Let Love Be Genuine

On September 3, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Let Love Be Genuine Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sept 3, 2017 In the Hebrew bible there is a story about a man name Jephthah. Jephthah was the son of Gilead, but he wasn’t the son of Mrs. Gilead. Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute and Gilead apparently had been one of her customers. The bible is […]

Let Love Be Genuine
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sept 3, 2017

In the Hebrew bible there is a story about a man name Jephthah. Jephthah was the son of Gilead, but he wasn’t the son of Mrs. Gilead. Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute and Gilead apparently had been one of her customers. The bible is juicy, earthy, far more interesting than those who use it to condemn almost everyone would have you believe.

It would seem that Jephthah lived with Gilead for a while, but Mrs. Gilead never warmed up to him….neither she nor her children welcomed Jephthah into their family. In fact, Gilead’s other children threatened Jephthah and he left home at a young age.

What does a young man with no home and few prospects do to survive? Well, Jephthah became a warrior, and it would seem a pretty good one. One day, the elders of the community came to Jephthah the warrior. They are at war with the Ammonites (over land, of course) and they want Jephthah to become a leader in the war effort.

In verse 29 of Judges 11, the storyteller says, “then the Spirit of the LORD came on Jephthah.”
The Spirit of the Lord was on him. But he didn’t realize it. So he began to bargain with God. He promised God that if he were to prove victorious in battle, he would sacrifice the first person who came out of his house when he returned.

Catch that…he promised God a human sacrifice. God doesn’t want human sacrifices (and by the way, never has).
No one has to be crushed in order for God to be pleased. And he didn’t have to win God’s favor. He didn’t have to strike a deal with God. The spirit of the Lord was already on him.

If God is omnipresent, then we don’t have to get God’s attention. Wherever we are, God is.
God is omnipresent love…so, we don’t have to do hateful things to earn God’s favor.

Hate is an expression of fear and perfect love casts out fear (God, by the way, is perfect love!)…so hate and God don’t go together. When religion is hateful or fear based, it is using God’s name in vain.

The spirit of the Lord was already on him…and yet, he offered God viciousness as an act of worship. How misguided.

As it turns out, Jephthah won his battle. And when he went home to revel in his victory, someone came skipping out of his house. He promised God he would slaughter the first person who came out of his house, and now he’s home and someone comes out to greet him…his daughter.

Jephthah cries out! He tells his daughter, “you’ve ruined me! I promised God that I would kill the first person who came out of my house when I returned home from battle. Why did it have to be you?” Because she lives there? Because she was happy you made it home safely? Because who would have guessed you’d have offered God a human sacrifice?

Jephthah condemns his daughter to death and blames her for it, all because of some ridiculously terrible theology. He rejects her because of his bad theology and says it’s her fault. Is Jepthah’s daughter in the house?

Jephthah was rejected by his family. His mother was scorned by society. His stepmother hated him for who he was. His father abandoned him. He never felt loved or affirmed. Why would he assume that God’s love was unconditional and everlasting? How would he know that the spirit of the Lord was on him, with him, in him? People who were meant to love him didn’t, so it’s no surprise that he has no idea what divine love is.

Divine love doesn’t ask for suffering, for heartbreak, for abuse. Jephthah didn’t know that. A lot of people don’t know that. A lot of people are still sacrificing their children to appease a God who was never angry with them. A lot of people have no idea that God is omnipresent love who holds us all for all eternity.

What if Jephthah or at least his daughter had found a different kind of church? If Jephthah’s daughter went to Sunshine Cathedral she would have told her dad, “I’m sorry you made a criminally insane promise to God but I don’t have to submit to your nonsense.”

If Jephthah was a Sunshine Cathedral parishioner someone would have told him, “your parents made mistakes, but God is bigger than your past, bigger than your pain, bigger than your fears. You don’t have to hurt others to keep God from hurting you.”

What if Jephthah had been told not that the spirit of the Lord was already on him, always on him, with him, because God is omnipresent, all-inclusive, unconditional Love?
What if Jephthat had been blessed with genuine love rather than tormented by fear, rejection, and violence?
What a different story we might have.

We prayed earlier for those recovering from the ravages of Harvey, but another storm recently hit…this storm wasn’t wind and rain in Texas, but hate and hubris coming out of Tennessee. The so-called Nashville Statement was composed of 14 condemnations of LGBTQ people by 150 evangelical religious leaders. Once again, we witnessed bad theology stirring fear, stoking hate, and rejecting people in the name of God. It’s Jephthah’s daughter all over again. And the pain, the loss, the suffering continues because people cling to their bad theology rather than simply letting love be genuine.

The apostle Paul tells us today: “Let love be genuine…” And then he explains how to do that…
He says: Hate injustice, hold fast to what builds up, heals, comforts, and encourages.
Be optimistic, even in times of suffering. Pray in good times and bad. Be generous. Be kind, especially to those who are suffering. Be happy for others when they are blessed, and be sad when others are hurting.

It’s as simple as that.

Another event that happened this last week was the passing of self-help guru Louise Hay.
Louise was a voice of hope and compassion during the worst of the AIDS crisis, and she spent her entire ministry giving people tools to help them forgive themselves and others and encouraging them to love themselves. She taught people to speak kindly themselves. She offered a sort of spiritual self-therapy. She was criticized by some, but those who felt empowered by her ministry loved and appreciated her because she helped them, helped us, love and appreciate ourselves more.

She said: “Loving others is easy when I love and accept myself.”
If the Nashville Statement contributors loved themselves, they wouldn’t need to hate the LGBTQ children of God to feel righteous.

Louise Hay also said, “When people start to love themselves more each day, it’s amazing how their lives get better.”
If we will dare to love ourselves, we won’t internalize the hatred that is aimed at us.

A Course in Miracles teaches, “God is not partial. All [God's] children have [God's] total Love, and all [God's] gifts are freely given to everyone alike.”
If only Jephthah trusted that God is love.

Howard Thurman, a theologian, civil rights leader, and mentor to Dr. King, said, “Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with the [Creator]….”

Thurman knew that we cannot experience the God that is perfect love if our religion is based on who to hate, who to condemn, who to reject. If the contributors to the Nashville Statement understood God as love rather than as a source of fear and hatred, the queer children of God would be safer today.

There’s a lot of hatred and a lot of fear and a lot of ugliness in the world, but there is also a lot of hope and a lot of goodness and a lot of love. Our job is to embrace the love, to let love be genuine, to know that God is love and we are made in God’s image. It may take a lot of effort to remember that, but we absolutely must. That, in fact, must be our primary mission – to affirm that God is love and to model a worship of God that absolutely rejects fear and hatred. Let that be the Sunshine Cathedral statement, and this is the good news. Amen.

May divine Love heal my fears,
And fill my life with miracles.
Amen.

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