Who Are We?

On June 24, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Who Are We? Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or other people’s oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

Who Are We?
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

 

Trust in God

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

Trust in God Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell June 17, 2018 Let us pray, “Divine Spirit of goodness and of light…guide us so that we may not be instruments of our own or other’s oppression. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts bring peace and healing to […]

Trust in God
Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell
June 17, 2018

Let us pray, “Divine Spirit of goodness and of light…guide us so that we may not be instruments of our own or other’s oppression. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts bring peace and healing to our world. Amen.”

A number of years ago, I felt a call to ordained ministry. I had actually felt this call for the first time when I was quite young. I was probably 14 or 15 years old. But I put if off because I truly didn’t think that someone like me could be a minister. I’m a girl and at that point, I had never seen a woman minister. Plus I was becoming aware of my sexuality and how it didn’t seem to fit into what society expects of a young woman. And so I really believed that I had two strikes against me.

But as I aged and after a series of events in which people close to me encouraged me to consider seminary, I gave it a go. Now I began with some serious apprehension. I really wondered what I was going to do this education. I had a good job in the Corporate world. I made good money; had great benefits. But still I entered seminary. And as I was working my through school, people often asked me questions such as, “Do you want your own church?” “Are you going to leave Sunshine Cathedral?” “What’s next for you?” I will tell you, I didn’t have an answer for these questions. I just knew, deep down inside me, I knew that I was to continue doing what I was doing. I had trust that it would all work out. I couldn’t explain it beyond that – I just knew that it would. I had to set aside my control issues, my anxiety, and simply trust in God. And that was possibly the most difficult part of my seminary journey. I just needed to be patient and to trust. Here I am, many years later, doing the ministry that I dearly love to do and I truly don’t believe the process could have worked out any better.

The passage we just heard from Ezekiel is what biblical scholars consider a Hebrew Bible parable. A parable is a story or a description used to convey a message or to teach us a new way of thinking or being. In this instance, the writer of Ezekiel is conveying to his community, and I am assuming the author of Ezekiel is male, his imagining of God’s realm or kin-dom as well as his understanding of who or what God is. To this writer, God is a God who will lift up the lowly and will embrace those who have been oppressed. God is a God of welcome and longed-for joy. This is a God of empowerment, if only we will trust.

This ancient community was a people of exile who were carried off into captivity after the destruction of Jerusalem. Now, no matter how very difficult our lives may seem, we here in the United States live in a land of great wealth, power and privilege. So it could only be difficult, really impossible, for us to fully comprehend what these people experienced. Though I would suspect the many people seeking asylum here in the U.S., those who are having their children taken from them, those who are literally running for their lives, know exactly how it feels to be in exile. How fearful and confused these people must have been.

But Ezekiel is conveying to them not only a God of justice but also a God of compassion, a God of tenderness. The writer imagines God saying, “I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.” Here is God’s personal intervention! It’s a Divine blessing for those who feel left out, marginalized. It is for those who need to remember that God is always present, always with them, even when everything seems to be overwhelming. The writer of Ezekiel was encouraging the community to put their trust completely in God and inviting them to experience all the wonderful, miraculous things that can occur when they are willing to trust. That is something that I have worked to incorporate in my life though not without some struggle.

When I was a child, I believed in a God who would give me things. You know, Santa God. I truly thought that if I believed the “right” things about God or if I prayed in a certain way or behaved in a certain way then God would give me what I want. Because I was a “good person” I should get everything I asked for. Right??!! And I will tell you that it took me a long time to step away from that image of God; the God of my childhood. I would suspect that image can still be problematic for many of us. If I’m really good, why didn’t this wonderful thing happen for me? And if this wonderful thing didn’t happen for me, what is wrong with me?? It is important, I believe, to move beyond that “I deserve it” way of thinking and into a deeper and more trusting connection with God. There is a distinct difference between expectation and trust.

When things seem exceptionally difficult or stressful, the first thing I tend to do is put up walls, to wallow in my own agony and to push away those who may help. And then I remember to breathe, to relax, and place my trust in God. I set aside the demanding, expectation that God will give me what I want AND I recognize that all things are possible when that trusting experience occurs. It may not be what I expect, it may be nothing like I imagined and hoped for, and yet, it is often exactly what I need. Trust, though, requires us to live in uncertainty, to be vulnerable, to give up control. And, let’s face it, most of us hang on to control with a powerful, unyielding grip.

Writer and sociologist, Brene Brown, has written extensively on the connection between trust and vulnerability and how it can impact one’s faith experience. What she shares is that so many of us buy into society’s need for certainty, that there must be a “written in stone” plan AND to be vulnerable means to be weak, delicate, helpless. But she reminds there is a strength, a power in being vulnerable; in saying “I don’t know what is going to happen or how everything will work out. But I do know that in my waiting and in my hope, God will be with me.” There is power in setting aside our ego and knowing that the best possible outcome is there for us, if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be trusting in the Holy One who makes all good things possible.

Today is Father’s Day and I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad over the past few days. My dad died last year after an extended illness. Dad was physically a big, strong man, always fixing things, always in control, someone you could always count on for good advice. I want to note that not everyone has similar experiences with their fathers. Some folks had warm, loving fathers. Some had cold, distant, or even abusive fathers. Some had no father figure at all. So I want to honor and recognize those feelings and experiences today, as well.

But during the last year or two of his life, Dad’s strength diminished, both physically and mentally, He couldn’t always control things the way he had in the past and I could see that this decline was troubling for him. He was of the generation that believed men were to be strong in every way. But then, rather than becoming bitter and unpleasant, Dad gave himself permission to be more vulnerable. He became more open to sharing his feelings. He became more open to the love and support that was available to him. He became far more trusting in those who were there to help him AND his trust in God grew into something really beautiful to see. Dad and I had some great theological discussions on God and Universe and what it all means. He knew that his time on this earth was limited and he honored that by being vulnerable, by increasing his trust in his family and in the Divine which made the time he had left far more meaningful. And it was. Many relationships were strengthened and I believe he really felt the love that was always there for him.

Catholic priest and spiritual guide Henri Nouwen wrote, “Are you willing to be transformed? Or do you keep clutching your old ways of life with one hand while with the other you beg for change? You have to trust that inner voice that shows you the way. You know, that inner voice. You turn to it often. But after you have heard with clarity what you are asked to do, you start raising questions, fabricating objections, and seeking everyone else’s opinion. In everything, keep trusting that God is with you…throughout your journey.”

So, my friends, can you trust that still small inner voice and follow it? Are you willing to be vulnerable, to break open your woundedness and let the Divine light shine in? That journey of trust can be most difficult. It requires from us calm and peace and intentional time for prayer and meditation. AND I speak from experience, it can be the most beautiful journey of our lives.

Trust in God and be open to the infinite possibilities that exist!

And this is the good news,
Amen.

~~~~~~~~~

As I pray
As I meditate
As I seek calm in my life
I will listen for that still small voice
I will trust in God
Amen.

Beliefs Matter

On June 10, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Beliefs Matter Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or other people’s oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Jesus tried to help people feel better about their lives. He wanted people to feel as […]

Beliefs Matter
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

Jesus tried to help people feel better about their lives. He wanted people to feel as if they mattered, as if they had purpose. And so he prayed for people’s healing. He affirmed their sacred value. He tried to chase away the demons, the fear thoughts, the internalized oppression that kept people miserable.

Jesus was a mystic. He encountered God directly and he shared God one on one with the people he encountered, and that threatened both political and religious establishments. He offered people a vision of a divine kin-dom, a non-kingdom, an anti-empire where there were no slaves, no prisoners, no outcasts, no untouchables…a blessed community where the first were last and the last were first and no sword would be drawn but the sword of truth and no power unleashed but the power of love.

For his noble vision and his life changing ministry, the Empire called him an insurrectionist, and the religious establishment in bed with the empire called him demonic.

He was doing good. Helping people. Loving people. Tearing down walls and barriers. Lifting people up. Giving people their dignity back, resurrecting their hope.

But domination, whether it takes the form of politics or religion, doesn’t recognize or celebrate potential wholeness. Oppression deals in fractures and wounds and deception. It is a broken religion, and a broken society that will offer hate and call it love, and look at love and call it demonic.

Jesus believed in a good God.
Jesus believed in human potential.
Jesus believed that justice for all was the will of God.
And Jesus believed that healing was possible.
His beliefs empowered people, and those who didn’t want people empowered came down hard on Jesus…that’s how much his beliefs mattered.
And so do ours.

Let me share with you some of my beliefs. I’ll limit it to seven, though really, they could all be summed up by combining the first two into one…God is omnipresent Love.

But borrowing from tradition, 7 being the number of sacraments, the first deacons, and the gifts of the Spirit as named by the prophet Isaiah, I will share 7 beliefs. If you find them empowering, I invite you to adopt and if need be, adapt them.

Number 1.
I believe in the omnipresence of God.
“There’s not a spot where God is not.”

For God to be omnipresent, God must be everywhere, fully, evenly, at the same time present. That means we must be in God, part of God.
God is with us, within us, is the source and substance of all being, the ground of being. God is Life living itself through All that is.

I cannot be separated from, lost from, abandoned by, or forgotten by God. I am forever safe in God because it is in God that I live and move and have my being. And if it’s true for me, it’s true for you.

Number 2.
I believe that God is love.
Not merely loving, not just kind or generous, not just forgiving or understanding …God is love itself.

God is perfect love, and perfect love rejects no one. Perfect love is all inclusive, unconditional, and everlasting.
Perfect, omnipresent love must embrace and celebrate every life.

God is a presence from which we cannot be separated and a love that will not let us go.
Some people preach wrath, judgment, condemnation and damnation, but none of that can be true in the presence of omnipresent love.

Number 3.
I believe that all people have sacred value. If God is omnipresent love, that means we are made from love and are part of a loving presence that is the only presence there is. We, then, like Jesus, are the incarnation of God’s love. To be made by God, from God, in God, for God, and filled with God’s own life and love is to have sacred value.

Number 4.
I believe in miracles.
A miracle is a change in perception from fear to love.
Once we release a fear, we have experienced a miracle.

Once we see past pessimism, past fear, past regret, past other people’s limiting beliefs, past the past and we embrace the infinite possibilities that exist within a loving omnipresence, then how we experience life changes in joyful ways.

And the biggest miracle may just be the one that comes from knowing God as an all-loving omnipresence, because once you know God as omnipresent Love you know that you have sacred value, which means that you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

Number 5.
I believe that we are meant to be blessed.

Emma Curtis Hopkins said, “There is good for me and I ought to have it.”

Jesus prayed, “give us this day our daily bread.”

John prayed, “May you prosper and be in good health.”

Isaiah heard God saying, “Like a mother comforts her child so will I comfort you.”

Moses led people through a wilderness where they found manna and quail to eat and where even toxic water was made fresh.

Ezekiel had a vision of his dried up, worn out, downtrodden community getting a second wind and coming back to life.

We pray, “thy will be done,” and it is God’s will for us to be blessed and to share our blessings.

Number 6.
I believe that injustice is sin.

I don’t use the word “sin” a lot because it has been used in sinful ways to hurt, control, and terrorized people.
But sin is missing the mark and injustice is missing the mark.
Cruelty is missing the mark. Oppression is missing the mark. Avarice is missing the mark. Spreading hate and fear is missing the mark.

Injustice denies the love that God is, and the love God calls us to share.

It is unjust, unloving, and sinful to vilify transgender people.
It is unjust, unloving, and sinful to torment, bully, and exclude same-gender loving people.
It is unjust, unloving, and sinful to harden our hearts toward the poor, the sick, the asylum seeker, or the refugee.
Injustice is sin.

Number 7.
I believe that since injustice is sin, our sacred mission is to correct injustice.
The prophet Micah said that this is what God requires of us, ONLY to do justice and love mercy and live humbly.

Justice and mercy.
Fairness and compassion.
What else would omnipresent Love ask of us?

Justice work is the call of the gospel.
It is how the kin-dom of God will be established on earth.
It is what the church is supposed to be about.
I believe that justice and mercy are our guiding principles as followers of Jesus.

I believe that God is omnipresent
And I believe that God is love.

Therefore, I believe that all people have sacred value,
That miracles are possible,
And that we are meant to be blessed.

And I believe that injustice is sin,
And that we are called to correct injustice with the ministry of justice and mercy.

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the mission of his church as I understand it today.
Will you support this mission faithfully and enthusiastically?
If so, then this is the good news. Amen.

God is omnipresent love.
Therefore, I have sacred value,
I believe in miracles,
And there is good for us and we ought to have it!
May we be blessed to be a blessing…
In the name of all that is good and holy.
Amen.

Recharge the Batteries

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

Recharge the Batteries Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Dt. 5.12; Mk. 3.1-6 June 3, 2018 Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or other people’s oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. In seminary I took a Zen meditation course. […]

Recharge the Batteries
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Dt. 5.12; Mk. 3.1-6
June 3, 2018

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

In seminary I took a Zen meditation course. Now, meditation can certainly be done as a solitary activity, but in this course we meditated together.

Every morning at 6:30 am we met for an hour to sit on cushions and enter into the Silence. And sometimes, the silence was so rich, so powerful, so thick it was like its own space, its own reality, its own world. Even silence was better when shared with others.

Nothing recharges the batteries like shared worship. And its not just one thing…scripture, song, sermon, sacrament, sharing…all of it comes together to facilitate miracles.

And in the gospel lesson today, it is in worship that a miracle happens. A man experiences a dramatic healing.

I’ve been healed in worship. I’ve come to worship with head bowed not in reverence but in sorrow, and left with it held high.

I’ve come to worship feeling lost and alone, and left reminded that God is the Love that will not and cannot let me go.

I’ve come to worship with an empty cup and left with my cup overflowing.

The psalmist prayed, “You are holy, you who inhabit the praise of your people.” (Ps. 22.3) When the people come together to pray and praise, God is experienced in ways that can change hearts, change minds, change lives.

When my batteries are weak, a nap can help, the gym can help, a chat with a dear friend can help, a classic movie can help, but nothing recharges my batteries more than worship. When I travel I find a place to worship. I need the miracles that seem reserved for corporate worship, common prayer, for those times when two or more are gathered in the name of faith.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus goes to worship. He gives out so much, he needs to refuel. He needs the prayers of others. He needs voices raised together in song, scriptures read aloud, loving glances and kind gestures passed between fellow journeyers. He gives so much, he needs his batteries recharged.

So Jesus goes to worship at the synagogue and there is someone there with an atrophied hand. There are also people waiting for Jesus. They want to trap him. They assume that if he sees a woman bent over from back pain or a child laid out on a stretcher or a man with an atrophied hand, Jesus will probably pray for them. And then they can pounce.

Healing can be considered work, and the rigid enforcers of religious regulations say that you can’t work on the Sabbath. So, if they catch Jesus showing compassion they have him…and, have you met Jesus? He’s going to show compassion! Religious people? Not always. But Jesus, yes.

And he does. He sees the the man with his broken wing, and he encourages him. But he doesn’t heal him. He doesn’t break the no healing work rule. He just asks him to stretch out his hand.
He’s really asking him to stretch his faith. And the man does, and then he discovers that he has had a healing.
Jesus didn’t touch him, didn’t pray for him, didn’t slip him an aspirin. He just encouraged him and the man had his own miraculous experience. That shows the power of encouragement.
You want to help someone? Encourage them. You may be setting the stage for a miracle.

Jesus and his new friend have their batteries recharged in the context of worship.

But Jesus’ critics…they didn’t have the same wonderful experience that Jesus and the healed man had. They weren’t there to praise or share or celebrate…they were there to use religion as a weapon, and all they got was meaner.
And while healing on the sabbath was against their rules, they see nothing wrong with plotting to destroy Jesus’ life, also on the Sabbath! Weaponized religion is religion at its most toxic.

The religious wrist slappers and fundamentalists of the story show us how in the hands of hate, religion can be weaponized.
But Jesus shows us how faith can uplift, heal, encourage.

Toxic religion has said that same-gender loving people are beyond the reach of God’s love, but righteous faith says God is love and WHOEVER lives in love lives in God and God lives in them. (I Jn 4.16) Toxic religion says only certain groups or people who hold certain opinions get to know God, but righteous faith says it is IN God that we all live and move and have our being. (Acts 17.28) Toxic religion says it is impossible to experience life beyond strictly enforced gender binaries, but righteous faith says that in Christ there is neither male nor female, we are all one in Christ. (Gal. 3.28) Toxic religion tells women they are secondary to men, but righteous faith says that God created humans, male and female, in the divine image. (Gen. 1.27) Toxic religion told slaves to obey their masters (Eph. 6.5) but righteous faith said, “Let my people go!” (Ex. 9.1) Toxic religion embraces violence, while righteous faith demands that we beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. (Is. 2.4) Toxic religion says I need a jet to do the Lord’s work, but righteous faith says deliver good news to the poor, bind up the broken hearted, demand the release of captives and offer freedom from darkness for those in prison (Is. 61.1).
And the broken hearts we are meant to minister to include transgender hearts, refugee hearts, asylum seeking hearts, and every heart that God forbids us to forget in the storm ravaged US Commonweath of Puerto Rico.
Toxic religion operates on fear, but righteous faith says fear not for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people (Lk 2.10).

The time is now to worship in spirit and in truth (Jn 4.24), that is, to worship in ways that promote righteous faith. A faith community that rejects toxic religion is possible, it’s a different kind of church but its future has infinite possibilities!

Many of us were hurt by religion, but I thank God that we reclaimed our faith. And we are still stretching our faith and daring to attempt what some say can’t be done. But we worship and recharge our batteries and we remember that with God all things are possible.

In the context of worship, power is released and blessings are received that don’t seem to happen in any other environment. If you are here to worship, to pray, to praise, to celebrate, to seek, to care, to share…there is a blessing in store for you that no one can take away. And in any case, you may well wind up with recharged batteries, and this is the good news. Amen.

Mighty God,
Where joy has withered,
Or hope has been battered,
Let healing and restoration now occur.
Amen.

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