God Believes in Us

On August 20, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

God Believes in Us Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Isaiah 56.1-8 August 20, 2017 Deut. 23 says, “No one who…has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” I don’t know if our Rogers 4 manual organ is male or female, but male organs cut off is a problem for the writer […]

God Believes in Us
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Isaiah 56.1-8
August 20, 2017

Deut. 23 says, “No one who…has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” I don’t know if our Rogers 4 manual organ is male or female, but male organs cut off is a problem for the writer of Deuteronomy. You almost never hear a sermon preached on that verse. But, this is a different kind of church.

People who had been surgically altered (aka “eunuchs”) as well as anyone who had been permanently disfigured in the nether regions by some sort of accident or war wound were banned from worship in the mind of the Deuteronomistic writer. It’s a harsh rejection of people who are physically different.

It’s made worse because being a eunuch wasn’t an elective procedure for most people. No one said, “Hey, being a eunuch sounds fun…wonder where I can become one!”

Eunuchs were usually slaves. So, not only have they been physically altered, but they have been altered against their will and in the context of being enslaved. Furthermore, eunuch slaves were frequently sexualized. Since they were slaves, they could be made to do anything really, and those things were sometimes erotic.

Sometimes, eunuchs could rise to high levels within the slavery system…since they couldn’t get women pregnant, they were often assigned to work with aristocratic women. But even if they became trusted servants of aristocrats, they were still victims of physical abuse, of slavery, and sometimes of sexual abuse. And on top of all this, now religion says they aren’t welcome in worship. Religion might have been their one refuge, if they were allowed to access it.

Dehumanized, demonized, sexualized, ostracized, condemned, and rejected by religion…does that sound familiar to anyone?

In today’s scripture reading, Isaiah rethinks the Deuteronomistic slur against eunuchs. We aren’t imprisoned by scripture…we are meant to have a dynamic, living relationship with our sacred texts. Isaiah knows what Deuteronomy says, but Isaiah also sees hurting people who could be helped with religion but instead religion has been used to make their pain worse. And so he, doesn’t let Deuteronomy have the last word. He gives the matter some more thought.

We heard 3 verses from Isaiah 56 today, but if we read a little more, it gets even better:
1. Maintain justice. (be fair…promote equal opportunity, equal protection, affirm the inherent dignity of all people…maintain justice)
3. Do not let the foreigner…say God will separate me from God’s people. (Do not let the foreigner, the immigrant, the migrant worker, the refugee…don’t let any of God’s people think that this gathering of God’s people will reject them for who they are)
[Nor] let the eunuch say I am just a dry tree (don’t let the sexually different, the physically different, the oppressed, the outcasts believe they are useless, don’t lead them to believe that they are anything other than the children of God made in the image of God, part of the creation that God calls very good).
4.-5. To eunuchs who wish to worship me I will give in my house an inheritance better than children
(eunuchs can’t have children…in antiquity, having children and grandchildren was how immortality was achieved…leaving your stories, your name, your property to the next generation kept your memory and your work and your dreams alive, but eunuchs were denied that, but the prophet says God’s love will not exclude the eunuchs and they have gifts to share in the worship community and that can be the family that will remember and honor and celebrate them)– I’ll give you a name (affirm your sacred value) that cannot be cut off! You’ve had your body cut, and you’ve been cut off from family and from segments of society, but God’s grace, God’s love, God’s care cannot be taken from you…it will never be cut off.

And guess what…if you’ve been cut off from family, cut out of religious community, trimmed like fat from ham and tossed away from people’s lives because you are lesbian or gay, if you have been misunderstood or harshly judged because you are bisexual, if you are questioning and didn’t know where you could explore your questions, God says today if you wish to worship here, you can, and there are gifts for you here that are better than what you may have lost.

And you know what else…if you are transgender…if you’ve cut away the name your parents gave you because it didn’t really fit who you know yourself to be, if you’ve been cut out of people’s lives because you dared to express your truth and grow into your full authenticity, if you have had surgery or hormone treatment to help you look and feel like the person you know yourself to be or if you are hoping and planning to have such treatments later…God says this is the place for you. You are a gift to this community and in this community your giftedness will be celebrated.

If you have been cut off from family, friends, or religion because of divorce, procreative choices, pacifism, how you look, how your pray, or who you love…God says there is a different kind of church that will think you are just what they’ve been looking for.

THEN…
7. My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples!!! (all groups, every culture, every nation, every race and ethnicity, straight folk, LGBTQ folk, young folk, older folk, two steppers and twelve steppers, people who walk and people who roll, people with PhDs and people GEDs, people who out of habit call God he and people who have started to call God she, people with hope and people who mope, people who for their supper must sing and people who come wearing plenty of bling, people who need friends with tails that wag and people who spend their weekends in drag)…God’s house is meant to be a house of prayer for all kinds of people!

8. God gathers the outcasts. (Hear the prophetic declaration that God gathers the outcasts because to God there are no outcasts, to God all people have sacred value, and God’s house is meant to be a welcoming house for all kinds of people…all peoples.)

One of my favorite hymns is from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. In that show, a guy named Finch gives himself a pep talk by looking in a mirror and singing,
“You have the cool clear Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth,
Yet, there’s that up turned chin And the grin of impetuous youth.
Oh, I believe in you, I believe in you.”

We are the mirror God is looking into today, and that is what God is singing to us through the words of the prophet Isaiah. Whoever we are, God is saying to each of us, “I believe in you, I believe in you.” And this is the good news. Amen.

I believe that God believes in me.
This fills me with hope, joy, and confidence.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Elijah’s Great Lesson

On August 14, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Elijah’s Great Lesson Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins August 13, 2017 Sunshine Cathedral Invictus BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY (1875): Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried […]

Elijah’s Great Lesson
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
August 13, 2017
Sunshine Cathedral

Invictus
BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY (1875):

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Last week we heard about Moses and Elijah, and this week we hear about Elijah, though Moses’ shadow is still in the scene.

It was at the Mountain of God that Moses spent 40 days, receiving the Commandments according to the legend. Eventually, Moses was able to see the glory of God from a cleft, a hollow, a sort of cave in the rock of that mountain.

Four centuries later, we see Elijah. And where is he? On the Mountain of God. He has journeyed 40 days to the mountain in order to hide from the government…you see, Queen Jezebel has put a price on his head. And he hides in a cave, a cleft in the rock.

The literary similarities are intentional. Whether Moses or Elijah literally spent time on a mountain is irrelevant…the stories show the transforming power of communing with God. That’s the point.

Moses encountered God in fire and smoke and seas and lightning. Elijah, however, learns that divine encounters sometimes happen without much drama at all. In fact, God’s peace presence can be the cure for too much drama!

Elijah says he looked for a divine experience in weather and earthquakes and fire, but he experienced God as a still small voice within.

Elijah doesn’t need storms and shaky ground…his life is stormy and shaky enough already! A vicious queen is after him…I know what that’s like. Elijah is looking for God in mountains and earthquakes and storms and fires, but where does he find God? In sheer silence. He found God when he got still, when he got quiet, when he decided to go to peace instead of to pieces.

Sometimes we panic, we fret, we cry, we ask WHY…and at such times, what do the enlightened tend to tell us? Breathe. Even in the gym, when struggling through an exercise, a good trainer will remind us to breathe.

Quiet the mind. Let air flow. Be present. The past may have been difficult and the future may be uncertain, but in this moment, we are okay. Be in this perfect moment. Breathe. Be still. Quiet the inner chatter. And in that peaceful moment, God’s loving wisdom often breaks through and we sometimes will feel refreshed, renewed, strong, hopeful, or at least not as frazzled.

We have to get quiet to hear the still small voice. The voice always is encouraging though.

Elijah learned that in the Silence, in the inner chapel of his own Soul, God was always present, and in God’s presence, there was a healing balm that could sooth his fears and give him the strength he needed to carry on.

In the Silence, Elijah realizes he can’t hide from the troubles of life. God isn’t going to take a lightning bolt and zap away the problems.
God isn’t going to take a gale force wind and blow away the problems.
God isn’t going to send an inferno and burn away the problems.
God isn’t going to send a tsunami and wash away the problems, but what God will do is quietly speak to Elijah’s heart and remind him that he is stronger than he realizes and he can face the difficulties of life and find peace in the midst of them. He can continue to do what he feels called to do and he can make a difference, even when the sky seems to be falling.

Elijah realizes that his friends Hazael and Jehu and Elisha are all there for him. They’ll do what they can to help. And there are thousands of good people who have not worshiped fear or bigotry or hatred or greed…there are good people in the world. They seem to have vanished sometimes, but they are still there. That’s a reason to hope.

What a pitiful miracle! We might say. No magic? No parlor tricks? Just, God can calm your nerves, you’ve got friends who will encourage you, and there are other good people in the world even if the worst sort seem to be coming after you? That’s it?! That’s the great miracle?

Sometimes, that’s the biggest miracle in the world.

When we don’t need circumstances to give us our joy, and we won’t let circumstances take our joy away…when fear stops being forget everything and run and starts being face everything and rise…when we don’t need lightning bolts and earthquakes and angel choirs to feel God’s presence, but we have been filled with a joyful awareness that there is not a spot where God is not…Oh, in a moment of dread or despair…the miracle of a peace that passes understanding is the greatest miracle of all.

When horror gives way to hope, and pain is healed by peace, and tears wash away our fears and might emerges from our fright, then we have everything…contentment, an assurance that come what may, all is well, that nothing can separate us from the Love that God is, and then, at least sometimes, things start to get better, but how wonderful that we didn’t need to wait for them to get better before we started to feel joy again.

The message reminds me of the wise counsel of the Apostle Paul: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through the One who strengthens me.”

Elijah learned that true success in life is not allowing circumstances to dictate or diminish our peace of mind or joy of life. Life is filled with hills and valleys, but come what may, we have access to a peace that passes understanding and joy unspeakable. That’s success, and it can always be ours.

I Shall Succeed
BY EVELYN WHITELL (1934):

Though everything looks dark and drear,
I SHALL SUCCEED.
Though failure’s voice speaks in my ear,
I SHALL SUCCEED.
I do not fear misfortune’s blow; I tower with strength above each foe, I stand erect because I know I SHALL SUCCEED.

Though others’ doubts are built ’round me,
I SHALL SUCCEED.
Though Fortune’s ship I cannot see,
I SHALL SUCCEED.
Through mist and rain I left my eyes, I see the sunlight in the skies, and seeing it my glad heart cries, I SHALL SUCCEED.

Night swoops on me with [darkest] wings,
but I’LL SUCCEED.
I see the stars that darkness brings,
and I’LL SUCCEED.
No force on earth can make me cower, because each moment and each hour, I still affirm with strength and power, I SHALL SUCCEED.

And we will. And this is the good news. Amen.

God grant me peace, hope, and joy.
I will pause and listen to your still small voice.
It will comfort and nurture me.
Thank you, God.
Amen.

The Realm of Heaven

On July 31, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

The Realm of Heaven Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins July 30, 2017 Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s words be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says seek first the Realm […]

The Realm of Heaven
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
July 30, 2017

Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s words be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says seek first the Realm of God. While all of the gospels talk about the Realm of God, or the kin-dom of God, God’s anti-empire or counter kingdom, Matthew uses Realm of God and Realm of Heaven interchangeably.

In literary imagination, where does God live? In heaven. Indeed, also in the sermon on the mount, Jesus prays, “Abba who are in heaven.” But in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, that doesn’t mean God far off in a sky realm…it mean, God who is throughout the universe. In other words, there’s not a spot where God is not. God in heaven means God everywhere fully present.

The gospel of Jesus is the good news of God’s kindom, that is to say, of God’s presence which is everywhere all the time and all lives are part of it. That being true, we are then called to care for one another, to be merciful to refugees, the sick, the hurting, the oppressed, the marginalized.

If God is everywhere, then we who call ourselves the people of God are to see God everywhere we look, and if we see God in refugees, we won’t abandon them…how could we abandon God?

If we see God in people of all religions and no religion, we won’t use religion as an excuse to abuse or vilify those who have different religious vocabularies than we do.

If we see God in the sick, we will not rest until every person has adequate medical care.

If we see God in same-gender loving people, in transgender and gender non-conforming people, then we will not remain silent when they are demonized and dehumanized.

God’s heaven is God’s home, and God lives in us, with us, among us, all of us, no matter who we are. We then serve God by being God’s hands of mercy in the world.

So, there’s not a spot where God is not. God’s realm, God’s heaven is at hand, in our hands. But when we really believe that, what should that look like in our lives? It turns out that Jesus has a lot to say about that.
In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus tells a series of parables, fictional stories to drive home a profound truth, describing the Realm of heaven.

Jesus says:
The Realm of Heaven is like a field with both wheat and weeds. The farmer of the field decided to let the wheat and weeds grow together and separate the weeds from the wheat at harvest time.

Jesus says:
The Realm of Heaven is like a tiny mustard seed that is planted and becomes a big plant that can actually become a home to birds.

Jesus says:
The Realm of Heaven is like a woman baking bread who just keeps adding yeast until her entire loaf rises.

Jesus says:
The Realm of Heaven is like a field with a hidden treasure in it.

Jesus says:
The Realm of Heaven is like a net that was cast into the sea that caught all kinds of fish. The fishers waited until they got to shore before discarding the bad fish and keeping the good.

Jesus just keeps reaching for metaphors, similes, and symbols to help describe what it should look like when we accept that our lives are part of God’s life.

When we live as if we are in God’s presence, we let wheat and weeds grow together…live and let live. We don’t need to keep people from voting, marrying, accessing education or healthcare…later, the farmer, God, can decide who is and who isn’t worthy of God’s best (and I believe God ultimately will decide that we’re all keepers), but our job is to let everything grow and thrive.

When we live as if we are in God’s presence, we may feel like our resources are small, like a mustard seed. We may have little faith, a little talent, a little money, a few friends, a small community…but the truth remains that within us is great potential. Small as we may feel, we can provide shelter, respite, hope, community to those who are in flight, those who are flying through life looking for a place to land. A mustard seed can grow to house the birds of the air.

When we live as if we are in God’s presence, we keep adding ingredients, programs, messages, music, food, outreach, education…we keep adding yeast until the whole loaf rises, giving everyone a chance to thrive and be part of abundant living.

When we live as if we are in God’s presence, our lives may seem like a big, empty field, but know that within that field is rich treasure, even if we haven’t uncovered it yet.

When we live as if we are in God’s presence, we cast a wide net, bringing in every kind of person to affirm their sacred value. Some will stay and some will not, but the net was cast for everyone.

The Realm of Heaven, the kin-dom of God, the presence of God is where everyone is given a chance. Everyone is to be fed…not only if they deserve it or believe certain things or live up to our standards…the only requirement for being fed is hunger. In the Realm of heaven, everyone deserves shelter, everyone has sacred value, every life is a field with hidden treasure in it.

Robert and I have a new dog; her name is Bella. Bella has already learned one of our favorite affirmations. With her actions, staring at kitchen counter tops, sniffing the refrigerator door, going to her food and water bowls, performing her tricks that are rewarded with treats…Bella is saying over and over, “There is good for me and I ought to have it!”

Bella already knows what I hope to always remember, and what I hope you will at least consider…in God’s presence, there is good for us and we ought to have it. And if that’s true for us, it’s true for everyone. And if its true for everyone, part of how we worship is by being the conduits through which God’s good can flow.

The Apostle Paul tells us this morning that even when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit is praying in and for us. Our groanings become God’s own prayer wishing us peace, comfort, strength, and joy. In other words, there is good for us and we ought to have it, and even when we forget that, God is still knowing that for us and whispering that truth in our hearts.

The Realm of Heaven is like knowing without fail that there is good for us and we ought to have it; there is good for all people and all people ought to have it. And when we live as if we believe we are part of God’s heaven, then we will choose to be God’s helpers whereby the good is joyously shared so that every need can be met.

We can be the answer to God’s own prayers, and in partnership with God’s will, we can help more people experience the good they deserve to have. And this is the good news. Amen.

There is good for me and I ought to have it.
This is true for all people.
And so it is.

Spilling God’s Seeds

On July 16, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Let there be peace among us 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. Spilling God’s Seeds Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins The reading from Isaiah today tells us that God’s word of hope and encouragement must produce […]

Let there be peace among us 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.

Spilling God’s Seeds
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

The reading from Isaiah today tells us that God’s word of hope and encouragement must produce something good. That reading has uplifted people for millennia – during times of exile, war, famine, oppression, and hardship, people have heard the prophet’s words declaring that God’s love and goodwill flow like rain, fall like snow, and will achieve something good in due season.

God’s word, God’s will, God’s wish is for us to go out with joy and return with peace, and for our lives to be filled with happiness and fulfillment, singing and rejoicing.

And if there are thorns in life, what’s to sing about? That the thorns will be replaced by beautiful trees and bushes and God’s goodness will never end. Thorns happen, but they aren’t the whole story. Things will get better, and trusting that, we can go ahead and rejoice right now!

Even when things are not going well, we can remind ourselves and one another that God is cheering for us!

God wants YOU to be happy.
God wants YOU to love who you are.
God wants YOU to see and seize wonderful possibilities.
God wants YOU to trust that nothing can separate you from the love that God is.

That’s God’s encouraging word and in the fullness of time it must achieve something good. Something good is on the way for you! If you’re ready to receive it say AMEN.

But wait! What about those who say God tests us, punishes us, only accepts some of us, those of us who hold certain opinions or belong to certain groups or who love or pray in prescribed ways? How does this good God of infinite goodness square with that harsh, finger wagging, wrist slapping, limited occupancy God? Well, to be sure, they are too very different visions, understandings, and experiences of God. And some of us have been conditioned to believe that the God of unconditional love, joy, abundance, hope, and peace is just too good to be true. We seem to want God to draw a line somewhere. We want grace to be free but we also want to insist that we have to do something to get it, which would keep it from really being free.

Do we really believe in GOOD News? Are we willing to believe that God is love?

God the punisher may appeal to some, but I can’t be bothered with the concept. God is good or God couldn’t be my god.

If goodness, kindness, and love scare you, may I suggest that you have some inner work to do. Start right now telling yourself that you deserve Good in your life.

“There is good for me and I ought to have it.”

“God is love and WHOEVER lives in love lives in God and God lives in them.”

“NOTHING can separate me from the love of God.”

“Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better and better.”

“There’s not a spot where God is not.”

“Wherever I am, God is, and all is well.”

“I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.”

“The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities.”

“All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

You see, faith comes by hearing, and the one sure way to hear something good is to say it.

Faith is trust…Trust God’s goodness and unconditional love. Build that trust by saying uplifting things all the time. Faith comes by hearing.

Jesus told a story about a Gardner who went out to sow some seeds. She tossed seeds everywhere, not taking aim at just some areas but just slinging them every place.
Some seeds feel on a foot path and were eaten by birds, some seeds fell on hard ground and never really took root, some seeds fell among thorns when they sprouted the thorns choked them out, and some seeds fell on rich, fertile soil and produced a huge crop.

He didn’t often explain his parables, but he explained this one. He said:
1. The seeds that the birds eat right away represent those of us who hear the good news but don’t quite get it. It’s like it’s just gobbled up and we don’t benefit from it.
2. The seeds that fall on hard ground represent people who like the message but they don’t hold onto to it for long. They don’t put down roots in spiritual practice and spiritual community. They like it at xmas and Easter or whenever they happen to expose themselves to a positive message, but they don’t make it part of their daily lives and practice, and so it doesn’t really stick with them and isn’t there for them in their times of great need.
3. The seeds that fall in the thorn bushes represent people to hear the word of hope and encouragement and may even like it, but they focus more on their fears, their regrets, on what’s not yet perfect or on what could go wrong…their attention is on the thorns of life, and where attention goes, energy flows. And so the fears that they feed stay strong and choke out the message of hope.
4. But the seeds that fall on rich, fertile ground…that represents the progressive, positive, practical community of faith. They hear the word of hope. They love it. They live it. They share it. They support it with time, talent, and treasure. They pray it. They study. They worship. They praise. And the word grows within them, exponentially, to lift them up whenever they need it.

God is spreading seed everywhere. God is lavish, wasteful with the word of hope. God is tossing it everywhere it might land. On hard ground, hard heads, hard hearts where it may not penetrate too deeply, on busy lives where it may get brushed aside, on brier patches, on thorny people and prickly attitudes, on people we might consider to be mean or bitter or selfish or afraid or cruel or miserable, and God is tossing the word of hope on those who receive it, nurture it, celebrate it, practice it, allowing it to flourish in their lives. God is tossing the seed everywhere, spilling the seed of grace on every single human soul. On shallow spiritualities and hard hearts and thorny attitudes, as well as on the eager and devoted…God is tossing the seed everywhere. You may not be ready for it yet, but God never stops offering it.

The seed is love. The seed is hope. The seed is peace. The seed is empowerment. The seed is fulfillment. The seed is compassion. And God is spilling it everywhere, in abundance, all the time.

That’s because, as Isaiah says, God wants all people to have hope and peace and joy…that’s God’s word and God’s wish and God’s will, and it will not return to God void but will eventually take root in every soul, in this life experience or another.

Thorns will be plowed under and replaced with beautiful trees and bushes, hard ground will be tilled, all ground, all souls, will be receptive to the good news that God’s love will never exclude anyone for any reason and that is reason to rejoice.

Whether the poetry of Isaiah the parable of Jesus, the message is the same…God wants us to be happy, and God will never give up until God’s wish is fulfilled. And since God will never give up on us, we need never give up on ourselves. And this is the good news. Amen.

(c) Durrell Watkins 2017

Thank you, God, for your all-inclusive love.
You will never give up on me.
So I will never give up on myself.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Singing for our Lives

On June 27, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Singing for our Lives Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins LGBTQ Pride Sunday Let there be peace among us 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. Since marriage equality in this country, the Religious Right has beefed up […]

Singing for our Lives
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
LGBTQ Pride Sunday

Let there be peace among us 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.

Since marriage equality in this country, the Religious Right has beefed up their attacks on the dignity of LGBTQ people. Laws have been passed in Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas and proposed in other Bible Belt strongholds to allow discrimination against LGBTQ people in the name of religious freedom. They cite a few bible verses as to why they believe their hatred or fear of Queer people is justified and even righteous, but that technique was used to keep women out of ministry, to justify slavery and child abuse and even the divine right of kings. Just because the Bible says a thing doesn’t mean we can’t change how we understand and apply it. In fact, compassion and justice will demand that we challenge oppressive readings of scripture, especially when people are being hurt by those readings.

I can deconstruct the handful of bible verses, and there are only about half a dozen passages, that are used to terrorize same-gender loving and gender non-conforming people. And, I can point out many more places in scripture where same gender love and gender non-conformity are featured and even blessed. But I’m tired of playing biblical tit for tat. If the Bible is your reason for being cruel, or if you need a bible verse to motivate you to be kind, your brokenness is clinical and needs more help than any bible verse could possibly provide.

Violent religious rhetoric that is used to dehumanize and demonize LGBTQ people is what emboldens the less stable among us to do terrible things. Preachers of prejudice and hucksters of hate are what led to the AIDS crisis being ignored by our government for most of the 80s. False prophets and pugnacious priests must share the blame for Matthew Shephard’s murder, for Harvey Milk’s assassination, and for the slaying of the Pulse 49. But there are so many more victims.

I was serving a church in TX, when I got a phone call from a young man I didn’t know. He called to complain about his mother. He said, “My mom has come out as a lesbian.” I told him that must have taken a lot of courage for her, and that she probably really wanted him to try to understand and be happy for her being able to live out her truth. He said, “I don’t care that she’s a lesbian, but does she have to be a dyke?” I asked, “Do you know what a lesbian is?” He assured me did, and even liked his mother’s new partner. But she didn’t just come out and take a partner. She stopped wearing make up. She shaved her head. She started wearing tank tops and combat boots. I said, “Well, those wouldn’t be my fashion choices, but if they make her happy, what’s the problem?” He said, “She was never like that. I miss my mom.” Ahhh. There it is.

I explained that she might have been dressing to meet others’ expectations before she came out, or she might simply be experimenting with her new found freedom trying to find ways to express herself authentically now, or that she may just have happened upon a look that she liked and it was okay to change fashion directions. I assured him that with or without hair, with or without muscles shirts or combat boots, she probably loved him dearly and would feel even closer to him if she knew that his love for her couldn’t be diminished by how she wore her hair, or whether her companion was female or male. He said he felt better and would try to work through it.

I later met his mom. She was a kind person. And her new partner turned out to be her life partner. They were together until she died from cancer only a few years ago. They had to have been together over 20 years, and only death managed to separate them. Her son must now be in his 40s, and I bet he’d love to have her back, with any kind of hair or wardrobe. As we heard in the choir anthem this morning: “All things being even, here’s what I believe in; nothing matters more than love.”

In the 90s, in my chaplain days, I was summoned to a nursing home where a young man was dying. His mother was a member of a fundamentalist church that had taught her son that because he was gay, he would be rejected by God and sent to spend eternity in hell. For being gay. For being attracted to pecs instead of breasts, for finding 5 o’clock shadow charming, for wishing to be held in arms that might be hairy. Really? For that, a God would damn someone for all eternity? A human with a heart wouldn’t damn someone for all eternity for that, and if God isn’t as good as nice people no wonder fewer people have much time for God.

Of course, the fundamentalists have badly mishandled God’s PR…I still believe that God is love and genuine love, mutually shared is never a sin. But that was not the message this young man had grown up hearing. And now, he was in the final stages of AIDS.

His mother called me. She was guilty for passing onto him a faith that condemned him, robbed his joy, and stole his hope and his dignity. Now he was immobile in a nursing home bed, too sick to live and too afraid to die. He was terrified of meeting this God that hated him simply because he was wired to be attracted to men instead of to women. It’s as ridiculous as believing God would damn someone for preferring broccoli to carrots. But this young man’s fear was very real.

His mother just wanted him to have a moment of peace before he died. She wanted him to not spend his final moments in terror. So I visited him. And I told him his mother loved him so much. She wanted him to be comfortable and to know he was loved. And I asked him, “Do you believe your mother loves you?” He said yes. I asked, “Do you believe she wants you to be happy, and that nothing could make her not love you, and that you’ll be part of her for the rest of her life?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “The prophet Isaiah, from the Bible, wrote this: “Like a mother comforts her child, so will God comfort you.” I told him that I believed that God loved him at least as much as his mother did, and that God would love him forever. I could see the tension start to dissipate. His body relaxed. And that night, he died.

I believe that God is an omnipresent Love that will never and can never let any of us go. I wouldn’t want to spend eternity with any other sort of God. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend eternity with a God who would reject someone because they preferred broccoli to carrots, or liked both equally (as some seem to do). I would rather be damned for love than spend a single moment in a heaven that required hate. But I don’t believe anyone is damned, and I certainly don’t believe anyone will be damned for mutually shared love.

I’m tired of the Bible being used like a weapon, and I’m tired of God’s name being used in vain to make people hate themselves, and I’m tired of people being afraid that God’s love isn’t for them.

In the reading from the Psalter this morning, we see the psalmist tired and afraid and singing for his life…singing prayers to give him comfort and courage and strength. I, too, get tired, and angry. Sometimes I’m scared. I’m also hopeful. I’m determined. I’m motivated. And I know who I am, who we are. And so, today, my prayer, my affirmation, is a familiar song…if you know it, sing it with me:

“We are a gentle, angry people and we are singing, singing for our lives. We are gentle, angry people and we are singing, singing for our lives.
We are justice seeking people and we are singing, singing for our lives. We are a justice seeking people and we are singing, singing for our lives.
We are gentle, loving people and we are singing, singing for our lives. We are gentle, loving people and we are signing, singing for our lives.”

And God hears our song, and sings it with us; and this is the good news. Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

By God’s grace I am what I am.
I give thanks for who I am.
I give thanks for God’s all-inclusive and unconditional love.
Alleluia!
Amen.

All is One; One is All

On June 11, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

All is One; One is All Trinity Sunday Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let there be peace among us 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. Traditionally, the Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. It’s tricky, though, […]

All is One; One is All
Trinity Sunday
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Let there be peace among us 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.

Traditionally, the Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. It’s tricky, though, because for many people, talk of an incomprehensible Trinity is more of a stumbling block than a stepping stone to faith.

The difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity is not a biblical one. Even if you think you see the shadow of the Trinity in scripture you will never find a doctrine of the Trinity, a clear teaching, or even a clumsy teaching about it in the bible. It just isn’t there.

Those who object to the doctrine of the Trinity note that Jesus never taught about it, and, for that matter, the bible was written by Jewish people, and there is no Trinity in Judaism. The doctrine of the Trinity was codified about 3 centuries after Jesus’ time.

There is definitely room in Christianity for those who do not identify as Trinitarian. Most Christians for the first couple of hundred years of our faith were not Trinitarian. But what about those who wish to cling to the symbol of the Trinity? It is how they were introduced to God, and it remains appealing to them. Well, for those, I also have good news.

I was taught as a child that there was one God in three persons. But “persons” is a misunderstanding. The Latin word used was persona, which was a theatrical mask. The personas of the Trinity were the way people experienced and talked about God. Like all symbols, the personas of the Trinity were for human aid. God can be experienced, but not explained. Still we try to explain our experiences, and then insist that people literalize and worship our explanations. The Trinity could no more explain God than any other symbol. It’s a vocabulary to help us talk about what cannot be described.

God is like a Parent, giving life to all that is…that’s one of the roles or masks of God.
God is like a friend who encourages us and affirms us, or we could say, redeems us…that’s one of the masks of God.
And God is a sustaining power that never lets us go, an indefatigable Helper…that’s another one of the masks of God.

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer;
Parent, Friend, Helper;
Father, Son, holy Spirit:
those words don’t define God, they just help us express some of the ways we’ve experienced God.

There’s an African myth about a god who was walking down a road one day. The god wore a big, ostentatious hat. The right side of the hat was red. The left side of the hat was blue. After the god had walked by, people on the right side of the road said, “Did you see that god in the amazing red hat?” People on the left side of the road said, “We saw the god, but the hat was blue.” Red hat, blue hat, red hat, blue hat…and the people got in a big bloody fight over which color the hat was.

The joke was they were all right. The people who saw the hat as red really did see it that way, and the people who saw it as blue really did see it that way.

Doctrinal and dogmatic disputes usually amount to fighting over a hat…each side is honestly describing their experience, and neither experience in any way limits the god under the hat nor diminishes the different experience of the other seekers.

It’s not surprising that Christians would eventually come to speak about God as a triad…much older religions had been doing so for a very long time. And, Christianity is a syncretic religion…borrowing and adapting traditions from Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Paganism, and, of course, adding their own insights and revelations.

Buddhism has its 3 Jewels: The Buddha, his message, and the spiritual community.

Taoism has yin, yang, and the Tao…the blessed light, the sacred dark, and the way of the universe…all things flowing into and out from one another, all life being connected.

The oldest organized religion on the planet is Hinduism and they have a deity called a Trimurti…three deities sharing the godhead…Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva…that is, the creator, the preserver, and the destroyer…symbols for the life cycle…birth, maturation, and decline.

The ancient Egyptians had three chief deities that shared the top role, they were a family: husband, wife, and child (Osiris, Isis, and Horus).

The Greek goddess Hecate was a triple goddess, a deity known in three phases.

The ancient Greeks had goddesses called the 3 charities; the Romans called them graces. They were Splendor, Joy, and Goodwill.

For Greek philosophers “three” represented fullness or completion…past, present and future; beginning, middle, and end, the whole of life. Aristotle wrote, “All things are three, and three is all; let us use this number in the worship of the gods.”

Some aboriginal cultures talked about the divine as Sky Father, Earth Mother, and Great Spirit.

In the middle ages, Christian mystic Julian of Norwich thought of God as Truth, Christ as Wisdom, and the Spirit as infinite goodness. She said Truth is our Father, Wisdom is our Mother, and infinite Goodness is our Lord.

Most of us have heard that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. One God, understood in three ways: power, knowledge, presence.

Charles Fillmore, co-founder of the Unity Church, understood the Trinity to symbolize Mind, Idea, Expression.

Ernest Holmes, who wrote the Science of Mind, said he believed in Eternal Goodness, Eternal Loving Kindness, and Eternal Givingness. Holmes seemed to have a threefold understanding of the divine nature.

And Scotty McLennan, a Unitarian Christian minister, has written that even as a Unitarian he can appreciate Trinitarian symbolism. He says for him, God is Ultimate Concern, the Face of Compassion, and the Breath of the world: three ways of understanding one God.

We may experience water as liquid, gas, and ice. We even talk about ourselves as mind, body, and spirit…a whole person, but more than any one expression. And we are made in the divine image.

The Sufi poet Hafiz often wrote of God as an intimate partner. He said, “Cloak yourself in a thousand ways, still I shall know you, my Beloved…you are the breathing of the world.”
We may not have the patience to think of God wearing a thousand cloaks, but maybe we can play with three masks.

All is one; one is all. That’s what the great teachers tell us; that’s what the Trinity suggests as well. Maybe for Pride Month the symbol of the Trinity can represent for us a diverse and yet unified community. Gay, bi, or straight. Cisgender or Transgender or gender non-conforming: All is one; one is all. We are many; we are one. For Pride Month the Trinity could be described as: Love is Love is Love!

“Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one!” I believe that God is one, but our needs are many and God’s grace meets us where, when, and how we need it. We, though many, are one; and God, though one, shows up in many ways to remind us of that.

If your experience of God is that she wears a blue hat or a red one, or three masks, or a thousand cloaks, what is most important to me is that you dare to believe that you are a person of sacred value, held by a divine love that is all-inclusive, unconditional and everlasting. Maybe that’s my Trinity: All-inclusive Love, Unconditional Love, Everlasting Love. Don’t waste time arguing or worrying about the Trinity, just let yourself experience the love that it is meant to represent.

One last story: Countless ages ago, the Trinity was having a play day. The Trinity, being pure Love, started dancing…sort of a divine Tea Dance. That dance generated so much joy that finally it produced an explosion of pure delight! The fallout from that big bang is creation.

Our world, our universe, our lives were created from an explosion of immeasurable love. We are made from divine love and the love we share honors the Love that created us. Do what you will with the symbol of the Trinity, but embrace the idea that you are forever loved. This is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2017

Glory to God:
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer -
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
Amen.

A Second Wind

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

A Second Wind Pentecost Sunday Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins {Let there be peace among us 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.} When I was a child I was enthralled with the story of Sleeping Beauty. […]

A Second Wind
Pentecost Sunday
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

{Let there be peace among us 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.}

When I was a child I was enthralled with the story of Sleeping Beauty. Disney’s version is the one that I knew. Princess Aurora was the sleeping beauty, but the real movers and shakers in the story were some fairies: Flora, Fauna, and Meriwether. The villainess of the story was the diabolical fairy, Maleficent. The story shows that most fairies are good, but every now and then there may be one that’s a real pain.

When the Princess Aurora was born, the good fairies bless her with magical gifts.
Flora affirms that the princess will grow up to be beautiful.
Fauna decrees that she will be musically gifted.
Just as Meriwether is about to give her blessing, mean ol’ Maleficent crashes the party and lays a curse on the infant. On her 16th birthday, Maleficent predicts, the princess will prick her finger on a spinning wheel’s needle and drop dead (mwahaha). Nefarious Maleficent, content that she has ruined everything, leaves in a maniacal huff.

Flora and Fauna then tell Meriwether that it is up to her to undo Maleficent’s mischief. So Meriwether waves her wand to block the hex; she takes a deep breath and then decrees that if the princess should injure herself with a tainted needle she will only seem dead; she will, however, only be in a deep sleep and true love’s kiss will have the power to wake her. There is a chance that the princess will get a second wind, and a second chance.

Aurora is sent away to be raised in seclusion under the protection of the good fairies, but once she sneaks out, bumps into a handsome young fellow, it’s love at first sight, but the love is unrequited as Aurora has to return to her safe haven.

Sure enough, on her 16th birthday, Maleficent finds her, lures her to a spinning wheel that has a poisoned needle attached, and Aurora pricks her finger and falls into a death like slumber.

Of course, in the end, the handsome young fellow from her earlier chance encounter finds the princess, kisses her, and she returns to full and vibrant life. Maleficent then gets her comeuppance and Aurora and her beau live happily ever after.

I am 50 years old and that story is still with me. It still speaks to me. It reminds me of the power of hope. It reminds me of the power we have to offer blessings. It reminds me of the power of love. It reminds me of the possibility that not matter how terrible things seem to be, they can get better. It reminds me that even a few old fairies can change the world. And the story reminds me that fear can be defeated.

Maleficent is the powers of greed, hatred, bigotry, and selfishness.
She tries to destroy a baby, which represents the vulnerable.
But the good fairies aren’t taking that lying down. They are determined to get a second wind. Oh, weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning…a second wind is on the way!

Second wind stories are found throughout our scriptures.

The prophet Ezekiel dreams about his community being depressed, defeated, exhausted, lifeless. But in his dream he speaks to the winds and asks them to come into the dry bones of his community, to renew and resurrect his community, and the winds do. His people get a second wind.

The prophet Elijah is taken into the heavens by a whirlwind. A wind takes him, and as he ascends his spirit, his energy, his enthusiasm, falls on his disciple Elisha, given him more wind in his ministry sails, giving him the power to continue in Elijah’s footsteps. The prophetic ministry will continue thanks to a second wind.

The Psalmist prayed (Psalm 51.10): …God, renew a steadfast spirit within me.
In other words, help me get my second wind.

Jesus said (Luke 11.13): If you know how to give good gifts to the ones you love, how much more will God give the holy Spirit to those who ask for it?
In other words, no matter how rough things might seem, we can ask God for a second wind.

That’s what the Pentecost story in Acts is today: it is the story of a group of frightened people getting a second wind.

Jesus has been executed. Followers of Jesus are being targeted for imprisonment, enslavement, and execution. The Roman Empire is the only super power in the world and its idea of peace is to dominate every group and country and community and bend them to the Roman imperial will.

Life is hard and scary and often dangerous. People are terrified. They feel powerless. John writes about the empire in Revelation by comparing Caesar to a beast and his army to a dragon. The Beast and his dragon are against the community of Christ, that is, they are anti-Christ.

To be in the Christ community, to be in the business of hope, healing, peace, inclusion, and the affirmation of the sacred value of all people is to be a target of the empire.

The Jesus way lifts people up but empire can only function if a bunch of people are knocked down and kept out.
The Christ community, where the first are last and the last are first, where the unlovable are loved and the untouchable are embraced and those who feel broken are told you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake…the authentic Christ community is at odds with the empire, but the empire has all the power (or so they say).

We are seemingly powerless. Our hero was executed and we call him the lamb of God. How can we stand up to a beast and his dragon when all we have is slain lamb? Things look bleak and they feel worse.

But Pentecost says: we’ve been here before.
Remember Ezekiel. His people got a second wind, and they came back to life.
Remember Elijah. He was carried away by a wind and the power that carried him away empowered the next generation of prophetic work.

The powers and principalities of domination may seem to have the upper hand today, but we’re about to get a second wind.

And so, on the day of Pentecost, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were. And they got fired up. And they were all filled with the Breath of wholeness, the holy spirit, and began to speak in new ways, communicating to people who hadn’t heard a word of hope in a long time, they started speaking words of hope as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The Jesus Movement wasn’t born on the day of Pentecost, but it did get its second wind.

At Pentecost, the church remembers that they have a prophetic mission; they have a spiritual calling and spiritual gifts to keep that mission active. And so, they get their second wind and can now affirm with the prophet Isaiah (61.1): The Spirit of the Lord is on [us], anointing [us] to proclaim good news to the poor, to comfort the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for prisoners.

Is Maleficent doing her worst? Is Rome, the beast and its dragon that is against all that the Christ Community is meant to stand for, is Rome wreaking havoc? Is there a war on the poor? Is xenophobia out of control? Are transgender people being dehumanized? Are same-gender loving people having their dignity assaulted? Is the earth herself in danger? Perhaps. And maybe all we’ve got right now is a slain lamb. But if history is any indication, that and a second wind is all we need to unleash mighty currents of hope and healing in the world. And this is the good news. Amen!

© Durrell Watkins 2017

Breath of Hope,
Wind of Empowerment,
Gale of Possibilities:
Blow into our lives today.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Following Jesus’ Dreams

On May 28, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Following Jesus’ Dreams Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Ascension Sunday 2017 It is the function of healthy religion to lift us up. Ascension is the goal and purpose of shared faith. The power of faith to lift us up is illustrated in various sacred stories. In the Hebrew bible a whirlwind takes the prophet Elijah into […]

Following Jesus’ Dreams
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Ascension Sunday 2017

It is the function of healthy religion to lift us up. Ascension is the goal and purpose of shared faith.

The power of faith to lift us up is illustrated in various sacred stories.

In the Hebrew bible a whirlwind takes the prophet Elijah into the heavens. And since Elijah ascended to another level of being without dying, a legend soon developed that he would one day return. As he ascended, his spirit fell upon his disciple, Elisha. The rising, returning prophet whose spirit empowered disciples would be borrowed later by the Jesus Movement.

In Catholic theology, or more precisely, Mariology, the Blessed Mother of Jesus is said to have been assumed, body and soul, into heavenly glory.

And, today, we heard the story of the ascension of the Lord Jesus.

We may not be able to accept the stories as literal history but that in no way diminishes the spiritual truth the stories offer.

The stories each show an enlightened or blessed soul ascending to higher possibilities as if to illustrate that the spiritual life can lift us up to experience more of God and therefore to be able to share more of God’s goodness with our world.

The three things we should be careful to notice in the Lord’s ascension are:

1. Jesus says, “You will receive power.”
That’s what ascension is about. Difficulties occur in life, but we can ascend above our fears, we can summon the power to face the problems, we can find the strength to cope with the challenges that come our way. Ascension reminds us that we will be able to find the power we need to navigate the challenges of life.

2. Jesus says, “You will be my witnesses.”
Jesus’ ascension means he’s been raised to a new level. He’s no longer with them physically, but he will always be with them in their memories, their values, their stories, their rituals, their ministries. As they are faithful to the work of the Jesus Movement, they will be living witnesses to the kin-dom of God Jesus imagined possible to experience on earth. As they continue to care for the sick, the vulnerable, the marginalized, the oppressed, the poor…as they work for justice and do so in the power of compassion, they will continue to be witnesses of the Christway. And the same is true for us.

In Luke 24, two men are present at Jesus’ graveside. They ask the mourners, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Jesus is not here; he is risen.” That story is repeated in the Ascension story. Two men show up, perhaps the same two men from the Easter narrative, and they witness Jesus’ rising, or ascension. And those two men give us our third point to ponder today.

3. The two men tell the disciples that Christ will return in the same way as he has ascended.
How has Jesus ascended? In community! Together, the disciples experienced the ascension. Together, they will experience his return…and, indeed, together at Pentecost they experience the return of Jesus’ spirit. We come together still, as the church, the body of Christ, to experience the energy, the power, the vision of Christ. In our togetherness, sharing time and ideas and resources, we experience Christ in new ways and we share the Christ ministry in new ways as well.

We live in a time when there is actually hatred of the poor.
We live in a time when there are increased attacks against the civil rights of vulnerable communities.
We live in a time of mass incarceration for profit.
We live in a time when war is glorified and peace is barely pursued.
There are real challenges, real threats, and there is very real pain in our world. The ascension tells us that there is power for us to cope with these challenges, that we can be the living witnesses of the Jesus Way of justice, compassion, and healing, and that as we commit to being, in community, the body of Christ, we will experience the light of Christ in our lives, in our ministry, and through us, in our world.

There is a West African story about a rancher who noticed his cows weren’t giving milk. He surmised that someone was milking them, and he became determined to catch the milk thief. He hid one night to see if he might catch some unscrupulous brigand milking his cows without permission. He was not prepared for what he discovered. He saw a woman descending from the sky, riding a moonbeam down to the earth. She was carrying a pale and began milking his cows.

He crept up on the woman, seized her, and demanded to know why she was robbing him. She explained that her people lived on the moon and they had run out of food…so, she was making trips to earth to gather milk to keep her people alive. It was a heart touching story (he coulnd’t help but notice, she was very beautiful). He’d forget the whole deal if she would agree to be his wife. She had been caught stealing, and the rancher was willing to forgive the theft, so she agreed, but she needed to bring this last haul of milk to her folks and pack for her new life on earth. The rancher agreed.

Soon, the moon maiden returned with only a few possessions, one of which was a box. She told her new fiancé, “You must never look in this box; it’s my most prized possession and its very private. Promise me you’ll never look in it.” And he promised.

It wasn’t long, however, before curiosity got the better of him. One day when his new wife was in town, he opened her precious box. He was stunned. All he saw was emptiness! Why would she forbid him from looking in an empty box. When she returned home, he confronted her. “I looked in your box, and it’s empty! Why did you make such a big deal about an empty box!” And she said very calmly, “I’m leaving you and returning to the moon.” Incredulous, he barked at her, “You would leave me for looking in an empty box?” And she said, “The box isn’t empty; it’s full of my hopes and dreams. I could never stay with someone who would look right at my fondest hopes and desires and see nothing.” And so she ascended on a moonbeam back to her ancestral home.

Jesus had dreams.
Jesus dreamed of children being safe, welcome, valued.
Jesus dreamed of outcasts finding a home in the blessed community.
Jesus dreamed of untouchables finding compassionate embrace.
Jesus dreamed of everyone sharing what they could so that everyone would have enough.
Jesus dreamed of peace, and justice for all people.
When we look at scripture, the sacraments, the boxes that hold Jesus’ dreams, do we see those dreams? Are we willing to help Jesus’ dreams come true? Isn’t that what it means to be a follower of Jesus?

The Ascension of the Lord today invites us to be aware of and share the desires of Jesus’ heart. The Ascension, then, calls us to:
Ascend above scarcity thinking
Ascend above self-loathing
Ascend above habitual fear
Ascend above indifference to the suffering of others
Ascend above addiction to violence
Ascend to higher levels of hope, generosity, and compassion

That’s our calling, to be uplifted, to uplift one another, and working together to help uplift our world. That’s the point of ascension, and this is the good news. Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

Grace is lifting me higher and higher.
Through me, grace is uplifting others.
Thank you, God!
And so it is.

Never Alone

On May 21, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Never Alone Easter 6 (2017) Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins John 14.5-6, 12, 14 I recently read that when Benedictine nun Joan Chittister was in the 2nd grade she came home from school upset because her teacher, a nun, had said that only Catholics go to heaven. That upset her because her step-father was Protestant. Her […]

Never Alone
Easter 6 (2017)
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
John 14.5-6, 12, 14

I recently read that when Benedictine nun Joan Chittister was in the 2nd grade she came home from school upset because her teacher, a nun, had said that only Catholics go to heaven. That upset her because her step-father was Protestant.
Her mother asked her, “What do you think about what your teacher said?” And Joan said, “I think Sister is wrong.”
Her mother asked, “Why do you think Sister is wrong?” And Joan answered, “Because Sister doesn’t know Daddy.”
When recalling that story, Joan Chittister writes, “Sister clearly did not know what I knew. Sister had not seen what God saw.”

I agree with Joan. But how does her witness of grace square with our scripture reading today?

Few passages of scripture have been misused more than two verses you heard this morning from the Gospel of John.
John 14.6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to God except through me.”
John 14.14: “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”

The first has been used as a proof text to make the case that only devout Christians can know God and certainly only this elect, special group will be embraced by God in the afterlife. But that isn’t consistent with the Jesus who healed people who worshiped and believed differently than his community did, people such as Roman pagans, Canaanites, and Samaritans whose Judaism was very different from Jesus’ own. No, to make Jesus the locked door for which only Christians have the key is contrary to everything we know about Jesus from the other gospels and from the prophetic tradition which formed him.

The second statement has been used like a lucky charm…suggesting that if you use the magic words “in Jesus name” then your wishes will be granted. Many of us know from experience that it doesn’t quite work that way, at least not always.
Oh, we always hope for good outcomes, and we’ve seen that positive attitudes and determination work together to make amazing things happen, but we’ve also learned that the rain falls on the just and the unjust, on the optimist and the pessimist. Even the luckiest of us have times of challenge.

So let’s reexamine these misused, misunderstood passages and liberate them from superstitions and oppressive theologies and discover once again the good news they are meant to convey.

We began reading John chapter 14 at verse 5. But before that, we would have heard Jesus say in verse 2, “In the divine house there are many rooms…I go to prepare a place for you.” And in verse 4, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Then in verse 5 Thomas says to Jesus, “We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” And Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the [Holy One] except through me (by me, with me).”

Remember, the writer imagines Jesus speaking not to the world, but to his dearest friends. We have eavesdropped on an intimate conversation and misunderstood what we thought we heard!

Jesus tries to comfort his friends by saying there are lots of rooms in the God’s house…room enough for everyone, whatever our beliefs or doubts may be.
Many rooms in God’s house is a way of saying, “Omnipresent Love couldn’t possibly exclude anyone for any reason; indeed, nothing could ever be separate from omnipresence. For God to be omnipresent means that wherever we are, God is.

Jesus would be killed, and his friends would suffer and some would die also. There may be plenty of worries in this world, but John’s Jesus tells his friends not to worry about the afterlife…whatever it is, it is with God and it is for everyone.
“Where I’m going, you will go. You know the way.”

But Thomas asks, “How can we know the way?”
In other words, “We can’t with certainty know what’s next? What is the way to overcome fear of the unknown?”
And John has Jesus say, “You know the way. It’s the way it’s always worked. I found you in this big world; I’ll find you in the next. That’s my way. I find you. I never let you go.”
Jesus symbolizes the embodiment (incarnation) of God’s love. So, what John’s Jesus is saying is, “Love finds us. Love never lets us go.”
That’s love’s way. That’s love’s truth. That’s the life that love promises. Love is the way. Love is the Truth. Love is the purpose of life. And since God is love, no one gets to love except through love…and we all have love within us.

We’ve heard this Way/Truth/Life triad as if Jesus were a locked door…to get to God you’ve got to get through me!
The intent is just the opposite…to get away from God you’d have to get past a Shepherd who will not lose a single lamb!
Jesus’ way, his truth, his experience of divine life is a love that will never let us go. God is a love that embraces all people.

In the 5th Star Trek movie, Cpt. Kirk almost falls to his death while rock climbing, but he said he wasn’t afraid of dying, because he always felt as if he would die alone, and since his friends Spock and McCoy were with him, he wasn’t alone therefore he couldn’t die. Later, Kirk faces death again, and thinks this time he is a goner, but Spock comes to the rescue. Kirk admits he thought this time it was the final curtain and Spock tells him, “Not possible. You were never alone.”
Of course, we all face an end to earthly days, but our significance never dies, because we are never alone…we are always loved by Love Itself.

Anglican Archbishop Tutu of South Africa has written, “In God’s family, there are no outsiders. All are insiders. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab…all belong…Jesus says that we are members of one family.”
That’s the way, the truth, the life that Jesus shares, that’s what it means to experience the sacred through, or by, or with him…it means there are no outsiders. We are as embraced by God as Jesus was. No one is excluded from God’s love and grace. A loving presence is always with us, throughout eternity.

And then Jesus basically says, “now that’s settled, get back to work…the sick need medical care, the hungry need food, the elderly need to be treated with dignity, the children need to be safe, injustices need to be addressed, wars need to cease…do the works that I’ve been doing, heck, do even more!”

“You will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these…[However], if you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” That isn’t a genie in a lamp granting wishes; that is part of this larger conversation: Don’t worry about being deserted. We are always connected, to God and to one another. Now, keep doing the good work. And, you can.

How can we work for justice, care for the disadvantaged, and offer hope to the hurting the way Jesus did, and maybe even do more? Jesus gives the answer: Whatever you ask in my name, that is, when you ask to do what I do, your prayer will be answered.”
That’s what ask in his name and it will be done means. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray the way he did, for the grace to be of service to the world. Not magic words, but a commitment to continue the work of Christ in the world.

These verses aren’t passcodes to the afterlife country club or the secret ingredient in the recipe to get our wishes granted. These verses are part of a conversation that is about people overcoming their fears to live into their calling to follow Jesus’ example (or way), to share the truth of God’s all-inclusive and unconditional love, and to help the community live a meaningful life of sharing and service. And prayer is how we can fuel ourselves to continue to do healing work. This gospel text is simply calling us to be the active hands of a loving God in a wounded world, and it’s promising us that we can be, because we are not doing it alone.
And THIS is the good news. Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

God give us the grace to care.
Give us the grace to share.
May we be blessed to bless others.
May we be receivers and workers of miracles.
Amen.

I Love to Tell the Story

On May 15, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

I Love to Tell the Story Rev. Ty Bradley May 14, 2017 Evangelism. It is a…complicated word. It’s certainly a powerful and motivating concept within many Christian communities. It is, in fact, our guiding theme or focus for 2017 here at Sunshine Cathedral. Words such as those we find in our reading from the Psalms […]

I Love to Tell the Story
Rev. Ty Bradley
May 14, 2017

Evangelism. It is a…complicated word. It’s certainly a powerful and motivating concept within many Christian communities. It is, in fact, our guiding theme or focus for 2017 here at Sunshine Cathedral.

Words such as those we find in our reading from the Psalms today often inspire us to the point of singing about the joy of sharing Good news. I love to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love. Even as I hear the melody in my mind, I am moved by the sentimentality of evangelism.

If I am honest, however, the word has always given me a bit of anxiety even as I recognize it’s appeal. Like many of us here I did not start out in the sensible and free-thinking church environment we enjoy here at the Sunshine Cathedral. My early days of ministry training took place within a holy-rollin’, knee-slappin’, tongue-talkin’, hands-a-healin’ environment where if a preacher wanted to be somebody in the church he or she better know how to share the good news of hell and damnation (I mean of heaven and salvation) to a lost and dying world…That is, all the people walking around living their own lives and handling their own business just fine without needing me to benevolently show them the right way to live.

And that’s how I viewed so-called “evangelism,” and so, as you might imagine, I wasn’t very good at it. I guess I had what election pollsters these days like to call an “enthusiasm gap.” My college dorm-mate, Tommy, was the exact opposite. He was a big, muscular, latino fire ball with an award-winning smile and handshake that could crush diamonds. And enthusiasm, well that he had in spades and for nothing more so than sharing about God and Jesus and the Bible with whoever was in earshot.

Tommy led a street preaching ministry and he talked me into joining him one day, convinced that I just needed some encouragement and a few successful experiences and I too would be sold on evangelism ministry. Literally giving it the old college try, I set out to find some people to talk to about Jesus in the neighborhood we had targeted that day. I was not a bit surprised to discover that people indeed were not eager to take time out of their day to talk me, a complete stranger on the street, about my particular beliefs concerning God. Mostly before I could form a complete thought, I was shut down by people in every way you can imagine. My favorite was probably the young man who, with perfect native-born diction, cut me off mid-sentence with, “I’m sorry man, I don’t speak any English.”

After that I just gave up; unwilling to subject myself to the torture of the experience any longer I set off to find Tommy. I turn the corner and I see him across the street in the parking lot of a small apartment complex, Bible in hand, going on in his typical loud and excited fashion with a crowd of people around him. I mean people have brought chairs out of their homes, there’s folks on the second floor catwalk leaning over guardrail seemingly enraptured. He’s got a full on well-attended impromptu bible study going on, and I can’t get people to even admit they understand English. So yeah…Evangelism.

Over the years since then I have certainly come a long way, not merely in my comfort level with sharing my faith, but more fundamentally in how I approach the very meaning of what it is to practice evangelism. When I consider our two readings this morning, I am reminded of how my own understanding of evangelism has matured. I invite us to listen to what they may have to say to us as a community about our practice of sharing the Good News.

The Psalmist boldly bids us to “Come and listen” to a story of divine responsiveness, acceptance and love. “I will tell you what God has done for me.” In my old circles we called this a “testimony.” Filled with gratitude for the goodness of God, a person might testify to their own journey from being down and out to being lifted up.

Looking back I think this is what ol Tommy had going for him, more than his charm, his smile or any other attribute. It was that his excitement was born of a genuine sense that his life had been turned around from something that wasn’t working for him to something he lived in gratitude for each and every day. I wasn’t fully comfortable with all of Tommy’s beliefs about God and heaven and sin, and what have you; and I am certainly no fan of a lot of that kind of theology today. But, I recognize that what Tommy had going for him was that so much more than any theology he may have espoused, he was eager and excited to share what he believed God had done for him in his life. He’d had some pretty dark days that weren’t easy to find his way out of. But he did. And he was able to see keenly how God had been present in that journey. Whatever beliefs about God and heaven and hell were expressed, what Tommy was really doing was telling a story about a God who showed up, who got involved, who saw him through. He was telling the same story as our Psalmist of a God who hears, and listens, and accepts and loves. And so looking back, I am not surprised at all that people responded so meaningfully to Tommy’s ministry of evangelism. They were pulling up chairs and leaning over balconies because they were hearing something that spoke of hope and promise and possibility.

Why is this so powerful? Why should others care about our journeys toward hope and wholeness? I think one answer is that, all sarcasm aside, the struggle is real. Precious few if any human beings enjoy the luxury of a completely charmed life, free of the kinds of bumps in the road that leave us plagued by self-doubt and the sense that the we walk the hardest parts of our journey completely alone. Left to our own devices our footing often times feels precariously insecure as we make our way in the world. Perhaps Paul’s words in the book of Acts capture the sense of it best; we are searching, as if in the dark, forced to feel our way along for something or someone to grasp on to. When we’ve been in that place for so long it has begun to feel like our inescapable destiny, it may be that stories of people making it through, of rising above and moving beyond are the most potent sources for the renewal of hope in the promise of our own future that we have available to us.

The most powerful experience of feeling my way through a dark place came for me when I came out as a gay man and had to contend with picking up the pieces of the decimated life I had built, all the while trying to figure where God was in it all. I looked to theological arguments for that answer, but theology alone was woefully insufficient. What convinced me that God was right there, never far from me, were the powerful testimonials of those who had walked my path before and who could now tell the story of a God who listens, accepts, and loves. It is a story that I too could now tell and I have endeavored from that time to this to be someone who shares the good news of what God has done for me. My theology is more mature and stronger today than it has ever been. Yet, I recognize that my theology is not what is going to get me through, and it is not what is going to facilitate my being a part of what helps others make it through either.

The single most potent resource at my disposal to keep telling the story of God’s love and promise and presence is a vibrant community of faith. This church, with all its theological diversity, is that place where my story can be told to greatest effect, for others as well as myself.

This is my second observation from our readings. That though we seek, and feel around often times in the dark, we do not do this alone. This is Paul’s message to the Athenian philosophers to whom he is speaking in our Acts reading today. A few verses earlier he points out that they all have different views of who God is. Some see God as too big and transcendent to be manipulated and controlled by human rituals and symbols. Others see God as being too intimately connected to the human experience to be anything other than the highest expression of human goodness and life. Though Paul has his own view about God moving from transcendence to imminence by way of a recently executed Jewish peasant, he nonetheless affirms their deepest intuitions about the divine, saying that God cannot be contained in wood and stone crafted by human hands and neither can God be separated out from the very activity of living life. Yet ultimately it is not their theologies that mark their shared experience, it is the mutuality of their own seeking and feeling for God’s goodness that creates the possibility of true community.

This is who we are when we are at our best. We are a church community that is telling a gospel story through our shared journey of exploration, of seeking and feeling our way forward together. It is not that we share a single theology; we certainly do not. And, it is not even that we are so intimately familiar and friendly with one another as individuals. The truth is that for most of us, myself certainly included, there are probably more people in this church community whose names we do not know than those we do. Every week since I got here I try to commit at least 1 or 2 names to memory. Each week, however, it is quite clear to me that I have a long way to go yet

Yet, I am aware that whether or not I know your name today, when I am blessed with the opportunity to administer the elements of the Eucharist to you, or hand you a prayer card, or anoint your head with oil, or join you in the sharing of the sign of peace, it is in moments such as these that my seeking and feeling for God connects with your own similar journey. I ask you to consider whether this is not also your experience.

When you pass the peace, when you come forward and crowd around the altar together arm-in-arm, when you lift your clasped hands in unison with the entire church in triumphant affirmation of God’s glory and goodness, these are visceral, bodily expressions of the reality that known names or not you are feeling out for God together. In fact, I would posit that you are feeling out for and finding God precisely in and through one another. In God we live, move and have our being, Paul tells his audience of truth-seekers.

Likewise, when we practice our shared life together
• in these bodily acts of Sunday of worship,
• And also in our making space available to other communities for worship, social services and recovery support,
• in our helping to literally feed the hungry and clothe the naked,
• in our commitment to standing together for the dignity and sacred value of all those who have been forgotten, cast aside, violated or demonized,
• and in our looking beyond the confines of our borders and our familiar comforts to ensure that ministries of global justice and mission from Kenya to Cuba, from Kingston to Karachi and elsewhere continue to thrive and create hope and promise in the lives of so many who have otherwise known precious few advocates in their struggles…

when we continue to thrive as this type of community we are not only connecting with the countless thousands we reach in person and/or via the internet to affirm that their own seeking and feeling for God does not happen in isolation, but we are also realizing our highest calling as the church of Jesus Christ to tell the story of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God is getting ready to do.

In this season of Resurrection Hope and beyond, throughout this year of Evangelism and beyond, Sunshine Cathedral we have every reason to be enthusiastic about the story we have to tell. This morning and beyond may that ode to evangelistic ferver continue to rise up in our collective spirits, We love to tell the story. We love to tell the story. It is the story of seeking and feeling for God together. It is the story of what God has done for and through us. It is the story of Jesus and his love. It is the story of the Sunshine Cathedral and it is the Good News!

Dear God,
When I seek you, there you are.
When I feel for you, I am not alone.
I can’t escape your love or your acceptance.
And so it is.

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