Trust in God

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

Trust in God Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell June 17, 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 […]

Trust in God
Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell
June 17, 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.”

A number of years ago, I felt a call to ordained ministry. I had actually felt this call for the first time when I was quite young. I was probably 14 or 15 years old. But I put if off because I truly didn’t think that someone like me could be a minister. I’m a girl and at that point, I had never seen a woman minister. Plus I was becoming aware of my sexuality and how it didn’t seem to fit into what society expects of a young woman. And so I really believed that I had two strikes against me.

But as I aged and after a series of events in which people close to me encouraged me to consider seminary, I gave it a go. Now I began with some serious apprehension. I really wondered what I was going to do this education. I had a good job in the Corporate world. I made good money; had great benefits. But still I entered seminary. And as I was working my through school, people often asked me questions such as, “Do you want your own church?” “Are you going to leave Sunshine Cathedral?” “What’s next for you?” I will tell you, I didn’t have an answer for these questions. I just knew, deep down inside me, I knew that I was to continue doing what I was doing. I had trust that it would all work out. I couldn’t explain it beyond that – I just knew that it would. I had to set aside my control issues, my anxiety, and simply trust in God. And that was possibly the most difficult part of my seminary journey. I just needed to be patient and to trust. Here I am, many years later, doing the ministry that I dearly love to do and I truly don’t believe the process could have worked out any better.

The passage we just heard from Ezekiel is what biblical scholars consider a Hebrew Bible parable. A parable is a story or a description used to convey a message or to teach us a new way of thinking or being. In this instance, the writer of Ezekiel is conveying to his community, and I am assuming the author of Ezekiel is male, his imagining of God’s realm or kin-dom as well as his understanding of who or what God is. To this writer, God is a God who will lift up the lowly and will embrace those who have been oppressed. God is a God of welcome and longed-for joy. This is a God of empowerment, if only we will trust.

This ancient community was a people of exile who were carried off into captivity after the destruction of Jerusalem. Now, no matter how very difficult our lives may seem, we here in the United States live in a land of great wealth, power and privilege. So it could only be difficult, really impossible, for us to fully comprehend what these people experienced. Though I would suspect the many people seeking asylum here in the U.S., those who are having their children taken from them, those who are literally running for their lives, know exactly how it feels to be in exile. How fearful and confused these people must have been.

But Ezekiel is conveying to them not only a God of justice but also a God of compassion, a God of tenderness. The writer imagines God saying, “I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.” Here is God’s personal intervention! It’s a Divine blessing for those who feel left out, marginalized. It is for those who need to remember that God is always present, always with them, even when everything seems to be overwhelming. The writer of Ezekiel was encouraging the community to put their trust completely in God and inviting them to experience all the wonderful, miraculous things that can occur when they are willing to trust. That is something that I have worked to incorporate in my life though not without some struggle.

When I was a child, I believed in a God who would give me things. You know, Santa God. I truly thought that if I believed the “right” things about God or if I prayed in a certain way or behaved in a certain way then God would give me what I want. Because I was a “good person” I should get everything I asked for. Right??!! And I will tell you that it took me a long time to step away from that image of God; the God of my childhood. I would suspect that image can still be problematic for many of us. If I’m really good, why didn’t this wonderful thing happen for me? And if this wonderful thing didn’t happen for me, what is wrong with me?? It is important, I believe, to move beyond that “I deserve it” way of thinking and into a deeper and more trusting connection with God. There is a distinct difference between expectation and trust.

When things seem exceptionally difficult or stressful, the first thing I tend to do is put up walls, to wallow in my own agony and to push away those who may help. And then I remember to breathe, to relax, and place my trust in God. I set aside the demanding, expectation that God will give me what I want AND I recognize that all things are possible when that trusting experience occurs. It may not be what I expect, it may be nothing like I imagined and hoped for, and yet, it is often exactly what I need. Trust, though, requires us to live in uncertainty, to be vulnerable, to give up control. And, let’s face it, most of us hang on to control with a powerful, unyielding grip.

Writer and sociologist, Brene Brown, has written extensively on the connection between trust and vulnerability and how it can impact one’s faith experience. What she shares is that so many of us buy into society’s need for certainty, that there must be a “written in stone” plan AND to be vulnerable means to be weak, delicate, helpless. But she reminds there is a strength, a power in being vulnerable; in saying “I don’t know what is going to happen or how everything will work out. But I do know that in my waiting and in my hope, God will be with me.” There is power in setting aside our ego and knowing that the best possible outcome is there for us, if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be trusting in the Holy One who makes all good things possible.

Today is Father’s Day and I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad over the past few days. My dad died last year after an extended illness. Dad was physically a big, strong man, always fixing things, always in control, someone you could always count on for good advice. I want to note that not everyone has similar experiences with their fathers. Some folks had warm, loving fathers. Some had cold, distant, or even abusive fathers. Some had no father figure at all. So I want to honor and recognize those feelings and experiences today, as well.

But during the last year or two of his life, Dad’s strength diminished, both physically and mentally, He couldn’t always control things the way he had in the past and I could see that this decline was troubling for him. He was of the generation that believed men were to be strong in every way. But then, rather than becoming bitter and unpleasant, Dad gave himself permission to be more vulnerable. He became more open to sharing his feelings. He became more open to the love and support that was available to him. He became far more trusting in those who were there to help him AND his trust in God grew into something really beautiful to see. Dad and I had some great theological discussions on God and Universe and what it all means. He knew that his time on this earth was limited and he honored that by being vulnerable, by increasing his trust in his family and in the Divine which made the time he had left far more meaningful. And it was. Many relationships were strengthened and I believe he really felt the love that was always there for him.

Catholic priest and spiritual guide Henri Nouwen wrote, “Are you willing to be transformed? Or do you keep clutching your old ways of life with one hand while with the other you beg for change? You have to trust that inner voice that shows you the way. You know, that inner voice. You turn to it often. But after you have heard with clarity what you are asked to do, you start raising questions, fabricating objections, and seeking everyone else’s opinion. In everything, keep trusting that God is with you…throughout your journey.”

So, my friends, can you trust that still small inner voice and follow it? Are you willing to be vulnerable, to break open your woundedness and let the Divine light shine in? That journey of trust can be most difficult. It requires from us calm and peace and intentional time for prayer and meditation. AND I speak from experience, it can be the most beautiful journey of our lives.

Trust in God and be open to the infinite possibilities that exist!

And this is the good news,
Amen.

~~~~~~~~~

As I pray
As I meditate
As I seek calm in my life
I will listen for that still small voice
I will trust in God
Amen.

Beliefs Matter

On June 10, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Beliefs Matter Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or other people’s oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Jesus tried to help people feel better about their lives. He wanted people to feel as […]

Beliefs Matter
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or other people’s oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

Jesus tried to help people feel better about their lives. He wanted people to feel as if they mattered, as if they had purpose. And so he prayed for people’s healing. He affirmed their sacred value. He tried to chase away the demons, the fear thoughts, the internalized oppression that kept people miserable.

Jesus was a mystic. He encountered God directly and he shared God one on one with the people he encountered, and that threatened both political and religious establishments. He offered people a vision of a divine kin-dom, a non-kingdom, an anti-empire where there were no slaves, no prisoners, no outcasts, no untouchables…a blessed community where the first were last and the last were first and no sword would be drawn but the sword of truth and no power unleashed but the power of love.

For his noble vision and his life changing ministry, the Empire called him an insurrectionist, and the religious establishment in bed with the empire called him demonic.

He was doing good. Helping people. Loving people. Tearing down walls and barriers. Lifting people up. Giving people their dignity back, resurrecting their hope.

But domination, whether it takes the form of politics or religion, doesn’t recognize or celebrate potential wholeness. Oppression deals in fractures and wounds and deception. It is a broken religion, and a broken society that will offer hate and call it love, and look at love and call it demonic.

Jesus believed in a good God.
Jesus believed in human potential.
Jesus believed that justice for all was the will of God.
And Jesus believed that healing was possible.
His beliefs empowered people, and those who didn’t want people empowered came down hard on Jesus…that’s how much his beliefs mattered.
And so do ours.

Let me share with you some of my beliefs. I’ll limit it to seven, though really, they could all be summed up by combining the first two into one…God is omnipresent Love.

But borrowing from tradition, 7 being the number of sacraments, the first deacons, and the gifts of the Spirit as named by the prophet Isaiah, I will share 7 beliefs. If you find them empowering, I invite you to adopt and if need be, adapt them.

Number 1.
I believe in the omnipresence of God.
“There’s not a spot where God is not.”

For God to be omnipresent, God must be everywhere, fully, evenly, at the same time present. That means we must be in God, part of God.
God is with us, within us, is the source and substance of all being, the ground of being. God is Life living itself through All that is.

I cannot be separated from, lost from, abandoned by, or forgotten by God. I am forever safe in God because it is in God that I live and move and have my being. And if it’s true for me, it’s true for you.

Number 2.
I believe that God is love.
Not merely loving, not just kind or generous, not just forgiving or understanding …God is love itself.

God is perfect love, and perfect love rejects no one. Perfect love is all inclusive, unconditional, and everlasting.
Perfect, omnipresent love must embrace and celebrate every life.

God is a presence from which we cannot be separated and a love that will not let us go.
Some people preach wrath, judgment, condemnation and damnation, but none of that can be true in the presence of omnipresent love.

Number 3.
I believe that all people have sacred value. If God is omnipresent love, that means we are made from love and are part of a loving presence that is the only presence there is. We, then, like Jesus, are the incarnation of God’s love. To be made by God, from God, in God, for God, and filled with God’s own life and love is to have sacred value.

Number 4.
I believe in miracles.
A miracle is a change in perception from fear to love.
Once we release a fear, we have experienced a miracle.

Once we see past pessimism, past fear, past regret, past other people’s limiting beliefs, past the past and we embrace the infinite possibilities that exist within a loving omnipresence, then how we experience life changes in joyful ways.

And the biggest miracle may just be the one that comes from knowing God as an all-loving omnipresence, because once you know God as omnipresent Love you know that you have sacred value, which means that you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

Number 5.
I believe that we are meant to be blessed.

Emma Curtis Hopkins said, “There is good for me and I ought to have it.”

Jesus prayed, “give us this day our daily bread.”

John prayed, “May you prosper and be in good health.”

Isaiah heard God saying, “Like a mother comforts her child so will I comfort you.”

Moses led people through a wilderness where they found manna and quail to eat and where even toxic water was made fresh.

Ezekiel had a vision of his dried up, worn out, downtrodden community getting a second wind and coming back to life.

We pray, “thy will be done,” and it is God’s will for us to be blessed and to share our blessings.

Number 6.
I believe that injustice is sin.

I don’t use the word “sin” a lot because it has been used in sinful ways to hurt, control, and terrorized people.
But sin is missing the mark and injustice is missing the mark.
Cruelty is missing the mark. Oppression is missing the mark. Avarice is missing the mark. Spreading hate and fear is missing the mark.

Injustice denies the love that God is, and the love God calls us to share.

It is unjust, unloving, and sinful to vilify transgender people.
It is unjust, unloving, and sinful to torment, bully, and exclude same-gender loving people.
It is unjust, unloving, and sinful to harden our hearts toward the poor, the sick, the asylum seeker, or the refugee.
Injustice is sin.

Number 7.
I believe that since injustice is sin, our sacred mission is to correct injustice.
The prophet Micah said that this is what God requires of us, ONLY to do justice and love mercy and live humbly.

Justice and mercy.
Fairness and compassion.
What else would omnipresent Love ask of us?

Justice work is the call of the gospel.
It is how the kin-dom of God will be established on earth.
It is what the church is supposed to be about.
I believe that justice and mercy are our guiding principles as followers of Jesus.

I believe that God is omnipresent
And I believe that God is love.

Therefore, I believe that all people have sacred value,
That miracles are possible,
And that we are meant to be blessed.

And I believe that injustice is sin,
And that we are called to correct injustice with the ministry of justice and mercy.

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the mission of his church as I understand it today.
Will you support this mission faithfully and enthusiastically?
If so, then this is the good news. Amen.

God is omnipresent love.
Therefore, I have sacred value,
I believe in miracles,
And there is good for us and we ought to have it!
May we be blessed to be a blessing…
In the name of all that is good and holy.
Amen.

Recharge the Batteries

On June 4, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Recharge the Batteries Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Dt. 5.12; Mk. 3.1-6 June 3, 2018 Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or other people’s oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. In seminary I took a Zen meditation course. […]

Recharge the Batteries
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Dt. 5.12; Mk. 3.1-6
June 3, 2018

Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or other people’s oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

In seminary I took a Zen meditation course. Now, meditation can certainly be done as a solitary activity, but in this course we meditated together.

Every morning at 6:30 am we met for an hour to sit on cushions and enter into the Silence. And sometimes, the silence was so rich, so powerful, so thick it was like its own space, its own reality, its own world. Even silence was better when shared with others.

Nothing recharges the batteries like shared worship. And its not just one thing…scripture, song, sermon, sacrament, sharing…all of it comes together to facilitate miracles.

And in the gospel lesson today, it is in worship that a miracle happens. A man experiences a dramatic healing.

I’ve been healed in worship. I’ve come to worship with head bowed not in reverence but in sorrow, and left with it held high.

I’ve come to worship feeling lost and alone, and left reminded that God is the Love that will not and cannot let me go.

I’ve come to worship with an empty cup and left with my cup overflowing.

The psalmist prayed, “You are holy, you who inhabit the praise of your people.” (Ps. 22.3) When the people come together to pray and praise, God is experienced in ways that can change hearts, change minds, change lives.

When my batteries are weak, a nap can help, the gym can help, a chat with a dear friend can help, a classic movie can help, but nothing recharges my batteries more than worship. When I travel I find a place to worship. I need the miracles that seem reserved for corporate worship, common prayer, for those times when two or more are gathered in the name of faith.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus goes to worship. He gives out so much, he needs to refuel. He needs the prayers of others. He needs voices raised together in song, scriptures read aloud, loving glances and kind gestures passed between fellow journeyers. He gives so much, he needs his batteries recharged.

So Jesus goes to worship at the synagogue and there is someone there with an atrophied hand. There are also people waiting for Jesus. They want to trap him. They assume that if he sees a woman bent over from back pain or a child laid out on a stretcher or a man with an atrophied hand, Jesus will probably pray for them. And then they can pounce.

Healing can be considered work, and the rigid enforcers of religious regulations say that you can’t work on the Sabbath. So, if they catch Jesus showing compassion they have him…and, have you met Jesus? He’s going to show compassion! Religious people? Not always. But Jesus, yes.

And he does. He sees the the man with his broken wing, and he encourages him. But he doesn’t heal him. He doesn’t break the no healing work rule. He just asks him to stretch out his hand.
He’s really asking him to stretch his faith. And the man does, and then he discovers that he has had a healing.
Jesus didn’t touch him, didn’t pray for him, didn’t slip him an aspirin. He just encouraged him and the man had his own miraculous experience. That shows the power of encouragement.
You want to help someone? Encourage them. You may be setting the stage for a miracle.

Jesus and his new friend have their batteries recharged in the context of worship.

But Jesus’ critics…they didn’t have the same wonderful experience that Jesus and the healed man had. They weren’t there to praise or share or celebrate…they were there to use religion as a weapon, and all they got was meaner.
And while healing on the sabbath was against their rules, they see nothing wrong with plotting to destroy Jesus’ life, also on the Sabbath! Weaponized religion is religion at its most toxic.

The religious wrist slappers and fundamentalists of the story show us how in the hands of hate, religion can be weaponized.
But Jesus shows us how faith can uplift, heal, encourage.

Toxic religion has said that same-gender loving people are beyond the reach of God’s love, but righteous faith says God is love and WHOEVER lives in love lives in God and God lives in them. (I Jn 4.16) Toxic religion says only certain groups or people who hold certain opinions get to know God, but righteous faith says it is IN God that we all live and move and have our being. (Acts 17.28) Toxic religion says it is impossible to experience life beyond strictly enforced gender binaries, but righteous faith says that in Christ there is neither male nor female, we are all one in Christ. (Gal. 3.28) Toxic religion tells women they are secondary to men, but righteous faith says that God created humans, male and female, in the divine image. (Gen. 1.27) Toxic religion told slaves to obey their masters (Eph. 6.5) but righteous faith said, “Let my people go!” (Ex. 9.1) Toxic religion embraces violence, while righteous faith demands that we beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. (Is. 2.4) Toxic religion says I need a jet to do the Lord’s work, but righteous faith says deliver good news to the poor, bind up the broken hearted, demand the release of captives and offer freedom from darkness for those in prison (Is. 61.1).
And the broken hearts we are meant to minister to include transgender hearts, refugee hearts, asylum seeking hearts, and every heart that God forbids us to forget in the storm ravaged US Commonweath of Puerto Rico.
Toxic religion operates on fear, but righteous faith says fear not for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people (Lk 2.10).

The time is now to worship in spirit and in truth (Jn 4.24), that is, to worship in ways that promote righteous faith. A faith community that rejects toxic religion is possible, it’s a different kind of church but its future has infinite possibilities!

Many of us were hurt by religion, but I thank God that we reclaimed our faith. And we are still stretching our faith and daring to attempt what some say can’t be done. But we worship and recharge our batteries and we remember that with God all things are possible.

In the context of worship, power is released and blessings are received that don’t seem to happen in any other environment. If you are here to worship, to pray, to praise, to celebrate, to seek, to care, to share…there is a blessing in store for you that no one can take away. And in any case, you may well wind up with recharged batteries, and this is the good news. Amen.

Mighty God,
Where joy has withered,
Or hope has been battered,
Let healing and restoration now occur.
Amen.

Praying Through Uncertainty

On May 27, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Praying Through Uncertainty Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Trinity Sunday 2018 Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or other people’s oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. The doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t codified until 3 centuries after Jesus’ […]

Praying Through Uncertainty
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Trinity Sunday 2018

Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or other people’s oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

The doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t codified until 3 centuries after Jesus’ death. And in his life, it was doctrine he never taught. As a doctrine, it isn’t taught anywhere in scripture. Rocco Errico once wrote, “God learned about the Trinity in 325 AD.”

So, I won’t be talking about the doctrine of the Trinity today, it being Trinity Sunday notwithstanding. If the doctrine gives you hope or peace or joy, may it continue to do so. If you find the doctrine confusing or onerous, then please don’t give it another thought.

In the cafeteria of religious delicacies, we each are free to take what delights us and allow others to feast upon what they crave. The important thing isn’t that we all eat the same things but that we are all fed. I trust that if you are open to experiencing God, you will experience God in the ways that are right for you.

Isaiah had a powerful experience of God which we read about earlier.
The king has died. That has probably left uncertainty and anxiety in the nation. A time of national anxiety is a perfect time for an encouraging vision. During a worship experience, Isaiah has such a vision. He imagines God on a throne.

Throne represents power. When the powerkeepers of the world are missing or deficient or corrupt, there is a power that is pure, that will not be tainted by politics or power struggles. When everything is in shambles, God is still with us, even in the mess. And that is comforting.

And in that moment, thinking about how good God is, Isaiah feels inadequate. He wants to do something for God, but, what can he do? God has everything, is everything, is everywhere, is the Substance of all that is, as Isaiah points out with images of God’s robe filling the temple and God’s glory filling the earth. He as much as says, “There’s not a spot where God is not.”

God is All, and in All, and is infinitely good. And that begs an Alleluia! But it can also be humbling.
God is in me, so why am I sometimes afraid?
God is everywhere, so why do I ever expect failure?
God is love, so how can we who worship God be so unloving to the poor, the sick, the dispossessed, the vulnerable, the marginalized?

To think of God’s goodness and to think of the ways we deny that goodness, well, it can bring what the Pentecostals used to call a sense of “conviction.” We see we’ve missed the mark and we want to up our game not only for God but also for the sake of our own humanity.

Isaiah considers his insecurities, his mistakes, the times he was unkind, unloving, untruthful, unfair…he’s been a mess a time or two.
But then, in his daydream anyway, angels touch him, and tell him he’s worthy. His higher thoughts, the better angels of his nature, remind him that God isn’t limited by Isaiah’s learning curve. Oh, sure, he’s screwed up a few times. PS, he’ll screw up again. It doesn’t matter. Isaiah still has something to offer.

If Isaiah is willing to believe that God can use him even when he’s not his best…if he’s willing to have faith that God can use him to do things that seem impossible or unlikely or unconventional, well what the heck!, it’s God and its faith and its miracles and the future has infinite possibilities, so…

Here I am God! Send me! Use me.

Isaiah will later use the image of a cut down, burned up stump…but from that stump, a tender green shoot will emerge. It’s never hopeless. It’s never too late.

Isn’t that the Resurrection message. Golgotha sucks. But it’s not the end of the story.

Isn’t that the Pentecost message? We were afraid and hiding and frozen with despair, but we got a second wind and conquered our fears and took the world by storm.

Isn’t that the Jesus story? His not yet married mother is pregnant with him and her fiancé isn’t the father. His story starts out in scandal. After he’s born his family become refugees in Egypt. Jesus is a poor, Afro-Palestinian Jew (an important fact to remember in a time when racism is rampant). He’s temporarily homeless (born in a barn) and spent part of his childhood as a refugee in Egypt. His life was ended when he was executed by the state as a insurrectionist.

And yet, THAT is who we call ”Lord” and we insist that even his execution isn’t the end of his story or his significance or his influence or his mission. It’s never over and the winds of renewal are ever ready to bring forth a miracle. Even when all that’s left is a burnt stump, a tender green shoot can emerge from it and new life is up and running.

Isaiah wasn’t certain that he could answer the call to ministry, but he prayed through it and said, “In spite of my uncertainty, use me. Send me. If you trust me, God, I’ll definite try to trust you.”

People are uncertain today.
Our hearts break as we learn that almost 1500 children have been taken from their families and lost in the system. I mean LOST. We don’t know where they are. We cannot vouch for their safety. I can’t even imagine the fear or the lifelong pain caused to parents and children by this travesty. I cannot with certainty say when or how this will be resolved…but we can pray until it is, and we ask God to use us to be part of the solution.

Whether it’s the Black Lives Matter movement, or the Poor People’s Campaign trying to stir the conscience of a nation, or the Reclaiming Jesus movement (which is reclaiming Jesus from those who have weaponized Jesus and used him against women’s autonomy, used him to promote war, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and used him to bless policies that punish rather than aid the poor)…people are daring to say to that which they hold Sacred, “Here I am, send me!”

Praying, and then being willing to be the answers to our prayers…that is the biblical model for toppling tyranny.
As the Apostle Paul wrote, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but through God they are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.”

In our fear we sometimes want to put on the breaks, retreat, pull back, clamp down, trim, hoard, hide…but let’s push past that fear. May angels touch us and remind us that God can use us and miracles are still possible, especially if we will pray, “Here I am, God; use me.”

During a time of anxiety and uncertainty, Isaiah imagined an omnipresence that would never and could never let us go. He imagined even from disaster a shoot of hope breaking through. And he dared to pray, “Use me. I’m willing, and I want to be part of miracles.”

That’s a prayer that worked for Isaiah. I’m betting it will work for us, and this is the good news. Amen.

Holy God,
Use me.
I am willing.
I want to be part of miracles.
Amen.

Spiritually Empowered

On May 22, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Spiritually Empowered Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Pentecost 2018 Come holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Amen. The author of John’s gospel is writing almost 3 generations after Jesus’ death, almost 70 years have passed. In those seven decades the followers of the Christ way […]

Spiritually Empowered
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Pentecost 2018

Come holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Amen.

The author of John’s gospel is writing almost 3 generations after Jesus’ death, almost 70 years have passed.

In those seven decades the followers of the Christ way have fed the hungry, sheltered the vulnerable, ministered to the sick, challenged the power keepers, shared their stories, shared their resources, and for their efforts, they have faced prison, beatings, even execution.

In those seven decades Jesus has been executed, Paul has been executed, Peter has been executed, Jerusalem has been ravaged and its holy Temple destroyed. Followers of Jesus have suffered setbacks, loss, and they are tired and anxious.

So the author of John’s gospel wants to encourage his own faith community. Luke does something similar in Acts with the familiar story of people being stirred by a wind inside the room and the disciples then going forward to reenergize the Jesus movement.

John, too, tells a story of spiritual empowerment, but instead of a mighty wind he shows an intimate breath…both stories symbolize spiritual empowerment and the renewal of a movement.

John is writing to the hardworking and long-suffering body of believers and seekers who are tempted to whittle down the vision to something safer and easier.

But the writer knows that if they play it safe, if they don’t balance caution with courage, and doubt with daring, and if they don’t counter fear with faith, if they don’t push past their anxieties and take a chance, then they will cease to be effective. The mission is too urgent to let that happen.

The writer knows, as Moses and Aaron and Miriam knew, as Elijah knew, as Jesus knew, as Paul and his friend Lydia knew, as pastors have always known, it is better to try and fail than to not try at all. A faithful attempt is never a failure; it will succeed partially or completely
or it will produce blessings unrelated to the original intent
or it will teach valuable lessons
or open doors for future successes…the leap of faith is always worth the risk.
As Les Brown says: shoot for the moon – even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.

And so the writer encourages his community by imagining Jesus encouraging his frightened friends.

He imagines the disciples hiding in fear, wanting to play it safe after Jesus’ crucifixion. And he imagines Jesus appearing to them, challenging them to keep going.

Peace be with you.
Receive the holy Spirit.

The word for Spirit in ancient languages is the same word that is used for breath and wind. Divine breath in ancient stories is the animating breath of life!

So, John’s Jesus is saying: Receive the healing Breath, breathe in life and be energized. Receive your second Wind, and get back to work.

Later in this same chapter Jesus shows Thomas his wounds, his scars. Risk taking does not leave us unscarred. Jesus’ risks demanded a terrible price: he was terrorized, brutalized, humiliated, and killed; but that didn’t stop his message or his mission. Wounds and all, Jesus is still encouraging the movement. Get your second wind, and keep going.

Locked behind the closed doors felt safe, and maybe it was, but missions aren’t safe. Missions aren’t easy. Missions can experience delays and setbacks, but the mission is worth the necessary risks, as Sunshine Cathedral well knows.

This church went through a few short term pastors between 1972 and 1976. Then they called John Gill to be their pastor and he stayed almost a decade. The parish thrived under his leadership and moved from their home in Sailboat Bend to a new and bigger space off of Hwy 84. It was called Church of the Holy Spirit in those days. What a beautiful memory for Pentecost Sunday.

The church flourished in their new home, and in 1986 called a new pastor, Grant Lynn Ford, and the congregation outgrew its second property. So a third property, this one, was purchased. The church tried to acquire a different property, but the deal fell through. But they got a second wind and they didn’t give up and they took more risks and they bought this property.

But that wasn’t the end of it. They got new windows for the worship space. Eventually a new organ was donated, but to accommodate the organ a new chancel was needed. And all the while salaries had to be paid and mission work helping others had to be done.

And sometimes, the dream was larger than the funds at hand (any dream worthwhile always is), but they didn’t give up on the dream. The church was fueled by faith, even and especially in times of uncertainty. How very biblical.

In 2007, Bishop Ford retired, but before retiring, he recruited me to come and continue the work. I had the joy of working with him for 14 months before being installed as the new senior minister in November 2007.

Since then, we’ve completed the chancel renovation, continued important mission work, added a columbarium, got some new windows, retired the mortgage on the property, installed new flooring, launched a performing arts series that has been going strong for years now, and we got all new seats (100 more than we had before, which has already come in handy at Christmas, Easter, and several performance events).

None of those things would have happened if the pastors of this church had given in to fear or fatigue, our own or the fears others tried to project onto us.

To build this ministry and reach out to people far beyond our walls has taken faith, vision, courage, and a second wind, and a third, and fourth, and fifth, etc. It has taken three generations of enduring, visionary pastoral leadership supported by excellent, invaluable staff members, our generous Cathedral Foundation, a hard working church board of directors, as well as countless volunteers, donors, and prayer partners. We’ve done it together. There is more to do, and we’ll do it together.

Sunshine Cathedral has been at it for almost half a century, and we get tired, and we may get scared as political and economic conditions wax and wane. John’s gospel has a word for us today: Peace be with you (go to peace instead of to pieces).

When we are weary, we can take a healing breath…inhale the holy Breath that revives and renews.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me; Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

We’ve got this. There’s more to do and we are going to do it. What God has called us to do God has also equipped us to do.

We have people to encourage, justice to pursue, lives to bless, people to feed, hearts to change, hope to share…and we are going to do it with boldness. We are looking for ways to be more, do more, share more (not less). Always more: that’s the Sunshine Cathedral way, and, that’s the Jesus way.

And so, church, Receive the holy Breath. Be spiritually empowered. And let’s keep moving forward. Amen? Amen! And this is the good news.

Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Melt and mold me.
Fill and use me.
Amen.

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.

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