We Can Make a Difference

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

We Can Make a Difference Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Ruth 3) 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. I was new in town. I was in my early 20s and […]

We Can Make a Difference
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
(Ruth 3)

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.

I was new in town. I was in my early 20s and had transferred to a larger university from a smaller college. As has always been my way, on Sunday, I was looking for a church. I found myself walking into St. Barnabas and I loved it…everything was wonderful. But, there was one thing I needed to get out of the way.

On the way out of church in the receiving line the curate (aka known as an assistant pastor) noticed that I was new and invited me to return. I told her I would love to as long as I could be honest about who I was. “I’m gay,” I said. She seemed stunned not by the fact but by my directness. It was the 80s in the Bible Belt after all.
She smiled and said, “That won’t be a problem here.”
She then invited me to join the Canterbury Club at the university. She was the club’s chaplain.

I became part of the Canterbury Club. We had mass every Tuesday morning at 7:30 am (an ungodly hour for a holy service) and again on Thursdays at noon (much more civilized). Thursday mass was followed by lunch. We also had a Saturday morning discussion group and the occasional movie night. I’d go to church on Sundays, but during the week, the Canterbury Club was like a parish of its own right there on campus.

That priest who welcomed an audacious young queer into her parish and into her campus ministry was the first person who ever said to me, “I think you may have a priestly vocation.” Those words changed my life.

Simple actions. But those acts of simple generosity helped shape my life and ministry. We don’t even know the difference we may be making in someone’s life by sharing a glance, a word, an invitation, a smile.

This church touches lives. But what is this church?

It’s the retired designer who volunteers to make our lovely vestments. It’s the usher team. This church is the garden team that labors in the hot sun on Saturdays so that we can utilize the GLF prayer garden.

This church is a facility that houses support groups and senior services and transgender programs that give hope to people every day.

This church is the music ministry that is here every Thursday night rehearsing so that we can have a beautiful worship experience. It’s the volunteers who put together 200 brown bag lunches every week to give to people who need assistance with food. This church is the people who bring food items to share with local food banks beyond our own food sharing ministry.

This church is the prayer team holding you in prayer every week. This church is every volunteer who lectors and serves communion. This church is a volunteer who comes in once a week just to clean bathrooms.

This church is every person who lovingly and joyfully tithes to the work of this ministry. This church is the couple that helps people make arrangements to be interred in our columbarium. It’s the home and hospital visitation team, the hospitality team, the ministers who facilitate worship at assisted living facilities, the team that ministers to people as they begin their journeys to recovery.

This church is a professional painter who gives us her time and labor for free. This church is a group of volunteers who count offerings and enter data and address envelopes. This church is the A/V volunteers, the part time employees who work other jobs as well, the full time staff who in some cases left more lucrative corporate jobs to serve this community.

This church that touches, uplifts, blesses, and maybe even saves lives is YOU. Stuffing an envelope, saying a prayer, reading a passage, singing a song, digging in the dirt, putting some money in the plate, visiting someone in the hospital…it may not seem like much, but it makes this church what it is and this church is a miracle to someone.

Because of YOU, people know they are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
Because of YOU, people know there’s not a spot where God is not.
Because of YOU, people know there is a church that will affirm their sacred value.
Because of YOU, people are a little less food insecure.
Because of YOU, people find community.
Because of YOU, people have a place to face their challenges and embrace the power of hope.

We can make a difference.
You make a difference.

Boaz made a difference in Ruth and Naomi’s life. Naomi concocts a scheme to get Ruth to seem him privately. “Wait until he’s eaten a big meal and had some wine after a long day’s work. When he goes to bed, he’ll be out like a light. You slip in and position yourself at his feet. He’s bound to notice you and then you can announce your intentions.“

Well, being at someone’s feet is an intimate posture to be sure, and in ancient literature, “feet” sometimes symbolize genitalia, making the posture even more intimate. Boaz does awaken at some point and finds a woman at his…”feet”…and he’s startled. Ruth explains that she’s a childless widow, and as he is her husband’s cousin, she’d like him to marry her.

It was a common practice in the culture. If a man died childless, his nearest single male relative was expected to marry his widow, thus providing security for her and the new husband would serve as a surrogate father. When the widow had her first child by the new husband, the child would be called the departed husband’s child. So, Ruth asks Boaz to take her as his wife.

But why Boaz? He’s not the closest kin. There’s one person closer in line. Why skip him?

Ruth and Naomi have made a life long commitment to each other. I think Naomi knew something about Boaz that led her to believe that he might be okay with that. She sent Ruth to him to lie at his “feet” trusting that he wouldn’t make a move on her. That’s risky, unless she knows something.

Boaz is successful, is a life long “bachelor” (like Rock Hudson), and while he agrees to marry her he also says without hesitation, “there is a nearer relative and if he’ll do it, LET HIM.” If Boaz aint, I ain’t!

But, two women who have pledged to be together for the rest of time. What man would understand and support that? A man like Boaz. And he does. And he will marry Ruth and provide a home for her and Naomi and he will even try to have a child with Ruth. He is willing to form a family so that two women can stay together and be safe. And because of Boaz’s generosity, Ruth and Boaz become Jesus’ ancestors. Without Boaz, we wouldn’t have Jesus! You never know what a difference your one simple action can make.

When you make your offering today, or hug someone at the sign of peace, or speak to someone in the social hall, or invite someone to lunch…you don’t know what you might be setting in motion. But know that your every loving intention and act of compassion matters, and may even help launch a ministry, or contribute to a church that changes lives, or even help Jesus become more real to someone. We can make a difference. And we will, and we do. And this is the good news. Amen.

We Can Make A Difference

On January 21, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

We Can Make a Difference Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Jan 21, 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 usually think of Jesus meek and mild, but Jesus was […]

We Can Make a Difference
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Jan 21, 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 usually think of Jesus meek and mild, but Jesus was also very passionate.

We see him this morning having an outburst in public, knocking over tables. What got into Jesus? Of all things, why attack money exchange clerks and dove merchants?

The money changers served a legitimate function. In Jesus’ day, we wouldn’t have images. We’ve all been in churches with statues or icons or brass pulpits that looked like an eagle or people depicted in the stained glass windows…images that have been engraved into surfaces. But graven images were a no-no. They took that so seriously in Jesus’ day, that they wouldn’t let you bring money in the Temple that had someone’s face on the coins.

We’ll take your Washingtons, Lincolns, Hamiltons, Jacksons, and Franklins…we’ll take your check with birds or flags or clouds on them…we’ll swipe your credit card with your own photo on it…but not in
Jesus’ day. No images meant NO images.

So, some enterprising people set up a money exchange service.

In Rome, mere feet (or meters) from the walls of Vatican City, there are shops where you can buy papal swag, or a hot seminarians beef cake calendar, but that doesn’t really go to support papal ministry.

I think that’s what was going on in Jesus’ day. People knew you needed Temple currency to spend in the temple, so they set up shop. Of course, there was a fee. It was a business to enrich the business owner, not really a fundraiser for ministry.

Now, if you didn’t bring a sacrifice, you’d buy one there at the temple. Again, someone has set up the Sacrifice on Site Store. I buy two birds, because I don’t have enough for a four legged animal. That I’m buying birds shows you that I’m not a rich guy, and I’m already less rich than I was an hour ago.

I’ve spent money at two shops before I ever get inside the Temple! I want to support the Temple, but so far, I’ve supported the Money for Money Shop and the Sacrifices to Go Mart. The bird sellers are making money and the money changers are making money…off of me, poor peasant guy who just wants to worship in my religion’s famed temple.

Jesus has a fit and falls in it, but not because people are supporting the Temple, his own parents gave a gift of turtle doves to the Temple when he was born. Jesus grew up hearing about and practicing tithing. Jesus praised the widow who gave a mite, all she could to support the temple ministry.

Jesus gave food and wine and healing and time and wisdom and whatever else he could all the time. Even in his passionate display today, he’s basically giving his life for what he believes. The consequences of his outburst will
be fatal…he gave courageously from his heart anyway.

Jesus wants us to be generous, but when he sees the rich and powerful lining their pockets at the expense of the poor, marginalzed, or oppressed and using God’s temple as cover for their exploits, then he displays righteous indignation.

Jesus is furious that people are using religion to cheat others, to keep them down, to break them rather than to lift them up, and when you make religion be something to enrich the already rich or to keep some in power at the expense of the disadvantaged, Jesus is then ready to take names and kick butt.

And that’s why we see him confronting people who are exploiting the vulnerable. Exploitation of the vulnerable is apparently the one thing that gets Jesus fighting mad.

Jesus quotes scriptures from his own tradition when he’s confronting those who are exploiting the poor. He quotes the prophet Isaiah, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Of course, the prophet says, a house of prayer for all peoples, all nations, all ethnicities, all races, all economic classes…all groups of people, all kinds of people.

Jesus also quotes the prophet Jeremiah who asked in his own day, “Has this house become in your eyes a den of thieves?” Standing with the prophets, Jesus affirms the dignity of all people and insists that God’s house is where the sacred value of all people is to be acknowledged and celebrated. The Temple isn’t cover for the powerful, its refuge and sanctuary for the
hurting and marginalized.

And then, in response to his radical affirmation of those who had been exploited, the lame and the blind come for healing. Jesus is engaging scripture again. Leviticus 21 says that those who have physical limitations or challenges can’t serve as priests at the altar, but Jesus, in the Temple, lays hands on the hurting…as if to say, your body may have some issues
right now, but the real you, the spirit that you are, is, always has been, and always will be whole and perfect. Embrace your wholeness and serve the Lord with gladness.

Then what happens? Children say admiring things about Jesus. And again, he quotes scripture, the 8th psalm: “Out of the mouths of babes God has brought forth praise.” Children have no power, but they are the ones to affirm Jesus, and by lifting that up, the writer is affirming the dignity and goodness of children and all who have been rendered powerless.

And then Jesus leaves for Bethany. Bethany is where his chosen family lived. Two women who called themselves sisters, and a man they called their brother all lived together in Bethany: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The exact nature of the various relationships is a matter of rigorous investigation among Queer theologians, but in any case, three unmarried adults without children living together was uncommon, a biblical example of what makes a family…love and choice.

In this one gospel text:
Jesus fights for the poor.
Jesus comforts the hurting.
Jesus empowers the powerless.
Jesus affirms non-traditional families.

Matthew wanted us to see who Jesus was, and therefore, what we who follow Jesus are meant to be. This story shows a dramatic and radical commitment to the poor, the powerless, the vexed and the vilified. This disruption in the Temple struck fear in the hearts of the guardians of the status quo, and that is almost certainly what led to Jesus’ arrest and execution.

But he couldn’t be silent…when he saw the poor, the victimized, the marginalized, the suffering having their suffering needlessly enhanced, or having their suffering ignored, or having their suffering used to enrich others…he couldn’t be silent. He had to speak up; he had to do something. It might have cost him something, maybe, as it turned out, it would cost him everything…but he believed he could make a difference, and if he could, then he reasoned, he must.

I am asking you today to renew your commitment to the mission and ministry of Sunshine Cathedral for another year. I’m asking you to worship with us faithfully, every Sunday that you are able, and we gather at other times as well. I’m asking you to volunteer sometimes, either for a single project or for an on-going ministry. And I’m asking you to make a financial commitment to this church if you benefit from it in any way or if you believe in what we are trying to do in the world. Prayerfully dedicate a percentage of your net income to supporting your church and give your gifts as acts of worship.

We can make a difference, and we need all hands on deck to do all that we are called to do.

Jesus made a profound difference in the world, and in his name we strive to make a difference as well. This is the good news. Amen.

I believe I can make a difference.
Let me be a conduit through which divine goodness flows.
God bless me to be a blessing.
Inspired by Jesus, I want to serve your plan.
Amen.

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