Our Witness to the Good News

On December 26, 2016, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

“Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2.7 Our Witness to the Good News As we gather for worship on this last Sunday of the year, which happens to be Christmas […]

“Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2.7

Our Witness to the Good News

As we gather for worship on this last Sunday of the year, which happens to be Christmas Day this year, I want to open my sermon with a line that I will close with and that is, our ending experiences of this year are not the totality of who we are, there is more be done.

Our gospel reading for today is only one verse, yet it is loaded with all kinds of intrigue and wonder: “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

Most are very familiar with this particular story.
But what of this girl named Mary? Who is she? Who are her people?
What is implied by the use of the phrase ‘gave birth to her firstborn son’? Could this imply that Mary had other children after Jesus?

She gave birth. Did she do this by herself? Were there no midwives around to assist with the birthing process? Who was there to assist with cutting the umbilical cord? Did someone at least sterilize something for a birth that was about to take place in a barn?

What is one to make of the bands of cloth? A new baby wrapped in rags that were probably used to clean the animals. There was nothing new for this baby, just whatever they could get their hands to wrap a newborn baby with to keep it warm.

And of all things, she placed a new born baby in an animal’s feeding trough. A trough that I would image had not been clean. Slop, leftover food and grain, still present for the last animal feeding, this is the place that this new born baby was laid after he was born.

Under some rather difficult circumstances, the actual birth and survival of mother and baby, may be more of the miracle of the story than anything else. This birth that took place was by no means under the best of circumstances.

And yet, here we are today, some 2,000 plus years later, remembering and retelling a story about a woman named Mary and a baby called Jesus who has changed lives forever.

Mary, a chosen woman of God, gave birth, that was good news!

Now, that was the black and white version of the story. Remember black and white TV —

Now the in color version of this same story would go something like this:
Girl, did you hear what happened to Mary. She done went and got herself pregnant before she got married. Now what kind of life is she going to have and what of that baby?

And you know what else, I’m not buying that story that she is going around telling everybody …about her not knowing what happened … the only way that might be is someone slipped something into her drink and took advantage of her. But honey the icing on the cake is this … the man she is marrying, well honey that is not even the baby’s daddy! What do you make of that?

Well, I tell you what, Joseph, that is a good man because he went ahead on and married Mary even though she got pregnant by someone else.
And Mary gave birth to a healthy baby boy and they lived happily ever after, for about 33 years … you have to come back at Easter to get that story.

Now if we heard this story in a cable news commentary it might go like this -– news flash, families are having to leave their current home to return to place where they were born, among them, a woman who is pregnant. Do we send them back because they are undocumented? Do we send them back because they speak a different language? Do we take them off the plane because someone over heard them speaking a different language. Is the woman pregnant or is it it someone dressed as a pregnant woman, in disguise who is up to no good.

If Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus were trying to get into any country today, would they make it? Would they be welcome? Would they fare better than a stable today?

In our own personal real life TV, we all want to live in a world where we can feel safe and live without fear. Fear of the other, the unknown, what can happen, what might happen are all things that are meant to divide us at a time when we need to be coming together. Maybe that is part of the good news of our gospel reading of the birth narrative, learning not to fear the unknown or the other. Mary and Jospeh faced a unwhole lot of unknown, and they faced it together.

Now,
I do not believe that our world would be safer by building up nuclear arsenals.
I do not believe that our world is safer when someone is arrested or shunned for speaking a different language.
I do not believe that our world is safer when we are treated differently just because of the color of our skin.
I do not believe our world is safer when women are to treated less than because of their gender.
The Christmas story of outcasts surviving, being chosen and loved by God, is not just a feel good message, it is a moral message, and a call to build a more just world.

The story of Mary continues to provide us with a witness of peace, love, joy and hope today, and it reminds us that we still have work to do, for the rest of this year, next year and in the years to come.

But for now let us take a moment to reflect on this year.
- for some it was a year of loss of a loved one; for others it might be been the joy of birth.
- fo some it might have been a year of change in relationship status, for others it might have been of year of finding new love — as we all learned about it on facebook.
- for some it has been a year of change; for others it has been a year of working to find stability.
- for some there may have been more downs than ups; and others more ups than downs.
- for some in the world it was met with bombings, natural disasters; and yet humankind in various areas rose above such tragedies to prove that we are still one human family.
And yet, we are still here.

For Sunshine Cathedral as a faith community it has been another year for as well.
- We have honored those who have made their transitions; celebrated love in marriage; welcome the birth of new life.

- We have journeyed with those who have questioned their faith; and we have celebrated with those who because of their faith journey now call Sunshine Cathedral their home and to each an every one, we say Welcome Home.

- We welcome 29 groups that call the Sunshine Cathedral their home and in just a a couple weeks that number will move to 30. We value the presence of all the groups on this campus including the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida and our wonderful partnership with SunServe and we still have room for more.

- We celebrate the installation of a new columbarium on our property, two new stained glass windows, the early completion of CC3 – paying off our property and the launch of CC4 to replace our pews with new seating. And we are grateful for our relationship with our own Sunshine Cathedral Foundation for working with us to make this a reality. And, we are not done yet with our brick and mortar work, we still have more to do.

- We celebrated the launch of a feeding program to help meet a human need. We still have more outreach to be done and we celebrate this knowing that we are making a difference.

-We have expanded our assisted living ministries, provided pastoral care to hundreds, offered grief support groups, worked to increase awareness about transgender issues, reached out to people in the Caribbean and Africa, and we’ve done even more.

- We celebrate and thank all of our donors for all that you have done to make this the wonderful year that we have had here at Sunshine Cathedral. And yet we know that our witness is not only just to this location, but our call remains to our community, near and far, who need us to be who we are.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.”
My friends, we are not only facing a new day but a new year as well.
As we prepare to face another new year, let us do so knowing that:
God will be our protection.
God will be our light
God will be the source our joy
God will be our joy and the strength of our lives,
And just like in years gone by, God will continue to keep us and never to leave us.

And let us not forget the wisdom of Howard Thurman:
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone…when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins:…to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace…to make music in the heart.”

Because, as you heard at the beginning, our ending experiences of this year are not the totality of who we are, there is more be done.
Amen.

Set Free

On June 19, 2016, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Set Free Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin Today I want to talk about 3 different stories. There is of course our gospel reading, and then I want to talk about a gospel of our past and then the gospel of our present. Each of these gospel stories points to good news and have an aspect of […]

Set Free
Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin

Today I want to talk about 3 different stories. There is of course our gospel reading, and then I want to talk about a gospel of our past and then the gospel of our present. Each of these gospel stories points to good news and have an aspect of being set free.

Today’s gospel is about a man who also was different from everyone else. He was so different that scripture says for a long time he wore no clothes. So different that he was put out of the city and forced to live out in the cemetery. So different that he could not function as a normal part of society. He was so different that many times, whatever was wrong with him just took over his body.

It was so bad that sometimes he had to be kept under guard, bound in chains, and hand to foot. But this particular time, he broke his chains and fled into the desert.

With all the ups and downs in his life, no true medical attention, with all the distractions that he must have had going on internally, he just wanted to get away. So he fled.

But on the day he decides to get away, he has an encounter with Jesus. When he saw Jesus he cried out and fell down before him. The man said with a loud voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus…?

Why does he sound fearful? He might have been afraid that Jesus was there to punish him. If Jesus had the nerves of steel to stand up to religious and government authorities, what might he do with some miserable guy with a mental disorder?

Or, maybe the poor man was worried what the good town’s people had said about him and he felt that since they couldn’t handle him in town that they had sent Jesus to deal with him. Maybe he wanted Jesus to like him, but was afraid that gossip had already poisoned Jesus against him.

But with all of his problems, he somehow broke out of his internal dialogue enough just to ask Jesus, “What do you want?”

Despite the fact of what Jesus might have heard about the man, despite his appearances, Jesus engages him simply by asking, “What is your name?” He didn’t ask him what folks had said about him; he didn’t ask him why was he in the state that he was in. Jesus just asks, what is your name? Instead of prejudging him, Jesus says, “tell me about yourself.”

The man answered that his name was “Legion.” Scripture says his name was “Legion” because many demons were in him. Now Legion is really a number, not a name. Or stated differently, in this moment it is a name that conveys the number and power of demons, or problems, that possessed the man. At this period of time, a Roman legion would be composed of five to six thousand men. The Roman legions ruled with an iron fist. Sometimes people are so overwhelmed by their problems they think that they could never overcome them. A legion of problems would suggest insurmountable problems.

The man is saying: “Jesus I have too many problems to even name. Look I am hurting, I’m a social outcast, they lock me in chains…I’m too much of a mess for people to deal with. The demons, the problems, the disappointments, the pains…they are legion. They have ruined me. They seem to control me. I no longer see myself as separate from my difficulties.”

But I believe that by simply asking the man his name, something about his brokenness began to shift. To ask someone their name is to see them. To ask someone their name means, you are worth my getting to know you. Asking someone their name, even if we have to ask it again and again, means that there is something there. Something interesting or good that we see, something we want to know more about and connect with. Whatever the barrier maybe, we want to break it down so that we can understand each other better.

So when Jesus said, what is your name, I believe something internally began to happen in this man’s life. Jesus wanted to see him, for who he was, not what others had said about him. He didn’t just want to know what was wrong, he wanted to know what was good, what was possible, what he hoped for, what was strong or kind or generous or smart or loving about him.

The man was more than his problems, more than is pain, more than what had happened to him. And Jesus reminded him of that, and when he started to believe it, the so-called demons couldn’t stay…the self-hatred had to go, the hopelessness had to go, the fear that he was unlovable had to go. One by one, the legion of problems had to start getting better.

The old folks when I was growing up used to say, “Something had happened, and something had to be did.” Something happened to this man to make him lonely and afraid and hopeless. Something had happened, and something had to be did!

And Jesus did it! He saw him. He recognized his dignity. He affirmed it. He did what no one had done in ages…he asked him his name. He asked him to share his story. And in that moment of compassion, the broken man started to his journey back to wholeness.

See, once we are healed of the idea of a punishing God, or once we are healed of the notion that we are not loved by God because of who we love, or once we are healed of the idea that God is not out to get us or that we deserve to be miserable or that there is no hope for us…once we are healed from any or all of those legions of demons…they got to go and they got to stay gone!

The man who had been suffering, when treated with dignity and love and care, was set free.

The second story is a story of our past. In fact it takes us back to the year 1862.

On September 22 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, in which he declared that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in states in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

But sadly, there was this one little town, I am sure that there were probably others, but there was this one town, in the great state of Texas called in Galveston. Word of freedom didn’t reach the African-American slaves of Galveston, Texas, until June 19, 1865 — 2 and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, when a force of two-thousand Union soldiers arrived and informed them of their freedom. Although news indeed did travel slowly in those days, two and a half years is a long time; historians suspect Texas slaveholders knew of the proclamation and chose not to free their slaves until they were forced to.
Folks, who had been set free, remained in slavery for 2 1/2 years after being set free. Sometimes hope, wholeness, strength, peace, abundance…they are there for us and we just don’t know it.

On June 19, 1865, 151 years ago—known today as Juneteenth— is when Union troops entered Galveston, the last city on record, to enforce the liberation of enslaved people.

The legion, the many years of slavery had not gone willingly, hanging on through a war of rebellion that cost more lives than any other in our national saga.. But with the new order, however long it took to reach Galveston, TX, people were finally free, and they celebrated their new awareness of their freedom, and we continue to celebrate today. People being set free.

Our third story this morning is taken right from the headlines of the day.

It is daunting to think that at this time of year for every year going forward we will remember the Charleston 9 and now, the Orlando 49. All of whom were killed by hatred, bigotry and fear. We promise we will never forget and we will continue to diligently pray and work for a better world.

There seems to be a new awakening to something that many of us have known for a very long time. That is the realization that all over world, thousands and thousands of people have died because of their sexual or gender identity – we must say enough is enough.

Some are waking up to the notion that many have died and continue to die because of the color of their skin or religious belief – we must say enough is enough.

Religious bigotry and hatred the world over is piercing the hearts and souls of our families and we must say enough is enough.

The shooting at the gay club Pulse in Orlando overwhelmed us and yet we must remain vigilant and hopeful because at the end of the day we live in the hope that love will win.

It is not a time to go back into our closet. It is not a time to pull back from places that we enjoy. It is a time to live out loud and proud, time to say: here I stand, I am proud to be who God has created me to be.

We must remember that we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

One side of me asks, why are we shocked that this happened? The reality is that we have been here before. Sandy Hook Elementary School, (CT), San Bernardino, (CA); Fort Hood, (TX), the Washington DC Navy Yard, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. — just to name a few places.

But most recently, the violence that impacts us all occurred in Orlando. And we must add our voices to the voices of survivors, and we must be the voice of those who had their voice taken from them.

Those voices that were silenced were of friends and family, gay and straight, lovers, spouses…the voices of two men who were to be married but who instead are now buried together.

We can’t wait for a Legion of issues to go away before we have gun law reform.
We can’t wait another 2 1/2 years of wondering when the good news will come.
We can’t wait for another 49 lives to be taken by hatred, bigotry and fear.

Who will stand and help set others free as a witness to the good news?
Who will stand and help set others free?

Who will stand with me as a witness in saying enough and enough?

The gospel call of today is to do the work of Justice until all are set free. Because ultimately, love always wins.

Amen.

Ridiculous can be Miraculous

On March 20, 2016, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Ridiculous can be Miraculous Rev Dr Durrell Watkins From 1963 – 1965 Jonathan Daniels was a seminarian at what is now the Episcopal Divinity School. He would have been graduated in 1966, the year of my birth, but something happened. Daniels was volunteering in Alabama. This Caucasian New England native must have seemed out of […]

Ridiculous can be Miraculous
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins

From 1963 – 1965 Jonathan Daniels was a seminarian at what is now the Episcopal Divinity School. He would have been graduated in 1966, the year of my birth, but something happened.

Daniels was volunteering in Alabama. This Caucasian New England native must have seemed out of place in the deep south during the days of segregation. But he was inspired by Dr. King’s commitment to a social gospel (good news affirming the dignity of every person) and the call to create a society that recognized the innate dignity of all people. So, Jonathan Daniels took his vacations and school breaks in Alabama, and one semester even arranged to do his studies independently, flying up to Massachusetts only to take his exams.

In Alabama he registered voters, lived with an African American family, tutored school children, participated in freedom marches, boycotted segregated businesses.

One day, he and his friends went to one of the few non-segregated businesses in the area to get a soda. In front of the shop was a volunteer sheriff’s deputy holding a shotgun blocking Daniels and his integrated group of justice workers from entering. He didn’t just threaten the group; he actually opened fire on Ruby Sales, a 17 year old African American young woman.

Jonathan pushed Ruby out of the way and took the shot. He was killed instantly. A young Roman Catholic priest was part of the group, he took the hand of another young woman and started running with her to keep her safe. The gunman shot the priest in the back. He survived.

The assailant was charged with manslaughter (rather than murder)…he argued self-defense and was acquitted by an all white jury. The wounded priest never got to testify.

Ruby Sales is still alive and continues to work as an activist.

Jonathan Daniels risked his life for sake of God’s kin-dom, an ideal world where everyone is valued, cared for, and celebrated. Hatred wasn’t cured by Daniels’ actions, but it no longer was allowed to have a free reign.

One student from Cambridge, MA went to the belly of the beast to confront racism, hatred, division. He lost his life, but he saved one as well, and he demonstrated the power of courage, the power of integrity, and he proved that such power cannot be destroyed, not even by weapons of extreme hatred and bigotry.

Some must have thought Daniels was ridiculous to go somewhere that wasn’t his home. His family was from New Hampshire. He went to graduate school in Massachusetts. What business did he have in Alabama? How was he going to help a culture of hatred and violence change? His dream was naïve, and silly, and dangerous, and it cost him everything. And it also made a difference.

That story comes to mind today because it is so very similar to the Palm Sunday narrative we heard read moments ago from John’s gospel.

Jesus goes to Jerusalem. His activism in rural areas had been going on for about a year. This trip was a pilgrimage, but people hear about this healer, this person who challenges religion, who reinterprets scripture in progressive ways, who stands up to oppression, who gives people their dignity back, and they want to see this special person for themselves.

Jesus enters the city through a back gate. Passover celebrations included horses, chariots, government officials, soldiers…it was festive and grand, but also a reminder for crowds to not get out of hand. But rather than being part of that well orchestrated and approved celebration, Jesus just wanders into town through a back gate and a few people spontaneously break out into agit-prop street theatre. They pretend he is a mighty hero with military might. They wave palms lie Pom-poms and call out for him to rescue them as if he had the military might to do so.

No red carpet…just leaves.
No ornately adorned steeds, just a donkey.
No soldiers, just enthusiastic peasants imagining liberation and better days.

It all seems so silly, ridiculous even. Some nobody comes bouncing into town on a donkey. A few peasants start pretending he is a hero and a liberator. Why? What difference could it make? In fact, if the wrong people take notice, this could be seen as resistance to approved authority and that really isn’t tolerated in the ancient world of empire. This silly little unapproved back street parade could cost Jesus a lot, and it will.

This counter-cultural act of artistic sedition will lead to Jesus getting noticed by authorities, set up, arrested, tried, convicted and executed. He might have gotten away with the improvisational street performance, but he later goes to the Temple where he finds people being cheated, and he makes a scene. Now he’s a threat and his days are numbered.

We’ll relive what happened next on Thursday’s Maundy Thursday service in the chapel, and then we will witness again the horrible consequences of Jesus’ stand against imperial oppression during the Good Friday Tenebrae Service, and then on Easter Sunday, we will remember why Golgotha isn’t the end of the story.

But for now, let us simply remember that…
It may seem ridiculous to hope during hopeless situations.
It may seem ridiculous to try again when every previous effort has failed.
It may seem ridiculous to undergo one more medical treatment.
It may seem ridiculous to apply one more time for a job.
It may seem ridiculous to attend one more 12 step meeting.
It may seem ridiculous to cast a vote.
It may seem ridiculous to give one more dollar or one more hour of service.
It may seem ridiculous to say one more prayer.

But it is sometimes the ridiculous that proves to be miraculous. Marching in Alabama, or riding into Jerusalem on a donkey were both ridiculous actions that came with consequences, but they also proved to be part of a wave of change that left the world a better place. Don’t be afraid of being ridiculous. The ridiculous really can be miraculous. Doing something ridiculous might just change the world, and this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2016

Even if hope seems ridiculous…
I will hope anyway!
I am ready for miracles in my life!
And so it is.

Gratitude

On December 27, 2015, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Gratitude Rev Dr Robert Griffin For the few couple years I have had the honor and privilege to preach the last sermon of the year here at Sunshine Cathedral. What a year 2015 it has been! At this point of the game, good or bad, we are all a year older. And, it is all […]

Gratitude
Rev Dr Robert Griffin

For the few couple years I have had the honor and privilege to preach the last sermon of the year here at Sunshine Cathedral. What a year 2015 it has been! At this point of the game, good or bad, we are all a year older. And, it is all good!

I’ve been reflecting on various church events and functions that took place over the past year. I have thought of those who have connected with Sunshine Cathedral for the very first time and have allowed this church to become a place of inspiration in their daily lives. It has also become a place hope.

People connect with us by worshiping on Sunday, or coming to special services or events, or by email, our website, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, or our printed materials and publications, or by taking classes or attending retreats or group meetings. And let us not forget those who worship in real time but in the virtual reality world called Second Life.

Because we offer so many ways to connect, we literally serve people all over the world.

Our pastoral care team has made a record number of home and hospital visits in 2015. Our Assisted Living congregation has grown dramatically. We are consistently one of the two most visited ministries in Broward County on Facebook. Literally thousands of people each week connect to Sunshine Cathedral via the Internet every week. We meet people where they are and journey with them in their lives.

We feed people with our collections of food, we help to clothe those who needs clothing and we help people find community and make friends.

I think about how lucky we are to have a senior minister who writes so prolifically, who speaks with such passion, who holds up a vision of justice and inclusion, who is a teaching pastor as well as an administrator and a storyteller, and who manages to do all of that with a sense of humor. We have an amazing senior minister.

I think about how lucky we are to have such a committed and hard working minister of connections. She tirelessly works to bring people together in small groups to learn, to grow, to make friends, and to feel loved.

I think about how lucky we are to have someone who decorates our space, designs our lights, and runs our sound every Sunday.

I think about our hard working music ministry that produces such beautiful music.

I think about our deacons who help provide care for our congregation, and our many volunteers who make so much ministry possible.

I think about the thankless job of a minister of administration who keeps the books and pays the bills and does so as a spiritual service.

I think of our amazing Board of Directors. I think of how lucky we are to have the Sunshine Cathedral Foundation to help us with our bricks and mortar needs and long range goals.

I think about how fortunate I am to supervise programming, fundraising, Internet outreach, advertising, and the constantly full church calendar.

I think about our beautiful property and all the ways we use it to serve our community, to bring people together, and to provide space not only for ministries but other progressive organizations working to improve the lives of our human family.

How can you think about Sunshine Cathedral and not think about how blessed we are as a church, and how much potential we still have to make a difference in the world?

And when you think of our blessings, and how we are blessed to be a blessing to others, you can easily resonate with our scripture lesson today that says, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Of course, there are challenges that come as well as blessings. I call to mind Cathedral members and friends who have made their transitions from this life-experience to the next; there have been many this year.

I think of those who have lost loved ones that were near and dear to their hearts. We remember their gift of life, their touch, their smile, their words of comfort and maybe even words of challenge; our loved ones remain with us in so many ways. Though they may be gone from us in body, we know that a little of their spirit lives on because we keep their memories alive in us.

I think of our Cathedral members and friends who faced other situations this past year, some medical situations. Hospitalizations and surgeries; frightening diagnoses and chronic pain and much more. I also think of how courageous they often were, how they summoned hope, how they trusted that beyond the difficulties there would be new opportunities.
How inspiring to see people rise to the occasion and face the challenges and embrace the power of hope! I see Cathedral members, as our scripture reading encourages us to do, letting “the peace of Christ rule in their hearts.” And for that, I am thankful.

I’ve seen people lose jobs, and find jobs. I’ve seen people make friends, and lose friends. I’ve seen people long for love, and find love, and celebrate long lasting love. Through ups and downs, I’ve seen people support one another and be what a church is meant to be. I’ve seen people, as the scripture said this morning, come together to sing to God with gratitude.

We’re still here, and as we say every week…the future has infinite possibilities!

Beyond the church, I’ve been thinking about events in the world. Climate change, war, terrorism, violence in our streets, racism, public officials playing to our worst fears rather than encouraging us to embrace our highest hopes. But then, there is Sunshine Cathedral that offers a word of hope every time we gather.

Of course, there have been good things in the world, for example, marriage equality in our own country and the the on-going work for LBGT rights around the world. We must always acknowledge and give thanks for the good stuff.

When we think of all the blessings we’ve experienced, and all the challenges we’ve survived, and all the lessons we’ve learned, and all the times we’ve been encouraged, and when we dare to think about all the good things that might still be waiting for us, we find that we can overcome some of our worries, and we can enjoy life more. I love that Sunshine Cathedral is a place that helps us enjoy life more.

As the scripture reading says, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”

What better way to end 2015 than by putting the past year into perspective, giving thanks for both the good times and for the strength we found in the hard times, and preparing ourselves for an awesome 2016? As we do this, we are learning to be more compassionate, kinder, humble, and patient, while also being bold in our affirmation of our sacred value and the goodness of life.

Now as we begin to bring 2015 to a close, there are a few things worth highlighting:

- January 1, 2015, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle confirmed his marriage ruling – clarifying that clerks in ALL Florida counties are bound by the U.S. Constitution to issue marriage licenses regardless of the sexual orientation of the couple’s. And Sunshine Cathedral started performing same-sex weddings the very minute it was legal…at midnight in front of the courthouse! Love won.

- Then, on February 5th at a hotel on the beach, our Senior Minister, with all our clergy present, performed the mass wedding for over 100 same sex and opposite sex couples for an event that was organized by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Tourism Bureau because love won.

- In March we observed the 50th Anniversary March from Selma to Montgomery AL. It was a reminder of the long road that was literally walked to bring awareness to inequity of voting opportunity. I heard Rep. John Lewis from Georgia who is the only living organizer from the 1963 March on Washington say, “I gave a little blood on this bridge [here] in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote,” He went on to say that “the vote is precious, it is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a Democratic society. And we’ve got to use it!”

Still, we have more work to do.

I would add that if anyone fails to vote, then the system has not let us down, rather we have let the system down. There are those who would try to take away the hard won rights of women, of people of color, of the LBGT community, and to prevent that from happening we must vote.

- In April, many were shocked when Laverne Cox posed nude for a photo. I love what she said about the photo session, she said that “I’m a black transgender woman. I felt this could be really powerful for the communities that I represent,” she said. “Black women are not often told that we’re beautiful unless we align with certain standards. Trans women certainly are not told we’re beautiful. Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about her body might be inspiring for some folks.”

I bet her bold witness made a difference in someone’s life; it may have even saved a life.

Our senior minister and executive staff and our board are united in our determination to continue the work of justice and healing in our world. We are especially dedicated to those who are continuously marginalized. To our transgender sisters and brothers, please know you have a safe place and many friends at Sunshine Cathedral.

Dr King told us, “Injustice ANYWHERE is a threat to justice everywhere.”

- On June 26, US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the majority opinion of the Court making marriage equality the law of the land for the entire United States!

- Each day, each week, and every month of this year has carried news of some magnitude.
o New that has challenged us to ask, ‘who is my neighbor’ as refugees try to cross borders to save their lives.
o News that too often reports that an unarmed and sometimes completely innocent person was killed in cold blood.
o News that reminds us that we have a responsibility to care for those who are not able to care, feed, speak or advocate for themselves.

But worrying about the news of the past year won’t make it better. Being present now and making choices today that will create a better future is our best option.

I believe that Dr. Robert Schuller said it best in his book, Tough Times Never Last But Tough People Do, that “There will never be another now – I’ll make the most of today. There will never be another me – I’ll make the most of myself.”
As you hear these words, I want to encourage you by saying let us focus on living and loving in the here and now. If we give our attention to the present, I believe that our future will unfold in beautiful ways.

Our scripture today tells us to live in the now, with gratitude for what we have, and with hope for what can be, and to support one another with love along the way. That’s the formula for success. That’s what will bless our lives, our church, our community, our nation, our world.

When I think of living with love, hope, and gratitude, especially on this 3rd day of Christmastide and last Sunday of the year, I am reminded of the words of Howard Thurman:
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.”

That’s my exhortation to you Sunshine Cathedral, to do the work of Christmas all year long, and as we do, we can know that 2016 will be a truly blessed year. And for that, I am grateful.

Affirmations
I am blessed. And I am filled with gratitude.
2015 be at peace. 2016 I welcome with anticipation
And so it is. Amen.

Justice & Compassion on Trial

On November 22, 2015, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Justice and Compassion on Trial John 18.33, 36-38 Rev Dr Robert Griffin Karl Barth, a 20th century Swiss theologian, once said: “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Barth made the Bible/newspaper connection frequently throughout his career. In an interview from 1966, he stated: “The Pastor and the […]

Justice and Compassion on Trial
John 18.33, 36-38
Rev Dr Robert Griffin

Karl Barth, a 20th century Swiss theologian, once said: “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”
Barth made the Bible/newspaper connection frequently throughout his career. In an interview from 1966, he stated: “The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need – according to my old formulation – the Bible and the Newspaper.” Barth, in a Time magazine article published 1963, advised: “take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.’”

So, let’s interpret this morning’s gospel reading from the standpoint of Justice and Compassion on Trial. Let’s begin by setting the stage. In the church calendar, and some in religious traditions, today is recognized as Reign of Christ Sunday.
But today, in scripture we hear Jesus declaring, while on trial, that his Realm, his non-kingdom, or kin-dom is not of this world. In the context of Jesus in front of Pilate and the Roman Empire, it is huge for Jesus to admit that he represents a way of being in the world that is very different than the way the world is ruled by Rome. But critiquing Rome is not a way to keep Rome from executing you.

So, let’s hear the reading of the trial transcript again:

Pilate: ‘Are you the King of the Jewish people?’
Jesus: ‘My domain is not from this world. If my realm were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over…But as it is, my realm is not from here.’
Pilate: ‘So you are a king?’
Jesus’ ‘You say that I am a king. I’m just here to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to what I have to say.’
Pilate: ‘What is truth?’ ‘I find no case against him.’”

What is truth? That is the question that Pilate placed on the courtroom floor and it’s a question we still wrestle with today. I believe, as you read the story, Pilate was attempting to get to the truth. At another point in John’s gospel, Jesus says “I am truth…” showing us that it is possible to live with honesty and integrity that we actually identify as truth itself. By living our truth, by affirming our sacred value and knowing ourselves to be loved unconditionally by God, we actually manifest the truth of God’s all-inclusive love.

Now, there are some interactions that are not that clear in today’s version of the story but in between Pilate questioning Jesus, Pilate is running out to address the crowd that has assembled outside the court room. And in between questioning Jesus and addressing the crowd outside, Pilate is also listening to those who are responsible for putting Jesus before him.
So, the first thing Pilate does is to ascertain if Jesus poses a security risk to him or the Roman Empire. In other words, what Pilate was doing was attempting to deescalate the situation by asking the right questions:

If you are a king, then what land are you the king over when Rome controls everything?
If you are a king, then is your army waiting outside my gates ready to storm the city?
If you are such a great person of influence that has caused this much concern, then is anyone in my ranks loyal to you instead of to me and the Empire?

Pilate was about getting answers to his questions rather than jumping to conclusions, relying on bad Intel or even just listening to those few religious leaders who called themselves representing the entire religious population.

And let’s not forget the gathered assembly that was willing to do and say anything that they felt would bring them favor, privilege, and less hardship from Rome.

This story quickly gets us to the point that Justice and Compassion are on Trial.
Jesus, who stands before Pilate represents Justice because:
- up until this point, he had been focused on including those who had been excluded.
- up until this point, he had been focused on challenging the status quo.
- up until his point, he had been focused on challenging the powerful.
- up until this point, he had been focused on advocating for the oppressed.

Jesus, who stands before Pilate also represents Compassion because:
- he touched and healed those he met along way.
- he fed those who were not only physically hungry but also spiritually hungry for good news
- he touched those who were not clean to touch.
- he taught his followers to forgive those who would do them harm.
- he told the story of reaching out to a neighbor in need in the parable of the good Samaritan.

So as Jesus stands before Pilate, wrapped in Justice and Compassion; we must understand that not just Jesus is on trial, but a whole movement is on trial.
- Jesus, who had given sight to the blind;
- Jesus who had brought hope to the hopeless;
- Jesus who brought liberation to those who had been oppressed – this resistance to empire is actually on trial.

And what stands to tear it all apart, as so often has been the case, is a small group of extremists that do not represent the whole.

Samuel Proctor, a minister and civil rights activist wrote before he died, “The Recovery of Human Compassion” and in it he says that the title Recovery of Human Compassion implies that we once knew what compassion is, but we’re now seeing one of the worst contradictions in our nation’s history, a nation that boasts of having a society that rests upon the Judeo-Christian values while making loud noises in the name of Christ to deny compassion and justice to the hurting and oppressed of the world.

Proctor reminds us that compassion means to “suffer with.” But instead of standing with the suffering, suffering with them, doing all we can do to ease their burden, we often want to protect our comfort, our safety, and our privilege at all costs. We care more about our own comfort than we do about the suffering of others. We wish to protect ourselves from suffering rather than suffering with other children of God. If we are to be followers of Jesus, our Way Shower, we must recover the power of compassion.

From our gospel reading trial to the wisdom of Proctor, we are reminded that as we stand on the right side of Justice and Compassion we are following the example of Jesus and bringing healing light to a hurting world. As Christ followers, we are compelled to learn about and care about the suffering of others, even if to do so threatens our comfort or our privilege.
Until we know what it is like be in a boat for days without food and water, trying to make it to a land of promise, let us be mindful of those who do.

Until we know what it is like to be on the other side of a wall that separate countries from opportunity and families, let us be mindful of those who do.

Until we know what means as a veteran to serve and sacrifice so that other may enjoy freedom, let us be mindful of those who do.

Karl Barth, who I opened my sermon with today, died in 1968 and I am certain that if he were alive today he would advise people everywhere to take the Bible in your hand and take your iphone, ipad, iwatch, idevice in the other; and by the way, it is worth noting that the creator of those devices, Steve Jobs, was the son of a Syrian refugee. Thankful for the genius of a son of a refugee, let’s take our iphones and ipads, etc., connect to the New York Times, the Sun Sentinel, NPR, and other reputable news sources and our bibles (which can also be accessed on those idevices) and learn about the suffering of the world and then apply the compassion of Christ to that suffering. Let us, as Jesus did, suffer WITH the hurting world; how else could we relieve their pain?

That doesn’t sound like the thinking of many politicians, but Jesus’ Realm isn’t like the kingdoms and republics of the world. That’s what Reign of Christ Sunday reminds us.

What do we do in light of our gospel reading today, in a world that is filled by so much injustice, consumerism, militarism, racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, Islamaphobia, ableism, etc.?

Compassion and Justice are put on trial in the gospel today. Aren’t they still on trial in many ways and in many places? Isn’t human dignity on trial every time we judge, condemn, fear, or hate entire groups of people because of their skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, or the way they worship?

Our task today is to make our world a better place for all and we cannot do that if we stay trapped in fear of the other. If there is any hope for us to be the beloved community that reflects the teaching of Jesus, then we must stand with and suffer with those who are hurting.
- We must stand with those who were hurt in Beirut, in Paris, in Mali.
- We must stand with those who don’t have enough to eat right here in Broward County.
- We must stand with the Transgender community that has experienced a record number of reported murders this year.
- We must stand with refugees who are fleeing their homes to find safety, instead of blaming them for the actions of the people they are running from.
- We must stand and live our faith out loud and proud as we, Sunshine Cathedral, continue to honor those who voted Sunshine Cathedral the Best Spiritual Center in Broward County. To be the best, or even to be just a little like Jesus, we must care for those who are hurting, and stand with them, and speak for them, and be the advocates of Justice and Compassion that continue to be on trial.

Finally, to make my point about the Reign of Christ, about being the Community of Christ, let me just end with these words attributed to Jesus’ most famous sermon:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kin-dom of heaven.

Let us live, and testify on trial to our act of Justice and Compassion until we hear, the charges have been dropped and case is dismissed, but until then:
Let us keep the faith and ride on!
Let us keep the faith and work on! Amen.

God is all compassion. I am compassionate.
God’s love is all-inclusive. I will work for justice for all people.
I am blessed. And I will be a blessing to others.

Biblical Challenges to the Status Quo

On August 9, 2015, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Biblical Challenges to the Status Quo Rev Dr Robert Griffin – Sunshine Cathedral Sunday, August 9, 2015 Today’s worship places us at week 6 of our 9 week sermon series. Sermon topics have been based on the book Convictions: A Manifesto for progressive Christians by Marcus Borg. And, our series title is “What It Means […]

Biblical Challenges to the Status Quo
Rev Dr Robert Griffin – Sunshine Cathedral
Sunday, August 9, 2015

Today’s worship places us at week 6 of our 9 week sermon series. Sermon topics have been based on the book Convictions: A Manifesto for progressive Christians by Marcus Borg. And, our series title is “What It Means to be a Christian”. Today our topic is Biblical Challenges to the Status Quo.

People who read the bible do so for many different reasons.
Some read it to find comfort in times of discomfort.
Others may read it for spiritual insight, or for personal justification of a particular social view. Some use it as a weapon, a means of condemning certain people or behaviors.
Some use it as a rallying cry to go to war.
Still others read it for a look into ancient history.
Some read the bible as if it were a crystal ball, helping to predict the future.

With the bible being used for so many purposes, it’s no wonder we have so many views of what it says and means.

As a child growing up in a Missionary Baptist church, in Alabama, much of my awareness of the bible was based squarely in the roots of social justice.

Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Rev Howard Thurman, Rev Jesse Jackson, Rev Al Sharpton, Rev Gardner Taylor were among the greats preaching a social justice gospel declaring God’s love for all people, and I took that message to heart.

In those days, my exposure to theology was pretty limited to local preachers, to the luminaries I just mentioned, and to Baptist men. Since that time, my cloud of witnesses has expanded and must include Episcopal Rev Canon Ed Rodman (a professor and mentor of mine in seminary),
the presiding bishop elect of the Episcopal Church Michael Curry,
Bishop Barbara Harris (the first woman bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion),
AME Bishop Vashti McKenzie (the first woman bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal church),
Rev Dr Jeremiah Wright (the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago),
Rev Dr Jim Forbes (former pastor of Riverside Church in NYC),
And Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries.

So I continue to be influenced by voices of the Black Church experience calling for justice, equality, peace, healing, and prophetic action.

These great preachers find in the bible a witness to God’s all-inclusive love, and a call for on-going positive change in the world. Changing the world means changing the body politic, that is, the larger community, and that is political by nature. It isn’t necessarily partisan, and churches cannot and should not officially endorse parties or candidates, but we can urge the faithful to support programs, private and governmental, that are meant to feed the hungry, minister to the sick, care for the elderly, save our natural resources, and protect the rights of all people.

As our senior minister has said many times, such an agenda of caring for all people and affirming the dignity of all people is what Jesus called the kingdom, or kin-dom of God and it was considered a political message as much as a spiritual one, and for that, he was killed. So, to talk about Jesus is to challenge the status quo (as he did), and to challenge the status quo will also be considered to be somewhat political.

Now there are some who would say that I don’t want my church to talk about politics, justice matters or social concerns of the day. I just want them to teach the bible and preach about Jesus, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Well, I have some news for you today. To talk about the bible and Jesus and community means you want to make a difference, you want to be an agent of positive change, and that, like Jesus’ ministry, will be considered political.

We will never campaign for one party or candidate over another, though as individuals we certainly have our favorites; but we will always speak out for the marginalized, the oppressed, the forgotten, the abused, the have-nots. We will speak out for those Jesus called the least of these, and that will mean challenging church, government, community, and individuals to care more and to share more.

We not only pray for the oppressed but try do something about the systems that keep people down rather than lift them up. That’s what Jesus did, so if you want to learn about Jesus, you are going to learn how we are meant, like him, to be about God’s business, the business of helping, lifting up, encouraging, and liberating the so-called least of these.

So, to say I am a follower of the teachings of Jesus, is to be political. To say, I am a Christian, is to be political…not because a certain form of Christianity should dominate government (it should not), but because to be Christian is to follow Jesus and to follow Jesus is to work to include those who have been left behind and to improve the lot of the least of these is a political endeavor; it’s also a spiritual endeavor.

Some of us can call ourselves liberal and others conservative, some of us will want to be in the thick of things and others will want to quietly support good efforts without drawing attention to ourselves, but whatever our personal politics, our faith must be about lifting up others, seeing the dignity in all people, and that will influence how we engage the world of politics. Whatever our political ideologies, let them be grounded in the spiritual conviction that love is supreme and that we must do unto others as we would have others do unto us.

Marcus Borg says it best, “Not every Christian is called to be an activist. But all are called to take seriously God’s dream for a more just and nonviolent world.”

Religion is always political. The religious pacifists who say we should never go to war…that’s a spiritually motivated call to action in the world of politics.

Those who use religion to oppose women’s rights or marriage equality, they are using religion to influence how they engage politics; and if we think that God’s all-inclusive love calls us to refute their message, then that puts us in the political fray.

It is simply not possible to be religious and non-political. If we have faithful convictions, that will motivate how we live in society, and how we engage society is by nature political.

The Crusades of the Middle Ages, the Inquisition, the religious wars of the 16th century that followed the Reformation…those were all religious people engaging in politics.

Even slavery, Jim Crow, colonization, and the Trail of Tear were justified if not motivated by religious views. And those who challenged those unjust campaigns were also motivated by religious views.

Dr King’s faith led him to challenge oppression, change the world, and give his life for the sake of others. His faith caused him to challenge the politically protected status quo. His spirituality was in fact political, as all engaged spirituality must be.

I am a minister and a veteran. I have served God and country, and in my mind they were not two different vocations. And those experiences motivate me to prefer peace to war, to value every mother’s son and every father’s daughter and to not want any blood spilt in the name of religion ever again. That is my religious view, and to speak it out loud is a political act. The two simply can’t be separated.

To recognize and atone for the genocide of the indigenous people of this continent is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

To see immigration as a human issue and to respond to the issue with compassion is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

To say that we can no longer destroy our planet for the sake of profit is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

To express regret and outrage when protected species are targeted and hunted for sport is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

To work to end the horror of human trafficking is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

And, this work is at least as old as our sacred stories. From Moses telling Pharaoh, “Let my people go…” to Jesus declaring a Realm of God where all people have value, the bible is a story of challenging the status quo. Call it religious or call it political, but notice that it is the biblical message and let’s recommit to challenging the status quo ourselves.

Gays can get married but also be fired or denied housing for being gay…that has to change.

Women are often judged by their appearance rather than by their skills…that has to change.

The poor are blamed for their plight rather than being offered real help…that has to change.

Not everyone’s hard work is valued today…that has to change.

Transgender people continue to be demonized…that has to change.

The proposed answer to conflict is too often “let’s go to war”…that has to change.

Black bodies are routinely shot in our streets…that has to change.
Black Lives Matter, and it is a shame that we have to remind our nation of that fact.

If we would read the bible and follow Jesus, then we will continue to challenge the status quo…because more change is needed.

We need to:
Continue to speak about the integration of spirituality and sexuality.
Continue to speak about the fluidity of gender.
Continue to speak about marriage equality…it may be the law of the land but it is far from being universally embraced.

We need to continue to:
Address women’s sovereignty over their own bodies. Whether or not we agree with women’s choices, we cannot take their choices from them. Let’s get church and state out of women’s uteruses.

We need to:
Establish economic justice, because everyone deserves fair wages, adequate housing, health care, and education.

If we want to be doers of the word and not hearers only, if we want to be followers of Jesus and not just admirers,
then we must continue to challenge the status quo.

Following Jesus, our Way Shower, comes with a responsibility to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Sunshine Cathedral, we don’t argue much about Jesus; we’re too busy trying to follow him, and following Jesus means challenging the status quo and sharing hope with the world.

We are, as Borg said, called to take seriously God’s dream for a more just and nonviolent world.
That is, after all, what it means to be Christian. Amen.

I share God’s dream of a just and nonviolent world.
My hands are God’s hands blessing the world.
God is blessing me to be a blessing to others.
And so it is.

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