Facing the Storms, Finding the Rainbows

On August 28, 2012, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Facing the Storms, Finding the Rainbows Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Aug. 26, 2012 Sunshine Cathedral In the 70s when I was growing up there were a lot of television programs, especially on Saturday mornings, that featured magic and hope and super-human abilities. Sometimes odds were stacked against someone but that person would summon strength from […]

Facing the Storms, Finding the Rainbows
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Aug. 26, 2012
Sunshine Cathedral

In the 70s when I was growing up there were a lot of television programs, especially on Saturday mornings, that featured magic and hope and super-human abilities. Sometimes odds were stacked against someone but that person would summon strength from deep within and find amazing powers or wisdom or courage to face whatever was happening in their lives.

You saw Electric Woman and Dyna Girl, sort of the girl version of Batman and Robin. Just regular folk who somehow decided to combine science and technology with dedication and purpose to make a positive difference in the world. Sometimes all a miracle needs is a clear intention, an energized decision.

But there were also Laverne and Shirley, working class women in the Midwest with some modest dreams and ambitions, and even when those dreams were delayed, they somehow appreciated having each other and would find the wherewithal to not give up on their hopes for the future.

Sometimes, the key to getting through difficulty is appreciating what is good even when other things are not so good, and of course, there is absolute magic that is unleashed when we summon the power of hope.

When Laverne would get discouraged, Shirley would often sing her that old Frank Sinatra song:

Just what makes that little old ant, think he can move a rubber tree plant; everyone knows an ant-can’t-move a rubber tree plant but he has HIGH HOPES. He has high hopes; he’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes. So anytime you’re feeling low instead of letting go just remember that ant. Whoops! There goes another rubber tree plant.

There was the Six Million Dollar Man and later the Bionic Woman…they each had terrible accidents that could have left them completely debilitated but instead, with help from advanced technology, they wound up stronger and faster than anyone could possibly imagine.

We have the power to emerge from difficulties better than before the difficulties even occurred!

There was a Saturday morning Kraft show about a junked car that some kids find and they add a horn to it, but the horn turns out to be magical and the ragged out hoopty is miraculously transformed into Wonder Bug, a sentient crime fighting superhero car.

When you hear the horn help is on the way; clap your hands and shout Hooray for Wonder Bug the wonderful Wonder Bug.

It’s not how you start out; it’s how you choose to move forward that really counts.

Another of my favorites was The Secrets of Isis…originally it was just “Isis” but in syndication it became The Secrets of Isis. That I remember that is probably treatable.

The show was about a High School science teacher, Andrea Thomas, who once was on an archeological dig in Egypt, because her school had a much better funded science program than Hillbilly High from which I hold a diploma.

But nevertheless, this high school teacher had the time, the financial resources, the interest, and the skill to do an archeological dig (See? Nothing’s impossible!) and she actually found something…a magic amulet.

The amulet had been blessed by a priest of Isis for ancient rulers of Egypt so that anyone who wore the amulet would have unbelievable magical powers.

Well, three millennia later, Andrea finds it, somehow without any instructions figures out what the amulet can do, and she starts wearing it all the time. And when anyone is in need, she just whips out the amulet, invokes the power of Isis, and she herself them embodies the goddess and immediately starts to do good things to help people.

When we share our abilities and resources to help others, we somehow feel even better about lives. The more we give to life, the more of life we seem to enjoy. We are most divine when we allow ourselves to be most fully human; that is what Jesus showed us with his life.

Do you see the running theme in all of these shows? Wherever you are, whoever you are, amazing possibilities exist for you. Even in difficult times, we are not powerless, we need not be hopeless, and within us there is Something that can be expressed and when it is expressed, our experience of life begins to change in miraculous ways.

Well, Tropical Storm Isaac is upon us and we all know to stock up on food and water, to make sure our prescriptions are filled, to have batteries and candles on hand, to keep the cell phones charged up, etc. But the presence of the storm also reminds us of how to navigate the stormy times in our lives.

We’ve all had stormy times.

One of my spiritual mentors found herself in midlife facing an expected storm. As cliché as it sounds, her husband left her for his secretary. The children were all adults and had moved away from home, and now her husband was moving out too. Earlier in life she had been a kindergarten teacher, but for most of her marriage she had been a homemaker. Now, single, unemployed, not yet old enough to retire but well into midlife, she had to do something.

So, she went to graduate school. Specifically, theology school. She spent three years completing her ministerial training and then toured for a while in a singing group. Why not? Then at 60, she founded her own church. And a quarter of century later, she is still the pastor of that church.

She never spoke of her ex-husband with bitterness. She never uttered a word of disrespect toward his new wife. Not publicly anyway and certainly not after she had come to terms with everything. She just faced what was at hand, decided that a difficult moment didn’t have to be the end of her story, and she made up her mind to move forward with hope and joy. She probably had to do some forgiving, but she was willing to do what needed to be done to experience the best of life, the abundant life that she knew she deserved. And from 55 to 85 she’s had the kind of life that most people would want from 35 to 65. And she’s not done yet.

She didn’t find a magic horn or a mystical amulet, but she did have high hopes and a belief that things could get better and faith that no disappointment could define her. She faced the storm. Moved through the storm. Survived the storm. And found the beautiful rainbow on the other side.

The prophet Ezekiel wrote, “Like the appearance of the rainbow on a rainy day, such was the likeness of the glory of God.” Even prophets experience stormy times. Jesus said the rain falls on the just and the unjust. But in the midst of the storm is a presence, a powerful energy, a power that is for us and if it is for us what could possibly be against us?

When the storm is over we’ll see light reflected in water droplets creating a prism effect. We call that a rainbow. The condition by which we experience the rainbow is getting through the storm, the rain. The storm isn’t a punishment but the rainbow is a promise, a promise that there is more to our story than the passing storm!

The storms may happen, but they don’t get the last word. Beyond the storm, there is a rainbow, an image of the comforting presence, the experience of wholeness, the unity of all life that we call “God.” The rainbow is the expression of light and peace and beauty…it represents that within us that the storms of life cannot take away.

If you have been bullied or abused or vilified or rejected,
If you have been terrorized with the lie that you are somehow unlovable,
If you have been told that your loving, mutual, respectful, nurturing relationship is a sin instead of a blessing all because you have or lack a Y chromosome or do not have a piece of paper saying that strangers said it was OK for you to live together as a family,
If you have received a diagnosis that is frightening,
If you have struggled with sobriety and have not yet experienced much success,
If you have battled with weight and are feeling battle weary,
If you have suffered a betrayal,
If you are grieving a loss,
If you have not yet had your sacred value affirmed,

You know what is like to face a storm.

But the storm won’t last forever, and on the other side is a beautiful rainbow just waiting to remind you that you were stronger than you knew, that the storm couldn’t last but you did, and that there is more hope, more joy, more light, more brilliance, more blessings still to come!

Let these words be for you, as the gospel writer says today, spirit and life!
Don’t give up when the storms strike.
Face the storm and find the rainbow.
You can. And I affirm that you will; WE will! And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2012

The storms of life will pass…
But I will last.
The storms may seem strong…
But I am stronger.
Storms may happen…
But the rainbow is mine!


We Have the Power!

On August 20, 2012, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

We Have the Power! Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sunshine Cathedral, Aug. 19, 2012 Those are some of the giants in the field of practical spirituality and with their lives they each demonstrated the possibility of propelling our lives in the direction of our choosing. Norman Vincent Peale pastored the Marble Collegiate Church in NYC for […]

We Have the Power!
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral, Aug. 19, 2012

Those are some of the giants in the field of practical spirituality and with their lives they each demonstrated the possibility of propelling our lives in the direction of our choosing.

Norman Vincent Peale pastored the Marble Collegiate Church in NYC for 52 years. During that time the church grew from 600 members to 5000 members, and he started Guideposts magazine, wrote several books including the very famous Power of Positive Thinking, and was one of the first ministers to employ psychologists on a church staff to offer professional therapeutic counseling. He took the mind/body/spirit connection very seriously. Dr. Peale lived to be 95 years old and was active for 94 of those years.

Rev. Ike was a very interesting personality, known as a prosperity preacher, but in reality he was a metaphysical teacher who was trying to empower people to believe in themselves and experience the best in life. He built a large congregation in the Washington Heights area of New York City, for a time had a very successful television and radio ministry, and could draw large crowds, as you saw, in such huge venues as Madison Square Garden.

Louise Hay is 85 years old and still active. She hosts an annual conference and makes teaching films. But her story includes surviving child abuse, an unplanned pregnancy, failed relationships, and even cancer. In her 40s she became a Religious Science practitioner and went on to create the Hayride which was an empowerment and support group for people living with HIV. The group became enormous and eventually was even bi-coastal. When there were no treatments for HIV, there was Louise Hay offering hope and love to people who had experienced way too little of either. She became a bestselling author and even started her own publishing house. She has very effectively demonstrated the power of a raised consciousness.

Napoleon Hill was a student and teacher of success principles. One of his books was for about half of the 20th century one of the bestselling books of all times and he even was an advisor to two presidents: Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

And that last clip was of the beloved Rev. Dr. Johnnie Colemon. Johnnie Colemon was told as a young woman that she was terminally ill. But she discovered a daily devotional guide full of positive teachings and affirmations, rather like our own Spirit & Truth, and it changed her life. Her illness went into remission, she became a New Thought minister, started her own school, seminary, and even her own denomination, the Universal Foundation for Better Living, the denomination in which Della Reece is a minister. Under Dr. Colemon’s leadership, the church she founded in Chicago grew to become a megachurch.

What did these accomplished leaders share in common? How is it that Louise and Johnnie overcame life-threatening illnesses, Napoleon Hill advised presidents, Louise Hay overcame childhood heartache to thrive in midlife and beyond, Rev. Ike became very wealthy, Hill, Hay, and Peale became bestselling authors, Colemon, Peale, and Ike grew positive and internationally known churches? Were they just lucky, or did they understand and employ life-principles that served them and helped them to help others as well?

The principles are referred to in our readings today. Proverbs personifies Wisdom. In the Jewish tradition wisdom would be the Torah, the teachings of the sacred texts. That living word is personified as Lady Wisdom in Proverbs and divine Wisdom invites us in the reading to her rich banquet. It’s an open table that excludes no one. We are invited to answer Wisdom’s call and be blessed by our pursuit of, and association with Her. And Wisdom isn’t an intellectual knowing, but a spiritual understanding of how to live the life we are meant to have.

The writer of Ephesians tells us that wisdom comes from joy and gratitude, which are qualities innate to us just waiting to be expressed. As we allow ourselves to experience joy and find reasons to express gratitude, we touch the power of wisdom in our own lives. It’s a matter of consciousness, as Johnnie Colemon says. Consciousness is what we are aware of…joy and gratitude focuses our attention, our awareness, our consciousness on what is good and what we focus on we tend to experience. If we focus on what makes us miserable, we get to be continually miserable and if we focus on what gives us hope and makes us come alive with joy, then we get to love the lives we live.

Joy and gratitude is the result of choosing where we place our thoughts, our moment to moment focus. That’s how we answer Wisdom’s call and participate in her opulent feast.

In the gospel of Mary Magdalene we are told that there is a divine spark within all of us. To find it, we learn to look inwardly rather than from external sources only. Scriptures, sacraments, songs and rituals may point to the Sacred, but where they are pointing is within our own being.

And in the gospel of John, for weeks now, Wisdom is represented as bread. The bread of divine wisdom (experienced as a result of interior searching) isn’t like manna that barely sustained people wandering in the wilderness; this internal sustenance is everlasting and without limit.

The true bread, the divine spark within us, the True Self, the Inward Light, “that of God in every person”, the Atman, the Buddha Nature, the Christ within…is that which is made in the divine image, that’s the truth of our lives. Nona Brooks taught that we are in God, of God, and like God and if that is true then by right of consciousness we are entitled to every blessing that Life has to offer.

The Buddha said, “What you think you will become.”
Proverbs 23.7 declares, “As we think in our hearts, so we are.”

There are those who want us to be afraid, who want us to not believe in our own sacred value, who want us to live with shame and regret and a sense of smallness. They are of course projecting their own sense of inferiority, hoping to find someone smaller than they feel themselves to be in order to feel a little better about themselves.

But our playing small won’t help them or us, and so instead we are going to believe in our sacred value, we are going to believe in our enormous potential, we are going to believe that we deserve the best, that we are made in the divine image, that we are a blessing to the human family and as we dare to believe in ourselves and experience healing we will not be healed alone but others will be raised up with us, perhaps even some of those who wanted to keep us down.

And so, let’s commit today to changing our attitudes so that we actually expect the best and believe that we deserve the best.

Let’s change our mind-set from believing the deck is stacked against us to believing what the psalmist wrote,
“God withholds no good thing from those who live with integrity!”

The hand we’ve been dealt may seem random and not that great, but how we play the hand and how much we enjoy the game is entirely up to us!

We release the past to the past, and knowing the future is filled with infinite possibilities, we choose to focus on the possibilities that we most deserve and desire because what we focus most on, we will attract, create, or drift toward.

We change our thought patterns with affirmations and by giving thanks for every blessing no matter how small, and even for blessings we haven’t experienced yet but we know they exist in the field of all possibilities. What our minds can conceive and believe, we can achieve.

The bread that never runs out, the living bread of heaven, the bread on the open table at Wisdom’s feast is that of God already in you, expressing through and as you. So let’s use our words, our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions to direct that infinite source of goodness within us to make life more joyous and more abundant.

We pray every week, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Are you ready for a bit more heaven right here on earth? Then let’s not just sing about it; let’s demand it, expect it, give thanks for it, and allow it. As Rev. Colemon has spent decades teaching, “I am the thinker that thinks the thought that creates the thing.” Let’s take charge of our thinking and create the best for ourselves, our church, our community, and our world. We have the power and we can NOW put it to good use. And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins, 2012

God in me now expresses as indomitable hope.
God in me now expresses as perfect peace.
God in me now expresses as abundant joy.
Divine Life is my life and all is well.
I am very thankful!
And so it is.

Final Word
“Just for today, be willing to let life be easier than normal. Allow it to be so easy that it surprises you and delights you.” Dr. Richard Holden


I AM, You Is, and All are Good

On August 12, 2012, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

I AM, You Is, and All are Good Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin We have been dealing with this bread passage for what seems like some time, and I’m about convinced that there is nothing left of the passage but crumbs and yet even crumbs can be a reminder of what was and what is yet […]

I AM, You Is, and All are Good
Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin

We have been dealing with this bread passage for what seems like some time, and I’m about convinced that there is nothing left of the passage but crumbs and yet even crumbs can be a reminder of what was and what is yet to come.

Over the last several weeks we have encountered the reference that Jesus makes, “I am”. If one takes a quick glance through the gospel of John, you’d find that Jesus makes a few “I am” statements.

1. I am the bread of Life
2. I am the light of the world
3. I am the door
4. I am the good shepherd
5. I am the child of God
6. I am the resurrection and the life
7. I am the way, the truth, and the life
8. I am the (true) vine

After reading this, if one was not careful one could conclude that Jesus was being somewhat of a drama queen with all of these I Am statements — it would appear that Jesus was , as we say today, full of himself; thought of lot of himself; or that he has an “it’s all about me” syndrome.

But is that what Jesus was really saying with the I am statements? Was Jesus just being arrogant, self-serving, self-congratulatory?

That isn’t attractive when other people do it; why would it be compelling if Jesus did it?
John’s Jesus is unlike how Matthew, Mark and Luke imagine him.
John, unlike the other gospel writers, has Jesus giving lengthy parables about himself.
And, as we read these passages, we can note that Jesus places himself at the center of these stories with his I Am statements.

We read where Jesus identifies himself as the true vine where the hearers of his words grow to be the branches.

John’s Jesus (and only John’s Jesus) says, I am the way, the truth, and the life, giving hearers an opportunity to understand what it means to live a life full of hope despite the circumstances of oppression the community experienced.

Jesus, as imagined by the anonymous writer of John’s gospel, goes on to call himself the good shepherd, calling his friends back together (as in a flock) so that they would not be isolated or alone.

Jesus also offers himself as light, “I am the light of the world.”

Matthew has Jesus say that completely differently; in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says YOU are the light of the world, but John has Jesus claiming the light for himself.

It was not so much Jesus being the light of the world as it was his message, his words penetrating the darkness, the gloom, the oppressive forces; Jesus lived in a way that was light in a world where the light of hope and healing was needed.

He was such a light, and so are we when we follow his example. So, really, Matthew and John both got it right even though they didn’t agree on exactly what Jesus said.

And even when John puts these words in the mouth of Jesus: I am the resurrection and the life, then again the point is that Jesus’ message is life-giving; it’s a message of hope and empowerment that can help hurting people pick themselves up after life has knocked them down.

People felt as if Empire was killing them; their dreams, their hopes, their future, their aspirations were all being choked to death and John imagines Jesus saying “No, you don’t have to let it be like that…hear my words of hope and encouragement, feed on them, live on them, breathe them in, drink them in and allow them, not me but the message I’m giving you, bring out the strength that is already within you. That strength can sustain you during the trials of life.

And today we hear the Jesus of John’s creativity say , “I am the bread of life.”
I would imagine that those who first heard John’s words about life-giving bread didn’t get it at first.

Bread in antiquity was a staple food for nourishment. It was much easier to carry bread on a long journey than fish; bread could last for a long time. Once the Ancient Egyptians learned the usefulness of yeast or leaven, then bread and even beer became much more enjoyable.

As we examine our text closer today and examine more of the I am statements, scholars tell us that as much as John uses the I am statements for Jesus, John isn’t trying to create a cult of personality around Jesus. It isn’t about how great this guy is. Of course, we think he’s pretty awesome, but we wouldn’t think that if he thought it. We don’t tend to enjoy people who puff themselves up too much.

Rather, when we hear the I am statements what we are really hearing and seeing is Jesus wanting and allowing his words to empower others to become agents of change.

I Am is one of the names for God in the bible. When we say I Am, we aren’t just referring to our ego-selves, we are invoking the divine name. The I Am, that is, God, moves on our hearts to ease suffering in the world, to care about the sick, the forgotten, the lonely, the oppressed. The Great I Am would have us feed the hungry and keep children safe and care about the elderly and stand against racism and sexism and the evils of homophobia, especially homophobia presented as religious virtue!

John has Jesus say I Am so that we will allow the I Am of our being to shine through us to heal the hurting and strengthen the weak and comfort the suffering and welcome the outcast. That is what Jesus did, and the I Am of his being is the I Am of ours, and so that ministry can and must still happen today.

So through this lens, we hear that WE are the bread of life; WE are the light of the world; WE are the good shepherd; WE are the resurrection and life; WE are the way the truth and the life; WE are the vine and we empower others to grow by our positive words and actions.

As agents of positive change we need not wait for others to do the work for us. Our passage from Ephesians reminds us that as we do this work we are called to say what is useful for building each other up; and that we are to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another and as we do that, we can live into the words of the little girl from the clip from The Help,

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
And no one can take that away from us.

As we ‘get’ that Jesus is confident and optimistic and courageous (as John is suggesting with the I Am statements), then we are to find ourselves feeling more confident, optimistic, and courageous. These words ABOUT Jesus feed us; they are like bread to us, and so now we are to be LIKE Jesus, keeping his work of compassion and justice seeking alive and well.

In our work, Jesus comes again. Though our witness, Jesus remains light to the world, and so do we.

John builds up Jesus so that our reflections on Jesus will build us up. The point isn’t that long ago Jesus was super special. The point is that We is kind; We is smart, and We is important!

Or as our senior pastor is so fond of saying, we ALL have sacred value.

For over 44 years, the Metropolitan Community Churches movement has been feeding people from all walks of life. We have spiritually and physically fed those whom society deemed unreachable, unlovable, and unacceptable for whatever reason.

And when I read articles about the Chick-fil-a CEO giving millions of dollars to hurt gay and lesbian people and when I hear the Vatican considering ways to punish Nuns for doing Jesus’ work of being light and bread to the world….I want to take this gospel message today and give it to as many people as possible so that those who have been slapped down, shut out, or beaten up can rise back up, dust themselves off and say,

“No matter who you think of me, I know that I am the light of the world! I am the bread of life. I am exactly who God has made me to be!”

The world tells us that we are “the other”, those on the margins, those who must be left out, kept out, or even rubbed out.

But those are the very sort of people Jesus ministered to, and who then following his example continued to be a force for good in the world. The so-called other may just be the bread of life even still!

Yes we try to put shoes on bare feet, and food on empty tables, and we try to speak out against senseless violence in Jamaica and Africa and the United States, and yes we pray for marriage equality and yes we confront homophobic bigots when they try to tell the world their bigotry is actually love, but we don’t do that for the sake of politics, we do it for the sake of Jesus and for all of God’s people.

Universal health care is needed. Protecting the elderly from needless poverty is needed. Caring about the homeless is needed. Doing whatever we can to end bullying and the teen suicides that result from it is still needed. And we can’t stand idly by and wait for someone else to fix these problems. We are the light. We are the bread. We are the way, the truth, and the life. Our service, our prayers, our money, our votes, our presence in the world is what can change the world for the better.

When I hear sermons by preachers who declare my love to be a lie and who say that for being who God made me to be I’ll spend eternity in hell, I can laugh that off as the ridiculous insanity that it is; but I also know others take it to heart and their lives are ruined as a result.

If I’m going to be a follower of Jesus, I have try to be God’s love in action. I have to say to those hurt by those ridiculous statements of fear, hate, and condemnation, “there is another message, one of hope and acceptance, one of love and liberation and we will not rest until you’ve heard it and considered it and allowed it to lift you above the despair that has been unfairly placed upon you!”

Sunshine Cathedral has been a beacon of hope for so many and as we celebrate 40 years in existence, we can be assured that we will continue to be an open door in this community, a door that leads to hope and healing and empowerment, and we will continue to speak truth to power as we name the ills of society that try to keep any one from having an opportunity to live freely and joyously.

And we will continue to be a holy place where day after day and week after week people can gather for connection and be constantly reminded that God loves each of us just as we are and our best days are ahead, not behind us.

And this is the good news.


Thanks for the Memories

On August 5, 2012, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Thanks for the Memories Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sunshine Cathedral, Aug. 5, 2012 Last Sunday – I went to Lady Fancy’s Gospel Jubilee at Scandals. Now, when I think of religious music, I think of showtunes: You don’t need analyzing… Everything’s coming up roses… Don’t cry for me Argentina… The man in the moon is […]

Thanks for the Memories
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral, Aug. 5, 2012

Last Sunday – I went to Lady Fancy’s Gospel Jubilee at Scandals.
Now, when I think of religious music, I think of showtunes:

You don’t need analyzing…
Everything’s coming up roses…
Don’t cry for me Argentina…
The man in the moon is a lady…
When the moon is in the 7th house…
I believe in you, I believe in you…

But as a kid, my favorite hymn was the Salve Regina. Once, when I started a new medication regimen that affected my nervous system, I apparently sang the Salve Regina in my sleep:

Salve Regina
Hail Holy Queen enthroned above, O Maria.
Hail Mother of mercy and of love, O Maria.
Triumph all ye cherubim, sing with us ye seraphim,
Heav’n and earth resound the hymn: Salve, salve, salve Regina!

Now I know I sang the Salve Regina in my sleep because Robert told me. But he didn’t say that I sang the Salve Regina. He told me I sang the Sister Act song! My heart.

But back to last Sunday night. Robert and I and a few other church members went to the Gospel Jubilee at Scandals. It was amazing. It was all gospel music, but you know, drag gospel. Hallelujah! And it really took me back.

You see, I grew up a little hillbilly, about 45 minutes from where Bill Clinton was born. And there was an annual pilgrimage that my family had to take every summer to Wickes, AR. Every summer we’d go to the Duckett cemetery in the Ouachita Mountains for what was called a decoration. Now, for those who don’t know what this great social event is, it’s when people gather at a cemetery to decorate the graves with flowers and whatnot. So, we’d gather at the graveyard, decorate the graves, have an ecumenical worship service followed by dinner on the grounds. Good times.

Now, when I say an ecumenical service, I mean various shades of fundamentalist. United Pentecostal, Assembly of God, Nazarene, Southern Baptist, and the a capella Church of Christ. It was the one time a year I’d go to such a service and it was a spectacle. People would bring guitars, banjos, harmonicas, accordions, electric keyboards, whatever people brought (of course the a capella Church of Christ people brought no instruments) and they’d sing and shout and have a really good time (as you would at a picking and grinning church service in a cemetery). Some of the earliest church services in history took place among graves, so it’s actually fitting I guess.

Well every year, my grandmother would request a song at the decoration. For some reason she loved this song and I knew that I’d hear it every summer.

I was instantly transported back to those summer days in the hills of Arkansas when at Scandals last Sunday, Lady Fancy performed the song in a smoke filled, noisy bar. My grandmother wouldn’t have gone into such a place at gunpoint, and yet, I felt as if she were with me in those moments. I honestly was on holy ground in that bar as I heard:

Unclouded Day (J. Alwood)

O they tell me of a home far beyond the skies,
O they tell me a home far away.
O they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise;
O they tell me of an undoubtedly day.

O the land of cloudless day,
O the land of an unclouded day.
O they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise;
O they tell me of an unclouded day.

I left the bar feeling so good, not because the song itself was so profound, though it is kind of catchy, but because it whisked me back to an event that made my grandmother so happy, and remembering that time made me happy.

That wonderful experience, where my heart touched the sacred in the same place my lips touched a vodka tonic, got me to thinking about other memories connected to hymns.

In them thar’ hills, even though there is a sprinkling of Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, even some Jewish people here and there and a few Mormons believe it or not. Where we lived was so isolated the Jehovah’s Witnesses hadn’t found us yet, but we had the others. Still, the majority of people are from evangelical traditions and so everyone, regardless of their family’s religious tradition ends up at some point at a decoration or a camp meeting or a spiritual renewal or a revival or a gospel concert or what some churches called the Fifth Sunday Singing! So, everyone was exposed to gospel music, and I remember at camp meetings and baptisms, this great old song that always, somehow, stirred something in my soul:

Wade in the Water (spiritual)
Wade in the water; wade in the water children.
Wade in the water. God’s gonna trouble the waters.

I was the oldest child so I got to hear my mother sing a lullaby to my two younger brothers, but the lullaby she sang us was a sacred song:

Virgin’s Slumber Song (M. Reger)
Amid the roses Mary sits and rocks her Jesus child, while amid the tree tops sighs a breeze so soft and mild.
And soft and sweetly, sings a bird upon a bow: a baby, dear one, slumber now.

But then there were the times that my mother was sad. I later learned that depression has plagued generations of my family, but they never got diagnosed or treated. Well, nertz to that! My pharmacist is my best friend! But when my mother was in one of those painful places where she could barely function, eventually she would start to emerge from the despair and the ray of light that would start to lead her out of her psychic prison was a song. I’d hear her singing it, almost under her breath, and that was the sign that better days were coming. She’d sing:

Follow Me (I.F. Stamphill)
I traveled down the lonely road and no one seemed to care,
The burden on my weary back had led me to despair.
I oft’ complained to Jesus how folks were treating me,
And then I heard him say so tenderly:

My feet were oh so weary upon the Calvary road,
The cross became so heavy I fell beneath the load.
Be faithful weary Christian the morning thou shalt see,
Pick up your cross and follow close to me.

My mother was also a huge Elvis fan. Well, it was the South. Elvis and Andy Griffith were icons. I think we were required by law to enjoy them both. So, my mother had every Elvis album ever, including his gospel albums, and often on the turntable in the living room, I’d hear and even sing along with Elvis:

Peace in the Valley (T. Dorsey)
Oh well, I’m tired and so weary
But I must go alone,
Until the Lord comes and calls, calls me away (O yes).
Well the morning’s so bright
And the lamp is alight
And the night is as dark, dark as the sea (O yes).

There will be peace in the valley for me someday.
There will be peace, peace in the valley for me, O Lord I pray.
There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow, no trouble, trouble I see…
There will peace, peace in the valley for me.

Thinking about those old songs got me to thinking about my early days in MCC. My first year in MCC I went to a service where there was a guest, singing evangelist. It was during those days in the AIDS crisis when we had no effective medications. People were fighting for their lives, and grieving the loss of loved ones, and working to help others who were frail or alone. It was a crazy time, and at this service, this singing evangelist said toward the end of her sermon, “If you feel like your prayers aren’t being heard, I want to tell you today that there is a band of angels right around your heart.” And then she started to sing:

Rise And Be Healed (K. Snyder?)
Rise and be healed in the name of Jesus
Let faith arise in your soul
Rise and be healed in the name of Jesus
God has made you every bit whole.

And if by faith you call out for comfort
God will meet your every need
Our God will respond to the cry in your heart
And will touch you and set you free.

Rise and be healed in the name of Jesus
Let faith arise in your soul
Rise and be healed in the name of Jesus
God has made you every bit whole.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Thank God for healing tears.

Well, that stroll down memory lane was prompted because of Barry, aka the Lady Fancy, and his inclusive, non-judgmental, and super fun ministry at a local watering hole. Thank you Fancy and your Jubilettes!

There is something powerful about remembering. Not reliving…we can never go back. But just remembering and letting those memories bring a smile to our faces (Blessed memories, how they linger…). That’s what the writer of John’s gospel is doing.

John is written about the year 96 CE. Jesus was executed almost 70 years earlier. Rome destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple about a quarter of century before John is writing. So, John’s community never met Jesus. They have heard his teachings, heard stories about him, and they have engaged him in their imaginations, or as they say in the evangelical traditions, they had him in their hearts. And during a time of oppression, of loss, of pain and sorrow, John and his community chose to recall that there once was a hero who so touched the Sacred in this world that people were transformed by his very presence. The unlovable felt loved, the untouchable felt whole, the mentally ill felt as if their demons could be conquered, the poor felt as if they mattered in the kin-dom of God. To remember that divine love is unconditional, all-inclusive, and everlasting really feeds the heart and mind. Such memories can nourish, becoming as John imagines Jesus saying, “the bread of life.”

There is a lot of fear, hatred, and division being spread in the name of God lately. From fast food chains to ex-preachers turned politicians, from Vatican City to Salt Lake City, from pastors calling for gays to be locked away in prison camps to local religious voices comparing same-gender love to drug addiction and witchcraft (whatever that means)…there is a lot of foolishness out there, a lot of bigotry and ignorance and religious abuse hurting our kids, hurting our families, hurting our world. And so, we’re just going to remember. We’re just going to feast on the bread of life, the sustaining spirit that is everywhere fully present, that excludes no one, that is the ground of our being.

With song, sermon, and sacrament we are going to remember. And we are going to keep remembering until everyone here knows without the slightest doubt that just as they are they persons of sacred value, and then we will keep remembering still until one more and one more and one more person out there knows that they, too, have sacred value. We are ALL made in the divine image; we are all part of the creation that is called VERY good.

We may rewrite the old ones, we may write new ones from scratch, but we will keep singing the hymns, and praying the prayers, and savoring the sayings that remind us that God is love and WHOEVER lives in love lives in God and God lives in them (1 Jn 4.16). That message is as needed today as it ever was, and we will keep it alive, so that it can keep hope and dignity alive in this community and beyond. And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2012

Today I remember…
I AM a person of sacred value.
This is bread that nourishes my soul.
I remember and I give thanks.

Final Word
“The flute of the infinite is played without ceasing and it’s sound is love.” Kabir


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