Praying Through Uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here I am God! Send me! Use me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritually Empowered

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

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

Spiritually Empowered
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Pentecost 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace be with you.
Receive the holy Spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uplifted by Rev Ty Bradley – 9am

On May 13, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Gracious God, May we be present to one another always in ways that affirm life, reflect love, and advance justice. And now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts nourish our minds and uplift our spirits. Amen. So this morning is both Ascension Sunday and Mother’s Day. I want to […]

Gracious God,
May we be present to one another always in ways that affirm life, reflect love, and advance justice. And now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts nourish our minds and uplift our spirits. Amen.

So this morning is both Ascension Sunday and Mother’s Day. I want to first recognize and say thank you to all the mothers with us this morning, including our mothers of choice! Though, to be fair since it is also Ascension Sunday, I should also give a shout out to anyone who’s ever had an out of body experience.

The Ascension doesn’t really get the attention it deserves. We get all excited about the Resurrection, and then once it’s done we are immediately looking ahead to Pentecost. It’s like, Hallelujah Christ is Risen…now let’s go get drunk in the Spirit.
But the Ascension of Jesus is an important part of the story. Indeed it is the lynchpin that holds together Resurrection and Pentecost as a coherent narrative. It is what takes us from the remarkable story of an impoverished Galilean preacher and reformer to the even more remarkable story of the community of his followers who set out to share and embody that preacher’s empire-shaking vision of God’s abundant life for all people. Without the Ascension, I just don’t think we ever get to Pentecost.

Now, I never make it my business to tell folks from the pulpit whether they should believe in dead bodies reanimating, or people floating away into the sky, or any other kind of supernatural thing. The happy truth is that the factualness or lack thereof of these events is inconsequential to their meaning for our lives and the life of faith communities.

And I think that is because stories like the resurrection or the ascension are not ultimately stories about God; but rather are stories about us. About our journeys and experiences as we navigate our lives, particularly in light of our being children of a loving God called into communities of faithful response to that love.

And that is why the Resurrection story needs the Ascension story, because our stories of new life, of second chances, of resurrection, need the uplifting story of ascension to become all that they are meant to be in our lives. Resurrection is not enough. Without Ascension, resurrection is nothing more than a return to the status quo.

Before the resurrection, Jesus’ friends and family felt debilitating loss and fear and grief. The death of their friend was for them the death of their hope. They had invested themselves in a way of being in the world that they thought was going to see them through to the end. But suddenly it was gone, it was dead. And like many of us have found ourselves in the aftermath of deep, death-like loss, they were paralyzed. Stuck. Their lives were on indefinite hold. Sometimes we can’t envision how to move beyond the death and devastation we have suddenly found ourselves in.

And then, the good news of the Resurrection. Jesus is alive! He appeared in their midst. And suddenly the return to life from death allowed a new hope to arise from the ashes of their despair. What they had thought lost to them forever had returned and now there was hope. New life, resurrection, always brings new hope.

But new hope is not enough. They were still stuck. They were still in a holding pattern. Not because of fear or a debilitating sense of loss. They were stuck by their contentment at what seemed to be a return to the way things were. Oh wonderful, Jesus is alive again. Now we can get back to how it was. We can return to what we were about before everything went bad.

They are happy to follow Jesus’ lead, to go back to the Teacher-Disciple dynamic they had enjoyed with him. But the miracle of resurrection from the dead has not yet done anything to propel them forward into a new way of being faithful in the world.
They didn’t yet realize what we too have sometimes struggled to understand. The hope that resurrection brings is not a hope for reliving the past. Resurrection Hope is about taking hold of new possibilities for the future.

When I came out as a gay man nearly 20 years ago, it seemed like everything important in my life had become as dead to me. Relationships, ministry, material possessions. Not one area of my life as a married rising star Pentecostal minister escaped devastation. But when new friends, and a new relationship, a new career, and even a new welcoming church began materializing in my life, it was for me the most powerful experience of resurrection I had ever known, before or since.

But even though I was experiencing resurrection, for a long time I remained stuck. Not in despair, but in contentment. I wasn’t looking forward, I was looking back. I was cherishing the things that had returned to my life and, like the disciples waiting on Jesus to tell them what to do again, I was looking back and waiting for everything to be like it was.

It took a long time for me to realize that what had been restored in this resurrection experience was far more important than what I had originally lost, more authentic relationships, a more powerful conception of the Gospel’s meaning, a deeper personal connection to the divine. I struggled to recognize that what lay in the past paled in comparison to what lay ahead if I would only rise above what had been and take hold of the amazing possibilities of what could now be.

And that is what the Ascension story means, in our lives as much as in the lives of those first Jesus followers. To ascend is to be uplifted if you will. We are lifted up from the places where we have been stuck in the past and elevated to places where new possibilities are ours for the taking.

How the story of the ascension demonstrates this uplifting is more clearly seen when we look at how the author of Luke-Acts retells the story at the beginning of Acts. The writer ends the Gospel of Luke with a telling of the ascension that sounds like an ending. Some final instructions, but then a nice, fuzzy, goodbye. We can picture Jesus slowly disappearing into the clouds like helium balloons being released at someone’s memorial service. In the retelling of the story in Acts, the writer includes a lot of the same elements, but here it reads much more like a beginning.

The disciples are eager for Jesus to tell them what he plans to do next. He tells them that it is not about what he will accomplish, but about what they themselves have the opportunity accomplish. Then, as if to prove his point, he disappears from sight. Still a bit obtuse about the position that Jesus has just put them in, the disciples stare up at where he was last seen. An angel appears and asks in essence, “why are you looking to heaven. The work of the Gospel is right here on earth. It is your work now.”
In the Resurrection, the disciples were given new life, new hope. But in the Ascension they were given new purpose. Resurrection without Ascension is not true resurrection at all. Hope that is not uplifted by purpose remains stuck in the past until it ceases to be hope at all. Only in ascending above what was and taking hold of what can be do we take full advantage of the resurrection hope that we have experienced in our lives.

My mother died on Mother’s Day, 10 years ago this past Friday at age 54. I find it impossible every year at this time not to think about her life and its ultimate meaning. She was in and out of prison constantly from the time I was 9 years old until I was about 31. While I do have quite a few memories of the time we spent together, much of it pretty wild stuff, overall my thoughts about my mom reflect a sort of distance. Most of her time as a mother was spent out running the streets or sitting in prison, not with us kids.

When she died, her funeral was in the small chapel of a funeral home in the desert town she lived in on the Arizona Nevada border. As I stood at the head of the chapel officiating her service, I looked out and took in the reality that only six people were present beside myself and I remembered a somber conversation we had a few years earlier while we were driving somewhere together. She was staring off into nowhere silently in the passenger seat, when she suddenly turned to me and said with the sadness of regret in her voice, “Ty I know I am hardly in the position to offer motherly advice. But, if there is one thing I could leave you with that would stick, I want it to be this. Some day you will find yourself at a place in life where you have considerably more old memories behind you than new experiences in front you. Please try to live your life so that when you get to that place you are happy with the memories you have made.”

Thankfully, my mom had a good 5 more years to make new memories with my brother and I, and to enjoy her final season of life where health problems had forced her to slow down and savor every blessing. Over those years, I know that much of what she thought she had lost, what had died (to frame it in our language this morning), ended up being resurrected for her. She ended this life happy, with memories that may not have outweighed what came before in volume, but certainly were far more powerful in meaning.

But looking out at that empty chapel at her funeral, I wondered if the new life she had experienced at the end was enough. Had her life been meaningful enough. Had she ascended, as it were, to a life with some more lasting purpose? I have wondered it still in the years since her death.

But about two weeks ago I was going through a box of her old effects that I had boxed it up after her death and left alone all these years. In addition to pictures, letters, and other keepsakes, I found packets of prison education materials. Upon closer inspection I was shocked to see that some of these materials were created by my mom. They included reading comprehension aids, workshops on available legal aid for appeals, parole board interview training. All stuff my mom had created and used to educate other inmates. What stopped me in my tracks was some basic materials on HIV/AIDS that were accompanied by several letters to the warden, the state prison bureau, the state department of health and others wherein she decried the lack of HIV/AIDS education for women in the California prison system and detailing how that was killing women entrusted to the state’s care, especially women of color. In the late 1980’s, when no one else thought to do it, my mother had done the research, gathered or created the materials and fought for the opportunity to educate her forgotten sisters in chains on HIV/AIDS.

1 of the 6 people at her funeral was a young woman I did not know. She was a local and apparently my mom had taken her under her wing at some point. She approached me after the service and said, “I want you to know that your mom was more mother to me than my own mom. I would be dead or back in prison if it weren’t for her.” I didn’t give it much thought beyond being touched to hear about their relationship at the time. As I look back now, however, I believe she was standing in for the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women over the years for whom my mother had made a meaningful difference.

It turns out my mom had indeed experienced more than resurrection hope at the end of her life. Somehow, all along the way in ways and at times I never knew anything about, my mom had found ways to experience ascension. She had been uplifted, rising above the literal and figurative prison she found herself stuck in, because she had taken hold of untapped possibilities that had given her new purpose. And she had made a real difference in her unconventional world of influence because of it.

When we ascend to take hold ourselves of the possibilities that resurrection hope has made available to us, we are moving in the tradition of those first followers of Jesus. We get unstuck. We stop looking up to the heavens. We stop waiting for God to do what our own resurrection experience has made possible for us to do, for ourselves but equally as important, for other people who also need hope and to be uplifted. Like those who experienced ascension on that hill in Bethany, we become witnesses to the world around of us of the Kindom of God. We become the Church of Jesus Christ. Alive with Resurrection hope, uplifted with Ascension purpose, and ablaze with Pentecost power. This is the life abundant God would have for us and for all people. And this is the Good news.

Ministers are coming forward to anoint you with oil and provide you with a prayer card. We are the ones who do the work of uplifting, but we don’t do it by ourselves or merely for ourselves. True ascension happens in a communal context and gathering here at this altar every week arm in arm is a powerful, embodied reminder that we are at our best when we are at it together. There is no magic in the oil, or in the prayer on the card. But there is magic in our shared life together. We lift one another up and we bring others with us when we are lifted up. Perhaps you need some uplifting this morning or maybe you have some uplifting you can share with someone else. Whatever your situation, I invite you to rise as you are able, and come forward as you will, and let’s give miracles a chance.

Gracious God, we have seen and experienced your resurrection life time and again. We commit ourselves to the work of translating that new life into purposeful living so that we may ourselves be uplifted and that we may be a meaningful part of the uplifting of others. May we never be satisfied with returning to what was, but rather motivated to action by the possibilities of what could be. That our lives and this world may increasingly reflect your character of love, justice and compassion. We offer this prayer in faith as we affirm together…

New life fills me with hope.
I am turning possibilities into purpose.
I am uplifted and am lifting others with me.


Uplifted by Rev Dr Robert Griffin – 10:30am

On May 13, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Ascension Sunday/Mother’s Day May 13, 2018 Uplifted Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin It’s Ascension Sunday, when we remember the story of Jesus bidding farewell to his friends. Farewells can seem so final. Farewells can be difficult. Farewells can also be the beginning to something new and exciting. – When I left home to join the Navy, […]

Ascension Sunday/Mother’s Day
May 13, 2018
Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin

It’s Ascension Sunday, when we remember the story of Jesus bidding farewell to his friends.

Farewells can seem so final. Farewells can be difficult. Farewells can also be the beginning to something new and exciting.
- When I left home to join the Navy, it was a bitter sweet farewell, but that farewell led to new adventures.

- When I was reassigned to various military bases, it was hard saying farewell to friends. Those farewells led to meeting more and more people.

- When I left the Baptist church of my youth that was a farewell that wasn’t easy, but it led to a much broader religious experience and wonderful new ministry opportunities.

- When I left the church I had founded in Maryland to return to graduate school and further my education, it was very hard to say goodbye. From Sunday services to performing weddings, baptisms, funerals and eating more fried chicken and other food with grease than one could image, that farewell led to a life in academic circles that I could not have imagined in my younger life.

- Theological education helped me say farewell to a lot of old assumptions. It was a little uncomfortable to learn new ways of being faithful, to question some things that I thought I could take for granted, and to encounter people whose faith was as nourishing as my own though radically different in its presentation. To enjoy such diversity meant saying farewell to some previously held beliefs.

- And now here I am at Sunshine Cathedral…12 years and going strong with no plans to leave any time soon – and yet, because Sunshine Cathedral is a living, vibrant community, it isn’t static. We are constantly exposed to new ideas, new kinds of people, new challenges, new opportunities…Even when staying in one place, we are still encouraged to say farewell to some of what we’ve known so that we can embrace the possibilities that still exist.

In 1762, John Fawcett, an English Baptist minister, who after spending his entire ministerial career at a church near Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire was preparing to leave. Now when Rev John wrote and preached his sermons, most them were followed by a hymn. It is said that on his last Sunday, that when he preached his final sermon and was preparing to leave for London, bags packed, and wagon loaded. Following that last sermon, he started to sing his final farewell song, “Best Be the Tie That Binds”.

We sang this often in my childhood Baptist church:
Blest be the tie the binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

It was such an emotional song and farewell that Rev John changed his mind and stayed — we can say that this was something like the day that we are observing today. Jesus says farewell, but also stays in and as the work of the church.

Ascension causes me to think not only of Rev. John’s song, but also of a movie about three women who changed NASA, and maybe the world.

The movie, Hidden Figures, is about three women who lifted up a lot of people by standing up for dignity and justice. The movie is based on the lives of Katherine Coleman, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson.

The story is set in the Jim Crow south (Virginia, early ‘60s) at a key NASA research center and shows the discriminatory practices that were common at that time.

As you may recall from the movie, each of the 3 black women encounters a “particular conflict, a particular focus in the struggle for equality.”

First there is Mary – Mary’s challenge is that she is must petition the Virginia court to allow her to attend night classes at a segregated school. She needs courses that are only taught at the segregated school and she has to fight for access to that education.

Mary’s husband, who is a civil-rights activist, is not a fan of her pursuit of more education. He would rather her be the dutiful wife, home taking care of the kids and cooking. Her husband says to her, “You can’t apply for freedom…It’s got to be demanded, taken.”

Yet in the end, using her own style, she is heard, she prevails; she is lifted. In her own way, she basically said, even if you make it hard for me, I WILL find a way.

Next there is Dorothy – Dorothys’ challenge is trying to get a formal promotion to the level of a supervisor’s position. This also takes place against the backdrop of Jim Crow where there are no black supervisors much less a black woman supervisor.

Later in the movie , Dorothy learns that her entire department of human women computers, as they are called, are to be replaced by an IBM mainframe. Dorothy, with her sons, take a city bus (where they sit in the back) to a library in search of a book on the IBM mainframe.

Dorothy finds the book and soon afterwards she and her sons are escorted out of the library (because it wasn’t a “colored” library). Dorothy says to her children, “separate and equal aren’t the same thing,” and adds, “If you act right, you are right.”

In the end, Dorothy is promoted, she prevails and endures, and she is lifted. In her own way, she basically said, you can knock me down but you can’t keep me down.

Lastly there is Katherine – Katherine too must take her stand for her dignity and for opportunities. Katherine’s moment comes when in front of the entire, all white male staff, she has to break down and explain for them why she is often not at her desk. It is because she has to walk across the entire campus just to use the bathroom since there were no ”colored” bathrooms (as they were called) in the building where she was working; moreover, she takes the opportunity to reinstruct them about the use of segregated coffee pots.

Because she stood up and spoke out, the Director takes it upon himself to remove the colored signs.

Katherine takes a stand for dignity, for inclusion, for justice, and she prevails and endures, and she is lifted. In her own way, she basically said, ”you can treat me badly, but I will not thank you for it nor will I remain silent about it.”

These courageous, brilliant women stood up for themselves and for women everywhere, and for people of color everywhere, and for people everywhere who have been kept down.

It’s never enough to just stand up for ourselves, or for our community, for people like us…we have to care about all who are denied equal protection and equal opportunity.

Yet the sad reality is that we are still having to address some of these same issues today.

Racism is still with us. In some ways, it is uglier, deadlier, and more obvious than any time since the gains of the civil rights movement.

Bathrooms are still used as weapons against people’s dignity as states try to deny simple access to transgender people.

Some states and churches still want to refuse to hire or do business with certain classes and communities of people.

Education and healthcare are still made difficult for far too many people to receive.

Hatred and bigotry are in fashion again, and it’s literally killing people and destroying families and poisoning the souls of a nation.

I am a 50 year old, educated, professional man, but because I am a Black man I must live in constant fear that someone will one day call the police on me because my existence makes them uncomfortable.

Coffee shops, Waffle Houses, college dorms, city parks, family backyards…we live in a time when we dare not assume any place is safe to be Black.

I have long felt that the Civil Rights Movements, the LGBTQ Movement, Black Lives Matter Movement, and even what is being launched today, the Poor People’s Campaign all have something in common. These movements have all been about lifting people up.

Justice Movements are our way of speaking up for those who are not able to speak for themselves.
Justice Movements are our way of calling attention to unfair situations.
Justice Movements are our way of saying to those in power, something has got to change for the betterment of all.

Remember, Christianity started out as a movement, and when it’s working as Jesus modeled, the Christian faith is still a movement – a movement to lift people up.

Ascension isn’t just a story, it’s our calling…to always be rising to higher levels, and to help lift up others as well.

Today is Mother’s Day, and while it is a sentimental day for some and a painful day for others, I am reminded that it’s founding was to honor a Mrs. Jarvis who cared for the wounded of both sides of the civil war. She resisted militarism by offering equal care to all victims of military conflict. She tried to lift up those who had been wounded. Isn’t that what the Church should still be doing?

I believe that we are living in a time where we must focus our attention on lifting each other up rather than tearing each other down.

I believe that we are living in a time where we must focus our attention on those who are being oppressed and lift them up.

Silence breads contempt. To lift people up we will have to speak up. There is too much happening right now for us to remain silent.

We watch Hidden Figures,
we hear stories of Jim Crow era lynchings,
we see photos of businesses with signs saying No Jews, No Japs, No Colored and we think, “what a terrible time.”
But guess what my friends, that day is not just in the past. It’s trying to make a come back and with terrifying success so far.

This is a time to lift people up and if we want to lift people up we must speak up.

The Ascension inspires us to answer the gospel call to do the work of empowering the powerless.

The Ascension tells us that we cannot yield one second of our time to any injustice.

Let us lift up the Good News/Gospel that we are all the children of God who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and we cannot yield ourselves to anyone or anything for less than that.

May we do the work of justice until all who need to be are uplifted.


God’s grace lifts me up.
And I am compelled to lift up others.
May I see all people as the children of God.


Look for the Good

On May 6, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Look for the Good Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins May 6, 2018 Philippians 1.3-9, 12-18 Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. What is the gospel? I grew up hearing that […]

Look for the Good
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
May 6, 2018
Philippians 1.3-9, 12-18

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

What is the gospel? I grew up hearing that the gospel was that Jesus would give you a get out of hell free card if you believed certain things about him. But I do not believe the gospel is afterlife fire insurance.

So, what is the gospel? The gospel is good news, so good in fact that people risked their lives for it.

The gospel that changed lives in the first century, the gospel Jesus lived and shared, is this: the kin-dom of God is at hand.

The oldest gospel, Mark, tells us this: “Jesus came to Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, ‘Now is the time! Here comes God’s Realm. Change your hearts and trust this good news!’”

Jesus would demonstrate the message by ministering to the sick, by affirming the dignity of the outcast, by helping broken people rebuild their lives, by embracing those whom society and religion had rejected…but behind it all was this simple message: “The time is now. God’s realm is at hand. Change your hearts and trust this good news.”

God is omnipresent, all-inclusive, unconditional, never-ending love and we are meant to shape our world to reflect what God is. And we can, and that’s the good news.

In God’s realm the forgotten and disadvantaged have their dignity restored, the poor are fed, the sick are tended, political prisoners are released, refugees find safety, violence is not acceptable, and all people are reminded that they have sacred value. That’s Jesus’ vision of God’s realm, and the good news is that such a realm is in our hands. It’s time for it. It’s at hand.

Jesus says: trust that this heavenly vision of earthly possibility is ours to bring about.

Now, those who gained influence or power or wealth by exploiting the poor or waging war or ignoring suffering didn’t want to hear about a world where none of that is lauded.

The last will be first, turn the other cheek, give to all who ask, feed the hungry, touch the untouchable, heal the sick? That’s not how empires are built? That gospel is a direct challenge to all who aren’t using a fair portion of their resources to make the world better for everyone.

So, the power keepers try to squash this Jesus thing, this seditious movement. If it were about getting people to an afterlife paradise, that would have been no threat at all. It wasn’t about getting us to heaven, it was about challenging us to conquer every hell on earth and do all that we could to challenge systems of oppression so that all people could thrive.

I don’t worry about the afterlife; I am convinced that God is a Love that will not and cannot let us go. We don’t have to earn God’s favor nor can we lose it. So, now that we’ve seettle that, let’s get back to healing the world that God has entrusted to us.

The gospel looks at what isn’t right yet with the world, and sees the good that is possible, and then calls us to usher in that good. Not a home in gloryland, not the sweet by and by, but peace on EARTH, goodwill toward humankind. That’s the gospel, and it strikes fear throughout the halls of power to this day. It even makes the church uncomfortable (to be honest).

Paul has been transformed by the gospel message. It changed him and he dedicated his life to sharing the message of God’s kin-dom over against Caesar’s empire.

And so now, Paul is in prison. He’s challenging empire. He’s challenging power and privilege. He’s challenging the world where oppression and marginalization are rampant and he’s saying the Good news is that God wants us to have a different kind of world and we can start building it now. That’s revolutionary and for that, Paul is on lock down.

And from prison, Paul continues to share good news. He can’t be intimidated. He can’t be bullied or threatened into not sharing the gospel. Later, someone writing in Paul’s name says, “You can chain me, but there is no chaining the word of God.”

What plucky Paul is saying is: Do your worst; that shows who you are. But you don’t have what it takes to make me give up the vision of a world built on God’s justice-love.

So Paul just keeps sharing. The power keepers are trying to shut this thing down, this thing that says everyone has dignity and worth, and that there is a way of forming community that builds us all up and that affirms the sacred value of all people; and Paul says, “Look, the power keepers don’t want this message getting out, but the One who began a good work among you will bring it to completion.”

Keep up the good work. People are hearing that the world can be better…it can be a place of promise for all people, not just the lucky and powerful few. Justice work is God’s work; don’t give up.
God has given us the gospel vision, but we are the laborers in the vineyard to bring it about. What God does for us, God does through us. The kin-dom is in our hands.

The good news that Paul is sharing is so good it encourages him. While giving people hope, he finds his own reserves of hope replenished, and now he can share even more hope with others.

Paul says: “What has happened to me has actually helped me to spread the gospel…it has become well known…that my imprisonment is for Christ…[So others] have been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment [and] now dare to speak the word boldly…”

He’s not thrilled about jail, but he sees that his boldness has given others courage to be bold. His enduring challenges may encourage others who are facing consequences for this commitment to the cause of Christ of ushering in God’s kin-dom, God’s counter culture.

Even in jail, Paul has chosen to see the blessings that have come in spite of or maybe even because of his experience. He sees the good, or at least the good that is possible. That’s the gospel! Even when there is loss, something is left. Even when there is failure, there is also a lesson learned. When there is suffering, this is also courage or grace or overcoming. If we can see the good, we can make that our focus and then bring about even more good.

There’s a Buddhist saying: “The lotus is a flower that blooms in the mud; the thicker the mud, the more beautiful the flower.” Even when the world seems ugly, beauty can be brought forth. That’s the gospel. That’s the kin-dom of God at hand.

In our world right now there’s a lot of ugliness: The president of a seminary in Texas has counseled women in abusive marriages to stay in those unsafe situations, and he has no remorse for it. That isn’t the gospel. That kind of cruelty is precisely what the gospel calls us to confront.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise, unrepentant and often violent demonstrations of racism are increasing, and listen…there is an attack on LGBTQ people being launched blasphemously and mendaciously in the name of religious liberty.
They aren’t trying to gain freedom to worship as they please (we have that). They want the power to use their brand of religion to marginalize, demonize, and dehumanize Queer folk and limit women’s personal choices. They may or may not get away with it but in either case they will not have the gift of my silence. The gospel compels us to resist tyranny.

We are being called today to embrace the gospel vision and get back to work.
Times are tough right now, but the Roman Empire of the first century was worse, and in that even more hostile environment, Jesus and Paul and the early church risked everything to lift up a vision of what the world could be…a world that offered hope and dignity and security to every person. We aren’t there yet, but the vision and the work to fulfill it are still in our hands.
And this is the good news. Amen.

God is doing something good in me.
I see and seize the good in life.
And I boldly share good news.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can
take care of it!

Visit our friends!

A few highly recommended friends...