Don’t Give Up Hope

On September 24, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Don’t Give Up Hope Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sept. 24, 2017 Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Don’t give up hope. That’s the advice I believe the gospel is […]

Don’t Give Up Hope
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sept. 24, 2017

Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

Don’t give up hope. That’s the advice I believe the gospel is giving us today.
When it comes to justice, to healing, to freedom…don’t give up hope.

We pray every week, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If the world isn’t yet heavenly, then we have more praying to do, and more work to do until the world becomes a bit more heavenly.

A church just north of us has a sign that says, “PUSH: Pray Until Something Happens”

Of course, being prayed up helps us stay persistent. Prayer energizes us until things improve. Prayer keeps the vision of better days before us.
Prayer is the fuel that keeps us moving forward in the power of hope.

I’ve heard: Pray on it, pray over it, but most importantly, pray through it.

Prayer is the insulation, the shield, the storehouse, the well, and the engine that helps us follow Winston Churchill’s advice.

Churchill said: “If you’re going through hell, KEEP GOING.”

Pray through it.
Breathe through it.
Lift up your head.
And don’t give up hope.

About now, someone is thinking, “that sounds pretty good, but is that really what the gospel story is about?” Stay with me.

Before we tackle the Gospel parable, let’s recall another story. In Genesis 29, we see Jacob. He’s traveling and he comes upon a group of shepherds who are watering their flock. While he’s talking with the shepherds, his maternal uncle Laban happens along, with his daughter, Jacob’s cousin, Rachel. Jacob knew about Laban, but had never met him. And Jacob is instantly smitten with Rachel. Love at first sight.

Jacob stays with Laban and the family for a while and then decides to stay longer, not as a guest but as a contributing member of the family. He and his uncle negotiate what his wages will be for working for Laban, and Jacob thinks that what he wants isn’t cash, but a wife. He’ll work for love, specifically, for Cousin Rachel. Laban agrees. Work for me for 7 years, you’ll get room and board the whole time, and at the end of 7 years, you get a wife – Rachel (this is a time and culture where marriages were arranged).

Jacob thinks the wages and benefits are fair, he works for seven years, he walks down the aisle and says “I do”…only to discover that behind the wedding veil is not his beloved Rachel, but his other cousin Leah, Rachel’s sister! He’s been hoodwinked!

I’m sure he liked Leah well enough, but he didn’t agree to 7 years of indentured servitude for her. He’s been deceived, the victim of Laban’s perfidy. He has tasted the bitter tincture of mendacity. He’s angry. He’s heartbroken.

Laban says, “Take it easy…we can fix this. Just work for me 7 more years and then you can marry Rachel.” Crestfallen, Jacob agrees. And after 14 years of labor and waiting (and 7 years of less than warm feelings for Uncle Father-in-Law), Jacob and Rachel are finally married. Later on, there are a couple of other women brought into the household and Jacob has children with all four of them – but those details of biblical family values and the sanctity of marriage isn’t the point I want to focus on today. But you do see the inaccuracy of the claim that the biblical definition of marriage is one man and one woman.

The point I want to lift up is that Laban abused his privilege. He made a promise to Jacob, and he chose to renege on his commitment. He intentionally misled Jacob and exploited him and played with his deepest, most genuine feelings. Presumably, Rachel was hurt by his actions as well.

Laban had all the power, all the advantages, but Jacob didn’t give up. He confronted Laban, of course, but that didn’t change Laban. Where Jacob got satisfaction was by working harder, waiting longer, clinging to hope like a lifeline, and not giving up until his heart’s desire, his blessing was achieved. Jacob basically said, “there is good for me and I ought to have it, and Laban’s lack of integrity cannot keep my good from me.”

In Genesis 32 we’ll see Jacob wrestling with angel all through the night. He will not give up until the angel blesses him. It was a struggle and it took all night, but Jacob learned from his 14 years of waiting for Rachel, it may be a mistake to give up too soon.

Jacob’s descendant, Jesus, tells us a parable today, a fictional story meant to make a point. In the story, business people hire day workers. But they don’t treat them fairly. Some are paid way more than they earned which at first may seem generous, but there may be more to it.
No one was given less than they were promised, but those who worked in good faith for what they were promised were outraged to learn that people who did a fraction of the work got the same wages.

Traditionally, we hear this story as if the business owners represent God, and the extravagant wages for those who deserve them least are a symbol of grace, unmerited favor. I think that may be a misreading of the story. The employers in the parable seem a lot more like Laban than like God.

Jesus’ parables are meant to imagine how the world could be different.
Employers giving big bonuses seemingly arbitrarily to a few while other hard workers are ignored…well, that sort of lavish generosity with some but not all is how the world already works…that’s not the kin-dom of God.

No, God’s liberating grace is meant to uplift the down trodden…the day workers in the story have no power or privilege, they aren’t even really employed.
They are given a job only for the day. They are at the mercy of the person who hires them for the day.

The employer then states at pay time that the latest hires will be paid first. Why announce that? Why try to stir up strife and resentment among the workers?
Why make a point of telling people who worked longer that if chance had worked out differently for them, they could have worked a much shorter day without any loss of income? Are the surprise bonuses generous or manipulative?

The Hebrew bible, which Jesus knew well, says to not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy. So this story of the employer who lavishes gifts on some while paying others only to the penny what their contracted labor promised, and then making a point of letting everyone know that they were not treated equally doesn’t sit well with us. Yes, God’s grace is unconditional, God’s love is all inclusive, but none of that is communicated in a story about exploiting the desperate.

Equal opportunity and equal protection – that’s justice…
arbitrary extravagance for some rubbed in the face of those to whom it was denied is not grace, not the kin-dom of God.
The business owners’ actions caused discord, confusion, and did not lead to empowerment or healed relationships…that’s not grace, that’s not God.

But you know what…the workers…those who got an undeserved bonus, and those who worked hard without any special reward…they would have been back the next day looking for work again. A bad day wouldn’t cause them to give up.
They would keep working and waiting and hoping for better days. Like Jacob, they would acknowledge the injustices, try to change things, but in the meantime, they wouldn’t give up on their own dignity, their own dreams, their own vision of a fairer world. That’s the kin-dom of God…and we deserve it. Life isn’t always fair, and those are the times when we must not give up hope.
Indomitable hope…that’s the gift of the kin-dom of God, and this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
We all deserve opportunity and security.
When it seems to be denied…
Help me to not give up hope.
Amen.

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

On September 17, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

The Healing Power of Forgiveness Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sept. 17, 2017 Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. We pray every week, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive […]

The Healing Power of Forgiveness
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sept. 17, 2017

Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

We pray every week, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Forgive us and let us forgive those who have hurt us. That’s a difficult prayer and yet, we pray it every week, some of us, perhaps, every day.

I must confess to you that I haven’t spent much time in my ministry calling people to seek forgiveness. Calling people sinners has never seemed to be a kind or loving act in my mind. And nothing aggravates me more than the tired and thread bare phrase, “hate the sin but love the sinner.”
First of all, calling people sinners doesn’t feel loving.
Secondly, using that trite expression to discriminate against, vilify, dehumanize, or demonize people isn’t very loving. You can call it loving, but it ain’t. As we used to say growing up, your cat can have kittens in the oven, but that doesn’t make them biscuits.
And thirdly, it is maddening when Christians use that line, hate the sin but love the sinner, because they almost never realize they are quoting a Hindu when they say it. And the Hindu, Gandhi, wasn’t talking about individual morals…he was calling colonization a sin, but reminding people to fight the evil of colonization without hating the colonizers. Fix the system without hating individuals. That’s what Gandhi said and meant, and to use that phrase as justification to crush people’s spirits is a sin against Gandhi.

The word “sin” has been so abusively used that I have just tried to steer clear of it for the most part. We’ve been beat up enough with that word. And yet…

I have sinned. My identity isn’t my sin – No, that’s a blessing. My love isn’t my sin – Good Lord, no…I thank God daily for my husband.
But I have failed to love my neighbor as myself. Heck, I have failed to love myself sometimes. I have forgotten to turn the other cheek (it doesn’t seem to come naturally to me). I have been selfish, uncaring, unkind…not always of course, I’m not a total jerk, but I have missed the mark and fallen short of divine glory.

I have fallen short of my own highest ideals, I cannot even tell you how many times. I have said and done things, and left things unsaid and undone that have caused me to spend hours in tears before the God of my understanding begging for healing, restoration, redemption. And I have found such moments to be cathartic.

The reason that when I fall and sometimes fall hard I want to be washed clean as it were, restored, renewed…is because the mistake, the bad attitude, the uncaring act or the pain caused to someone else is so not what I as a child of God am. The errors feel bad because they are foreign to who God has made me to be.

So I don’t want people to think of themselves as sinners. I want people to think of themselves as beautiful expressions of a holy God, made perfect, made of God’s own love, and when we think of ourselves as incarnations of divine love, then when we are unloving, we will feel out of phase with our truth, and we will want to get back on course.

I don’t believe God is keeping score. I think when God looks at me, or you, God sees what God made…a miracle. But when we fall short of our potential, we feel badly, and so seeking divine forgiveness or reconciliation or restoration isn’t about getting God to stop being angry, it’s about tapping into God’s grace so that we can forgive ourselves and be healed and do better. God doesn’t get caught up in our dramas, but God does help us heal from the pain caused by our dramas.

Praying for reconciliation can help us unload a burden, but that’s for when we’ve messed up. What happens when other people’s mess ups hurt us? Peter asks Jesus, “if someone hurts my feelings, how many times should I forgive them? A handful?” And Jesus says, “oh Peter, so much more than that.”
Really, Jesus? Do you know some of the cartoon villains who come for me regularly?

But, Jesus practiced what he preached. He didn’t even wait for people to ask before he forgave them. While he was being tortured to death, he prayed, “God forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.” If Jesus could forgive his executioners, maybe I can work on giving people some slack.

Marianne Williamson says, “All of us are made of love, yet all of us make mistakes.” I’ve made mistakes and needed another chance. Maybe the people who have stepped on my toes also need another chance. Not to do it again…but to be seen as more than their worst moments. I certainly don’t want to be limited to my worst moments.

Don’t take this to bizarre extremes…I’m not saying to disband law enforcement or that you should never ground your misbehaving teens or that you should stay in an abusive situation.
I’m saying, in our personal relationships, pain can be healed by forgiving the past…not reliving it, not repeating it, not justifying it…but releasing it to the past and demanding a better present and future.

When Pope John Paul 2 was shot, he might have had some feelings about that, but it sent a powerful message to the world when he went to his assailant in prison and forgave him. Yes, the assailant was held accountable and not allowed to hurt others, but the pope, and the assailant, and maybe many others experienced healing by the act of forgiveness.

My father and I had a strained relationship, and that is the hugest understatement I have ever made. I was terrified of him as a child, and I had plenty of experience to justify that terror. Eventually, fear morphed into hatred. Hatred over many years (and some intense confrontations) mellowed into something close to indifference. And then he became very ill. We started having strained, polite conversations. I started making gestures toward him, and he to me, though they weren’t always obvious. He told me he was proud of my academic achievements. I made him his first dirty martini. On his death bed, I told him I was sorry our relationship has been so difficult. I told him I was ready to put that behind us. I told him for the first time in my adult life that I loved him. And strangely, to my amazement, it was true. Two days later he died.

I don’t know what that moment of forgiveness did for him, but I can tell you it changed my life. I speak of him now with genuine affection. Forgiveness didn’t undo some truly terrible childhood moments. It didn’t require pretending to have a different past than I did…what it meant was that the past was past and the future had infinite possibilities.

Marianne Williamson has said, “Whatever…happened to you is over. It happened in the past; in the present it does not exist unless you bring it with you.” I wasn’t denying or white washing the past…I was letting it go so that it could no longer hurt me. And the relief was miraculous. I later learned some things about my dad’s difficult childhood that made some of his behavior make sense. I could remember some of the difficult times without drudging up the old resentments. I could remember good things that actually brought me a sense of peace. I can’t change the past, but I can be free from its torments. That’s the power of forgiveness.

I can’t tell you what, who, or when to forgive, and you can’t tell me. But I can tell you that when you are ready to forgive, that is a moment of miraculous opportunity. It can be a doorway to profound healing. It takes courage, it may take time, it may take 77 times, but it’s worth the effort.

And this is the good news.

Dear God,
Heal my past hurts.
And fill my future with joy.
Amen.

Let Love Be Genuine

On September 3, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Let Love Be Genuine Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sept 3, 2017 In the Hebrew bible there is a story about a man name Jephthah. Jephthah was the son of Gilead, but he wasn’t the son of Mrs. Gilead. Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute and Gilead apparently had been one of her customers. The bible is […]

Let Love Be Genuine
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sept 3, 2017

In the Hebrew bible there is a story about a man name Jephthah. Jephthah was the son of Gilead, but he wasn’t the son of Mrs. Gilead. Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute and Gilead apparently had been one of her customers. The bible is juicy, earthy, far more interesting than those who use it to condemn almost everyone would have you believe.

It would seem that Jephthah lived with Gilead for a while, but Mrs. Gilead never warmed up to him….neither she nor her children welcomed Jephthah into their family. In fact, Gilead’s other children threatened Jephthah and he left home at a young age.

What does a young man with no home and few prospects do to survive? Well, Jephthah became a warrior, and it would seem a pretty good one. One day, the elders of the community came to Jephthah the warrior. They are at war with the Ammonites (over land, of course) and they want Jephthah to become a leader in the war effort.

In verse 29 of Judges 11, the storyteller says, “then the Spirit of the LORD came on Jephthah.”
The Spirit of the Lord was on him. But he didn’t realize it. So he began to bargain with God. He promised God that if he were to prove victorious in battle, he would sacrifice the first person who came out of his house when he returned.

Catch that…he promised God a human sacrifice. God doesn’t want human sacrifices (and by the way, never has).
No one has to be crushed in order for God to be pleased. And he didn’t have to win God’s favor. He didn’t have to strike a deal with God. The spirit of the Lord was already on him.

If God is omnipresent, then we don’t have to get God’s attention. Wherever we are, God is.
God is omnipresent love…so, we don’t have to do hateful things to earn God’s favor.

Hate is an expression of fear and perfect love casts out fear (God, by the way, is perfect love!)…so hate and God don’t go together. When religion is hateful or fear based, it is using God’s name in vain.

The spirit of the Lord was already on him…and yet, he offered God viciousness as an act of worship. How misguided.

As it turns out, Jephthah won his battle. And when he went home to revel in his victory, someone came skipping out of his house. He promised God he would slaughter the first person who came out of his house, and now he’s home and someone comes out to greet him…his daughter.

Jephthah cries out! He tells his daughter, “you’ve ruined me! I promised God that I would kill the first person who came out of my house when I returned home from battle. Why did it have to be you?” Because she lives there? Because she was happy you made it home safely? Because who would have guessed you’d have offered God a human sacrifice?

Jephthah condemns his daughter to death and blames her for it, all because of some ridiculously terrible theology. He rejects her because of his bad theology and says it’s her fault. Is Jepthah’s daughter in the house?

Jephthah was rejected by his family. His mother was scorned by society. His stepmother hated him for who he was. His father abandoned him. He never felt loved or affirmed. Why would he assume that God’s love was unconditional and everlasting? How would he know that the spirit of the Lord was on him, with him, in him? People who were meant to love him didn’t, so it’s no surprise that he has no idea what divine love is.

Divine love doesn’t ask for suffering, for heartbreak, for abuse. Jephthah didn’t know that. A lot of people don’t know that. A lot of people are still sacrificing their children to appease a God who was never angry with them. A lot of people have no idea that God is omnipresent love who holds us all for all eternity.

What if Jephthah or at least his daughter had found a different kind of church? If Jephthah’s daughter went to Sunshine Cathedral she would have told her dad, “I’m sorry you made a criminally insane promise to God but I don’t have to submit to your nonsense.”

If Jephthah was a Sunshine Cathedral parishioner someone would have told him, “your parents made mistakes, but God is bigger than your past, bigger than your pain, bigger than your fears. You don’t have to hurt others to keep God from hurting you.”

What if Jephthah had been told not that the spirit of the Lord was already on him, always on him, with him, because God is omnipresent, all-inclusive, unconditional Love?
What if Jephthat had been blessed with genuine love rather than tormented by fear, rejection, and violence?
What a different story we might have.

We prayed earlier for those recovering from the ravages of Harvey, but another storm recently hit…this storm wasn’t wind and rain in Texas, but hate and hubris coming out of Tennessee. The so-called Nashville Statement was composed of 14 condemnations of LGBTQ people by 150 evangelical religious leaders. Once again, we witnessed bad theology stirring fear, stoking hate, and rejecting people in the name of God. It’s Jephthah’s daughter all over again. And the pain, the loss, the suffering continues because people cling to their bad theology rather than simply letting love be genuine.

The apostle Paul tells us today: “Let love be genuine…” And then he explains how to do that…
He says: Hate injustice, hold fast to what builds up, heals, comforts, and encourages.
Be optimistic, even in times of suffering. Pray in good times and bad. Be generous. Be kind, especially to those who are suffering. Be happy for others when they are blessed, and be sad when others are hurting.

It’s as simple as that.

Another event that happened this last week was the passing of self-help guru Louise Hay.
Louise was a voice of hope and compassion during the worst of the AIDS crisis, and she spent her entire ministry giving people tools to help them forgive themselves and others and encouraging them to love themselves. She taught people to speak kindly themselves. She offered a sort of spiritual self-therapy. She was criticized by some, but those who felt empowered by her ministry loved and appreciated her because she helped them, helped us, love and appreciate ourselves more.

She said: “Loving others is easy when I love and accept myself.”
If the Nashville Statement contributors loved themselves, they wouldn’t need to hate the LGBTQ children of God to feel righteous.

Louise Hay also said, “When people start to love themselves more each day, it’s amazing how their lives get better.”
If we will dare to love ourselves, we won’t internalize the hatred that is aimed at us.

A Course in Miracles teaches, “God is not partial. All [God's] children have [God's] total Love, and all [God's] gifts are freely given to everyone alike.”
If only Jephthah trusted that God is love.

Howard Thurman, a theologian, civil rights leader, and mentor to Dr. King, said, “Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with the [Creator]….”

Thurman knew that we cannot experience the God that is perfect love if our religion is based on who to hate, who to condemn, who to reject. If the contributors to the Nashville Statement understood God as love rather than as a source of fear and hatred, the queer children of God would be safer today.

There’s a lot of hatred and a lot of fear and a lot of ugliness in the world, but there is also a lot of hope and a lot of goodness and a lot of love. Our job is to embrace the love, to let love be genuine, to know that God is love and we are made in God’s image. It may take a lot of effort to remember that, but we absolutely must. That, in fact, must be our primary mission – to affirm that God is love and to model a worship of God that absolutely rejects fear and hatred. Let that be the Sunshine Cathedral statement, and this is the good news. Amen.

May divine Love heal my fears,
And fill my life with miracles.
Amen.

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