God Believes in Us

On August 20, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

God Believes in Us Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Isaiah 56.1-8 August 20, 2017 Deut. 23 says, “No one who…has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” I don’t know if our Rogers 4 manual organ is male or female, but male organs cut off is a problem for the writer […]

God Believes in Us
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Isaiah 56.1-8
August 20, 2017

Deut. 23 says, “No one who…has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” I don’t know if our Rogers 4 manual organ is male or female, but male organs cut off is a problem for the writer of Deuteronomy. You almost never hear a sermon preached on that verse. But, this is a different kind of church.

People who had been surgically altered (aka “eunuchs”) as well as anyone who had been permanently disfigured in the nether regions by some sort of accident or war wound were banned from worship in the mind of the Deuteronomistic writer. It’s a harsh rejection of people who are physically different.

It’s made worse because being a eunuch wasn’t an elective procedure for most people. No one said, “Hey, being a eunuch sounds fun…wonder where I can become one!”

Eunuchs were usually slaves. So, not only have they been physically altered, but they have been altered against their will and in the context of being enslaved. Furthermore, eunuch slaves were frequently sexualized. Since they were slaves, they could be made to do anything really, and those things were sometimes erotic.

Sometimes, eunuchs could rise to high levels within the slavery system…since they couldn’t get women pregnant, they were often assigned to work with aristocratic women. But even if they became trusted servants of aristocrats, they were still victims of physical abuse, of slavery, and sometimes of sexual abuse. And on top of all this, now religion says they aren’t welcome in worship. Religion might have been their one refuge, if they were allowed to access it.

Dehumanized, demonized, sexualized, ostracized, condemned, and rejected by religion…does that sound familiar to anyone?

In today’s scripture reading, Isaiah rethinks the Deuteronomistic slur against eunuchs. We aren’t imprisoned by scripture…we are meant to have a dynamic, living relationship with our sacred texts. Isaiah knows what Deuteronomy says, but Isaiah also sees hurting people who could be helped with religion but instead religion has been used to make their pain worse. And so he, doesn’t let Deuteronomy have the last word. He gives the matter some more thought.

We heard 3 verses from Isaiah 56 today, but if we read a little more, it gets even better:
1. Maintain justice. (be fair…promote equal opportunity, equal protection, affirm the inherent dignity of all people…maintain justice)
3. Do not let the foreigner…say God will separate me from God’s people. (Do not let the foreigner, the immigrant, the migrant worker, the refugee…don’t let any of God’s people think that this gathering of God’s people will reject them for who they are)
[Nor] let the eunuch say I am just a dry tree (don’t let the sexually different, the physically different, the oppressed, the outcasts believe they are useless, don’t lead them to believe that they are anything other than the children of God made in the image of God, part of the creation that God calls very good).
4.-5. To eunuchs who wish to worship me I will give in my house an inheritance better than children
(eunuchs can’t have children…in antiquity, having children and grandchildren was how immortality was achieved…leaving your stories, your name, your property to the next generation kept your memory and your work and your dreams alive, but eunuchs were denied that, but the prophet says God’s love will not exclude the eunuchs and they have gifts to share in the worship community and that can be the family that will remember and honor and celebrate them)– I’ll give you a name (affirm your sacred value) that cannot be cut off! You’ve had your body cut, and you’ve been cut off from family and from segments of society, but God’s grace, God’s love, God’s care cannot be taken from you…it will never be cut off.

And guess what…if you’ve been cut off from family, cut out of religious community, trimmed like fat from ham and tossed away from people’s lives because you are lesbian or gay, if you have been misunderstood or harshly judged because you are bisexual, if you are questioning and didn’t know where you could explore your questions, God says today if you wish to worship here, you can, and there are gifts for you here that are better than what you may have lost.

And you know what else…if you are transgender…if you’ve cut away the name your parents gave you because it didn’t really fit who you know yourself to be, if you’ve been cut out of people’s lives because you dared to express your truth and grow into your full authenticity, if you have had surgery or hormone treatment to help you look and feel like the person you know yourself to be or if you are hoping and planning to have such treatments later…God says this is the place for you. You are a gift to this community and in this community your giftedness will be celebrated.

If you have been cut off from family, friends, or religion because of divorce, procreative choices, pacifism, how you look, how your pray, or who you love…God says there is a different kind of church that will think you are just what they’ve been looking for.

THEN…
7. My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples!!! (all groups, every culture, every nation, every race and ethnicity, straight folk, LGBTQ folk, young folk, older folk, two steppers and twelve steppers, people who walk and people who roll, people with PhDs and people GEDs, people who out of habit call God he and people who have started to call God she, people with hope and people who mope, people who for their supper must sing and people who come wearing plenty of bling, people who need friends with tails that wag and people who spend their weekends in drag)…God’s house is meant to be a house of prayer for all kinds of people!

8. God gathers the outcasts. (Hear the prophetic declaration that God gathers the outcasts because to God there are no outcasts, to God all people have sacred value, and God’s house is meant to be a welcoming house for all kinds of people…all peoples.)

One of my favorite hymns is from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. In that show, a guy named Finch gives himself a pep talk by looking in a mirror and singing,
“You have the cool clear Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth,
Yet, there’s that up turned chin And the grin of impetuous youth.
Oh, I believe in you, I believe in you.”

We are the mirror God is looking into today, and that is what God is singing to us through the words of the prophet Isaiah. Whoever we are, God is saying to each of us, “I believe in you, I believe in you.” And this is the good news. Amen.

I believe that God believes in me.
This fills me with hope, joy, and confidence.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Elijah’s Great Lesson

On August 14, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Elijah’s Great Lesson Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins August 13, 2017 Sunshine Cathedral Invictus BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY (1875): Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried […]

Elijah’s Great Lesson
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
August 13, 2017
Sunshine Cathedral

Invictus
BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY (1875):

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Last week we heard about Moses and Elijah, and this week we hear about Elijah, though Moses’ shadow is still in the scene.

It was at the Mountain of God that Moses spent 40 days, receiving the Commandments according to the legend. Eventually, Moses was able to see the glory of God from a cleft, a hollow, a sort of cave in the rock of that mountain.

Four centuries later, we see Elijah. And where is he? On the Mountain of God. He has journeyed 40 days to the mountain in order to hide from the government…you see, Queen Jezebel has put a price on his head. And he hides in a cave, a cleft in the rock.

The literary similarities are intentional. Whether Moses or Elijah literally spent time on a mountain is irrelevant…the stories show the transforming power of communing with God. That’s the point.

Moses encountered God in fire and smoke and seas and lightning. Elijah, however, learns that divine encounters sometimes happen without much drama at all. In fact, God’s peace presence can be the cure for too much drama!

Elijah says he looked for a divine experience in weather and earthquakes and fire, but he experienced God as a still small voice within.

Elijah doesn’t need storms and shaky ground…his life is stormy and shaky enough already! A vicious queen is after him…I know what that’s like. Elijah is looking for God in mountains and earthquakes and storms and fires, but where does he find God? In sheer silence. He found God when he got still, when he got quiet, when he decided to go to peace instead of to pieces.

Sometimes we panic, we fret, we cry, we ask WHY…and at such times, what do the enlightened tend to tell us? Breathe. Even in the gym, when struggling through an exercise, a good trainer will remind us to breathe.

Quiet the mind. Let air flow. Be present. The past may have been difficult and the future may be uncertain, but in this moment, we are okay. Be in this perfect moment. Breathe. Be still. Quiet the inner chatter. And in that peaceful moment, God’s loving wisdom often breaks through and we sometimes will feel refreshed, renewed, strong, hopeful, or at least not as frazzled.

We have to get quiet to hear the still small voice. The voice always is encouraging though.

Elijah learned that in the Silence, in the inner chapel of his own Soul, God was always present, and in God’s presence, there was a healing balm that could sooth his fears and give him the strength he needed to carry on.

In the Silence, Elijah realizes he can’t hide from the troubles of life. God isn’t going to take a lightning bolt and zap away the problems.
God isn’t going to take a gale force wind and blow away the problems.
God isn’t going to send an inferno and burn away the problems.
God isn’t going to send a tsunami and wash away the problems, but what God will do is quietly speak to Elijah’s heart and remind him that he is stronger than he realizes and he can face the difficulties of life and find peace in the midst of them. He can continue to do what he feels called to do and he can make a difference, even when the sky seems to be falling.

Elijah realizes that his friends Hazael and Jehu and Elisha are all there for him. They’ll do what they can to help. And there are thousands of good people who have not worshiped fear or bigotry or hatred or greed…there are good people in the world. They seem to have vanished sometimes, but they are still there. That’s a reason to hope.

What a pitiful miracle! We might say. No magic? No parlor tricks? Just, God can calm your nerves, you’ve got friends who will encourage you, and there are other good people in the world even if the worst sort seem to be coming after you? That’s it?! That’s the great miracle?

Sometimes, that’s the biggest miracle in the world.

When we don’t need circumstances to give us our joy, and we won’t let circumstances take our joy away…when fear stops being forget everything and run and starts being face everything and rise…when we don’t need lightning bolts and earthquakes and angel choirs to feel God’s presence, but we have been filled with a joyful awareness that there is not a spot where God is not…Oh, in a moment of dread or despair…the miracle of a peace that passes understanding is the greatest miracle of all.

When horror gives way to hope, and pain is healed by peace, and tears wash away our fears and might emerges from our fright, then we have everything…contentment, an assurance that come what may, all is well, that nothing can separate us from the Love that God is, and then, at least sometimes, things start to get better, but how wonderful that we didn’t need to wait for them to get better before we started to feel joy again.

The message reminds me of the wise counsel of the Apostle Paul: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through the One who strengthens me.”

Elijah learned that true success in life is not allowing circumstances to dictate or diminish our peace of mind or joy of life. Life is filled with hills and valleys, but come what may, we have access to a peace that passes understanding and joy unspeakable. That’s success, and it can always be ours.

I Shall Succeed
BY EVELYN WHITELL (1934):

Though everything looks dark and drear,
I SHALL SUCCEED.
Though failure’s voice speaks in my ear,
I SHALL SUCCEED.
I do not fear misfortune’s blow; I tower with strength above each foe, I stand erect because I know I SHALL SUCCEED.

Though others’ doubts are built ’round me,
I SHALL SUCCEED.
Though Fortune’s ship I cannot see,
I SHALL SUCCEED.
Through mist and rain I left my eyes, I see the sunlight in the skies, and seeing it my glad heart cries, I SHALL SUCCEED.

Night swoops on me with [darkest] wings,
but I’LL SUCCEED.
I see the stars that darkness brings,
and I’LL SUCCEED.
No force on earth can make me cower, because each moment and each hour, I still affirm with strength and power, I SHALL SUCCEED.

And we will. And this is the good news. Amen.

God grant me peace, hope, and joy.
I will pause and listen to your still small voice.
It will comfort and nurture me.
Thank you, God.
Amen.

Transformative Justice-Love

On August 7, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Transformative Justice-Love Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Transfiguration Sunday 2017 Sunshine Cathedral Moses was known as a great liberator, confronted Pharaoh and led an exodus of oppressed people into freedom. Words attributed to him tell us to Love God (Deut), and Love neighbor (Lev)…and apparently, love means standing up to injustice. Elijah was a prophet who […]

Transformative Justice-Love
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Transfiguration Sunday 2017
Sunshine Cathedral

Moses was known as a great liberator, confronted Pharaoh and led an exodus of oppressed people into freedom. Words attributed to him tell us to Love God (Deut), and Love neighbor (Lev)…and apparently, love means standing up to injustice.

Elijah was a prophet who spoke truth to power, exposing the false gods of greed, violence, selfishness, and oppression…all represented by the deity Baal. For calling out the false religion of fear and the demeaning cult of cruelty, a powerful person named Jezebel put a hit out on Elijah and he had to go into hiding for a time, but Elijah knew that prophetic ministry cares for the least and the lowly, for the marginalized, for the forgotten, for the demonized, for the hurting.

And then there is Jesus. Jesus once took some friends with him to a mountain and on that mountain Jesus is seen with Moses and Elijah – the ancestors return for a mystical pow wow, as if to say that Jesus was now carrying out the tradition of justice-love that they proclaimed.
Jesus’ work is the prophetic work of healing, of sharing hope, of lifting up the downtrodden, and of working for justice.

To love God and neighbor is to care about the health of our neighbors, the welfare of our neighbors, and equal opportunity and equal protection for all of our neighbors, for all the children of God.

The anonymous writer of 2 Peter recalls the Transfiguration story in the scripture reading today. Pretending to be the Apostle Peter, the writer claims to have witnessed the transformational event. The writer believes there is something transformational, or transfiguring, about the message of Jesus if we embrace it and try to follow it. He wants people to know that the message still has transformative power.

The story of the Transfiguration is also in the gospels, and in the gospel account Peter sees Moses and Elijah and he also sees Jesus transfigured into a being of light, and Peter wants to build chapels, shrines to them on the spot. He wants to venerate the experience rather than be motivated by it. He wants to worship it rather than live it. And the gospels say he did not know what he was saying.

It is not enough to build a shrine…(shrines are important as places of inspiration, as safe places to regroup, as community hubs to practice compassion and justice), but the shrine alone is not enough. We have to do the work.

We have to feed the hungry,
we have to advocate for those who need medical care,
we have to say let’s try peace before rushing to war,
we have to insist boldly that gays and lesbians are the children of God,
that transgender people are made in the image of God,
and regardless of our politics or our privilege, when our government tells us that gay people are not protected by civil rights legislation, when transgender people courageously serving in the military are told they will have to leave simply because of who they are,
when church councils in Nashville, Salt Lake City, or Rome say that women are secondary to men,
when governments in Abuja, Kingston, Moscow, DC, or Tallahassee pretend to not notice when people are targeted, vilified, harassed, or excluded for how they look, how they pray, or who they love, we have to say something.
Oh, it is nice to sing about Jesus, but are we ready to take up his mantle of justice-love, of ministering to the so-called “lease of these.”
Take up your cross and follow me involves some effort, and some risk. There is simply no such thing as convenient discipleship.

We may not yet be ready to stand up and declare to the world, “the last will be first and the first will be last, our kingdom is not of this world, be as cunning as serpents and as gentle as doves, turn the other cheek, heal the sick, raise the dead, freely you have received, freely give!”
Jesus said those things, but what was he thinking?
He seemed to be thinking that people of faith can make a difference.

Transfiguration Sunday is on August 6th this year. You see, at the end of WW2, the US military dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, Aug 6, 1945. Three days later it dropped another on Nagasaki.

In response to those apocalyptic atomic detonations, a young scholar named Masahisa Goi dedicated his life to working and praying for peace in the world. It was in prayer that a simple phrase came to him, and he would pray and share that phrase for the rest of his life: May peace prevail on earth.

He believed if enough people prayed that prayer, it would inject a healing energy into the life-stream of humanity and we would eventually work to live more harmoniously together on our shared planet. Why do you think it’s a permanent part of our liturgy?

We can come together week after week and pray for peace, for liberty and justice for all. We can come together, and pray together, “May peace prevail on earth.”

Peace, God’s shalom, will be not simply an avoidance of conflict, but a very active expression of justice-love. If we pray for peace, in time, we will become more willing to be instruments of that peace, of justice-love, the ones modeling it, calling for it, standing up for it, speaking out for it, and then, we will be the healing, justice-seeking, prophetic church of Jesus Christ.
Church will be for us not just a place we drop in every few Sundays, but it will be our identity, our mission, our life, the way we engage the world.

May peace prevail on earth.
About 700 years before Masahisa Goi prayed that prayer, St. Francis of Assisi prayed, “Lord make me an instrument of your peace.”

About 1200 years before that, Jesus said, “Peace I give to you, my own peace I leave with you, not as the world gives, give I unto you.”

About 500 years before that, the Buddha offered this prayer: May you be filled with loving kindness; may you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease; and may you be happy.

And about 500 years before that, a member of the ancient Jewish community prayed, “May God bless you and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May God look upon you kindly, and grant you peace.”

We’ve been praying for peace for thousands of years. Are we finally ready and willing to be the answer to our prayers, to be the disciples of justice-love?

Peace… the Shalom of God…justice-love at work in the world. When Jesus says, “Blessed are the peace makers,” he’s saying we’ve got work to do, and we are blessed in the doing of it.

On this Transfiguration Sunday, let us be transformed, transfigured, with word and deed,
with prayer and proclamation,
with time, talent, and treasure,
with worship and work,
into the illuminated and illuminating Church of Jesus Christ, which is the church of justice-love.
God’s peace is possible, and this is the good news. Amen.

May we be filled with loving kindness;
may we be well.
May we be peaceful and at ease;
and may we be happy.
And what we wish for ourselves, we wish for the whole world.
Amen.

 

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