Look for the Good

On May 6, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Look for the Good Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins May 6, 2018 Philippians 1.3-9, 12-18 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. What is the gospel? I grew up hearing that […]

Look for the Good
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
May 6, 2018
Philippians 1.3-9, 12-18

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.

What is the gospel? I grew up hearing that the gospel was that Jesus would give you a get out of hell free card if you believed certain things about him. But I do not believe the gospel is afterlife fire insurance.

So, what is the gospel? The gospel is good news, so good in fact that people risked their lives for it.

The gospel that changed lives in the first century, the gospel Jesus lived and shared, is this: the kin-dom of God is at hand.

The oldest gospel, Mark, tells us this: “Jesus came to Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, ‘Now is the time! Here comes God’s Realm. Change your hearts and trust this good news!’”

Jesus would demonstrate the message by ministering to the sick, by affirming the dignity of the outcast, by helping broken people rebuild their lives, by embracing those whom society and religion had rejected…but behind it all was this simple message: “The time is now. God’s realm is at hand. Change your hearts and trust this good news.”

God is omnipresent, all-inclusive, unconditional, never-ending love and we are meant to shape our world to reflect what God is. And we can, and that’s the good news.

In God’s realm the forgotten and disadvantaged have their dignity restored, the poor are fed, the sick are tended, political prisoners are released, refugees find safety, violence is not acceptable, and all people are reminded that they have sacred value. That’s Jesus’ vision of God’s realm, and the good news is that such a realm is in our hands. It’s time for it. It’s at hand.

Jesus says: trust that this heavenly vision of earthly possibility is ours to bring about.

Now, those who gained influence or power or wealth by exploiting the poor or waging war or ignoring suffering didn’t want to hear about a world where none of that is lauded.

The last will be first, turn the other cheek, give to all who ask, feed the hungry, touch the untouchable, heal the sick? That’s not how empires are built? That gospel is a direct challenge to all who aren’t using a fair portion of their resources to make the world better for everyone.

So, the power keepers try to squash this Jesus thing, this seditious movement. If it were about getting people to an afterlife paradise, that would have been no threat at all. It wasn’t about getting us to heaven, it was about challenging us to conquer every hell on earth and do all that we could to challenge systems of oppression so that all people could thrive.

I don’t worry about the afterlife; I am convinced that God is a Love that will not and cannot let us go. We don’t have to earn God’s favor nor can we lose it. So, now that we’ve seettle that, let’s get back to healing the world that God has entrusted to us.

The gospel looks at what isn’t right yet with the world, and sees the good that is possible, and then calls us to usher in that good. Not a home in gloryland, not the sweet by and by, but peace on EARTH, goodwill toward humankind. That’s the gospel, and it strikes fear throughout the halls of power to this day. It even makes the church uncomfortable (to be honest).

Paul has been transformed by the gospel message. It changed him and he dedicated his life to sharing the message of God’s kin-dom over against Caesar’s empire.

And so now, Paul is in prison. He’s challenging empire. He’s challenging power and privilege. He’s challenging the world where oppression and marginalization are rampant and he’s saying the Good news is that God wants us to have a different kind of world and we can start building it now. That’s revolutionary and for that, Paul is on lock down.

And from prison, Paul continues to share good news. He can’t be intimidated. He can’t be bullied or threatened into not sharing the gospel. Later, someone writing in Paul’s name says, “You can chain me, but there is no chaining the word of God.”

What plucky Paul is saying is: Do your worst; that shows who you are. But you don’t have what it takes to make me give up the vision of a world built on God’s justice-love.

So Paul just keeps sharing. The power keepers are trying to shut this thing down, this thing that says everyone has dignity and worth, and that there is a way of forming community that builds us all up and that affirms the sacred value of all people; and Paul says, “Look, the power keepers don’t want this message getting out, but the One who began a good work among you will bring it to completion.”

Keep up the good work. People are hearing that the world can be better…it can be a place of promise for all people, not just the lucky and powerful few. Justice work is God’s work; don’t give up.
God has given us the gospel vision, but we are the laborers in the vineyard to bring it about. What God does for us, God does through us. The kin-dom is in our hands.

The good news that Paul is sharing is so good it encourages him. While giving people hope, he finds his own reserves of hope replenished, and now he can share even more hope with others.

Paul says: “What has happened to me has actually helped me to spread the gospel…it has become well known…that my imprisonment is for Christ…[So others] have been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment [and] now dare to speak the word boldly…”

He’s not thrilled about jail, but he sees that his boldness has given others courage to be bold. His enduring challenges may encourage others who are facing consequences for this commitment to the cause of Christ of ushering in God’s kin-dom, God’s counter culture.

Even in jail, Paul has chosen to see the blessings that have come in spite of or maybe even because of his experience. He sees the good, or at least the good that is possible. That’s the gospel! Even when there is loss, something is left. Even when there is failure, there is also a lesson learned. When there is suffering, this is also courage or grace or overcoming. If we can see the good, we can make that our focus and then bring about even more good.

There’s a Buddhist saying: “The lotus is a flower that blooms in the mud; the thicker the mud, the more beautiful the flower.” Even when the world seems ugly, beauty can be brought forth. That’s the gospel. That’s the kin-dom of God at hand.

In our world right now there’s a lot of ugliness: The president of a seminary in Texas has counseled women in abusive marriages to stay in those unsafe situations, and he has no remorse for it. That isn’t the gospel. That kind of cruelty is precisely what the gospel calls us to confront.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise, unrepentant and often violent demonstrations of racism are increasing, and listen…there is an attack on LGBTQ people being launched blasphemously and mendaciously in the name of religious liberty.
They aren’t trying to gain freedom to worship as they please (we have that). They want the power to use their brand of religion to marginalize, demonize, and dehumanize Queer folk and limit women’s personal choices. They may or may not get away with it but in either case they will not have the gift of my silence. The gospel compels us to resist tyranny.

We are being called today to embrace the gospel vision and get back to work.
Times are tough right now, but the Roman Empire of the first century was worse, and in that even more hostile environment, Jesus and Paul and the early church risked everything to lift up a vision of what the world could be…a world that offered hope and dignity and security to every person. We aren’t there yet, but the vision and the work to fulfill it are still in our hands.
And this is the good news. Amen.

God is doing something good in me.
I see and seize the good in life.
And I boldly share good news.
Alleluia!
Amen.

God of Many Names, Mystery Beyond Our Naming

On April 30, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

God of Many Names, Mystery Beyond Our Naming Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins April 29, 2018 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. In our scripture reading today, we see Paul […]

God of Many Names, Mystery Beyond Our Naming
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
April 29, 2018

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.

In our scripture reading today, we see Paul strolling through a city full of idols.

Athena was certainly one of the gods Paul noticed. She was the guardian of Athens. Athens has been called the birthplace of western democracy. It was a center of learning and culture. It was the home of great philosophers. People took great pride in Athens. It was the best place, the greatest. But national pride can devolve into nationalism which is the breeding ground of racism, xenophobia, and a toxic suspicion of difference. Athena still rules many hearts today.

Ares may have been one of the gods Paul noticed. Ares was the god of war. Ares still has a lot of worshippers. Nationalism thrives on a bloodlust that demands one war after another. Ares doesn’t seem ready for retirement still.

Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and romance, may have been of the gods on display. People are still pursuing unrealistic and unsustainable standards of beauty and hating themselves if they fall short of such idolatrous standards. The goddess of beauty fails to remind us that we are each beautiful in ways that won’t fade with time.

Dionysus may have been one of the gods. He’s one that I find it hardest to critique, because if truth be told, he is one that tempts me more than all the others. Dionysus was the god of wine and revelry, the party god! He was also the god of ritual and theatre. Dionysus seems like good people to me! But if creativity and pleasure distract us from helping the hurting, then we must repent of our selfish devotions to the party god.

Hades may have been one of the idols. Hades was the Ruler of the Realm of the Dead. When we poison our water and our air and our soil, when we ignore attitudes that make it exponentially more difficult for people of color to survive in the world and exponentially easier for their lives to be taken and ruined in a system of mass incarceration, when we deny refugees lifesaving safe haven, we have worshiped Death itself and become it’s slavish disciples.

Now, let me hasten to add that I am not condemning the religious experience of ancient Greeks (some of whom, like Socrates, thought of the divine as one Power and not as many personas). I am simply comparing what some of the deities represented to dysfunctions that are timeless and universal. We have all worshiped ideas and ideals that later proved to be less than beneficial to our growth and well-being.

Paul looked around and was distressed to see so many idols, that is, to see people worshiping their fears, their insecurities, their greed, their prejudices, their violence. God’s got to be more than that, Paul insists. But he looks around, and he sees one more altar. It’s to an unknown god…no name, no image, the great whatever, the great unknowable, the great just is.

A deity that doesn’t look like us, or our privilege, or our fears, or our hatreds…a god beyond image or naming: In all their searching, they had actually found something. The mystery beyond our naming, the Ultimate Reality that can be experienced in our limited states but never fully known, that can transform us by helping us grow into what we already are.

Paul, who was well versed in the scriptures, must have recalled Jeremiah 23, where the prophet imagines God saying, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?”
He must have thought of the 139th psalm: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? [Wherever I go, God], you are there.”
Or Proverbs 15: “The eyes of our God are everyplace.”
Or maybe he thought of the prophet Zephaniah who assures us, “God is in your midst.”

And so Paul tells them, “It is the sovereign of heaven and earth that gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. God made all peoples…so that they could search for God…and find God, though really, our God is not far from any of us, for it is in God that we live and move and have our being. It’s like some of your own poets have intuited, ‘We are divine offspring.’”

We call our search for meaning many things, but God is our source and our purpose and our power and our joy, and it’s in God that we exist. Meditating on that will remove many of the idols that have been holding us back.

When we look around our world, our community, our daily lives: what are the idols we see?
Privilege is one such idol. Even when it imperils others we cling tenaciously to our privilege.

White supremacy, xenophobia, misogyny, transphobia, heterosexism…this pantheon of hate attracts many worshipers, but really the cult of hate is just a subculture of the religion of fear.

Theology, sacraments, scripture itself…these can become idols, where getting it right is more important that loving, caring, and sharing. If we really believed we were good enough, we wouldn’t need everyone to share our opinions about Jesus or Mary or the sacraments or the Trinity or the afterlife. Being afraid we aren’t good enough, we try to be RIGHT, and to feel right we try to make everyone else wrong…and so religious wars are waged and families are torn apart, and colonization disguised as missionary work continue.

Idols are too small, and idolatry is far too limiting. But St. Paul seemed to think that an awareness of Omnipresence is the cure for idolatry.

Let us know when things are easy and when they are difficult, when life is fair and when it is unjust, in times of joy and in times of sorrow, that we are forever in and part of God.

Ernest Holmes said it so beautifully, “Within Thee is all. Thou art in me and I am in Thee.” When we believe that, we don’t need hell, we don’t need war, we don’t need to deprive anyone of medicine or food or shelter or employment or fair wages or dignity. When we know who we are and we know that all people are sharers in divinity, then we don’t need mass incarceration and we won’t stay silent when people are suffering policies that demean and demoralize entire communities.

When our God is Omnipresence, and we therefore are always in and part of that Presence, oppression will not be tolerated, it’s unlike the Love in which we live and move and have our being.

Because of the cult of the false god homophobia – Gay bodies are under attack.
Because of the cult of the idol of male dominance – Female bodies are under attack.
Because of the cult of the idol of white supremacy – Black bodies are under attack.
Because of the cult of the idol of xenophobia – Immigrant bodies are under attack.
Because of the cult of the idols of greed and indifference – Poor bodies are under attack.
Because of worship of binary gender norms – Transgender bodies are under attack.
Because of the cult of colonization – Caribbean and African and Asian bodies are under attack.
God’s body, of which we are all a part, is under attack, and the attacks are fueled by idolatry.

But like Paul, we can see the idols and then see past them, to the reality of omnipresent love.

We are divine offspring, part and parcel of the God of many names, the mystery beyond our naming. As we embrace and share this truth, we will release much needed healing power into the world. We can be healed and we can be healers, in the name of the Unnamable God. And this is the good news. Amen.

It is in God that I live and move and have my being.
God is the Source and Substance of my life…
And of every life.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Power of Praise

On April 23, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Power of Praise Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins April 22, 2018 Acts 16 We read in Psalm 100: Shout joyfully to the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness… Know that God is good. God made us. We belong to God. We are God’s people, the flock that God shepherds. Bless God and give […]

Power of Praise
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
April 22, 2018
Acts 16

We read in Psalm 100:
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all you lands;
serve the Lord with gladness…
Know that God is good. God made us. We belong to God. We are God’s people, the flock that God shepherds. Bless God and give thanks.

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.

Paul and Silas see a slave. A SLAVE.
Did she enter slavery voluntarily to pay off a debt, to avoid a life of begging or prostitution?
Was she captured in war?
Had she been bought and sold many times or was she new to slavery?
Was she born into slavery?
Did her parents sell her into slavery out of their own desperation?
Did her enslavement include sexual abuse (it almost certainly did)?

When we see that Paul and Silas encounter a slave we know from all that we don’t know that this is a person who has experienced unspeakable suffering.

What does Paul do when he sees this slave? He demonizes her, quite literally. He says she’s possessed. She’s suffered enough without being demonized by Paul.

She’s very intuitive. She can size people up or quickly discern probabilities. Her masters are using her gifts to line their own pockets…exploiting her gifts for their enrichment, sharing little if any of their good fortune with her. Exploitation of the hard working and dispossessed remains a problem in our world.

This girl’s captors exploit her gift, her talent.
Paul demonizes it. And for days, other than disparaging her intuition, he ignores her.

She’s different. She’s unusual. She’s a little queer. And Religion tells her she’s broken, damaged, sick. Can you even imagine?

The young woman…I don’t know what people called her, but let’s give her the dignity of a name in our telling of the story. Let’s call her Vox (latin for voice).
Vox uses her gift to identify Paul and Silas. “Those guys have good news to share! They are offering hope. They are offering a message of salvation.”

What would salvation mean to a slave?
It would mean hope. It would mean dignity. It would mean liberation.

Vox sees that Paul and Silas are messengers of hope and hope is something she desperately needs. “Look! Over there! Peddlers of hope!”

Paul forgot…we all forget sometimes…Paul forgot to minister from a place of compassion. When religion loses compassion, when it loses kindness, when it loses concern for the least of these, it has lost its purpose and its power. Paul forgot that, at least for a moment.

He forgot to see Vox’s humanity. He overlooked her pain. He forgot that the good news was for her…different, possibly annoying, gifted, hurting Vox needed good news. But Paul grew weary of her uninhibited exuberance.

Paul didn’t appreciate the gifts of the different, the demonized, the queer – not that day anyway. Paul had already written Vox off. She’s some crazy slave with a chatty demon in her…who needs her? Who wants her witness? Who wants people like that in the church?

So, Paul, who has already demonized and tried to ignore this suffering slave, now publicly shames her.

She’s saying, “Hey, everybody, these guys are going to speak about hope and healing and liberation and possibilities!”
And Paul tells her to shut up.
“I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” he says to her exuberance, her hope.

In other words, shut up. Be silent. Your voice isn’t wanted. Your experience doesn’t concern us. Be quiet.

She isn’t interrupting their worship services. She isn’t saying anything mean about them. She just recognizes them for who they are, and shares who she is with them…She’s that girl with a gift, with a talent, with a skill. She’s the girl who knows things, who can figure stuff out quickly, who is a really good guesser. Who is she hurting? But Paul forgets to care about her suffering. He just got busy, overwhelmed, shortsighted…he just forgot that what he was offering was for people like her, especially people like her. And he tells her to shut up.

And Vox didn’t say anything else about them. She may not have said much ever again. She didn’t help her masters make money anymore. She shut up; and worse, she gave up.

She was hurt by the church in that moment.
If the Apostle would call her uniqueness demonic, then she just wouldn’t share anymore.
If just for being who she was she could be publicly humiliated by the people she hoped would encourage her, she just wouldn’t say anything else.

Vox’s so-called masters saw her as property.
The evangelists saw her as a demon damaged nuisance.
She has been invisibilized and exploited and humiliated one time too many, and Vox loses her voice. She loses her hope. And we never hear from her again.

How many times have the hurting become voiceless because of religion misapplied?

Oh, one way or another, at one time or another, we have all misapplied religion. Hopefully, though, we learned from our mistakes and became determined to do better.

Paul and Silas are incarcerated because when they shut Vox up, and by doing so they damaged someone’s business. And the people who had been exploiting her all that time couldn’t use her to make money anymore. And so they complained to the authorities and had Paul and Silas beaten and jailed. I wonder what unspeakable punishments the newly silenced Vox endured? I wonder if she even survived.

Paul tells Vox to shut up, but in their moment of suffering Paul and Silas use their voices to pray and praise. And their worship gives them hope and strength, and they are so empowered and blessed by their jail cell worship service that the jailor himself gets uplifted and experiences a change in his life, and then his family even gets blessed.

Paul and Silas prayed and praised their way out of a jam, or at least through it.
They knew that even in a dark cell at midnight with scrapes and bruises and sprains from a beating, they could experience God’s presence and they could find something to rejoice about. And that positive perspective gave them strength and courage and comfort and it even inspired others. That’s the power of praise.

What if Paul had said to Vox, not “Shut up in the name of Jesus”, but instead, “Daughter of God, shout joyfully to the Lord, keep raising your voice…Know that God is good. God made you. You belong to God, not to these slaveholders.
God’s mercy endures forever…slaveholders are not merciful, but God is…God is on your side, God hurts with you, God is moving on human hearts to one day change systems that allow exploitation. God sees your dignity, and God will never let you go. Shout to the Lord.”

Paul and Silas wouldn’t let their praise be beat out of them, and they praised their way to a miracle. If only they had encouraged Vox to do the same. Instead of shutting her up, what if Paul had given Vox something to shout about?!

Too many of us have been like Vox…humiliated, hurt, and horrified by religion.
Maybe the church told us to shut up about our bodies, our rights, our love, our needs, our sufferings, our dreams…maybe a priest or parson, elder or evangelist, preacher or teacher tried to shame and silence us when we said, “This is, by God’s design and grace, who I am.”

And like Vox, at least for a season, maybe we silenced our praise. But we can get it back today.
Religion may have made some terrible mistakes, but thank God for a different kind of church that can redeem religion and give it back to us as a tool of empowerment.

We are going to redeem Vox today by letting her inspire us to never give up our praise. We’ll use her pain to heal our own and bless her memory for the powerful gift.

Praise the Lord of your life,
praise the Goddess of your being,
praise the creating, redeeming, sustaining omnipresent power that is known by many names,
praise the mystery that is beyond our naming. Alleluia!

Don’t let sad memories silence your praise.
Don’t let loneliness silence your praise.
Don’t let bad news silence your praise.
Don’t let money troubles silence your praise.
Don’t let aches and pains silence your praise.
Don’t let bigotry silence your praise.
Don’t let oppressive theologies silence your praise.

Get your praise back. Alleluia!

When we praise we are raised.
And this is the good news. Amen.

God’s love is all-inclusive, unconditional, and everlasting.
God watches over me.
And so I praise God!
I praise and am raised.
Alleluia!

Transformation

On April 15, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Transformation Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins April 15, 2018 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. Saul is on a journey in today’s story. Not to Arizona, but to find, attack, […]

Transformation
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
April 15, 2018

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.

Saul is on a journey in today’s story. Not to Arizona, but to find, attack, and round up followers of the way of Jesus.

The way of Jesus who touched untouchables.
The way of Jesus who loved the unloved.
The way of Jesus who looked at hungry crowds and no questions asked said, “Give them something to eat.”
The way of Jesus who said, “Let the one who has all of his or her ducks in a row cast the first stone.”
The way of Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
The way of Jesus who taught, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

These trouble making, do-gooder, peaceniks…Saul is out to get them.

But Saul is about to experience a transformation. He’s going to have a change of heart. He’s going to become one of these peace loving Jesus nerds. He just doesn’t know it yet.

On his way to Damascus, Syria, to attack people in the name of righteousness, he is stopped.
That point hits me hard today.

You see, there is not a spot where God is not, and while God is everywhere evenly present, the prophets (including Jesus) insist that God has special concern for the marginalized, the hurting, the poor, the struggling, the ill, the suffering.

God is with oppressor and oppressed, but is constantly trying to change the oppressor’s heart and bring hope and healing to the oppressed.

Saul’s experience of the Resurrected Christ transforms him. He is overwhelmed by light, and then he becomes a beacon of light himself. He starts to care about the very people he once demonized. He starts to realize that all people have sacred value, and he commits his life to sharing that truth.

Saul is healed. Scales are removed from his vision. He sees things differently. He now wants to be a healer rather than a warrior, and encourager rather than a punisher, a builder rather than a destroyer.

Will we dare to be transformed as Saul was? Will we pray?:
Change my heart, O God, make it ever true; change my heart, O God, may I be like you.
You are the Potter, I am the clay; mold me and make me, this is what I pray.
Change my heart, O God, make it ever true; change my heart, O God, may I be like you.

We need that kind of transformation.

Recently, some of us stood at the church in Birmingham where 4 little girls were killed by a racist’s bomb.
We stood under the balcony where Dr. King was shot at the Lorraine hotel in Memphis.
We walked the halls of Central High School where the Little Rock Nine were tormented for integrating that school.
We visited plantations in Louisiana where enslaved Africans were dehumanized, had their history, their culture, their language, their religion, and even their names stripped from them and where they were absolutely worked to death.

But these aren’t tributes to an unfortunate past…they are reminders of how human hearts still stand in need of transformation. God have mercy.

Just days ago in Philadelphia two African American men who were just sitting in a coffee shop waiting for a business associate were arrested and forced out of the coffee shop by six police officers. They were just sitting and waiting for a friend.

A couple of weeks ago Steven Clark in Sacramento was in his grandmother’s backyard. Police shot and killed him saying they thought they saw him brandishing a gun. It was a cell phone.

Human hearts still stand in need of transformation.

But racism isn’t Hate’s only weapon.
In 2016 at least 23 Transgender Americans were murdered.
In 2017 the number of murdered transgender Americans was 28.
So far in 2018, there have been 8, including Amia Tyrae who was shot multiple times this month in Baton Rouge.

The church has not saved the lives of those whose gender identities don’t match the gender label others try to force on them. And those finger waging, wrist slapping, name calling, hate-spreading preachers who demonize the transgender children of God are placing targets on their backs and share responsibility for their harm. Human hearts still stand in need of transformation.

Deadly homophobia is still with us, as well. Blaze Bernstein, a college student, was stabbed 20 times by a neo-Nazi. Ta’ron Carson was shot leaving a Kansas City nightclub. Jared Jacobs was killed when a man drove a car at high speed into a bar. Blaze, Ta’ron, and Jared just happen to be gay people targeted and murdered just this year.

The church has not yet assured same-gender loving people a place of dignity and security in our world.
O some churches have been bright lights, some synagogues, some politicians, some mosques, some police…but not enough. We at the Sunshine Cathedral try. Let us try harder.

Jesus said feed my sheep. It never occurred to him that he would need to say, “And also, do what you can to make sure the children of Flint, Michigan can drink from the tap.”

And if we really care about the victims of tyrants, and I hope we do, then let’s make a place of welcome for their refugees in our own country.

I grew up in the Bible Belt. Wretched, vile homophobic slurs and racist comments and segregated neighborhoods were the norm…and almost to a person these hateful, homophobic and racist remarks were made by people of faith. Where was the evolution, the transformation? Where was the melting of icy hearts and the widening of welcoming arms? They would try to pray away same-gender love but felt all too comfortable with hatred and bigotry. Calling love demonic and hatred angelic is a perfect example of getting it wrong.

If Religion assured you a spot in heaven but did very little to alleviate someone’s hell on earth, I beg you to rethink your religion.

It may be time for the scales to fall from our eyes, and for us to embrace a new vision of peace, healing, hope, and reconciliation…in Jesus’ name.

My friends…it is time to be transformed. I’m not talking about politicians or businesses or the media…they will reflect who we are or what we will tolerate. We are the ones who must be transformed.

It is time to be the Resurrection. It is time to be Christ in the world…the healing, justice seeking, peace promising, hunger eliminating, water purifying, refuge granting, dignity affirming, all-loving Christ. With Song, Sermon, and Sacrament, with Time, Talent and Treasure, with Message, Mission, and Ministry, with Passion and Compassion, and Talk, Walk, and Resources…it’s time to change hearts, starting with our own. Nothing else will change the world. But if Saul can be transformed, so can we. And this is the good news. Amen.

Let us be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Let us be bearers of the Christ Light.
Let us be healed…
And let us be healers in our world.
Amen.

Show me.

On April 9, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Show me. Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell Sunday, April 8, 2018 Let us pray, “Divine Spirit of goodness and of light…guide us so that we may not be instruments of our own or other’s oppression. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts bring peace and healing to […]

Show me.
Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell
Sunday, April 8, 2018

Let us pray, “Divine Spirit of goodness and of light…guide us so that we may not be instruments of our own or other’s oppression. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts bring peace and healing to our world. Amen.”

Many of you know that I grew up in a very small town in Northwestern/North Central Pennsylvania. It is quite a rural area which relied heavily on manufacturing jobs to keep the economy afloat. Of course, much of the manufacturing industry has either closed its doors or moved out of the country entirely. And that leaves many people, who have lived in this rural area their entire lives, out of work OR working at a job which doesn’t provide a living wage. There are also those who are simply too old or too ill to leave the area in search of greater economic stability, so they’re stuck in a most difficult situation. And because this is such a rural area, there aren’t the caring resources available to assist those who happen to be in such dire straits.

One of the resources that has disappeared from this small, rural area is any organization which will provide a hot meal to those who might otherwise go without and so the local faith based communities banded together to create their own Food Sharing Program. They wanted to ensure that no one in their area would go hungry.

My mother is part of one of these faith based communities. Every Wednesday morning she gets up bright and early, goes down to her church, and she along with about eight other women bake casseroles, slice bread, cut freshly baked cake into pieces to be shared, and they put together lunches for about 50 homebound folks. And not only do they create and then pack the meals, they drive together in small groups to deliver the meals, checking in on those who need a friendly face. Now, on the surface, this may seem pretty simple….but most of these women, who are in their 70’s and 80’s, saw a need in their community and are working hard to fill that need. They may not be able to change the world, but they can do something. And that “something” is very important to those who are in need of their outreach.

In the gospel message we just heard, the writer of John shares that after Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples were gathered together behind locked doors for fear of the religious authorities. Can you imagine how they must have been feeling? Grieving, scared, wondering what had happened? Suddenly, out of nowhere, Jesus appears. The passage from John’s gospel doesn’t say how Jesus got in the room – just that he showed up and spoke with the gathered group.

So, the disciples are gathered together, mourning the death of their dear friend and Jesus breaks into that secure place, that space of feeling safe and sound and away from the troubles. And Jesus speaks to them…“Peace be with you. As I was sent, so I send you.” When Jesus breathes on them, filling them with the Holy Spirit, he instructs them on the ways of forgiveness.

According to this passage, Jesus appears again a week later bidding the group, “Peace. Peace be with you.” When Jesus speaks to Thomas, he doesn’t admonish him. Jesus invites Thomas to believe in the goodness that can occur when you least expect it. After everything the disciples had been through, I have to think it would have been difficult to believe that Jesus had returned. So I don’t dwell on the doubt that Thomas had. I actually have kind of a soft spot for the guy.

Now, this story, this allegory, is rich with lessons, with instructions as to what we need to do as followers of Jesus’ message. It is a reminder to us that Easter doesn’t end on Easter Sunday and that resurrection is not an isolated event. It continues on and on, every time new beginnings occur, every time evil and suffering do not win, every time death does not get the final word, there is resurrection.
During both visits that Jesus has with the gathered group, both times he offered them “Peace.” And what we need to know is that the peace that Jesus offers really isn’t our conception of peace, as something tranquil, as something serene. No, what Jesus was doing was encouraging his followers to be peace-makers. Now, that’s very different than what many of us imagine, isn’t it?? He tells them “As I was sent, so I send you.” His instructions are clear; the disciples have received their commission. Get out there and do the work of being a peace-maker by stepping-up, by showing-up, by making a difference. He tells them to stir the waters, to make waves when injustice is witnessed, when those who have no voice are treated unfairly. Jesus is encouraging his followers to move from their comfort zone and to welcome the outcast, the marginalized, and to turn upside down all society’s oppressive conventions which have been normalized. But, and this is a big one, to commit to this type of peacemaking is costly. The disciples knew that. They saw what Jesus went through and I’m sure they thought long and hard about the cost of following Jesus and what it would mean for them.

You know, people don’t often want to hear that in order to truly fulfill the kin-dom of God, social status and privilege must be set aside. Oh no, we don’t want that! This peace-making must move us from behind closed and locked doors.
The noted philosopher “anonymous” reminds us that peacemaking actually looks something like this.

“Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, demanding pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free. Peacemaking is about being able to recognize in the face of the oppressed our own faces, and in the hands of the oppressors our own hands.”

This past Wednesday, we marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The group from Sunshine Cathedral’s Civil Rights tour was actually in Memphis this past Wednesday, April 4, which was the date of the anniversary. And when I think of those who worked as peacemakers, those who worked so hard, who spoke out against injustice and inequality and violence, I immediately think of Dr. King. He advanced the cause of civil rights by using non-violence and civil disobedience as his tactics. He organized marches and boycotts so that those who were considered the “least of these” by the U.S. society would obtain equal rights. Dr. King worked for peace and for justice for people of color and he worked to fulfill the gospel message by following the footsteps of Jesus. Dr. King wrote, “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” Dr. King was a peacemaker even when others worked to silence his voice.

Being a peacemaker certainly isn’t for the faint of heart – particularly in a world that is being torn apart by war, where guns are so prevalent and people’s lives are marred by violence at home and in the schools. And it can be scary to be that voice that calls out injustice; that calls out inequality; that calls out discrimination. We may have people, our loved ones, our family and friends, telling us that we should simply mind our own business, we should follow the status quo, and we should just keep the peace. But if we keep quiet about things that matter, there is no peace. There may be quiet, but there is no peace. We must set aside our fear, our reticence and be the peacemakers that our world desperately needs.

Feminist writer and womanist theologian Audre Lorde wrote, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

During my sermon preparation research, I saw something that I had not seem before. For those faith communities who follow a lectionary…either the narrative lectionary or the revised common lectionary, this Sunday is call the Second Sunday of Easter. The Second Sunday of Easter. Please note that it is not called the Second Sunday since Easter or the Second Sunday after Easter and now we don’t have to go to church or do much of anything until at least Advent or Christmas! This Second Sunday of Easter reminds us that the Easter message continues. That evil and suffering and even death do not get the final word! That new life and new beginnings can occur at any time and that Jesus may show up when we least expect it – in the faces of those we meet every day.

After Thomas heard of the disciple’s encounter with Jesus, Thomas told them, “Unless I see…I will not believe.” Thomas said, “Show me.” I need to see this of which you speak! Show me and I will believe. I have this image of Jesus saying the same to us. Show me, my dear ones, how you will continue to live out the Easter message. Show me how you will truly welcome all people into this community. Not just those who look like you but ALL people. Show me how you will work to break down systems that oppress those in society’s margins. Show me how you will reach out to women and children, the transgender community, those who lack adequate food and shelter and medical care, those refugees who are literally running for their lives. Show me how resurrection power, how only goodness and love will fill your lives. Show me how you will be a peace-maker in this world.

The Dalai Lama reminds us, “The planet does not need more ‘successful people.’ The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of all kinds.”

My friends, it really is up to us to make a difference in this world. As we move from this place and carry the Easter message of resurrection power out into our world, know that the Divine One is calling to each of us…Show me and all people compassion and equality. Show me and all people kindness and justice. Show me your care as well as your action. Show me that you are a peace-maker!

This is the good news,
Amen.

~~~~~
I will show compassion to all.
I will show kindness to all.
I will show care for all.
I will work for peace.
And so it is.
Amen.

I Have Seen the Lord

On April 1, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

I Have Seen the Lord Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Easter Sunday 2018 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. How interesting to be a 21st century person of faith. We’ve […]

I Have Seen the Lord
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Easter Sunday 2018

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.

How interesting to be a 21st century person of faith. We’ve inherited stories that came to life before the discovery of the egg cell, before the understanding of gravity, before the awareness that we live in a heliocentric universe, before a universal consensus that slavery is an evil institution. We have inherited marvelous stories from times and cultures and lives very different from own. And yet, we continue to share the ancient stories and make meaning of them and find hope in them.

Religion scholar and former nun Karen Armstrong says, “Storytelling is fine as long as you can encourage people to act on the stories.”

So, once again, we come to Easter and we hear an old story. The Resurrection story is told over and over in many ways. It is a universal hope, an everlasting promise.

The Prophets Elijah and Elisha performed some resurrections in the Hebrew bible.
Jesus raised a couple of kids back to life, and his companion Lazarus.
There’s a sort of mass resurrection on the day of Jesus’ executed, or so says the writer of Matthew’s gospel.
And the Apostle Paul resurrected Tabitha and Eutychus from the dead.

And those stories are just from our bible. They don’t even include resurrection narratives from other traditions.

Ancient Norse, Egyptian, and Greek narratives all offer resurrection stories.

So by the time we get to Jesus’ Easter morning, we shouldn’t be that surprised. This story keeps getting told. It is the good news…
that love cannot be killed,
that hope when crushed will rise again,
that our lives have meaning beyond our earthly years,
and that no matter how hard or far we fall, we can get back up.

Even if the innocent are slain, that’s not the end of the story.
AIDS can wipe out almost an entire generation,
wars can ravish entire continents,
Dr. King can be slain on a balcony for trying to heal his country’s sins of racism and economic injustice,
our transgender siblings can be killed in droves with almost no mention at all in mainstream media,
a man can be shot repeatedly for nothing more than holding his own cell phone,
but that cannot be the end of the story.

From those ashes of oppression and despair a phoenix of hope and healing will rise,
from tombs of grief and exhaustion people will one day come out into the light of compassion and renewal.

I believe we have often made the mistake of worshiping the violence of the cross instead of focusing on the Resurrection’s victory over the cruelty of the cross. God’s plan wasn’t the killing; God’s plan was not letting the killing have the last word.

Rome, Herod, Pilate, Golgotha…they did their worst and still the faithful insist, “I have seen the Lord!” Golgotha lost. It must always lose. That’s why I shout Alleluia this morning.

Jesus is in the room today…living in our gospel story, living in our Communion Feast, living in our imaginations, living in our efforts to be his resurrected body, returned soul, and indomitable spirit in action here in this world.

So, how do we live as if Resurrection Power is our truth? How do we live this story as our own today?

Mary didn’t argue theology, doctrine, dogma, traditions, talking points and bumper sticker slogans about Resurrection. She had her own experience and she shared her experience. It wasn’t an intellectual exercise. It was something felt and it had to be telt.

I was crying, and then in the midst of my sorrow I experienced my friend, I had a glimpse of hope, I had my purpose renewed, I realized that I was more than my pain…I have seen the Lord and I know others are hurting so let me tell them, there is peace beyond pain and hope beyond horror. I have experienced the Sacred, I have been infused with Resurrection Power…and it if happened for me, it can happen for you.
She had her experience. She shared her experience.

How are we going to embrace and share Resurrection Power, today?
Have we had a life changing experience of the Sacred? Are we committed to helping others have it, too?

Could our own spiritual experience help lift up the downtrodden, or give life back to those whose lives have been diminished? If we aren’t going to live it, who cares what we believe about it!

It is true that we can’t give what we don’t have. We can’t teach what we don’t know and we can’t lead where we won’t go. As the wise old folk used to say, “Your talk talks, and your walk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” Ralph Waldo Emerson put this way: “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” So, how are we going to live this story?

The youth of our country are tired of being shot at. And they’ve faced their pain. They’ve named it. They’ve organized around it. They are trying to change things in a positive way. Will they succeed? Time will tell. Will everyone agree with their methods? Of course not…universal agreement isn’t even a thing. But have they been empowered and started a journey toward healing? They are living resurrection power, and they are sharing it.

Will we be receivers, workers, and sharers of miracles going forward?
Will we find renewed faith and commitment today, and then share it gladly: I have seen the Lord!

Will we recommit today to the spiritual path, to building up the faith community, to sharing our progressive faith, to sharing resources so that we can reach more people with more encouragement, more affirmation, more hope?

Will we tell people how it is that we have seen the Lord? Of course, we may use different vocabularies all together. We may say:
I have experienced the sacred.
I have found peace beyond pain
I have embraced hope beyond horror.
I have come to believe that there’s not a spot where God is not, and so no one is ever outside of God.
I have discovered that I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

For those who thought faith wasn’t an option for them, or that no faith community would accept them, it is a resurrection to find joyous, spiritual community, and to begin to live a life of learning, service, sharing, and indomitable hope.

I have seen the Lord, and I need to share that joy, like Mary.
Have we got any Marys in the room?

This is the good news. Amen.

Today, I see the Good.
Today, I experience the Sacred.
Today, I am infused with Resurrection Power.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Navigating Hope & Horror

On March 26, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Navigating Hope & Horror Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Palm/Passion Sunday 2018 May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, holy One, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. Our first reading from John’s gospel shows exuberance. There would have been Passover celebrations in the city…official, permitted celebrations. Government […]

Navigating Hope & Horror
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Palm/Passion Sunday 2018

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, holy One, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Our first reading from John’s gospel shows exuberance. There would have been Passover celebrations in the city…official, permitted celebrations. Government officials would have participated. It was a way of keeping the people happy and also keeping an eye on them. Controlling the celebrations meant controlling the people. So, the parades and block parties would have been carefully choreographed and closely supervised.

But in the back part of the city, Jesus comes riding into town. He’s not an invited guest, not an honored speaker or parade participant. But he and his friends and his admirers and few curious onlookers have created their own unofficial parade. Nothing grand. Just a donkey, a couple dozen folk, a few palm branches. But this ragtag group break into a bit of street theatre. They are acting as if they are having a parade, and their parade isn’t sanctioned. Indeed, it is making fun of the government and imagining the government being somehow toppled.

They wave branches like Pom poms, like weapons, like battle flags, and they pretend Jesus is a conquering hero who might set up his own government in exile. And they cry out, “Save us! Hosanna!” As if a peasant from out of town riding on a donkey was going to topple the Roman Empire. It’s almost farcical.

It was all cathartic and subversive. It was a protest really, a protest against colonization, against domination, against military might that had seized their land and coopted their culture. And it felt good to express themselves, to dream out loud, to imagine a day when God’s kin-dom of mercy and justice and goodwill and shared prosperity and peace would replace earthly empire and world super powers.

But standing up, speaking out, even in creative, artistic, theatrical ways, can have consequences. That impromptu guerrilla theatre experience, that pretend parade with a ridiculous donkey and some leaves, was followed by a more in your face protest at the Temple when Jesus acted up in ways that got him noticed and probably sealed his fate.

Other confrontations, betrayal, denial, arrest, trial, and conviction all led to Jesus being sentenced to death. Capital punishment. Death by torture. The unspeakably brutal and barbaric form of execution known as crucifixion.

In what was probably the span of only several days, Jesus has gone from performing in the streets to disturbing the peace at the Temple, to being betrayed and abandoned by his dearest friends, to be tortured to death.

What a crazy weak, full of hope and horror, catharsis and catastrophe, purpose and pathos, moments of moral victory and desperate defeat.

Life is full of such ups and downs. My friend Martha is a dear lady in East Texas. She has a smile that could melt a glacier. And she’s never said an unkind word in my hearing. A year or two ago she was diagnosed with cancer. And she went through treatment and never complained. In fact, she made her daily chemo treatments sort of a party. She’d lead the celebration when someone finished their treatment. She’d wish people well when they began their treatment. She’d laugh and chat with everyone in the clinic…making each day more like a social event at a beauty parlor instead of an energy draining, nauseating fight for survival.

At the end of her treatment cycle, the news wasn’t that good. So, they decided to give her a bit of a break then start all over again. She enjoyed the break, and re-entered treatment with the same amazing attitude that she had the first go round. Her hair fell out, and she was rocking beautiful scarves and posting her pics of Facebook, and later, when her hair returned, she who had for years sported long, thick silver locks now featured with utter glee a very smart and fetching short do. Also, she experienced, finally, remission.

But that joy was short lived. After only a few months, the dis-ease has returned and spread. They are trying a new medicine which in some people has had miraculous results. She’s agreed to the treatment, but she also knows that it isn’t guaranteed to work. How is she handling that?

She’s planning a party at her favorite restaurant. No date set yet…it’s to take place within days of her death…whenever that might be. She’s thankful for her partner, a sweet many she’s been with for several years now. She’s thankful for her countless friends. She’s thankful that many of those friends will one day have a dinner party in her memory. She’s thankful that spirit never dies.

I hope the new treatment provides her a cure that we can celebrate in grand fashion, but whether it does or not, she has shown the world what healing looks like. She’s chosen love over fear, gratitude over regret. Martha is living the famous prayer that Franciscan nun Sister Thea Bowman prayed when she was fighting cancer…her prayer was, “Lord let me live until I die.” Martha has been living with, not dying from, dis-ease. And she’s going to keep on living every day that she has life.

She’s had Palm Sunday defiance, and Good Friday disappointment, and Easter joy.

That’s what this season offers us…a reminder that life is full of ups and downs, but nothing can keep our spirits down. Resurrection power is at hand.

Yeah though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil for God is with us, and the tools God has given us comfort us. Surely, goodness and mercy will attend us all the days of our lives and we will dwell in God’s presence forever.

We are on the way to Golgotha this week, but Golgotha isn’t the end of the story. There’s more hope, more joy, more life even beyond the darkest night. There may be tears, but there are also parties to celebrate precious memories and undying resilience.

Join us on Good Friday as we commemorate Jesus’ death, and join us again on Easter Sunday as we celebrate the Truth that not even death ends the story…not Jesus’, and not ours. This is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
Please help us,
And those dear to us,
In whatever ways are needed most.
Amen.

Stay Strong

On March 18, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Stay Strong Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins 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. In the gospel story today, we see Jesus suffering. It is disturbing to view the word picture […]

Stay Strong
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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.

In the gospel story today, we see Jesus suffering.
It is disturbing to view the word picture painted in the story…Jesus beaten and humiliated. I don’t believe the cruelty he suffered was divinely ordained, and apparently he didn’t either. He said the one who turned him in was wrong to do so…if it had been God’s plan for Jesus to be tortured, then why would the person who facilitated it be wrong for doing so? No, Jesus’ torture was the result of human cruelty. I cringe when the story shows people who didn’t even know him shouting for him to be tortured to death…CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM!

That level of hate and violence isn’t a divine plan…it is human pathology and we still see it. We are still calling for the torment, the exclusion, the humiliation, the dehumanization of LGBTQ people, of non-white immigrants, of refugees, of the poor…Crowds are still shouting, “Hurt them…Get rid of them…Shame them…Deny them their rights…” The demands that the “other” be crucified are still loud and frequent. God forgive us when we are doing the shouting, and forgive us for remaining silent while others are doing the shouting.

But while I can’t solve the problem of hatred that infects human hearts, I can notice Jesus staying strong in the worst hours of his life.

When they placed the crown of thorns on his head, to both humiliate and hurt him, I wonder if Jesus thought of another thorny time. I wonder if in a flash of imagination he recalled the Moses story.

Moses came across some brambles, some thorny, prickly branches in the desert. He saw a thorny bush on fire and it kept burning. The fire didn’t destroy the bush, it just kept burning. Sometimes problems are chronic, they just seem to go and on, but they need not destroy us.
As Moses encountered that burning bush, he also encountered God. God was in the flames. God was in the prickly bush. God was in the desert. God was present in the uncomfortable situation. God didn’t put the flames out, but God spoke through the flames. God was in the midst of the thorny, fiery situation. Where is God when everything is terrible…right there with us, in the brambles, in the fire, in the pain…offering encouragement and lending us strength.

From that burning thorn bush, God tells Moses to stand up the empire. Confront Pharaoh. And Moses says, “On whose authority? Who am I to wag my finger in the emperor’s face?” And God tells Moses, “I am…tell them I am is sending you.” I Am is a name for God. That’s awesome.

From a hot mess in the desert, a thorny encounter, Moses discovers the authority to work for justice, and the authority is I Am.
I Am the one to make a difference.
I Am the one to speak truth to power.
I Am the one to say, “Let my people go!”
I Am who God can use to bring hope and healing to the world.

And today, in the gospel, Jesus is face to face with tyranny, challenging empire, facing cruelty, and somehow knowing,
I Am able to face this…
I Am the one who can look Pilate in his eye and not back down…
I Am the one who will not let the hatred being spewed at me make me doubt myself…
I Am not alone, and
I Am able to go to peace instead of to pieces.

Whether a crown of thorns or a burning thorn bush, in thorny times we draw strength by using the power of I Am intentionally and positively. Be still and know that I AM divine.

I Am is one of the names for God.
I Am is the authority by which we are to work for justice, compassion, and healing in the world.

How are we using our I Am?
What are we pulling into our I-Amness?

Never say I am unworthy or I am not enough or I am so stupid or I am sick and tired of whoever or whatever….I am is a divine name, never use it in vain by following it with something demeaning.

Always follow the divine name with something beautiful and praiseworthy:
I am strong.
I am hopeful.
I am wise and wonderful.
I am loveable and loving.
I am who I am meant to be.
I am able to overcome obstacles.
I am willing to find blessings in the midst of difficulty.
I am weathering this storm and I am going to be alright.
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

Here is one of my favorite I am prayers:
“Day by day in every way I am getting better and better.”

And here’s another one:
“I am centered and poised in the Christ Mind and nothing can disturb the calm peace of my soul.”

Moses had his wilderness years. Jesus had his betrayal, his pain, his horrible injustice, and we have faced cruelty, injustice, difficulties, storms, illnesses, betrayals, abandonment, financial hardships, or other challenges…but like Moses and Jesus, we can learn that I Am is the power that helps us face the challenges, salvage blessings from them, and become beacons of light in our world.

We can’t always control circumstances, but we can decide how we will respond to circumstances, and one way to respond is to know that regardless of the situation,
I am a child of God,
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake,
I am centered and poised in the Christ mind and nothing can disturb the calm peace of my soul.

We will encounter thorns in life, but those are just experiences…they can’t touch the I Am of our being. Always use your I AM in positive ways. That’s how we can always stay strong. And this is the good news. Amen.

I am centered and poised in the Christ Mind…
And nothing can disturb the calm peace of my soul.
Amen.

Truth

On March 12, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Truth Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins March 11, 2018 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 religious types should be serious about what we wish to accomplish, but we shouldn’t […]

Truth
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
March 11, 2018

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 religious types should be serious about what we wish to accomplish, but we shouldn’t be joyless, or heartless.

That’s what Jesus showed us. Jesus loved to eat with people, even and sometimes especially with those that the uptight religious folk said he shouldn’t hang around with at all.
Jesus went to parties, where at least once he got stuck tending bar.
Jesus just liked being around people and showing them that they deserved love and joy in their lives.

Jesus spent his time and energy giving people their dignity back, loving the unloved, touching the untouchable, affirming the sacred value of all people. Jesus was religious, but he would not be oppressed by religion nor would he use religion in oppressive ways.

And that really started to encourage people. Instead of telling them how bad they were, or how angry God was with them, or how limited their lives had to be, Jesus helped people to realize that they could release their demons of fear and regret, they could feel whole in spite of physical challenges, they could affirm themselves even if others had looked down on them, they could approach God directly and experience God’s goodness for themselves. They could play and pray and work and love and hope and even start to believe that they were God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

When people used religion to justify cruelty, Jesus offered another way to look at things. He was always challenging the status quo, and reminding people that if your dogma had left you with an angry, vicious, or cruel god, then you had taken a wrong turn. Hope, healing, joy, peace, love…that’s what the God of Jesus offers, and so if that’s not what we’ve got, then maybe we should try again.

Because Jesus was helping people experience peace and joy in their lives, he developed quite a fan base. And some of those fans started talking about him like he was a prince, a warrior, an anointed leader. And now, people have reported this to the authorities. And Jesus is on trial for treason against the empire and he is being asked, “Are you a king?”

He’s not, well, not in the way he’s being accused. He’s not setting up a government. He’s not raising an army. If he were a king, even a pretender king, in the way he’s being accused his militia would be trying to rescue him…he clearly has no such militia.
What he has are ideals, and compassion, and hope, and grace. He’s not a conqueror, he’s a healer; not an oppressor, but a liberator; not a tyrant but a prophet who challenges tyranny without ever holding a weapon and certainly without turning faith into a weapon.

No Pilate, Jesus is not a king in the way you think about kings, people want to follow him because they love him and he’s loved because he’s given love. He’s laughed with people. He’s prayed with people. He’s encouraged people. He’s given love, and they’ve returned it.

When it was clear that she would never be the Queen consort of the United Kingdom, Princess Diana said, “I want to be queen of people’s hearts.” Jesus reigned in people’s hearts…not with power and privilege, but with peace and purpose. He just loved people so much that he became part of them…that’s how he reigned. The power of love is the truth to which he is determined to witness. And Pilate dismisses that with the flip retort, “What is truth?”

Jesus has already shown what truth is…the truth is that God is unconditional, all-inclusive, everlasting love.

He rescued a woman being stoned by religious men…stop using religion to beat up those you have labeled sinners.

Jesus touches lepers and affirms their dignity. It is cruel to abandon those who are hurting. Jesus extends a loving touch.

When he sees hungry people in a crowd, Jesus tells his disciples, “Give them something to eat.” He didn’t blame the hungry, he just wanted them fed.

Over and over Jesus shows what is true…love is what is true. People want to argue doctrine and dogma and tradition and texts…but Jesus didn’t argue the fine points of dogma. There are hundreds of commands in scripture, when asked what the most important was he answered: LOVE. Love God, love people. Just love.

Jesus reigns in people’s hearts because he helped them discover the power of love, because he helped them experience peace, because he gave them permission to have joy…not because he blugeoned them with dogma.

What is truth? LOVE.
God is love and those who love experience God and those who experience God as love discover hope, peace, and joy. That’s truth…and its so unnerving, that the powers that be tried to silence that truth by killing JEsus…and they try to silence it still with character assassination and intimidation and vilification and isolation…but they will fail. Tyranny seems to prosper for a time, but eventually it must fail…and theologies that paint God as a tyrant, they too will fail. That is the liberating, life-giving truth that Pilate can’t grasp but we can today.

Love is a healing balm. Love is God’s signature. Love is the truth. And this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
You are omnipresent,
Unconditional,
All-inclusive,
Everlasting Love.
This is my truth and my joy.
Amen.

Denying and Returning to God

On March 5, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Denying and Returning to God Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins John 18.12, 15-17 The Apostle Peter has been caught in an uncomfortable situation in the passage preceding today’s gospel reading. He barely escaped with his life, and now he is immediately in another kerfuffle and that’s what we heard read today. We are familiar with Jesus […]

Denying and Returning to God
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
John 18.12, 15-17

The Apostle Peter has been caught in an uncomfortable situation in the passage preceding today’s gospel reading. He barely escaped with his life, and now he is immediately in another kerfuffle and that’s what we heard read today.

We are familiar with Jesus telling Peter that he would deny him three times in one night before dawn (announced by the crow of a rooster). “Before the cock crows, you’ll deny me three times,” Jesus said. Peter said, “I don’t think so.”

He couldn’t imagine having a failure of nerve. He couldn’t imagine ever denying his relationship with Jesus, his commitment to the Jesus Way, his devotion to the healing and liberating message that Jesus shared. He was certain that he would never deny Jesus.

But then the authorities came one night with clubs and knives and torches…and they seized Jesus. And sure enough, Peter lept to Jesus’ defense. He unsheathed a sword (that apparently he was packing for just such an emergency) and he attacked one of the guards that had come for Jesus. He severely disfigures the guard, and Jesus says, “Peter, put away your sword.”

St. Paul tells us that the weapons of our warfare are not physical yet are mighty enough to pull down strongholds. We must resist injustice and oppression, we must take risks, we must speak truth to power, but violence isn’t the way…it’s not Jesus’ way. Jesus is revolutionary, but his revolution is not violent. Peter put away your sword.

That story is followed immediately by the one we heard today. Jesus is in custody. Jesus is having a hearing before being turned over to higher courts. And Peter is with him. Peter who is a disciple of an accused insurgent. Peter who an hour ago assaulted a guard sent to arrest Jesus.

So, when a woman asks Peter today, “aren’t you a disciple of that Galilean prophet?” He says, “Nope. Sure ain’t.” He’ll be asked twice more and twice more he’ll say, “Sorry, man; you’ve got the wrong guy.”

If Peter were to admit to being a sword wielding sidekick of the man currently under arrest for sedition, the next question would undoubtedly be, “Are you the one who stabbed a guard?” At which point just go ahead and schedule Peter’s execution.

It’s unfair to paint Peter as a coward…he’s already been in combat earlier tonight (for which Jesus chastised him), and he is standing in public where a whistle could bring down half a dozen armed soldiers in an instant. He was simply trying to develop a strategy for survival. But in so doing, he did deny Jesus.

He followed Jesus there so that he could help him escape if the opportunity arose, so he would have first hand info to share with the others. His sword fight has immediately been followed by an impromptu clandestine reconnaissance mission. He’s risked a lot twice tonight for Jesus. And he is heartbroken that in his desperate attempt to throw off suspicion he has actually denied the person he’s risked his life to protect.

Peter does return to his apostolic mission. He will speak boldly about the Jesus Way until he himself is executed some time later. Peter denied to survive, but he also returned.

I talk to people every single week who tell me they love what we stand for here at Sunshine Cathedral.
They love our arts programming.
They love that we feed people.
They love that we have support groups.
They love that we take a stand for justice.
They love that we celebrate diversity and affirm the dignity of all people, including and especially the LGBTQ children of God.
BUT, they invariably say to me, they can’t be church people because they are still so hurt by or so angry with religion, or because they find religion to be hateful and mean.

They hear the right wing evangelists preaching hate and horror, and they want none of it.

They’ve heard religion used as afterlife fire insurance; that’s not for them.

They’ve experienced religious dogma fanning the flames of monstrous cruelty instead of applying the salve of human compassion.

Many were told years ago that God rejected them because of an opinion they held or couldn’t hold.

Or they were told God would reject them because they were interested in another religion or because they had fallen in love with someone from another religion.

Or they were told that they would be damned for all eternity because they were same-gender loving…deal with that for 10 seconds…people still say that a loving God will condemn people for expressing their love and attraction for each other. Who wants that God?

In a world of nuclear capability, disease, hunger, mass shootings, fracking, corruption, and genocide…if what makes God twitch is my panting at Ryan Gosling then that God needs to go.

And if you have been blessed as I have to share your life with someone you love wholeheartedly, you know that is a blessing, and God rejoices at the love shared, not the number of Y chromosomes in the mix. God is love, and love loves love. Case closed.

People are exhausted by pettiness and pugnacity posing as piety.

They haven’t rejected God…they’ve rejected hate masquerading as God.

They haven’t rejected the healing, liberating, justice seeking, heart mending, oppression challenging, hope sharing Christ. What they’ve rejected is spiritual violence deplorably committed in Jesus’ name.

They’ve rejected the lie that it’s okay to put people through hell for heaven’s sake.
And so have many of us.
That’s why we covenant with God and with one another to be a DIFFERENT KIND OF CHURCH so that spiritual community and practice can be a healing force rather than a wounding weapon.

I’m not worried about the afterlife; I refuse to entertain for a moment that God will ever reject any soul for any reason. But I want us to build communities of love and hope and joy and justice.
I want us to celebrate life and diversity and intellect and feelings.
I want us to rejoice in our wholeness and I want us to encourage one another on life’s journey.
That’s what religion can be,
that’s what religion should be,
and at Sunshine Cathedral
that’s what we insist religion must be.

Finally, let me assure you, that while in our pain some of us may turn from God in order to feel safe, God will never turn from us. God is the love that will never let us go, and this is the good news. Amen.

Today & everyday
I will live in the power of my Truth
I affirm my sacred value
I declare & rejoice in God’s love for me
And so it is!

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