But He Was Awesome

On November 16, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

But He Was Awesome Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Oct. 29, 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. In our reading from Deuteronomy this morning we see that Moses is […]

But He Was Awesome
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Oct. 29, 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.

In our reading from Deuteronomy this morning we see that Moses is 120 years old when he dies, but the writer says that Moses was still vigorous right until the end, and that he even maintained good vision throughout his life. Moses was at the end of his life in Deuteronomy 34, but he was awesome!

Moses has led his people for decades toward a land of promise, an experience of hope, a place of opportunity. They will finally reach it because even though Moses won’t make it, he never quit. He never set foot in the land of promise, but he was awesome.

Moses was buried in a valley and no one knew where, but still he is remembered. His grave was lost, but he was awesome.

And after people grieve Moses’ death, they continue their journey; they keep moving toward the goal. Moses is gone, but his awesomeness continues to inspire.

Moses made mistakes, had a violent temper, had lapses in moral judgment, but he was awesome. Imperfect as he sometimes was, he still stood up to empire, braved the wilderness to help his people be free, led a sometimes ungrateful and uncooperative community, lived a long life, and got his people almost to their goal. He was flawed, but he was awesome!

When Moses was born he was part of an oppressed minority, but he went from refugee to prince to outlaw to shepherd to liberator. His life had many twists and turns, but he was awesome.

Moses faced his challenges and stood against injustice and he dedicated his life to serving God and others. His life wasn’t easy, but he was awesome.

Today’s passage from Deuteronomy is a sort of eulogy, remember someone fondly. When someone dies, we read nice things about them in an obituary: She was a devoted spouse, a loving sister, a passionate golfer, and a faithful choir member or deacon. She was awesome.

And at the funeral or memorial service, people will recall how funny or kind or creative or hard working the deceased was. The mourners remember, focus on, and celebrate what was good, decent, beautiful, or laudable about the person. Of course the dearly departed screwed up a time or two, but that’s not what we choose to focus on in those moments. We choose to remember the best. She may not have been perfect, but in so many ways, she was awesome.

That’s the gift we have been given and the gift we can give ourselves and others. But why wait until it’s time to write an obituary or give a eulogy? We can focus on what is good right now. We can focus on what is possible, in this moment. We can focus on what fuels us and fills us with hope. We get to embrace our successes more than reliving our failures, we get to celebrate what we’ve learned more than fretting over what we’ve lost, we get to remember all the things we did right instead of wallowing in all the things we got wrong. We get to choose where we place our focus. And remember: where attention goes, energy flows. We focus on the good because that’s the direction we want to go…toward the good.

The writer of Deuteronomy could have remembered Moses by saying, “He lost his temper and killed an Egyptian and thereafter went into hiding.” Or the writer could have pointed out, “Moses gave us a list of do’s and don’ts that told us not to kill or steal, but when we left Egypt he had us steal everything we could carry and when we made an idol in the wilderness he killed thousands of us in a fit of rage.”

But what does the writer say? “Moses was 120 when he died, and he could still see well and he seemed to have plenty of pep.” The writer chose to lift up what was awesome about Moses, as if to say, we all screw up, but the part of us that is really real is absolutely awesome, and that is something we will never lose nor tarnish.

We don’t always act like it, but we are awesome. Moses was a bonehead sometimes, but at his core he was awesome, and at least a few times, he let that awesomeness shine through. That’s what the writer chose to focus on…we can always focus on the best rather than imagining or rehashing the worst.

We all have ups and downs, highs and lows, successes and failures, times of ease and times of struggle. But those are experiences, circumstances, situations, moments of time…they are not what we are. What we are is awesome…even when we forget that, even when we don’t act like it, even when we can’t find much evidence to support it, even when we can’t figure out which one is shinola, we can know and choose to believe and affirm that we are awesome; we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

Will we have bad luck? Maybe, sometimes. Will we make mistakes? I promise we will. But, we are awesome.

Don’t wait until the funeral. Tell someone today that they are awesome. They may really need to hear it. And if no one tells you, tell yourself. Say to yourself, “I am awesome.” That’s not arrogant. That’s not silly. That’s not bragging. That is just giving yourself a pep talk: My value doesn’t depend on performance or bank accounts or other people’s opinion of me…I am a child of an awesome God and that makes awesomeness my inheritance…I’m claiming it today!

Affirm your sacred value routinely, and especially in times of uncertainty. When the fit hits the shan, that is the precise moment to declare, “This crap happened, but I am awesome.” Even if we helped create the mess, or stepped in it and spread it all over the place…mistakes and failures are part of the journey, but nevertheless, I am awesome, you are awesome, we are awesome.

I mentioned funerals earlier. I want to share with you a story I often tell at funerals. It’s my favorite Moses story. It’s apocryphal, not found in scripture, but I find it powerful…

Moses, as we read in Deuteronomy 34, is 120 years old and it’s time for him to die. The Angel of Death comes for him. The angel says, “Moses, you’ve had a good long run, you’ve done some good stuff, but now it’s time to leave this earth plane.” Moses laughed out loud. The angel was perplexed. No one laughs in an angelic face! Moses told the angel, “I stood up to Pharaoh. I wandered around in a waste land for 4 decades. I drank from rocks and ate stuff off the ground we didn’t even know what to call. We were attacked by poisonous snakes once. At 80 I carried heavy stone tables down a mountain, and broke them and had to go back up the mountain to get new ones. Did I mention I was 80?! And, I don’t get to make it into the promised land after all that. So, no, I’m not going with God’s angelic flunky. If God wants me, tell God to come get me.”

The angel flew back to God, a little embarrassed. The angel said, “Moses won’t die. He says if you want him you have to go get him.” And God laughed. And the angel was starting to get hocked off at being laughed at so much.

God said, “Fair enough. I’m glad Moses realizes his true worth. I’ll go get him.”
And God went to Moses, and took him on a high mountain, and showed him the promised land and told him his people would make it there soon. And then God said, “Are you ready now?” And Moses said, “I am ready.”

God had Moses lie down on the ground. God then hovered over Moses and pressed the divine lips to Moses’ lips, and Moses exhaled his last breath into God as God kissed Moses into eternity. As Fannie James said in our second reading today, “a very great God indeed.”

I believe, God loves us all and kisses us all, without exception, into and throughout eternity. Why not? We are made in the image of an awesome God, so we must be awesome, too. And this is the good news.

I’ve made mistakes – but I am awesome.
There are ups and downs, but come what may, I am awesome.
I face the difficult and give thanks for the good, because I am awesome.
I choose to focus on and celebrate my awesomeness today.
And so it is.

 

Encouragement

On November 12, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Encouragement Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Nov. 12, 2017

Encouragement
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Nov. 12, 2017

 

Litany of the Saints

On November 5, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Litany of the Saints Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Nov. 5, 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. November 1 is All Saints Day. Nov. 2 is All Souls Day. […]

Litany of the Saints
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Nov. 5, 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.

November 1 is All Saints Day. Nov. 2 is All Souls Day. We’re a day closer to All Souls, and because of our Universalist theology, we usually focus on All Souls at this time of year. Not just some celebrated heroes, but the innate goodness of all souls. But today, we’ll do a bit of both.

In some church traditions, this would be a day to pray a litany of the saints, remembering and invoking the intercessions of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, of Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael and all angels, of patriarchs and prophets, of the Apostles, Martyrs, Doctors of the Church, and monastics.

I am happy to recall these saints today, to remember their witness, and even seek their prayers, assuming they are inclined to offer them.

But I want to add some more folk to my list of saints today. I want to lift up some saintly souls today that may have been overlooked on other lists, but that I feel belong in Sunshine Cathedral’s Litany of Sacred Souls.

I want to lift up transgender, gender queer, and gender non-conforming saints and holy souls, like Joan of Arc who took the role of soldier, a role reserved in her time and culture for men. Joan cross dressed, wearing clothes thought proper only for men. And it was gender bending, cross dressing Joan of Arc who encountered angels, who defended her country, and who was martyred for her mystical spirituality and non-conformist living.

I also want to lift up Wilgefortis. According to legend, her father had arranged for Wilgefortis to marry a king whose faith was different from hers. She would have been expected to convert, and she didn’t want to, so she prayed that God would make her unappealing to her fiancé. Sure enough, by the time she was presented to her husband to be, Wilgefortis had grown a full beard. The king rejected her and her father, furious about the trickery, had Wilgefortis crucified. Women in Iberia would often pray to Wilgefortis to help liberate them from unhappy situations, especially abusive relationships.

I also want to pay tribute to St. Francis of Assisi. Some historians say he embraced what were considered feminine characteristics, and that he even admitted a woman into his order of monks…but he admitted her as Brother Jacoba.

Ss. Joan, Wilgefortis, Francis and Jacoba, pray for us.

No litany of saints would be complete that did not include a celebration of same-gender love and attraction.

So I call to mind Doctor of the Church Hildegard of Bingen, now believed by many to have been a lesbian.

I call to mind biblical characters David and Jonathan who made a life time covenant, like a marriage, with each other. When Jonathan died, David said that he loved Jonathan in a way that he could never love women.

I call to mind Ss. Perpetua and Felicity, who were martyred for their faith, and who died in each other’s arms, sharing a kiss.

I call to mind Ss. Sergius and Bacchus, Roman soldiers and Christian converts. They refused to burn incense in the temples of the Roman pagan cults, and so they were paraded through the streets in drag and then tortured to death. Bacchus died first, and he appeared to Sergius in a vision to say they would be reunited in the afterlife, as a couple.

I also remember today Good King Wenceslaus of Christmas Carol fame. “Good King Wenceslaus looked out on the feast of Stephen…” The song is based on a legend that says Wenceslaus, the Duke of Bohemia, would routinely wake his “chamber servant” Podiven in the middle of the night to go out and distribute alms to the poor. On the Feast of St. Stephen, according to the legend, Wenceslaus and Podiven were out giving coins to the poor when Podiven’s feet became too cold to continue. The good Duke told him to walk in his foot prints in the snow. Podiven did so, and miraculously, as long as he stayed in Wenceslaus’ foot prints, his own feet stayed warm. Historians tell us that the nature of the Duke’s relationship with Podiven seems romantic.

As we call to mind lesbian, bisexual, and gay saints, I need to name two more from more recent days. The first is historian John Boswell whose research brought many queer saints to the light of modern awareness, and the second is someone who challenged the Roman Catholic hierarchy at great personal cost, including being dismissed from the Jesuit order, Father John McNeill who was a member of this faith community until his death.

Ss. Hildegard, David and Jonathon, Perpetua and Felicity, Sergius and Bacchus, Wenceslaus and Podiven, John Boswell, and John McNeill, pray for us.

I need to recognize that there are holy souls, spiritual heroes, saints of every time and place and culture and faith…and so I honor the Sufi poet Rumi, the progressive Anglican bishop who also explored spiritualism, James A. Pike, prophet of freedom Martin Luther King, Jr., the healer and teacher who influenced my theology of Omnipresence, Malinda Cramer, and the spiritual teacher who advocated an intimate, personal relationship with the divine beyond all dogma and tradition, Paramahansa Yogananda. May they pray for us.

Now, I’ve identified some saints, but let’s switch to All Souls. If God is Omnipresent Love, and if God indeed looks at all of creation and calls it all very good, then you and I are in that great cloud of witnesses, the Communion of saints. We are individuations of the God-force, made in the divine image, filled with divine light. The heroes show us what we really are. As Revelation 21 states, “The home of God is among mortals!” We are the Temple of God’s presence. We are the drop in the Ocean, and we are learning that the Ocean is in the drop.

Ephesians 2. 8 tells us, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God.” Saved, liberated, made whole, perfected….how? By grace through faith. But that doesn’t mean that you have to pretend to believe something you can’t. No, grace is a free gift. It’s not something we earn or can lose. It is a gift of God. Grace is a free, absolutely free gift, so how do we get it? Through faith…but not ours.

God’s faith is the perfect faith that offers the grace that includes us all. We are affirmed by God’s grace through God’s faith in us! God trusts that we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. God trusts that we are worth grace that can liberate us from fear, despair, loneliness and degradation. God’s faithfulness is what offers the grace that makes all things well. It’s not our doing, not our confession, not our traditions, not our opinions, not our sexual orientation, not our gender identity…none of that earns us grace…it’s a gift! Which means all souls are and will forever be in the loving embrace of God. The so-called saints just show us what is true of all us. Our litany of the saints is meant to remind us to take our place among them, because we can…in God’s mind, we’ve always been there. And this is the good news! Amen.

I am…
Created by God.
Surrounded by God.
Loved by God.
Filled with God.
And so I rejoice.
Alleluia!

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