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!

Do Something

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

Do Something Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Feb. 25, 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. After college, I desperately wanted to go to graduate school, but I really doubted […]

Do Something
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Feb. 25, 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.

After college, I desperately wanted to go to graduate school, but I really doubted that I had the academic chops. I was telling my therapist about it and she said to me, “take one class.” I had aced classes before. It could happen. Take the pressure off, she advised. Stop telling yourself all the reasons you might fail, and just take a class. Do something.

Well, I took a class, aced it, and there was no stopping me after that. By doing something, I was able to do more and more. I now have lots of letters behind my name and enjoyed every step of the journey, but it all began when I decided to do something.

Jesus often asked people to do something.
Jesus treated a blind man by making a crude ointment of spittle and dirt. After applying the ointment, he told the man to do something – go wash the nasty ointment off. He did, and, of course, things improved for him.

A woman with a chronic hemorrhage touched Jesus’ garment. She was breaking cultural norms to do so, but she felt like if she did something she might get better. She had seen doctors but they weren’t effective so she decided to do something else. And, she got better.

A centurion, a member of the ruling class, an occupier of Jesus’ land came to Jesus begging him for help for his servant. The Greek word used for servant has romantic connotations, and the centurion’s devotion to a member of the slave class further suggests that this servant and the centurion have a special relationship. The centurion does something: he humbles himself by going to someone he rules over to ask for help. His love for his “servant” is so strong, he will humble himself and beg a faith healer for assistance. Jesus not only blesses the servant, he praises the centurion’s faith…the faith that led him to do something.

Most of Jesus’ healing miracles involved asking people to do something, showing us that what God does for us, God does through us.

What’s our saying?: Say a prayer and take a pill, if one doesn’t work the other will! Do something.
There’s an old proverb: Trust Allah, but tether your camel. Do something.
That was Jesus’ philosophy. Pray and do. It was his formula for miracles.

In today’s gospel lesson, we see Jesus demonstrating Do Something theology.

First, Jesus takes his clothes off. That’s a symbol of vulnerability and trust.

On the beach, we have a sort of social contract…I won’t judge you, you won’t judge me. No matter how pale or pasty I might be, no matter how distant any hint of six pack abs might be, no matter what hangs or droops, or what may be tatted or pierced, at the beach we don’t judge. No shame. Just break out the SPF 30 and have a good time.

Now, if to pick up some extra cash I strip down to my skivvies and start working a pole at the Boardwalk, then you get to judge plenty. “What was he thinking?!”

So, disrobing, except for in certain safe zones, can be risky. And here’s Jesus, taking it off. He does something that could make him uncomfortable, that could make others uncomfortable, but he needs to do something.

Sometimes we need to strip away the outer defenses and let more of who we are be seen. I’m not asking you to defy you sense of modesty, but I am saying, growth and healing sometimes require a bit of unlayering.

Coming out is a type of disrobing.
Going into recovery is a type of disrobing.
Asking for prayer and support when starting chemo or facing surgery is a type of disrobing.
Starting therapy is a type of disrobing.
It’s risky. It’s scary.
It’s healing. It’s empowering.

Now it’s one thing for Jesus to parade around in a towel, but now he wants to give his friends a sponge bath?
Um, Jesus, could I interest you in a boundary?
Peter is especially scandalized that his teacher would kneel down in front of him and wash his nasty feet. Peter says, “No, thank you.”

It’s time for Peter take a risk. Risk being loved, Peter. Risk being cared for; risk letting people know that beneath your perfect coiffeur and your lotioned and perfumed torso there are knobby knees and crusty feet. Risk letting someone know you and appreciate you, bunions and all.

Friendship is intimate. Worship is intimate. Romance is intimate. Speaking or performing in public is intimate…to really connect with an audience of any size, one has to be somewhat open, intimate. And intimacy is risky. Trusting people and getting hurt and forgiving and daring to trust again…that can be smelly feet awkward, and naked in front of your friends uncomfortable. But it might be worth the risk. Jesus thought it was.

What Peter and the gang don’t yet understand is that Jesus needs to do something. He’s wanted for sedition. People are whispering that he could set up his own government in defiance of the Empire. Rome ain’t having that. If the authorities find Jesus, and thanks to Judas they will, he will be imprisoned, or flogged, or sold into slavery, or executed. There’s no pretty ending to this story.

So Jesus needs to do something. The clock is ticking. He needs his friends to know that he loves them. He needs to press upon them how love is their mission no matter what happens to him. He wants them to remember him, of course, but even more importantly, he wants them to continue the work. Give the people their dignity back. Touch the untouchables. Love the unloved. Care for the sick, the poor, the marginalized. Help the broken feel whole. Be relentless in declaring the all-inclusive and unconditional love of God.

So, one more time and in a particularly dramatic and intimate way, Jesus shows them his love and his commitment to the ministry of love. He strips before them, bare and vulnerable. And he kneels before them, and he washes their feet. He needs them to know that love is worth the risk. God is love, and so love must win, because omnipresent, eternal, divine Love is the stuff of the universe…in the final analysis, love is all there really is.

With all the pugnacious preachers spewing fear, wrath and condemnation, we need the God of love proclaimed by a naked, foot-washing Christ.

My friends, do something.
Take a class.
Join a support group.
Volunteer.
Ask God for guidance.
Make amends.
Forgive someone who disappointed you.
Forgive yourself for that dumb mistake.
Take your medicine.
Do something.

If you need to see something differently, or experience something differently, if you need to rise above fear or conquer worry…Jesus has some good counsel for us today: pray, and do something. That simple formula could lead to a miracle. And this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
Heal my fears.
And reveal the something that is mine to do…
that will lead to the breakthrough I need.
Amen.

Renewal

On February 19, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Ash Wednesday

On February 14, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Ash Wednesday, Feb 14 – Affirmation Readings: F. Bernadette Turner wrote: “Affirmation-prayers can be successfully used in building a rich consciousness. They help you vitalize your words and feelings in communicating with Cosmic Center because they are strong declarations of your beliefs. Affirmation prayers have a tonic quality. These prayers as mantras add a variation […]

Ash Wednesday, Feb 14 – Affirmation

Readings:
F. Bernadette Turner wrote: “Affirmation-prayers can be successfully used in building a rich consciousness. They help you vitalize your words and feelings in communicating with Cosmic Center because they are strong declarations of your beliefs. Affirmation prayers have a tonic quality. These prayers as mantras add a variation to your prayer-method. Affirmation prayers are an investment, enriching your consciousness and making life less forbidding in disquieting times.”

We read in the Psalter (Psalm 23, NKJV): The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. [God] makes me to lie down in green pastures [and] leads me beside the still waters. [God] restores my soul; [God] leads me in the paths of righteousness… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.

Prayer after readings: Good Shepherd, we trust you to lead us, guide us, and provide for us. With you we find serenity, courage, and hope. You help us see and seize the possibilities in life. We continue to move forward assured by your constant care. Amen.

SERMON
23rd psalm is the most famous of all affirmative prayers.
In it the psalmist affirms:
God takes care of me, my needs are met.
I am entitled to inner peace.
God restores me and leads me, and helps me overcome my fears.
God comforts me and celebrates me.
There is goodness and kindness available to me every day, and there is no time that I shall not be in God’s loving presence.

The psalm is a series of affirmative statements reminding the one praying of God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness, and of the wonderful possibilities that exist for all of us.

It’s a good prayer to kick off Lent. I want us to think of Lent as a time of possibilities, and a time when we can affirm possibilities. Lent can be a time of healing, a time of spiritual growth, a time of recommitting to the spiritual path, a time of giving more of ourselves to life and of being willing to receive more blessings from life. I call us today to practice an Affirmative Lent.

In a few moments we’ll receive ashes. Why?

Because ashes are an affirmation; but what do they affirm?

1. Ashes affirm our unity with all life.

All living things have a life cycle and all life forms expire eventually.
Our shared frailty is a call to compassion, a reminder to love ourselves and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are all fragile, and we all deserve and need comfort and encouragement.
Remembering our shared lot calls us to care for one another.
Ashes remind us that we are all one.

2. If ashes affirm our shared frailty they also remind us of our resilience.

It is from the ashes of destruction that the phoenix rises to new life.
It is from the ashes of ruin that structures and communities are rebuilt.

Abraham once said that he was but dust and ash, and we know today that while we are from dust, we also return to dust. Our bodies return to the elemental, physical source and our spirits return to the universal, everlasting, spiritual source. The dust of the ground, the dust of the air, the star dust of the cosmos…dust is ubiquitous and enduring…that’s what we are.

We are part and parcel of a divine life that never ends.
Our forms change and eventually return to the earth, but the life expressing through these forms is eternal, without beginning or end.
That is something to celebrate, and affirming this cause for celebration can give us strength, courage, and hope.

3. Finally, ashes affirm that change is possible.

John the baptizer preached repentance. He said, “repent, for the divine kin-dom is near.” Repentance is change: to change a habit, to change one’s way of thinking, to change a behavior, to turn from one course of action and embrace a new one, to turn from an unhelpful attitude and embrace a new thought. The divine kin-dom is near, is at hand, in our hands, and if we aren’t acting as if such beauty is within us, we can change, we can start demonstrating the goodness that is our Truth.

The prophet Isaiah talked about positive change. He asked people to believe that they could change from sorrow to joy, from despair to hope, from pain to peace.

The prophet wrote that God would provide for the bereaved, giving them crowns in place of ashes, joy in place of grief, praise in place of discouragement, and that they would be strong as oaks.

Ashes represent repentance, but that just means positive change, and that is always possible. Our sadness can be changed into happiness, our fear can be changed into hope, our regret can be changed into gratitude, our pain can be changed into wisdom.

Compassion. Resilience. Positive change.
Those are what we can see, seize, and share in an affirmative Lent. I affirm those possibilities for us, and this is the good news. Amen.

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