Remaining Faithful

On November 27, 2016, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Remaining Faithful Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Advent 1 (2016) There is a well known biblical character that named Daniel. Some scholars doubt if he was an historical person, but the story of Daniel is one that people, even those who aren’t religious, at least know in part. Like other biblical characters, Daniel was a dream […]

Remaining Faithful
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Advent 1 (2016)

There is a well known biblical character that named Daniel. Some scholars doubt if he was an historical person, but the story of Daniel is one that people, even those who aren’t religious, at least know in part.

Like other biblical characters, Daniel was a dream interpreter, and his interpretations pointed toward a future where tyrants would be toppled, the oppressed would be liberated, and the injured would be healed. Daniel represents hope for the future, a waiting for better days.

But Daniel was more than an interpreter of dreams; he was also a person of faith, a community leader, and a survivor. Spirituality, activism, and enduring hardship all worked together to help Daniel believe in a future filled with infinite possibilities.

Daniel was from Jerusalem and lived during the time of Babylonian captivity, and then in Persian captivity after the Persians overthrew the Babylonians. The new Persian king, Darius, appointed 120 governors to help oversee the empire and the governors were to be accountable to three ministers also appointed by the king. One of those ministers was Daniel.

Even in the midst of exile and domination, Daniel maintained a good attitude. Even in hardship, he managed to flourish. He hoped for better days, but as he waited, he did what he could to flourish where he was. Daniel represents the indomitable human spirit. Daniel is a representation of grace equal to every need!

Well, the other ministers and governors didn’t celebrate Daniel’s success. They were threatened by it, jealous of it, and they started to conspire to take him down.

Daniel was a person of integrity, so they knew they weren’t going to catch him being unfair or unethical or breaking current laws, so they worked to pass a new law criminalizing his faith.

The other ministers proposed a new law for King Darius to sign. They asked the king to make a binding decree that for one month anyone praying to anyone other than the king would be punished by being fed to lions.
Darius thinks, “worshiped for a month? That doesn’t sound too bad. Where do I sign?” And the decree was made.

Now they’ve got Daniel. Daniel is a faithful practitioner of Judaism. He isn’t going to spend a month not praying, and he certainly isn’t going to pray to his boss. So, three times a day, like always, he continues to face Jerusalem and pray to the God of his understanding. He doesn’t make a big show of it. He goes home to pray in private, but he continues worshiping faithfully.

One day, while he is home praying, his home is raided. Daniel is caught red handed praying to the God of his ancestors. He was not praying, as the law stated he must, to King Darius.
And so he was arrested and taken to the king.

The king realizes the decree was short-sighted, and so he wants to pardon Daniel, but the other ministers remind Darius that his decree is irrevocable.
Darius is devastated because even he can’t save Daniel; and so, Darius whispers to him, “May your God save you.” And David is then tossed to the lions.

The king was so sad about putting Daniel in harm’s way, he spent the night not sleeping or eating. When morning broke, Darius rushed to the lions’ den to see what happened to him; and to his delight, he found Daniel alive!
Somehow, the lions weren’t interested in Daniel. Daniel attributed the good fortune to the ministry of angels (I attribute it to good storytelling), but in any case, he was alright.

The king ordered Daniel released and had those who plotted against him thrown to the lions (ps, they didn’t fare as well as Daniel did).

Daniel survived the Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire, and a den of lions. He met challenge after challenge, and through it all he remained faithful. It was his faith, actually, that gave him the strength to endure the difficulties. He waited for things to get better, and while he waited, he remained faithful.

That’s a good message for Advent. Advent is the time before Christmas. We wait for the special time of celebration, the joy of Christmas, and while we wait, we remain faithful. We adopt new disciplines, perhaps reading a spiritual book for Advent, attending midweek Advent bible study, praying, like Daniel, at certain appointed times throughout the day. We wait, and we remain faithful.

But Advent is more than waiting for the Christmas holiday. Advent is also waiting for what we have traditionally called the return of Christ.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I am with you always.” How does one who never left, return?
The anointing on Jesus’ life is on the church, and on holy leaders of every faith. What we are waiting for isn’t for a person to come back from the great beyond, but for us to recognize the Christ within us so that we will express Christ qualities for a world that still needs them. We are waiting not for Jesus to come fix everything, but for us to grow to the point where we can do what Jesus did…which is dare to be Christ in the world. When will that happen? No one knows the day or the hour (the scripture says); so we continue to work and wait.

Charismatic healer Agnes Sanford wrote, “[Christ] did return, in…spirit at Pentecost, and so [Christ] returns to each of us today.”
That is why we try to be faithful, so we can be the means of expressing the light of Christ. We wish to be faithful because we wish to be Christ in the world, and that takes practice, faithfulness.

Corrie ten Boom, who said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God,” was one of the ways Christ returned to us. Her family lived in the Netherlands during WW2, and even though they were Christian, they hid Jewish people in their home to keep them safe from the Nazis. Corrie and her family were the presence of grace to people in need, to people who were criminalized because of who they were, because of their heritage, and because of how they worshiped. The Booms even observed the Jewish Sabbath with their guests.

Christ returned to earth in and as the Boom family as they risked their own privilege and safety to keep others safe during a time of oppression. Instead of condemning people because of their faith or heritage, the Boom family chose to be Christ in a world of pain.

We seem to wait long periods of time for a return of that kind of Christ-like compassion and courage, but it does come. We are called to be faithful in case we are the ones through whom the spirit of Christ should return again to offer healing to a hurting world. Advent is our chance to get ready…to love more, the hope more, to recharge our spiritual batteries so we can do more. We could actually be the return of Christ someone is waiting for, and that many people desperately need. And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2016
For the healers in our world,
For the justice-seekers,
For those who share your love…
Thank you, God.
Amen.

My Lord!

On November 20, 2016, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

My Lord! Luke 23.33, 35-43 Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Today is Reign of Christ Sunday. You may find it to be a little Jesus heavy, but it IS Reign of Christ Sunday. What are you gonna do? Reign of Christ Sunday is an opportunity to explore the “lordship” of Jesus, a Galilean peasant-prophet whom we […]

My Lord!
Luke 23.33, 35-43
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Today is Reign of Christ Sunday. You may find it to be a little Jesus heavy, but it IS Reign of Christ Sunday. What are you gonna do?

Reign of Christ Sunday is an opportunity to explore the “lordship” of Jesus, a Galilean peasant-prophet whom we call our anointed lord. Reign of Christ Sunday is a chance to unpack that.

Jesus is Lord is the oldest creedal statement of Christianity. And, it was explosive.

Jesus was born and grew up in a land occupied by the Roman empire. The emperor was the supreme sovereign, the lord of all lords. In that world at that time, we can hardly imagine the courage it took for the disenfranchised followers of Jesus to call him “Lord.”

Caesar’s exploits were called “good news.” Followers of Jesus offered a counter-narrative, a different kind of “good news” that not only didn’t involve Caesar, it was over-against the system that gave Caesar his power and his privilege.

Those whom the world would condemn, God would bless, anoint, favor – that’s what was communicated by the simple phrase, Jesus is Lord. It was a radical message of hope and empowerment.

Not a general, not a prince, not an emperor, but a peasant from an occupied territory – to call that person “Lord” was shocking. It’s old news to us, but to the first hearers, it was life changing.

Jesus, the Lord of people’s hearts, didn’t raise an army but a movement.
He didn’t arm people with spears but with love.
To call Jesus “Lord” was both ironic and subversive.

The temerity of people to think of Jesus as an anointed lord, got Jesus killed.
We see that in today’s gospel reading. But Luke will insist that Jesus’ execution isn’t the end of his story, or of his mission. His purpose, his power, and his message would rise from the blood soaked dust of Golgotha and become the living, loving, justice-seeking church; the resurrected and returned body of Christ.

The justice-seeking church of Jesus Christ would suffer persecution, but it would also know the power of overcoming it.

The church that condoned apartheid, the church that embraced Jim Crow, the church that kept women from its pulpits, the church that blamed people with AIDS for their suffering, the church that demonized and dehumanized same-gender loving people was not the church of the Lord Jesus. It may have venerated an idea of Jesus, but it did not follow his daring example of working to set the oppressed free.

Calling Jesus Lord when it protects our comfort or privilege is not the same as calling Jesus Lord to bring hope, healing, and justice to all who have been marginalized.

To say Jesus is Lord is powerful when we remember who Jesus was: a baby born to a not yet married, temporarily homeless mother who had her baby in a barn and laid him in a feeding trough because her family was denied the comforts of an inn.
To call that baby “Lord” later in his life is to acknowledge that no one, no matter who they are or where they are from could ever be separate from the love of God.

Let me be clear: to say Jesus is Lord does not suggest that having a certain opinion or experience of Jesus is the only way to understand or worship the divine.

I believe with all my heart that the one who said, “love your neighbor as yourself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” would have me respect other spiritual heroes.
And so I bless the compassionate Buddha, I give thanks for the patriarchs and matriarchs of Judaism, I acknowledge the sacred spirituality of the native inhabitants of this land, and I honor the prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him).

Jesus is Lord is a statement to motivate me to rise to my potential, not to disrespect what motivates others to rise to their potential.

To say Jesus is Lord is to say we stand in opposition to power structures that dehumanize the weak, the lonely, the oppressed, or the marginalized.

To say Jesus is Lord is to say that we will vocally and consistently resist and rebuke racism, xenophobia, misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia (even and perhaps especially when we find those flaws within ourselves).

To say Jesus is Lord is to say that we will not allow any child of God to be treated as if they were not.

To say Jesus is Lord is to say that as followers of Jesus we have devoted ourselves to a compassionate way, a liberating truth, and a justice-seeking life.

To say Jesus is Lord is to say that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace and goodness.

To say Jesus is Lord is to care for the poor and the most the vulnerable.

To say Jesus is Lord is to say we will forgive oppressors, but we will never again accept oppression.

To say Jesus is Lord is to speak out for the dignity of all people, especially those considered to be “the least of these.” Does our voice really matter? The historic power of the gospel has been in its proclamation.
In the beginning was the word and the word was divine…yes, I believe our voices matter.

In today’s gospel, even in his pain, Jesus ministered to someone else in pain.
Jesus today hears the cries of a hurting person.
Jesus today affirms the sacred value of one condemned by society.
Jesus today promises that paradise, the experience of the love of God, will not be withheld from the sorrowful, the downtrodden, the hurting.
If Jesus is Lord for us, then we will follow the example of our Lord, and when we fail to do so, we will try again.

When others are targeted, will we push past our fears and pain to affirm them?

When political leaders, even the ones we may admire, target minority groups or allow their supporters to do so, will we challenge and confront them to offer better and more just leadership?

When racism rears its ugly head in media, politics, the workplace or the streets, will we say,
“In the name of our middle eastern Lord, we will not tolerate this”?

When our neighbors, whoever they are, are frightened or hurting, will we say with Jesus, “come to us all who are burdened and heavy laden and we will refresh you?”

We don’t have to say Jesus is Lord, and there have been times in my life I resisted saying it for a variety of legitimate reasons. But I need to reclaim that ancient creed today. And I know to embrace that creed will require some action. To say, Jesus is Lord, means we must sincerely try to follow the justice-seeking example of Jesus – otherwise, the words ring hollow.

And so, for the hope it offers, for the world changing power that is represents, and for the call to action that it is, I give voice to our faith tradition’s oldest creed: Jesus is Lord. And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2016

God of peace and plenty,
God of hope and healing,
God of grace and goodness,
Bless me and the whole world.
Amen.

Keep Singing

On November 13, 2016, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Keep Singing Isaiah 12.2 Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins The reading today from Isaiah is part of a psalm. A psalm is simply a sacred poem or song. Isaiah offers a song of encouragement during a time of fear. “God is my salvation; I will trust and will not be afraid, for God is my strength […]

Keep Singing
Isaiah 12.2
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

The reading today from Isaiah is part of a psalm. A psalm is simply a sacred poem or song. Isaiah offers a song of encouragement during a time of fear. “God is my salvation; I will trust and will not be afraid, for God is my strength and my might.”

Have you ever needed a song like that? A song to remind you that you’ve faced tough times before, you survived, and if and when tough times come again, you’ve got what it takes to face the challenges and keep your peace and joy as well.

It was the 1980s. Hot Springs, AR. Hot Springs was home to the only gay bar for several counties. The parking lot was behind the bar, which had no identifying sign on it. The state criminalized same-gender sexual relationships. Families would routinely disown their kids for being gay, churches openly preached a hostile and dehumanizing message about same-gender loving people. Since church, state, and family all conspired to demonize lesbian and gay people, some often thought it fitting sport to target LGBT people, to terrorize them.

It was not at all uncommon to walk through the dark parking lot to the front of the bar which had no sign, and go in only to hear someone say, “Hurry, get in here. There were gay bashers with sticks and bats out there earlier.”

We’d keep an eye on the door, encourage one another, walk each other back to our cars when it was time to leave…what we didn’t do was stop going to the bar! That somehow never occurred to us. We would, at all costs, come together, support one another, and face whatever threat was out there. And while we were at it, we’d dance and sing together,
We’re no strangers to love, you know the rules and so do I…

Don’t act like you didn’t love some Rick Astley.

We knew how to handle the fears…we’d face them, together.

At the same bar, we soon started noticing one friend and then another not showing up. We dreaded the reason: “Oh, he’s in St. Joseph’s hospital,” or “he never showed up to work last week and they found him dead at home.”
The viral holocaust known as AIDS had come to Arkansas and our friends were dying.

We knew what to do. We would make sure that they did not die alone. If their families rejected them, they’d move in with us. If their families wouldn’t attend their funerals, the funeral home chapel would be packed with sissies and dykes (as we defiantly called ourselves in those days). And we’d fill the chapel with our voices, sometimes singing the songs of childhood…the songs reminding us of a love that would never let us go:
Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me, the bible tells me so.
Neither fundamentalism nor politicians nor cold hearted families nor AIDS itself would keep us from laughing and crying and loving and singing together.

We sang a lot in those days. In the face of family rejection, gay bashing, and an untreatable disease, music healed our hearts. Every party involved a guitar or three, and people singing the old faves. Patsy Cline was a staple:
I go out walkin’ after midnight out in the moonlight
Just like we used to do, I’m always walkin’ after midnight searchin’ for you.

What were we singing about? What were we looking for? Hope? Health? Acceptance? Who knew exactly? But the music was cathartic.

We missed the people who abandoned us. We loved them and wanted them to love us, and we grieved because they didn’t. These relationships ended only because their fear of difference was stronger than their love of us. That hurt. But we knew what to do.

We sang. We formed families of choice. We affirmed one another. We relished joy whenever and however it might show up and we rejoiced that we had found one another, and safe spaces, and songs that could heal our hurting souls.

In time, some churches started embracing LGBT people.
In time, combination therapies made HIV something we could live with rather than die from.
In time, sodomy laws were struck from the books, and even the miracle of marriage equality came into our lives.

We faced the difficult days, and we ushered in better days. We still know what to do.

We made progress over the decades, but bigotry remains in our nation.
Today Muslims are targeted, vilified, and threatened.
The LGBT community is afraid that it might lose some of its hard won freedoms.
Immigrants worry that their families might be torn apart from proposed deportation programs.

We’ve seen the evils of Jim Crow and its lasting impact long after.
We’ve seen inaction in the early days of AIDS because of who the first people to suffer from it were.
We’ve seen weaponized religion try to demonize and dehumanize same-gender loving people.

But as the angel said to the shepherds when Jesus was born, “Fear not for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!”

Yes, we’ve seen lives destroyed by hate, but from the ashes of that destruction we have seen a phoenix rise again and again.

We’ve fought this battle…We are seasoned soldiers. But we must remember that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but they are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.

Our weapons are what they’ve always been…hope, courage, goodwill, resilience, love, optimism, and the outrageous audacity to sing in the face of heartache.

Look for the silver lining, whenever clouds appear in the blue.
Remember somewhere, the sun is shining,
and the right thing to do is make it shine for you.
A heart filled with joy and gladness will always banish sorrow and strife.
So look for the silver lining and always try to find the sunny side of life.

Sunshine Cathedral is the church of the sunny side of life.

I don’t know what the future holds, or when the various wounds of our society will finally heal. But I know this, and I promise this:
Sunshine Cathedral is and will be a safe place for all people.
Republicans and Democrats, women and men, gay and straight, able and differently abled, young and old, cisgender and transgender, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Agnostic, and other…this is a house of prayer, and a house of singing, for all people.

And this is the good news.

© Durrell Watkins 2016

Before I call you forward today to pray for your needs, I want us to pray together for our nation. Wounds that are generations old still are need of healing, so before we pray for ourselves, let’s rise as we are able and pray for our country:

God bless America land that I love.
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam.
God Bless America, my home sweet home.
God Bless America, my home sweet home.

Now, please come forward as you will for anointing, receive a prayer card, and stand with us at the altar as we pray for and with you:

God has placed a song of hope in my heart.
I will live always in the power of hope.
I am forever safe in God’s love.
Alleluia!
Amen.

 

Trusting the Goodness of God

On November 13, 2016, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Trusting the Goodness of God Rev Dr Durrell Watkins All Souls Sunday 2016 Religion, for me, is NOT fire insurance. We seem so silly and we make religion seem so irrelevant when we treat it as if it where the reservations desk at an afterlife resort. Let me tell you the 100% honest truth about […]

Trusting the Goodness of God
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
All Souls Sunday 2016

Religion, for me, is NOT fire insurance.
We seem so silly and we make religion seem so irrelevant when we treat it as if it where the reservations desk at an afterlife resort.

Let me tell you the 100% honest truth about what happens after we die: I have no idea.
I spend no time trying to figure it out and no time trying to persuade anyone else that I do know what can’t be known.

This is what I believe: God is good.
This is my commitment: to trust as best I can the goodness of God.

That’s it. That’s my whole theology of the afterlife…this life, too, for that matter.
God is omnipresent…there’s not a spot where God is not.
If God is omnipresent, then that means whatever I am is part of God, and if the omnipresent God is eternal, then I must in some sense be eternal.
What will that look like after this experience of life? I couldn’t possibly know, but I trust that it will be good, because God is good.

Jesus said in John’s gospel, “In God’s house there are many rooms.” I don’t know what those rooms look like or who goes to which room, but if they are in God’s house, they must all be fabulous.

My faith is that God is omnipresence, so neither in this life experience or in any other could I ever be separated from the divine presence. I didn’t know what this life would be like until I got here, and it’s always changing.
I don’t know what the next will be like, but I trust it will be in the presence of God and so all will be well.

The prophet Haggai was onto something when he said, “God’s spirit is among you; so, do not fear.” God is with and within us; there is nothing to fear.

I’m an admirer of the 17th century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg.
Swedenborg wrote, “Human beings are so created that as to their internals they cannot die.”
In other words, what we really are is deathless. What is internal, is eternal.

What is internal?
Quaker founder George Fox said there is “that of God” in everyone.
The divine Spark within us is our true nature, and it is perfect, and it is one with its eternal divine Source.

A 17th century Carmelite monk, Brother Lawrence, wrote about the Practice of the Presence of God. If God is omnipresent then we don’t need invoke God’s presence, but rather learn to experience it wherever we are. Brother Lawrence wrote, “Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business and even in your diversions. [God] is always near you and with you…”

Paramahansa Yogananda, who brought Kriya Yoga to the west, said,
“I am the ocean of consciousness. Sometimes I become the little wave of the body, but I am never just the wave without the Ocean of God.”

And the Sufi poet Rumi said, “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”

Now, these enlightened, intuitive, deeply thoughtful souls thought these things, but that isn’t proof. We don’t have proof; we have beliefs which are well rehearsed opinions.
I am as a matter of choice rehearsing the opinion that gives me strength, comfort, hope, courage, and peace.

I’m trusting that God is good, that there’s not a spot where God is not, and therefore I can’t be apart from God in this or any other reality. I choose to say with Haggai, “God’s spirit is among you, so do not fear!”

The omnipresence of God upon which I so totally depend is what gives me the authority to say without equivocation that every person has sacred value.

God is the Ground of Being and to be at all is to be part of God and to be part of God is to forever have access to the loving goodness that God is.

I don’t know what’s next, and I don’t need to know. Faith is trust, and I trust because I can’t know.
But what I believe with the entirety of my being is that we are forever in God’s presence and in God’s presence peace and joy are always possible.

Jesus said in today’s gospel: To God, ALL are alive.
Not just those who belong to certain religions, not just those who live in certain parts of the world, not just those who hold certain beliefs, not just those who are heterosexual, not just those who are physically alive today…the reality of my faith is that all means all, and to God ALL are alive!

Now, free from the fear that we could ever be rejected by God, let us endeavor to experience the Holy more deeply here and now.
Let us live in the power of hope, here and now.
Let us trust that God is compassionately predisposed toward all people, in this life and in whatever may come next.

And as a community committed to worshiping a God of pure, endless, and unconditional love, let us be conduits of that love so that the healing power of that love can make a difference in whatever world we happen to occupy at the time, which for now happens to be 21st century earth.

Religion has been used to scare, control, manipulate, divide, oppress, conquer, kill, and silence people.
God forgive us for so misrepresenting the truth of all-inclusive, unconditional, divine Love.

But religion that is progressive, positive, and practical…religion that brings people together to celebrate the love of God which will never and can never let them go, that is a power for good in the world.

That is the religion of Paramahansa Yogananda who taught, “God is eternal Bliss. God’s being is love, wisdom, and joy.”
That is the religion of the prophet Nahum who said, “The Lord is good…!” (1.7)
That is the religion of the Christian mystic from the middle ages, Julian of Norwich, who said, “As the body is clothed in cloth…so are we, body and soul, clothed in the goodness of God.” Believing that is what allowed Madam Julian to affirm, “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

I believe that in the eternal, loving presence of God, for you and for me and for every soul that has ever lived and that will ever live…All shall be well.

Religion done right is healing. Religion done right brings hope and joy. Religion done right reminds us we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. Religion done right inspires us to embrace the best of our faith, and share it in a way that will heal broken hearts, heal aching spirits, heal fearful souls.

All Souls Sunday is a day to remember that all souls, all people, are children of God, and God never abandons her children…in this life, or any other. And this is the good news.
© Durrell Watkins 2016
God help me trust in your goodness.
Fill me with peace and joy.
In this life and whatever follows…
let me know that all shall be well.
Amen.

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