Owning Our Identity

On August 27, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Owning Our Identity Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell August 27, 2017 I think most of you know me. For those of you that don’t, my name is Anne. That’s Anne with an ‘e’. I was named for my maternal grandmother. Everyone called her Annie – while I was Anne…you know, just to differentiate between […]

Owning Our Identity
Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell
August 27, 2017

I think most of you know me. For those of you that don’t, my name is Anne. That’s Anne with an ‘e’. I was named for my maternal grandmother. Everyone called her Annie – while I was Anne…you know, just to differentiate between us. I thought that grandma Annie was just great! She was so loving towards us, towards everyone really. She was a great cook, a voracious reader, and smart as can be without even graduating high school. My mom describes her as self-educated. But I have to share with you that when I was growing up, I really didn’t like my name. I thought it was kind of boring. You know………Anne. My friends all had these really wonderful names like Amy and Lori and Michelle and Kathy and Teresa. And I was just Anne.

When I was about 16 years old, my grandma was diagnosed with lung cancer. Well, she did smoke about 4 packs of those Camel non-filtered cigarettes every day and had done so for many years. And the treatments for anything like lung cancer were less effective than they are now. But her illness and impending death really shook me. I remember one Sunday evening we were visiting with her in the hospital. My whole family was there gathered around her hospital bed. One of the nurses came in to check on my grandmother – and while the nurse was there, my grandmother reached out her hand to me and introduced me to the nurse. She said, “This is Anne – Anne with an ‘e’. This is my namesake.” And she squeezed my hand and held it for just a while longer.

My grandmother died that night. And I never forget what she said – This is Anne. This is my namesake. Suddenly my name didn’t seem so dull. My name was important. It was meaningful. It was really special and still is. I’m Anne – Anne with an ‘e’, named for my most wonderful, loving, caring, exceptional grandmother.
In the gospel lesson we just heard, Jesus asked his disciples “Who do people say that I am?” And they gave a variety of responses. John the Baptizer. Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. The disciples are doing what we would most likely have done had we been in their shoes…projecting our particular cultural allegiances onto Jesus. In our mainline churches today, we might interpret Jesus through the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mother Teresa, or others who have reached into the margins of society and welcomed those “strangers” – those who have worked for justice – those who are filled with compassion.

And in the next verse Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter announces “You are the anointed, the one chosen by God!” And Jesus orders his disciples not to tell anyone. I would suspect that Jesus knew what could happen if word got out that he had been called by God to live a life of care and welcome. He knew that it could be dangerous – his life would be at stake, if his true identity were known. Jesus was reluctant to come out as one who would go against the Roman authorities in ways that would stir up that community and not in a good way! Jesus, at this point, may not want his name attached to that. Only his closest friends, his dear confidants will know the truth about him. It is his choice when and with whom he will share his identity.

But, naming is powerful, isn’t it? Sharing our truest, most authentic identity is powerful! Our name and our identity say something about who we are and what makes us unique from all others. Naming can be very political and our identity attached to that gives others information about us – information that we may be reluctant to share. Think about the names used to hurt and demean people. How many of us have been called names meant only to wound? And sure, we can ‘take back’ those names, we can use these once hurtful names to self-identify in a way so we can’t be hurt again. And that is power!

So I want to invite you to reflect for a moment…how do you see Jesus? What identity have you assigned to him? What do you think of when you hear the name Jesus? Speaking only for myself, I think of Jesus as someone who was a teacher, who encouraged others – both men and women – to live out a life of generosity and love and faith. I think of Jesus as one who offers forgiveness when people stumble and make poor life choices. I think of Jesus as one who welcomed and offered care to those most vulnerable – women and children and those who were ill or hurting or in trouble. And as a church community, as followers of the message and identity of Jesus, how do we live out our lives so that others will see a reflection of Jesus in us? We may offer care and love in the face of hate. We may speak truth to power when there is so, so much antagonistic speech around right now. And we may encourage people when they aren’t feeling hopeful. We may stand up for justice as we recognize the sacred value of all people.

In the work I do here at Sunshine Cathedral, I have opportunity to meet with so many people around our community. Recently, I was distributing some of the Brown Bag Lunches which are prepared here every Wednesday as part of our Feeding Ministry. One of the lunch recipients had a question for me. He asked “So….what kind of church is Sunshine Cathedral?” And I thought, oh geez!! I know what we say here every Sunday – “Sunshine Cathedral is a different kind of church where the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities!” But what exactly does that mean? How do I own…or more appropriately how do we own the identity of Sunshine Cathedral? What do I do with that??
So…let’s break it apart.

Number one. Sunshine Cathedral is a different kind of church.
Did you know that less than 20% of all Americans attend church regularly? I know when I was growing up, missing church on a Sunday wasn’t really an option. I mean you had to be really, really sick to stay home. But times have changed and attitudes have changed. We are competing with Starbucks and the New York Times on a Sunday morning. We are competing with people who must work on Sundays or people who just want a day off – some time to sleep in. AND many more people say they really don’t want to be part of a church that tells people they have to check their brains at the door or will tell people they are not welcome because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or ethnic background or a different belief system. A good number of people are seeing that the larger church community can sometimes be more divisive than unifying.

When we say Sunshine Cathedral is a different kind of church, what we mean is that you can be a part of this community with your questions about God and Jesus, with your doubts about what it all means, with the idea that science and religion and spirituality can work together, and that ALL people – lesbians, gay men, the trans* community, bi-sexuals, queer folk, wonderful allies, people from the Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, atheist communities…ALL people are worthy of Divine love….are PART OF Divine love – and are welcomed and celebrated….fully and authentically at Sunshine Cathedral.

So, who do we say that we are? We are a welcoming, celebrating, affirming community that knows there are many ways in which to experience the Divine and many questions which will never be answered. And still we keep on affirming the humanity of all people and we keep on questioning because there is power and beauty in recognizing that we will never have all the answers.

Number two. The past is the past.
Guess what, I’ve done some not so bright stuff in my life. Oh yes, there are things I really wish I could do over AND, my friends, there are no “do-overs.” We have to move on. We will never have a better past. Yet, we need to remember that no matter what our past was, it does not define us today. We may have made some poor choices along the way and with what we know now, we would hopefully do things differently. We need to let go of what is holding us back – those things that we cling to, those experiences that keep us awake at night. Our past is what we’ve been through, it’s not who we are. It has helped mold us, but it does not define us. We need to forgive ourselves – and we need to forgive others. We, every one of us, have all done things we’re not terribly proud of, we learn from them (hopefully) and grow. AND there is nothing wrong with remembering some of our experiences from the past fondly, with some joy and some reflection…but they are indeed part of the past. Remember some things with love and let go of those things that hold us back.

So, who do we say that we are? We are a church community which understands that sometimes we all make poor choices…we know that no one is perfect and yet, we honor and recognize that everyone is created to be whole, perfect and complete.

And number three. The future has infinite possibilities.
And I think that sometimes this idea can be really terrifying. We, including me, become very comfortable in what we know. We’ve got our little comfort zone, don’t we? There is safety in that. It feels secure. But truly without any kind of change, we remain stagnant. When we can look forward to what is to come, when we are willing to change things up, our lives will be more exciting, more alive! The choice in this is ours. We can be stuck OR we can acknowledge that life seems more meaningful when we are willing to embrace the possibilities before us.

So, who do we say that we are? We are a church that know the importance of stepping out into new ways of doing things. We know that wonderful opportunities are available and we receive them gladly and with excitement about what is to come.

My friends, there are a number of instances particularly in the Gospel of John where the writer imagined Jesus owning his identity. The writer imagined Jesus saying…I am the bread of life…I am the light of the world…I am the good shepherd…and there are other “I am” statements.
When we proclaim “I am” and when we proclaim “we are” – we can own that identity. That is why it is so important to use only positive, uplifting statements about who we are. Wayne Dyer reminds us, “Anytime you start a sentence with I am, you are creating what you are and what you want to be. When you choose to say, “I am happy, I am kind, I am perfect,” you help the light of God inside you to grow and shine.”

And, so, let’s own our identity, let’s affirm who we are by saying together again and let’s say it like we really mean it, Sunshine Cathedral is a different kind of church, where the past is past, and the future has infinite possibilities!

We own this! We live this! We are the grace and beauty and joy-filled community that is Sunshine Cathedral!

Amen!

Affirmations:
I am strong!
I am beautiful!
I am enough!
I am part of God’s perfect creation!
And so it is!

A New Creation

On July 6, 2016, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

A New Creation Rev Anne Atwell

A New Creation
Rev Anne Atwell

A Different Kind of Fishing Story

On April 13, 2016, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

A different kind of fishing story April 10, 2016 Rev. Anne R. Atwell When I was growing up, my father was one of the managers in the Computer Department of the main industry (which was the glass industry) in our little Pennsylvania town. He got that job right out of college, just as computers were […]

A different kind of fishing story
April 10, 2016
Rev. Anne R. Atwell

When I was growing up, my father was one of the managers in the Computer Department of the main industry (which was the glass industry) in our little Pennsylvania town. He got that job right out of college, just as computers were fairly new to the market. I remember as a child, going into the office with my dad and the computers were so large they filled an entire room! It was huge and with all the blinking lights, it was so impressive to me.

But what my father had to do for part of his career was to travel to the various glass factories around the United States and get them connected to these newly developed computer systems. This was back in the late 1960s or early 1970s and it was a big deal for these factories to be going through this kind of conversion process. A few years ago, my dad told me of someone who at that time was an Accounting Manager at one of the factories…and he was very unhappy, really, really unhappy, when found out that his group was the next to convert to computers. He didn’t like the idea that he would need to move from using paper ledgers to these “new fangled” computers. And he kind of began making excuses as to why he couldn’t do it. He told my dad that he was concerned about the people that worked for him, that they would lose their jobs. But my Dad assured him that the people would be staying in their jobs and would just have the opportunity to learn a new way of doing their job – they would simply acquire a new skill set! Well, that’s not what this guy wanted to hear. The conversion went through. His work was moved to the computers…and he stuck around the company for a few more months and then he left. He was just so uncomfortable with the idea of change that he left a very good job. He just couldn’t go beyond the “it’s never been done that way before” mindset. I think we all know people like that…and, if we’re honest, sometimes that is us – really reluctant to make changes in our lives.

A few weeks ago, on Easter Sunday, we heard quite a lot about resurrection. I mean, that is kind of what Easter is about! But think for a moment about what resurrection means. It means new life! It means new beginnings and new possibilities! Resurrection is about moving through something very difficult and into a place in which hope appears! And that’s where we are now. That is what it means to be an “Easter People.” We’ve been through the Lenten journey. We’ve been reminded that Golgotha does not have the last word. And now we are at the point where the rubber hits the road – where we step into the hard work of living the Easter message.

In the story that we just heard from John’s Gospel, the disciples are going through a tough time, as well. Their friend, Jesus, had been executed by Rome and this group were known to be followers of Jesus’ inclusive and welcoming message. We heard last Sunday, of the disciples locking themselves in a room for fear of what could happen to them! But they were offered a second chance. They got, what our Senior Pastor called, a second wind in which they could move beyond their fears and do the work they were called to do. And today we hear that the disciples have decided to go fishing. And there are a couple of points that I want to make regarding this really meaningful and power-filled passage.

First, we know from other readings that prior to their work with Jesus, many of the disciples made their living by fishing. Biblical scholars believe that by including this passage in John’s Gospel the writer was trying to convey what the Jesus community would be like after the execution of Jesus. This community probably felt very confused and disoriented – probably not sure what to do next. These same biblical scholars state that because the disciples reverted back to their old vocation, that they just didn’t have enough faith – that the disciples should be diminished or thought less of because of what they did. And I don’t really care for that interpretation. The biblical scholars don’t seem to be terribly forgiving. I think the disciples were simply being human. I think that after all they had been through, they probably wanted to go back to something that was familiar to them – something that would seem comfortable – something that seemed safe.

And I certainly understand their need for comfort for something familiar – we probably all do. But as comfortable as the past may seem for us, we really can’t go back. And quite honestly, I don’t want to go back. It is great to remember the wonderful things that have occurred in our lives and it is really important to honor them. I remember with love and affection some of the events that have occurred and have made me the person I am. Though, we may pine for the past, it is gone. It is done. And we cannot go there again. It is very easy, though, to make the past seem like just the best time ever – to remember only the good things – and to want to go back again. So it is good to remember but we can’t stay there.

“Nostalgia is powerful. It is natural, even human to long for the past, particularly when we can remember our histories as better than they were.” (Roxane Gay)

“The past can teach us, nurture us, but it cannot sustain us. The essence of life is change, and we must move ever forward or the soul will wither and die.” (Susanna Kearsley)

If we can move beyond the past…the way we’ve always done things…then it is quite possible we will encounter the richness of new experiences and new opportunities…our own personal resurrection experience.

And, a second point. What happened when the disciples did go fishing and they cast their nets into the water? Nothing. That’s what happened. Nothing. They caught no fish. But then something pretty incredible happens in this story. A stranger tells them, “Try something different. Try fishing from the other side.” Whoa…what a revelation that must have been! And often that is the simple reminder that each of us needs…A reminder to try something new…a new way of doing things!

How often in our lives, do we feel stuck, like maybe we’re just going nowhere – when really nothing positive seems to be happening? It may be the thought that this relationship isn’t working or this job just isn’t doing it for me or I’ve put on some weight and I feel disheartened and maybe a little bit lost.

I felt that way about a year ago. I knew I had put on some weight and I needed to do something about it. I felt unhealthy and my clothes felt tight…and I just didn’t feel good. I really wanted to do something about it, to make a positive change. But it is so easy to just keep doing what we’re doing – doing what we know best. And in my case, eating and sitting around too much was what I knew best. I excelled at it.

So, I tried something new, something a little different. I began eating a little less. I stopped with the Snickers bars and the potato chips and I began to integrate a few more salads into my diet. And, yeah, I lost a few pounds but not a lot. I felt a little disappointed. Nothing was really happening. A friend asked me how the weight loss was going and I told her that I was little disappointed. I truly thought that I would have lost more. She asked me how much exercise I was getting. Ah….none. So, I cast the net on the other side – I started doing something different. I began taking a walk every day. Not a lot – not at first. I walked 20 minutes a day for the first week or two. And then I increased it a bit up to 25 minutes…and then 30 minutes. And I began walking more and exercising more and I continued with the better eating habits. And guess what happened…doing that new thing worked! And here it is almost a year later, but doing that new thing, I’ve lost over 40 pounds.

If something isn’t working, try something new – try something different! Cast the nets on the other side of the boat and see what happens! It could be the miracle you’ve been waiting for! But you will never know unless you try.

It is a miracle when disappointment turns into accomplishment. It is a miracle when lack is replaced by abundance. When we can focus on the positive that is in our lives and when we are willing to move beyond what frightens us most, the scarcity…the nothing, can be replaced by abundance.

There is a book, which is currently on the New York Times best seller list that I am really enjoying. The title is On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life and it was written by John O’Leary. He has a really powerful and interesting life story. As a 9 year old child, there was an accident in which 80% of his body received 3rd degree burns. He survived with the help of his family, medical personnel, and others who encouraged him whenever fear would threaten to overtake him. He spends his life now as an inspirational speaker helping people live more profoundly and with more passion. There is a chapter in his book about how to move through stagnation and into a deeper growth experience. He invites the reader into a thoughtful place of reflection and questions.

He writes, “What’s really possible through your life? This is a question that can’t be fully answered if you’re looking down at your feet. Anxiety and fear will keep you stagnant. What if I fail? What if I am too old? What if I never walk again? In looking down, all you see is your shoes, the dirt; all you feel is discouragement; struggle. But you can instead look up, stretch, and breathe life and possibility into every moment. This is your day! Remember the powerful possibility that lived in your heart as a child. Put your superhero cape back on! Begin daring to dream again. What if this is just the beginning? What if I actually could succeed? What if I can make a profound impact in another’s life? What if I stretch actively forward each day? Isn’t it time to risk it all in order to build something, inspire another, and become someone great? Isn’t it time to stretch courageously toward the limitless possibility of your life? Isn’t it time you get moving, start dreaming, and begin growing? Growth is the only evidence of life!” (Taken from On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life by John O’Leary. Page 160)

My friends, our choices make up our lives. We can choose to be happy – or not. We can choose to be grateful – or not. We can choose to make a positive change in our life – or not. We can choose to let go of the past – or not. I truly hope that each one of us will make the choice to grow – to be open to change – to cast our nets and to fish from the other side of the boat. Because that is when the most abundant miracles can occur.

And this is the good news – Amen!

I choose to be happy.
I choose to be grateful.
I choose to let go of anything that is holding me back.
The past is the past and the future has infinite possibilities!
And so it is!

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