th century and beyond. We are talking about something much more accessible, much more present, much less academic, much more intuitive and emotive and as immanent as it is transcendent. We are taking about a higher power, an intimate omnipresence, the very energy of never ending life. And that experience is called Sacred Spirit and Reviving Ruach and Sister Shekinah and Woman Wisdom and more.
But New Testament Greek tends to use a word and symbolism for the spirit that is more gender neutral. We see Jesus blowing the Spirit (breath) on the apostles in John’s gospel, and the spirit blowing like a violent, storm wind in Acts, and descending like a dove in the narratives of the baptism of Jesus.
Mark seems to stick with this less personalized (and less feminized) description of spirit, and yet, even so, the spirit is not male in these descriptions. In biblical terms, the spirit is “she” or “it”…a detail conveniently overlooked in the traditional, patriarchal church. As the anonymous writer of Genesis 1 says, God made woman and man in the divine image (Gen. 1.27), both are equal and full expressions and incarnations of divine love. We each have feminine and masculine characteristics because we each are enlivened by the Whole Spirit of God.
The spirit for Mark, as I mentioned earlier, is the presence and activity of goodness. Jesus does wonderful things by the power of the spirit of goodness. Good energy (motivation, attitude, intention, desire, “spirit”) is what propels good action, so Jesus’ good work is the manifestation of the spirit of goodness (obviously).
But Jesus’ family accuses him of being mentally disturbed (mental illnesses were thought to be caused by unfriendly spirits, or energy that was ill at ease/dis-eased). They don’t recognize the whole(some)/holy spirit of goodness as being the driving engine of Jesus’ work.
Then, the religious leaders also attribute Jesus’ motivation to something other than goodness. He drives out “satan” (dis-ease of mind and body) by the power of satan (diabolical or unhealthy influences).
Just as the spirit of life and goodness is understood differently throughout scripture, so, too, is the character “satan.”
The satan’s debut is in Job, where “he” is “the satan”…ha satan, the accuser, who has free access to the heavenly court. God is described in that ancient drama as a tribal chieftain and “the accuser” seems to be part of the court (like a prosecuting attorney). His job is to accuse and though Job is “good” the accuser (ha satan) wagers that if God were to temporarily abandon Job, Job would cease to be good.
Inexplicably, God takes the bet and Job suffers as a result. The satan in that story isn’t wicked or mischievous (no more so than God anyway), but is simply fulfilling the role assigned to him.
CENTURIES later, after domination by the Persian empire whose Zoroastrian religion had a good god and an evil god battling for human souls, and those won by the good god achieved after-life paradise and those won by the evil deity achieved afterlife torment, this dualistic theology made its way through former Jewish exiles into the world of the New Testament, which is why we see this language in the NT when it was largely lacking in the Hebrew scriptures.
For John (especially in Revelation), Satan is Rome (the evil of imperialism).
But for Mark, at least in this early part of the book, “Satan” is simply the opposite of goodness, the opposite of health/wholeness. Spirit is the presence of goodness, “Satan” is the absence of or the failure to recognize goodness.
Mark, a very accomplished dramatist, casts the religious authorities in the same kind of role as “the accuser” in an older drama, “Job.” The religious teachers “accuse” Jesus of being less than good, and Jesus responds to them by showing the irony of the accusation. They are accusing a good person (as “ha satan” accused good Job) of being something other than he seems. He must cast out illness and despair by the very nefarious energies that cause illness and despair. But how can poison cure poison? Or, “how can Satan cast out Satan? A house divided against itself cannot stand!”
There is also a double meaning/insult on the part of Mark’s Jesus. By comparing the religious authorities to the satan character in Job’s drama, Jesus also seems to be saying, “how can you accusers improve anyone’s lives by your accusations?” A fitting question of fundamentalism even still! In fact, it’s a good question for all religious communities…how can you lift up others if you are spending so much time pointing fingers at one another? Focus on the good, do the good, recognize the good.
And then in this context, Mark imagines Jesus saying that we can be healed from all kinds of mistakes and misdeeds, but the one thing that is beyond rehabilitation is “blasphemy against the holy Spirit.” He then clarifies that this is said because they have accused Jesus of doing good by the power of evil. They have blasphemed goodness by calling it evil.
What Mark is having Jesus say is that if you look at love and hope and compassion and a commitment to Justice, if you look at the goodness that is being manifested in Jesus’ life and can call it evil, you don’t know the difference between good and evil; and if you don’t know that love, compassion, justice, and hope are good, how can you do much good in the world?
To say a good person doing good work, like Jesus is doing, is doing so because of evil influence is not only ridiculous, but it shows a total lack of comprehension of goodness. This might be as applicable today of people who say that same-gender love is “evil”…how can genuine, mutual love be anything other than good (or at very least neutral)…if we can’t recognize love and its goodness, we may not know what love even is! How “unforgiveable” in a world that is so desperate for the healing power of love.
The spirit in Mark’s narrative is the source of goodness, and Jesus’ good work is powered by the spirit of goodness, and those who can’t recognize that may be beyond knowing what is really good, even when they see it up close. If we call good “bad”, the spirit of goodness may not be what is driving us; and that is Mark’s insult to the religious authorities of his day. The observation may be relevant still. And this is the good news!
© Durrell Watkins 2012
I am spirit-filled and spirit-led.
I give thanks for spiritual gifts.
And I allow the power of spirit to bless my life.
“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.” Khalil Gibran
OUR Great Commission Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins June 3, 2012, Sunshine Cathedral I need to show you some video clips. They are not funny. In fact, they are actually difficult to watch and listen to, but we must. We need to know exactly why we matter so much today. Show the first clip: (Knapp) That […]
OUR Great Commission
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
June 3, 2012, Sunshine Cathedral
I need to show you some video clips. They are not funny. In fact, they are actually difficult to watch and listen to, but we must. We need to know exactly why we matter so much today.
Show the first clip: (Knapp)
That was a pastor just last week telling his congregation that same-gender loving people ought to be killed.
Now I don’t know why he is so threatened by anyone’s love or even desire, but I do know that some of the worst atrocities in human history began with that kind of rhetoric left unchallenged.
Never mind the ridiculous, mind-numbing pretense that one cannot object to something if it’s in the bible…Leviticus forbids getting tattoos and the eating of shellfish or pork …anyone with a tattoo, who had bacon or sausage for breakfast this morning, or who has ever enjoyed shrimp cocktail has NOT taken every word of the bible literally for their own lives.
The bible allows and in some places advocates for slavery. Whoever thought slavery was morally acceptable was wrong, and those who used those ancient texts to perpetuate slavery were also wrong.
And anyone who says the bible says marriage can only be defined as one man and one woman has obviously never read the bible, or they would have come across a guy named David who had multiple wives and a male companion named Jonathan, or the story of his son Solomon who had 700 wives and 300 concubines…one man and one woman? Solomon couldn’t limit it to 100 women! And of course there is the story of Jacob and his two wives and the other two women with whom he had children.
I love the bible, but it does not take the place of my thinking for myself and making my own choices. It is nothing less than cowardly to hide behind ancient scriptures to justify the promotion of one’s own hatreds.
To dehumanize and demonize an entire group of people and say that God’s will is for them to be exterminated is to do psychic violence which can easily, and often does, lead to physical violence. And we must resist that.
Snow the next clip: (Worley)
That poor soul hasn’t really thought things through. Concentration camps weren’t a good idea in the 40s and they aren’t a good idea now.
Hitler included in his reign of terror the execution of homosexuals…it did not put an end to homosexuality just as such reprehensible actions did not eliminate all Jewish people, communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Gypsies from the world.
The lock them up and kill them all plan, besides from being monstrous, is also utterly ineffective in the grand scheme.
And Worley seems to think that the LBGT people living today are the first ones. Where does he suppose we came from?
A measurable percentage of every culture in every age has been same-gender loving.
And notice the shaming aspect that he adds to his vitriol, “It makes me puking sick…Can you imagine kissing a man?” It makes me puking sick to think of eating mushrooms, so guess what, I don’t think about it. Problem solved. If your fantasy life is causing you that much distress Reverend, then change your mental channel!
His ignorance would be laughable if it weren’t used in such cruel and vicious ways.
Show the final clip: (Harris)
And they laughed. He calls for child abuse, and the congregation laughed.
That’s what’s going on out there, right now, today.
Now how does that connect to the so called great commission, the text we heard read from Matthew’s gospel? It is a perfect connection in fact.
Let me say right off that this passage today is not about baptism as it has evolved over the centuries; it’s not about what words must be used or how much water or what age the baptized must be. Those silly debates came much later.
Nor is the passage about converting people. The Jewish Jesus wasn’t telling us to persuade people to become Baptists or Catholics or Pentecostals or Wesleyans.
The passage isn’t even about the Trinitarian doctrines that would be hammered out centuries later. This passage is much riskier and much more relevant than any of that.
This text is a first century challenge to a wounded community to find the strength and courage to continue the prophetic ministry of Jesus. What is the ministry of Jesus? The ministry of Jesus is to confront oppression, to offer hope and healing to the oppressed, and to affirm the sacred value and innate dignity of all people.
And so Matthew eloquently and powerfully puts these words into Jesus’ mouth, words that are now commonly known as the Great Commission: Make disciples of all peoples baptizing them in the name of the Creator, the chosen one, and the holy Spirit.
Disciples are students, followers of a teacher who seek to embody the teacher’s wisdom.
Peoples, or nations, isn’t a geographic term here but is a reference to all kinds of people.
So, in modern parlance, go out and help all kinds of people learn of their sacred value.
Matthew is saying that oppression destroys dignity; followers of Jesus try to restore it!
To baptize means to immerse, or to wash. Our progressive, positive, and practical message can help people wash away their sense of shame that has been imposed on them by oppressive systems, from the hateful rhetoric of both politicians and preachers. Wash them clean of their guilt, shame, and fear is the directive of the great commission.
This is an instruction to be God’s love in action, to be God’s hands, to be the embodiment of divine love. This is what Jesus did. So, follow Jesus’ example, by the power of the spirit that motivated him. This is the meaning of doing this work in the name of God, and of God’s anointed prophet, and of the divine energy of this sacred work. Baptize in the name of the creator and the chosen one and of the holy Spirit means be God’s love in action, by the power of the Spirit, as Jesus demonstrated.
The gospel’s final words reinforce what the passage is really about.: Go out, offer hope, wash away the shame that hinders spiritual health, and do this for God’s sake, as Jesus did by the power of God’s spirit, and teach them the commands I gave you; and remember, I am with you always.
And what are the commands Jesus gave? Those are the commands that will bring about healing, empowerment, and liberation: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” (Matthew 7.12) and remember the greatest of all commandments found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, “Love God with all that you are and love your neighbors as yourself – this is the whole meaning of scripture” (Matthew 22.37-40).
In other words, reach out, lift up, and be the light of the world (Matthew 5.14).
The great commission isn’t a mandate to pretend that prejudices are spiritual virtues. The great commission isn’t a call to go gay bashing for Jesus. The great commission is a plea to share light and hope and healing with those who have been beaten down, left out, vilified, dehumanized and demonized.
It is in answer to the great commission that we offer a real alternative to the hate and the venom you heard spewed from the pugnacious preachers of prejudice in the earlier video clips! The shame they are heaping on people we must wash away; over the fear they are instilling we must pour hope and across the wounds they are inflicting we must sprinkle comfort and those they have cast out in to the desert of despair we must welcome in and immerse into the angelically troubled pools of healing grace.
And the compassionate, life affirming, justice seeking, progressive spirituality that uplifts LBGT people will lift up all people, people who have been wounded by other prejudices, people who for any reason believed the lie that they were somehow not good enough.
We are what we are at Sunshine Cathedral because there is a world still in desperate need of what we have to offer.
The world, I say without hyperbole or exaggeration, the WORLD needs us to be bigger, healthier, stronger, and more committed than we have ever been; and so what you will hear from this pulpit and in this liturgy and in our literature over and over and over again is a call to reach out, to lift up, and to be the light of the world; because there are still bullied teens, and abused children, and dying meth addicts, and lonely closet queers in rural areas, and tortured gays in third world countries, and demoralized families in the 30 states that have now codified homophobia in their laws, and people who are still contracting HIV, and women doubly assaulted by homophobia and misogyny…these people, these children of God, in all the world, need us to be a light guiding them home to hope, to wholeness, and to happiness.
The great commission is our calling, and it is just this: Reach out to all kinds of people, helping them heal from their loneliness, shame, and despair, by embodying God’s spirit as Jesus did, letting them know that all people, without exception, have sacred value. By doing this, we are being Christ in the world. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
For the sake of God’s love,
By the power of the Spirit,
I will follow Jesus’ example
of offering hope and healing.
I am blessed to be a blessing.
I am the light of the world.
“Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness to pull another hand into the light.” Norman B. Rice