New Life

On January 28, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

New Life Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Jan 28, 2018 Jn 3.1-8, 19-21 Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. At 19 I begged and beseeched God to strike me straight. I […]

New Life
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Jan 28, 2018
Jn 3.1-8, 19-21

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

At 19 I begged and beseeched God to strike me straight. I was told that same-gender love and attraction were sinful.

I didn’t know that the American Psychiatric Association had maintained since 1973 that same-gender love and attraction was not disordered, not pathological, nor did I know that contemporary biblical and theological scholarship was debunking religiously motivated prejudices against LGBTQ people. I just knew that most of the people that I knew would have thought something was wrong with me if they knew who I really was.

So I prayed for God to heal me of my sinful nature. God, however, did not strike me straight. Instead, I heard a message deep within me…not an audible voice but a clear message nevertheless, and the message was simply and powerfully: Not even God can heal what is not sick.

I was renewed, reborn, revived, relieved…I didn’t become someone else (I was who I was meant to be!), but I embraced a new understanding of who I am. I was reborn as someone who trusted my sacred value and who could learn to trust that God is love. I was reborn as someone who knew that I was God’s miracle and not God’s mistake, I was part of a divine plan that was diverse and beautiful and wonderful. I came to understand that just as I am, I am (as the psalmist affirmed) awesomely and wonderfully made.

Let’s think back to the creation myth in Genesis chapter 1:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

In the beginning, God. Let’s for a moment pretend that time is linear and that there was a literal beginning. If God is all there is (in the beginning), then with what and from what does God create? God’s Self! What else is there “in the beginning?” God is the maker and the plan and the stuff from which creation is made. The maker, the plan, and the stuff…how’s that for a trinity?!

So everything that is, is God’s creation, an extension of God. Everything that lives is animated with God’s life (breath, energy, spirit). Every creature is part of God’s heart. We are each God’s child.

There’s not a spot where God is not because there’s nothing that doesn’t come from God, that isn’t made from God-stuff. And so it is that it is in God that we live and move and have our being.

So in the beginning, God is all…and God is the same yesterday, today, and forever…so God is still all…omnipresent, everywhere fully present, which means all that is, is in and part of God. We can’t be lost from an omnipresent God; we can’t be rejected by a God that is Love.

To be reborn is to wake up to the truth of our union with God. To be reborn, or born from above, or born of spirit is to realize who we really are…God’s begotten.

The reading this morning skipped a couple of verses that have been used problematically, but in the context of the larger passage they are very reassuring. Verses 16 and 17, well known by those who memorize bible verses, say in the King James rendering, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

Forgive the patriarchal language, but that is how many of us learned it.

That passage falls in the middle of this larger text about following the light and being born of spirit. It’s all metaphorical and philosophical and symbolic and maybe confusing. It’s little wonder that people have misunderstood it. The verse is used to suggest that those of us who hold certain opinions or understandings are heaven bound, and everyone else is in deep, everlasting doo-doo. But how could that ever be good news…that would be just one more unjust system of ins and outs, haves and have nots, accepted and rejected. That can’t be God. Religion has to be better than mere fire insurance!

What most of us were never told is that the word translated as “world” in that passage is actually kosmos. It means the entire world, the earth and beyond, all who exist anywhere in any form. For God so loved the cosmos! That God gave God’s best, God’s heart, God’s all. God so loved everything that God gave everything.

The only begotten child isn’t just one person in history, it’s every person. God gives life so that everyone who chooses to believe in life will experience it fully, abundantly, and eternally.

There’s another word to consider: Believe. Whoever believes…

Again, that has been used as if belief is currency – whoever spends the coin of belief will have purchased a membership in the heavenly country club.

But spiritual belief isn’t an opinion, it’s a commitment. To say “I believe” is to say, “I set my heart on…” To search for meaning, significance, truth, to seek to be in communion with the divine, to wish to be used by God to bless others…this is setting our hearts on a path, and that path leads where it must, to the very heart of God. Or to an awareness of God’s heart in which we have always been at home.

So hear John 3.16-17 again, in a new way:
“For God so loved everything, that God gave everything, all that God is, that whoever set their heart on God or the search for meaning by any name, would discover that they were forever safe in the love that God is. For God didn’t give all that God is to condemn the cosmos; God gave God’s best and God’s all so that the cosmos would find itself forever safe in God.”

God created from God’s own Self, and so all that is created is the child of God, and the child of God is on a spiritual journey that leads to a renewed awareness that God is the All-in-all and we can never be separated from God.

God so loved the cosmos.
Muslims are part of the cosmos.
Jewish people are part of the cosmos.
Atheists are part of the cosmos.
Hindus are part of the cosmos.
Women who march are part of the cosmos.
People struggling to regain their health are part of the cosmos.
Refugees are part of the cosmos.
People who need a helping hand are part of the cosmos.
Transgender youth are part of the cosmos.
Same-gender loving people are part of the cosmos.
People in recovery are part of the cosmos.
People who live with the constant threat of war are part of the cosmos.
And these people need to hear that God LOVES the entire cosmos!

We are made of God-stuff. God gave everything, God’s best, God’s Self, to create us and God’s love and light are part of us. We will never be separated from God’s grace and love. To embrace that is like a new lease on life, a new birth. And it is the gift we are offered today. This is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
I set my heart on you.
I know that I am forever in your heart.
You are the Maker, the Plan, and the Stuff of my life.
Alleluia!
And amen.

Goodness Revealed

On January 21, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

 

We Can Make A Difference

On January 21, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

We Can Make a Difference Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Jan 21, 2018 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 usually think of Jesus meek and mild, but Jesus was […]

We Can Make a Difference
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Jan 21, 2018

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 usually think of Jesus meek and mild, but Jesus was also very passionate.

We see him this morning having an outburst in public, knocking over tables. What got into Jesus? Of all things, why attack money exchange clerks and dove merchants?

The money changers served a legitimate function. In Jesus’ day, we wouldn’t have images. We’ve all been in churches with statues or icons or brass pulpits that looked like an eagle or people depicted in the stained glass windows…images that have been engraved into surfaces. But graven images were a no-no. They took that so seriously in Jesus’ day, that they wouldn’t let you bring money in the Temple that had someone’s face on the coins.

We’ll take your Washingtons, Lincolns, Hamiltons, Jacksons, and Franklins…we’ll take your check with birds or flags or clouds on them…we’ll swipe your credit card with your own photo on it…but not in
Jesus’ day. No images meant NO images.

So, some enterprising people set up a money exchange service.

In Rome, mere feet (or meters) from the walls of Vatican City, there are shops where you can buy papal swag, or a hot seminarians beef cake calendar, but that doesn’t really go to support papal ministry.

I think that’s what was going on in Jesus’ day. People knew you needed Temple currency to spend in the temple, so they set up shop. Of course, there was a fee. It was a business to enrich the business owner, not really a fundraiser for ministry.

Now, if you didn’t bring a sacrifice, you’d buy one there at the temple. Again, someone has set up the Sacrifice on Site Store. I buy two birds, because I don’t have enough for a four legged animal. That I’m buying birds shows you that I’m not a rich guy, and I’m already less rich than I was an hour ago.

I’ve spent money at two shops before I ever get inside the Temple! I want to support the Temple, but so far, I’ve supported the Money for Money Shop and the Sacrifices to Go Mart. The bird sellers are making money and the money changers are making money…off of me, poor peasant guy who just wants to worship in my religion’s famed temple.

Jesus has a fit and falls in it, but not because people are supporting the Temple, his own parents gave a gift of turtle doves to the Temple when he was born. Jesus grew up hearing about and practicing tithing. Jesus praised the widow who gave a mite, all she could to support the temple ministry.

Jesus gave food and wine and healing and time and wisdom and whatever else he could all the time. Even in his passionate display today, he’s basically giving his life for what he believes. The consequences of his outburst will
be fatal…he gave courageously from his heart anyway.

Jesus wants us to be generous, but when he sees the rich and powerful lining their pockets at the expense of the poor, marginalzed, or oppressed and using God’s temple as cover for their exploits, then he displays righteous indignation.

Jesus is furious that people are using religion to cheat others, to keep them down, to break them rather than to lift them up, and when you make religion be something to enrich the already rich or to keep some in power at the expense of the disadvantaged, Jesus is then ready to take names and kick butt.

And that’s why we see him confronting people who are exploiting the vulnerable. Exploitation of the vulnerable is apparently the one thing that gets Jesus fighting mad.

Jesus quotes scriptures from his own tradition when he’s confronting those who are exploiting the poor. He quotes the prophet Isaiah, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Of course, the prophet says, a house of prayer for all peoples, all nations, all ethnicities, all races, all economic classes…all groups of people, all kinds of people.

Jesus also quotes the prophet Jeremiah who asked in his own day, “Has this house become in your eyes a den of thieves?” Standing with the prophets, Jesus affirms the dignity of all people and insists that God’s house is where the sacred value of all people is to be acknowledged and celebrated. The Temple isn’t cover for the powerful, its refuge and sanctuary for the
hurting and marginalized.

And then, in response to his radical affirmation of those who had been exploited, the lame and the blind come for healing. Jesus is engaging scripture again. Leviticus 21 says that those who have physical limitations or challenges can’t serve as priests at the altar, but Jesus, in the Temple, lays hands on the hurting…as if to say, your body may have some issues
right now, but the real you, the spirit that you are, is, always has been, and always will be whole and perfect. Embrace your wholeness and serve the Lord with gladness.

Then what happens? Children say admiring things about Jesus. And again, he quotes scripture, the 8th psalm: “Out of the mouths of babes God has brought forth praise.” Children have no power, but they are the ones to affirm Jesus, and by lifting that up, the writer is affirming the dignity and goodness of children and all who have been rendered powerless.

And then Jesus leaves for Bethany. Bethany is where his chosen family lived. Two women who called themselves sisters, and a man they called their brother all lived together in Bethany: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The exact nature of the various relationships is a matter of rigorous investigation among Queer theologians, but in any case, three unmarried adults without children living together was uncommon, a biblical example of what makes a family…love and choice.

In this one gospel text:
Jesus fights for the poor.
Jesus comforts the hurting.
Jesus empowers the powerless.
Jesus affirms non-traditional families.

Matthew wanted us to see who Jesus was, and therefore, what we who follow Jesus are meant to be. This story shows a dramatic and radical commitment to the poor, the powerless, the vexed and the vilified. This disruption in the Temple struck fear in the hearts of the guardians of the status quo, and that is almost certainly what led to Jesus’ arrest and execution.

But he couldn’t be silent…when he saw the poor, the victimized, the marginalized, the suffering having their suffering needlessly enhanced, or having their suffering ignored, or having their suffering used to enrich others…he couldn’t be silent. He had to speak up; he had to do something. It might have cost him something, maybe, as it turned out, it would cost him everything…but he believed he could make a difference, and if he could, then he reasoned, he must.

I am asking you today to renew your commitment to the mission and ministry of Sunshine Cathedral for another year. I’m asking you to worship with us faithfully, every Sunday that you are able, and we gather at other times as well. I’m asking you to volunteer sometimes, either for a single project or for an on-going ministry. And I’m asking you to make a financial commitment to this church if you benefit from it in any way or if you believe in what we are trying to do in the world. Prayerfully dedicate a percentage of your net income to supporting your church and give your gifts as acts of worship.

We can make a difference, and we need all hands on deck to do all that we are called to do.

Jesus made a profound difference in the world, and in his name we strive to make a difference as well. This is the good news. Amen.

I believe I can make a difference.
Let me be a conduit through which divine goodness flows.
God bless me to be a blessing.
Inspired by Jesus, I want to serve your plan.
Amen.

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