Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Three Points Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins July 29, 2012 – Sunshine Cathedral The writer of Ephesians reminds us that there is one Source of all. One Source of all that is. There is one spirit, the writer says, and that spirit is the “stuff” from which creation is made, the [...]
Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Three Points
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
July 29, 2012 – Sunshine Cathedral
The writer of Ephesians reminds us that there is one Source of all. One Source of all that is. There is one spirit, the writer says, and that spirit is the “stuff” from which creation is made, the clay, as it were, from which life is sculpted. The one life is expressed in, through, and as every life. The writer says, the one universal source is “above all and through all and in all.”
And we see that thought illustrated in the gospel story. A large crowd had gathered hoping to hear Jesus teach about the community, the family, the kin-dom of God, the anti-Empire where all people are affirmed as the children of God. That was a compelling message. It still is.
The crowd that day wasn’t miles from home at supper time hoping to hear about an after-life country club.
They weren’t there trying to hear that their enemies were not going to be allowed into the afterlife country club.
They weren’t there to hear that they were God’s favorites and everyone else was destined for a divine kick in the keister.
And it’s good that they didn’t want to hear those things because Jesus never said them!
No, they were there to hear that sickness, poverty, oppression, grief, injustice, hardship, or any other disaster or difficulty didn’t define them; that, no matter what was happening to or around them, they remained part of the one Source, the perfect Source that is above and through and in ALL.
If they could “feed” on such a positive and empowering word, then they could face whatever difficulties, whatever changes or chances popped up in life.
Many of the stories in scripture are the product of creative imaginations. And some of the details of this story are probably not factual, but the story itself may have been considered one of the most important of the events attributed to Jesus’ ministry.
You see, this story is rare in that it appears in all four of our gospels.
Jesus’ birth only appears in two!
Only Matthew and Luke, writing decades after Jesus’ death and almost a century after his birth even mention Jesus’ infancy. If not for their two brief stories, it wouldn’t even pop up on the scriptural radar. We make a big deal of it; but it is not a major focus of scripture. Tithing, healing, caring for the poor, even opposition to religious zealotry are mentioned dozens of times each; but Jesus’ birth is barely mentioned, and only twice, and not until long after he’s dead. His ministry, not his nativity, is the focus of the earliest Jesus movements.
But the story of Jesus taking a little bit of food and somehow making it stretch to feed thousands of people…that story appears in every gospel that made it into our canon of scripture.
There are three points to the story that I want to highlight today.
1. We are not ever totally alone.
2. Generosity is generative.
3. Brokenness need never be the end of the story.
First. The image of bread suggests that we are never alone.
In 1 Kings, Elijah is fed by ravens. Ravens just bring him bread to sustain him during a difficult time. Now, how exactly are ravens getting bread? If a raven goes into a supermarket or bakery to buy bread, wouldn’t that seem odd? Raven is probably a mistranslation. The text may mean to say that Bedouins, nomadic travelers, noticed Elijah in need and provided the prophet bread. And this makes sense as it is a well known fact that Bedouins are better bakers of bread than birds are.
But it isn’t really about the ravens; it’s about the bread, about the sign and symbol that in his moment of isolation Elijah wasn’t really alone. There was a comforting presence available to him even during a difficult time.
Wandering in the wilderness, Moses and his people see some flaky stuff on the ground. They call it manna. Manna literally means, “What is it?” They’re hungry; someone notices some flaky stuff on the ground and says, “What the heck is that?” Someone else says, “I don’t know but I’m willing to see if it’s edible.” And it was sweet but wouldn’t keep long, but the good news is that it kept showing up. It was compared to bread, bread that somehow fell from heaven. In reality, it was probably a plant or insect secretion, but whatever it was, the people who found it useful in a moment of need took it to mean that they were not alone in their difficulty.
In the Passover meal, unleavened bread is shared. It reminds us of the time of the Exodus, when people had to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice; so they wouldn’t add yeast to the bread because there might not be time for it to rise. The unleavened bread that could be snatched up and taken on the journey to liberation was a reminder that divine Justice does not want anyone to be oppressed. That sign of divine benevolence is a reminder that we are never alone.
Even in a silly childhood song we were reminded of the connection and the healing that bread represents: Mama’s little baby loves shortenin’ shortenin’, Mama’s little baby loves shortenin’ bread. Mama’s little baby loves shortenin’ shortenin, Mama’s little baby loves shortenin’ bread.
Three little children lyin’ in bed, two were sick and the other ‘most dead. Sent for the doctor the doctor said, ‘Give those children some shortenin’ bread!’
In 2 Kings (4.42-44), someone brings the prophet Elisha some bread and the prophet says, “Give it to the people so they can eat.” The person with a few loaves of bread says, “I didn’t bring enough to feed 100 people!” Elisha says, “Do it.” And he does and afterwards, there was bread left over.
That is the story that Mark is retelling in today’s gospel. Elisha feeds a multitude with limited resources. Jesus feeds a multitude with limited resources.
It’s a retelling of the same story…and the story isn’t look at how magical Elisha and Jesus are that they can make bread stretch ridiculously far. The story is, the spirit of life is always raising people among us to remind us of our sacred value, and as we respond to that message we discover we are never alone and because we are never alone we can do amazing things to help the human family and live, ourselves, with more hope and joy in this world.
Well, that we are never alone is point one, and I promised you three. So, here are the other two:
The Second point is that generosity is generative. If this story happened at all, and I have doubts since it is clearly a re-telling of an older story, but that older story could have inspired action, action which proved to be so effective every gospel writer needed to write about it.
The standard, liberal Protestant interpretation of the miracle is that it was a miracle of sharing. People would not have taken long journeys, on foot, without carrying at least a snack. Figs, dates, wine, water, bread, nuts, smoked meat, something. But it wouldn’t have been enough for others, and really, it might not have even been quite enough for the person who had packed the few goodies for the trip. And yet, when Jesus, who has a few rolls and fish to split between him and his 12 companions starts to share what he has with the crowd, then one by one people let go of their scarcity mentality and start sharing what they have, and when everyone gives what they can, it proves to be more than enough. Generosity is generative.
When we push past our own scarcity thinking, we discover the Source above, through, and in all, is a source of endless abundance. By participating in the flow of divine supply, we experience more of life. We discover that our sharing generates something powerful and positive in our own experience of life. As A Course in Miracles teaches, “Giving and receiving are one in truth.”
And the third point I want to make is that they had baskets of broken pieces left over.
Yes they were healed from their false sense of separation. They learned they were connected to a larger community, to a higher purpose, and to the very source and substance of life. They were not alone.
And yes they discovered that we live in an abundant universe and we can best tap into that abundance by participating in it with our own generosity.
But they also had broken pieces left over which the disciples gathered up.
In my book, Healing Prayers for Depression, I wrote this reflection:
“In the story of Jesus feeding a multitude…he had his disciples gather up the fragments of what was left.
May the Lord of my life/Goddess of my being help me gather up any fragments of myself that I have left somewhere, so that I may reintegrate all parts into a renewed, healthy, and joyful whole.”
If you are feeling, for any reason, broken or fragmented, that does not have to be the end of the story. Those broken pieces can be gathered up, and woven together into the perfect wholeness that is yours by divine right.
Whatever you are facing today, whatever twists and turns lie ahead for you on life’s journey, please always remember these three things:
You are not alone…divine love is with and within you.
You have something to share, and as you share you’ll find gifts in life you never knew were there.
And if you ever feel broken or fragmented, that is not your truth…it may be your experience, but it isn’t who you are. Those fragments can be collected and your innate wholeness can be expressed even still.
We are never really alone
Generosity is generative.
And brokenness is not how your story is meant to end.
And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
May I be blessed to bless others.
I renounce scarcity thinking.
I live in an abundant universe.
I am never alone.
I am whole, perfect, and complete.
Rev. Tania Guzman July 22, 2012 Sunshine Cathedral Give it a rest, Compassion is the Priority We have several things happening in today’s gospel reading. The disciples had just returned from their mission. Earlier in verse seven, Jesus had sent them out on a mission trip to take the good news and healing to different [...]
Rev. Tania Guzman
July 22, 2012
Give it a rest, Compassion is the Priority
We have several things happening in today’s gospel reading. The disciples had just returned from their mission. Earlier in verse seven, Jesus had sent them out on a mission trip to take the good news and healing to different towns. Now they have returned and were anxious to tell Jesus about their experience. But they had come back to some bad news, John the Baptizer had been killed. So their excitement and their success found Jesus at a time of sadness and grief.
Also, the Jesus’ movement had gained so much popularity that he was constantly surrounded by crowds. This particular time Jesus and his disciples are having a hard time even being able to eat because of all the people that were coming to them. So Jesus tells the disciples, “Let’s go to a quit place where we can rest for a while”.
Now, I have noticed that many times when people preach and teach on this story they get fixated on the word “rest”…the need to rest. I agree that we all need time to rest; I believe that a good balance in our lives that includes an adequate amount of rest is the way to go. However, if we read the story carefully we realize that “rest” is really not the priority of this story. I am sure that many pastors today will be using this text to preach on the importance of rest and to take care of ourselves, but the truth is that this story is the furthest thing from the model for keeping healthy boundaries and practicing good self care.
The disciples are exhausted from their trip, Jesus is sad over the death of his cousin, they are hungry. They do go to a secluded place with the intention to rest. But what happens? The crowds somehow found out where they were going and even got there first. Now, it is stories like this that convince me more and more that Jesus disciples were a bunch of guy men. Jesus tells them lets go to a place we can rest, and they all have to get ready, pretty up and pack for the retreat and so by the time they get to the place the crowds are already there even though they were going on foot and Jesus and the disciples were going by boat.
So what happens then? What does Jesus do with the crowds? Does he tell them, “I am sorry this is my time off”? No, immediately, the idea of resting went out the window, because service not rest is the priority of the story. The highlight of the story is Jesus’ compassion and service for others.
Verse 34 says that when Jesus saw the great crowd, he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. The phrase “sheep without a shepherd” comes from Moses prayer the book of Number 27: 16-17 as it says that he prayed saying, “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
The idea of a shepherd was an old traditional teaching of the Hebrew people. All over the Hebrew Scriptures we see references to God as a shepherd with Psalm 23 as probably the most famous one.
The leaders of Israel were also referred to as shepherds. They were supposed to lead the people and care for them. But through their history we have seen that most of them failed in their roles of shepherds. The prophet Ezekiel denounced these kinds of shepherds saying, “You eat the fat … you clothe yourselves with the wool … you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them”.( Ezekiel 34:3-4)
So Mark is using the phrase “sheep without a shepherd” as a critique on the religious leaders who had failed to care for the people. Instead of leading the people and protecting them from the oppression of the Roman Empire they brought even more oppression to the people for their own personal gain. The people were in desperate need of hope, that is why no matter what he did Jesus could not get away from them, they tracked him down. Crowds from followed him from all the towns, and when he saw them he put his own needs aside and began to teach them.
Notice that the story does not say that Jesus goes into the crowds to perform miracles healing people of their physical illnesses. It says that he began to teach them, and it does not tells us exactly what he taught them, but knowing what we know about Jesus and about the gospel of mark we know he was bringing them “the good news”, a message of hope and liberation that they so desperately needed.
Jesus was a good shepherd. Actually the gospel of John has Jesus saying about himself, “I am the good shepherd”. In other words what John has Jesus saying is, I am not like those other shepherds that were just ruling over you; using, abusing and exploiting you. I have come to make changes, to bring the good news to the poor and to bring hope and justice to the oppressed.
In the gospel of John, the writer’s intention for the gospel interpretation is that the readers place themselves in Jesus position. In other words when John has Jesus say of himself, “I am the good shepherd”, you and I also need to say of ourselves, “I am the good shepherd”…because today as Jesus’ followers it is our responsibility to do as he did. Today is our job to be the Good Shepherds. Last week our Senior Pastor reminded us of the oppressive systems that are still at work and the great need to continue our work for justice.
Do not be confused, being the good shepherd is not just for clergy people, it is for all of us; lay people, clergy people, men and WOMEN. Oh yes, of course, you know I am not going to pass up the opportunity to sneak in some feminist thought into this.
There is an issue here, there are some feminist theologians who are not fans of the term the “Good Shepherd” because, they say, it comes to be taken for granted that the maleness of Jesus reveals the maleness of God, or that the only proper way to represent God is in male images.
In a critique to the many paintings and churches dedicated to “The Good Shepherd”, one feminist theologian said that, “Someday, somewhere, some bishop is going to consecrate a church to God the good homemaker.” Well, I am going to have to disagree with my sister on this one, there is no body making me into a homemaker, not even God Herself.
I can see that some women can be put off by the maleness of the word shepherd. But the reality is that Jesus was referring to himself not God when he said “I am the Good Shepherd”. And actually the book of Isaiah speaking of God as a shepherd, uses God’s feminine aspect (40:11). And there also in the Hebrew Scripture we find different accounts of women shepherdess.
So we have the good shepherdess and the good shepherds. I think it is great that we come to church on Sunday morning to be in community, for the teachings and spiritual healing. But that is not all there is about being a Christian, or a followers of Jesus or whatever we call ourselves; there are still the needs of the poor and the marginalized, there are still those who cannot fight for themselves, we are still fighting homophobia, sexism, racism. There are a lot of people hurting like sheep without shepherdess and without shepherd. And so it is up to us to step up to the plate and do what is right.
If there is ever a question in your mind as to what is your role as a Christian or follower of Jesus think of that passage where Jesus asks Peter, do you love me and Peter responds by saying yes, I love you, Jesus says, feed me my sheep. Now Jesus was not just asking him to give them food, he was asking him to be a good shepherd, to care for the people and to love them.
Back to verse 34, when Jesus had compassion for the people because the text says, “they were like sheep without a shepherd”. This verse first had a significant impact in my life several years ago went I went to the Dominican Republic to Plant an MCC church and I met the people who wanted to be a part of the church plant. And when I met them I remember this verse, because they too were vulnerable, hurting, their needs were overwhelming; they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Today, they are a fast growing vibrant church and at the forefront in human rights activism in the Dominican Republic.
In our spiritual journeys we are all evolving from sheep to good shepherdess and good shepherds. Some of us at one point in our lives were like sheep without a shepherdess/shepherd until someone told us that God loves us just as we are. Now we pass on that message of liberation to others. Our senior pastor always says what God does for us God does through us. If we allow ourselves to be moved with compassion as Jesus did, then we will share our message, we will share our light with the world in our efforts that people would not be like sheep without shepherdess and shepherds, and in so doing we too can make changes bringing the good news, hope, and justice to the oppressed.
What a Family! Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins July 15, 2012 Our gospel lesson today shows us that dysfunctional families are nothing new. Before we look at Herod’s deeply troubled family dynamics from the gospel reading, I just want to say a few words about various kinds of families and how healing is needed in them. [...]
What a Family!
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
July 15, 2012
Our gospel lesson today shows us that dysfunctional families are nothing new.
Before we look at Herod’s deeply troubled family dynamics from the gospel reading, I just want to say a few words about various kinds of families and how healing is needed in them.
I celebrate that the Episcopal Church has moved to be more intentionally inclusive of same-gender loving and gender variant people, including now creating a liturgy to bless same-sex unions…but, of course, the Anglican Church will bless the hounds for a fox hunt, so why not a loving relationship.
I celebrate that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church USA are now making more of an attempt to be welcoming of Queer people than at any time in history.
I appreciate that Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism have long made a place for LBGT people, even in the rabbinate.
I applaud the United Church of Christ for being rhetorically, if not always in practice, the most gay friendly of so-called mainline denominations.
And I honor and respect the Unitarian Universalists not only for their fearlessness in working for social justice and celebrating religious pluralism, but also for how welcoming they have been for decades now of LBGT people, going so far as to bless their relationships and ordain them long before most other denominations even had such discussions.
And in light of so many places where same-gender loving people and their heterosexual allies can be affirmed, people will sometimes ask, “Is a ministry like Sunshine Cathedral’s, or for that matter, the Metropolitan Community Church movement, still necessary?”
And the very question hurts me. The words vibrate with the toxicity of homophobia. The implication is, “Aren’t there now enough ‘real’ churches where we can be accepted that we no longer need a special place where we can be celebrated as being unique contributors to the human family?”
The question is also filled with the pain of rejection…our families…our families of origin, and our church families told us so long ago that we weren’t good enough. Isn’t there now a possibility that we can go back and hear the words, “welcome home”? is the question behind the question asking if we are still needed.
How I wish we could love the church that welcomed us as much as we miss the churches that didn’t, even if some of them might all these years later. I hope the day will soon come when we think of our church as OUR church, a new thing God is doing in the world, and not simply as a refugee camp giving us shelter. I hope we will come to think of our church as the promised land, and not as an aid station keeping us going until we can go back to Egypt. Those who stay and work for change in other churches are to be applauded, but let us never value their work more than our own. Let’s dare to appreciate what we have accomplished and let us move forward together.
I’m glad our sisters and brothers in other denominations are struggling to recognize the sacred value of all people and the potential holiness of all loving, consensual, adult relationships. I’m glad they are making progress. I’m glad some of them are beginning to attempt what MCC has done courageously since October 6, 1968, 9 months before the Stonewall Riots even.
But I also know that 40% of all homeless youth are LBGT and most of those LBGT homeless youth are homeless because of family rejection, and most families who reject their LBGT children do so in the name of religion.
4 out of every 10 homeless youth have been tossed out of their families and those families often claim that their rejection of their own children is nothing less than righteous!
To reject our children in the name of God is to use God’s name in vain; in fact, to use God as an excuse to value our prejudices more than our fellow human-beings is a sacrilege.
4 out of every 10 young people on the street are gay. I’m guessing we still have work to do, that we still have purpose, that we are desperately needed today and will be needed for years to come.
And then there is the matter of gay families of choice. We choose our life-mates, our friends become our lifelong companions, we bond with people in ways that can only be called creating families.
There are the children we raise, and the Olympian efforts we make to have children sometimes. There are the young adults we mentor and who we sometimes love as if they were our very own children.
There are our battles for marriage equality which is vehemently resisted and vilified from the pulpits of pugnacious preachers all over this country, and that doesn’t even take into account powerful institutional opposition to LBGT equality that comes full-force and with abundant funding from Vatican City to Salt Lake City.
We are assaulted with the ridiculous argument that our coupling, our forming families, our sharing love and celebrating our lives openly somehow threatens family, and yet, there is no proposed legislation to deny opposite gender marriage, and to my knowledge there is not an organization on the planet working to force heterosexuals to enter into same-sex marriages. The only families under attack are OURS.
There is so much work to do. Thank God we have allies in the UCC, the UUA, the Episcopal Church, and others, and we have individual allies working in virtually every religious body, but there are also organized movements to continue to demonize and dehumanize LBGT people and that hurts Queer people and the heterosexual people who love them! As long as that is true we dare not give up our calling, our mission, our prophetic voice challenging injustice in our society and in our world. I, for one, am not ready to sweep our history and our mission under the rug just yet.
And we’ve been wounded. God knows. We sat in churches where preachers called us terrible names and told us we were beneath contempt just for daring to exist. We’ve lost friends, been booted out of our homes, been denied certain jobs, watched a generation wiped out by AIDS and somehow survived the grief, and still, our very existence is a political topic, a subject for debate.
We aren’t always seen as people, but as an issue to be discussed on cable news and to be voted on as if our dignity needed majority consent.
Of course we bear scars and our pain sometimes resurfaces.
And what do we do then? We complain. We gossip. We accuse one another. We take out our unhappiness on the only people who have tried to make a place for us. It’s called oppression sickness and horizontal violence. We try to recreate the dysfunctional family dynamics that wounded us to begin with. The Axiom remains true…hurting people, hurt people.
Even in this amazing place filled with amazing people, we have had struggles. We’ve had to name racism and xenophia that exists within and among us. We have had to confess misogyny and try to make amends for it. We have to deal with and try to heal internalized homophobia and even AIDSphobia. But not everyone applauds our efforts.
Giving has increased for three years in a row at Sunshine Cathedral and because of your faithfulness and commitment to this ministry we have had a record summer, and yet people will still try to attack us by saying too many people withhold money from us because they don’t like this message, as if we should give up our principles because they say that.
But there isn’t a check large enough that would make us stray from our prophetic message. And, if the metrics can be believed, this congregation is not only as faithful and generous as it’s ever been, but it is becoming more so all the time.
And I honestly believe, as long as we are committed to offering life-changing, world challenging ministry, we will always find ways to fund it and our efforts will be blessed. I believe that you believe in this ministry and you will support it because you have found that in tangible ways it has supported you.
We’ve survived dysfunctional families, irrelevant religion, and polarizing politics and so we are committed at Sunshine Cathedral to affirming the sacred value of all people, holding one another accountable for our actions, and building a community that is healing and that then can offer healing beyond these walls.
Sadly, Herod wasn’t as committed to building a healthy family that would be a source of inspiration, strength, comfort, challenge, and support. And as a result, a good person was wounded, fatally so in the story.
When I first started working on this message, I wanted to talk about other bible stories that I believe are reflected by the gospel text, specifically the stories of Esther and Judith. But more and more I found myself being drawn to something a little closer to home…the creation of healthy, chosen families and spiritual communities, because unhealthy families and churches have left us so wounded we MUST create healthy families and churches to bring about healing and to offer it to others.
Herodias had a grudge against John, and wouldn’t rest until she was able to destroy him, or at least try. Her daughter, sometimes un-named, sometimes also called Herodias, and sometimes called Salome, is willing to be part of the scheme to harm someone else. And Herod can no more stand up to his family than he can stand up to the Roman Empire. He is a sell-out, without conviction, without integrity, without courage, without principles to guide him when difficult choices must be made. And in that messed up family of schemers, revenge seekers, and sell-outs…what happens?…John is wounded, mortally wounded.
We know what it is like to be wounded by families, and we know how important it is to create healthier environments so that we can embrace the infinite possibilities the future holds for us.
Yes, my friends, the ministry of Sunshine Cathedral is needed today. And to make the difference in the world that we as a worshipping community can make, this church needs your support, your prayers, your positive speech, your generosity, your attendance, your hope, your joy. Thank God for other positive ministries…there is enough work to do…we can all thrive and prosper and we all need to in order to defeat the demonic hatreds of our day, including racism, sexism, and homophobia. The ministry of Sunshine Cathedral is needed. You are needed. And together we will continue building a church family that can be a blessing to the entire human family. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
I am part of a divine family.
I am a child of God.
I’ll never believe that I am less than I AM.
And so it is!
“From the cowardice that dare not face new truth, from the laziness that is contented with half truth, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, Good Lord, deliver us.” Kenyan Prayer
Talk About Healing Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins July 8, 2012 Sunshine Cathedral (Mark 6.1-7, 13) The gospel reading today includes some hints about medicine and healing. Anointing with oil was as medicinal as it was ritualistic in ancient cultures. Oil would soothe wounds, relieve itchy or dry skin, be mixed with various herbs to treat [...]
Talk About Healing
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
July 8, 2012 Sunshine Cathedral (Mark 6.1-7, 13)
The gospel reading today includes some hints about medicine and healing. Anointing with oil was as medicinal as it was ritualistic in ancient cultures. Oil would soothe wounds, relieve itchy or dry skin, be mixed with various herbs to treat specific conditions, and could be used with prayer to help a patient imagine divine energy at work in the ailing body. And the reading concluded this morning with the words, “They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
Many diseases, including and especially mental illnesses or anything that seemed mysterious or overwhelming were attributed to malevolent forces, severe troubles were thought to be caused by malicious spirits or evil curses. So, just as oil, water, and wine were among common therapies for ailments, so was the practice of confronting the imagined demons that were thought to be behind various maladies.
They didn’t know about germs, bacteria, viruses, genetics, brain damage…they just knew that when one is suffering human compassion demands that we do something to relieve the pain and encourage the one who is struggling. Their treatments, including imagined hand to hand combat with invisible foes may seem naïve to us in our day of pharmaceuticals and advanced surgical procedures that even include organ transplants, but as primitive as their methods were, their motivation was the same that inspires doctors and nurses and therapists today…and that is to relieve suffering and offer hope.
Healing, it seems, is the least of the possibilities available to us. That isn’t to say it isn’t important, but healing can happen in lots of ways. In scripture we see various spiritual gifts, such as the gift of wisdom or the gift of helping or the gift of being generous or the gift of teaching, but when it comes to healing there are gifts of healing. Healing is the one spiritual gift that is mentioned in the plural. Wholeness is so natural, is so much how life ought to be expressed and experienced, there are many ways to help us restore balance and embrace our innate wholeness.
Of course we have psychotherapists, physical therapists, massage therapists, nurses, nurse practitioners, chiropractors, pharmacists, medical researchers, medical doctors, osteopathic physicians, physician assistants, laboratory technicians, paramedics, personal trainers, nutritionists, and so many other kinds of healers in our world.
We can add to that list Reiki Masters, Christian Science Practitioners, faith healers, homeopaths, naturopaths, acupuncturists, herbalists, and more. Even placebos seem to have beneficial effects sometimes. And there are the occasions that nothing other than hope, rest, and time seemed to conspire together for our recovery.
And still there are those inexplicable times that spontaneous remission occurred, the times that laughter itself seemed to activate a cure, the times when the person stopped judging the condition to be a problem and started to see it as a blessing, and the times that life and relationships improved so dramatically even while illnesses took their physical toll. Not only are their countless ways to manage and seek cures for illnesses, there is also the experience of healing that isn’t limited to cure.
If there is a divine plan, healing must rank very high as part of that plan; why else would it be possible to experience it even without a cure, and why would so many paths lead to healing possibilities if the joyous experience of life were not a priority in divine Mind.
No wonder that even when Jesus couldn’t do anything else, he was able to help people experience healing. Now, those healed came to him or his disciples, asked for help, participated in the treatment of anointing, and so on. Even when offering the ministry of healing, what Jesus was really doing was seeing the wholeness that is true of every person and helping those seeking healing embrace the truth of their wholeness, their innate perfection.
His ministry of healing was to help people accept the wholeness that was always their divine right. Their healing required their cooperation, their participation, their own willingness. Even the Apostle Paul reminded us to work out our own salvation, that is, our own wholeness, with fear and trembling (Philippians 2.12). Why fear and trembling? Because it takes courage to take responsibility for our own lives, for our own joy, for our own destiny.
Destiny isn’t something we are given; it is what we create with the choices we make and with the attitudes we develop and maintain. As Shakespeare said, “the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Stated more positively, the magic we seek lies not in a realm beyond where we live, but at the core of our very own lives.
So, healing is possible, even if cure evades us. And, comfort, relief, remission, renewal, even all out cures can be facilitated in many different ways. And that’s exciting, but there is also a word of challenge in our text today.
You know the old saw about the woman who was kind of a religious zealot, and she lived next to someone who was not at all religious. She was out of money and out of food and so from her front porch she cried out to God, “give me the food I need.” Well, the neighbor hated to see her in such a desperate situation so he went out and bought her some groceries. He gives her the bags of food and the woman shouts out, “Thank you God for this amazing bounty!” And the neighbor, a little insulted, said, “Lady, God didn’t give you those groceries; I did!” And so she continued to pray, “Oh Hallelujah! Not only did you give me food, God, but you made the devil pay for it!”
Was it human compassion or the God in her neighbor connecting with the God in her that brought forth the abundance, or is there even a difference? In the end, God didn’t drop food out of the sky, but through the generosity of a kind heart the spirit of love met a neighbor’s needs. What God does for us, God does through us. Our time, talent, and treasure, those are the conduits through which divine power touches and changes the world.
Jesus was a nobody, a country boy from the backwater. He was the son of Mary, no father mentioned. He is a poor person, of questionable paternity, who works with his hands. Who is he to be saying all these wise things to us? Who is he fooling? He’s talking about the kingdom of heaven being within us, and God’s realm being in our hands. He’s telling us to touch the untouchable and love the unlovable and forgive those who have intentionally wronged us, to stand up to the oppressors without doing violence, and to welcome people we’ve been taught to hate. Who is he to talk to us like that? Who is he to tell us to be the love of God in action, to be the hands of God in the world?
If we believe God wants marriage equality, peace in the world, education for every person willing to study, affordable health care for every person at every stage of life, and every person to live a life of dignity, hope, joy, and purpose, then how do we suppose God will bring that about?
Jesus said, “The harvest is ready but the laborers are few.” God may own the vineyard, the world, but God needs helpers to do the work. The creation myth says God created the garden, but then needed a gardener to tend it. God still needs gardeners, and as we answer the call to be God’s activity in the world, God through us will be able to accomplish so much more. The divine heart aches to do it, but God can’t do it for us, only through us, and that requires our willing participation.
I think that’s what Salvation Army founder William Booth meant when he said, “While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight. While children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight. While [people] go to prison, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight. While there is an [addict] left [or someone] lost upon the streets…I’ll fight. I’ll fight to the very end.”
There’s hope for our lives and hope for the world, and the more we share our lives the more powerful we’ll find our hope to be. We can choose optimism over pessimism, hope over horror, joy over jealousy, and peace over pugnacity.
He could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. Healing in our lives is always possible; and when we come together, pray together, play together, work together, then healing for our world is also possible. We get it to give it and as we give it we get it.
If there is an area of your life that needs healing, healing is possible. And, if we will work together to be a healing presence in the world, so much more is possible. Some will say, “who are they to try to make a positive difference in the community and even in the world?” We are the ones answering Jesus’ prophetic call, following his daring example, and choosing to believe that our hands are God’s hands, and the whole world is in God’s, that is, in our hands. And this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
I embrace healing power in my life now.
I receive it.
I share it.
Healing is taking place today!
And so it is.
“May the stars carry your sadness away,
May the flowers fill your heart with beauty,
May hope forever wipe away your tears,
And, above all, may silence make you strong.” Chief Dan George
Never Too Late
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
July 1, 2012 – Sunshine Cathedral
I met a man in seminary who was 67 years old in his final year of the program. He had always wanted to be a pastor, but he wound up in another career and just never found his way out of it. So, when he retired at 64 years old he enrolled in seminary, finally.
At 67 he was graduating and about to be ordained and had already been offered a parish – a small parish that could never afford a fulltime pastor. Because of his retirement income, he could afford to take the part-time salary, but he also could give them his full energy. He was able to finally follow his dream, and do it in a way that could help a church that could never afford to pay him for the time he had to share with them. It was a beautiful win-win situation.
What if he had given up on his dream at 30, or 40, or 50, or 60, or God-forbid, 63?! At 64 he began training for a career that was his life-long wish, a wish that was filled at age 67.
Kathryn Joosten was a nurse who at the age of 42 started acting in community theatre.
Ten years later at 52 she went pro as a street performer at Disney in Orlando.
At 55 she moved to California and started acting in guest roles on television programs and at 59 landed a role on a major series, The West Wing and was later in the cast of Desperate Housewives.
What if she hadn’t auditioned for that first play when she was 42? How different her life would have been.
In 1987, comedy legend Joan Rivers was fired from her own talk show on the then new Fox Television Network, and her husband was fired as the show’s producer. Three months later, her husband committed suicide. From this time of tragedy, Joan rebuilt her career and now at age 79 is still going strong.
Ronald Reagan ran for president three times before he won his party’s nomination and then the white house. When he finally became president, he was 69 and at 73 was re-elected.
At age 44, activist and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa and he remained in prison for 27 years. Four years after his release, at the age of 75, he became the first democratically elected president of South African, which under his leadership was also the first country to include equality for same-gender loving people in a national constitution!
His body was incarcerated for almost 3 decades but by some miracle his spirit never was, and at 75 he started to lead the nation that for most of his life told him he was at best a second class citizen.
Grandma Moses started painting in her late 70s (and lived to be 100).
Trailblazing comic Phyllis Diller didn’t retire until she was 90, and today at 94 she still paints and gardens.
George Burns who worked in vaudeville, radio, television, and film never retired; he worked until his death at age 100!
Joaquin Arciago Guzman became a U.S. citizen at the age of 102. In 1928 at the age of 18 he left his home country, the Philippines, to come to California to harvest lettuce and cabbage for 40 cents an hour.
84 years later, just last week, he took the U.S. Oath of Allegiance. After giving the bulk of his life to this country, working here, living here, being part of this economy, he finally gets to claim citizenship in the country of his choice.
As long as we are alive, we have purpose; faithfully seeking that purpose can lead to amazing experiences, as these stories of these indefatigable figures have demonstrated. We have don’t have to agree with their politics or subscribe to their religion or share their philosophies or enjoy their art, but whether we do or not we can and should admire the tenacity which let them to say to themselves over and over again, “I can do something more, maybe something new, but I’m not done yet.”
Chapters may be concluded, but the epilogue hasn’t been written yet. I can’t go back, but there is something new and worthwhile still to do.
There may be nothing stronger than the human spirit willing to try one more time.
That’s what we see in the gospel lesson today.
The well-known woman with the issue of blood; well, maybe not so well known, I mean, what’s her name? The male storytellers didn’t think that bit of information was necessary, or perhaps later male editors redacted the information. In any case, the woman in our story today is un-named, unknown, almost invisible.
That’s the thing about oppression; it tries to erase our humanity. It tries to persuade the world that we don’t exist, or that we shouldn’t, or that we barely matter. To be named, better, to claim one’s own name, is an empowering, life-giving, act of justice and healing.
To say, I am woman or man, regardless of the genitalia I came here with; or I am Queer, even though decades ago people tried to use that word to shame or control me, once I claim it for myself, shame and fear disappear and I roar with courage I once didn’t know I could even have.
To say I am positive, I am in recovery, I am lesbian, I am a heterosexual who loves my gay son, my gay ex-husband, my bisexual daughter, my lesbian sister, my gay best friend…to name ourselves in the human family and to take our place at the table of human dignity is powerful, and it is a power that systems of oppression would try to deny us.
Let us never be the unnamed, the unknown, the almost invisible.
Well, this noble child of God in the gospel story deserves a name, so let’s call her Batia, the Hebrew word meaning “daughter of God.” Jesus calls her “daughter,” maybe that really was her name. Maybe only Jesus bothered to learn and use her name. For today, we’ll know her as Batia.
I won’t guess what Batia’s medical condition is, though it is clearly of a gynecological nature. I won’t take the time to elaborate on how ancient scriptures find blood to be particularly distasteful. Even the eating of rare meat was forbidden. So, this woman whose bleeding is chronic makes her a social pariah.
I won’t bother to explore in depth the misogyny, whether latent or overt, of later male Christian theologians who would continue to tell this story as if a woman’s blood rendered her unclean but who would then insist that Jesus’ blood, that is, a man’s blood, was somehow redemptive.
That assault on feminine dignity should not go unchallenged, but we’ll have to do more with that at a later date.
What I will point out is that our courageous friend Batia suffered from her condition for a dozen years but she never let it have the last word. She spent her last dime on medical treatments, and no one should ever have to spend their last dime just to stay alive, but she did everything she could.
When one medical practitioner failed to help she saw another and another, year after year after year.
Bleeding could leave her anemic, could leave her penniless and almost friendless but it could not rob her of her self-respect unless she allowed it to. And she wouldn’t, not our Batia. She was, after all, a daughter of God.
I’m sure there were days that she was discouraged, but she wouldn’t let herself stay in that place of despair; she affirmed one more time that possibilities existed and she tried one more time to experience something better.
Out of money she hears about a new prophet who seems to be able to help people reclaim their lives. He wouldn’t want to see her, she reasons; she can’t pay him after all. But maybe she can slip up behind him and touch his garments.
In antiquity it was believed that people who possessed magical powers would infuse the garments and objects in their lives with some of their power…sort of like metaphysical sweat stains. Influenced by folk traditions of her time, Batia imagines, if I can just touch the robe, maybe enough of his special essence will flow into me and cure me.
I don’t believe Jesus’ clothes were radioactive with special magic or metaphysical sweat stains.
I don’t even know if Jesus really noticed in a huge crowd that one person in particular had touched him.
What I do know is that, according to the storyteller’s imagination, this woman didn’t let discouraging diagnoses and prognoses and financial hardships and social prejudices keep her from trying one more thing one more time.
She believed she was worth the effort; even if it never paid off she was still worth the attempt! The real healing is to refuse to believe that we are no more than our circumstances. I want this condition to improve, but until it does I will not be defined by it.
And that attitude is what led to her healing breakthrough. Jesus didn’t say, “I heal you.” He didn’t even say, “God is healing you.” He said, “your faith, your belief in your own sacred value, your trust in the goodness of your life, your refusal to allow circumstances to define you has made you well! Be healed.”
Not I heal you, just go and be healed, just be all that you already are, just be.
What we think habitually we experience eventually.
This woman, fictional or not, spent 12 years (12 seems to mean something in sacred literature: 12 apostles, 12 tribes, 12 elders, Jesus amazes the priests when he is 12 years old, 12 months in a year, 12 Olympian deities, 12 may represent strength or wisdom or hope or wholeness, it certainly pops up a lot)…she spent 12 years saying to herself, “Maybe today I find what I’m looking for,” and then she kept looking.
And even though it took longer than she would have wanted, because she believed in possibilities and never stopped seeking the opportunities, the day finally came when her consistent thinking and searching and trying paid off. And her attitude (trust/faith) led to her healing. It took 12 years, but even after 12 years it wasn’t too late. Maybe, it’s almost never too late, as long as we keep trying and keep believing we’re worth the effort. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
I believe in myself.
I believe in my innate goodness.
I believe in my sacred value.
I deserve to be happy and whole.
And I choose to be.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” Helen Keller.