Celebration of Life – Deacon CJ Ashton

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

 

Do Something

On February 26, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Do Something Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Feb. 25, 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. After college, I desperately wanted to go to graduate school, but I really doubted […]

Do Something
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Feb. 25, 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.

After college, I desperately wanted to go to graduate school, but I really doubted that I had the academic chops. I was telling my therapist about it and she said to me, “take one class.” I had aced classes before. It could happen. Take the pressure off, she advised. Stop telling yourself all the reasons you might fail, and just take a class. Do something.

Well, I took a class, aced it, and there was no stopping me after that. By doing something, I was able to do more and more. I now have lots of letters behind my name and enjoyed every step of the journey, but it all began when I decided to do something.

Jesus often asked people to do something.
Jesus treated a blind man by making a crude ointment of spittle and dirt. After applying the ointment, he told the man to do something – go wash the nasty ointment off. He did, and, of course, things improved for him.

A woman with a chronic hemorrhage touched Jesus’ garment. She was breaking cultural norms to do so, but she felt like if she did something she might get better. She had seen doctors but they weren’t effective so she decided to do something else. And, she got better.

A centurion, a member of the ruling class, an occupier of Jesus’ land came to Jesus begging him for help for his servant. The Greek word used for servant has romantic connotations, and the centurion’s devotion to a member of the slave class further suggests that this servant and the centurion have a special relationship. The centurion does something: he humbles himself by going to someone he rules over to ask for help. His love for his “servant” is so strong, he will humble himself and beg a faith healer for assistance. Jesus not only blesses the servant, he praises the centurion’s faith…the faith that led him to do something.

Most of Jesus’ healing miracles involved asking people to do something, showing us that what God does for us, God does through us.

What’s our saying?: Say a prayer and take a pill, if one doesn’t work the other will! Do something.
There’s an old proverb: Trust Allah, but tether your camel. Do something.
That was Jesus’ philosophy. Pray and do. It was his formula for miracles.

In today’s gospel lesson, we see Jesus demonstrating Do Something theology.

First, Jesus takes his clothes off. That’s a symbol of vulnerability and trust.

On the beach, we have a sort of social contract…I won’t judge you, you won’t judge me. No matter how pale or pasty I might be, no matter how distant any hint of six pack abs might be, no matter what hangs or droops, or what may be tatted or pierced, at the beach we don’t judge. No shame. Just break out the SPF 30 and have a good time.

Now, if to pick up some extra cash I strip down to my skivvies and start working a pole at the Boardwalk, then you get to judge plenty. “What was he thinking?!”

So, disrobing, except for in certain safe zones, can be risky. And here’s Jesus, taking it off. He does something that could make him uncomfortable, that could make others uncomfortable, but he needs to do something.

Sometimes we need to strip away the outer defenses and let more of who we are be seen. I’m not asking you to defy you sense of modesty, but I am saying, growth and healing sometimes require a bit of unlayering.

Coming out is a type of disrobing.
Going into recovery is a type of disrobing.
Asking for prayer and support when starting chemo or facing surgery is a type of disrobing.
Starting therapy is a type of disrobing.
It’s risky. It’s scary.
It’s healing. It’s empowering.

Now it’s one thing for Jesus to parade around in a towel, but now he wants to give his friends a sponge bath?
Um, Jesus, could I interest you in a boundary?
Peter is especially scandalized that his teacher would kneel down in front of him and wash his nasty feet. Peter says, “No, thank you.”

It’s time for Peter take a risk. Risk being loved, Peter. Risk being cared for; risk letting people know that beneath your perfect coiffeur and your lotioned and perfumed torso there are knobby knees and crusty feet. Risk letting someone know you and appreciate you, bunions and all.

Friendship is intimate. Worship is intimate. Romance is intimate. Speaking or performing in public is intimate…to really connect with an audience of any size, one has to be somewhat open, intimate. And intimacy is risky. Trusting people and getting hurt and forgiving and daring to trust again…that can be smelly feet awkward, and naked in front of your friends uncomfortable. But it might be worth the risk. Jesus thought it was.

What Peter and the gang don’t yet understand is that Jesus needs to do something. He’s wanted for sedition. People are whispering that he could set up his own government in defiance of the Empire. Rome ain’t having that. If the authorities find Jesus, and thanks to Judas they will, he will be imprisoned, or flogged, or sold into slavery, or executed. There’s no pretty ending to this story.

So Jesus needs to do something. The clock is ticking. He needs his friends to know that he loves them. He needs to press upon them how love is their mission no matter what happens to him. He wants them to remember him, of course, but even more importantly, he wants them to continue the work. Give the people their dignity back. Touch the untouchables. Love the unloved. Care for the sick, the poor, the marginalized. Help the broken feel whole. Be relentless in declaring the all-inclusive and unconditional love of God.

So, one more time and in a particularly dramatic and intimate way, Jesus shows them his love and his commitment to the ministry of love. He strips before them, bare and vulnerable. And he kneels before them, and he washes their feet. He needs them to know that love is worth the risk. God is love, and so love must win, because omnipresent, eternal, divine Love is the stuff of the universe…in the final analysis, love is all there really is.

With all the pugnacious preachers spewing fear, wrath and condemnation, we need the God of love proclaimed by a naked, foot-washing Christ.

My friends, do something.
Take a class.
Join a support group.
Volunteer.
Ask God for guidance.
Make amends.
Forgive someone who disappointed you.
Forgive yourself for that dumb mistake.
Take your medicine.
Do something.

If you need to see something differently, or experience something differently, if you need to rise above fear or conquer worry…Jesus has some good counsel for us today: pray, and do something. That simple formula could lead to a miracle. And this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
Heal my fears.
And reveal the something that is mine to do…
that will lead to the breakthrough I need.
Amen.

Renewal

On February 19, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Ash Wednesday

On February 14, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Ash Wednesday, Feb 14 – Affirmation Readings: F. Bernadette Turner wrote: “Affirmation-prayers can be successfully used in building a rich consciousness. They help you vitalize your words and feelings in communicating with Cosmic Center because they are strong declarations of your beliefs. Affirmation prayers have a tonic quality. These prayers as mantras add a variation […]

Ash Wednesday, Feb 14 – Affirmation

Readings:
F. Bernadette Turner wrote: “Affirmation-prayers can be successfully used in building a rich consciousness. They help you vitalize your words and feelings in communicating with Cosmic Center because they are strong declarations of your beliefs. Affirmation prayers have a tonic quality. These prayers as mantras add a variation to your prayer-method. Affirmation prayers are an investment, enriching your consciousness and making life less forbidding in disquieting times.”

We read in the Psalter (Psalm 23, NKJV): The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. [God] makes me to lie down in green pastures [and] leads me beside the still waters. [God] restores my soul; [God] leads me in the paths of righteousness… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.

Prayer after readings: Good Shepherd, we trust you to lead us, guide us, and provide for us. With you we find serenity, courage, and hope. You help us see and seize the possibilities in life. We continue to move forward assured by your constant care. Amen.

SERMON
23rd psalm is the most famous of all affirmative prayers.
In it the psalmist affirms:
God takes care of me, my needs are met.
I am entitled to inner peace.
God restores me and leads me, and helps me overcome my fears.
God comforts me and celebrates me.
There is goodness and kindness available to me every day, and there is no time that I shall not be in God’s loving presence.

The psalm is a series of affirmative statements reminding the one praying of God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness, and of the wonderful possibilities that exist for all of us.

It’s a good prayer to kick off Lent. I want us to think of Lent as a time of possibilities, and a time when we can affirm possibilities. Lent can be a time of healing, a time of spiritual growth, a time of recommitting to the spiritual path, a time of giving more of ourselves to life and of being willing to receive more blessings from life. I call us today to practice an Affirmative Lent.

In a few moments we’ll receive ashes. Why?

Because ashes are an affirmation; but what do they affirm?

1. Ashes affirm our unity with all life.

All living things have a life cycle and all life forms expire eventually.
Our shared frailty is a call to compassion, a reminder to love ourselves and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are all fragile, and we all deserve and need comfort and encouragement.
Remembering our shared lot calls us to care for one another.
Ashes remind us that we are all one.

2. If ashes affirm our shared frailty they also remind us of our resilience.

It is from the ashes of destruction that the phoenix rises to new life.
It is from the ashes of ruin that structures and communities are rebuilt.

Abraham once said that he was but dust and ash, and we know today that while we are from dust, we also return to dust. Our bodies return to the elemental, physical source and our spirits return to the universal, everlasting, spiritual source. The dust of the ground, the dust of the air, the star dust of the cosmos…dust is ubiquitous and enduring…that’s what we are.

We are part and parcel of a divine life that never ends.
Our forms change and eventually return to the earth, but the life expressing through these forms is eternal, without beginning or end.
That is something to celebrate, and affirming this cause for celebration can give us strength, courage, and hope.

3. Finally, ashes affirm that change is possible.

John the baptizer preached repentance. He said, “repent, for the divine kin-dom is near.” Repentance is change: to change a habit, to change one’s way of thinking, to change a behavior, to turn from one course of action and embrace a new one, to turn from an unhelpful attitude and embrace a new thought. The divine kin-dom is near, is at hand, in our hands, and if we aren’t acting as if such beauty is within us, we can change, we can start demonstrating the goodness that is our Truth.

The prophet Isaiah talked about positive change. He asked people to believe that they could change from sorrow to joy, from despair to hope, from pain to peace.

The prophet wrote that God would provide for the bereaved, giving them crowns in place of ashes, joy in place of grief, praise in place of discouragement, and that they would be strong as oaks.

Ashes represent repentance, but that just means positive change, and that is always possible. Our sadness can be changed into happiness, our fear can be changed into hope, our regret can be changed into gratitude, our pain can be changed into wisdom.

Compassion. Resilience. Positive change.
Those are what we can see, seize, and share in an affirmative Lent. I affirm those possibilities for us, and this is the good news. Amen.

A Miracle Mindset

On February 12, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

A Miracle Mindset Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Feb. 11, 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. I take the bible seriously, which means, I cannot take it literally. To […]

A Miracle Mindset
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Feb. 11, 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.

I take the bible seriously, which means, I cannot take it literally.

To literalize the bible’s myths and metaphors and allegories is to cheapen and limit religion.
To use the bible to argue against science, to deny the functions of biology, to demonize same-gender loving people, to justify warfare or child abuse, to silence women or to promote hatred of people who hold other sacred books dear is to make the bible a weapon in the hands of bullies which denies the life-giving power of the sacred texts.

The bible is filled with truth…many more truths than facts. To use the bible as a fact checking source will leave us with a deplorably immature faith.

But what if the bible stories are the product of divinely inspired imaginations and are meant to fan the flames of our own imaginations?

What if the word of God is found in the “what ifs” more than in the slinging of verses as if they were fiery darts and arrows?

Now, let me be clear…I believe in miracles.

“I believe in miracles I’ve seen a soul set free. Miraculous the change in one who has found liberty. I’ve seen the lily push its way up through the stubborn sod. O I believe in miracles for I believe in God.”

But I don’t understand miracles to be flashy tricks that happened long ago but can’t be repeated. No, I believe the miracle stories in scripture are meant to help us broaden our perspective so that we can see more possibilities in our own lives.

2 things influenced my looking at sacred scripture through the lens of allegory.

The first was being a gender non-conforming gay sissy boy growing up in the rural bible belt. I studied the bible hard looking for loopholes early on. I was told the bible was the reason the world felt entitled to be mean to me. I was told the bible was the proof that God didn’t have much use for me. If the bible was the dragon that was terrorizing me, then I would fight that dragon tooth and nail, fang and claw. So, I started with the clobber passages, and found hope and healing and liberation as I read and re-read them. They didn’t say to me what people told me they said. And it occurred to me, those clobber passages couldn’t be the only ones to be misunderstood and misused. So, homophobia drove me to the bible, and in the process, I fell in love with the bible.

The second thing that caused me to rethink what the bible said and meant was today’s gospel story. Homophobia drove me to the bible in the 80s, but an encounter with a lovely woman in the 90s made me go even deeper.

Her son was born blind. He was an adult by this time and they were very close, but every time this gospel passage was read or preached on in church it hurt her. Her son’s life was happy and full, but not easy. And she couldn’t understand why God would give this guy in today’s story his vision and no such magic was ever offered to her son. And me, a ministry student in my 20s, is who she turned to for understanding. I wasn’t at all sure that she had made a wise choice!

But what I heard myself telling her was that I could not verify that the event in the story even occurred. I told her that somebody wrote that story, and that person had an agenda and was trying to communicate the agenda to a particular group or community.
Maybe he thought the enforcers of religious rules were myopic, shortsighted, didn’t see the bigger picture.
Maybe he thought the government was not seeing people’s needs or the intrinsic value of every individual.
Maybe he thought people in his own community weren’t seeing their potential or their responsibilities clearly enough.
Maybe vision in the story was a symbol, and the healing wasn’t for an individual, but was something groups of people should seek to experience. Maybe the writer was trying to open eyes and hearts and minds of his audience.

After our brief chat, this dear lady told me that for the first time, talking about that scripture passage didn’t leave her feeling worse. Saving the bible from literalism saved that woman from continuing heartache that had plagued her for decades. Trying make the story factual made the woman miserable; letting it be true without needing it to be factual helped the woman find much needed and deserved relief.

Now, let’s be clear: when things are tough, I summon hope and I ride it until the wheels fall off. I will hope when hope seems ridiculous. And, I know from experience that optimism and positive thinking can make a world of difference.

And when I think that I can at this moment talk to my friend in Auckland where it’s tomorrow and its summer, when I think of organ transplants, people living healthy lives with HIV and diabetes and that Hep C is now curable, that humans have been in outer space…when I consider the Internet, television, microwave ovens, laser surgery, marriage equality in dozens of countries…I am awed.

Intelligence, technology, science, imagination have all worked together to create a world that our ancestors could only dream about. Our everyday reality overshadows most of the miracle stories of antiquity. So, why not hope? Things can get better.

But hope and progress, as wonderful as they are, are not miracles. Miracles are changes in perception and they can happen in an instant. That conversation about the gospel story so many years ago was a miracle moment…no one heard a voice from a flaming bush or walked through a wall or fed a crowd with a sack lunch, but someone changed how she saw God and the bible and the healing stories therein…she received vision she didn’t have before. That was a miracle.

“I believe in miracles I’ve seen a soul set free. Miraculous the change in one who has found liberty. I’ve seen the lily push its way up through the stubborn sod. O I believe in miracles for I believe in God.”

When we overcome fear and can see with the vision of love, what we see is a miracle.
When we see that we are part and parcel of God, that is a miracle.
When we see that there’s not a spot where God is not, that is a miracle.
When we see that we can go to peace instead of to pieces, that’s a miracle.
When we see ourselves as utterly lovable, that’s a miracle.
When we see that we can forgive and release past hurts and those who participated in them, that’s a miracle.
When we look out at smoldering rubble and dare to say, “tomorrow may be better,” that’s a miracle.
When we see the bible as a tool of liberation rather than a weapon of oppression, that’s a miracle.
When we see God as everlasting, all-inclusive, unconditional love, that’s a miracle.

When we develop a miracle mindset, miracles can happen daily. They can be amazing, life changing, and perfectly natural. This is the good news. Amen.

I believe in miracles.
I see and seize miraculous possibilities now.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Thirsting for God

On February 4, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Thirsting for God Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Feb. 4, 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. Jesus is traveling in today’s gospel lesson, and his journey takes him through […]

Thirsting for God
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Feb. 4, 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.

Jesus is traveling in today’s gospel lesson, and his journey takes him through Samaria. Jesus finds himself alone in Sychar. His disciples have all gone into town to shop for food, and he is alone in a region whose people don’t particularly trust Jewish folk, and, Jewish folk often don’t think highly of Samaritans. So, basically, Jesus is alone in potentially hostile territory. And he’s thirsty.

I think it’s important that we see this vulnerable moment in Jesus’ life. He’s alone, surrounded by people who may dislike him on sight, and he’s thirsty. This is a scene that could turn pretty ugly without much provocation.

Jesus is the stranger.
Jesus is the foreigner.
Jesus is the uninvited.
Jesus is the undocumented.

Jesus, tired and thirsty and alone, cops a squat on the edge of a famous well, on a plot of ground that that legend says Jacob gave to his son Joseph. He’s sitting at the well, but he doesn’t have a jar or bucket to lower into the well.

Along comes a woman, a Samaritan woman (it is, after all, Samaria). You know what? We aren’t going to spend the next 14 minutes calling this person “the Samaritan woman”. She had a name. We don’t know what it is, but to honor her I am going to lend her one. Since we encounter her at Jacob’s well, let’s call her Jacoba.

Jesus, rather abruptly, says to Jacoba, “Give me some water.” Surely the word “please” simply got lost in the translation.

But actually, Jesus is doing something rather subversive. He, a man, is talking to a woman. He, a possibly unwelcome traveler, approaches one of the locals. He, a member of the Jewish faith and ethnicity engages a member of the Samaritan faith and ethnicity. There were socially constructed walls of fear and prejudice that were meant to keep these people apart, and Jesus tears down those walls!

“Give me some water” is one of the most radical statements in the Bible, because it places Samaritan and Jew, man and woman, religious and political adversaries on the same, human level. “Give me some water” are the magic words that rebukes and destroys walls of separation.

Jesus does something else with those words: he admits need. He’s sitting at the edge of a well…but Jacoba is the one with a bucket. He addresses her straight away by saying, “I need help and I recognize that you are someone who can help me.” He affirms her dignity, her agency, her power to help him if she is willing. He basically places himself at her mercy.

Jacoba’s a little shocked. She says, “You know…most Jews and Samaritans wouldn’t share a drinking vessel.” But Jesus won’t let that wall stand. Jesus from John chapter 4 rebukes the idea of segregated water fountains and lunch counters, of walls meant to keep people apart and trapped in fear and hatred.

And, while Jesus needs the water that Jacoba can draw with her bucket, he wants to give her something as well. He’s already given her the gift of acknowledgment and of trusting her with his vulnerability. But he gives her something else…he affirms her sacred value. She mentions her husband and he, maybe because he’s been listening to the gossip as people walked past him treating him as if he were invisible, or maybe because the writer thought that would be a dramatic bit to drop in, Jesus just knowing something about this stranger, but Jesus tells her, “you’ve had a few husbands and this one isn’t really your husband.”

Maybe she’s been abandoned by 5 cads, or maybe she has been tragically widowed 5 times. Jesus knows she’s a rough time, and he her past does not define her. She is a child of God, made in the image of God, and she is forever held in the love that God is. Period. And he shows her that with their visit at the well.

Jacoba goes to tell her village about her encounter and she persuades a lot of folk to come see Jesus, making her an evangelist, a preacher, a disciple. A woman…a Samaritan woman…the Disciple Jacoba.

Jesus and Jacoba, because they really are partners in this story, tear down the walls religious bigotry, ethnic prejudice, regional animosity, and assumptions about gender roles.

Jacoba reminds Jesus that his people like to worship in the city, while hers like the mountain. How are they going to keep this love fest going when they can’t even agree on where to best encounter God? And Jesus answers, ”the time is coming, and in fact it is already here, when people won’t limit God to mountains or cities, but they will realize that God is omnipresent life, God is spirit, and is best worshiped in spirit and in truth”…which is what Jesus and Jacoba have been doing. How?

By giving. They gave hope. They gave respect. They gave kindness. They gave compassion. They gave encouragement. They gave time. They gave a listening ear. They gave up their preconceived judgements and assumptions. They gave each other the benefit of the doubt. That’s how to worship in spirit and truth.

Jesus tells Jacoba, “GIVE me water.”
He tells her that she is unaware of a GIFT that God has given.
She reminds Jesus that Jacob GAVE the well.
Jesus tells her that God, as love, as power, as presence, as spirit is like a stream that is forever gushing, that is, forever GIVING.
Jacoba says, “GIVE me some of that spirit water.”
And when she runs to tell her neighbors about this amazing encourager, Jesus, she leaves her bucket behind for him…she GIVES him the means to quench his thirst.

Lives were changed because Jesus and Jacoba gave each other a chance, and then continued to give from their hearts to one another.

Jacoba was thirsting for an awareness that she was God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. Jesus quenched that thirst by affirming her and seeing her as the child of God that she was. We’re all thirsting for God, and Spirit is an eternal gushing stream of love that we can access at any time. We’re here, like Jesus in Samaria, to help people believe that the spirit stream is for them, is part of them, and it will never run dry.

Being generous. Being compassionate. Tearing down walls. That’s how we worship in spirit and in truth. That’s how we relieve those who are thirsting for God. And this is the good news. Amen.

My soul thirsts for the living God.
Gushing streams of God’s goodness satisfies my thirst.
Thank you, God.
Amen.

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