You CAN Get There From Here Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Epiphany 2015 My rural family come mostly from tiny towns in Arkansas and Tennessee, places so far removed that the Jehovah’s Witnesses still haven’t found them. When trying to get to an out of the way place, folks used to say, “You can’t get there […]
You CAN Get There From Here
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
My rural family come mostly from tiny towns in Arkansas and Tennessee, places so far removed that the Jehovah’s Witnesses still haven’t found them.
When trying to get to an out of the way place, folks used to say, “You can’t get there from here.” That meant there wasn’t a direct route…it could be a bit of a journey. But of course, we can always get there from here…where we are is the only starting place to do anything.
Journeys aren’t always easy, they sometimes take longer than expected, they sometimes even end in places different than we first planned, but on the journey so much is learned and amazing things can happen.
On Christmas Eve morning, the Rev Dr Johnnie Colemon passed away. When Rev Colemon was a young woman in the 1950s, she was given a terminal diagnosis. The doctor called her to give her the news over the phone.
Devastated, understandably, she walked into the living room to process the information she had just received when she noticed a religious magazine. The cover said, “God is your heath; you can’t be sick.” She didn’t believe it, because she was just told that she was sick. But the message on that magazine cover was so audacious and so hopeful, she couldn’t let it go.
Her mother, whose magazine it was, encouraged Johnnie to go to a spiritual retreat center in Missouri, and she did. There she learned about positive, practical spirituality, and she enrolled in classes and became a teacher of the philosophy and a minister. Later, she founded her own church, and still later she started a new denomination and a ministerial training school.
A few years ago Rev Colemon had another health challenge and went into retirement, but her ministry continued to thrive. Then finally, just a few days ago, she departed this world, more than 7 decades after she was told she had six months to live.
Oh, Dr Colemon is the one who coined the phrase we use so often at Sunshine Cathedral: I am the thinker that thinks the thought that makes the thing!
Thank God for her healing journey; it has inspired many others.
Reflecting on Johnnie Colemon’s story got me to thinking about other life journeys. I thought about my grandmother. She became a teacher during WW2 when there was a teacher shortage. To recruit elementary school teachers, the state offered a one year teaching certificate program.
Of course, non-degreed teachers didn’t earn as much as degreed teachers, so my grandmother went back to school every summer to pursue her degree. Ten years into her 36 year teaching career, she finally completed her college degree. She did this as a single mother. She and my grandfather had divorced when my dad was a baby.
Now, a teacher in Arkansas in those days didn’t make a lot of money. But my grandmother had two prospering practices that she maintained her whole life long. She believed in tithing, and she believed in saving.
Even when times were lean she put something in the savings account every single pay period and she wrote a check to her church every single pay period. And in her whole life, she never once asked for anything in return for her gifts to the church. Giving was an act of worship for her. She gave her gifts like the magi did in today’s gospel…freely, lovingly, and for the joy of doing so.
Old time religion got a lot wrong, but good stewardship was something I think they may have gotten right.
My grandmother was pretty frugal. She would start buying Christmas presents in July to have them paid off by Christmas. She never had a dishwasher. She drove the same old car for decades and she ate many more vegetables from her garden than she ever bought from a supermarket.
Saving, tithing, and wise spending…that was her simple, spiritual economic philosophy. Give to yourself, give to God, and live within your remaining means…that was how she lived her life.
When my grandmother died, that country school teacher who drove a jalopy and grew her own vegetables and did Christmas shopping in the summer…left her family 60 acres of land, two houses, and $600,000 cash. There are people in this room who have much more, but in her context, that was a fortune.
My grandmother knew that God was her source and her source was unlimited, and she tapped into that source by spending wisely, saving, and tithing. Her life journey was an incredible one, filled with miracles.
My grandmother’s older sister Lois, also a teacher, had her own journey. When she was 89, she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. The doctor told her the treatment would be too harsh and probably ineffective, so he counseled her to get her affairs in order and he would do all he could to keep her comfortable.
She counter-counseled him to start the treatments post-haste.
She survived the treatments, the cancer went into remission, and she lived another 7 years. At age 96, she went out to get her hair done and have lunch, came home, stretched out on the bed for a nap and died peacefully in her sleep with a fresh coiffure.
Now, let me add, that sometimes the Promised Land isn’t found until 40 years of wandering around lost.
Sometimes the healing isn’t a cure; sometimes the abundance isn’t a big bank account.
And sometimes the overnight success takes a decade, or two, or more.
But the journey toward the goal is filled with lessons and moments of unfettered joy and grace equal to every need. My father died at 67…too soon, but there was healing in those final years. Even when it doesn’t work out the way we want, there are good things if we know how to look.
Sometimes the journey lasts longer than the destination. A 14 day transatlantic cruise is 9 days at sea and 5 days at ports…the journey is longer than the prize, unless you learn to love the journey, then the journey becomes a gift itself.
The magi would have traveled for two years, and for what? To spend 15 minutes with a toddler? I doubt if the magi story is historically factual, but I appreciate its timeless, spiritual truths.
The magi traveling from Persia to Palestine and back again, and the holy family traveling to Egypt and back to Israel…who knows if these trips actually occurred, but the stories tell us to keep moving, to keep trying, to keep believing in the future, to keep holding a vision and keep following it into a realm of infinite possibilities.
It’s a new year, and that means there are new miracles in store for us if we will dare to journey toward them.
Enough for the intro; let me start my sermon.
This church community, working together, has shared an incredible journey: from rented to space, to a home in Sailboat Bend to a building behind a diner to this resplendent property, from a handful of people in the early 70s to reaching people all over the world today.
After moving to this property, it took a while to grow into it, financially, programmatically, and so on. And for the first decade of the 21st century, this church was really hurting financially. But that turned around, thanks to sound management principles, spiritual integrity, a unified leadership, and the generosity of people who love the mission and values of this church.
Today, all reserved accounts are fully funded.
We ended 2014 with NO Aged Payables.
2014 was the third year in a row that we ended in the Black.
2014 was the second year in a row that we were named the best spiritual center in South Florida.
And today we are more diverse than ever, being led by the most gender balanced staff and board in the church’s history.
Not everyone applauded our efforts or celebrated our successes, but we kept moving forward and while the journey isn’t over, just look how far we’ve come!
We feed people, spiritually and literally with our food collection program. We reach people all over the world by means of the internet. We have helped untold numbers of people believe that God loves them just as they are. And we are at the forefront of celebrating marriage equality in Florida!
And with your faithful support, we will achieve even more.
Just as we have as a church, we can each experience miracles in our individual lives.
Like Johnnie Colemon, you may hear that a situation is hopeless, but you can hope anyway and do more than anyone ever expected.
Like my grandmother, it may take a decade to reach your goal, but the journey to success can start today.
You may have been given some very bad news, but like my great-aunt, you can say, “It’s not over until it’s over; I’m going to keep moving forward and give miracles a chance.”
The magi had nothing but a dream and a star. A dream and the light of God is all we ever need to begin a journey of hope.
It’s a new year. Leave the old complaints behind. Leave the old anxieties behind. Leave the old regrets behind. Leave the old fears behind. Stop listening to every Gloomy Gus and Debbie Downer, every nay sayer and prophet of doom. It’s time to remember that, “I am the thinker that thinks the thought that makes the thing.”
Let’s make 2015 the best year of our lives so far. It’s a lofty goal, but we CAN get there from here, and our miraculous journey begins today. This is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015
I am the thinker that thinks the thought that makes the thing!
I choose thoughts of hope and gratitude today.
I expect miracles in my life, starting today.
And so it is!