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.

Just Love

On February 19, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Just Love Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Feb. 19) One of my favorite religious stories is about the time Rabbi Hillel was once challenged to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot. He took the challenge, and standing on one foot he said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. […]

Just Love
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Feb. 19)

One of my favorite religious stories is about the time Rabbi Hillel was once challenged to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot. He took the challenge, and standing on one foot he said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the entire Torah. All the rest is just commentary.” Isn’t that what Jesus taught?

In Matthew 22 Jesus said the most important commandment is love. He quoted Deuteronomy, “Love God with all that you are” and then he said the number two commandment was like the first, at which point he quoted today’s text from Leviticus, saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We show love for God by loving one another. Love, just love. That’s the Torah. That’s the gospel.

Even the Apostle Paul wrote, “whoever loves fulfills God’s law.” Scripture is all about love, and if we missed the love we missed the point. Maybe that is why another New Testament writer said, “God is love, and WHOEVER lives in love lives in God and God lives in them.”

With this in mind, I want to share with you the entire Sermon on the Mount – well, The Durrell Notes Version of it anyway:

Matt 5.3-11
Bless you who feel empty, who grieve, who feel invisible, who ache for justice, who show kindness and mercy, who dare to love, who work for peace and who stand up for justice…Bless you who hurt and who care about the pain of others. Bless you.

What are those beatitudes? Aren’t they loving wishes that every person will find true happiness and peace of mind? They are blessings of love.

The sermon continues: Matt 5.13-16
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

What is that? Isn’t an affirmation of our sacred value? Isn’t it an expression of love?

Matt 5.21-25
Don’t murder, obviously. But also don’t nurse and rehearse hatred and resentments. Settle disputes quickly and peacefully when possible.

In other words, try love.

Matt. 5.27-28, 31-32
Keep your promises. Value your integrity. And if your promise is to keep someone safe, then especially try to keep that one.

The language of the text discourages divorce, but why? In Jesus’ day, women had no status apart from a man. A woman had few legal rights; she couldn’t even sue for divorce in most cases. So, if a man married a woman, he had promised to keep her safe. If he divorced her, she might not be safe. She might have to resort to begging or worse just to survive. Divorce wasn’t discouraged because people should be trapped in unhealthy or miserable relationships, but because it could destroy a woman’s life in a patriarchal culture. If you ever loved someone, you wouldn’t want to destroy them. Even Jesus’ ethics are about love. Today, rather than making divorce illegal, we lift up the agency of women. Same ethic.

Matt. 5.33-37
Don’t make grand oaths to try to seem reliable; just be reliable. Say what you mean; mean what you say. Love yourself enough to live with integrity; love others enough to be honest with them.

Matt. 5.38-42
Avoid violence. Be generous, compassionate, and even forgiving. You know, just love.

Matt. 5.44
Pray for people, even and maybe especially people you think are bad people.

To wish healing for those who seem mean-spirited or cruel, that is the loving use of prayer.

Matt. 5.48
Be mature enough to strive toward love…God is love, and God’s love is infinite. Try to be completely loving as God is.

Some translations say, “be perfect as God is perfect” – but the word “perfect” would be better translated as “complete”…be completely loving. Jesus is telling us to make the effort. He doesn’t say we’ll succeed. It’s worth it to try anyway.

Matt. 6.1-4
Give to good causes, and give for goodness’ sake, not for recognition. Give as an act of love.

Now, Jesus has spent all this time discussing human relationships; how we are to ethically and lovingly treat one another. Finally, he gets around to prayer. But prayer can be simple navel gazing if we aren’t going to practice our values in relationship. So, before he even teaches about prayer, he makes sure we are thinking about love.

Then in Matt. 6.5-15 he says,
Prayer isn’t performance art. Let it be an intimate experience of the divine Presence.
When you pray become aware of God’s presence, and in that presence be mindful of people’s needs, let the power of that presence help you forgive yourself and others, feel the peace of that presence and wish for that peace to rule over human hearts, trust the power of that presence to help you outlast hardships.

In other words, prayer isn’t about impressing people, or groveling before God, or making a point at ball games or taking up class time in public schools, or even about making certain things happen: prayer is an intimate experience of omnipresent, divine love and allowing ourselves to be a conduit through which that love may flow.

He circles back around to generosity – Matt. 6.24
Use your money to make a positive difference. Don’t be controlled by money, but use money to help others, to honor God, to build up the community, to ease suffering. Use money to show love rather than being in love with money.

Matt. 6.25-34
Try to worry less. Love yourself enough to give yourself a break. Worry robs our joy and doesn’t do much good; so, let it go.

Matt. 7. 1-5
Most judgments are really self-judgments that we project onto others. Stop with the finger wagging and name calling.

Jesus isn’t telling us to ignore injustice or to ignore cruelty (as loving people, we could never ignore the pain and suffering in the world); but we can’t effectively deal with those issues if we’re majoring in minors and arguing over who gets to use which restroom or whose love gets to be recognized by marriage ceremonies or how much water it takes to make baptism work…we’ll be too tired from petty squabbles to tackle the big issues. Cruelty, injustice, poverty, war, refugees seeking safety, the environment…there are things that need our attention, so maybe lighten up about the things that aren’t quite as weighty. Less personal insults; more justice work.

Matt. 7. 7-8
Be seekers…ask questions…be open…try to find hope and courage and peace within yourself. If you will diligently seek, you will make life-changing discoveries and breakthroughs. That’s the love of God at work in your life.

Matt. 7.12
Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

Isn’t that love in a nutshell?

Matt. 7.13
Stay focused on what is good (like love).

Matt. 7.16
Good trees bear good fruit. Don’t sow seeds of hatred, suspicion, bigotry, fear, revenge…you’ll only grow those horrible crops in abundance. We are meant to be good trees, bearing the fruit of peace, hope, joy, compassion, love…

Matt. 7. 28-29
When Jesus finished saying these things, people were amazed, because he wasn’t legalistic. He had the moral authority that comes from living a life of love.

That’s the sermon on the mount. Jesus’ most comprehensive sermon. It is so much easier to venerate Jesus than it is to try to follow his teaching in this sermon. It has very little theology. In it Jesus never points toward himself. And it’s only rule, really, is to live in love and demonstrate that love consistently, by resisting violence, by being generous, by being willing to forgive, by recognizing the sacred value of all people, by being honest, by treating others the way we would wish to be treated. Like Hillel, Jesus could have preached this sermon while standing on one foot. He would have simply said, “Just love.” And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2017

I give thanks for God’s all-inclusive & unconditional love. May my fears be transformed by love.
May God’s love flow through me to bless my world. Amen.

Salt & Light (Compassion & Hope)

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

Salt & Light (Compassion & Hope) Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Feb. 5) “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…Live so that people will see the good things you do and will praise your God…” Jesus (Matthew 5.13a, 14a, 16b) Now, Jesus isn’t telling us to show off so we […]

Salt & Light (Compassion & Hope)
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Feb. 5)

“You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…Live so that people will see the good things you do and will praise your God…” Jesus (Matthew 5.13a, 14a, 16b)

Now, Jesus isn’t telling us to show off so we can get some accolades; it’s grittier than that. Jesus is saying religion isn’t just stale creeds and pretty objects and rousing songs and a collection of traditions. Religion is meant to be active.

Jesus is basically saying what Theodore Roosevelt would say centuries later, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Religion isn’t about who you are against or what’s on your list of no-no’s or 101 reasons to feel guilt, shame and fear. Religion is meant to be service, action, making a positive difference. If people don’t see religion making a difference, why would they care at all about what we claim to believe about things that can never be proven? If belief in God doesn’t motivate you to care for God’s children, then what good is your belief to anyone other than yourself?

So, Jesus says you are light and light must shine. Love of God must translate into building communities of optimism, comforting those who grieve, sharing and celebrating joys, caring about those who are deprived of necessary resources; love of God should translate into offering hope to the hurting, welcoming the stranger, reaching out to the marginalized, and confronting injustice.

So, the light metaphor is easy to work with; it’s obvious, it’s clear. But what about that salt business? You are the salt of the earth? What even does that mean?

Actually, it pairs nicely with light. People of faith are to be people of action. We are to be salty.

When you work hard, you sweat, and sweat is salty.
When you put your whole heart into something, your heart might get wounded or even broken. Heartbreak brings tears, and tears are salty.
To be light in the world, we’re going have to sweat a bit, and probably even cry a bit. There is sweetness in our ministry, but there is also saltiness if we are honest, and if we are following the example of Jesus.

When Jesus learned of Lazarus’ death, he cried. When Jesus ached for Jerusalem, he cried. When Mary watched her son being tortured to death, she cried. When Jesus breathed his last saying, “God, into your hands I commend my spirit,“ God surely cried.

Last week we heard Jesus saying, “Bless you who mourn, who are persecuted, who are vilified, who long for justice…” In other words, bless you who know the taste of the salt of tears.

The work Jesus calls us to, the work for peace and justice and healing, will bring us times of tears. Bless you who cry. The salt of your tears will help heal our world.

There is also a bit of encouragement in saying, “you are salt.” Slavery was a time of sorrow, of tears, but eventually came the Passover, the Exodus, and liberation. Salty tears give way to brighter tomorrows; the tears of bondage reflect the light of hope that there is a land of promise flowing with milk and honey.

The message of light and salt is seen in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. During World War 2, a young, German, Lutheran, handsome Dietrich Bonhoeffer left his fiancé and his position at my alma mater, Union Theological Seminary in New York, to return to Germany to be part of the resistance against racist, xenophobic, fascist nationalism. He returned to his homeland at a very dangerous and scary time.

Bonhoeffer was eventually arrested and spent two years in a prison camp. He was charged with plotting to overthrow Hitler. Members of his family were executed, and finally, Bonhoeffer was, too…less than a month before his camp was liberated by the allies.

Bonhoeffer believed in grace, unmerited favor, but for him grace wasn’t about what he could get from God; he believed grace could actually cost something (he even called it “costly grace”). He said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil…Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” The grace he received freely caused him to act, so while free, it still cost him something.

Believing in and depending on the all-inclusive grace of God, Bonhoeffer had to stand up for it, speak out for it, defend those who were being dehumanized. The grace that affirmed him would not allow him to be silent when other children of God were being unjustly oppressed. And so, the grace that he lived for, he also died for. But he didn’t regret it; on the day he was executed he told a fellow prisoner, “This is the end, but for me, it is also the beginning.” The good we do cannot be destroyed. Isn’t that the message of the resurrection?

Bonhoeffer was light at a dark time, and salt when decency demanded that tears be shed for the evil humans can do to other humans.

We are God’s light; let us shine brightly. We are God’s salt, those who sweat and cry to share the love of God with others. Our job is to build communities of kindness, cultures of caring, ministries of mercy.

There are people who are terrified because religion and state, family and commerce conspire against them…be light to them; be salt for them.
There are people fleeing famine and war, oppression and destitution…be light to them; be salt for them.

There are people who have been repeatedly dehumanized because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity…be light to them; be salt for them.

There are people battling life-threatening diseases, some of them without access to medical care…be light to them; be salt for them.
There are people who are lonely, hungry, afraid…be light to them; be salt for them.

There are people who have had to overcome unfair obstacles because of who they love or because of the color of their skin or because of where they were born or because of how they were taught to pray…be light to them; be salt for them.

Let the light of hope shine from you into their lives; let your salty tears flow for their pain, and make sure the sweat of your labor for peace and healing and justice falls like the dew of God’s own mercy onto our world. It’s not enough to say we believe something if that belief doesn’t motivate us to offer hope and compassion.

The spiritually of Jesus is an engaged spirituality that seeks to be light and salt, hope and healing to the hurting, the wounded, the marginalized and the oppressed.

Light and salt…they Jesus’ are marching orders to get to work and make a difference in a hurting world. We start by supporting our progressive, positive, and practical faith community, and then as a faith community, we encourage one another to work for peace, justice and healing. Good religion can help us feel good, and it should also motivate us to do good. This, according to Jesus, is what will be our greatest witness. And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2017

Dear God,
Let us serve you by caring for others.
And give us joy in our service.
Let us be receivers and workers of miracles.
Amen.

Bless You

On January 29, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Bless You Jan 29, 2017 Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Today’s gospel reading is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount which starts with the beatitudes. We started with verse 2 of Matthew 5, but let’s back up to the first verse – it sets the scene for the beatitudes and makes them even more […]

Bless You
Jan 29, 2017
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Today’s gospel reading is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount which starts with the beatitudes. We started with verse 2 of Matthew 5, but let’s back up to the first verse – it sets the scene for the beatitudes and makes them even more relevant for us today.

Matthew 5 begins:
(1) When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
(2) He began to teach, them, saying…
(3) Blessed are the poor in spirit…
(4) Blessed are those who mourn…
And so on.
But before the blessings, we hear: “Jesus saw the crowds…”

He saw the people who gathered in desperation for a word of hope.
He saw people hurting and afraid.
He saw wounded people, marginalized people, people society had forgotten, or demonized.
He saw the poor, and the rejected, and the hard workers barely getting by.
He saw people who had lost their families, their dreams, their sense of self.
He saw refugees, and people who had been exploited, people who were different, despised, queer.
He saw people from various places, who worshiped in various ways, who had been treated as if they weren’t really human.

Before Jesus said anything, he SAW the people…he saw their pain, he saw their fear, he saw their need for encouragement.

Once he saw the people, Jesus then went up the mountain. In ancient literature mountain tops are the dwelling places of the gods. To go up a mountain is to enter into communion with the divine.

Once Jesus saw the hurting people, he had to take his awareness of their pain to the sacred altar of consciousness; he had to take what he saw into his heart, the dwelling place of the Most High.

He didn’t judge the people, or express fear of them or disdain for them, he saw them and then he WENT to the mountain; he went into communion with divine Love.

Once you really see pain it will break your heart and you will by necessity take that pain, other people’s and your own, into prayer, or however you commune with your fondest hopes and highest ideals.

Jesus saw the people’s pain and went into prayer.
And then he sat down.

When you speak to someone who is sitting and can’t stand, or when you visit someone who is lying down and can’t get up…you kneel down or bend down or sit nearby. You don’t tend to hover over those you care about and wish to comfort. You come down to them to share their experience, to let them know you are with them and your love for them is fully present.

Jesus saw. He went. He sat. And then he began to teach…he went to work offering comfort and encouragement and solidarity.

Jesus said some nice things in verses 3-12, but he didn’t say anything until he saw, and prayed, and got down on the level of people’s fears and hurts, and then he began doing what he could to help the people take heart.
He had to see them, care about them, and sit among them before he could help them.

That’s when he started calling out various conditions, and telling the people that their conditions didn’t define them. He told them they had sacred value that injustice and pain and cruelty could never take away.

And so he said…bless you who are poor in spirit, who feel as if even the energy of life is being stingy with you, who feel weighed down, broken down, overwhelmed, discarded, and unappreciated, you who feel not only poor in resources or poor in friendships or poor in opportunities but who feel as if your very existence is lacking…who are experiencing lack and want and destitution so gravely that it has infected your spirit…I declare that the kin-dom of God, the blessed community, the interconnected web of existence, the love that holds the universe together is YOURS. You’ve been called everything but a miracle, but I say you are blessed, the kin-dom of God is yours, I say you are God’s miracle and NOT God’s mistake!

And you who have experienced loss…loss of dignity, loss of loved ones, loss of home, loss of status, loss of security, loss of recognition as a beloved child of God…I affirm that you are blessed! You are grieving but there is comfort for you. The kin-dom of God is yours and in the kin-dom of God, you are never alone.

Bless you who feel meek and weak – you are stronger than you know!

Those of you who ache for justice, who have been denied equal opportunity and equal protection, who have been abused and vilified because of your race or ethnicity or nationality or religion or gender identity or sexual orientation…those of you who desire and deserve, who long for, who ache for justice, justice is on the way.
It may take a while, it make take a great deal of effort, it may involve some sacrifice, there may be setbacks, justice may be denied for a time but not for all time. To quote one who would come centuries after Jesus, the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice!

Oh, bless you who are merciful; you will see God’s face in your own mirror.

Bless you who work for peace; you are doing God’s own work!

Bless the justice seekers and justice workers who are persecuted for daring to take a stand for fairness; you are the very fabric of the kin-dom of God.

And those who dare to embrace and try to live into this message, you may become targets. Prophetic communities have always been targeted, those who challenge injustice have always been attacked, but you are on the side of righteousness, you are on the side of love, you are on the side of the ancestors who challenged kings and conquerors, you stand in the tradition of those who stood up to oppressive forces and cried out, “Let my people go!”

Today, the great liberators would say, “Let my people in.” Well, in fact, Jesus did say that in Matthew 11.28, “Come unto me ALL who labor and are heavy burdened and I will refresh you.”

We who dare to claim the banner of Christ must never blaspheme the name of Christ with indifference or intolerance toward the suffering children of God…no matter what they look like, who they love, or how they worship. Come unto me all…all…

My dear friends, let us be among the blessed who show mercy, who work for justice, who work for peace…let us endeavor to follow the example of the one who saw people’s pain, who took their pain into prayer, who chose to sit among them in their pain, and who began to do what he could to make a difference.

And to the hurting, the disenfranchised, wherever you are…we are sending you this message as a beacon of hope. We see you. We care. We are praying for you. And the Sunshine Cathedral is one place where you will always be welcomed with the love of God…if nowhere else, then here. And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2017

I am blessed!
I will share my blessings to help others.
May I be a conduit through which God’s healing love flows.
Amen.

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