Turn It Around

On December 10, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Turn It Around Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Advent 2, 2017 (Peace) 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. Coming out (in the 1980s) was a big change for me. It […]

Turn It Around
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Advent 2, 2017 (Peace)

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.

Coming out (in the 1980s) was a big change for me. It didn’t change who I was, but it changed how I felt about myself, and changing how I felt about myself changed how I experienced life. Because of what I had been taught by well meaning but woefully misinformed people, I grew up believing that same-gender love and attraction were bad…and yet, I knew at the age of 4 who I was. But I was told that was wrong. So, I spent years trying to confess away, pray away, and in high school, even date away the gay. It didn’t work.

But what did work was my changing the narrative. I learned what social and behaviorial science had to say about same gender affection and attraction. I met LGBTQ people and saw first hand how generous and courageous and amazingly fabulous they were. I learned that theologians and bible scholars were way ahead of most pulpit preachers on this issue. I learned that there was even an entire academic field known as Queer Theology! But more importantly, I asked God to fix me, to heal me, take the gay away, and God’s response in the depths of my spirit was crystal clear: Not even God can heal what is not sick.

That was a new and lifesaving narrative for me. It turned my whole life around. And for 30 years now I have been thanking God for what and who I am.

We all have had a moment when we felt stuck because of fear or regret or self-doubt or shame…and I’m here to tell you that you can change your self talk and turn away from the stuck feeling and turn toward hope, peace, and joy.

I used to think God was scary and out to get us. I turned that nonsense around. I now know that God is love…
not God is love BUT…
God is love PERIOD.

I’ve still got some stuff to turn around. If I’m not careful, I’ll scare myself by focusing too much on what is wrong in the world and on what could get worse. Sometimes I think Compassion has come become a D list value, and empathy seems almost like an ancient myth. And if I focus on that without giving myself a counter narrative, I can get anxious and depressed. But if i want to be resilient in these uncertain times, and that means I’m going to have turn some things around in my thinking.

I’m going to have to believe that the human family is still evolving, and while we may now and again take a few steps back, we will get moving forward again.

I’m going to have to tell myself that while a lot of people are hurting right now, healing is possible.

I’m going to have to tell myself that when a deluge of woes is flooding our world, when anxieties seem to be diluvial, then I need to build an ark of peace that will shelter at least some from the storm.
To turn around our attitudes is to lay claim on inner peace.

There is a story in the bible about Jesus and his disciples being on a boat. Jesus takes a nap, but while he’s sleeping a storm pops up. The disciples become huge drama queens. They wake up Jesus saying, “Teacher, how can you sleep? Don’t you care that we’re going to die out here?” Jesus gave a stretch and a yawn, and then said, “Peace. Be still.” In the story, he was quieting the storm, but I think really he was quieting his panicking friends. They were scaring themselves and weren’t able to find peace in terror, but Jesus had peace, he had cultivated peace through prayer and worship and study and meditation…and so when the crisis came, he had peace to share. He could offer peace because he had trained himself to go to peace instead of to pieces.

In today’s gospel reading, John is preaching a baptism of repentance. Repentance is turning around, turning from one thing and toward another. Repentance is a religious word for turning one’s attitude and habits around.

And the passage ends with some very good news. John says, “I have baptized you with water, but someone is coming who will baptize you with the holy Spirit.”

In other words, John is saying, “I’ve been telling you to turn things around in your life, in your mind. But there is one who will immerse you in power, in wholeness, in an awareness of God’s presence. I’ve been telling you to turn it around, but he’s going to show you that you actually have the power to do it.“ We are immersed in the power to change our thinking, and thereby change how we experience the world. It is realizing that we are immersed in spirit, in the omnipresence of God, that gives us peace and empowerment and indomitable hope.

Once we realize that we have the power to turn our thinking around, then we go to peace instead of to pieces, and that may be the miracle most needed in the world today…people who have peace that the world cannot give and that the world cannot take away. Peace is possible. And this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
Replace my fear with faith,
My weariness with resilience,
And my pain with peace.
And what I wish for myself, I wish for all people.
Amen.

Waiting With Hope

On December 4, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Waiting With Hope Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Advent 1, 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. Great old Hymn of faith: “When I was just a little girl I […]

Waiting With Hope
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Advent 1, 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.

Great old Hymn of faith: “When I was just a little girl I asked my mother what will I be…will I be pretty, will I be rich? Here’s what she said to me – Que sera sera, whatever will be will be; the future’s not ours to see, Que sera sera.”

No one really knows what the future holds. Trends can show us what is likely to happen, and we’ve all made lucky guesses now and then. But, mostly, the future is always unfolding and is not predetermined.

Jesus says in today’s gospel that situations change. What seemed permanent can pass away. But he also says that his words will last. Words of hope seem to linger – or at least the hope itself lingers. The gospel, the good news, is a message of hope.

Advent is a time for waiting – waiting for xmas, certainly. Some see it as a time of waiting for the return of Jesus. But Jesus said he would always be with us (Lo, I am with you always). How does one return if one never left?

Jesus is with us in our stories, in our rituals, in our imaginations. We give body to his memory as the Church, the body of Christ. And, the light that people saw in Jesus is also in us. So, for Christians, Christ is always present.

I’m not waiting for Jesus – I’m waiting for christianity to re-embrace Jesus. Not as an idol, not a golden calf (we’ve gotten that down all too well). I’m waiting for christians en masse to re-embrace Jesus’ values, his compassion, his desire for justice, his desire for all people to be fed, for all who are ill to be healed, for all who are lonely to be loved, for all who are afraid to be encouraged, for all who hurt to be comforted.

A religion about Jesus doesn’t honor Jesus, rather it tends to distort his powerful message.
We don’t need a religion about Jesus, we need the religion OF Jesus…which is a living and world engaged spirituality that works and waits for the kin-dom of God to be made manifest…that’s what we so desperately need.

When the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news he proclaimed about God’s kin-dom where the first are last and the last are first,
where the so-called least of these are remembered and blessed,
where hunger is not acceptable,
where untreated illness is unthinkable,
where refugees are seen as God’s children in need of welcome and concern…when that Gospel is remembered and reclaimed and put into action, then the Christ Nature will have returned and will dwell among us and within us. For that, I am still waiting.

I’m tired of discrimination being uplifted as a virtue.
I’m tired of refugees fleeing war and famine only to be rejected when they arrive at new shores.
I’m tired of needing to remind people that women are in charge of women’s bodies.
I’m tired of the poor and the sick and the elderly being abandoned.
And I’m damned angry when these atrocities are committed in the name of Jesus.

So I am waiting not for Jesus to start getting his mail here on planet earth…I’m waiting for those who claim to be his church to care about all the children of God.

Theologian G.K. Chesterton once remarked, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it’s been found difficult and left untried.”

It’s so much easier to sing, “O how I love Jesus” than it is to fight for the dignity of senior citizens, to affirm the sacred value of LGBTQ people, to work for peace, and to demand that our national and global resources be used to stamp out hunger and disease. It’s easy to love Jesus, it’s harder to love ourselves and our neighbors. And so we have settled for venerating Jesus rather than following him. Jesus didn’t say, “If you love me blow smoke up my skirt.” He said, “If you love me feed my sheep.”

The world waits for us to follow Jesus’ example of feeding, healing, and welcoming those in need.

But we dare not give up hope. Hope is what sustains us while we wait. Hope is how we handle an unknown future. Hope doesn’t always grant our wishes, but it keeps us going in the difficult times…and sometimes, our wishes do finally come true.

The prophet Habakkuk wrote, “There is a vision…if it seems to tarry, wait for it, it will surely come…”
Religion may have fallen asleep at the switch.
Democracy may have gotten a bit lazy.
Injustice and tyranny may seem to get the upper hand now and then, but there is a vision of God’s kin-dom, and if it continues to tarry we will insist that it is on its way and we will do what we can to make room for it.

We may not know how or when Christ’s vision for God’s kin-dom will come to pass but if we won’t give up, we can know that something good is on the way. It may take work, it may take time, but “there is good for us and we ought to have it.“
”All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
”Weeping may endure for a night but show comes in the morning.“
”We will be repaid for the years the locusts have eaten.”
A temporarily homeless, unwed mother can give birth in a stable and her family can become refugees in Egypt and her baby can still grow up to change lives for 2 millennia and counting.

Don’t give up. Don’t give up the vision. Don’t give up the hope that makes not giving up possible. Something good is on the way…somehow, some day…and so we wait with hope. This is the good news. Amen.

I am hopeful.
Hope may not be a guarantee…
But it sustains me in uncertain times.
When blessings are delayed, I will wait with hope.
Amen.

The Day of the Lord

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

The Day of the Lord Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Nov. 19, 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. Prophets of doom are no prophets at all. Prophets speak on […]

The Day of the Lord
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Nov. 19, 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.

Prophets of doom are no prophets at all.
Prophets speak on behalf of God and God is about restoration not reprisal,
about lifting up not tearing down,
God wants resurrection not devastation,
God offers returning glory not a horror story,
God offers hope not hatred,
joy and justice not fear and failure…
if the prophet has only fire, fear, shame and blame to offer then whatever he or she is selling is not the good news of God’s all-inclusive and unconditional love.

God is love and perfect love casts out fear. If fear is what we have, God wasn’t the giver…so we must keep looking.

The prophetic warnings always carry a word of hope. But we miss it sometimes. For instance, the prophet Zephaniah wrote of a terrible day of the LORD. He imagined war and destruction, chaos and confusion and dread. But even though such times to do come, it is the divine Presence that gives us hope and courage and sees us through those difficult days.
So, shortly after talking about a time of doom and gloom, the same Zephaniah in the same piece of writing says, “Shout for joy…sing joyfully…Be glad and exult with all your heart…God has…turned away your enemies…you have no further misfortune to fear.” (Zeph. 3.14-15)

The day of the Lord comes in the midst of strife and chaos, but in the end, it’s time to sing and shout. We got through the difficulty. We endured, we survived; we’re getting another chance. “Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning!” (Psalm 30.5)

The Prophet Joel wrote: “Blow the trumpet…sound the alarm…Let all who dwell in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. Yes it is near, a day of…gloom…” (Joel 2.1-2)

Still, that can’t be how things end up, not if this is God’s prophet. So he continues: “Yet even now, says the [Holy One], return to me with your whole heart…rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to your God who is gracious and merciful, who does not rush to anger, who is rich in kindness…” (Joel 2.12-14)

That’s better, but it gets better yet as Joel says: “And God said, ‘I am your God…my people shall nevermore be put to shame. I will pour out my spirit upon all humankind. Your daughters and sons shall prophesy, your elderly will be dreamers, young folk will be visionaries, upon every class of people including servants…I will pour out my spirit. The sun will go dark and the moon will turn red at the coming of the day of the LORD, the great and terrible day. But everyone shall be rescued who calls on the name of the LORD…’” (Joel 2.27-32)

We’ve all faced terrible days. We’ve all faced heartache and disappointment and fear and uncertainty, but eventually, there was a new day. The sky was falling and we prayed through it, we called upon God as we understood God to help us, and God did, and now here we are. The terrible days come, and they go, and God sustains us no matter what.

The Apostle Paul borrows the Day of the Lord motif today. He and others ironically call Jesus Lord. Caesar is Lord of the empire. Rich people are lords of their household. But Jesus is a member of a peasant class in an occupied land and he is executed in the way that runaway slaves are. To call an executed enemy of the empire “Lord” is ironic, almost funny, and it is also seditious and dangerous. It empowers the downtrodden, and that makes them targets of the oppressors. And they do it anyway. Once you find your dignity, you will not let it go.

Not only does Paul call Jesus Lord, but he says that Jesus is going to return. He didn’t stay dead somehow, and if he’s not really dead he can back whenever he wants to, and that is empowering. It is a story that defeats death. Of course everyone dies, but if God is omnipresent, eternal love, then we are part of God, which means that really, no one dies, and that tends to make death seem less scary, certainly less final. I don’t want to rush it, and I miss my departed loved ones every day, but I take great comfort in knowing they aren’t gone…they are where they’ve always been, in God. They’re no longer wearing their skin suit that I would recognize, but they are still with God and still in my heart and still live on in some way with access to unfettered joy.

Instead of a day of God bringing a community through battle, Paul uses the day of the Lord to refer to the return of Christ, a symbol of God’s endless love. Paul has taken the prophets “great and terrible day of the Lord” which they associated with war and disaster (and the healing from it), and Paul has taken that phrase and reframed it as a celebration…the welcome back party for Jesus.

Don’t be afraid he says. It’s all good. There’s no reason to surrender your hope. In fact, let’s hear a few more verses than we heard earlier from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “You yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come…But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do…Let us…put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of [liberation]…Encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” (1 Thess 5.2-11)

The Day of the Lord is the day when we realize that we have the light, and in the light there is no darkness. The divine spark that was in Jesus is in each of us. And with that divine spark, we can face and move through and rise above whatever the world or fate or chance might throw at us.

Agnes Sanford was a famous healer. She was a lay person who prayed for people to be healed and often with remarkable results. Part of her ministry including writing, and in her book The Healing Light, Sanford wrote, “[Jesus] did return, in his holy Spirit, at Pentecost and so he returns to each of us today…We are his channels for the sending out of his redemptive love into the world.”

Christ did return…as the spirit animated body of Christ, which includes us. We are the return we’ve been waiting for, but that means we have some work to do.

When I see a disturbing rise in unrepentant, unapologetic predation among those seeking high office,
when I see people using Christianity to belittle and profane other faith traditions such as Judaism and Islam,
when I think of Transgender people being denied access to public restrooms and being targeted in the military where they bravely serve,
when I think about people being appointed to the federal judiciary who say out loud that they are opposed to equal rights for gay and lesbian people,
when I witness the names of the loving God and the liberating Christ used in vain to demonize, dehumanize, trivialize and terrify the diverse Rainbow children of God,
when I hear that since last November hate crimes have risen 500%…I am tempted to think the sky is falling, it seems like terrible days are upon us…but lift up your eyes, here comes our help, the day of the Lord is not a threat it’s a promise, a promise that love will win,
it’s a promise that fear is an opportunity to face everything and rise,
and it is a call to action, to encourage one another and to encourage the world.

Times of oppression, times when there is an open disdain for ethical leadership, times when entire groups of people are marginalized, times when oligarchy and empire seem ubiquitous and indomitable – those are the times that the prophets (including St. Paul) imagined the Day of the Lord toppling systems of oppression and allowing a new day of hope and healing to break though. The spirit of the Lord is being poured out all humanity, and where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty!

Don’t be afraid of the day of the Lord, on the contrary, let’s declare that this is such a day! This is the day that we discover the liberating love of God in our hearts and we determine to share that love in a time when it is so needed. We are the return we’ve been waiting for…now let’s get to working some much needed miracles. This is the good news. Amen.

This is the day of the Lord.
Today God’s light shines through me.
Today God’s love energizes me.
This is a good day for a miracle.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Litany of the Saints

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

Litany of the Saints Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Nov. 5, 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. November 1 is All Saints Day. Nov. 2 is All Souls Day. […]

Litany of the Saints
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Nov. 5, 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.

November 1 is All Saints Day. Nov. 2 is All Souls Day. We’re a day closer to All Souls, and because of our Universalist theology, we usually focus on All Souls at this time of year. Not just some celebrated heroes, but the innate goodness of all souls. But today, we’ll do a bit of both.

In some church traditions, this would be a day to pray a litany of the saints, remembering and invoking the intercessions of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, of Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael and all angels, of patriarchs and prophets, of the Apostles, Martyrs, Doctors of the Church, and monastics.

I am happy to recall these saints today, to remember their witness, and even seek their prayers, assuming they are inclined to offer them.

But I want to add some more folk to my list of saints today. I want to lift up some saintly souls today that may have been overlooked on other lists, but that I feel belong in Sunshine Cathedral’s Litany of Sacred Souls.

I want to lift up transgender, gender queer, and gender non-conforming saints and holy souls, like Joan of Arc who took the role of soldier, a role reserved in her time and culture for men. Joan cross dressed, wearing clothes thought proper only for men. And it was gender bending, cross dressing Joan of Arc who encountered angels, who defended her country, and who was martyred for her mystical spirituality and non-conformist living.

I also want to lift up Wilgefortis. According to legend, her father had arranged for Wilgefortis to marry a king whose faith was different from hers. She would have been expected to convert, and she didn’t want to, so she prayed that God would make her unappealing to her fiancé. Sure enough, by the time she was presented to her husband to be, Wilgefortis had grown a full beard. The king rejected her and her father, furious about the trickery, had Wilgefortis crucified. Women in Iberia would often pray to Wilgefortis to help liberate them from unhappy situations, especially abusive relationships.

I also want to pay tribute to St. Francis of Assisi. Some historians say he embraced what were considered feminine characteristics, and that he even admitted a woman into his order of monks…but he admitted her as Brother Jacoba.

Ss. Joan, Wilgefortis, Francis and Jacoba, pray for us.

No litany of saints would be complete that did not include a celebration of same-gender love and attraction.

So I call to mind Doctor of the Church Hildegard of Bingen, now believed by many to have been a lesbian.

I call to mind biblical characters David and Jonathan who made a life time covenant, like a marriage, with each other. When Jonathan died, David said that he loved Jonathan in a way that he could never love women.

I call to mind Ss. Perpetua and Felicity, who were martyred for their faith, and who died in each other’s arms, sharing a kiss.

I call to mind Ss. Sergius and Bacchus, Roman soldiers and Christian converts. They refused to burn incense in the temples of the Roman pagan cults, and so they were paraded through the streets in drag and then tortured to death. Bacchus died first, and he appeared to Sergius in a vision to say they would be reunited in the afterlife, as a couple.

I also remember today Good King Wenceslaus of Christmas Carol fame. “Good King Wenceslaus looked out on the feast of Stephen…” The song is based on a legend that says Wenceslaus, the Duke of Bohemia, would routinely wake his “chamber servant” Podiven in the middle of the night to go out and distribute alms to the poor. On the Feast of St. Stephen, according to the legend, Wenceslaus and Podiven were out giving coins to the poor when Podiven’s feet became too cold to continue. The good Duke told him to walk in his foot prints in the snow. Podiven did so, and miraculously, as long as he stayed in Wenceslaus’ foot prints, his own feet stayed warm. Historians tell us that the nature of the Duke’s relationship with Podiven seems romantic.

As we call to mind lesbian, bisexual, and gay saints, I need to name two more from more recent days. The first is historian John Boswell whose research brought many queer saints to the light of modern awareness, and the second is someone who challenged the Roman Catholic hierarchy at great personal cost, including being dismissed from the Jesuit order, Father John McNeill who was a member of this faith community until his death.

Ss. Hildegard, David and Jonathon, Perpetua and Felicity, Sergius and Bacchus, Wenceslaus and Podiven, John Boswell, and John McNeill, pray for us.

I need to recognize that there are holy souls, spiritual heroes, saints of every time and place and culture and faith…and so I honor the Sufi poet Rumi, the progressive Anglican bishop who also explored spiritualism, James A. Pike, prophet of freedom Martin Luther King, Jr., the healer and teacher who influenced my theology of Omnipresence, Malinda Cramer, and the spiritual teacher who advocated an intimate, personal relationship with the divine beyond all dogma and tradition, Paramahansa Yogananda. May they pray for us.

Now, I’ve identified some saints, but let’s switch to All Souls. If God is Omnipresent Love, and if God indeed looks at all of creation and calls it all very good, then you and I are in that great cloud of witnesses, the Communion of saints. We are individuations of the God-force, made in the divine image, filled with divine light. The heroes show us what we really are. As Revelation 21 states, “The home of God is among mortals!” We are the Temple of God’s presence. We are the drop in the Ocean, and we are learning that the Ocean is in the drop.

Ephesians 2. 8 tells us, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God.” Saved, liberated, made whole, perfected….how? By grace through faith. But that doesn’t mean that you have to pretend to believe something you can’t. No, grace is a free gift. It’s not something we earn or can lose. It is a gift of God. Grace is a free, absolutely free gift, so how do we get it? Through faith…but not ours.

God’s faith is the perfect faith that offers the grace that includes us all. We are affirmed by God’s grace through God’s faith in us! God trusts that we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. God trusts that we are worth grace that can liberate us from fear, despair, loneliness and degradation. God’s faithfulness is what offers the grace that makes all things well. It’s not our doing, not our confession, not our traditions, not our opinions, not our sexual orientation, not our gender identity…none of that earns us grace…it’s a gift! Which means all souls are and will forever be in the loving embrace of God. The so-called saints just show us what is true of all us. Our litany of the saints is meant to remind us to take our place among them, because we can…in God’s mind, we’ve always been there. And this is the good news! Amen.

I am…
Created by God.
Surrounded by God.
Loved by God.
Filled with God.
And so I rejoice.
Alleluia!

Hold On

On October 22, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Hold On Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Oct. 22, 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. “Pack up your troubles turn’em over to the Lord; that’s the thing to do […]

Hold On
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Oct. 22, 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.

“Pack up your troubles turn’em over to the Lord; that’s the thing to do – God’ll take care of you! Why don’t you pack up your troubles turn’em over to the Lord; the Lord is gonna take good care of you.”
I often sing my prayers. I learned that one as a child. In times of difficulty or uncertainty, the prayers I sing help me summon the power of hope, they help me feel encouraged, they help me hold on until my breakthrough comes…and they remind me that the breakthroughs are possible.

I had a professor in Divinity School who loved to walk but because of a childhood ailment he did so with some difficulty. Whenever I would see him I would ask, How are you, Professor?” He would invariably say, “Holding on.”

The dictionary definition of the phrase “hold on” is “to persist.” My grandmother called persistence “Percy.” When things were difficult, she’d say, “Percy will help me get through it.” Percy more often than not came through. In fact, Percy got her through college. She worked 9 months every year and then went to college in the summers. It took her 10 years to finish her Bachelor’s degree, but she held onto the dream and never stopped pursing it until her dream came true.

Maybe holding on seems to buy us only marginal victories or mere moments of relief, but sometimes, we get the breakthrough or the moment of clarity only because we kept holding on.

In John 19, Jesus is being tortured to death, and in the middle of his agonizing execution, he looks at his companion, the disciple he loved, and he looked at his mother, and he said to them, “Hold on to each other. Take care of other. Be his mother. Be her son. Don’t let go of each other.” In tough times, hold on…not only to hope, not only to faith, but also to one another.

The psalmist said, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” In other words, don’t give up. Hold on! It may feel like you are walking through hell wearing gasoline drawers, but hold on! Joy comes in the morning. A new day is on the way.

One way of understanding the word HOPE is, “Hold On; Pain Ends.” Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Hold on.

In the gospel of Luke, someone wants to be a disciple of Jesus, and Jesus says, “Let’s go. I can put you to work right away.” The person said, “Well, first let me tend to some personal business.” And Jesus said, “Do you want this or don’t you? Discipleship isn’t a hobby, isn’t what you do when you’ve settle more pressing matters. Are you in or aren’t you?” The guy wasn’t ready. And Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is ready for the work of the kin-dom of God.”

Mules don’t push plows backward, they pull them forward. If you are going to take the handle of the plow of discipleship, that is a forward moving, non-stop proposition. Hold on to the plow and keep moving forward.

Our readings show us three people today who experienced miracles that were made possible by holding on.

Malinda Cramer had been ill for 25 years, bed ridden much of the time. She had spent a fortune on doctors, had moved from Indiana to California hoping a change in climate would help her health. Nothing helped.
A Quaker, she was a person of faith, and had been praying her whole life. After decades of bravely facing her troubles, suffering, praying, seeking medical help, holding on as best she could, she asked in prayer, “Is there a power in this vast universe that can help me? Is there a way through these troubles?” And the answer wasn’t an instant cure. You’ll be happy to know that over some weeks or even months she did become quite hale and hearty, but the miracle was the moment she saw her life in a new way.

She didn’t see herself any longer as a victim of circumstance, but rather as part of the very Source of life Itself. She felt alive with the light and life of God, and that was her answer, and that was her miracle. Her circumstances finally improved, but her real healing was the conviction that nothing could possibly separate her from divine love. And she got to that miraculous change of perception by not giving up…for 25 years she held on until finally she got a breakthrough.

Nona Brooks had been sick for a year, but her financial health had been in the toilet for much longer. A Presbyterian, she was a person of prayer. She spent a year praying, “Give me light.” A year! But she held on, and finally, she too had a mystical experience that left her feeling as if divine love and light had flooded her being. Her conditions also improved, but not immediately. The immediate breakthrough was the awareness that she was part of God, held by God, loved by God, and could never be separated from God. She got to that miraculous awareness because she held on until she got her moment of clarity.

Moses was praying. Funny how these breakthroughs come in moments of prayer. Moses was praying and God said to Moses, “My presence will go with you.” Moses said, “That’s nice, now, show me your glory.” God basically tells Moses, “You can’t handle all of this, but hold on. I’ll pass by you, and I’ll make sure you are safe in a little cave, the cleft of the rock, and after I pass by, you can see the trail of light that follows me. You can’t see all of my glory all at once, but you can get a glimpse of it…you can experience a bit of it.” And so Moses was able to see and experience some of the vast glory that is the very fabric of Life itself.

Like John and Mary, maybe we need to hold onto the people in our lives, giving and receiving comfort and encouragement.

Like the Psalmist, maybe we need to remember that the darkness is followed by the dawn, a new day with new opportunities and new possibilities is on the way…that makes it worth holding on.

Like the would be disciple who wasn’t quite ready to make a full commitment, maybe we need to remind ourselves to hold on to the plow of spiritual growth and move forward in sacred service.

Like Malinda Cramer and Nona Brooks, maybe we need to hold on, no matter how long it takes for our miracle to show up, but just keep praying, waiting, and knowing that something good could well be on the way, so hold on.

Like Moses, maybe we should summon the courage to ask for the very best, and then hold on while we wait to see how the answers will show up for us.

Whatever the need, hold on. Breakthroughs are on the way, and yours could be next. So, hold on. And this is the good news. Amen.

I will hold on to the power of hope.
And I will share hope with others in need.
Miracles are on the way.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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.

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