Navigating Hope & Horror

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

Navigating Hope & Horror Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Palm/Passion Sunday 2018 May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, holy One, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. Our first reading from John’s gospel shows exuberance. There would have been Passover celebrations in the city…official, permitted celebrations. Government […]

Navigating Hope & Horror
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Palm/Passion Sunday 2018

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, holy One, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Our first reading from John’s gospel shows exuberance. There would have been Passover celebrations in the city…official, permitted celebrations. Government officials would have participated. It was a way of keeping the people happy and also keeping an eye on them. Controlling the celebrations meant controlling the people. So, the parades and block parties would have been carefully choreographed and closely supervised.

But in the back part of the city, Jesus comes riding into town. He’s not an invited guest, not an honored speaker or parade participant. But he and his friends and his admirers and few curious onlookers have created their own unofficial parade. Nothing grand. Just a donkey, a couple dozen folk, a few palm branches. But this ragtag group break into a bit of street theatre. They are acting as if they are having a parade, and their parade isn’t sanctioned. Indeed, it is making fun of the government and imagining the government being somehow toppled.

They wave branches like Pom poms, like weapons, like battle flags, and they pretend Jesus is a conquering hero who might set up his own government in exile. And they cry out, “Save us! Hosanna!” As if a peasant from out of town riding on a donkey was going to topple the Roman Empire. It’s almost farcical.

It was all cathartic and subversive. It was a protest really, a protest against colonization, against domination, against military might that had seized their land and coopted their culture. And it felt good to express themselves, to dream out loud, to imagine a day when God’s kin-dom of mercy and justice and goodwill and shared prosperity and peace would replace earthly empire and world super powers.

But standing up, speaking out, even in creative, artistic, theatrical ways, can have consequences. That impromptu guerrilla theatre experience, that pretend parade with a ridiculous donkey and some leaves, was followed by a more in your face protest at the Temple when Jesus acted up in ways that got him noticed and probably sealed his fate.

Other confrontations, betrayal, denial, arrest, trial, and conviction all led to Jesus being sentenced to death. Capital punishment. Death by torture. The unspeakably brutal and barbaric form of execution known as crucifixion.

In what was probably the span of only several days, Jesus has gone from performing in the streets to disturbing the peace at the Temple, to being betrayed and abandoned by his dearest friends, to be tortured to death.

What a crazy weak, full of hope and horror, catharsis and catastrophe, purpose and pathos, moments of moral victory and desperate defeat.

Life is full of such ups and downs. My friend Martha is a dear lady in East Texas. She has a smile that could melt a glacier. And she’s never said an unkind word in my hearing. A year or two ago she was diagnosed with cancer. And she went through treatment and never complained. In fact, she made her daily chemo treatments sort of a party. She’d lead the celebration when someone finished their treatment. She’d wish people well when they began their treatment. She’d laugh and chat with everyone in the clinic…making each day more like a social event at a beauty parlor instead of an energy draining, nauseating fight for survival.

At the end of her treatment cycle, the news wasn’t that good. So, they decided to give her a bit of a break then start all over again. She enjoyed the break, and re-entered treatment with the same amazing attitude that she had the first go round. Her hair fell out, and she was rocking beautiful scarves and posting her pics of Facebook, and later, when her hair returned, she who had for years sported long, thick silver locks now featured with utter glee a very smart and fetching short do. Also, she experienced, finally, remission.

But that joy was short lived. After only a few months, the dis-ease has returned and spread. They are trying a new medicine which in some people has had miraculous results. She’s agreed to the treatment, but she also knows that it isn’t guaranteed to work. How is she handling that?

She’s planning a party at her favorite restaurant. No date set yet…it’s to take place within days of her death…whenever that might be. She’s thankful for her partner, a sweet many she’s been with for several years now. She’s thankful for her countless friends. She’s thankful that many of those friends will one day have a dinner party in her memory. She’s thankful that spirit never dies.

I hope the new treatment provides her a cure that we can celebrate in grand fashion, but whether it does or not, she has shown the world what healing looks like. She’s chosen love over fear, gratitude over regret. Martha is living the famous prayer that Franciscan nun Sister Thea Bowman prayed when she was fighting cancer…her prayer was, “Lord let me live until I die.” Martha has been living with, not dying from, dis-ease. And she’s going to keep on living every day that she has life.

She’s had Palm Sunday defiance, and Good Friday disappointment, and Easter joy.

That’s what this season offers us…a reminder that life is full of ups and downs, but nothing can keep our spirits down. Resurrection power is at hand.

Yeah though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil for God is with us, and the tools God has given us comfort us. Surely, goodness and mercy will attend us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in God’s presence forever.

We are on the way to Golgotha this week, but Golgotha isn’t the end of the story. There’s more hope, more joy, more life even beyond the darkest night. There may be tears, but there are also parties to celebrate precious memories and undying resilience.

Join us on Good Friday as we commemorate Jesus’ death, and join us again on Easter Sunday as we celebrate the Truth that not even death ends the story…not Jesus’, and not ours. This is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
Please help us,
And those dear to us,
In whatever ways are needed most.
Amen.

Stay Strong

On March 18, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Stay Strong Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins 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 the gospel story today, we see Jesus suffering. It is disturbing to view the word picture […]

Stay Strong
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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 the gospel story today, we see Jesus suffering.
It is disturbing to view the word picture painted in the story…Jesus beaten and humiliated. I don’t believe the cruelty he suffered was divinely ordained, and apparently he didn’t either. He said the one who turned him in was wrong to do so…if it had been God’s plan for Jesus to be tortured, then why would the person who facilitated it be wrong for doing so? No, Jesus’ torture was the result of human cruelty. I cringe when the story shows people who didn’t even know him shouting for him to be tortured to death…CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM!

That level of hate and violence isn’t a divine plan…it is human pathology and we still see it. We are still calling for the torment, the exclusion, the humiliation, the dehumanization of LGBTQ people, of non-white immigrants, of refugees, of the poor…Crowds are still shouting, “Hurt them…Get rid of them…Shame them…Deny them their rights…” The demands that the “other” be crucified are still loud and frequent. God forgive us when we are doing the shouting, and forgive us for remaining silent while others are doing the shouting.

But while I can’t solve the problem of hatred that infects human hearts, I can notice Jesus staying strong in the worst hours of his life.

When they placed the crown of thorns on his head, to both humiliate and hurt him, I wonder if Jesus thought of another thorny time. I wonder if in a flash of imagination he recalled the Moses story.

Moses came across some brambles, some thorny, prickly branches in the desert. He saw a thorny bush on fire and it kept burning. The fire didn’t destroy the bush, it just kept burning. Sometimes problems are chronic, they just seem to go and on, but they need not destroy us.
As Moses encountered that burning bush, he also encountered God. God was in the flames. God was in the prickly bush. God was in the desert. God was present in the uncomfortable situation. God didn’t put the flames out, but God spoke through the flames. God was in the midst of the thorny, fiery situation. Where is God when everything is terrible…right there with us, in the brambles, in the fire, in the pain…offering encouragement and lending us strength.

From that burning thorn bush, God tells Moses to stand up the empire. Confront Pharaoh. And Moses says, “On whose authority? Who am I to wag my finger in the emperor’s face?” And God tells Moses, “I am…tell them I am is sending you.” I Am is a name for God. That’s awesome.

From a hot mess in the desert, a thorny encounter, Moses discovers the authority to work for justice, and the authority is I Am.
I Am the one to make a difference.
I Am the one to speak truth to power.
I Am the one to say, “Let my people go!”
I Am who God can use to bring hope and healing to the world.

And today, in the gospel, Jesus is face to face with tyranny, challenging empire, facing cruelty, and somehow knowing,
I Am able to face this…
I Am the one who can look Pilate in his eye and not back down…
I Am the one who will not let the hatred being spewed at me make me doubt myself…
I Am not alone, and
I Am able to go to peace instead of to pieces.

Whether a crown of thorns or a burning thorn bush, in thorny times we draw strength by using the power of I Am intentionally and positively. Be still and know that I AM divine.

I Am is one of the names for God.
I Am is the authority by which we are to work for justice, compassion, and healing in the world.

How are we using our I Am?
What are we pulling into our I-Amness?

Never say I am unworthy or I am not enough or I am so stupid or I am sick and tired of whoever or whatever….I am is a divine name, never use it in vain by following it with something demeaning.

Always follow the divine name with something beautiful and praiseworthy:
I am strong.
I am hopeful.
I am wise and wonderful.
I am loveable and loving.
I am who I am meant to be.
I am able to overcome obstacles.
I am willing to find blessings in the midst of difficulty.
I am weathering this storm and I am going to be alright.
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

Here is one of my favorite I am prayers:
“Day by day in every way I am getting better and better.”

And here’s another one:
“I am centered and poised in the Christ Mind and nothing can disturb the calm peace of my soul.”

Moses had his wilderness years. Jesus had his betrayal, his pain, his horrible injustice, and we have faced cruelty, injustice, difficulties, storms, illnesses, betrayals, abandonment, financial hardships, or other challenges…but like Moses and Jesus, we can learn that I Am is the power that helps us face the challenges, salvage blessings from them, and become beacons of light in our world.

We can’t always control circumstances, but we can decide how we will respond to circumstances, and one way to respond is to know that regardless of the situation,
I am a child of God,
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake,
I am centered and poised in the Christ mind and nothing can disturb the calm peace of my soul.

We will encounter thorns in life, but those are just experiences…they can’t touch the I Am of our being. Always use your I AM in positive ways. That’s how we can always stay strong. And this is the good news. Amen.

I am centered and poised in the Christ Mind…
And nothing can disturb the calm peace of my soul.
Amen.

Truth

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

Truth Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins March 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. We religious types should be serious about what we wish to accomplish, but we shouldn’t […]

Truth
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
March 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.

We religious types should be serious about what we wish to accomplish, but we shouldn’t be joyless, or heartless.

That’s what Jesus showed us. Jesus loved to eat with people, even and sometimes especially with those that the uptight religious folk said he shouldn’t hang around with at all.
Jesus went to parties, where at least once he got stuck tending bar.
Jesus just liked being around people and showing them that they deserved love and joy in their lives.

Jesus spent his time and energy giving people their dignity back, loving the unloved, touching the untouchable, affirming the sacred value of all people. Jesus was religious, but he would not be oppressed by religion nor would he use religion in oppressive ways.

And that really started to encourage people. Instead of telling them how bad they were, or how angry God was with them, or how limited their lives had to be, Jesus helped people to realize that they could release their demons of fear and regret, they could feel whole in spite of physical challenges, they could affirm themselves even if others had looked down on them, they could approach God directly and experience God’s goodness for themselves. They could play and pray and work and love and hope and even start to believe that they were God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

When people used religion to justify cruelty, Jesus offered another way to look at things. He was always challenging the status quo, and reminding people that if your dogma had left you with an angry, vicious, or cruel god, then you had taken a wrong turn. Hope, healing, joy, peace, love…that’s what the God of Jesus offers, and so if that’s not what we’ve got, then maybe we should try again.

Because Jesus was helping people experience peace and joy in their lives, he developed quite a fan base. And some of those fans started talking about him like he was a prince, a warrior, an anointed leader. And now, people have reported this to the authorities. And Jesus is on trial for treason against the empire and he is being asked, “Are you a king?”

He’s not, well, not in the way he’s being accused. He’s not setting up a government. He’s not raising an army. If he were a king, even a pretender king, in the way he’s being accused his militia would be trying to rescue him…he clearly has no such militia.
What he has are ideals, and compassion, and hope, and grace. He’s not a conqueror, he’s a healer; not an oppressor, but a liberator; not a tyrant but a prophet who challenges tyranny without ever holding a weapon and certainly without turning faith into a weapon.

No Pilate, Jesus is not a king in the way you think about kings, people want to follow him because they love him and he’s loved because he’s given love. He’s laughed with people. He’s prayed with people. He’s encouraged people. He’s given love, and they’ve returned it.

When it was clear that she would never be the Queen consort of the United Kingdom, Princess Diana said, “I want to be queen of people’s hearts.” Jesus reigned in people’s hearts…not with power and privilege, but with peace and purpose. He just loved people so much that he became part of them…that’s how he reigned. The power of love is the truth to which he is determined to witness. And Pilate dismisses that with the flip retort, “What is truth?”

Jesus has already shown what truth is…the truth is that God is unconditional, all-inclusive, everlasting love.

He rescued a woman being stoned by religious men…stop using religion to beat up those you have labeled sinners.

Jesus touches lepers and affirms their dignity. It is cruel to abandon those who are hurting. Jesus extends a loving touch.

When he sees hungry people in a crowd, Jesus tells his disciples, “Give them something to eat.” He didn’t blame the hungry, he just wanted them fed.

Over and over Jesus shows what is true…love is what is true. People want to argue doctrine and dogma and tradition and texts…but Jesus didn’t argue the fine points of dogma. There are hundreds of commands in scripture, when asked what the most important was he answered: LOVE. Love God, love people. Just love.

Jesus reigns in people’s hearts because he helped them discover the power of love, because he helped them experience peace, because he gave them permission to have joy…not because he blugeoned them with dogma.

What is truth? LOVE.
God is love and those who love experience God and those who experience God as love discover hope, peace, and joy. That’s truth…and its so unnerving, that the powers that be tried to silence that truth by killing JEsus…and they try to silence it still with character assassination and intimidation and vilification and isolation…but they will fail. Tyranny seems to prosper for a time, but eventually it must fail…and theologies that paint God as a tyrant, they too will fail. That is the liberating, life-giving truth that Pilate can’t grasp but we can today.

Love is a healing balm. Love is God’s signature. Love is the truth. And this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
You are omnipresent,
Unconditional,
All-inclusive,
Everlasting Love.
This is my truth and my joy.
Amen.

Denying and Returning to God

On March 5, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Denying and Returning to God Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins John 18.12, 15-17 The Apostle Peter has been caught in an uncomfortable situation in the passage preceding today’s gospel reading. He barely escaped with his life, and now he is immediately in another kerfuffle and that’s what we heard read today. We are familiar with Jesus […]

Denying and Returning to God
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
John 18.12, 15-17

The Apostle Peter has been caught in an uncomfortable situation in the passage preceding today’s gospel reading. He barely escaped with his life, and now he is immediately in another kerfuffle and that’s what we heard read today.

We are familiar with Jesus telling Peter that he would deny him three times in one night before dawn (announced by the crow of a rooster). “Before the cock crows, you’ll deny me three times,” Jesus said. Peter said, “I don’t think so.”

He couldn’t imagine having a failure of nerve. He couldn’t imagine ever denying his relationship with Jesus, his commitment to the Jesus Way, his devotion to the healing and liberating message that Jesus shared. He was certain that he would never deny Jesus.

But then the authorities came one night with clubs and knives and torches…and they seized Jesus. And sure enough, Peter lept to Jesus’ defense. He unsheathed a sword (that apparently he was packing for just such an emergency) and he attacked one of the guards that had come for Jesus. He severely disfigures the guard, and Jesus says, “Peter, put away your sword.”

St. Paul tells us that the weapons of our warfare are not physical yet are mighty enough to pull down strongholds. We must resist injustice and oppression, we must take risks, we must speak truth to power, but violence isn’t the way…it’s not Jesus’ way. Jesus is revolutionary, but his revolution is not violent. Peter put away your sword.

That story is followed immediately by the one we heard today. Jesus is in custody. Jesus is having a hearing before being turned over to higher courts. And Peter is with him. Peter who is a disciple of an accused insurgent. Peter who an hour ago assaulted a guard sent to arrest Jesus.

So, when a woman asks Peter today, “aren’t you a disciple of that Galilean prophet?” He says, “Nope. Sure ain’t.” He’ll be asked twice more and twice more he’ll say, “Sorry, man; you’ve got the wrong guy.”

If Peter were to admit to being a sword wielding sidekick of the man currently under arrest for sedition, the next question would undoubtedly be, “Are you the one who stabbed a guard?” At which point just go ahead and schedule Peter’s execution.

It’s unfair to paint Peter as a coward…he’s already been in combat earlier tonight (for which Jesus chastised him), and he is standing in public where a whistle could bring down half a dozen armed soldiers in an instant. He was simply trying to develop a strategy for survival. But in so doing, he did deny Jesus.

He followed Jesus there so that he could help him escape if the opportunity arose, so he would have first hand info to share with the others. His sword fight has immediately been followed by an impromptu clandestine reconnaissance mission. He’s risked a lot twice tonight for Jesus. And he is heartbroken that in his desperate attempt to throw off suspicion he has actually denied the person he’s risked his life to protect.

Peter does return to his apostolic mission. He will speak boldly about the Jesus Way until he himself is executed some time later. Peter denied to survive, but he also returned.

I talk to people every single week who tell me they love what we stand for here at Sunshine Cathedral.
They love our arts programming.
They love that we feed people.
They love that we have support groups.
They love that we take a stand for justice.
They love that we celebrate diversity and affirm the dignity of all people, including and especially the LGBTQ children of God.
BUT, they invariably say to me, they can’t be church people because they are still so hurt by or so angry with religion, or because they find religion to be hateful and mean.

They hear the right wing evangelists preaching hate and horror, and they want none of it.

They’ve heard religion used as afterlife fire insurance; that’s not for them.

They’ve experienced religious dogma fanning the flames of monstrous cruelty instead of applying the salve of human compassion.

Many were told years ago that God rejected them because of an opinion they held or couldn’t hold.

Or they were told God would reject them because they were interested in another religion or because they had fallen in love with someone from another religion.

Or they were told that they would be damned for all eternity because they were same-gender loving…deal with that for 10 seconds…people still say that a loving God will condemn people for expressing their love and attraction for each other. Who wants that God?

In a world of nuclear capability, disease, hunger, mass shootings, fracking, corruption, and genocide…if what makes God twitch is my panting at Ryan Gosling then that God needs to go.

And if you have been blessed as I have to share your life with someone you love wholeheartedly, you know that is a blessing, and God rejoices at the love shared, not the number of Y chromosomes in the mix. God is love, and love loves love. Case closed.

People are exhausted by pettiness and pugnacity posing as piety.

They haven’t rejected God…they’ve rejected hate masquerading as God.

They haven’t rejected the healing, liberating, justice seeking, heart mending, oppression challenging, hope sharing Christ. What they’ve rejected is spiritual violence deplorably committed in Jesus’ name.

They’ve rejected the lie that it’s okay to put people through hell for heaven’s sake.
And so have many of us.
That’s why we covenant with God and with one another to be a DIFFERENT KIND OF CHURCH so that spiritual community and practice can be a healing force rather than a wounding weapon.

I’m not worried about the afterlife; I refuse to entertain for a moment that God will ever reject any soul for any reason. But I want us to build communities of love and hope and joy and justice.
I want us to celebrate life and diversity and intellect and feelings.
I want us to rejoice in our wholeness and I want us to encourage one another on life’s journey.
That’s what religion can be,
that’s what religion should be,
and at Sunshine Cathedral
that’s what we insist religion must be.

Finally, let me assure you, that while in our pain some of us may turn from God in order to feel safe, God will never turn from us. God is the love that will never let us go, and this is the good news. Amen.

Today & everyday
I will live in the power of my Truth
I affirm my sacred value
I declare & rejoice in God’s love for me
And so it is!

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