Focus

On October 15, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Focus Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Oct. 15, 2017 Let us dwell together in peace, 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. Our readings today seem to be telling us to focus on possibilities more than on […]

Focus
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Oct. 15, 2017

Let us dwell together in peace, 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.

Our readings today seem to be telling us to focus on possibilities more than on problems, focus on what’s good more than on what’s troubling, focus more on what’s left than on what’s lost. That the psalmist and St. Paul (and Dr. Myss) would give us such counsel is not surprising. We find it throughout the Bible.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, when Moses was guiding his community through the wilderness, some of them wanted to turn around and go back to Egypt. They had been enslaved in Egypt. They had their personhood denied. They were mistreated. But better the devil you know, some say.

Yes, to get to the Promised Land, we’re going to have to find water in rocks, and hunt quail, and eat manna (”what is it?” – probably plant or bug secretions…but if you’re hungry enough, it’s bread from heaven). The path to the promise is full of challenges and difficulties and uncertainties. But the past was bondage. The future has infinite possibilities.

Going back to Egypt or going forward to the Promised Land both will be difficult, but one set of difficulties can lead to better days, the other path is a trap. Which direction will we choose? What will our focus be?

Focusing on a future filled with possibilities, even if the path forward is full of snakes and sickness and eating bug droppings, is the better way. Flaky bug ick goes from “What is it?” to “Hey guys, it’s edible! It’s a gift from heaven!” with a simple change of focus. Even in the wilderness, we get to choose our focus.

In the 1990’s I was an AIDS chaplain. There was one guy I would visit who was very weak. To cheer him up, I asked him, “When you get to feeling better, what is the first thing you want to do.” He said he wanted to go to his favorite bar. In a city that had about 30 gay bars, his fave was about the 3rd raunchiest. And he lit up when he talked about it. He had enjoyed some pretty great nights there. His friends went there. His favorite bar tender worked there. It was Cheers, if Cheers was super shady and scary.

When he focused on the good times he had enjoyed at Shady Cheers, and when he focused on the possibility of returning there, that dear man was filled with delight; gratitude tempered his grief and fond memories replaced his fears…for a few moments, it was as if he wasn’t sick at all. I don’t know if he ever got back to that bar before he died, but I know thinking about it gave him a great deal of pleasure. Focusing on good times brought him joy even in a very difficult period of his life.

Also in the 90s, I used to know a traveling singing group that was popular in the area where I lived…all gay, and they sang gospel music. One night they were singing at a church, and after the concert a man approached one of the singers. He told the singer he had AIDS but that he was so enraptured by the music that night that he forgot for a couple of hours that he was ill. He told that singer, “It was like I didn’t have AIDS, at least for a little while.”
He changed his focus, and thereby, at least for a short time, changed his experience.

”Where attention goes, energy flows.”
We know that. We’ve said it a thousand times. And these stories show just how that is true, how a change of focus can change our direction.

A Course in Miracles teaches that a miracle is a change of perception from fear to love. In other words, a miracle is a change of focus.

Am I a person defeated by my pain, or I am a person determined to experience joy in spite of my pain. Which will my focus be?
And if I focus on joy rather than pain, isn’t it possible that I will also have less pain? Less fear? Less regret? If not today, then one day?

I can’t promise things will be easy or that things will always go our way. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, but how we respond to the difficult times is where our power lies. Our focus can pave the way for hope beyond horror and peace beyond pain.

In our third reading this morning, the Apostle Paul is trying to change a congregation’s focus. There is bickering and conflict in the congregation. Paul tries to get them to stop focusing on their personality conflicts and petty squabbles; he wants them to focus on what is good in their ministry, on what is beautiful and lovely and worthy of praise. He wants them to focus on justice work, and compassion, and healing, and on all the things that are amazing. Think on these things, he tells them. Then, he adds, the peace of God will guard your hearts. By the way, Paul is writing from prison. The man is incarcerated, and he says, “There’s bound to be something good in your lives. Focus on that!”

Yes, there are things that are difficult, things that aren’t going according to plan sometimes, but how we deal with the bumps in the road is to celebrate what is good, what is powerful, what is working, what is changing lives, what is absolutely miraculous.

The funny thing is, that’s not just good advice for a church, it’s good advice for the work place, for a relationship, for a family, and for any challenge one might be facing. Focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, commendable, excellent…Focus on the good, on the opportunity, on the possibilities, on the lesson, on the rose blooming on top of the thorns.

We pray each week: “There is only one presence and one power in the universe and in me, God the good, God the good, God the good omnipotent.” It’s a reminder to focus on God and God’s goodness, because our focus determines our direction, and we choose our focus.

No wonder the great teachers tell us, “Change your thinking and you change your world.” In other words, Change your focus and you’ve changed your destiny.

Today, let our main focus be to remain focused on what is good and on what is possible in our lives. We have the power to choose our focus, and this is the good news. Amen.

Don’t Give Up Hope

On September 24, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Don’t Give Up Hope Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sept. 24, 2017 Let us dwell together in peace 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. Don’t give up hope. That’s the advice I believe the gospel is […]

Don’t Give Up Hope
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sept. 24, 2017

Let us dwell together in peace 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.

Don’t give up hope. That’s the advice I believe the gospel is giving us today.
When it comes to justice, to healing, to freedom…don’t give up hope.

We pray every week, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If the world isn’t yet heavenly, then we have more praying to do, and more work to do until the world becomes a bit more heavenly.

A church just north of us has a sign that says, “PUSH: Pray Until Something Happens”

Of course, being prayed up helps us stay persistent. Prayer energizes us until things improve. Prayer keeps the vision of better days before us.
Prayer is the fuel that keeps us moving forward in the power of hope.

I’ve heard: Pray on it, pray over it, but most importantly, pray through it.

Prayer is the insulation, the shield, the storehouse, the well, and the engine that helps us follow Winston Churchill’s advice.

Churchill said: “If you’re going through hell, KEEP GOING.”

Pray through it.
Breathe through it.
Lift up your head.
And don’t give up hope.

About now, someone is thinking, “that sounds pretty good, but is that really what the gospel story is about?” Stay with me.

Before we tackle the Gospel parable, let’s recall another story. In Genesis 29, we see Jacob. He’s traveling and he comes upon a group of shepherds who are watering their flock. While he’s talking with the shepherds, his maternal uncle Laban happens along, with his daughter, Jacob’s cousin, Rachel. Jacob knew about Laban, but had never met him. And Jacob is instantly smitten with Rachel. Love at first sight.

Jacob stays with Laban and the family for a while and then decides to stay longer, not as a guest but as a contributing member of the family. He and his uncle negotiate what his wages will be for working for Laban, and Jacob thinks that what he wants isn’t cash, but a wife. He’ll work for love, specifically, for Cousin Rachel. Laban agrees. Work for me for 7 years, you’ll get room and board the whole time, and at the end of 7 years, you get a wife – Rachel (this is a time and culture where marriages were arranged).

Jacob thinks the wages and benefits are fair, he works for seven years, he walks down the aisle and says “I do”…only to discover that behind the wedding veil is not his beloved Rachel, but his other cousin Leah, Rachel’s sister! He’s been hoodwinked!

I’m sure he liked Leah well enough, but he didn’t agree to 7 years of indentured servitude for her. He’s been deceived, the victim of Laban’s perfidy. He has tasted the bitter tincture of mendacity. He’s angry. He’s heartbroken.

Laban says, “Take it easy…we can fix this. Just work for me 7 more years and then you can marry Rachel.” Crestfallen, Jacob agrees. And after 14 years of labor and waiting (and 7 years of less than warm feelings for Uncle Father-in-Law), Jacob and Rachel are finally married. Later on, there are a couple of other women brought into the household and Jacob has children with all four of them – but those details of biblical family values and the sanctity of marriage isn’t the point I want to focus on today. But you do see the inaccuracy of the claim that the biblical definition of marriage is one man and one woman.

The point I want to lift up is that Laban abused his privilege. He made a promise to Jacob, and he chose to renege on his commitment. He intentionally misled Jacob and exploited him and played with his deepest, most genuine feelings. Presumably, Rachel was hurt by his actions as well.

Laban had all the power, all the advantages, but Jacob didn’t give up. He confronted Laban, of course, but that didn’t change Laban. Where Jacob got satisfaction was by working harder, waiting longer, clinging to hope like a lifeline, and not giving up until his heart’s desire, his blessing was achieved. Jacob basically said, “there is good for me and I ought to have it, and Laban’s lack of integrity cannot keep my good from me.”

In Genesis 32 we’ll see Jacob wrestling with angel all through the night. He will not give up until the angel blesses him. It was a struggle and it took all night, but Jacob learned from his 14 years of waiting for Rachel, it may be a mistake to give up too soon.

Jacob’s descendant, Jesus, tells us a parable today, a fictional story meant to make a point. In the story, business people hire day workers. But they don’t treat them fairly. Some are paid way more than they earned which at first may seem generous, but there may be more to it.
No one was given less than they were promised, but those who worked in good faith for what they were promised were outraged to learn that people who did a fraction of the work got the same wages.

Traditionally, we hear this story as if the business owners represent God, and the extravagant wages for those who deserve them least are a symbol of grace, unmerited favor. I think that may be a misreading of the story. The employers in the parable seem a lot more like Laban than like God.

Jesus’ parables are meant to imagine how the world could be different.
Employers giving big bonuses seemingly arbitrarily to a few while other hard workers are ignored…well, that sort of lavish generosity with some but not all is how the world already works…that’s not the kin-dom of God.

No, God’s liberating grace is meant to uplift the down trodden…the day workers in the story have no power or privilege, they aren’t even really employed.
They are given a job only for the day. They are at the mercy of the person who hires them for the day.

The employer then states at pay time that the latest hires will be paid first. Why announce that? Why try to stir up strife and resentment among the workers?
Why make a point of telling people who worked longer that if chance had worked out differently for them, they could have worked a much shorter day without any loss of income? Are the surprise bonuses generous or manipulative?

The Hebrew bible, which Jesus knew well, says to not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy. So this story of the employer who lavishes gifts on some while paying others only to the penny what their contracted labor promised, and then making a point of letting everyone know that they were not treated equally doesn’t sit well with us. Yes, God’s grace is unconditional, God’s love is all inclusive, but none of that is communicated in a story about exploiting the desperate.

Equal opportunity and equal protection – that’s justice…
arbitrary extravagance for some rubbed in the face of those to whom it was denied is not grace, not the kin-dom of God.
The business owners’ actions caused discord, confusion, and did not lead to empowerment or healed relationships…that’s not grace, that’s not God.

But you know what…the workers…those who got an undeserved bonus, and those who worked hard without any special reward…they would have been back the next day looking for work again. A bad day wouldn’t cause them to give up.
They would keep working and waiting and hoping for better days. Like Jacob, they would acknowledge the injustices, try to change things, but in the meantime, they wouldn’t give up on their own dignity, their own dreams, their own vision of a fairer world. That’s the kin-dom of God…and we deserve it. Life isn’t always fair, and those are the times when we must not give up hope.
Indomitable hope…that’s the gift of the kin-dom of God, and this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
We all deserve opportunity and security.
When it seems to be denied…
Help me to not give up hope.
Amen.

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

On September 17, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

The Healing Power of Forgiveness Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sept. 17, 2017 Let us dwell together in peace 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. We pray every week, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive […]

The Healing Power of Forgiveness
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sept. 17, 2017

Let us dwell together in peace 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.

We pray every week, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Forgive us and let us forgive those who have hurt us. That’s a difficult prayer and yet, we pray it every week, some of us, perhaps, every day.

I must confess to you that I haven’t spent much time in my ministry calling people to seek forgiveness. Calling people sinners has never seemed to be a kind or loving act in my mind. And nothing aggravates me more than the tired and thread bare phrase, “hate the sin but love the sinner.”
First of all, calling people sinners doesn’t feel loving.
Secondly, using that trite expression to discriminate against, vilify, dehumanize, or demonize people isn’t very loving. You can call it loving, but it ain’t. As we used to say growing up, your cat can have kittens in the oven, but that doesn’t make them biscuits.
And thirdly, it is maddening when Christians use that line, hate the sin but love the sinner, because they almost never realize they are quoting a Hindu when they say it. And the Hindu, Gandhi, wasn’t talking about individual morals…he was calling colonization a sin, but reminding people to fight the evil of colonization without hating the colonizers. Fix the system without hating individuals. That’s what Gandhi said and meant, and to use that phrase as justification to crush people’s spirits is a sin against Gandhi.

The word “sin” has been so abusively used that I have just tried to steer clear of it for the most part. We’ve been beat up enough with that word. And yet…

I have sinned. My identity isn’t my sin – No, that’s a blessing. My love isn’t my sin – Good Lord, no…I thank God daily for my husband.
But I have failed to love my neighbor as myself. Heck, I have failed to love myself sometimes. I have forgotten to turn the other cheek (it doesn’t seem to come naturally to me). I have been selfish, uncaring, unkind…not always of course, I’m not a total jerk, but I have missed the mark and fallen short of divine glory.

I have fallen short of my own highest ideals, I cannot even tell you how many times. I have said and done things, and left things unsaid and undone that have caused me to spend hours in tears before the God of my understanding begging for healing, restoration, redemption. And I have found such moments to be cathartic.

The reason that when I fall and sometimes fall hard I want to be washed clean as it were, restored, renewed…is because the mistake, the bad attitude, the uncaring act or the pain caused to someone else is so not what I as a child of God am. The errors feel bad because they are foreign to who God has made me to be.

So I don’t want people to think of themselves as sinners. I want people to think of themselves as beautiful expressions of a holy God, made perfect, made of God’s own love, and when we think of ourselves as incarnations of divine love, then when we are unloving, we will feel out of phase with our truth, and we will want to get back on course.

I don’t believe God is keeping score. I think when God looks at me, or you, God sees what God made…a miracle. But when we fall short of our potential, we feel badly, and so seeking divine forgiveness or reconciliation or restoration isn’t about getting God to stop being angry, it’s about tapping into God’s grace so that we can forgive ourselves and be healed and do better. God doesn’t get caught up in our dramas, but God does help us heal from the pain caused by our dramas.

Praying for reconciliation can help us unload a burden, but that’s for when we’ve messed up. What happens when other people’s mess ups hurt us? Peter asks Jesus, “if someone hurts my feelings, how many times should I forgive them? A handful?” And Jesus says, “oh Peter, so much more than that.”
Really, Jesus? Do you know some of the cartoon villains who come for me regularly?

But, Jesus practiced what he preached. He didn’t even wait for people to ask before he forgave them. While he was being tortured to death, he prayed, “God forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.” If Jesus could forgive his executioners, maybe I can work on giving people some slack.

Marianne Williamson says, “All of us are made of love, yet all of us make mistakes.” I’ve made mistakes and needed another chance. Maybe the people who have stepped on my toes also need another chance. Not to do it again…but to be seen as more than their worst moments. I certainly don’t want to be limited to my worst moments.

Don’t take this to bizarre extremes…I’m not saying to disband law enforcement or that you should never ground your misbehaving teens or that you should stay in an abusive situation.
I’m saying, in our personal relationships, pain can be healed by forgiving the past…not reliving it, not repeating it, not justifying it…but releasing it to the past and demanding a better present and future.

When Pope John Paul 2 was shot, he might have had some feelings about that, but it sent a powerful message to the world when he went to his assailant in prison and forgave him. Yes, the assailant was held accountable and not allowed to hurt others, but the pope, and the assailant, and maybe many others experienced healing by the act of forgiveness.

My father and I had a strained relationship, and that is the hugest understatement I have ever made. I was terrified of him as a child, and I had plenty of experience to justify that terror. Eventually, fear morphed into hatred. Hatred over many years (and some intense confrontations) mellowed into something close to indifference. And then he became very ill. We started having strained, polite conversations. I started making gestures toward him, and he to me, though they weren’t always obvious. He told me he was proud of my academic achievements. I made him his first dirty martini. On his death bed, I told him I was sorry our relationship has been so difficult. I told him I was ready to put that behind us. I told him for the first time in my adult life that I loved him. And strangely, to my amazement, it was true. Two days later he died.

I don’t know what that moment of forgiveness did for him, but I can tell you it changed my life. I speak of him now with genuine affection. Forgiveness didn’t undo some truly terrible childhood moments. It didn’t require pretending to have a different past than I did…what it meant was that the past was past and the future had infinite possibilities.

Marianne Williamson has said, “Whatever…happened to you is over. It happened in the past; in the present it does not exist unless you bring it with you.” I wasn’t denying or white washing the past…I was letting it go so that it could no longer hurt me. And the relief was miraculous. I later learned some things about my dad’s difficult childhood that made some of his behavior make sense. I could remember some of the difficult times without drudging up the old resentments. I could remember good things that actually brought me a sense of peace. I can’t change the past, but I can be free from its torments. That’s the power of forgiveness.

I can’t tell you what, who, or when to forgive, and you can’t tell me. But I can tell you that when you are ready to forgive, that is a moment of miraculous opportunity. It can be a doorway to profound healing. It takes courage, it may take time, it may take 77 times, but it’s worth the effort.

And this is the good news.

Dear God,
Heal my past hurts.
And fill my future with joy.
Amen.

Let Love Be Genuine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s as simple as that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Believes in Us

On August 20, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

God Believes in Us Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Isaiah 56.1-8 August 20, 2017 Deut. 23 says, “No one who…has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” I don’t know if our Rogers 4 manual organ is male or female, but male organs cut off is a problem for the writer […]

God Believes in Us
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Isaiah 56.1-8
August 20, 2017

Deut. 23 says, “No one who…has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” I don’t know if our Rogers 4 manual organ is male or female, but male organs cut off is a problem for the writer of Deuteronomy. You almost never hear a sermon preached on that verse. But, this is a different kind of church.

People who had been surgically altered (aka “eunuchs”) as well as anyone who had been permanently disfigured in the nether regions by some sort of accident or war wound were banned from worship in the mind of the Deuteronomistic writer. It’s a harsh rejection of people who are physically different.

It’s made worse because being a eunuch wasn’t an elective procedure for most people. No one said, “Hey, being a eunuch sounds fun…wonder where I can become one!”

Eunuchs were usually slaves. So, not only have they been physically altered, but they have been altered against their will and in the context of being enslaved. Furthermore, eunuch slaves were frequently sexualized. Since they were slaves, they could be made to do anything really, and those things were sometimes erotic.

Sometimes, eunuchs could rise to high levels within the slavery system…since they couldn’t get women pregnant, they were often assigned to work with aristocratic women. But even if they became trusted servants of aristocrats, they were still victims of physical abuse, of slavery, and sometimes of sexual abuse. And on top of all this, now religion says they aren’t welcome in worship. Religion might have been their one refuge, if they were allowed to access it.

Dehumanized, demonized, sexualized, ostracized, condemned, and rejected by religion…does that sound familiar to anyone?

In today’s scripture reading, Isaiah rethinks the Deuteronomistic slur against eunuchs. We aren’t imprisoned by scripture…we are meant to have a dynamic, living relationship with our sacred texts. Isaiah knows what Deuteronomy says, but Isaiah also sees hurting people who could be helped with religion but instead religion has been used to make their pain worse. And so he, doesn’t let Deuteronomy have the last word. He gives the matter some more thought.

We heard 3 verses from Isaiah 56 today, but if we read a little more, it gets even better:
1. Maintain justice. (be fair…promote equal opportunity, equal protection, affirm the inherent dignity of all people…maintain justice)
3. Do not let the foreigner…say God will separate me from God’s people. (Do not let the foreigner, the immigrant, the migrant worker, the refugee…don’t let any of God’s people think that this gathering of God’s people will reject them for who they are)
[Nor] let the eunuch say I am just a dry tree (don’t let the sexually different, the physically different, the oppressed, the outcasts believe they are useless, don’t lead them to believe that they are anything other than the children of God made in the image of God, part of the creation that God calls very good).
4.-5. To eunuchs who wish to worship me I will give in my house an inheritance better than children
(eunuchs can’t have children…in antiquity, having children and grandchildren was how immortality was achieved…leaving your stories, your name, your property to the next generation kept your memory and your work and your dreams alive, but eunuchs were denied that, but the prophet says God’s love will not exclude the eunuchs and they have gifts to share in the worship community and that can be the family that will remember and honor and celebrate them)– I’ll give you a name (affirm your sacred value) that cannot be cut off! You’ve had your body cut, and you’ve been cut off from family and from segments of society, but God’s grace, God’s love, God’s care cannot be taken from you…it will never be cut off.

And guess what…if you’ve been cut off from family, cut out of religious community, trimmed like fat from ham and tossed away from people’s lives because you are lesbian or gay, if you have been misunderstood or harshly judged because you are bisexual, if you are questioning and didn’t know where you could explore your questions, God says today if you wish to worship here, you can, and there are gifts for you here that are better than what you may have lost.

And you know what else…if you are transgender…if you’ve cut away the name your parents gave you because it didn’t really fit who you know yourself to be, if you’ve been cut out of people’s lives because you dared to express your truth and grow into your full authenticity, if you have had surgery or hormone treatment to help you look and feel like the person you know yourself to be or if you are hoping and planning to have such treatments later…God says this is the place for you. You are a gift to this community and in this community your giftedness will be celebrated.

If you have been cut off from family, friends, or religion because of divorce, procreative choices, pacifism, how you look, how your pray, or who you love…God says there is a different kind of church that will think you are just what they’ve been looking for.

THEN…
7. My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples!!! (all groups, every culture, every nation, every race and ethnicity, straight folk, LGBTQ folk, young folk, older folk, two steppers and twelve steppers, people who walk and people who roll, people with PhDs and people GEDs, people who out of habit call God he and people who have started to call God she, people with hope and people who mope, people who for their supper must sing and people who come wearing plenty of bling, people who need friends with tails that wag and people who spend their weekends in drag)…God’s house is meant to be a house of prayer for all kinds of people!

8. God gathers the outcasts. (Hear the prophetic declaration that God gathers the outcasts because to God there are no outcasts, to God all people have sacred value, and God’s house is meant to be a welcoming house for all kinds of people…all peoples.)

One of my favorite hymns is from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. In that show, a guy named Finch gives himself a pep talk by looking in a mirror and singing,
“You have the cool clear Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth,
Yet, there’s that up turned chin And the grin of impetuous youth.
Oh, I believe in you, I believe in you.”

We are the mirror God is looking into today, and that is what God is singing to us through the words of the prophet Isaiah. Whoever we are, God is saying to each of us, “I believe in you, I believe in you.” And this is the good news. Amen.

I believe that God believes in me.
This fills me with hope, joy, and confidence.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Elijah’s Great Lesson

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

Elijah’s Great Lesson Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins August 13, 2017 Sunshine Cathedral Invictus BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY (1875): Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried […]

Elijah’s Great Lesson
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
August 13, 2017
Sunshine Cathedral

Invictus
BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY (1875):

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Last week we heard about Moses and Elijah, and this week we hear about Elijah, though Moses’ shadow is still in the scene.

It was at the Mountain of God that Moses spent 40 days, receiving the Commandments according to the legend. Eventually, Moses was able to see the glory of God from a cleft, a hollow, a sort of cave in the rock of that mountain.

Four centuries later, we see Elijah. And where is he? On the Mountain of God. He has journeyed 40 days to the mountain in order to hide from the government…you see, Queen Jezebel has put a price on his head. And he hides in a cave, a cleft in the rock.

The literary similarities are intentional. Whether Moses or Elijah literally spent time on a mountain is irrelevant…the stories show the transforming power of communing with God. That’s the point.

Moses encountered God in fire and smoke and seas and lightning. Elijah, however, learns that divine encounters sometimes happen without much drama at all. In fact, God’s peace presence can be the cure for too much drama!

Elijah says he looked for a divine experience in weather and earthquakes and fire, but he experienced God as a still small voice within.

Elijah doesn’t need storms and shaky ground…his life is stormy and shaky enough already! A vicious queen is after him…I know what that’s like. Elijah is looking for God in mountains and earthquakes and storms and fires, but where does he find God? In sheer silence. He found God when he got still, when he got quiet, when he decided to go to peace instead of to pieces.

Sometimes we panic, we fret, we cry, we ask WHY…and at such times, what do the enlightened tend to tell us? Breathe. Even in the gym, when struggling through an exercise, a good trainer will remind us to breathe.

Quiet the mind. Let air flow. Be present. The past may have been difficult and the future may be uncertain, but in this moment, we are okay. Be in this perfect moment. Breathe. Be still. Quiet the inner chatter. And in that peaceful moment, God’s loving wisdom often breaks through and we sometimes will feel refreshed, renewed, strong, hopeful, or at least not as frazzled.

We have to get quiet to hear the still small voice. The voice always is encouraging though.

Elijah learned that in the Silence, in the inner chapel of his own Soul, God was always present, and in God’s presence, there was a healing balm that could sooth his fears and give him the strength he needed to carry on.

In the Silence, Elijah realizes he can’t hide from the troubles of life. God isn’t going to take a lightning bolt and zap away the problems.
God isn’t going to take a gale force wind and blow away the problems.
God isn’t going to send an inferno and burn away the problems.
God isn’t going to send a tsunami and wash away the problems, but what God will do is quietly speak to Elijah’s heart and remind him that he is stronger than he realizes and he can face the difficulties of life and find peace in the midst of them. He can continue to do what he feels called to do and he can make a difference, even when the sky seems to be falling.

Elijah realizes that his friends Hazael and Jehu and Elisha are all there for him. They’ll do what they can to help. And there are thousands of good people who have not worshiped fear or bigotry or hatred or greed…there are good people in the world. They seem to have vanished sometimes, but they are still there. That’s a reason to hope.

What a pitiful miracle! We might say. No magic? No parlor tricks? Just, God can calm your nerves, you’ve got friends who will encourage you, and there are other good people in the world even if the worst sort seem to be coming after you? That’s it?! That’s the great miracle?

Sometimes, that’s the biggest miracle in the world.

When we don’t need circumstances to give us our joy, and we won’t let circumstances take our joy away…when fear stops being forget everything and run and starts being face everything and rise…when we don’t need lightning bolts and earthquakes and angel choirs to feel God’s presence, but we have been filled with a joyful awareness that there is not a spot where God is not…Oh, in a moment of dread or despair…the miracle of a peace that passes understanding is the greatest miracle of all.

When horror gives way to hope, and pain is healed by peace, and tears wash away our fears and might emerges from our fright, then we have everything…contentment, an assurance that come what may, all is well, that nothing can separate us from the Love that God is, and then, at least sometimes, things start to get better, but how wonderful that we didn’t need to wait for them to get better before we started to feel joy again.

The message reminds me of the wise counsel of the Apostle Paul: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through the One who strengthens me.”

Elijah learned that true success in life is not allowing circumstances to dictate or diminish our peace of mind or joy of life. Life is filled with hills and valleys, but come what may, we have access to a peace that passes understanding and joy unspeakable. That’s success, and it can always be ours.

I Shall Succeed
BY EVELYN WHITELL (1934):

Though everything looks dark and drear,
I SHALL SUCCEED.
Though failure’s voice speaks in my ear,
I SHALL SUCCEED.
I do not fear misfortune’s blow; I tower with strength above each foe, I stand erect because I know I SHALL SUCCEED.

Though others’ doubts are built ’round me,
I SHALL SUCCEED.
Though Fortune’s ship I cannot see,
I SHALL SUCCEED.
Through mist and rain I left my eyes, I see the sunlight in the skies, and seeing it my glad heart cries, I SHALL SUCCEED.

Night swoops on me with [darkest] wings,
but I’LL SUCCEED.
I see the stars that darkness brings,
and I’LL SUCCEED.
No force on earth can make me cower, because each moment and each hour, I still affirm with strength and power, I SHALL SUCCEED.

And we will. And this is the good news. Amen.

God grant me peace, hope, and joy.
I will pause and listen to your still small voice.
It will comfort and nurture me.
Thank you, God.
Amen.

The Realm of Heaven

On July 31, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

The Realm of Heaven Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins July 30, 2017 Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s words be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says seek first the Realm […]

The Realm of Heaven
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
July 30, 2017

Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s words be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says seek first the Realm of God. While all of the gospels talk about the Realm of God, or the kin-dom of God, God’s anti-empire or counter kingdom, Matthew uses Realm of God and Realm of Heaven interchangeably.

In literary imagination, where does God live? In heaven. Indeed, also in the sermon on the mount, Jesus prays, “Abba who are in heaven.” But in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, that doesn’t mean God far off in a sky realm…it mean, God who is throughout the universe. In other words, there’s not a spot where God is not. God in heaven means God everywhere fully present.

The gospel of Jesus is the good news of God’s kindom, that is to say, of God’s presence which is everywhere all the time and all lives are part of it. That being true, we are then called to care for one another, to be merciful to refugees, the sick, the hurting, the oppressed, the marginalized.

If God is everywhere, then we who call ourselves the people of God are to see God everywhere we look, and if we see God in refugees, we won’t abandon them…how could we abandon God?

If we see God in people of all religions and no religion, we won’t use religion as an excuse to abuse or vilify those who have different religious vocabularies than we do.

If we see God in the sick, we will not rest until every person has adequate medical care.

If we see God in same-gender loving people, in transgender and gender non-conforming people, then we will not remain silent when they are demonized and dehumanized.

God’s heaven is God’s home, and God lives in us, with us, among us, all of us, no matter who we are. We then serve God by being God’s hands of mercy in the world.

So, there’s not a spot where God is not. God’s realm, God’s heaven is at hand, in our hands. But when we really believe that, what should that look like in our lives? It turns out that Jesus has a lot to say about that.
In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus tells a series of parables, fictional stories to drive home a profound truth, describing the Realm of heaven.

Jesus says:
The Realm of Heaven is like a field with both wheat and weeds. The farmer of the field decided to let the wheat and weeds grow together and separate the weeds from the wheat at harvest time.

Jesus says:
The Realm of Heaven is like a tiny mustard seed that is planted and becomes a big plant that can actually become a home to birds.

Jesus says:
The Realm of Heaven is like a woman baking bread who just keeps adding yeast until her entire loaf rises.

Jesus says:
The Realm of Heaven is like a field with a hidden treasure in it.

Jesus says:
The Realm of Heaven is like a net that was cast into the sea that caught all kinds of fish. The fishers waited until they got to shore before discarding the bad fish and keeping the good.

Jesus just keeps reaching for metaphors, similes, and symbols to help describe what it should look like when we accept that our lives are part of God’s life.

When we live as if we are in God’s presence, we let wheat and weeds grow together…live and let live. We don’t need to keep people from voting, marrying, accessing education or healthcare…later, the farmer, God, can decide who is and who isn’t worthy of God’s best (and I believe God ultimately will decide that we’re all keepers), but our job is to let everything grow and thrive.

When we live as if we are in God’s presence, we may feel like our resources are small, like a mustard seed. We may have little faith, a little talent, a little money, a few friends, a small community…but the truth remains that within us is great potential. Small as we may feel, we can provide shelter, respite, hope, community to those who are in flight, those who are flying through life looking for a place to land. A mustard seed can grow to house the birds of the air.

When we live as if we are in God’s presence, we keep adding ingredients, programs, messages, music, food, outreach, education…we keep adding yeast until the whole loaf rises, giving everyone a chance to thrive and be part of abundant living.

When we live as if we are in God’s presence, our lives may seem like a big, empty field, but know that within that field is rich treasure, even if we haven’t uncovered it yet.

When we live as if we are in God’s presence, we cast a wide net, bringing in every kind of person to affirm their sacred value. Some will stay and some will not, but the net was cast for everyone.

The Realm of Heaven, the kin-dom of God, the presence of God is where everyone is given a chance. Everyone is to be fed…not only if they deserve it or believe certain things or live up to our standards…the only requirement for being fed is hunger. In the Realm of heaven, everyone deserves shelter, everyone has sacred value, every life is a field with hidden treasure in it.

Robert and I have a new dog; her name is Bella. Bella has already learned one of our favorite affirmations. With her actions, staring at kitchen counter tops, sniffing the refrigerator door, going to her food and water bowls, performing her tricks that are rewarded with treats…Bella is saying over and over, “There is good for me and I ought to have it!”

Bella already knows what I hope to always remember, and what I hope you will at least consider…in God’s presence, there is good for us and we ought to have it. And if that’s true for us, it’s true for everyone. And if its true for everyone, part of how we worship is by being the conduits through which God’s good can flow.

The Apostle Paul tells us this morning that even when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit is praying in and for us. Our groanings become God’s own prayer wishing us peace, comfort, strength, and joy. In other words, there is good for us and we ought to have it, and even when we forget that, God is still knowing that for us and whispering that truth in our hearts.

The Realm of Heaven is like knowing without fail that there is good for us and we ought to have it; there is good for all people and all people ought to have it. And when we live as if we believe we are part of God’s heaven, then we will choose to be God’s helpers whereby the good is joyously shared so that every need can be met.

We can be the answer to God’s own prayers, and in partnership with God’s will, we can help more people experience the good they deserve to have. And this is the good news. Amen.

There is good for me and I ought to have it.
This is true for all people.
And so it is.

Spilling God’s Seeds

On July 16, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

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. Spilling God’s Seeds Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins The reading from Isaiah today tells us that God’s word of hope and encouragement must produce […]

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.

Spilling God’s Seeds
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

The reading from Isaiah today tells us that God’s word of hope and encouragement must produce something good. That reading has uplifted people for millennia – during times of exile, war, famine, oppression, and hardship, people have heard the prophet’s words declaring that God’s love and goodwill flow like rain, fall like snow, and will achieve something good in due season.

God’s word, God’s will, God’s wish is for us to go out with joy and return with peace, and for our lives to be filled with happiness and fulfillment, singing and rejoicing.

And if there are thorns in life, what’s to sing about? That the thorns will be replaced by beautiful trees and bushes and God’s goodness will never end. Thorns happen, but they aren’t the whole story. Things will get better, and trusting that, we can go ahead and rejoice right now!

Even when things are not going well, we can remind ourselves and one another that God is cheering for us!

God wants YOU to be happy.
God wants YOU to love who you are.
God wants YOU to see and seize wonderful possibilities.
God wants YOU to trust that nothing can separate you from the love that God is.

That’s God’s encouraging word and in the fullness of time it must achieve something good. Something good is on the way for you! If you’re ready to receive it say AMEN.

But wait! What about those who say God tests us, punishes us, only accepts some of us, those of us who hold certain opinions or belong to certain groups or who love or pray in prescribed ways? How does this good God of infinite goodness square with that harsh, finger wagging, wrist slapping, limited occupancy God? Well, to be sure, they are too very different visions, understandings, and experiences of God. And some of us have been conditioned to believe that the God of unconditional love, joy, abundance, hope, and peace is just too good to be true. We seem to want God to draw a line somewhere. We want grace to be free but we also want to insist that we have to do something to get it, which would keep it from really being free.

Do we really believe in GOOD News? Are we willing to believe that God is love?

God the punisher may appeal to some, but I can’t be bothered with the concept. God is good or God couldn’t be my god.

If goodness, kindness, and love scare you, may I suggest that you have some inner work to do. Start right now telling yourself that you deserve Good in your life.

“There is good for me and I ought to have it.”

“God is love and WHOEVER lives in love lives in God and God lives in them.”

“NOTHING can separate me from the love of God.”

“Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better and better.”

“There’s not a spot where God is not.”

“Wherever I am, God is, and all is well.”

“I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.”

“The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities.”

“All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

You see, faith comes by hearing, and the one sure way to hear something good is to say it.

Faith is trust…Trust God’s goodness and unconditional love. Build that trust by saying uplifting things all the time. Faith comes by hearing.

Jesus told a story about a Gardner who went out to sow some seeds. She tossed seeds everywhere, not taking aim at just some areas but just slinging them every place.
Some seeds feel on a foot path and were eaten by birds, some seeds fell on hard ground and never really took root, some seeds fell among thorns when they sprouted the thorns choked them out, and some seeds fell on rich, fertile soil and produced a huge crop.

He didn’t often explain his parables, but he explained this one. He said:
1. The seeds that the birds eat right away represent those of us who hear the good news but don’t quite get it. It’s like it’s just gobbled up and we don’t benefit from it.
2. The seeds that fall on hard ground represent people who like the message but they don’t hold onto to it for long. They don’t put down roots in spiritual practice and spiritual community. They like it at xmas and Easter or whenever they happen to expose themselves to a positive message, but they don’t make it part of their daily lives and practice, and so it doesn’t really stick with them and isn’t there for them in their times of great need.
3. The seeds that fall in the thorn bushes represent people to hear the word of hope and encouragement and may even like it, but they focus more on their fears, their regrets, on what’s not yet perfect or on what could go wrong…their attention is on the thorns of life, and where attention goes, energy flows. And so the fears that they feed stay strong and choke out the message of hope.
4. But the seeds that fall on rich, fertile ground…that represents the progressive, positive, practical community of faith. They hear the word of hope. They love it. They live it. They share it. They support it with time, talent, and treasure. They pray it. They study. They worship. They praise. And the word grows within them, exponentially, to lift them up whenever they need it.

God is spreading seed everywhere. God is lavish, wasteful with the word of hope. God is tossing it everywhere it might land. On hard ground, hard heads, hard hearts where it may not penetrate too deeply, on busy lives where it may get brushed aside, on brier patches, on thorny people and prickly attitudes, on people we might consider to be mean or bitter or selfish or afraid or cruel or miserable, and God is tossing the word of hope on those who receive it, nurture it, celebrate it, practice it, allowing it to flourish in their lives. God is tossing the seed everywhere, spilling the seed of grace on every single human soul. On shallow spiritualities and hard hearts and thorny attitudes, as well as on the eager and devoted…God is tossing the seed everywhere. You may not be ready for it yet, but God never stops offering it.

The seed is love. The seed is hope. The seed is peace. The seed is empowerment. The seed is fulfillment. The seed is compassion. And God is spilling it everywhere, in abundance, all the time.

That’s because, as Isaiah says, God wants all people to have hope and peace and joy…that’s God’s word and God’s wish and God’s will, and it will not return to God void but will eventually take root in every soul, in this life experience or another.

Thorns will be plowed under and replaced with beautiful trees and bushes, hard ground will be tilled, all ground, all souls, will be receptive to the good news that God’s love will never exclude anyone for any reason and that is reason to rejoice.

Whether the poetry of Isaiah the parable of Jesus, the message is the same…God wants us to be happy, and God will never give up until God’s wish is fulfilled. And since God will never give up on us, we need never give up on ourselves. And this is the good news. Amen.

(c) Durrell Watkins 2017

Thank you, God, for your all-inclusive love.
You will never give up on me.
So I will never give up on myself.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Singing for our Lives

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

Singing for our Lives Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins LGBTQ Pride Sunday 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. Since marriage equality in this country, the Religious Right has beefed up […]

Singing for our Lives
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
LGBTQ Pride Sunday

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.

Since marriage equality in this country, the Religious Right has beefed up their attacks on the dignity of LGBTQ people. Laws have been passed in Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas and proposed in other Bible Belt strongholds to allow discrimination against LGBTQ people in the name of religious freedom. They cite a few bible verses as to why they believe their hatred or fear of Queer people is justified and even righteous, but that technique was used to keep women out of ministry, to justify slavery and child abuse and even the divine right of kings. Just because the Bible says a thing doesn’t mean we can’t change how we understand and apply it. In fact, compassion and justice will demand that we challenge oppressive readings of scripture, especially when people are being hurt by those readings.

I can deconstruct the handful of bible verses, and there are only about half a dozen passages, that are used to terrorize same-gender loving and gender non-conforming people. And, I can point out many more places in scripture where same gender love and gender non-conformity are featured and even blessed. But I’m tired of playing biblical tit for tat. If the Bible is your reason for being cruel, or if you need a bible verse to motivate you to be kind, your brokenness is clinical and needs more help than any bible verse could possibly provide.

Violent religious rhetoric that is used to dehumanize and demonize LGBTQ people is what emboldens the less stable among us to do terrible things. Preachers of prejudice and hucksters of hate are what led to the AIDS crisis being ignored by our government for most of the 80s. False prophets and pugnacious priests must share the blame for Matthew Shephard’s murder, for Harvey Milk’s assassination, and for the slaying of the Pulse 49. But there are so many more victims.

I was serving a church in TX, when I got a phone call from a young man I didn’t know. He called to complain about his mother. He said, “My mom has come out as a lesbian.” I told him that must have taken a lot of courage for her, and that she probably really wanted him to try to understand and be happy for her being able to live out her truth. He said, “I don’t care that she’s a lesbian, but does she have to be a dyke?” I asked, “Do you know what a lesbian is?” He assured me did, and even liked his mother’s new partner. But she didn’t just come out and take a partner. She stopped wearing make up. She shaved her head. She started wearing tank tops and combat boots. I said, “Well, those wouldn’t be my fashion choices, but if they make her happy, what’s the problem?” He said, “She was never like that. I miss my mom.” Ahhh. There it is.

I explained that she might have been dressing to meet others’ expectations before she came out, or she might simply be experimenting with her new found freedom trying to find ways to express herself authentically now, or that she may just have happened upon a look that she liked and it was okay to change fashion directions. I assured him that with or without hair, with or without muscles shirts or combat boots, she probably loved him dearly and would feel even closer to him if she knew that his love for her couldn’t be diminished by how she wore her hair, or whether her companion was female or male. He said he felt better and would try to work through it.

I later met his mom. She was a kind person. And her new partner turned out to be her life partner. They were together until she died from cancer only a few years ago. They had to have been together over 20 years, and only death managed to separate them. Her son must now be in his 40s, and I bet he’d love to have her back, with any kind of hair or wardrobe. As we heard in the choir anthem this morning: “All things being even, here’s what I believe in; nothing matters more than love.”

In the 90s, in my chaplain days, I was summoned to a nursing home where a young man was dying. His mother was a member of a fundamentalist church that had taught her son that because he was gay, he would be rejected by God and sent to spend eternity in hell. For being gay. For being attracted to pecs instead of breasts, for finding 5 o’clock shadow charming, for wishing to be held in arms that might be hairy. Really? For that, a God would damn someone for all eternity? A human with a heart wouldn’t damn someone for all eternity for that, and if God isn’t as good as nice people no wonder fewer people have much time for God.

Of course, the fundamentalists have badly mishandled God’s PR…I still believe that God is love and genuine love, mutually shared is never a sin. But that was not the message this young man had grown up hearing. And now, he was in the final stages of AIDS.

His mother called me. She was guilty for passing onto him a faith that condemned him, robbed his joy, and stole his hope and his dignity. Now he was immobile in a nursing home bed, too sick to live and too afraid to die. He was terrified of meeting this God that hated him simply because he was wired to be attracted to men instead of to women. It’s as ridiculous as believing God would damn someone for preferring broccoli to carrots. But this young man’s fear was very real.

His mother just wanted him to have a moment of peace before he died. She wanted him to not spend his final moments in terror. So I visited him. And I told him his mother loved him so much. She wanted him to be comfortable and to know he was loved. And I asked him, “Do you believe your mother loves you?” He said yes. I asked, “Do you believe she wants you to be happy, and that nothing could make her not love you, and that you’ll be part of her for the rest of her life?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “The prophet Isaiah, from the Bible, wrote this: “Like a mother comforts her child, so will God comfort you.” I told him that I believed that God loved him at least as much as his mother did, and that God would love him forever. I could see the tension start to dissipate. His body relaxed. And that night, he died.

I believe that God is an omnipresent Love that will never and can never let any of us go. I wouldn’t want to spend eternity with any other sort of God. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend eternity with a God who would reject someone because they preferred broccoli to carrots, or liked both equally (as some seem to do). I would rather be damned for love than spend a single moment in a heaven that required hate. But I don’t believe anyone is damned, and I certainly don’t believe anyone will be damned for mutually shared love.

I’m tired of the Bible being used like a weapon, and I’m tired of God’s name being used in vain to make people hate themselves, and I’m tired of people being afraid that God’s love isn’t for them.

In the reading from the Psalter this morning, we see the psalmist tired and afraid and singing for his life…singing prayers to give him comfort and courage and strength. I, too, get tired, and angry. Sometimes I’m scared. I’m also hopeful. I’m determined. I’m motivated. And I know who I am, who we are. And so, today, my prayer, my affirmation, is a familiar song…if you know it, sing it with me:

“We are a gentle, angry people and we are singing, singing for our lives. We are gentle, angry people and we are singing, singing for our lives.
We are justice seeking people and we are singing, singing for our lives. We are a justice seeking people and we are singing, singing for our lives.
We are gentle, loving people and we are singing, singing for our lives. We are gentle, loving people and we are signing, singing for our lives.”

And God hears our song, and sings it with us; and this is the good news. Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

By God’s grace I am what I am.
I give thanks for who I am.
I give thanks for God’s all-inclusive and unconditional love.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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.

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