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.

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.

Confronting Our Idols

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

Confronting Our Idols Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Easter 5, 2017 Acts 17.27-29 When I was child I was convinced that I was unworthy of God’s grace, and yet, I longed for it, hoped for it, prayed for it, and still believed that if i were to receive it it would be in spite of my […]

Confronting Our Idols
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Easter 5, 2017
Acts 17.27-29

When I was child I was convinced that I was unworthy of God’s grace, and yet, I longed for it, hoped for it, prayed for it, and still believed that if i were to receive it it would be in spite of my depravity and odious nature. Nothing healthy or life-giving can come from such self-loathing.

My every prayer as a child included begging for the forgiveness of sins, too innumerable to count as they were, though surely I wasn’t all bad all time; but I was taught my goodness was as filthy rags and God’s holiness demanded a perfection I was compelled to strive toward and incapable of ever achieving. What a set up for failure, fear, and frustration! But Hallelujah for growing up and outgrowing the ogre God!

I would eventually come to realize that the God of my childhood, the punishing, vengeful, angry god was a false god, a graven image of low self esteem, learned fear, and the projection of other people’s insecurities. God save us from the graven images, the idols, the false gods of impotence and fear, tribalism and superstition that are sold to us as the living God of grace and goodness!

Of course, I have confronted and toppled other false deities in my life.

The god who not only prefers but demands heterosexuality…that petty god is not god enough for me.

The god who had a Y chromosome and therefore deifies and privileges the Y chromosome…that deity of misogyny is not god enough for me.

The god who becomes a government weapon or a political party’s mascot is not god enough for me.

The god who only values Christians and cannot see the faithfulness, the holiness, the sincerity, or the virtue of other religious paths is not nearly god enough for me.

The god of cruelty that would fill us with wonder, complex feelings, the ability to think critically and then forbid that we should employ such gifts…oh, such a monstrous god is nowhere near god enough for me.

These are each idols that at one time or another attracted me with the beauty of an impressive golden calf, but proved to be as impotent, as false, as hopeless, as damaging as any other graven image.

In our stories, in our imaginations, in our vocabularies, in our rituals, in our poetry, we try to explain the Sacredness we experience, but then we literalize the explanations and lose connection to the experience, and in our limited perspective, we forget that not only is explanation of experience not the same as experience, but we only experience what we can at any given moment, and our experience is not the totality of what there is to experience. So, really, our dogmatic certainty, our doctrinal debates, our so-called orthodoxies are little more than the gods of self-righteousness and self-aggrandizement and in the final analysis, they are simply not god enough.

We love our stories, and if we will explore them deeply and not cheapen them with needless literalism, they will remain powerful, liberating, and life-giving for us.

When we refuse to take even our own language too literally, then God is a loving father, a protective mother, a strong castle, a mighty warrior, a soaring eagle, a cloud by day and a fire by night, a beautiful rainbow, a caring nursemaid, a trinity, a unity, a pantheon of beings, an impersonal power, a loving presence, and a constant friend. If we insist that any image is the final word for god, we have settled for stale idolatry, but when we remember that every image points not to itself but aways from itself to something greater, then images become useful to us. To literalize them is to deify them; but to play with them freely allows them to be tools used by God rather than idols that try to limit or replace God.

In the Middle Ages, a Dominican monk, Meister Elkhart wrote, “I pray God to rid me of God.” In other words, he wanted to move past the idols, the graven images, the fears, the prejudices, the self-righteous arrogance that too often wrapped themselves in the language of piety.

Any god that doesn’t celebrate the joy of a transgender person coming to terms with their wholeness is not god enough; may the god which is Love rid the false god of transphobia from our hearts.

Any god that doesn’t weep when people are hungry, that doesn’t call people to care for refugees, that doesn’t long for peace, that doesn’t want all people clothed, housed, educated, and offered medical care is just not god enough…God beyond our limited notions of God, heal us from the damage of those limited notions.

That’s what Luke is telling us in the book of Acts today. The Apostle Paul is strolling around Athens and sees altars and images all over the place. The fire god, the water god, the god of romance, the god of protection, the deity of wisdom, the goddess of fertility…some gods are weak and some are powerful, some are angry and some are kind, some are fond of all humans and some are fond only of their devotees, some are mindful of all creation and some are volatile beings in desperate need of mood stabilizers. They all represent something meaningful about the human psyche and human relationships, but if taken literally, none of them are god enough.

But there is one more altar, one that doesn’t have an image. It is the altar to an unknown god. And Paul said, “see that? That’s the best altar of all. That’s the one that gets at what God is more than any of the others.”

The god you can love and whose love you can experience even while being mystified by the depths of such love, the god who allows us to name her/him/it for our own convenience but who is in no way limited to or by those names, that is the god that Jesus said is spirit, that Moses understood as the Great I Am, that Protestant theologian Paul Tillich said was the ground of being.

The god that is known in human genius, human virtue, and human love while being infinitely more than genius, virtue, and human understandings of love, the god that cannot be trapped in a book or a sacrament or a prophet or symbol or a name, that is the God we encounter in Jesus, in nature, in one another, in moments of sacred silence…that is the one in which we live and move and have our being.

How many idols have we allowed to stand in for god? How many fears, prejudices, goals, desires, regrets, hatreds have we worshiped in the place of an unknown, unnamed, all-inclusive, all-loving God? How many golden calves have we settled for before moving deeper and deeper into the mystery of unfathomable love?

Whatever you have thought God was, God is more.

We don’t have to trap god in any box or image or doctrine…we can simply trust that God is never separate from us. Like air, like light, like love, like the order of the universe…God is, and what is, must include us, and whatever is enough to include all of us can’t be limited by any name, image, or tradition.

We can’t pin God down, but we can get to the place where we experience God as a love that will never let us go. Any other sort of god simply is not god enough, and this is the good news. Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

God beyond all notions of God,
Give me confidence in your love and grace.
Fill me with peace and joy.

Sacred Shepherdology

On May 7, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Sacred Shepherdology Psalm 23 Easter 4, 2017 Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister The Lord is my shepherd. I need that word today. The Lord is my shepherd. “LORD” in the text is in all caps, which means it is replacing the word Yahweh, which is the I Am…I Am what I am; I will […]

Sacred Shepherdology
Psalm 23
Easter 4, 2017
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister

The Lord is my shepherd. I need that word today. The Lord is my shepherd.
“LORD” in the text is in all caps, which means it is replacing the word Yahweh, which is the I Am…I Am what I am; I will be what I will be; I am that which is. So, the Lord is my shepherd means that wherever we are, God is.

When we hear, the Lord is my shepherd…that’s actually saying that we can’t be separated from God’s love. We are never alone. Whatever we face, we face held by love and grace. The Lord is my shepherd. Like I said, I need that reminder sometimes; I need it today.

So, that’s a lot is packed into that one word: Lord. But there’s a lot to that word “shepherd”, also.

Remember, every Xmas, we revisit the story of angels visiting shepherds. Shepherds work hard, and spend a lot of time outdoors no matter how hot or cold or damp or dry the weather may be. Shepherds are not the elite. Oh there are other times in scripture when God is a solid rock, a grand castle, a beautiful rainbow, a doting mother, or a fierce warrior…but in our most famous psalm, the Great I Am is portrayed with rather a humble image. The Lord is my shepherd.

If you feel lowly, discounted, left out, targeted, disposable…guess what. The Lord is your SHEPHERD. If you feel lowly, God is with the lowly, shows up as lowly as we may need – God is our shepherd.
When you are down and out, remember that even in that state you are made in the divine image.
If you feel down and out, the good news is God is the God of the down and out. God is a shepherd…God lives with the sheep. God loves the sheep. God cares about the sheep. God spends every minute concerned for the sheep.
When you feel as if the world is against you, as if your government, your family, your own body has betrayed you, as if you are a helpless lamb…the good news is The Lord is our shepherd. The omnipresent I AM is present with me just as I AM…the lord is my shepherd.

Does God want every person fed?
Does God want every person to live in safety and with dignity?
Does God want every person to have access to medical care?
Does God want people to have equal protection and equal opportunity no matter where they are from or how they pray or who they love?
The answer is, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
The shepherd doesn’t abandon any lamb. The shepherd does all she can for every lamb. Does God want you to have liberty, justice, hope, peace, joy, love, healing? The answer is clear. The Lord is your shepherd!

Let’s look at each line of the psalm this morning. It really is, or can be, very empowering.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Omnipresent love is with us, what more do we need?)

God makes me to lie down in green pastures and leads me beside the still waters
(those are comforting images. Things aren’t always as we wish they were, but God is present to offer comfort and guidance…in God we find rest and refreshment so we can continue the journey).

God restores my soul.
(When our souls, our dignity, our personhood is attacked by religious leaders and politicians who treat us as topics for debate rather than children of God, when they try to control our bodies, deny the complexities of gender variance, or discriminate against people for being same-gender loving…when they attack our souls, God restores our souls! The deck may seem stacked lately in favor of fundamentalism and against basic human compassion, but we’ve lived through such times before…these days will give way to better ones, and while we work and wait, God restores our souls!).

God leads me in the right paths for the sake of God’s own goodness
(we who choose the progressive spiritual path are being led to justice and healing, which is always the will of God).

Yes, even if I should walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for God is with me…the Shepherd’s rod and staff comfort me
(some may not see my sacred value, some may not think I deserve equality, that my rights are as important as their prejudices, but what they don’t know is that God loves what they refuse to love, the Shepherd is with me and is sharing the tools with me that I need to survive any onslaught of hate, bigotry, or ill-will).

God prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies, anoints my head with scented oil, fills my cup to overflowing
(that is, there are those who don’t want me at the table, or even in the room, or in the hospital, or in the school, or in the country, or in the wedding chapel…they don’t want me but God wants the best for me…not only does God say i have a place at the table, God says the table is set in my honor! Your honor! And those who hated us and called it love, who discriminated against us and called it religious freedom, who said we didn’t deserve living wages and adequate care, marriage equality or clean water and air…they will one day, in this life or the next, realize that God loves us every bit as much as God loves them, God’s love excludes no one for any reason, and when they defend their cruelty in the name of God, they are using God’s name in vain).

And the last verse: Surely, certainly, you can count on it…Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever
(so many people try to use religion to keep us out or in line or beaten down…but the God who is omnipresent Love offers us only goodness and grace and there is nothing that can ever separate us from the loving heart of God).

Finally, I want to point out that the 23rd psalm is an affirmative prayer. The psalmist doesn’t beg God to be kind or present or loving or generous…the psalmist declares that’s what God is. The prayer is an affirmation of the goodness of God which helps the one saying the prayer then trust in that goodness.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. God makes me to lie down in green pastures and leads me beside the still waters. God restores my soul. God leads me in the right paths for the sake of God’s own goodness. Yes, even if I should walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for God is with me; the Shepherd’s rod and staff comfort me. God prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies, anoints my head with scented oil, and fills my cup to overflowing. Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

And so will you, and this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2017

The light of God surrounds me;
the love of God enfolds me.
The power of God protects me;
the presence of God watches over me.
Wherever I am, God is, and all is well.


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