Focus

On October 15, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Focus Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Oct. 15, 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. Our readings today seem to be telling us to focus on possibilities more than on […]

Focus
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Oct. 15, 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.

Our readings today seem to be telling us to focus on possibilities more than on problems, focus on what’s good more than on what’s troubling, focus more on what’s left than on what’s lost. That the psalmist and St. Paul (and Dr. Myss) would give us such counsel is not surprising. We find it throughout the Bible.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, when Moses was guiding his community through the wilderness, some of them wanted to turn around and go back to Egypt. They had been enslaved in Egypt. They had their personhood denied. They were mistreated. But better the devil you know, some say.

Yes, to get to the Promised Land, we’re going to have to find water in rocks, and hunt quail, and eat manna (”what is it?” – probably plant or bug secretions…but if you’re hungry enough, it’s bread from heaven). The path to the promise is full of challenges and difficulties and uncertainties. But the past was bondage. The future has infinite possibilities.

Going back to Egypt or going forward to the Promised Land both will be difficult, but one set of difficulties can lead to better days, the other path is a trap. Which direction will we choose? What will our focus be?

Focusing on a future filled with possibilities, even if the path forward is full of snakes and sickness and eating bug droppings, is the better way. Flaky bug ick goes from “What is it?” to “Hey guys, it’s edible! It’s a gift from heaven!” with a simple change of focus. Even in the wilderness, we get to choose our focus.

In the 1990’s I was an AIDS chaplain. There was one guy I would visit who was very weak. To cheer him up, I asked him, “When you get to feeling better, what is the first thing you want to do.” He said he wanted to go to his favorite bar. In a city that had about 30 gay bars, his fave was about the 3rd raunchiest. And he lit up when he talked about it. He had enjoyed some pretty great nights there. His friends went there. His favorite bar tender worked there. It was Cheers, if Cheers was super shady and scary.

When he focused on the good times he had enjoyed at Shady Cheers, and when he focused on the possibility of returning there, that dear man was filled with delight; gratitude tempered his grief and fond memories replaced his fears…for a few moments, it was as if he wasn’t sick at all. I don’t know if he ever got back to that bar before he died, but I know thinking about it gave him a great deal of pleasure. Focusing on good times brought him joy even in a very difficult period of his life.

Also in the 90s, I used to know a traveling singing group that was popular in the area where I lived…all gay, and they sang gospel music. One night they were singing at a church, and after the concert a man approached one of the singers. He told the singer he had AIDS but that he was so enraptured by the music that night that he forgot for a couple of hours that he was ill. He told that singer, “It was like I didn’t have AIDS, at least for a little while.”
He changed his focus, and thereby, at least for a short time, changed his experience.

”Where attention goes, energy flows.”
We know that. We’ve said it a thousand times. And these stories show just how that is true, how a change of focus can change our direction.

A Course in Miracles teaches that a miracle is a change of perception from fear to love. In other words, a miracle is a change of focus.

Am I a person defeated by my pain, or I am a person determined to experience joy in spite of my pain. Which will my focus be?
And if I focus on joy rather than pain, isn’t it possible that I will also have less pain? Less fear? Less regret? If not today, then one day?

I can’t promise things will be easy or that things will always go our way. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, but how we respond to the difficult times is where our power lies. Our focus can pave the way for hope beyond horror and peace beyond pain.

In our third reading this morning, the Apostle Paul is trying to change a congregation’s focus. There is bickering and conflict in the congregation. Paul tries to get them to stop focusing on their personality conflicts and petty squabbles; he wants them to focus on what is good in their ministry, on what is beautiful and lovely and worthy of praise. He wants them to focus on justice work, and compassion, and healing, and on all the things that are amazing. Think on these things, he tells them. Then, he adds, the peace of God will guard your hearts. By the way, Paul is writing from prison. The man is incarcerated, and he says, “There’s bound to be something good in your lives. Focus on that!”

Yes, there are things that are difficult, things that aren’t going according to plan sometimes, but how we deal with the bumps in the road is to celebrate what is good, what is powerful, what is working, what is changing lives, what is absolutely miraculous.

The funny thing is, that’s not just good advice for a church, it’s good advice for the work place, for a relationship, for a family, and for any challenge one might be facing. Focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, commendable, excellent…Focus on the good, on the opportunity, on the possibilities, on the lesson, on the rose blooming on top of the thorns.

We pray each week: “There is only one presence and one power in the universe and in me, God the good, God the good, God the good omnipotent.” It’s a reminder to focus on God and God’s goodness, because our focus determines our direction, and we choose our focus.

No wonder the great teachers tell us, “Change your thinking and you change your world.” In other words, Change your focus and you’ve changed your destiny.

Today, let our main focus be to remain focused on what is good and on what is possible in our lives. We have the power to choose our focus, and this is the good news. Amen.

Begin Again

On October 8, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Begin Again Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell October 8, 2017 Please join me in the spirit of prayer. May we know and affirm that we are God’s hands, God’s feet, and God’s voice in this world. May we work towards justice for all and may we always embrace peace. Amen. When I was in […]

Begin Again
Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell
October 8, 2017

Please join me in the spirit of prayer. May we know and affirm that we are God’s hands, God’s feet, and God’s voice in this world. May we work towards justice for all and may we always embrace peace. Amen.

When I was in Junior High School, I was required to take Algebra. Now this is probably not a news flash as I would suspect many of you had to do the same thing. What might be more surprising is that I really was really, really not good at it. My father tried to help me to no avail. I just couldn’t figure out the formulas and why it was so important to determine what is “x” or “y” – and how I was ever going to use this information in the future. It didn’t help matters when my algebra teacher told me that he wasn’t surprised that I was doing so poorly in his class because, you know, girls just really struggle with math. Our brains are just not wired to do complicated mathematics. And so I spent my entire high school career believing that I was just horrible at anything that had to do with math. Which is retrospect was kind of surprising because I was a pretty good student otherwise.

When I began college many years ago, I went into it with the idea that I would probably be just fine – except for that math requirement. So I made the decision to challenge myself by starting with the basics in order to work my way up into the more difficult mathematics. I learned how to add and subtract and to do fractions all over again. And I did quite well. Then I moved into Basic Algebra – and again, I did well. And then with some trepidation, I started College Algebra and Statistics and the other higher level mathematics – and I got A’s in every one of them.

While doing this I discovered a few things. Number one – I had a lousy teacher in Junior High Algebra who did everything he could to discourage me. Number two – I should have never listened to what he told me. Because I am female does not mean I am inevitably going to be challenged by mathematics. And number three – I had the opportunity to begin again – to start from scratch and to find a way to make it work for me…and I did. I chose not to let my past difficulties define me.

In the passage we just heard from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the new assembly in Philippi, he lays out his personal background for this community. Paul tells them was raised fully in the Jewish tradition. He was educated and is a self-declared righteous person. And, he owns it, he was a persecutor of the very early church. What Paul goes on to share is that he has found a new way of living, a way that works better for him. Not that the former life was bad – but this new way is just better for him. He has suggested, for himself, that it is important to forget what lies behind and to move forward into what lies ahead. And for Paul, what lies ahead is the connection he has made with the life and ministry of Jesus.

Paul is encouraging the new church assembly in Philippi to also follow the message which Jesus shared – to build community with each other, to reach out into the margins of society and help those who are most vulnerable – to help women and children and those who just need a helping hand. Paul encourages this new faith community to welcome the stranger and to share whatever they have. Now, these notions were radical! These ideas would go against everything the Roman rulers wanted which was to control everything and to create division. (Sound familiar??) But Paul recognized the goodness that comes from setting aside what doesn’t work, what hurts others, and creating new communities of welcome and care.

When Paul wrote this letter, he was in prison. He didn’t know what life would have in store for him and so many scholars believe that Paul may have been creating this letter as his farewell address. Towards the very end of the epistle to the Philippian community, Paul encourages the assembly to “…keep on doing the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” That’s powerful stuff, isn’t it? Paul was encouraging those in this new community to find peace by doing what was right and what was truly meaningful. Paul had come to see his previous life as a loss, though others may have seen it quite differently. It really didn’t matter to Paul what others thought, he found joy and meaning in living the continuing message of Jesus. To Paul, it was a way of living faithfully and authentically and he wanted the same thing for his new community.

So I want to ask you, what it mean to live your life fully and authentically, setting aside what doesn’t work and embracing that which does. That’s kind of a difficult question because it really is different for everyone. Though I would suspect that for most of us, we want to live lives of deep meaning, lives where we are open to beauty and joy, lives where we give generously of our abundance, lives where we offer compassion and help to those who are suffering for whatever reason. These are wonderful, significant elements and I would speculate that each of us really want these ways of being as part of our lives. And that is one of the many reasons I appreciate Sunshine Cathedral. We gather every Sunday to worship and to share communal joy and celebration. We not only offer meaningful ministry here on this campus but we go out into our community, meeting people where they are and offer compassion and support. That, to me, is a large part of what church really is about.

But, let’s face it….our culture really is focused more on what we have, what we own, what kind of car we drive, what kind of cell phone we use – if indeed we own such things. People who have wealth are often thought to be of greater importance than those with very little. With these cultural ideals, it can be most difficult to live a life of simplicity in a world that tells us we need more and more and more.

I think, though, that is what Paul is emphasizing to this community. The stuff that was important in the past – leave it there. It doesn’t define you. The material holdings that society tells you that you must have – let go of their significance. It’s not bad to have nice things as long as they don’t define you. What others have said — you must be this or that, let it go. Don’t let anyone or anything define who you are.

That can be a challenging thing – to forgo what others think of us and hold on to what we know to be true. And this scripture passage can serve as a heads up to those who believe that conformity is related to holiness. It isn’t what we are born into that makes us acceptable to the Divine One. It isn’t what we own or all the wonderful things we have. It is who become, how we live in love, and how we continually work towards the goal of living a life of compassion and of faith. That, to my mind, is what makes a meaningful life, a way to begin again, and I would suspect that maybe, just maybe, the Apostle Paul might agree with that.

This coming Wednesday, October 11, is National Coming Out Day, a day in which we celebrate and honor those who are coming out or have come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) or as an ally. This year marks the 29th anniversary of National Coming Out Day which is held on the anniversary of the second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights – which was 30 years ago! But what an empowering process to come out as part of the LGBTQ or allied community! What an opportunity for one to begin living their life fully and authentically! What an opportunity to begin again!

In my own personal coming out as a lesbian, I just felt freer, more alive, more comfortable with myself. I learned what it meant to be part of the Queer community, to be welcomed for all of who I am. Of course, not everyone accepted my news with joy and open arms. But at that point, it really didn’t matter what they thought. I knew that in order to be true to myself and truly live a life that would make me happy, I had to come out. I realize that not everyone has that same experience. Coming out as part of the LGBTQ and allied community can be exceptionally complicated. You can lose family and friends, even those people you thought would stand by you….AND by living your life openly and authentically, you have the potential to find new love, new friends, a family of choice – you have the opportunity to begin again.

And while preparing this message, I reflected on the passages in which Jesus also had opportunities to begin again. There is a story from both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospel in which Jesus is confronted by a woman who is not part of the Jewish community….she is seeking healing for her daughter. Jesus responds that those who are healed first are the Israelites – the others outside of that community should receive nothing. Jesus even goes so far as to state that it is unfair to take the children’s food (meaning healing for those who are Jewish) and give it to the dogs. So Jesus has just diminished the woman and her humanity by referring to her and her daughter as dogs. The woman persists and tells Jesus that even dogs would get the scraps. Jesus gets schooled in this story – he takes the opportunity to step away from his prejudicial beliefs and to see the woman and her daughter as people who simply need compassion and healing. Jesus begins again to move beyond what society says and to make his own decisions by offering the sought for restoration to the woman’s daughter.

If your life, your story, is not exactly what you had in mind, there is always the opportunity for change. Even if you’re comfortable with where you’re at, and yet, you know there is more to be had, more goodness, more love. Begin again and aim for where you really want to be!

Writer and sociologist Brene Brown reminds us that we must shift our paradigm – instead of asking “What must I do?” ask “What do I want to do? What brings meaning to my life?” She says, “Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.”

The choices we make define our lives. If you’re not content with where you are, make a change. Begin again…and keep at it until you find what works for you! And know that fullness of the omnipresent God will be with you every step of the way.
And this is the good news,
Amen!

~~~~~~~~~
I am open to change.
I am open to new opportunities.
I am strong enough to begin again.
And so it is!

 

The Law is Love

On October 1, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

The Law is Love Durrell Watkins The Decalogue Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s words be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. The Greek philosophers used to ask, “Is a thing right because the gods command it […]

The Law is Love
Durrell Watkins
The Decalogue

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

The Greek philosophers used to ask,
“Is a thing right because the gods command it or do the gods command a thing because it is right?”

I have doubts about the mythology of how the 10 commandments came to be…I don’t need to believe that God chiseled them in stone and handed them to Moses…the cultural norms, universal ethical standards, and spiritual insights represented by the Decalogue stand on their own.
I don’t think they are right because they made the list;
I think they made the list because they are right.

There’s an old Sophie Tucker line from a song she used to do called Myron…the song is about a woman who wishes her husband was more amorous. She says, “Myron, so I’m not a hotsie totsie, so i’m not a beauty cutie…if you can’t be a lover, at least be a husband and do your duty!”
I guess I’ll do my duty and breeze through the commandments with you.

#1 Have no other gods.
Whatever is most important to us, whatever gets the most of our thoughts, our time, our money, our passion…that’s what we worship. Even the past can be what we worship (Apiz). There are lots of things we can enjoy, but ancient Hebrew theology said that it all should come second to devotion to God.

We give the majority of our focus, time, energy, and resources to something…maybe that something is our spirituality, but maybe its technology, career, money, power, or pleasure…the first commandment says try to put God first.

#2 No graven images.
Another way to say that is don’t put God in a box. There’s an old Buddhist teaching that says I can point to the moon with my finger, but my finger is not the moon. Rosaries, bibles, sacraments, stained glass windows, steeples, traditions, icons…they are all fine…they are all fingers pointing toward a deeper mystery. But when we start letting them “be” the sacred rather than representing the sacred, that is idolatry. We want to trap god in birdcages and genies’ lamps…but God can’t be put in a box.

#3 Don’t use misuse God’s name.
The ancients believed that to know someone’s name gave you some influence over them, and they thought it improper, even blasphemous to try to control, manipulate, or even unduly influence the divine.
The principle still applies. People are still trying to lord power over others in the name of God…they use God’s name to justify their homophobia, their transphobia, their war mongering, their abuse of the planet, their attempts to keep women away from altars and pulpits…People are still trying to gain power by misusing God’s name.

#4 Honor the Sabbath
I love this one. I need this one. I find a house of worship to visit anytime I am out of town. I have prayed and worshiped in churches in over 20 countries.
I pray daily, of course, and I study and I mediate and I think very religious thoughts, but I NEED to worship with others. I need to be lifted up by the singing and prayers of others. I need the energy that is shared with we come together. I need a day of worship and reflection in sacred community. It’s healing. It’s energizing.
And while I believe Sunshine Cathedral is the best worshiping community…when I am away, I almost always find second best…because a day of shared worship, of getting away from the daily routines and worries and habits…to take an hour or two to get away from that and reconnect and refocus completely on God…that is food for my soul.

Robert and I will make sure to have a date night or a date day regularly…it might just be drinks or dinner or a movie or a walk or binge watching some tv…but we find some time to just be together. Sabbath is the intentional date day with God. And it does for my relationship with the divine what date night does for my relationship with my husband.

5 – 10 are about how to treat one another.
5…Take care of the elders, which would suggest caring for all who are vulnerable…children, refugees, the sick…who ever needs a helping hand.

6…Don’t murder. That meant don’t murder any of your folk…the people in your tribe, clan, community…but I think we’ve evolved to the point of realizing the human family is our global clan. (PR & VI – our US tribe, our global clan).

Don’t kill off those in your tribe also means to not deny people food, water, clean air, medicine, or adequate wages #6 is not only let live, it’s help people live and live well.

7…Do not commit adultery. Might interest you to know Moses had two wives at the same time. Jacob had 2 and children by two of his servants. David, PS, had at least 8 wives (and a dude named Jonathan). But the winner is Solomon…300 primary wives, 700 secondary wives (concubines), and rumor has it a one night stand with the Queen of Sheba (that’s just greedy).

In a polygamous culture, what’s adultery? The same as it is now…adultery is when you break the sacred vows you make to someone you love. I don’t know what you’ve promised your spouse or companion, and your promises are none of my business, but fidelity means keeping your promises. Make covenants you can keep, and then keep them.

8. Don’t steal. Don’t steel people’s stuff, or their time, or their dignity.

9. Don’t give false testimony in court or on the job or to the press…don’t try to ruin someone’s life or reputation.

10. Don’t covet someone else’s good fortune…be happy when people do well, feel for them when they hit hard times. We all have ups and downs…let’s celebrate the ups and encourage one another through the downs. That doesn’t leave much time, energy, or need to be jealous of what someone else seems to have.

Those are the 10 commandments…but you might wonder how you’ll remember all 10 and then remember what each of the ten mean for us today. Jesus was way ahead of us. He quoted a verse from Leviticus and a verse from Deuteronomy to say that the most important Commandments are just to love God and love people.
By the way, in the 10 commandments…the first 4 are examples of what it looks like to love God, and the last 6 are examples of how we can show love for people. So really, there’s one commandment…LOVE.

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” That’s not new…what he was saying was, “I’m summarizing what all the commandments are about…just love.”

We read in 1 John 4.16, “God is love and whoever lives in love lives in God and God lives in them.”

And the Apostle Paul said that when we love we fulfill the law. The law is love…it’s not memorizing rules and following them to the letter…the so called commandments are suggestions on how to live in love.

It’s not so much “thou shalt not” as it is,
“if you love god then you will not use God as an excuse to hurt people, you will not forget to worship, you will not try to trap god in symbols and dogmas and traditions…
[and] if you love others then you will not steal from them or break your promises to them or try to hurt them or be jealous of their good fortune or ignore them when they are vulnerable.”

God is love, and being loving is how we best honor God…the 10 suggestions offer us some guidance on how to live in love, but the law isn’t the list…The law is love…when we love, we’re keeping all of the commandments…and this is the good news. Amen.

God fill my heart with your love.
I am ready to live in the power of love.
I will love myself, my neighbor, and my God more and more each day.
And so it is!

 

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