All is One; One is All

On June 11, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

All is One; One is All Trinity Sunday Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let there be peace among us 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. Traditionally, the Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. It’s tricky, though, […]

All is One; One is All
Trinity Sunday
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Let there be peace among us 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.

Traditionally, the Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. It’s tricky, though, because for many people, talk of an incomprehensible Trinity is more of a stumbling block than a stepping stone to faith.

The difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity is not a biblical one. Even if you think you see the shadow of the Trinity in scripture you will never find a doctrine of the Trinity, a clear teaching, or even a clumsy teaching about it in the bible. It just isn’t there.

Those who object to the doctrine of the Trinity note that Jesus never taught about it, and, for that matter, the bible was written by Jewish people, and there is no Trinity in Judaism. The doctrine of the Trinity was codified about 3 centuries after Jesus’ time.

There is definitely room in Christianity for those who do not identify as Trinitarian. Most Christians for the first couple of hundred years of our faith were not Trinitarian. But what about those who wish to cling to the symbol of the Trinity? It is how they were introduced to God, and it remains appealing to them. Well, for those, I also have good news.

I was taught as a child that there was one God in three persons. But “persons” is a misunderstanding. The Latin word used was persona, which was a theatrical mask. The personas of the Trinity were the way people experienced and talked about God. Like all symbols, the personas of the Trinity were for human aid. God can be experienced, but not explained. Still we try to explain our experiences, and then insist that people literalize and worship our explanations. The Trinity could no more explain God than any other symbol. It’s a vocabulary to help us talk about what cannot be described.

God is like a Parent, giving life to all that is…that’s one of the roles or masks of God.
God is like a friend who encourages us and affirms us, or we could say, redeems us…that’s one of the masks of God.
And God is a sustaining power that never lets us go, an indefatigable Helper…that’s another one of the masks of God.

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer;
Parent, Friend, Helper;
Father, Son, holy Spirit:
those words don’t define God, they just help us express some of the ways we’ve experienced God.

There’s an African myth about a god who was walking down a road one day. The god wore a big, ostentatious hat. The right side of the hat was red. The left side of the hat was blue. After the god had walked by, people on the right side of the road said, “Did you see that god in the amazing red hat?” People on the left side of the road said, “We saw the god, but the hat was blue.” Red hat, blue hat, red hat, blue hat…and the people got in a big bloody fight over which color the hat was.

The joke was they were all right. The people who saw the hat as red really did see it that way, and the people who saw it as blue really did see it that way.

Doctrinal and dogmatic disputes usually amount to fighting over a hat…each side is honestly describing their experience, and neither experience in any way limits the god under the hat nor diminishes the different experience of the other seekers.

It’s not surprising that Christians would eventually come to speak about God as a triad…much older religions had been doing so for a very long time. And, Christianity is a syncretic religion…borrowing and adapting traditions from Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Paganism, and, of course, adding their own insights and revelations.

Buddhism has its 3 Jewels: The Buddha, his message, and the spiritual community.

Taoism has yin, yang, and the Tao…the blessed light, the sacred dark, and the way of the universe…all things flowing into and out from one another, all life being connected.

The oldest organized religion on the planet is Hinduism and they have a deity called a Trimurti…three deities sharing the godhead…Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva…that is, the creator, the preserver, and the destroyer…symbols for the life cycle…birth, maturation, and decline.

The ancient Egyptians had three chief deities that shared the top role, they were a family: husband, wife, and child (Osiris, Isis, and Horus).

The Greek goddess Hecate was a triple goddess, a deity known in three phases.

The ancient Greeks had goddesses called the 3 charities; the Romans called them graces. They were Splendor, Joy, and Goodwill.

For Greek philosophers “three” represented fullness or completion…past, present and future; beginning, middle, and end, the whole of life. Aristotle wrote, “All things are three, and three is all; let us use this number in the worship of the gods.”

Some aboriginal cultures talked about the divine as Sky Father, Earth Mother, and Great Spirit.

In the middle ages, Christian mystic Julian of Norwich thought of God as Truth, Christ as Wisdom, and the Spirit as infinite goodness. She said Truth is our Father, Wisdom is our Mother, and infinite Goodness is our Lord.

Most of us have heard that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. One God, understood in three ways: power, knowledge, presence.

Charles Fillmore, co-founder of the Unity Church, understood the Trinity to symbolize Mind, Idea, Expression.

Ernest Holmes, who wrote the Science of Mind, said he believed in Eternal Goodness, Eternal Loving Kindness, and Eternal Givingness. Holmes seemed to have a threefold understanding of the divine nature.

And Scotty McLennan, a Unitarian Christian minister, has written that even as a Unitarian he can appreciate Trinitarian symbolism. He says for him, God is Ultimate Concern, the Face of Compassion, and the Breath of the world: three ways of understanding one God.

We may experience water as liquid, gas, and ice. We even talk about ourselves as mind, body, and spirit…a whole person, but more than any one expression. And we are made in the divine image.

The Sufi poet Hafiz often wrote of God as an intimate partner. He said, “Cloak yourself in a thousand ways, still I shall know you, my Beloved…you are the breathing of the world.”
We may not have the patience to think of God wearing a thousand cloaks, but maybe we can play with three masks.

All is one; one is all. That’s what the great teachers tell us; that’s what the Trinity suggests as well. Maybe for Pride Month the symbol of the Trinity can represent for us a diverse and yet unified community. Gay, bi, or straight. Cisgender or Transgender or gender non-conforming: All is one; one is all. We are many; we are one. For Pride Month the Trinity could be described as: Love is Love is Love!

“Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one!” I believe that God is one, but our needs are many and God’s grace meets us where, when, and how we need it. We, though many, are one; and God, though one, shows up in many ways to remind us of that.

If your experience of God is that she wears a blue hat or a red one, or three masks, or a thousand cloaks, what is most important to me is that you dare to believe that you are a person of sacred value, held by a divine love that is all-inclusive, unconditional and everlasting. Maybe that’s my Trinity: All-inclusive Love, Unconditional Love, Everlasting Love. Don’t waste time arguing or worrying about the Trinity, just let yourself experience the love that it is meant to represent.

One last story: Countless ages ago, the Trinity was having a play day. The Trinity, being pure Love, started dancing…sort of a divine Tea Dance. That dance generated so much joy that finally it produced an explosion of pure delight! The fallout from that big bang is creation.

Our world, our universe, our lives were created from an explosion of immeasurable love. We are made from divine love and the love we share honors the Love that created us. Do what you will with the symbol of the Trinity, but embrace the idea that you are forever loved. This is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2017

Glory to God:
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer -
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
Amen.

A Second Wind

On June 5, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

A Second Wind Pentecost Sunday Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins {Let there be peace among us 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.} When I was a child I was enthralled with the story of Sleeping Beauty. […]

A Second Wind
Pentecost Sunday
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

{Let there be peace among us 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.}

When I was a child I was enthralled with the story of Sleeping Beauty. Disney’s version is the one that I knew. Princess Aurora was the sleeping beauty, but the real movers and shakers in the story were some fairies: Flora, Fauna, and Meriwether. The villainess of the story was the diabolical fairy, Maleficent. The story shows that most fairies are good, but every now and then there may be one that’s a real pain.

When the Princess Aurora was born, the good fairies bless her with magical gifts.
Flora affirms that the princess will grow up to be beautiful.
Fauna decrees that she will be musically gifted.
Just as Meriwether is about to give her blessing, mean ol’ Maleficent crashes the party and lays a curse on the infant. On her 16th birthday, Maleficent predicts, the princess will prick her finger on a spinning wheel’s needle and drop dead (mwahaha). Nefarious Maleficent, content that she has ruined everything, leaves in a maniacal huff.

Flora and Fauna then tell Meriwether that it is up to her to undo Maleficent’s mischief. So Meriwether waves her wand to block the hex; she takes a deep breath and then decrees that if the princess should injure herself with a tainted needle she will only seem dead; she will, however, only be in a deep sleep and true love’s kiss will have the power to wake her. There is a chance that the princess will get a second wind, and a second chance.

Aurora is sent away to be raised in seclusion under the protection of the good fairies, but once she sneaks out, bumps into a handsome young fellow, it’s love at first sight, but the love is unrequited as Aurora has to return to her safe haven.

Sure enough, on her 16th birthday, Maleficent finds her, lures her to a spinning wheel that has a poisoned needle attached, and Aurora pricks her finger and falls into a death like slumber.

Of course, in the end, the handsome young fellow from her earlier chance encounter finds the princess, kisses her, and she returns to full and vibrant life. Maleficent then gets her comeuppance and Aurora and her beau live happily ever after.

I am 50 years old and that story is still with me. It still speaks to me. It reminds me of the power of hope. It reminds me of the power we have to offer blessings. It reminds me of the power of love. It reminds me of the possibility that not matter how terrible things seem to be, they can get better. It reminds me that even a few old fairies can change the world. And the story reminds me that fear can be defeated.

Maleficent is the powers of greed, hatred, bigotry, and selfishness.
She tries to destroy a baby, which represents the vulnerable.
But the good fairies aren’t taking that lying down. They are determined to get a second wind. Oh, weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning…a second wind is on the way!

Second wind stories are found throughout our scriptures.

The prophet Ezekiel dreams about his community being depressed, defeated, exhausted, lifeless. But in his dream he speaks to the winds and asks them to come into the dry bones of his community, to renew and resurrect his community, and the winds do. His people get a second wind.

The prophet Elijah is taken into the heavens by a whirlwind. A wind takes him, and as he ascends his spirit, his energy, his enthusiasm, falls on his disciple Elisha, given him more wind in his ministry sails, giving him the power to continue in Elijah’s footsteps. The prophetic ministry will continue thanks to a second wind.

The Psalmist prayed (Psalm 51.10): …God, renew a steadfast spirit within me.
In other words, help me get my second wind.

Jesus said (Luke 11.13): If you know how to give good gifts to the ones you love, how much more will God give the holy Spirit to those who ask for it?
In other words, no matter how rough things might seem, we can ask God for a second wind.

That’s what the Pentecost story in Acts is today: it is the story of a group of frightened people getting a second wind.

Jesus has been executed. Followers of Jesus are being targeted for imprisonment, enslavement, and execution. The Roman Empire is the only super power in the world and its idea of peace is to dominate every group and country and community and bend them to the Roman imperial will.

Life is hard and scary and often dangerous. People are terrified. They feel powerless. John writes about the empire in Revelation by comparing Caesar to a beast and his army to a dragon. The Beast and his dragon are against the community of Christ, that is, they are anti-Christ.

To be in the Christ community, to be in the business of hope, healing, peace, inclusion, and the affirmation of the sacred value of all people is to be a target of the empire.

The Jesus way lifts people up but empire can only function if a bunch of people are knocked down and kept out.
The Christ community, where the first are last and the last are first, where the unlovable are loved and the untouchable are embraced and those who feel broken are told you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake…the authentic Christ community is at odds with the empire, but the empire has all the power (or so they say).

We are seemingly powerless. Our hero was executed and we call him the lamb of God. How can we stand up to a beast and his dragon when all we have is slain lamb? Things look bleak and they feel worse.

But Pentecost says: we’ve been here before.
Remember Ezekiel. His people got a second wind, and they came back to life.
Remember Elijah. He was carried away by a wind and the power that carried him away empowered the next generation of prophetic work.

The powers and principalities of domination may seem to have the upper hand today, but we’re about to get a second wind.

And so, on the day of Pentecost, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were. And they got fired up. And they were all filled with the Breath of wholeness, the holy spirit, and began to speak in new ways, communicating to people who hadn’t heard a word of hope in a long time, they started speaking words of hope as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The Jesus Movement wasn’t born on the day of Pentecost, but it did get its second wind.

At Pentecost, the church remembers that they have a prophetic mission; they have a spiritual calling and spiritual gifts to keep that mission active. And so, they get their second wind and can now affirm with the prophet Isaiah (61.1): The Spirit of the Lord is on [us], anointing [us] to proclaim good news to the poor, to comfort the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for prisoners.

Is Maleficent doing her worst? Is Rome, the beast and its dragon that is against all that the Christ Community is meant to stand for, is Rome wreaking havoc? Is there a war on the poor? Is xenophobia out of control? Are transgender people being dehumanized? Are same-gender loving people having their dignity assaulted? Is the earth herself in danger? Perhaps. And maybe all we’ve got right now is a slain lamb. But if history is any indication, that and a second wind is all we need to unleash mighty currents of hope and healing in the world. And this is the good news. Amen!

© Durrell Watkins 2017

Breath of Hope,
Wind of Empowerment,
Gale of Possibilities:
Blow into our lives today.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Following Jesus’ Dreams

On May 28, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Following Jesus’ Dreams Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Ascension Sunday 2017 It is the function of healthy religion to lift us up. Ascension is the goal and purpose of shared faith. The power of faith to lift us up is illustrated in various sacred stories. In the Hebrew bible a whirlwind takes the prophet Elijah into […]

Following Jesus’ Dreams
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Ascension Sunday 2017

It is the function of healthy religion to lift us up. Ascension is the goal and purpose of shared faith.

The power of faith to lift us up is illustrated in various sacred stories.

In the Hebrew bible a whirlwind takes the prophet Elijah into the heavens. And since Elijah ascended to another level of being without dying, a legend soon developed that he would one day return. As he ascended, his spirit fell upon his disciple, Elisha. The rising, returning prophet whose spirit empowered disciples would be borrowed later by the Jesus Movement.

In Catholic theology, or more precisely, Mariology, the Blessed Mother of Jesus is said to have been assumed, body and soul, into heavenly glory.

And, today, we heard the story of the ascension of the Lord Jesus.

We may not be able to accept the stories as literal history but that in no way diminishes the spiritual truth the stories offer.

The stories each show an enlightened or blessed soul ascending to higher possibilities as if to illustrate that the spiritual life can lift us up to experience more of God and therefore to be able to share more of God’s goodness with our world.

The three things we should be careful to notice in the Lord’s ascension are:

1. Jesus says, “You will receive power.”
That’s what ascension is about. Difficulties occur in life, but we can ascend above our fears, we can summon the power to face the problems, we can find the strength to cope with the challenges that come our way. Ascension reminds us that we will be able to find the power we need to navigate the challenges of life.

2. Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses.”
Jesus’ ascension means he’s been raised to a new level. He’s no longer with them physically, but he will always be with them in their memories, their values, their stories, their rituals, their ministries. As they are faithful to the work of the Jesus Movement, they will be living witnesses to the kin-dom of God Jesus imagined possible to experience on earth. As they continue to care for the sick, the vulnerable, the marginalized, the oppressed, the poor…as they work for justice and do so in the power of compassion, they will continue to be witnesses of the Christway. And the same is true for us.

In Luke 24, two men are present at Jesus’ graveside. They ask the mourners, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Jesus is not here; he is risen.” That story is repeated in the Ascension story. Two men show up, perhaps the same two men from the Easter narrative, and they witness Jesus’ rising, or ascension. And those two men give us our third point to ponder today.

3. The two men tell the disciples that Christ will return in the same way as he has ascended.
How has Jesus ascended? In community! Together, the disciples experienced the ascension. Together, they will experience his return…and, indeed, together at Pentecost they experience the return of Jesus’ spirit. We come together still, as the church, the body of Christ, to experience the energy, the power, the vision of Christ. In our togetherness, sharing time and ideas and resources, we experience Christ in new ways and we share the Christ ministry in new ways as well.

We live in a time when there is actually hatred of the poor.
We live in a time when there are increased attacks against the civil rights of vulnerable communities.
We live in a time of mass incarceration for profit.
We live in a time when war is glorified and peace is barely pursued.
There are real challenges, real threats, and there is very real pain in our world. The ascension tells us that there is power for us to cope with these challenges, that we can be the living witnesses of the Jesus Way of justice, compassion, and healing, and that as we commit to being, in community, the body of Christ, we will experience the light of Christ in our lives, in our ministry, and through us, in our world.

There is a West African story about a rancher who noticed his cows weren’t giving milk. He surmised that someone was milking them, and he became determined to catch the milk thief. He hid one night to see if he might catch some unscrupulous brigand milking his cows without permission. He was not prepared for what he discovered. He saw a woman descending from the sky, riding a moonbeam down to the earth. She was carrying a pale and began milking his cows.

He crept up on the woman, seized her, and demanded to know why she was robbing him. She explained that her people lived on the moon and they had run out of food…so, she was making trips to earth to gather milk to keep her people alive. It was a heart touching story (he coulnd’t help but notice, she was very beautiful). He’d forget the whole deal if she would agree to be his wife. She had been caught stealing, and the rancher was willing to forgive the theft, so she agreed, but she needed to bring this last haul of milk to her folks and pack for her new life on earth. The rancher agreed.

Soon, the moon maiden returned with only a few possessions, one of which was a box. She told her new fiancé, “You must never look in this box; it’s my most prized possession and its very private. Promise me you’ll never look in it.” And he promised.

It wasn’t long, however, before curiosity got the better of him. One day when his new wife was in town, he opened her precious box. He was stunned. All he saw was emptiness! Why would she forbid him from looking in an empty box. When she returned home, he confronted her. “I looked in your box, and it’s empty! Why did you make such a big deal about an empty box!” And she said very calmly, “I’m leaving you and returning to the moon.” Incredulous, he barked at her, “You would leave me for looking in an empty box?” And she said, “The box isn’t empty; it’s full of my hopes and dreams. I could never stay with someone who would look right at my fondest hopes and desires and see nothing.” And so she ascended on a moonbeam back to her ancestral home.

Jesus had dreams.
Jesus dreamed of children being safe, welcome, valued.
Jesus dreamed of outcasts finding a home in the blessed community.
Jesus dreamed of untouchables finding compassionate embrace.
Jesus dreamed of everyone sharing what they could so that everyone would have enough.
Jesus dreamed of peace, and justice for all people.
When we look at scripture, the sacraments, the boxes that hold Jesus’ dreams, do we see those dreams? Are we willing to help Jesus’ dreams come true? Isn’t that what it means to be a follower of Jesus?

The Ascension of the Lord today invites us to be aware of and share the desires of Jesus’ heart. The Ascension, then, calls us to:
Ascend above scarcity thinking
Ascend above self-loathing
Ascend above habitual fear
Ascend above indifference to the suffering of others
Ascend above addiction to violence
Ascend to higher levels of hope, generosity, and compassion

That’s our calling, to be uplifted, to uplift one another, and working together to help uplift our world. That’s the point of ascension, and this is the good news. Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

Grace is lifting me higher and higher.
Through me, grace is uplifting others.
Thank you, God!
And so it is.

Never Alone

On May 21, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Never Alone Easter 6 (2017) Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins John 14.5-6, 12, 14 I recently read that when Benedictine nun Joan Chittister was in the 2nd grade she came home from school upset because her teacher, a nun, had said that only Catholics go to heaven. That upset her because her step-father was Protestant. Her […]

Never Alone
Easter 6 (2017)
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
John 14.5-6, 12, 14

I recently read that when Benedictine nun Joan Chittister was in the 2nd grade she came home from school upset because her teacher, a nun, had said that only Catholics go to heaven. That upset her because her step-father was Protestant.
Her mother asked her, “What do you think about what your teacher said?” And Joan said, “I think Sister is wrong.”
Her mother asked, “Why do you think Sister is wrong?” And Joan answered, “Because Sister doesn’t know Daddy.”
When recalling that story, Joan Chittister writes, “Sister clearly did not know what I knew. Sister had not seen what God saw.”

I agree with Joan. But how does her witness of grace square with our scripture reading today?

Few passages of scripture have been misused more than two verses you heard this morning from the Gospel of John.
John 14.6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to God except through me.”
John 14.14: “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”

The first has been used as a proof text to make the case that only devout Christians can know God and certainly only this elect, special group will be embraced by God in the afterlife. But that isn’t consistent with the Jesus who healed people who worshiped and believed differently than his community did, people such as Roman pagans, Canaanites, and Samaritans whose Judaism was very different from Jesus’ own. No, to make Jesus the locked door for which only Christians have the key is contrary to everything we know about Jesus from the other gospels and from the prophetic tradition which formed him.

The second statement has been used like a lucky charm…suggesting that if you use the magic words “in Jesus name” then your wishes will be granted. Many of us know from experience that it doesn’t quite work that way, at least not always.
Oh, we always hope for good outcomes, and we’ve seen that positive attitudes and determination work together to make amazing things happen, but we’ve also learned that the rain falls on the just and the unjust, on the optimist and the pessimist. Even the luckiest of us have times of challenge.

So let’s reexamine these misused, misunderstood passages and liberate them from superstitions and oppressive theologies and discover once again the good news they are meant to convey.

We began reading John chapter 14 at verse 5. But before that, we would have heard Jesus say in verse 2, “In the divine house there are many rooms…I go to prepare a place for you.” And in verse 4, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Then in verse 5 Thomas says to Jesus, “We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” And Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the [Holy One] except through me (by me, with me).”

Remember, the writer imagines Jesus speaking not to the world, but to his dearest friends. We have eavesdropped on an intimate conversation and misunderstood what we thought we heard!

Jesus tries to comfort his friends by saying there are lots of rooms in the God’s house…room enough for everyone, whatever our beliefs or doubts may be.
Many rooms in God’s house is a way of saying, “Omnipresent Love couldn’t possibly exclude anyone for any reason; indeed, nothing could ever be separate from omnipresence. For God to be omnipresent means that wherever we are, God is.

Jesus would be killed, and his friends would suffer and some would die also. There may be plenty of worries in this world, but John’s Jesus tells his friends not to worry about the afterlife…whatever it is, it is with God and it is for everyone.
“Where I’m going, you will go. You know the way.”

But Thomas asks, “How can we know the way?”
In other words, “We can’t with certainty know what’s next? What is the way to overcome fear of the unknown?”
And John has Jesus say, “You know the way. It’s the way it’s always worked. I found you in this big world; I’ll find you in the next. That’s my way. I find you. I never let you go.”
Jesus symbolizes the embodiment (incarnation) of God’s love. So, what John’s Jesus is saying is, “Love finds us. Love never lets us go.”
That’s love’s way. That’s love’s truth. That’s the life that love promises. Love is the way. Love is the Truth. Love is the purpose of life. And since God is love, no one gets to love except through love…and we all have love within us.

We’ve heard this Way/Truth/Life triad as if Jesus were a locked door…to get to God you’ve got to get through me!
The intent is just the opposite…to get away from God you’d have to get past a Shepherd who will not lose a single lamb!
Jesus’ way, his truth, his experience of divine life is a love that will never let us go. God is a love that embraces all people.

In the 5th Star Trek movie, Cpt. Kirk almost falls to his death while rock climbing, but he said he wasn’t afraid of dying, because he always felt as if he would die alone, and since his friends Spock and McCoy were with him, he wasn’t alone therefore he couldn’t die. Later, Kirk faces death again, and thinks this time he is a goner, but Spock comes to the rescue. Kirk admits he thought this time it was the final curtain and Spock tells him, “Not possible. You were never alone.”
Of course, we all face an end to earthly days, but our significance never dies, because we are never alone…we are always loved by Love Itself.

Anglican Archbishop Tutu of South Africa has written, “In God’s family, there are no outsiders. All are insiders. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab…all belong…Jesus says that we are members of one family.”
That’s the way, the truth, the life that Jesus shares, that’s what it means to experience the sacred through, or by, or with him…it means there are no outsiders. We are as embraced by God as Jesus was. No one is excluded from God’s love and grace. A loving presence is always with us, throughout eternity.

And then Jesus basically says, “now that’s settled, get back to work…the sick need medical care, the hungry need food, the elderly need to be treated with dignity, the children need to be safe, injustices need to be addressed, wars need to cease…do the works that I’ve been doing, heck, do even more!”

“You will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these…[However], if you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” That isn’t a genie in a lamp granting wishes; that is part of this larger conversation: Don’t worry about being deserted. We are always connected, to God and to one another. Now, keep doing the good work. And, you can.

How can we work for justice, care for the disadvantaged, and offer hope to the hurting the way Jesus did, and maybe even do more? Jesus gives the answer: Whatever you ask in my name, that is, when you ask to do what I do, your prayer will be answered.”
That’s what ask in his name and it will be done means. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray the way he did, for the grace to be of service to the world. Not magic words, but a commitment to continue the work of Christ in the world.

These verses aren’t passcodes to the afterlife country club or the secret ingredient in the recipe to get our wishes granted. These verses are part of a conversation that is about people overcoming their fears to live into their calling to follow Jesus’ example (or way), to share the truth of God’s all-inclusive and unconditional love, and to help the community live a meaningful life of sharing and service. And prayer is how we can fuel ourselves to continue to do healing work. This gospel text is simply calling us to be the active hands of a loving God in a wounded world, and it’s promising us that we can be, because we are not doing it alone.
And THIS is the good news. Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

God give us the grace to care.
Give us the grace to share.
May we be blessed to bless others.
May we be receivers and workers of miracles.
Amen.

Confronting Our Idols

On May 14, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Confronting Our Idols Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Easter 5, 2017 Acts 17.27-29 When I was child I was convinced that I was unworthy of God’s grace, and yet, I longed for it, hoped for it, prayed for it, and still believed that if i were to receive it it would be in spite of my […]

Confronting Our Idols
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Easter 5, 2017
Acts 17.27-29

When I was child I was convinced that I was unworthy of God’s grace, and yet, I longed for it, hoped for it, prayed for it, and still believed that if i were to receive it it would be in spite of my depravity and odious nature. Nothing healthy or life-giving can come from such self-loathing.

My every prayer as a child included begging for the forgiveness of sins, too innumerable to count as they were, though surely I wasn’t all bad all time; but I was taught my goodness was as filthy rags and God’s holiness demanded a perfection I was compelled to strive toward and incapable of ever achieving. What a set up for failure, fear, and frustration! But Hallelujah for growing up and outgrowing the ogre God!

I would eventually come to realize that the God of my childhood, the punishing, vengeful, angry god was a false god, a graven image of low self esteem, learned fear, and the projection of other people’s insecurities. God save us from the graven images, the idols, the false gods of impotence and fear, tribalism and superstition that are sold to us as the living God of grace and goodness!

Of course, I have confronted and toppled other false deities in my life.

The god who not only prefers but demands heterosexuality…that petty god is not god enough for me.

The god who had a Y chromosome and therefore deifies and privileges the Y chromosome…that deity of misogyny is not god enough for me.

The god who becomes a government weapon or a political party’s mascot is not god enough for me.

The god who only values Christians and cannot see the faithfulness, the holiness, the sincerity, or the virtue of other religious paths is not nearly god enough for me.

The god of cruelty that would fill us with wonder, complex feelings, the ability to think critically and then forbid that we should employ such gifts…oh, such a monstrous god is nowhere near god enough for me.

These are each idols that at one time or another attracted me with the beauty of an impressive golden calf, but proved to be as impotent, as false, as hopeless, as damaging as any other graven image.

In our stories, in our imaginations, in our vocabularies, in our rituals, in our poetry, we try to explain the Sacredness we experience, but then we literalize the explanations and lose connection to the experience, and in our limited perspective, we forget that not only is explanation of experience not the same as experience, but we only experience what we can at any given moment, and our experience is not the totality of what there is to experience. So, really, our dogmatic certainty, our doctrinal debates, our so-called orthodoxies are little more than the gods of self-righteousness and self-aggrandizement and in the final analysis, they are simply not god enough.

We love our stories, and if we will explore them deeply and not cheapen them with needless literalism, they will remain powerful, liberating, and life-giving for us.

When we refuse to take even our own language too literally, then God is a loving father, a protective mother, a strong castle, a mighty warrior, a soaring eagle, a cloud by day and a fire by night, a beautiful rainbow, a caring nursemaid, a trinity, a unity, a pantheon of beings, an impersonal power, a loving presence, and a constant friend. If we insist that any image is the final word for god, we have settled for stale idolatry, but when we remember that every image points not to itself but aways from itself to something greater, then images become useful to us. To literalize them is to deify them; but to play with them freely allows them to be tools used by God rather than idols that try to limit or replace God.

In the Middle Ages, a Dominican monk, Meister Elkhart wrote, “I pray God to rid me of God.” In other words, he wanted to move past the idols, the graven images, the fears, the prejudices, the self-righteous arrogance that too often wrapped themselves in the language of piety.

Any god that doesn’t celebrate the joy of a transgender person coming to terms with their wholeness is not god enough; may the god which is Love rid the false god of transphobia from our hearts.

Any god that doesn’t weep when people are hungry, that doesn’t call people to care for refugees, that doesn’t long for peace, that doesn’t want all people clothed, housed, educated, and offered medical care is just not god enough…God beyond our limited notions of God, heal us from the damage of those limited notions.

That’s what Luke is telling us in the book of Acts today. The Apostle Paul is strolling around Athens and sees altars and images all over the place. The fire god, the water god, the god of romance, the god of protection, the deity of wisdom, the goddess of fertility…some gods are weak and some are powerful, some are angry and some are kind, some are fond of all humans and some are fond only of their devotees, some are mindful of all creation and some are volatile beings in desperate need of mood stabilizers. They all represent something meaningful about the human psyche and human relationships, but if taken literally, none of them are god enough.

But there is one more altar, one that doesn’t have an image. It is the altar to an unknown god. And Paul said, “see that? That’s the best altar of all. That’s the one that gets at what God is more than any of the others.”

The god you can love and whose love you can experience even while being mystified by the depths of such love, the god who allows us to name her/him/it for our own convenience but who is in no way limited to or by those names, that is the god that Jesus said is spirit, that Moses understood as the Great I Am, that Protestant theologian Paul Tillich said was the ground of being.

The god that is known in human genius, human virtue, and human love while being infinitely more than genius, virtue, and human understandings of love, the god that cannot be trapped in a book or a sacrament or a prophet or symbol or a name, that is the God we encounter in Jesus, in nature, in one another, in moments of sacred silence…that is the one in which we live and move and have our being.

How many idols have we allowed to stand in for god? How many fears, prejudices, goals, desires, regrets, hatreds have we worshiped in the place of an unknown, unnamed, all-inclusive, all-loving God? How many golden calves have we settled for before moving deeper and deeper into the mystery of unfathomable love?

Whatever you have thought God was, God is more.

We don’t have to trap god in any box or image or doctrine…we can simply trust that God is never separate from us. Like air, like light, like love, like the order of the universe…God is, and what is, must include us, and whatever is enough to include all of us can’t be limited by any name, image, or tradition.

We can’t pin God down, but we can get to the place where we experience God as a love that will never let us go. Any other sort of god simply is not god enough, and this is the good news. Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

God beyond all notions of God,
Give me confidence in your love and grace.
Fill me with peace and joy.
Alleluia!
Amen.

On the Road to Healing

On April 30, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

On the Road to Healing Luke 24 (Road to Emmaus Story) Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins I had a boyfriend in college…okay, I had a few, but I am recalling one in particular. We proved to be ill suited for one another, nevertheless, he had a dear grandmother. His grandmother had suffered a stroke and lived […]

On the Road to Healing
Luke 24 (Road to Emmaus Story)
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

I had a boyfriend in college…okay, I had a few, but I am recalling one in particular. We proved to be ill suited for one another, nevertheless, he had a dear grandmother.

His grandmother had suffered a stroke and lived alone. She was a widow living on her Social Security and her husband’s pension, Until the pension ran out. Living on Social Security alone proved to be challenging but her home was paid for and she didn’t drive since her stroke, so she made due. I liked visiting her. Long after the boyfriend was a distant and not altogether pleasant memory, I would still visit the grandmother.

She didn’t come from an affluent family but she managed, as an adult, to earn a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees. Her children became physicians and professors, and she helped raise her grandchildren. After her husband died she went to work as a college administrator but only for a few years before retirement.

She didn’t get many visitors so she enjoyed when I would come by. She would regale me with stories of her childhood and her life as a mother and finally as someone who joined the workforce later in life. I thought she was lovely and fascinating and kind. I enjoyed every moment I spent with her.

Looking back, I realize that those moments with her were special because they were holy. We shared time together, and stories, and affection, and warmth, and kindness. She made me lunch and gave great hugs at the end of each visit. I now know that what I touched in those shared moments was something divine. Old stories over a tuna salad sandwich and canned spinach may not sound like the stuff of holy communion, but that’s exactly what it was. Sharing. Seeing someone…not just circumstances…not just some odd college kid who would befriend someone else’s grandma, not just a veritable shut in with lots of memories and too few people with whom to share them…but two children of God sharing the most precious gift anyone has, time, and in the sharing experiencing something sacred.

That’s what we see in today’s gospel lesson. Two people walking along, lamenting how badly things have gone. They are walking away from Jerusalem and are 7 miles from it. Jerusalem represents peace, or least the hope for peace, and 7 is the number of completion…so, metaphorically, 7 miles from Jerusalem means about as far from peace as one could get.

They are walking away from peace, and are already far from it, recalling and rehearsing all the pain they have recently been through. But where are they going? They are going to Emmaus, which means mineral springs…mineral spring water has been used medicinally forever. They are hurting and not at peace, but looking for healing…at least that is one way we can understand their walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus.

Then, suddenly, a stranger walks up on them. Even though they are engrossed in conversation and are deeply depressed, they make time for the stranger. They include him in the conversation. They share with him their story, their grief.

Eventually, they find it’s getting dark, so they stop in a village and secure a room and some food for the night, and they invite the stranger in.
It’s late, we’re tired, we don’t know where you’re going but there’s no need to go there on an empty stomach. Join us for some food.
And the stranger accepts their hospitality.

They’ve been sharing…their time, their stories, their hearts, and now their resources. Let us treat you to a meal, they tell the stranger. And when the stranger starts serving them the food, they realize something profound. Christ is in their midst! Something holy is with them and has been the whole time they were sharing, welcoming, inviting, showing welcome to the stranger.

That’s a powerful message, and a very practical Christology…when we, like Jesus, open our hearts to people, and our doors, and our tables…we experience Jesus. The Christ anointing is among us, even on us. The Lord is risen indeed in such holy moments.

While the two people, I suspect a man and a woman, because only one of the two (Cleopas) is named, and it is usually women in ancient stories who are unnamed…both a man and a woman experience Resurrection power that night (all people are capable of experiencing holiness; all people have sacred value). This is a holy and life-changing night in today’s story…if not a night in history certainly a night in Luke’s divinely blessed imagination.

When Cleopas and Whatshername realize that the power of Christ is still available to them, even after the painful events of Golgotha, they look up and discover the stranger is missing. Perhaps he slipped out quietly while they were having their revelation. Maybe he didn’t want to intrude on their miraculous discovery, or maybe he was tired of them and ready to leave. It doesn’t matter. Even if the stranger they have been kind to does slip out without so much as a thank you, it’s not about him any more. They can be Christlike with their generosity, and when they are, they experience Christ…Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!

The story then says that at once they got up and returned to Jerusalem. Their return to peace was instant. And they told the others the Lord is risen indeed, we experienced that truth when we continued the Christ mission of sharing hospitality and welcome and hope and generosity. We welcomed a stranger to join us on the road to healing, and we shared our time and our hearts with him, and our resources, and in the sharing, we realized That of God which we saw in Jesus we saw in the stranger, and we can always see. The Christ Light shines no matter the circumstances in our lives.

We all find ourselves far from peace sometimes, and on the road that we hope leads to healing. The peace and some measure of the healing we long for can be experienced in a holy instant, whenever we shift our perception from fear to love.

When we welcome, include, share…when we work for justice, affirm the sacred value of all people, strive to create a world that is fair for everyone and lifts up everyone without demonizing or dehumanizing any group, when we share time, talent, and treasure to build people up and form a community of hope and grace, we are witnessing the presence of the Sacred in our midst. That’s the practical message of today’s bible reading, and this is the good news. Amen.

(c) Durrell Watkins 2017

I am on the road to healing.
On the way, peace is possible.
Divine Grace is always with me.
Alleluia!
Amen.

The Resurrected Church

On April 23, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

The Resurrected Church Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Easter 2, 2017) John 20.19-22, 30 Resurrection stories are for people who need to be uplifted. If Jesus’ friends and followers, and those that they influenced, have somehow experienced Jesus beyond his execution, then he can still inspire and motivate people during difficult times. Today’s gospel witness shows […]

The Resurrected Church
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Easter 2, 2017)
John 20.19-22, 30

Resurrection stories are for people who need to be uplifted. If Jesus’ friends and followers, and those that they influenced, have somehow experienced Jesus beyond his execution, then he can still inspire and motivate people during difficult times.

Today’s gospel witness shows a powerful resurrection experience. The resurrection in today’s gospel is the resurrection of a wounded church, or of the leaders of a wounded church. Experiencing Jesus beyond his death empowered them to not let Golgotha be the end of their story.

If Jesus’ teachings, love, and essence live on in us, then we can and must continue to do what Jesus did. Golgotha was empire’s mightiest blow, and it failed. They couldn’t erase Jesus, and if they can’t erase Jesus, they can’t erase his mission which lives on in his church. That’s the point and the power of Easter.

Resurrection is the guiding symbol of my faith. It is the miracle that must occur if God is omnipresent. Omnipresent Life means that life can’t be destroyed. Bodies fade, situations change, dreams stall, mistakes are made, hearts break…but there is more. Hope rises again. Joy rises again. Peace rises again. Omnipresent Life is always seeking to express Itself.

Oscar Romero was a Roman Catholic clergy leader in El Salvador. He was a peace activist, an advocate for the poor, and an outspoken critic of torture. He knew that his using the pulpit to give people hope and to empower those who had been downtrodden could get him in serious trouble. But here’s what he said about that, “I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me I will rise again in the people of El Salvador.” In 1980 he was assassinated while celebrating Mass.

Archbishop Romero understood resurrection…not as something that happened once or a few times in history, but as something that is always trying to occur, a power that rises from the ashes of despair over and over again.

The night before he was killed, Dr. King said, “[God's] allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

Resurrection is always for the community, the society, the world…the messenger may be struck down, but the message lives on and the people to whom the message was given are raised up with the power of hope, determination, and courage.

And that’s what we see in the gospel text this morning. The account we heard this morning is meant to tell a community that they still have purpose, they still have work to do, they are still needed. They may be afraid, they may think they have a lot to lose, but their comfort or privilege is not what they are called to protect. They are meant to practice, what Dr. King would much later call, “dangerous unselfishness.” The story of Jesus’ resurrection is meant to raise them up to a new level of commitment, courage, and achievement.

John’s gospel was written at the end of the first century, but today’s passage could have been written during the Great Depression, the Holocaust, or when Japanese Americans were incarcerated for their ancestry, or during the days of Jim Crow, during the Vietnam War, or the early years of the AIDS crisis, or today.

Any time there is disease, hunger, institutionalized or sanctioned bigotry, the devastation of the planet, war, or refugees in need…the church is called to rise up and dare to be Christ in the world. There will be risk and discomfort, but resurrection is possible and only has meaning in response to Golgotha. Jesus still bears the scars of his torture in today’s story. He shows his hands and his side. Being the church, following Jesus involves some risk. Easter people aren’t those who avoid Good Friday; Easter people are those who do not allow Good Friday to be the end of the story.

Jesus was killed 60 or 70 years before John’s gospel was written. The Holy City of Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed 20 or 30 years before John’s gospel was written. There have been cataclysmic losses, and even so, lepers were still untouchable, widows were still vulnerable, the mentally ill were still called demonic, the poor were still suffering…so there was work to do. Giving people comfort, hope, and protecting their dignity were still holy tasks that had to be performed. Resurrection says, “Snap out of the malaise and start doing what you can to help the many who are in need.” We can’t do everything, but we must dare to do something.

There are four points I want to share with you from today’s gospel reading.

1. The disciples were afraid. They were hiding in fear. They were stuck, closeted, entombed. Their memory or experience or vision of Jesus was meant to shake them awake and cause them to start living out loud again. When we are bound by fear we are not experiencing the fullness of the life-giving love that God is. When we are locked away in our fears, we need an infusion of resurrection power.

2. Fear is natural, but we get to decide what to do with it. As Zig Ziglar said, “fear” can mean either “forget everything and run” or “face everything and rise.” They have been stuck in the first meaning; Resurrection encourages them to embrace the second.
Their fears are debilitating, and honestly, they are reasonable based on what is going on in their world. But if the world is crashing down around them, they can still make it better for others and face the dangers with dignity and courage. Jesus says, “peace be with you”…or we might say, “Go to peace instead of to pieces.”

3. Facing fear and embracing peace is energizing. Once they face their fears and choose peace, or at least choose to believe that peace is possible, they are infused with a new breath of life. In the story, Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the holy breath, the breath of wholeness, the energizing spirit of life.” Just as the winds infused the dry bones of Ezekiel’s vision with new life, the memory and example of Jesus breathes hope and determination into the fearful disciples. The spirit raises them back up to be able to face the world and help it get better.

4. Renewal is followed by recommitment. After facing their fears, believing peace is possible, and thereby receiving a new infusion of determination, they know it’s time to get back out there and start taking some chances. Jesus says, “Just as I was sent, so I am sending you.”

Get back to work. Write some letters, sign some petitions, participate in a march, cast a vote, give some money, donate some food, volunteer some time, hold a hand…let it be known that refugees are welcome here, marriage is about love – not gender, health care is a right – not a privilege, Black Lives Matter, science is real, the environment is ours to protect, men aren’t in charge of women’s bodies, and divine Love is unconditional, all-inclusive, and everlasting.

Resurrection isn’t one more idol to worship from the past; it is a call to action…it is a plea from the very Heart of God that we be Christ in the world, that we rise up and share the healing love of God with a world in need. We pray it in the introit, and it is the prayer we will sing throughout eastertide: “May your blazing Phoenix spirit resurrect the church again.”

God hear our prayer, and answer it in and through us.

And this is the good news! Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

May God heal my fears,
Fill me with peace and hope,
And use me to be a blessing to my world.
Amen.

Who is Jesus?

On April 9, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Who is Jesus? Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Palm Sunday 2017 Today begins Holy Week, the final days leading up to Easter. My question for you today, this Palm Sunday, this first day of Holy Week is, “Who is Jesus?” It’s an important question. Jesus has been so misused, his name so sullied, his character so […]

Who is Jesus?
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Palm Sunday 2017

Today begins Holy Week, the final days leading up to Easter. My question for you today, this Palm Sunday, this first day of Holy Week is, “Who is Jesus?”

It’s an important question. Jesus has been so misused, his name so sullied, his character so besmirched, that at mention of his name some people tremble, or rage, or their stomachs turn. Not because of the power of his holiness, but because of the hateful ways his name has been weaponized.

Some who have claimed the title of Christian have insisted that Jesus is the reason they demonize and dehumanize same-gender loving people. They say that it is for Jesus that they terrorize transgender and gender nonconforming people. They blame Jesus for their condemnation of religions about which they have very little knowledge or understanding. They praise Jesus while ignoring, blaming, or tormenting the sort of marginalized people Jesus appealed to most strongly. They claim that Jesus has saved them in some fashion, but there are countless others have sought salvation from the so-called saved. Jesus is the spear they use to wound, control, manipulate, vilify, or intimidate anyone whose life or love or faith or values differ from theirs. They have claimed ownership of Jesus and used him like a bulldozer to squash everything in their path that they find unsuitable.

But is the Jesus they have used like a wrecking ball the Jesus of Nazareth? The Jesus of the earliest Jesus movements? The Jesus we would find if we were to discover him for ourselves? Might there be another Jesus, a better Jesus that we might find and embrace today?

Palm Sunday offers us some possibilities. Let’s journey back to the last days of Jesus’ life.
During celebrations for a big holiday in a big city, Jesus comes riding into town. He’s just one of countless pilgrims. He’s not part of the official parade. He’s not a featured dignitary for the celebrations.

Instead, Jesus rides a silly little donkey through the back gate of town, greeted by the Riff Raff, the outcasts, the people who have been judged to be unworthy, the infirm, the poor, the lonely, the widowed, the orphaned…they’ve heard about this person who touches the untouchable and loves the unlovable and speaks hope to the hurting and they need to see him and hear him and experience him for themselves. They’ve heard what others have said…they need to know who he can be to them.

They erupt into a spontaneous street performance when they see him. Their hope and their curiosity and their excitement blends into camp revelry as often happens when oppressed communities begin to find their voice. And so, ridiculous as it seems, they hail him as if here were a prince or lord, as if here were riding a bejeweled steed and not a jack ass…in part they are applauding him, but they are also resisting the systems of domination and oppression by making fun of them, they are dreaming out loud for a better day where all people are valued and celebrated and affirmed. That’s why they shout “hosanna” which means, “rescue us!” As if a preacher on a donkey at the city’s back gate could. But who knows? In moments of outrageous hope, miracles do seem possible.

It is Jesus who has inspired this seditious, counter cultural, agit-prop performance. Of course people seeing this spectacle ask, “Who is he?”

And the crowds answer, “this is Jesus the prophet.” Or some said “he’s that prophet Jesus from Nazareth”…But I bet many things were said about Jesus that day. Such as…

This is Jesus the Prophet (who speaks for God reminding us that God’s will and word can be summed up as simply love God and love people)

This is Jesus the Healer (who somehow helps people who felt broken begin to feel whole)

This is Jesus the Prince of Peace (who when Peter wanted to attack Roman soldiers who were threatening Jesus, said to him, “put away your sword”)

This is Jesus the Redeemer who affirms the sacred value of all people (remember redeeming soda bottles?)…Claiming the sacred value of people is redeeming them. The woman at the well had been disrespected by a series of men, but Jesus knew their disrespect did not define her. He affirmed her, that is, he redeemed her.

This is Jesus the Messenger of God’s kin-dom (who says God’s realm is in your hands…Caesar has the military might, but the reign of God is in the hands of the suffering, the forgotten, the marginalized)

This is Jesus the Generous (give them something to eat! No questions asked)

This is Jesus the Storyteller (parables)

This is Jesus the Friend of outcasts (lepers, sex workers)

This is Jesus the Gender bender (compared himself to a mother hen)

This is Jesus the Child of God who reminds us we are all the children of God

This is Jesus the Mystic who knows God is always near and always hears us (I know that you always hear me)

This is Jesus the Refugee (Egypt)

This is Jesus the reminder that the Sacred can be found anywhere you look (We find the Sacred in Jesus’ life, Jesus whose ancestors include Moses – a murderer, David – a murderer, Tamar and Rahab – prostitutes…the one we call son of God comes from stock we would be tempted to look down upon…Jesus’ very DNA tells us there’s not a spot where God is not)

This is Jesus the Martyr (executed for empowering people and giving them hope)

This is Jesus the Homeless (nowhere to lay his head)

This is Jesus the humble (I came to serve, not to be served)

This is Jesus the Enemy of hypocrisy (the one who never made a mistake can cast the first stone)

This is Jesus who is comfortable with human touch (as we see his beloved disciple reclines on his chest)

This is Jesus the friend of gays (centurion’s lover healed)

This is Jesus whose love will never let us go (i will always be with you)

This is Jesus the joyful (first miracle tending bar at a party)

This is Jesus the feminist (Mary Magdalene apostle status, gospel of MM shows her to be the fave)

This is Jesus the Anointed (Christ)

Who is Jesus? There are so many more possible answers than we may have been led to believe.
That is why we will not let him be just a weapon for those whose hatreds and prejudices and violence and greed oppose everything he seems to have modeled in life.

This Holy Week, which Jesus will we call our own? I pray it will be whichever one helps us live with hope, and joy, and compassion, and generosity, whichever one reminds us that God is omnipresent, unconditional, all-inclusive, everlasting Love.

May the Jesus we embrace give us courage in the valleys, and hope to ascend the mountains, and joy at the peaks. That is what these days leading up to Easter offer us, and this is the good news.
© Durrell Watkins 2017

In the name of Jesus,
Who is to me what I need him to be,
I live in the power of hope,
I embrace the power of joy,
And I share the power of love.
And so it is.

Infinite Possibilities

On April 2, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Infinite Possibilities Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Ez. 37/John 11 Our two scripture readings share a theme today: Resurrection. As we enter the last couple of weeks of Lent, we naturally enough start thinking about Spring, renewal, life, even miracles. So, the readings are appropriately timed. They don’t really have much to do with each other, […]

Infinite Possibilities
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Ez. 37/John 11

Our two scripture readings share a theme today: Resurrection. As we enter the last couple of weeks of Lent, we naturally enough start thinking about Spring, renewal, life, even miracles. So, the readings are appropriately timed.

They don’t really have much to do with each other, except the writer of the second story would have almost certainly been familiar with the first story.

In John’s story, Jesus’ dear companion, Lazarus, has died. There’s a lot to the story. There was danger involved for Jesus to go visit Lazarus…Jesus’ enemies might be plotting against him and could attack him; Jesus went anyway, but not in time to see his dear friend before he died.

His disciples tried to dissuade him from going at all, but Thomas alone had the courage to say, “Let us go with him so that we might die with him.” The one who had the courage to admit his doubts would of course be the one brave enough to face danger.

When Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ home, his other friends Martha and Mary chastise him for not coming sooner. In times of grief, we will sometimes blame and lash out.

Critics are around in the story as well…aren’t they always? They say since Jesus is supposedly a healer, why couldn’t he heal this one about whom he cared so deeply. And, Jesus’ feelings are confirmed when he weeps for the loss of his companion.

As you heard from the reading of the story, Jesus doesn’t let things end there. He prays for Lazarus, and then calls him out of his tomb. He’s been dead for four days, so when he says, “open up the crypt” one of his friends tells him, “Um, its been a few days; it won’t be pretty.” I love the KJV. Jesus says rolls back the stone, and the reply is, “But Lord, he stinketh.” Lazarus is good and dead. But death isn’t the end of the story.

Some will say this story is meant to be a foreshadowing of Easter.
Some will insist it demonstrates the power of faith and prayer.
Some might suggest it’s an allegory for how love survives death and we can always call forth the memories of our loved ones.
Some scholars even note how special the relationship is between Jesus and Lazarus and wonder about a possible romantic connection. A document from the 2nd century called the Secret Gospel of Mark has an almost identical story and in that story the romance part is much more obvious. In that account, Jesus and the resurrected friend go in the house to spend the night together.

But as fascinating and even empowering as each of these interpretations are, I think the story has very little to do with Jesus and Lazarus, or at least, it isn’t JUST about Jesus and Lazarus. It is about the community of faith. We get complacent, or fearful, or tired, or stuck, or bound by traditions or prejudices or resentments, we find ourselves entombed in our rules and rubrics and the way it’s always been…we become so religious we lose the power of spirituality, or we take our worship for granted and carve out time for it only when nothing else is competing for our time. Our faith becomes passive, and spiritual lives begin to stinketh. And so, we are called to prayer and prophetic action…to come out of stagnation and to experience new life.

That is exactly what the story in Ezekiel is about.

Ezekiel has a dream about a valley of dry bones, and he wonders if they might ever be reanimated. A voice tells him to speak to the bones, to prophesy. Now, to prophesy isn’t to tell the future; it’s to tell the truth. It’s to speak the word of God in a way that people can hear and apply it in their moment of need. It can be a word of challenge or a word of comfort, but it is usually a call to action.

So Ezekiel is instructed to tell the bones, “You have more living to do!” And then he is even to prophesy to the wind…to give the wind a call to action. “Come Wind, and blow new life into these old bones.” And the bones rise up and form a thriving community again.

Ezekiel understands that this bizarre dream is meant to have him encourage his own community. They feel lifeless, overwhelmed, defeated, used up, worn out. He is to pray for them and encourage them and remind them that the future has infinite possibilities.

The story of the bones and the story of Lazarus, I believe, share a purpose: to encourage those who feel like life has passed them by, or as if life has nothing more to offer, to tell them, “God isn’t through with you! Rise up and start moving forward again.”

I’ve seen churches that were facing extinction experience a revival of passion and purpose and become thriving faith communities again.

I’ve seen people who were rejected by their families form new families of choice that were loving, functional, joyful, and life-giving.

I’ve seen people who were not the best parents get a second chance and prove themselves to be absolutely heroic grandparents.

I’ve seen old emotional wounds finally heal.

I’ve seen people who dropped out of school go back 50 years later and finish what they started.

I’ve seen people accomplish in wheelchairs more than they ever did when they had stronger bodies.

I’ve seen people face their addictions and live in freedom.

I’ve seen people outlive their prognoses by decades.

I’ve seen victims transform into survivors, and then into helpers who show others how to survive.

I’ve seen people come out and live in the powerful truth of their gender identity or their sexual orientation and realize that what they once thought of as a problem is in reality a great blessing.

I’ve seen people who had no self esteem come to believe that they are indeed God’s miracle and not God’s mistake!

The tomb you thought you were trapped in may stink, but it’s not the end of your story.
Your world may have felt like a valley of dry bones, but the Life Force is still present to shake things up and get you moving forward again.

Resurrection isn’t just something we talk about at Easter, it is a possibility that we can embrace throughout our lives.

There is a hymn written in the 1930s by Norman Forness…one of my faves:

Give heed, O saints of God!
Creation cries in pain;
stretch forth your hand of healing now,
with love the weak sustain.

Commit your hearts to seek
the paths which Christ has trod,
and, quickened by the Spirit’s power,
rise up, O saints of God!

That’s what both of our scripture stories are telling us today. The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities!
Don’t give in to defeatist attitudes, to pointless regrets, to useless shame, to the fears that often are based on lies…Don’t give in, don’t give out, don’t give up, Rise up!

Commit your hearts to seek
the paths which Christ has trod,
and, quickened by the Spirit’s power,
rise up, O saints of God!

And this is the good news. Amen.

The past is past…
And the future has infinite possibilities!
Thank you, God! Amen.

Awakening

On March 12, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Awakening Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Lent 2 I grew up in a part of the world where “born again” Christianity was ubiquitous and i developed a defense early in life. When asked if i was born again i would always say, “no need to be; i got it right the first time.” Nicodemus had a […]

Awakening
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Lent 2

I grew up in a part of the world where “born again” Christianity was ubiquitous and i developed a defense early in life. When asked if i was born again i would always say, “no need to be; i got it right the first time.”

Nicodemus had a smart guy answer to the phrase also. Jesus says, “you must be born from above” or “you must be born again” and Nicodemus says, “how can a grown person get born? Do you expect one to climb back into her or his mother and come out again?”
But Jesus dishes it right back. He says, “you have to be born of water and spirit.” Water is physical birth. A woman’s water breaks and then a baby’s not far behind.

You can’t have that experience again. You can’t go back into your mother’s body (and she wouldn’t want you to), but you can be born from Mother Spirit. Being born of spirit puts spirit in a maternal role, an obvious detail overlooked by patriarchy.

But God the child-bearer is not a new concept, of course: jesus would have found it in scripture. Job 38.29 asks, “Out of whose womb came the ice? The gray frost of the sky, who has given birth to it?”
The answer is, obviously, God! God is the divine Mother who gives birth to ice and frost. Genesis 1 imagines God creating by the power of the spoken word, but Job imagines God creating, at least weather, by giving birth to it!

God is also portrayed in the scriptures as a comforting mother, a nursing mother, a protective mother who guides the children of Israel like a mother eagle who teaches he eaglets to fly, hovering nearby them to catch them if they fall.

The mother image isn’t the dominant image for God in scripture, but it is one of the many images of God. That discovery may be like a new birth for some of us, a new experience of spiritual awareness.

Here’s something else about the birth metaphor…birth is messy, and painful, and scary. There is anxiety and change and discomfort and mess…if your spiritual birth is easy, effortless, neat, tidy, clean…it’s not really a birth at all.

Birth is struggle and risk and change…to grow in our understanding of the Sacred will require our being uncomfortable at times, sometimes even feeling insecure, having old assumptions challenged, old prejudices confronted, old superstitions exposed, and being exposed to new ideas, but the result is a beautiful miracle.

Now, “born again” is not a figure of speech that I tend to use, mostly because it has been so misused by so many for so long. But I am aware of times of struggle, times of pain, times of awakening, times of breaking forth into a new experience, a new perception of reality…i am aware of being born again.

Coming out is a new birth…difficult, risky, painful, life-giving, beautiful, miraculous.

Coming to terms with one’s true gender identity is a new birth…and then presenting one’s claimed identity to the world is an obvious sort of new birth.

Daring to face a challenge with dignity and grace can feel like a new birth.

Learning to forgive oneself or others is a new birth.

Coming to trust that we are each God’s miracle and not God’s mistake, that there’s not a spot where God is not, that God is all-inclusive and unconditional love…that is a new birth.

To experience the fullness of life, we must have a new awakening, or a few. That’s all Jesus is saying. And, like our first awakening, or birth, it will probably happen after times of difficulty, stress, uncertainty, even pain, and then after the birth or awakening, more care will be needed. That’s actually empowering, hopeful, beautiful because it tells us The pain isn’t the end of the story, it may even be part of a larger experience that will prove to be wonderful.

A baby being pushed from the cozy, familiar environment of its mother’s body into a big, bright unknown world is probably terrified. The world the baby has known is coming to an end and it has no way of knowing what is coming up next. But on the other side of the experience, there are caring hands of nurses and doctors or midwives, parents or caregivers, and a future filled with possibilities. The terror is followed by love, hope, opportunity.

I have no way of proving it, but I imagine that’s sort of what happens at death also. Leaving the only world we know, not knowing what to expect beyond the transition, and yet when it happens there are loving hands waiting to embrace us.

But in this experience of life, when you feel like life is spinning out of control, it could be that you are just experiencing a new birth! It feels overwhelming now, but it might be followed by new reasons for hope, new causes for celebration. The pain of labor is followed by the miracle of birth.

The world’s not coming to an end my friend, the world’s just coming to a start!

Birth, physical and spiritual, may not be easy, and there will be more care needed after it happens, but that just means that the future has infinite possibilities. Waking up to who we really are, and to our enormous potential, and to an awareness that we are forever in and part of God, that is what it means to be born from above…that’s being born again, or having a spiritual awakening.

Do you want, or need an awakening, a miracle, a new perception, a new birth? It may be about to happen, or you may be in the middle of it already. In any case, a miracle, a bundle of joy expressing as your life, is on the way. And this is the good news.

I am waking up to my potential.
I am waking up to my sacred value.
I am waking up to the possibilities of life.
Thank you, God.
Amen.

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