Lamb Power Reign of Christ Sunday 2012 Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins I love those inspiring statements, especially that quote by William James: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one though over another.” William James William James was a philosopher, a psychologist, a Harvard professor, the son of a Swedenborgian theologian, and […]
Reign of Christ Sunday 2012
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
I love those inspiring statements, especially that quote by William James:
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one though over another.” William James
William James was a philosopher, a psychologist, a Harvard professor, the son of a Swedenborgian theologian, and his god-father was Ralph Waldo Emerson. He personally met Sigmund Freud and Mark Twain. His students included Teddy Roosevelt and W.E.B. Du Bois. And this deep thinker, this student of thought and teacher of constructive thinking said things like:
“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”
“The greatest discovery of my generation is that [one] can alter [one’s] life by altering [one’s] attitude.”
“Why should we think upon things that are lovely? Because thinking determines life. It is a common habit to blame life upon the environment. Environment modifies life but does not govern life. The soul is stronger than its surroundings.”
Our passage today from Revelation, brief as it is, gives us a look into the power of choosing our attitudes.
The writer of Revelation tells us that God is the first and the last. In the Greek alphabet, Zeta is the 6th letter, but the last letter is omega. Alpha and Omega suggest completion, wholeness, eternity.
Past, present, future, here and there, first and last and everything in between, the omnipresent wholeness, the animating force of our lives, the power and presence which is exactly where we are, flowing through us, expressing as us, now and forever, is known by many simply as “God” in which we all “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17.28).
Now, this is important for the writer of Revelation. Revelation is being written in response to Roman imperial oppression. The number 666 is a numeric representation of Nero. The great dragon is the Roman imperial military forces, the beast is the emperor and so on. The writer chooses to use creative imagination to deal with the difficulties of his day and then share his creativity to uplift, empower, and encourage others.
The writer of Revelation isn’t trying to terrify people, but to empower people who have been terrified their whole lives.
The chaos in Revelation actually suggests that hope, faith, the way we use our words, and the way we form community can help us navigate and in some instances even take authority over the chaos of life. When the sky is falling, Revelation says there is still reason for hope! When the world is coming apart at the seams, we can choose to imagine possibilities and we can choose to hope anyway.
Take courage and never give up hope. That is the message of Revelation. And the message begins way back in chapter 1 reminding us that God, the Good, the ground of being, the Source and Substance of life is omnipresent and everlasting. God is with and within us, the alpha and omega, the one that was with us in the Exodus is with us still as we face the tyranny of Rome. And that same omnipresent, divine Love will be with us forever. It’s with us as we face the tyranny of depression, or the tyranny of lack, or the tyranny of loneliness, or the tyranny medical challenges. The diabolical forces seem to come against us, but there is a truth within us that they cannot touch nor harm in anyway. The Alpha and the Omega, the omnipresence of life, is expressing as us and our sacred value is our ultimate and everlasting truth and no circumstance can ever rob us of that.
What is often overlooked in Revelation is the centrality of a lamb. The power of Revelation isn’t monsters or warfare…the real power of Revelation is lamb power.
Ruling through violence and intimidation and command and control is the way of Caesar. Revelation is a resistance to the way of Caesar. And so, the real power that is opposite Caesar’s power is lamb power, the power of compassion, the power of gentleness, gentleness that is so much stronger than hateful schemes.
Lambs don’t scare many creatures. Lambs are beautiful, and gentle, and they thrive best in a caring environment, in community. Lambs delight in leaping and playing and grazing. They find joy right where and as they are. Lambs live with and within the environment without trying to take over or become the new potentate. And it is the Lamb that proves victorious over the beast and the dragon in Revelation. People forget that the real power of Revelation is Lamb power. Revelation isn’t about destruction; it is about the cure for destruction.
Using words and ideals and optimism and a belief in justice and equity, a concern for the least of these (Matt. 25.40) and a relentless insistence for a place at the table without then trying to demonize or colonize others…that’s Lamb power. To touch the leper and feed the hungry and care for the voiceless and powerless, to challenge and overcome prejudices and to refuse to let the powers that be define any human being as anything less than a child of God…that’s Lamb Power. We see it in Jesus. We see it Harriet Tubman. We see it in Gandhi. We see it in Martin Luther King, Jr. We see it in Dorothy Day.
Without raising an army, without training assassins, without even waging a propaganda war to dehumanize his opponents, Jesus challenges oppression, affirms the sacred value of all people, and contributes something healing into the life stream of humanity. That’s lamb power.
Now, I don’t mean that in the brutal way that animals were once slaughtered to appease the gods. Execution is the result of how Jesus lived his life, not the purpose of it. I never try to glorify the brutal and vicious way that the Roman imperial system tortured Jesus to death. No, it isn’t his victimization that makes Jesus a lamb, it’s his gentleness. Of course he got angry and scared and confused…he wasn’t emotionally stunted; he experienced every legitimate human feeling. But when he contemplated his mission, it wasn’t to force, to blame, to injure, to torment, or to oppress those without power or even to wallow in impotent making self-pity; it was to demonstrate how even the powerless, the lambs of society, can summon the power of hope that no situation in life can take away.
The reign of Christ must be something radically different than worldly…a symbolic reign that represents inclusion and fairness and hope and healing, not ruling over but serving with, that’s the reign of Christ. The reign of Christ is symbolized by hands soiled from working with and for the so-called least of these…the leper, the prostitute, the Samaritan, the child, the Canaanite woman, the slave, the injured, the elderly, the Queer by any name. It’s so different from the power systems of the world that those systems can’t understand it and so they respond with fear to it, as they do to most things they cannot understand or which seem to challenge the status quo.
When he is asked in the Gospel reading today, “Are you, or are you not, a king?” Jesus just says, “That’s your story.”
Kingship wasn’t his aim…kin-ship was. That’s Lamb power. That’s the reign of Christ. He just wanted to lift up those who had been knocked down. That’s lamb power. That’s the reign of Christ.
Are you ready to be lifted up so you can then lift up others? Are you ready to be happier? You can’t lead where you won’t and you can’t teach what you don’t know and you certainly can’t give what you don’t have, so if you want to lift up others you must first be lifted up! To spread joy you’ve got to have some! Are you ready?
I can’t promise that everything will go your way, but I can promise that it doesn’t have to go your way for you to be happy.
Complaining won’t do it. If complaining hasn’t created joy in your life so far, give it up. Or, if the habit is so engrained giving it up seems impossible, then just commit to stopping once you slip into the old habit, and then make another choice. And if you need help, there is help to be had! This isn’t a problem unique to one or two of us…this is an epidemic from which we have all suffered now and again. But we don’t have to stay there. We can choose to be something better, something more, something worthy of our sacred value. We can choose to share in the healing, all-inclusive, uplifting reign of Christ.
Blame, shame, trying to make our problems someone else’s fault…we’ve all done it, of course. My life isn’t where I want it to be because my boss is mean or my teacher is stupid or my parents were abusive or my spouse is dishonest or, or, or…
But you don’t have to work for that terrible boss. She will accept your resignation or give you a transfer. That fool of teacher isn’t your parole officer…you can drop that class or transfer to another school, or just put up with him until the end of the semester when you’ll be released from his academic dungeon anyway. And maybe your parents were evil to you from birth to 18…you’ve had from 18 to now to start working on how to get past that. First 18 years are on them; after that, we eventually have to take some responsibility.
What if instead of wallowing in how wrong “they” did us, we said, “What happened, happened. I don’t like it. I wish it hadn’t happened. But damned if I’m going to let it rob me of any more joy! It was terrible, but thank God it’s over as long as I don’t keep it on life-support!”
Anne Frank said, “I don’t think of all the misery; I think of all the beauty that still remains.” Anne Frank didn’t have an easy or even long life. But not even all the power of Nazi Germany could rob her of her optimism and her power to choose how she would face the challenges at hand. She had Lamb power.
The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities…that’s Lamb power!
No matter what has happened or what is happening around or even to us, what we believe about ourselves and how we feel about ourselves is a choice that only we can make. Once we choose hope, peace, joy, and love, the qualities we will hear about throughout Advent, we are actually choosing the reign of Christ, the kin-ship with All that is Good. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
I have the ability to choose one thought over another.
I don’t think of all the misery;
I think of all the beauty that still remains.
The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities.
I am blessed with Lamb Power!
And so it is.
Don’t They Know It’s the End of the World? Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Nov. 18th, 2012, Sunshine Cathedral Do you remember that old Carpenter’s ballad? Why do the birds go on singing? Why do the stars glow above? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world; it ended when I lost your love. Why […]
Don’t They Know It’s the End of the World?
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Nov. 18th, 2012, Sunshine Cathedral
Do you remember that old Carpenter’s ballad?
Why do the birds go on singing?
Why do the stars glow above?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world; it ended when I lost your love.
Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? It ended when you said goodbye.
Our readings today are apocalyptic. And we think of apocalyptic literature being about the end of time or the end of an age or the end of the world. And the doomsday prophecies keep popping up…Nostradamus, the Mayan calendar, the evangelical sci-fi Left Behind series, Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth.” There is some sort of angst that keeps insisting that the end is near…but that angst has been played out in story and myth and legend and ritual for thousands of years already. And the earth keeps spinning.
Of course, the earth is a living organism, and that implies a life cycle and part of the life cycle is decline and then death and then rebirth. So, I don’t know what it will look like or how many places it will show up, but my guess is that Life is pretty indestructible and will always find a way and place to express itself.
Still, what’s with all this fantasizing about the end of time?
I think there are basically three kinds of people who obsess about the end.
1. The person who has unfair advantages, unearned privilege, and he or she knows that such and unjust distribution of power and privilege can’t last forever; and so they worry about losing their privilege. Rather than seeking to include more people in their good fortune or helping others out of their suffering, they become more focused on trying to hold onto what they view as theirs for a little while longer. They worry that the world that has favored them will cease to be the status quo, and that is frightening for them.
2. The second kind of person who obsesses about the end of the world is the person who has known so much misery they can’t seem to summon hope other than to think they will be released from the world of suffering and find it replaced somehow with a better world.
3. And the third person who obsesses about the end of the world is the person who has already witnessed it. That’s what we see in our biblical apocalyptic writings. This isn’t some horror novel trying to terrorize us with images of how things might end badly in the future; this is a poetic way of describing the pain and loss that a community has already suffered and how the hope of rebuilding a more just world is what sustains them and moves them forward.
Daniel is largely an apocalyptic text (and its imagery is borrowed by the author of Revelation), but apocalyptic literature is actually hopeful literature to the community for which it is written.
It’s Good news for the oppressed), not so good news for those who benefit from the status quo.
Threats of demolition suggest that unjust, imperial powers, the world as ruled by tyrants, the world where wealth is held by too few and justice is denied to too many is the world that is bound to come to an end. It is then to be replaced by a better sort of world where such atrocities are not tolerated, and certainly do not become the norm.
So, the apocalyptic promise is, “The wise will shine like the bright heavens, and leaders of justice like the stars forever more.”
Lord Krishna instructs Arjuna on the battlefield right before a
huge conflict. That is the setting of the Bhagavad Gita. In a time
of trouble, the divine presence gives counsel.
Some of that counsel is reflected in the Psalter reading for this Sunday.
Arjuna is instructed to take refuge in the divine presence (Psalm 16.1 affirms refuge in the divine presence, and one of the three jewels of Buddhism is taking refuge in the Buddha). Arjuna is given the hope of liberation from sorrow (Psalm 16.6 affirms a goodly heritage).
Arjuna is told to think of himself as being part of/one with/in or like the divine presence (Psalm 16.8 affirms the omnipresence of divinity, that is, divinity is everywhere and at all times fully present, so “There’s not a spot where God is not”, & Luke quoting Paul quoting the Greek poet Epiminides said, “It is in God that we live and move and have our being” and of course Jesus said very simply, “Abba and I are one.”).
Finally, Arjuna is reminded that he is forever held in the divine heart, that he is precious to the Source of life (Psalm 16.9 affirms blessed security).
This is an apocalyptic text (like Daniel, or like the big battle scene of the Bhagavad Gita). The end of an age is near, to be replaced with the reality of the Blessed Community (not as a counter-cultural movement but finally as the new way of the world).
Mark is writing about 70 CE. Jesus was executed in 29 CE, and now, 4 decades later, the community that has been growing and reaching out and touching the untouchables and loving the unlovable and speaking truth to power giving hope to the hopeless, all in Jesus name, that is, in the way and spirit that he had done those very things, the community now suffers another heartbreaking blow.
After fours of fighting with the Roman Empire, the Empire finally lets the hammer down and destroys Jerusalem and its holy Temple, which is the second time the temple has been destroyed. Their wayshower has been gone for decades and now their place of pilgrimage is gone too. Their world has collapsed, ended.
So, they write about the world coming apart and a new world being possible and the Christ experience somehow returning to their lives. They aren’t trying to scare us…they don’t know about us. They don’t there the world isn’t flat. They don’t there is a North American continent. English isn’t even a language yet. They aren’t writing to us, for us, or with us in mind. They are trying to pick up the pieces of THEIR world which has come crashing down. Apocalyptic writing isn’t horror, it is catharsis. It isn’t future telling; it’s truth telling. It isn’t predicting despair, it is working to repair…to recover from the losses already experienced.
The return of Christ isn’t Jesus replacing Caesar on the imperial throne with legions of angels and clergy being elevated to status of nobles and Christians being the elite with power and privilege over non-Christians. That’s the same system that is being threatened. Keeping a corrupt system but putting “our guy” in charge of it doesn’t change the system and doesn’t bring justice or healing.
The return of Christ is the establishment of the Christ community (the Church, the Synagogue, the Sangha, the Mosque, the Temple, the Ashram, the Coven, etc.), the Blessed Community committed to peace and justice and benevolence and goodwill and egalitarianism as not only the way things should be but the way they finally are coming to be.
The world (or age) of power-over is coming to an end and the world (or age) of power-with is coming into manifestation. That is, at least, the apocalyptic hope.
“Apocalyptic eschatology is essentially about God working on behalf of humanity, and that is what is introduced in the beginning of this discourse. It leaves God alarmingly free and open to the future.” Micah D. Kiel (Asst Prof Theology, St Ambrose Univ.)
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill
Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? It ended when you said goodbye.
We aren’t hearing about what can go wrong; we are hearing about what has gone wrong…and following that healthy and healing experience of grief, we also hear the echoes of indomitable hope. The world we knew has ended. Let the new world now begin. Golgotha happens, but it isn’t the end of the story. The Temple falls, but that isn’t the end of the story. Pain and loss and sadness happen, but that isn’t the end of the story. Worlds end; and new worlds begin. We may find ourselves going through hell; but the good news is we can keep going, and on the other side there is a new world full of new joys and new miracles. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
Today is not the end.
It’s a new beginning.
I keep hope alive.
And miracles are on the way.
Wonder Widow & Other Super Heroes Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Nov. 11, 2012 I loved super heroes when I was a kid. Costumes, mystery, campy names, and an insatiable urge to right wrongs and work for restorative justice and fairness for all people…what wasn’t to love?! Of course, some of the super heroes were misunderstood. […]
Wonder Widow & Other Super Heroes
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Nov. 11, 2012
I loved super heroes when I was a kid. Costumes, mystery, campy names, and an insatiable urge to right wrongs and work for restorative justice and fairness for all people…what wasn’t to love?!
Of course, some of the super heroes were misunderstood. Spider Man and the Green Hornet were both thought to be criminals, and the Hulk was considered a monster.
Batgirl was one of my faves. Studious librarian Barbara Gordon was Batgirl. She helped Batman and Robin with their crime fighting agenda but they didn’t know who she really was. Her father was the chief of police, but didn’t know about her life as Batgirl. She was amazing, but even the people she worked with and even her own family didn’t know much about her. Her truth could be her shame or her pride, her detriment or her strength, and she chose the affirmative possibilities. Plus, what is better than a batgirl kick?!
These super heroes, when they accepted their uniqueness, contributed to others experiencing and expressing their own goodness. Difference was a gift, and it was a gift to both celebrate and share. Of course the Queer hillbilly kid found these characters to be compelling!
These saviors of the public were givers. They weren’t doing their hero stuff for glory; in fact, they insisted on anonymity. They weren’t doing it for fame, for their own legacy, for glory or attention or privilege or fanfare. They were doing what they thought was right. They were giving what they had to give. And they did it for the joy of serving, not for adulation. They just wanted the world to be better. It wasn’t about what they wanted from the world, but rather what they wanted for the world.
The super heroes are giving their time, their energy, their talents, their creativity, even risking their lives for others. They are building something…building a just society, a “more perfect union”, a safer world, a healthier human family. They are sharing, giving, in order to build up humanity. But of course all of that is the stuff of fantasy. Right?
Not really. These mythical characters represent the best of human potential. We love them because they remind us of what is within us…the desire to help, to give selflessly, to offer hope, to pick up those who have fallen and to remind those who have been hurt they deserve better. We each have super powers to share, and as we share them, others learn of super potential within them.
“A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then Jesus called out to the disciples and said to them, ‘The truth is, this woman has put in more than all who have contributed…[because] she has put in everything she possessed…’” Mark 12.42-44
That widow was Wonder Widow. No matter how difficult her life was, she knew she had something to give. Some might not have thought it amounted to much, but she gave it with love, with hope, with commitment, and with faith that she could be part of making things better.
I hope you voted last Tuesday or before and that you always participate in the process of making life better for as many people as possible. Our votes were our gifts. We had hours to give standing in line, We had time to give considering the issues and learning about the candidates’ positions. We had votes to give. And we gave those things to build up our society, our country.
Our votes were cast in secret. We weren’t paid to vote. We didn’t get 15 minutes of fame for voting. We just gave something to build up our country. Even if you voted for Rosanne Barr, I hope you did so as a gift, not a lark, but as a true gift to your country. And that vote, even though she obviously didn’t win, was part of the process that led to victories that did occur.
Your vote on election day, or your few hours of volunteer service at church or another worthy organization, or your kind word to someone in need, or your moment sharing a hug with a hurting friend, or your financial contribution to something you really believe in, or you sharing your story of coming out, of living with HIV, of surviving cancer, or being in recovery so that someone in a similar situation can find hope and courage…your gift may not seem like much. It may seem like dropping a penny in deep pot, but it matters. Every selfless gift lovingly for no reason other than to bless others is helping pave the road to future miracles.
The Widow’s Mite isn’t important because of its size, it is important because of why it is given. She gives it because she wants to be part of something bigger than herself. She wants some part in helping others. She wants to express her love for something, her hope for the future, and her willingness to do what she can. That widow isn’t giving coins; coins are just the form of her real gifts…which are hope, love, and a 100% commitment to possibilities.
“Unless it is God that builds a house, those who build it labor in vain.” Psalm 127
It is through the Widow’s Mite that God is building God’s house, a house of prayer for all people (Is. 57), a house for now and for the future.
How fitting that we read this story the weekend of Veterans Day.
I’m reminded of my great-aunt Lois’ friend and companion, Allen. He fought in WW2 against the anti-Semitic, racist, fascist oppression of Hitler. Allen was wounded in that conflict. In fact, he lost an eye. After the war and sufficient recuperation, he even became a Deputy Sheriff. He risked his life to protect the world from fascism. He gave part of his face for the cause. And even after having given so much, he gave more as a law enforcement officer. A veteran, as veterans so often do, showed what it was to give. Not to demand or expect, but for the joy of giving. And in the giving, lives were changed and even saved.
I think of all the veterans who served in silence, the LBGT people who served their country, risking their lives, all the while being told that they could only give such service if they would lie about who they were. They denied themselves to serve others. They denied themselves the joy of loving and living openly so they could give their lives in service. LBGT people can now serve openly, but before they could, some chose to serve in silence so that others could one day serve out loud.
And then there are those veteran of the struggle for equal rights. They weren’t given military commissions, but they lived their lives in service of human dignity and social justice. And sometimes, they didn’t just live their lives for others, they gave their lives. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harvey Milk are two such heroes.
Giving…not out of obligation, not to get something back, not be praised or remembered, not to win influence or position or prestige, but giving freely, generously, loving, joyfully, and all for the sake of building up a dream that benefit others…that is the Widow’s Mite.
And now, I want to ask you to do something. I want you to give something to the future, to the church that is more committed to helping you believe in yourself than telling you what to believe about God.
I’m asking you to give something you may not have thought you had to give, or maybe you didn’t think it was significant enough to give. But I want you to reconsider.
I’m asking you to give three things in addition to your generous, financial contributions.
First, I want you to give positive speech. That may mean giving up the habit of complaining, or the default position of looking for the worst. It may mean deciding not to buy into gossip, no matter how juicy it may seem to be. And especially when it comes to our wonderful church, let’s choose to speak well of our vision, speak well of our future, speak well of our calling, speak well of our purpose. If we will give the seemingly small gift of consistent positive speech, absolute miracles can happen.
Secondly, I’m asking you if you can give a bit more time. If you come to church twice a month, can you increase it to three times a month? If you come on Sundays only, can you take a class during the year or drop in for Wednesday prayer services now and then? When there are concerts or shows or films, can you try to show up for those? Or when we have picnics or special suppers, can you make time for those? Can you give 15 or 20 hours a year more…15 hours in a year, that’s all. Can you give that small but significant gift? You’ll be giving something to yourself as well, but then, that is almost always true when it comes to giving.
And thirdly, can you help us spread the word about Sunshine Cathedral? Oh, we run ads here and there. We’re on the Internet, on Facebook, in print. We do webinars and streaming video. We’re on You Tube and in Second Life. We’re “out there”…but the best marketing or evangelism, depending on the vocabulary you choose, is just to invite someone to church. Extend an invitation to the party. Let people know there is a progressive, positive, and practical spiritual community that affirms the sacred value of all people and that has a lot of fun doing it. An invitation. Doesn’t seem like much; but it is a lot. Can you give it?
And let me tell you why I’m asking for these extra gifts; because teens are still attempting suicide; because even while 10 states now have marriage equality, until it exists at the federal level same-gender loving people are still second class citizens, and people who have been told they are second class need a first class spiritual experience; because in recent years and months we have seen a war on women that cannot go unchallenged; because people still struggle with HIV, and loneliness, and depression, and addiction, and feelings of guilt and condemnation from the religious experiences of their past. There is too much healing needed for us ever to decide that whatever we have is good enough. We need to be more so we can offer more so we can reach more because more people need this message and this Blessed Community.
Healing is needed, and we are a hospital. Let’s get the word out so that even more lives can be changed, empowered, enriched, and filled with hope and joy.
Give that widow’s mite for what it might build up; give that positive word, that extra time, that invitation to someone new. When you do that, you are super heroes in the kin-dom of God. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
I have gifts to share.
I share them gladly.
As I give, I also receive.
And I am blessed to be a blessing to others.
Hope on the Fourth Day Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins All Saints/All Souls 2012 At first glance, our readings today seem to be about death. But I think they really are trying to say something more. I think the readings are about hope. In the gospel story we see Mary and Martha and Lazarus living together […]
Hope on the Fourth Day
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
All Saints/All Souls 2012
At first glance, our readings today seem to be about death. But I think they really are trying to say something more. I think the readings are about hope.
In the gospel story we see Mary and Martha and Lazarus living together as sisters and brother. None of them married and apparently none with children. And right away, I think, right…
From the lens of Queer Theology it seems plausible that Mary and Martha may not be sisters, but a couple who have left whatever town they are from and started life anew as “sisters” where they would not be questioned; pitied for their spinsterhood perhaps, but otherwise safe from scorn and harm.
And maybe one of them had a brother, Lazarus, or maybe he was a friend who moved in with them seeking the safe shelter that the guise of family would provide. Three people not allowed to marry in their culture, but determined to share love and experience happiness anyway.
And I see this alternative family of choice, these unmarried people who live together and love one another going to extraordinary links just to live their lives as the people they are, and I see Jesus being somehow a part of this chosen family. I see affirmation of LBGT people and the supremacy of love over prejudice.
I wish this brilliant insight was my own, but is the result of some amazing Queer theologians throughout the years.
Of course, as particular as that reading is, it is also universal. The powers of prejudice and the bastions of bigotry and the citadels of segregation have always tried to control bodies and limit love and spread division rather than unity. Whether the issue was race or religion or gender identity or sexual orientation, villainy disguised as virtue, fear posing as faith, and hatred pretending to be holiness has continuously tried to control bodies and limit the expression of genuine, mutual, love.
But this family, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, defying what some would say a family should look like, this family is built on love. And Jesus is part of their arrangement, at least peripherally, and maybe explicitly, and he loves them. He loves them, just as they are.
But do you see the real point? The point isn’t that Mary and Martha may have been same-gender lovers; the point isn’t that Lazarus may have been a gay man; the point isn’t that Jesus is somehow part of this family arrangement or at very least approve of it; the point isn’t even the question of why Jesus was so overcome with grief at the loss of Lazarus, so overcome that the writer of the story imagines that Jesus cannot let him stay dead. What was the nature of THAT bond?
No, the erotic and romantic possibilities, strong as they may be and as obvious as they are to some of us aren’t really the point. Just as death really isn’t the point. The point is that hope is never misplaced and hope is never too late.
Yes, we see a non-traditional family being known about and cared about by Jesus…that is a hopeful and affirming scene for same-gender loving people.
And yes, we see Lazarus being somehow available beyond death, that his life-force did not die when his body did. That is hopeful for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones or who are fearful about their own mortality.
But even beyond these instances, there are at least two other moments of profound hope in the story.
Jesus says, “Take away the stone.” Have you ever felt trapped in a tomb or closet of despair? Have you ever felt that something was blocking you from coming out into the light of joy and living fully as the creative, loving, brilliant person Life has designed you to be? Have you ever felt there was more to life than fear, shame, regret and resentment, but you couldn’t seem to get past it? It was like a heavy stone was keeping you trapped in a prison of negativity.
But then we hear Jesus say today, “Take away the stone.” Something may have you boxed in a dark hole of despair, seemingly trapped by a stone of limitation, but Jesus says the stone can be rolled away and then even calls us, bound as we may feel ourselves to be, to dare to stumble out into the light and let it enliven us. He calls to Lazarus, “Come out!” That’s the message, isn’t it? Take away the stone, and come out. Live out loud. Live your truth. Live in the power of integrity. Love who you are and let that love help you be all that you are meant to be.
Still in grave clothes, still with the stench of fear and despair and regret all over him, Lazarus takes the first step into the light and from there, the miracle of life takes hold and life begins to express in new and amazing ways. Take away the stone, and come out!
Did it really happen? That’s not even a meaningful question in my mind.
Can it happen? Does it happen? Will we let it happen? Will we dare to summon the kind of hope that will remove heavy stones and call us out into the light of joyous living? That’s the question, and it is up to each one of us to answer it.
But there is one other very hopeful word spoken in the story. When Jesus says, “take away the stone,” Martha says, “but Jesus, Lazarus has been dead for four days! He will smell terrible.” The King James Version says, “But Lord, he stinketh!” Even a stinky circumstance isn’t reason enough to abandon hope. And even four days isn’t too long for possibilities to start to manifest.
Three is the usual number for miracles in scripture. Jonah is vomited out of the mouth of the fish on day three.
The plague of darkness covering Egypt is lifted on day three.
In 2nd Samuel, there is a famine that concludes in year three.
In the book of Daniel there are three young men thrown into a furnace and the three come out unharmed.
The Apostle Paul’s conversion happens after a period of blindness that ends on day three.
You see, over and over in scripture, three is the number of restoration, renewal, relief, the end of suffering. On day three, in the story telling tradition, something wonderful happens.
But in today’s story, it is already day FOUR. The traditional miracle expiration date has come and gone!
So it’s too late to find anything thing good. Isn’t it? NO!
It’s never really too late. Never give up hope!
After deciding that even on day four hope is possible, Jesus acts on his hope, saying, “Take away the stone.” Jesus then prays affirmatively with gratitude and expectation. He says, “God, I thank you for hearing me; I know that you always hear me.” And then, he makes his demand on the universe by saying, “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus recognizes the divine presence; he gives thanks for its power, and then directs the power to accomplish something good. That’s how we can pray as well. But it all starts with the willingness to embrace indomitable hope.
My father died a couple of years ago. Sadly, we were never terribly close. In the last few years of his life, we made some progress though. And I got to be with him the last week of his life. I got to help care for him at the end, and I even got tell him, I think for the first time ever, that I loved him. It was clearly the fourth day (it was actually an 8 or 9 day ordeal); but the point is it wasn’t too late. And even if he had died before I got to say those things, I still believe it would not have been be too late. Just as Lazarus responds to Jesus in the story after Lazarus had died, I think I could still send love and goodwill to my dad even after death and the healing between us could still take place. We’ve learned from Transpersonal Psychology and Quantum Physics that Consciousness is nonlocal. Neither time nor space can limit it.
The poets and philosophers tell us that it is in God that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17.28). On this plane or another, we must be forever part of the Allness we call God. It is in God that we forever live and move and have our being. So, why not send love or forgiveness to a departed loved one. In our material world they may be gone, but in consciousness, they are only ever a thought away.
Every Sunday we call out names of departed loved ones at communion. There are always names I say aloud. And that simple act of love reconnects me to those people every time and they come alive in my memory and their love enlivens me and week after week the miracle happens. It is never too late.
I have sat by bedsides of those too weak to live, and to afraid to die. Religion as they had inherited it had filled them with dread and fear. It had taught them to hate themselves and they were terrified to meet their maker whom they had been told hated them as well. But holding frail hands, and sharing about a love that will not, cannot let us go, a love that is our very life-force, that is the source and substance of our being, I have seen time and again hope come over exhausted faces and peace fill aching bodies as these dear souls finally accept healing from religious abuse and allow themselves to at last rest in peace. And as I call them to mind, they live blessed memory. It is never too late.
The message that life that is significant beyond death, that the love experienced in life cannot be diminished by death is a message of profound hope. And that is the message of our scriptures today.
Dare to hope today. Hope isn’t a guarantee; it’s just the doorway to possibilities. Open that door and see what calls out to you.
Maybe a stone will be taken away.
Maybe you will hear a voice calling you out into the light of joyous living.
Maybe you will learn that hope followed by action, affirmations, and gratitude can accomplish great things.
But however it plays out, hope is a blessing and it is available to us all the time, even on the fourth day! Because really, there is no third day or fourth day or yesterday or tomorrow in God’s time, there is only now. Hope is always available now. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
Thank you, God, for hearing me.
I know that you always hear me.
So in your name, I call forth my good today.
And so it is!