We Can See! Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Oct. 28, 2012 Sunshine Cathedral I love that old Johnny Nash song. The words fit well with the progressive, positive, practical message we so consistently lift up at Sunshine Cathedral. The song offers a series of affirmations: I can see clearly now. The rain is gone, I can [...]
We Can See!
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Oct. 28, 2012
I love that old Johnny Nash song. The words fit well with the progressive, positive, practical message we so consistently lift up at Sunshine Cathedral. The song offers a series of affirmations:
I can see clearly now.
The rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way (and therefore navigate them successfully).
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sun-shiny day.
That alone would be a powerful prayer, but then there are more affirmations:
I think I can make it now.
The pain is gone.
All of the bad feelings have disappeared.
Here is the rainbow I’ve been prayin’ for
It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sun-shiny day.
And then the reminder to look ahead and move forward, to believe in possibilities and choose to create the future we want:
Look all around, there’s nothin’ but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin’ but blue skies
And those can be affirmations too, “I look all around, there’s nothin’ but blue skies; I look ahead, nothin’ but blue skies.”
Divine Life so wants to live us, so wants to be expressed abundantly through us, that even in the secular arts its affirming, positive message comes to us!
You know, Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow but looks back is fit for the Realm of God” (Luke 9.62). That means we don’t create the future we deserve by longing for yesterday, nor by regretting yesterday. The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities. We want to look ahead and move forward. Even if we wind up going through a wilderness, we trust that on the other side is a land of promise.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus and his friends are leaving Jericho. As they travel, a visually impaired man named Bartimaeus calls out for help. Some people told him to shut up. Who was he to think things in his life could improve? But he is determined to give healing every chance possible. So he calls out even more loudly for help. He gets Jesus’ attention, and then he goes to Jesus.
Bartimaeus steps forward. He moves out in faith. He takes a risk. Yes, he has said he wants improvement, but now he shows a willingness to participate in the creation of his own future. The story says his sight is restored but not because God loved him more than others who continued to struggle. Not because he was a better person than others who continued to have problems. His restoration, Jesus says, is due to his own faith, his own confidence, his own trust in the goodness of life and in the infinite possibilities that it offers. YOUR faith, Jesus says, has made you well. What God does for us, God does through us.
Bartimaeus didn’t just express sadness or frustration with his limitation. That was probably where he started, but not where he stayed.
He asked for help.
When his initial efforts didn’t seem to work, he didn’t give up. He made slight adjustments and continued trying.
Then he articulated exactly what he did want to experience. He imagined, he “saw” in his imagination the blessing he wanted and dared to believe that he was worthy of such a blessing.
And as a result of that process, of doing the work to expand his consciousness, Bartimaeus experiences the change he needs.
That is a good lesson in how to succeed.
Don’t get stuck in complaining about what you don’t like. Where attention goes, energy flows. So, if we focus mostly on what we don’t like, we are most likely to experience more of the same.
Ask for the good you need. Affirm it. Tell yourself you deserve the best.
Ask others to pray with you if you can’t seem to summon enough hope or courage to move forward. We all need a coach or a cheerleader sometimes.
Then, develop a clear picture of where you want to end up without limiting how you might get to that place.
And once we affirm our good, believe we deserve to experience more good, and have a clear picture or vision of what our good would look or feel like while being open to however it might show up for us, then we begin to experience positive change in life.
Of course, Bartimaeus didn’t just receive his miracle. The story says he then followed Jesus on the way…the way of divine living, the way of hope, peace, joy and love, the way of believing in and celebrating the sacred value of all people starting with himself.
Yes, Bartimaeus had a very good moment, but that wasn’t the end. He followed Jesus onward. He continued to move forward. His one miraculous moment wasn’t all that was available. There could be more, in the future, if he would follow a vision, if he would continue to move forward. The vision he received that day wasn’t just an ocular oddity, it was a new way of living, of seeing and seizing opportunities in life, of daring to move forward and trusting that there was much more good still ahead waiting for his discovery!
The vision we are talking about today is more than sight; it is insight. It is consciousness, that is, awareness. To be aware of what is good, to be aware of what is possible, to be aware that the past no matter how good it was isn’t as good as things can get, and no matter how difficult it was we are not doomed to repeat it if we are willing to learn from it, release it, and move forward.
The story might be allegorical rather than historical, symbolic rather than factual. The story might be more literary than literal. Its purpose might be to help us be less myopic about life, helping us see what we had previously overlooked, encouraging us to move forward rather than being stuck, nudging us to notice and accept a wide range of possibilities in life. Its truth might lie beyond the details of the possibly imagined events.
Native American storytelling will sometimes begin not with “once upon a time” but with, “I don’t know if it happened exactly this way, but I do know that it is absolutely true.” Rich, wonderful, life-enhancing stories are not about facts, but about truth, truth larger than the details of the story itself.
Now, spontaneous healings occur and the power of the subconscious mind is almost unlimited, so we should never discount the possibility of miracles. And, really, a miracle is just a wonderful thing that is currently beyond our understanding. Flight, space travel, open heart surgery, organ transplants, aspirin, antibiotics, cell phones, the Internet, microwave ovens…these were all fantasies that evolved into miracles that are now common place.
But as possible as it is that someone with a medical condition that caused blindness could experience a dramatic return of his or her sight, it is unlikely that one person having a bit of unexpected good fortune is the real point of this story. This story is much more likely to be the product of creative imagination meant to show us that there are things we don’t see clearly but spiritual healing can help see and seize opportunities that we otherwise would have missed. This isn’t about one person seeing; this is about how all people can see more in and get more from Life.
In the book of Genesis, Hagar is alone with her baby in the desert and she is desperate and afraid that death is imminent. But when she lifts her head and broadens her view, she finds a well in the wilderness. She was blind to the life-saving well until she broadened her perspective, changed her state of mind, chose a new thought, and then was able to see what could sustain her in the difficult moment!
Similarly, the Psalmist writes, “I lift up my eyes unto the hills to see my help coming” (Psalm 121.1). Look up, move forward, and trust that Life has more to offer!
We need a compelling vision to move us forward, we need to release the past to the past and create the future that is possible for us. “Without a vision the people perish” (Prov. 29.18).
Mark is writing in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. Life looked bleak and scary for Mark’s community. The world as he had known it had ended. Looking down with despair could blind them to the possibilities of a blessed future. Mark is encouraging them to lift up their heads, see possibilities for a great future, summon the power of hope, and move forward. This is still good advice for us today. In fact, this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
I look up today and see wonderful possibilities!
I see and seize divine opportunities.
I focus on my sacred value.
I behold infinite goodness within and around me.
And I move forward, expecting blessings along the way.
And so it is!
Boldly Approach the Throne of Grace Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Sunshine Cathedral (Oct. 21, 2012) I always love telling this story. Ernest Holmes, a philosopher and spiritual teacher, was working in his office one day when the air conditioner in the building went on the fritz. His secretary came to him to explain the problem. [...]
Boldly Approach the Throne of Grace
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Sunshine Cathedral (Oct. 21, 2012)
I always love telling this story. Ernest Holmes, a philosopher and spiritual teacher, was working in his office one day when the air conditioner in the building went on the fritz. His secretary came to him to explain the problem. The air conditioner wasn’t working properly and they couldn’t get someone out to repair it until the next day. Whatever would they do? Ernest’s answer was, “pray, of course.”
Without calling down fire from heaven or rebuking the demons of mechanical failure or burning incense or candles or calling upon the ancestors for assistance, he just prayed in his simple, direct way, expecting the best possible result. And so, right then and there he said very confidently, “God, this is Ernest. Need I say more?”
When I was in my 20s, I learned a very important lesson about not giving up too soon when it comes to prayer. I was very new in the process toward ordination. Someone in the parish had intentionally overdosed on an over the counter medication. He went into a coma and was experiencing renal failure. His prognosis was grim.
A woman in the congregation wanted to start a prayer circle to keep constant vigil until the young man was miraculously restored to perfect health. I am ashamed to admit that I actually thought she was terribly naïve. I didn’t want the poor woman to be devastated when her dramatic and even heroic efforts to practically raise the dead made no difference.
So, I encouraged her to pray for the man’s peaceful transition and to pray for his family and friends to be comforted in their time of grief. Now, these blessings would have been nothing to sneeze at, but this woman was not going to settle. She wasn’t taking a ladle to the ocean of blessings; she was taking a wash tub!
This woman and a few of her friends sat by the young man’s bed day and night in constant prayer, knowing the truth of his wholeness.
If the man had died peacefully in his sleep and his friends were comforted to know that people cared so deeply, then her efforts would not have been in vain and she would have had the satisfaction of knowing she did all she could, right until the end.
However, after two or three days of this ridiculously naive prayer vigil, the man came out of his coma! And while at first they were sure he’d spend his life on dialysis, his kidneys were very soon fully functional. I’m so glad that woman was willing to risk failure for the sake of a person in need. Success often requires a willingness to fail. And while we never want to add to a person’s pain by telling them their prayers didn’t work because of some failing on their part, we also don’t want to deny people the hope of giving prayer a chance to move mountains. I think the lesson is to pray as if miracles were at hand, but at the same time be willing to detach from the outcome. The miracle may happen on its own terms and look different from the one we had in mind. That strange combination of holding on and letting go seems to be the method by which amazing results often manifest.
We heard from the epistle reading this morning, “Let us…approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” The throne of grace the New Testament writer mentions isn’t a chair above the stars. The throne of grace is a euphemism, a symbol created by human imagination to help us understand that there is infinite goodness which can be accessed and we can claim that goodness intentionally, affirmatively, even boldly.
So, the word throne suggests not a celestial emperor, but a power, a presence which is infinitely good. The divine cannot create anything unlike itself, so, if God is Good then we are good and Good is what we deserve. But as Good as the Source of our lives is, and as much goodness as It would share, blessings are never forced on us. We can only receive as much as we will recognize and accept. Jesus never forced miracles on anyone. He responded to their requests, he almost always told them to do something for themselves, and when something amazing happened he reminded them that it was their confidence in the possibility of a miracle that made it happen. What God did for them, God did through them, and not without their cooperation!
Believing that Good exists and that we are entitled to seek it and accept it, we are encouraged today to approach the Source of unlimited goodness without hesitation or fear or a sense of unworthiness; we are to approach the divine Source boldly! Detached from the outcome, but unafraid to voice our truest desires, assured that somehow things are better because we invited divine grace into the situation, let’s approach the one Power and direct It to come to our aid.
The Presence in which we live and move and have our being, the God of many names/Mystery beyond our naming is around us and above us and within us and flowing through us. We are forever united with God’s unconditional love and goodness. God, as Paul Tillich taught, is the ground of being. Emerson said we are part and parcel of God. Nona Brooks said that we are in God, of God, and like God. Ernest Holmes said that there is One Life, that Life is God and that Life is our life now. Mary Baker Eddy wrote that God “is at once the center and the circumference of being.” The last words she ever wrote were, “God is my life.” And Jesus said, “the Creator and I are one.”
In other words, God is in us and we are in God. God’s spirit is the animating energy of our lives. The creation myth tells us that God breathed the divine Breath into the earth being and thus gave humanity life. God is good; we are God’s children and we are good, and good is what we each deserve to experience in life.
The Psalmist believed that divine Love withholds no good thing from us. And the Apostle Peter said that divine Life shows no partiality. Another New Testament writer said of the one true Power that it is the All in all. If these teachers of wisdom were correct, then of course we can approach the universal power boldly. Let us boldly approach the throne of grace!
Emma Curtis Hopkins said, “There is good for me and I ought to have it!” And she also declared, “There is no mixture of evil with my good.” That is approaching the throne of grace boldly, trusting that God withholds no good thing from us. That is daring to claim our rightful place as children of God. That is summoning the courage to say within our deepest selves, “I deserve the very best and I am willing now to experience the very best.”
Do you want to go back to school, stop smoking, get sober, forgive an old hurt, start to climb out from under a financial burden, have more hope for a medical procedure, or just feel more continuously in communion with that universal, all-embracing Love that we call God? Whatever it is that you can imagine as being “best” – once you decide you deserve it and are willing to experience it even if it means making some changes in your life, then boldly approach the throne of grace, the infinite presence of compassion and care that we call God, and say, “There is good for me and I ought to have it!”
Will it happen all at once or over time? Will it happen in the way you originally imagined or will you discover something even better? Will it happen quietly and in private or with the help of out sources, known or unknown? Who knows? And it almost doesn’t matter.
As long you are ready to believe that there is good for you and you ought to have it, that you deserve it and are ready to experience it, then you can trust that however and whenever it materializes will be perfect and in divine right order.
What about when the prayers don’t seem to work. They may be doing more than we realize. Even if the desired result doesn’t come to pass, other blessings may show up and they may be as important as the ones we wished for.
There is more to life than any one experience and nothing in the outer world can harm or hinder the reality of our inner world.
Even good people with rich spiritual lives have bad days now and then. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, but the difference is in how we respond to the difficulties. Jesus, I think we could all agree, was a good person with a rich spiritual life. And yet even he had his Gethsemane and his Golgotha.
The stories of Jesus’ brutal and horrific execution tell us three amazing things about him:
First, he didn’t identify with his pain. He experienced it, but he did not claim it as his truth. He said, “I thirst” but he did not say “I am thirsty.” He would not blaspheme the holy name “I Am” by following it with something negative! He experienced pain, but he didn’t deserve it. His body suffered but his spirit was free. He could experience thirst, but he would not identify with lack or limitation. So, rather than saying I am thirsty, he said more powerfully and truthfully, “I thirst.” Thirst could attack him, but it could not make him forget that he was more than the problem at hand. The problem could not define him without his consent!
Jesus might have had a difficult experience but he would not let the experience have him.
Now, substitute thirst with a challenge you have known…diabetes, HIV, depression, arthritis, a learning disability, asthma…
Don’t say, “I’m diabetic,” but say “I have diabetes, and am learning to manage it.”
Not “I am depressed,” but “I have bouts of depression and am learning how to cope with it.”
Not “I am HIV positive,” but “I am living well with HIV.”
Not “I am in constant pain,” but “I know pain can be managed and I am learning how.”
Not “I am broke,” but “Thank God I’m getting by and I believe that better days are just around the corner.”
Not “I am a victim,” but “I am a survivor!”
Not “I am thirsty,” but simply, “I thirst” (and remember, thirst can be quenched).
The second thing about Jesus’ most horrific hour is that he forgave his persecutors. They could abuse his body and mock his good name but they could not infect his soul with hate. He would not let his last breath be used to wish revenge. He knew that he had the power to protect his consciousness from the violence of Roman imperialism. So he prayed, “Forgive them.” And forgiveness is in and of itself healing, a miracle that leads to others.
And finally, the third thing Jesus demonstrated in his final moments on the cross was a peace that passes understanding. Maybe because he wouldn’t identity with the problem and he could use the power of forgiveness to experience freedom that conditions could not take away, he was able to conclude his life with unimaginable dignity and peace. He calls to mind the 22nd psalm that begins, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me.” But that psalm concludes with praise and thanksgiving and optimism. The short version of Psalm 22 would basically be, “My God, why have you abandoned me…Oh, that’s right. You haven’t.” And Jesus’ breathes his last words, words of confidence, again taken from the Psalter (31.5): “Abba, into your hands I commit my spirit.” What greater miracle is there than to have that kind of unshakeable peace and unwavering confidence? That kind of peace and confidence come from the constant practice of prayer.
Ernest Holmes said, “There is a power for good in the universe greater than you are, and you can use it.”
Of course, a couple of millennia earlier someone said the exact same thing: “Let us boldly approach the throne of grace.” And we can. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
Today, I approach the throne of grace boldly!
There is good for me and I ought to have it.
There is no mixture of evil with my good.
I expect, accept, and give thanks for my good.
“Fear not, little flock; for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the very best!” Jesus (Luke 12.32)
No Needle, No Gate, No Worries
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Oct 14, 2012
The gospel today is a rich text packed with meaning. So I want to dive right in to help make sense of it, and to uncover how what it is offering us today really is good news.
A man runs up to Jesus, falls down before him and says, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers, “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone.”
There are two things I want to lift up from this brief introduction to today’s gospel reading:
1)Notice Jesus’ humble attitude. He does not exalt himself. He is baffled that anyone would just kneel before him and treat him and call him by noble titles. This Jesus is far more accessible, human, approachable, understandable, and truly lovable than the Sovereign on a cosmic throne the medieval church painted him to be.
2)The young man wants to know how he can “earn” eternal life. But what does eternal mean? It means without beginning or ending. So, if you have life, you have eternal life.
Eternity isn’t something that starts at some fixed point and then lasts forever. If it has a beginning, it isn’t eternal. Eternity has no beginning and no ending. What is eternal? God, divine Life. God, Jesus says, is Good, and God is the source and substance of our lives…so we aren’t good in comparison to one another, we are vessels through which divine Good can be expressed. What God does for us, God does THROUGH us!
And if God is the Source of our lives, the Substance of our lives, then we don’t need to earn eternal life, we need to celebrate it because it already is!
An inheritance is freely given…how do we inherit divine goodness? We already have. Now it’s time to acknowledge that and live with the peace, hope, and joy that it provides.
Well, Jesus responds to the man by saying, “you already know the scriptures.” And then he quotes the section of the Ten Commandments that encourage us to treat one another with dignity, fairness, and compassion. Since eternal, omnipresent, divine Life is the life of all life, the all in all, then we honor God most by recognizing God in all people and serve God best by treating each person as if they were a vessel of divine life.
The young man says to Jesus, “I know all that! I know the rules, the dogma, the doctrine, the traditions, and I quite legalistically and proudly keep them all!”
And Jesus says, “You might not quite be getting the point still. How can I drive this home in a way that you will understand what all this really means. I know. How ‘bout you give away all your wealth; then you will have spiritual wealth, an awareness of divine Life that is the highest truth of your being.”
And the man went away sad because he had a lot of stuff and he didn’t want to give it all away.
Now, did Jesus not want someone who had been fortunate to enjoy his good fortune? Jesus was a peasant and had a special place in his heart for the poor, the sick, the oppressed, and the marginalized, but I don’t think he resented people who had by honest means acquired some resources and comfort.
Caring for the poor means not wanting them to be poor anymore.
Jesus loved the poor, but he didn’t want more people to be poor; he wanted those who were lucky to be mindful that not everyone was so lucky, and so those who had more were expected to share more. They’d still have plenty for themselves but could add to their treasure trove the amazing feeling of being a conduit through which God could bless others.
When the rich young man schlepped off sad, that’s when Jesus said, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person with the attitude of the person we just encountered to enter into an awareness of God’s all-inclusive and everlasting love.”
In antiquity, people assumed wealth and privilege was a sign of divine favor. Some people still want to believe that.
So, the disciples asked, “if someone who has been blessed with wealth and who is technically religious can’t enjoy communion with their highest and best Self, whoever can?!”
But Jesus reminds them, it’s possible for everyone to get there. Remember, nothing is impossible with God.
Well, it is impossible for a camel to get through the eye of a needle; so, if a camel has a better chance of pulling that off than this rich guy in the story has of achieving enlightenment, then what does Jesus mean by saying all things are possible. He has just given an example of something that is impossible. What’s Jesus talking about?!
We shouldn’t trap ourselves up with literalism. We are reading stories from a story-telling culture, and stories use rich symbols and creative ideas and the idioms of their day, figures of speech that if taken literally will sound ridiculous, but that no one would have taken literally.
If I say that I am in a pickle, you don’t for a single moment imagine that I’m trapped in a vinegar soaked cucumber!
If I say it’s raining cats and dogs, you won’t even bother to look out the window to see if animals are falling from the sky.
If I say I’m trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea, you know what I mean even if I say that in the desert of Arizona!
Well, we aren’t the first people to use figures of speech, idioms, euphemisms, and playful images. It is a universal linguistic phenomenon, and even in Jesus’ day, people used idioms.
So, when Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, he probably doesn’t imagine that any camel is going to attempt such a ridiculous feat. Nor does he imagine that anyone who depends on camels will have them attempt such a foolish thing.
What almost everyone I’ve ever talked to about this passage seems to believe is that there was a short gate in city walls called the eye of the needle that camels would have to crawl through. There may have been short gates for pedestrians, but they don’t seem to have been called the Eye of the Needle. So, that can’t be what this passage is about. I don’t buy the crawl through the gate hypothesis.
New Testament scholar and observant member of the Reform Jewish faith, Episcopal Divinity School professor Lawrence Wills says, “Contrary to a commonly cited medieval legend, there is no narrow ‘Eye of the Needle’ gate in Jerusalem.”
Dr Abraham Rihbany was born in Ottoman Syria (modern Lebanon) and his family was Eastern Orthodox, but he later became Presbyterian. He wrote from his experience in the East about Eastern symbols and idioms in the Gospels often misunderstood in the West. In his 1916 book, “The Syrian Christ” (still used in Socio-linguistic studies) he wrote about the short gate supposedly called the Needle’s Eye.
“The chief trouble with this explanation of the ‘eye-of-the-needle’ passage is that it is wholly untrue. I never knew that small door…to be called a needle’s eye. The name of that door is called the PLUM, and this scriptural passage makes no reference to it whatever.”
Bible scholar and Unity minister Rocco Errico was for a decade a student of George Lamsa. Like Rihbany, Lamsa actually came from a culture very similar to Jesus’ own. Lamsa was from Eastern Turkey (ancient Assyria) and was a native speaker of Aramaic (the language of Jesus). Lamsa personally tutored Rocco Errico who for his entire career has continued Lamsa’s work.
Rocco Errico teaches that the Aramaic word for camel actually can mean three different things: camel, or beam, or ROPE. Given that information, it makes more sense to think that the “rope” translation would be the better one. In fact, Errico points out that even the Greek word camelos can refer to a mooring rope for ships.
It would be difficult to get a piece of rope through a needle, but not impossible. Just as it is difficult for some people who are focused on making money or being successful to be generous or concerned with people who haven’t done as well, but it isn’t impossible. There are, in fact, some very generous and thoughtful wealthy people, which spiritually makes them wealthier still. Now we have a Jesus kind of message!
Errico himself says, “Jesus was not making it difficult for wealthy people to enter [God’s kin-dom]. He simply taught that shared wealth brings a common joy to all and can meet the needs of many people.”
So, now we go back to the original question: What must I do to inherit eternal life?
Answer: You already have.
Divine Life is your life and it has no beginning and no end.
Now, cancel your afterlife fire insurance policy and start just communing with this Beautiful Life that is the all-in-all.
Enjoy it. Share it. Rejoice in it. Trust it. Let it express more fully through you.
How do we do that? With positive speech, consistent generosity, indomitable hope, expressing more love, including more people into our field of care and concern.
It might at first seem difficult to retrain yourself to think in these terms, but it isn’t impossible and it’s worth the effort.
The prophet Amos said, “Seek the Good.” And guess what? It’s already within you.
Dr. Emilie Cady said, “Claim your rightful inheritance.” It’s already given. When we realize that and what we do with it is up to us.
And Jesus said, “God is Good. Access that divine goodness in your life and then live compassionately and generously from that sacred awareness.”
In other words, there is no gate to crawl through, no needle to thread, no afterlife prison to worry about. There is just the loving, universal, all-inclusive presence of divine life waiting to be recognized and expressed more fully through us. And this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
God is Good!
Divine life is my life.
I claim my divine inheritance today.
And I share my good gladly.
“All of the great teachers have left us with a similar message: Go within, discover your invisible higher Self, and know God as the love that is within you.” Dr. Wayne Dyer
Sunshine Cathedral MCC: 40th Anniversary “Let Them Come to Me!” Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson I went to college, late 60’s, so I know sections of The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran by heart! It was very cool to have a copy, and to pass them along to friends. Gibran is so eloquent about love, friendship, [...]
Sunshine Cathedral MCC: 40th Anniversary
“Let Them Come to Me!”
Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson
I went to college, late 60’s, so I know sections of The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran by heart! It was very cool to have a copy, and to pass them along to friends. Gibran is so eloquent about love, friendship, relationship, children; interfaith sensibility. He was, then, a mysterious person, with a legacy of sorrow, crossing cultures and oceans, daring immigration, of ambiguous sexuality . . .a fitting muse for an era of turmoil and profound change.
He is still one of the 3 best selling poet of all time, after Shakespeare and Lao Tzu. His is part of the Wisdom literature of my generation. . .
I love how he speaks of children as the sign of “Life’s Longing for itself;” and that children have their own identity that we cannot control. When I was 18, we were really into not being controlled! We are not from you! We have our own thoughts!
Let’s face it, most of us in this room were not exactly what our parents were expecting! We were, I guess, Life’s Longing for itself to be fabulous!
Today we hear Psalm 8, the psalm of wonder. My brother Dave has been visiting my Mother and me this week. He lives in rural, northern Washington, and when you go into the meadow behind his home, and look at the night sky, it is truly awesome – busy! With meteors, and Milky Way and the Northern Lights sometimes – you can’t take your eyes off it, and, if you are a city person you are startled, overwhelmed. So much going on up there that we usually do not see! It is impossible not to be impressed, and to feel small. This is the same sky the Psalmist saw, not dimmed by too many lights. When there was no cable TV or the internet, no wonder they gazed at the sky for entertainment, and wondered, God, who are we, that you care about us? Our little planet, our lives, our history, that you want to be involved with us?
Mark 10: 13-16
This is such a well-known gospel passage, we have seen it in stained glass windows in many churches. Jesus welcomed the children, rebuking his disciples for being a barrier. It reminds me of that bumper sticker, “JESUS, SAVE ME FROM SOME OF YOUR FOLLOWERS! In Mark, more than any other gospel, the disciples seem clueless and hapless. This is how we must seem to God sometimes: petty, and narrow, and unable to discern the mind of God. . . were they trying to protect Jesus, thinking children would annoy him? Waste his time? Were they all like W.C. Field, “Go away, kid, you’re bothering me!” They misperceive Jesus’ nature, his needs, his purpose. . .his character.
Jesus was an adult man who seemed interested in children who were not his own offspring, but who were children of Life’s longing for itself; he embraced them, he saw them, noticed them, welcomed their openness, curiosity and boldness. He did this because he loved them, not because he wanted to exploit them. He saw them as human beings, longing for attention and love.
Jesus was modeling unhindered access to God, for those who were not powerful, or the 1%. They were not among those who could vote or give money. In taking time to welcome them, and touch them, Jesus illustrated his purpose, breaking down the barriers of religion, caste and status. He modeled radical inclusion.
Jesus connected to what is so compelling in children, to all of us – asking us to be imitators of them. Imitators of the least of these, of their trust generosity with him.
Today is your 40th anniversary, Sunshine Cathedral MCC, and is it mine too. 40 years ago, in 1972, a group of amazing, bold, passionate people claimed to be the children of God, to be MCC. 40 years ago, in the 4th week of the new MCC Boston, I attended my first MCC service. I want to lift up three hopes for you this amazing day:
WONDER: Anniversaries are a time to pause in wonder – to be in awe, of this place, of this community, of what you have done with God’s help – Your story is the story of so many who gave so much. . .lives, time, resources. . .Only 4 years into MCC’s life, you started. Four years into an impossible dream! Today, let us be filled with wonder and amazement at the journey that has brought us to this place!
In 1972 I was 22 years old, I had just graduated from college, and just come out to myself. I had struggled for years, being a woman, wanting to be a minister in the only church I had known, the Methodist Church. Just as that seemed like it might be possible, I came out as a lesbian. On my way to seminary, I discovered what singer Carole King was being a “Natural Women: “I didn’t know what was wrong with me, til your kiss helped me name it!” That summer of 1972, after graduating from college, coming out, and falling in love, my partner, and a gay male friend all went to Boston to seek our fortune. For me, it meant starting seminary. On the way, we also picked up a 19 year old kid we knew whose parents were about to send him to a psychiatric hospital to cure him of his homosexuality. Without thinking of how many laws we were breaking, we transported Peter across several state lines, and housed and fed him until he could get his own place. We were going to save the world one gay person at a time!
I heard about MCC my third week in Boston, on a radio show (there was no internet or website!). The first Sunday in October, I worshipped with about 30 people, and there was not a dry eye. I knew that this new church would change my life forever.
So, it is a wonder, 40 years later, to sit on the White House Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, with about 18 other national and international religious leaders. A wonder, to be working with Jews and Buddhists, and Mormons and Catholics on the issue of stopping modern slavery, which we call human trafficking.
I feel so privileged to connect with people around the world who want to start MCC churches that will address the heart of our oppression, that will make a difference in so many lives, that can change countries and churches and history. Every day in MCC is full of wonder – and that wonder connects me, and us, to the God who is calling us to be prophets of justice and hope!
We have a new MCC church in Cuba, in Spain, a new group starting in Bolivia! In June, 300 people gathered in Hong Kong for the first lgbt Christian conference. . . In East Africa, our Global Justice Institute is working with economic empowerment projects, and creating safe space for lgbt people of faith to worship and change their own countries. . . wonder upon wonder.
JUSTICE FOR ALL CHILDREN, FOR REAL CHILDREN
In those early days, MCC was often child-phobic. We were afraid to have children present – what people would say or think! Our internalized homophobia made us fear that people would think we were molesting children. MCC Detroit (which also celebrated 40 years this year) said in its first few years that no one under 18 allowed – I had to remind them that this is not a bar, or an adults only space, but a safe for everyone! We had to work at dismantling stereotypes, the calumny that children were not safe around the likes of us. . .Just a few facts:
· Today, children who are queer, lgbtqi, have the highest rate for risk for suicide
· 40% of Homeless youth are lgbtqi – thrown away often because of their family’s religious views
· Homeless youth in the US are most at risk to be trafficked for sex or labor
· Millions of children in the world today have no access to clean water, food, education, or a “childhood” in which they are secure, safe; especially if they are in a country ravaged by war.
· Children around the world lose their childhood to sexual abuse, to being forced into becoming child soldiers, or to work in factories producing goods for you and me.
Children can’t vote, though, maybe they should. Children do not have enough advocates, politically or socially, they should. Jesus was their advocate. He rebuked disciples who thought these children were not important enough to bother Jesus. To follow Jesus is to care about the conditions in which children live and grow up today. Here in this neighborhood, and around the world.
Today, children around the world are crying out for help, for justice, for hope, for freedom, for food and dignity and a good education. They are our children, Life’s longing for itself!
A few months ago I met a 22 year old, in Romania. When he was 17, he was in love with the Orthodox Church, its teachings and liturgy. He went to the priest he so admired, and, took a risk to tell him he thought he might be homosexual. The priest, who had been his mentor, turned on him with a violent prescription: he told the boy to go home, to put a poker in a hot fire, and then to hold it with his hand, and burn it. After it healed, he should some back, show the priest, and learn how not to have his body and soul thrown into hell. The teenager went home, broken hearted. He prayed all night, and finally came to the conclusion that his priest was wrong, that Jesus would never want him to hurt himself like that. . .not the Jesus who welcomed little children! He never went back to church, until, at age 22, he met with a group of MCCers for a communion service in Bucharest, Romania, in May. After a very moving communion service, we went out to a café and spent hours talking about faith, and God’s justice and desire for us to be whole and of service. . .
For us, in MCC, the more we embrace children, real children, and the rights of children, justice for children, here and everywhere, the more we will heal the child within each of us, who also still longs for justice and hope.
BECOMING LIKE THEM – The gospel lesson also has Jesus saying something about children, that we must become like them to really enter the kin-dom of God.
He did not say in what way – but left that to us to imagine.
For me to become like a child, to have the heart of a child means to:
· Trust the future, don’t try to own or control everything, let go, let God be God. Most children do not operate out of a strategic plan (not saying it is bad to have one!) – they are still in touch with their intuitive, artistic, selves The great artist, Pablo Picasso said that every child is an artist until some adult tells them they are not . . .
. To learn by doing, by experimenting, by innovating, not being afraid to fail – not just saying, “we have always done it this way!”
· Children are always welcoming strangers, because, lets face it, everyone is a stranger to them! We have had to teach children to be afraid of strangers, but their natural tendency is to be curious about every new person . . .to make friends easily; and to be generous!
· More often than not, they let go of hurts and move on – something that adults really need to re-discover.
Imagine if we could imitate those behaviors, as we grow our churches around the world!
MCC’s future is coming through us, but not from us! Every person, every young person, every child you embrace here, has the potential to change lives, the church and history. Holy Spirit moves only forward. May the next 10, 20, 30 and 40 years bring healing, help, hope to so many through you. God bless you, Sunshine Cathedral MCC as you bless so many!