A Holy Night Rev Dr Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister
A Holy Night
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister
“Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2.7 Our Witness to the Good News As we gather for worship on this last Sunday of the year, which happens to be Christmas […]
“Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2.7
Our Witness to the Good News
As we gather for worship on this last Sunday of the year, which happens to be Christmas Day this year, I want to open my sermon with a line that I will close with and that is, our ending experiences of this year are not the totality of who we are, there is more be done.
Our gospel reading for today is only one verse, yet it is loaded with all kinds of intrigue and wonder: “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
Most are very familiar with this particular story.
But what of this girl named Mary? Who is she? Who are her people?
What is implied by the use of the phrase ‘gave birth to her firstborn son’? Could this imply that Mary had other children after Jesus?
She gave birth. Did she do this by herself? Were there no midwives around to assist with the birthing process? Who was there to assist with cutting the umbilical cord? Did someone at least sterilize something for a birth that was about to take place in a barn?
What is one to make of the bands of cloth? A new baby wrapped in rags that were probably used to clean the animals. There was nothing new for this baby, just whatever they could get their hands to wrap a newborn baby with to keep it warm.
And of all things, she placed a new born baby in an animal’s feeding trough. A trough that I would image had not been clean. Slop, leftover food and grain, still present for the last animal feeding, this is the place that this new born baby was laid after he was born.
Under some rather difficult circumstances, the actual birth and survival of mother and baby, may be more of the miracle of the story than anything else. This birth that took place was by no means under the best of circumstances.
And yet, here we are today, some 2,000 plus years later, remembering and retelling a story about a woman named Mary and a baby called Jesus who has changed lives forever.
Mary, a chosen woman of God, gave birth, that was good news!
Now, that was the black and white version of the story. Remember black and white TV —
Now the in color version of this same story would go something like this:
Girl, did you hear what happened to Mary. She done went and got herself pregnant before she got married. Now what kind of life is she going to have and what of that baby?
And you know what else, I’m not buying that story that she is going around telling everybody …about her not knowing what happened … the only way that might be is someone slipped something into her drink and took advantage of her. But honey the icing on the cake is this … the man she is marrying, well honey that is not even the baby’s daddy! What do you make of that?
Well, I tell you what, Joseph, that is a good man because he went ahead on and married Mary even though she got pregnant by someone else.
And Mary gave birth to a healthy baby boy and they lived happily ever after, for about 33 years … you have to come back at Easter to get that story.
Now if we heard this story in a cable news commentary it might go like this -– news flash, families are having to leave their current home to return to place where they were born, among them, a woman who is pregnant. Do we send them back because they are undocumented? Do we send them back because they speak a different language? Do we take them off the plane because someone over heard them speaking a different language. Is the woman pregnant or is it it someone dressed as a pregnant woman, in disguise who is up to no good.
If Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus were trying to get into any country today, would they make it? Would they be welcome? Would they fare better than a stable today?
In our own personal real life TV, we all want to live in a world where we can feel safe and live without fear. Fear of the other, the unknown, what can happen, what might happen are all things that are meant to divide us at a time when we need to be coming together. Maybe that is part of the good news of our gospel reading of the birth narrative, learning not to fear the unknown or the other. Mary and Jospeh faced a unwhole lot of unknown, and they faced it together.
I do not believe that our world would be safer by building up nuclear arsenals.
I do not believe that our world is safer when someone is arrested or shunned for speaking a different language.
I do not believe that our world is safer when we are treated differently just because of the color of our skin.
I do not believe our world is safer when women are to treated less than because of their gender.
The Christmas story of outcasts surviving, being chosen and loved by God, is not just a feel good message, it is a moral message, and a call to build a more just world.
The story of Mary continues to provide us with a witness of peace, love, joy and hope today, and it reminds us that we still have work to do, for the rest of this year, next year and in the years to come.
But for now let us take a moment to reflect on this year.
- for some it was a year of loss of a loved one; for others it might be been the joy of birth.
- fo some it might have been a year of change in relationship status, for others it might have been of year of finding new love — as we all learned about it on facebook.
- for some it has been a year of change; for others it has been a year of working to find stability.
- for some there may have been more downs than ups; and others more ups than downs.
- for some in the world it was met with bombings, natural disasters; and yet humankind in various areas rose above such tragedies to prove that we are still one human family.
And yet, we are still here.
For Sunshine Cathedral as a faith community it has been another year for as well.
- We have honored those who have made their transitions; celebrated love in marriage; welcome the birth of new life.
- We have journeyed with those who have questioned their faith; and we have celebrated with those who because of their faith journey now call Sunshine Cathedral their home and to each an every one, we say Welcome Home.
- We welcome 29 groups that call the Sunshine Cathedral their home and in just a a couple weeks that number will move to 30. We value the presence of all the groups on this campus including the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida and our wonderful partnership with SunServe and we still have room for more.
- We celebrate the installation of a new columbarium on our property, two new stained glass windows, the early completion of CC3 – paying off our property and the launch of CC4 to replace our pews with new seating. And we are grateful for our relationship with our own Sunshine Cathedral Foundation for working with us to make this a reality. And, we are not done yet with our brick and mortar work, we still have more to do.
- We celebrated the launch of a feeding program to help meet a human need. We still have more outreach to be done and we celebrate this knowing that we are making a difference.
-We have expanded our assisted living ministries, provided pastoral care to hundreds, offered grief support groups, worked to increase awareness about transgender issues, reached out to people in the Caribbean and Africa, and we’ve done even more.
- We celebrate and thank all of our donors for all that you have done to make this the wonderful year that we have had here at Sunshine Cathedral. And yet we know that our witness is not only just to this location, but our call remains to our community, near and far, who need us to be who we are.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.”
My friends, we are not only facing a new day but a new year as well.
As we prepare to face another new year, let us do so knowing that:
God will be our protection.
God will be our light
God will be the source our joy
God will be our joy and the strength of our lives,
And just like in years gone by, God will continue to keep us and never to leave us.
And let us not forget the wisdom of Howard Thurman:
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone…when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins:…to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace…to make music in the heart.”
Because, as you heard at the beginning, our ending experiences of this year are not the totality of who we are, there is more be done.
From Trial to Triumph in 4 Steps By Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Advent 4 (2016) “… Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph…Joseph discovered she was pregnant…Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. While he was trying to figure a way out, he had […]
From Trial to Triumph in 4 Steps
By Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Advent 4 (2016)
“… Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph…Joseph discovered she was pregnant…Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.
While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph…don’t hesitate to get married…She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus…
Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary [and after the baby was born], he named the baby Jesus.”
Mary has become pregnant, before she was married and the person to whom she is engaged is not the father. It’s an absolute scandal. It can ruin Mary’s life, and it’s no piece of cake for Joseph. In an honor/shame society, his honor is very much bruised in this situation.
What’s he to do?
He loves Mary, but she’s pregnant and that wasn’t part of the deal.
He’s hurt to think she might have betrayed him. And what if she didn’t? What if she has been victimized, coerced, forced…then he would be hurt to think someone he loved had been harmed. Either way, he must be heartbroken.
We have a pretty sanitized version of the story, but when Joseph gets news of it, all he knows is that his fiancée is pregnant and not by him. He had some stuff to work though.
He’s embarrassed. What will people say? What will people think of him? What will they think of the woman to whom he had given his heart?
He’s grieving. He’s losing his family that has barely begun. He’s losing a life that he was counting on sharing with someone. Joseph is facing a lot of pain.
I don’t know much about Joseph; I can’t even prove that he was an historical person. I do believe that Mary had an unplanned pregnancy that put her life and security at risk, and that grace miraculously brought something beautiful and powerful out of that situation, and according to the story, Joseph was a conduit of that grace.
In any case, Joseph represents the emotions and challenges that come from receiving difficult news, and he also represents the possibility of working through it all to experience something creative and life-giving.
So, what does Joseph have to teach us today?
Joseph DISCOVERED that Mary was pregnant.
Sometimes we don’t want to go to the doctor because we are afraid of bad news.
Maybe we don’t want to get on that darn scale or check our bank balance.
Maybe we don’t want to admit we have a habit that is hurting us.
But we can’t solve problems we won’t face. And so, discovery is the first step to overcoming a problem. Discovering that there is a challenge, a difficulty, then gives us the chance to work on a plan for addressing the problem.
Joseph didn’t enjoy his discovery, but learning what needed some focused attention enabled him to formulate a plan and make things better going forward.
Joseph DECIDED to take action.
The text today says he “determined” to take care of things.
That first step…taking that first class, turning in that first job application, showing up for that first 12 step meeting, deciding to make that doctor’s appointment, choosing to be open and honest with the counselor, making up your mind to invite God into a situation, deciding to pray again, to worship again, to summon hope from the depths of your soul again…that moment of decision opens the door for miracles.
Doing something, not something rash or ill-considered, but doing something constructive feels better than doing nothing. The treatment that doesn’t work still feels better than not trying. The interview that didn’t result in employment still feels better than not making the effort. The workout that didn’t magically melt away all the pounds still leaves us in better condition than being sedentary.
But guess what? Sometimes the effort does pay off! So, not only does trying feel better than not trying, but sometimes, trying leads to success. After Joseph discovered the problem, he decided to do something.
Joseph DREAMED of possible, healing outcomes.
The story says that while he was trying to figure things out, Joseph had a dream.
It was a beautiful dream. In this dream, Joseph didn’t lose his family. In this dream, his love for Mary was more powerful than the social customs and mores that had been transgressed. In this dream, he would give her child a name, and love it as his own. In this dream, he would choose love and dare to form an unconventional family, and he would face an uncertain future because love was worth it. Love makes a family, and he would have his!
Joseph discovered a challenge in his life, and he decided to do something about it, and he dreamed of how it might work out for the good for everyone concerned.
Joseph DID what his dream indicated was possible.
Learning there is a problem, deciding that we want to address it, dreaming about how it could turn out all mean very little if we then don’t take action.
Joseph dreamed of working through the issues with Mary, of keeping his family together, and of facing the unknown future with courage and hope, and then he proceeded to do just that. He chose to act as if the dream could become a reality.
He learned there was a challenge.
He decided that he would face it somehow, that he would do something.
As he was trying to figure out exactly what to do, he dared to dream of ways that things could get better.
And then, he followed the dream and actually did the work of embracing Mary, naming and providing for the child, and moving forward with his new family into the future.
Whatever the issue, if we will face it, make a decision to deal with it, dream of possible solutions, and then work the plan that comes from the decision and the dream…we will feel empowered, and we might even find ourselves victorious over the challenge.
Discovery, decision, dreaming, and doing…
That’s the practical application of the Joseph story for us today. It’s a good reminder that when we are facing a challenge, we have tools to navigate the challenge.
I’ll end with a story, if I may. You see, about 63 years ago there was a challenge in Oklahoma that had to be addressed.
In 1953 the OKC Zoo needed funds to get their first ever hippopotamus. Gayla Peevey had recorded a song, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” The zoo used the popularity of the song as a fundraising campaign to get “a hippo for Gayla.” The campaign raised $3k (which is over $27k in today’s money) and they bought Gayla a hippo, which she immediately donated to the OKC zoo.
The zoo discovered a need, decided to take action, dreamed of success, and then did what they could to make the dream come true. Trial to Triumph, and my favorite Xmas song to boot!
/Song: “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”/
And this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2016
Thank you, God,
For the power of decision,
For the encouragement of dreams,
And for the actions that can help our dreams come true.
Hurry Up & Wait Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Advent 3, 2016) John’s disciples asked, “Are you who we’ve been waiting for, or should we keep waiting?” Jesus said, “What do you see and hear? Those who are sick and those who are poor are receiving loving ministry.” In other words, are you the one God […]
Hurry Up & Wait
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Advent 3, 2016)
John’s disciples asked, “Are you who we’ve been waiting for, or should we keep waiting?”
Jesus said, “What do you see and hear? Those who are sick and those who are poor are receiving loving ministry.”
In other words, are you the one God has sent? And the answer is, “When God’s work is being done, the ones doing it are the ones God has sent.”
The point isn’t to wait for Christ, but to BE Christ.
Not to wait for a grand, future event, but to do what we can here and now to bring hope and healing in the world.
Robert and I were in Cuba Thurs – Sat…we shared a simple message: God is love. God’s love is unconditional and all-inclusive. If you share love, you are experiencing God.
It seems so simple, but it was a radical message to those hungry for it.
They had heard social workers, activists, counselors, and friends tell them they were good enough, that they were worthy, that they had dignity and value…but they had not heard it from a pulpit. It was amazing to hear in a worship setting that in the ocean of life, God is not a shark.
They all responded to a message of love and affirmation of their sacred value. Some could not affirm any particular theological position or religious belief, but they wanted to volunteer, become active in this new, inclusive church…they might work out their religious opinions over time, but they are ready to share the work of lifting people up and sharing hope here and now. A more powerful embrace of the gospel I could hardly imagine.
I, for one, am not terribly interested in making everyone have the same opinion of Jesus or God or Heaven or scripture or the sacraments…I want us, together, to do what Jesus said he and his friends were doing…comforting the hurting, feeding the hungry, encouraging the oppressed, touching people with the life-changing power of grace.
When people look at SC, I want them to see the work of Christ. And we do a lot to be Christ in the world. We ask a lot of you, and you, faithfully, respond with love.
After many years of being in debt, SC has ended every year for half a decade now in the black…financial health is necessary to do the ministry we feel called to do. Your generosity made that possible.
We’ve retired the church’s mortgage…monies not going to a lender can make more ministry happen. We are only talking about a few hundred dollars a week, but we can stretch dollar. At SC, we’ve learned to squeeze a nickel until the buffalo poops!
We have two Assisted Living Facilities outreach services…with NO budget for it…but it happens.
For years we have collected food for food banks, and now we provide free lunches every week to clients at Broward House. Again, there is really no budget for it, and yet, food donations and volunteer hours make it happen.
We provide pastoral care to hundreds of people every year
Our messages of hope and affirmation are broadcast all over the world via the internet.
Twenty-nine groups have a place to function on this campus. We share our campus with almost 30 non-profit, service organizations. That’s a lot of good work being done in the community.
Our support of the Global Justice Institute provides significant funding for a church in east Africa
We were able to have a presence, in the person of Rev Robert, at the remembrance event of the Selma civil rights march.
As I said earlier, the ministry of Sunshine cathedral was present in Cuba this week.
SC Provides employment for 15 hard working, tax paying, dedicated servant leaders…5 FT and 10 PT but we do more than 5 ft and 10 pt people ever could, b/c we also train and oversee well over 100 volunteers
We practice the spirituality of joy, offering concerts, cabarets, films, comedy, picnics, dinners, trips
We offer prayer and study groups
SC leaders were part of a film shown to Venezuelan diplomats to help educate about LBGT issues
We’ve taken special collections for breast cancer treatment and research, for small/struggling churches in the US & Caribbean, and for Mother Emanuel AME when their pastor and 8 other members were killed
We now have a Columbarium & Memorial Chapel
We had the chance to offer moral support in wake of vandalism at a church in August, GA by sending Dr. Griffin to stand with them in the wake of the harassment.
We are now campaigning for new seats next year to provide a more comfortable worship environment, and accommodate more people
And last month we had naming ceremony for our transgender sisters and brothers.
That is a small sample of what we do…and I share this not for us to say, “Wow, aren’t we something?” No, on the contrary, I share these facts to say, “Look at what we’ve done so far; let’s imagine how much more we can do.” Because there is more to do. As long as there is more to do, we haven’t done enough.
I will without apology continue to ask you to worship faithfully, to pray daily, to give generously, and then even more generously.
I will continue to beg you to care even more for all those who are hurting, afraid, or marginalized.
I will continue to challenge you and myself to venerate Jesus only to the extent that it inspires us to follow his example and continue his work of sharing hope and healing with hurting souls.
Advent is a season of waiting. But to wait doesn’t just mean to look for something to happen…waiting also can mean to do the work that makes things happen.
If a waiter waits on your table, you would be very unhappy if she simply was looking to see if your order materialized. No, she waits on you by making sure your order shows up. She brings it to you.
As Marianne Williamson said, “The only work that will ultimately bring any good to any of us is the work of contributing to the healing of the world.”
Perhaps Advent isn’t so much about waiting for the Lord as it is a challenge to wait ON the Lord; that is, to serve the Lord by serving the cause of justice, and by offering hope to those who need it most.
In other words, Hurry up and wait! Or put even more simply, we have much more work to do and I have faith that we will do it and do it well, in Jesus’ name.
And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2016
Fill me with joy, dear God.
Let my joy be a blessing to others.
I wish to be a channel of your healing love.
May your light shine through me into the world.
Spirit & Fire By Durrell Watkins Advent 2 (2016) Marcus Borg (NT scholar): spoke about precritical, critical, post-critical thinking Precritical – accept everything taught/told without question. (Santa is real) Critical – question everything, skeptical about preconceived answers. (Santa may not be real) Postcritical – reclaim the old with new, more nuanced understanding. (Yes Virginia, there […]
Spirit & Fire
By Durrell Watkins
Advent 2 (2016)
Marcus Borg (NT scholar): spoke about precritical, critical, post-critical thinking
Precritical – accept everything taught/told without question.
(Santa is real)
Critical – question everything, skeptical about preconceived answers.
(Santa may not be real)
Postcritical – reclaim the old with new, more nuanced understanding.
(Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus – Santa as a symbol of generosity and kindness, which are very real qualities and very needed in our world…Santa is the face of something true, whether or not Santa factually exists)
I used Santa as an example…I could have used the saints, angels, any archetypal image that has meaning beyond its own factual existence
For the first almost 20 years of my life, I was in the precritical phase of my faith life.
For the next 20-25 years, I was in the critical phase of my faith life.
In recent years, I’ve been entering the post-critical phase – reclaiming and infusing with new meaning that which I once embraced uncritically and then dismissed because I could not take it literally, I now am trying on again with new appreciation, new understanding. I now celebrate that something can be true without being factual, doubt doesn’t destroy my faith, it becomes part of it, and part of its renewal. I have discovered the joy of reclaiming old symbols and not only giving them new life, but allowing them to give me new life.
There’s an old song I learned in the 80s during a charismatic phase, when i was searching for my place in the world of faith. I forgot all about it until recently when it came to mind out of the blue…i guess my subconscious was ready to reclaim it:
It’s that holy Ghost and fire and its keeping me alive, keeping me alive, keeping me alive; it’s that holy Ghost and fire and its keeping me alive, Jesus is keeping me alive.
The song invites me today to rethink and reclaim the notion of baptism, and the idea of being immersed in spirit.
Baptism – an immersion into the life of the spiritual community. Whether water is used or not in a ritual doesn’t matter to me, as long as one is fully immersed in hope, compassion, courage, and a passion for building a spiritual community that can change lives.
John the baptizer said, “I immerse you in water [to symbolize a cleansing of your soul], but one is coming after me who will immerse you in spirit and fire.”
Spirit is life, energy, power…and fire symbolizes passion.
We think of hot lovers and fiery tempers and flaming queens…it all represents passion and extravagance. Bon fires are thrilling, crackling fire places are inviting and comforting, flames are sterilizing, fire on a stove can cook delicious meals, fire in the belly suggests a drive to achieve something important.
The spirit of Jesus lights a fire under us.
Its the spirit of justice.
Its the spirit of hope.
Its the spirit of generosity.
Its the spirit of inclusion.
Its the spirit of healing.
The one who baptized with spirit and fire touched the untouchable and loved the unlovable and noticed the invisible and gave voice to the voiceless. How I want us to be baptized with that spirit and fire!
Building, growing, outreaching…improving property in order to use it more effectively to minister to more people.
Improving ministries, creating new ministries, reaching out in new ways, calling us to deeper commitment…immersing ourselves in the spirit of Jesus, filling our souls with the fire he offered.
That’s what I am passionate about; that’s what I truly believe we are being called to achieve.
It’s that holy Ghost and fire and its keeping me alive, keeping me alive, keeping me alive; it’s that holy Ghost and fire and its keeping me alive, Jesus is keeping me alive.
Do you feel the spirit washing over you?
Do you feel the fire bursting forth through you?
If so, all that we have done will pale in comparison to what we are about to do…
We are the hands of God, the body of Christ, immersed in the spirit of Jesus and on fire to make a positive difference in the world. Spirit and Fire are keeping Sunshine Cathedral alive with purpose, and this is the good news! Amen.
(C) Durrell Watkins 2016
I am immersed in divine life!
May my soul be filled with…
The flames of hope and happiness,
The sparks of courage and compassion,
And a blazing desire to be, do, and give my best.