Covenant Relationship

On July 30, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Covenant Relationship Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. In the book of Genesis there is a story about a town called Sodom. Sodom was a […]

Covenant Relationship
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

In the book of Genesis there is a story about a town called Sodom. Sodom was a rough place. It was notoriously wicked.

Sodom was known for cruelty, for indifference toward those in need, and for being unkind to travelers and newcomers to their town. The prophet Ezekiel wrote: “Now this was Sodom’s sin – they were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

Abraham’s nephew, Lot, lived in Sodom. He was considered the most righteous person in Sodom. And if he was the most righteous, then it really was a cess pool.

Lot one night came across a couple of strangers who needed lodging and he graciously offered them his guest room. So far, he seems like a great guy. But things got ugly quickly.

A nefarious gang shows up at Lot’s house and demands that he turn his guests over to them. Sexual assault is their plan and they say as much. Lot rushes to the defense of his guests, saying, “I will not let you hurt my guests…BUT, you can have my daughters and do whatever you want to them.”

Righteous Lot? Not so much.

Well, his guests have a few tricks up their sleeves, they get Lot and his family out of the house safely. Next thing you know Sodom is somehow blown to smithereens and Mrs. Lot is killed in the process. Lot and his daughters take refuge in a cave. Apparently this cave had a well stocked bar because Lot proceeds to get drunk and commits incest with his daughters.

Righteous Lot?? I don’t think so.

Both daughters conceive and the child that one of the daughters conceived is said to be the ancestor of the Moabite nation.

In other words, the writer is saying the Moabites are inbred. It’s an ethnic slur. The writer is saying he or she doesn’t think very highly of the Moabites.

You may have heard that the story of Sodom condemns same gender love or attraction. I defy you to find romance in the entire story. There is violence and there are threats and there is incest committed by the most righteous person in town…but romance or attraction or caring relationships are never seen in the story.

But the story we heard read today (Ruth 1) is a story about a caring relationship.

There was a famine in Judah, and a guy named Elimelech migrated with his wife Naomi and their two sons from Bethlehem to the country of MOAB.
Moab…we don’t like them (remember?). We make up stories about how their whole nation is the result of inbreeding. But when we don’t have food and they do, Moab doesn’t seem so bad. And what’s more…they let us come in?! We were hungry and scared and desperate and we sought refuge in Moab and those gross Moabites took us in and let us build a new life among them.
Elimelech and Naomi discovered that Moabites can in fact be generous and kind; and so their sons grew up in Moab and married Moabite women.
In time, Elimelech died, and later, the Widow Naomi’s sons died also. The sons never had children.

Eventually, Moab experiences a famine, and Naomi decides to return to her home country. At first her daughters in law want to go with her, but Naomi insists that they go back to their families and start their lives over. She finally persuades Orpah to do just that. But Ruth will not abandon Naomi.

Ruth says to Naomi: “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried…[Not] even death [will part] me from you!”

Those words are often read at weddings between a man and a woman, but the words originally are said by a woman to a woman. A sacred oath. A loving commitment. A life-long vow from one woman to another. A covenant relationship. Please don’t miss how powerful that fact is.

Ruth and Naomi go back to Naomi’s homeland. People who remembered Naomi were surprised to see her. But when they exclaimed, “Is this Naomi?” She answered them, “Don’t call me Naomi” (which means pleasant). She said, “My new name is Mara” (which means bitter). She’s lost her husband, her sons, will never see one of her daughters in law ever again, and now she has left her adopted home. She’s lost so much. Of course she feels more bitter than pleasant.

She does something we are all tempted to do when we are feeling sad or overwhelmed. She imagines that she never had troubles before these, and now there is nothing good in her world. Neither are really true. Her life wasn’t without challenges before. Hunger drove her family to Moab after all. She’s faced difficulties before and got through them. She’s stronger than she realizes. We all are.
And, she hasn’t lost everything. She still has Ruth. Even when she tried to ditch Ruth she couldn’t. You see, the disappointment at hand can be mitigated by blessings we might have overlooked so far.

The story shows us that God’s love will never let us go. Ruth’s affirmation of love and devotion is not only her commitment to Naomi, it is God’s commitment to us. God, the All-in-all, the omnipresence, the Love that is the fabric of the universe, the Life that expresses in, through, and as our lives will not abandon us because God cannot abandon us. “Whither thou goest, I will go.” Wherever I am, God is.

And the story shows us that love makes a family. Ruth chooses to be with Naomi. She chooses to live with her, care for her, provide for her, make a home with her, make a life with her. Ruth formed a covenant relationship with Naomi, a ‘til death do us part sort of relationship, and she honored it. Ruth knew what we know: Love makes a family.

The story shows us that God is love, and wherever love is genuinely expressed, is holy ground. This is holy ground. And this is the good news. Amen.

God is love.
Love works miracles in my life.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.

Unity

On July 23, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Unity Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Lev 15 – menstruating woman is untouchable. Any furniture she sits on will be considered contaminated. Mark 5 […]

Unity
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

Lev 15 – menstruating woman is untouchable. Any furniture she sits on will be considered contaminated.
Mark 5 – woman had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. Touched Jesus.

In the 80s, many people with AIDS felt untouchable. People wouldn’t hug them. Some people wouldn’t visit them without being covered from head to toe. Some care facilities would leave their food outside their doors, even if they were too weak to go to the door and get it. When fear and prejudice and ignorance and condemnation left people with a dis-ease feeling untouchable, the way of Jesus was still to hold their hands, to hug them, to wipe their brow, to pray for them, to remind them that to God there is no such thing as untouchable.

Lev 24 – Whoever injures a neighbor is to be injured the same way – limb for limb, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. It was mean to limit retribution, but it still allowed for violent retribution.

Matt 5 – Turn the other cheek. Fight? Yes. But without violence. As St. Paul would tell us, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. Oh, we will take some risks, but bombs and bullets are not the weapons of Jesus. We may say with the psalmist, “the rod and staff comfort me,” but Jesus said, “Put away your sword”. The Jesus way is hard sometimes, and it remains counter cultural.

Psalm 109 – May my enemy’s days be few;…May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow!…Let there be none to extend kindness to him. (Straight up cursed an enemy with prayer)…

But Jesus…

Luke 23 – Forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.

Jesus’ way was not the way of condemnation. Even when others weaponized scripture, he liberated scripture and then used it to liberate others. Jesus’ way was always the way of welcome, of affirmation, of celebration, of dignity, of compassion.

It’s not easy, and we get it wrong (God knows I do), but that’s when we pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” and we try again. We start over practicing love, compassion, hope, gentleness, forgiveness, peace. We try again to remember that we are all the children of God and we are all meant to enjoy peace and plenty, hope and happiness.

The way of the world, the way of politics, the way of many families, the way of society, even the way of religion can be harsh, frightening, unfair, cold, even cruel.
But Jesus demonstrates a different way and followers of Jesus are meant to practice that different way.

To be a FOLLOWER of Jesus is to reject violence.
To be a follower of Jesus is to extend compassion to the hurting.
To be a follower of Jesus is to be concerned for the prisoner, the refugee, the poor, the sick, the lonely, the marginalized, the oppressed.

It’s hard to be nonviolent in a violent world. But its the Jesus way.
It’s hard to be compassionate when fear and hatred seem to saturate the fabric of society. But compassion is the Jesus way.
It’s hard to be generous when “me first” and “us first” are being pumped into our consciousness every day.
It’s hard to forgive. It’s hard to risk. It’s hard to get up when you’ve been knocked down. It’s hard to imagine that beyond the darkness of a tomb there are resurrection possibilities. It’s hard to follow Jesus which is why he has a billion worshipers and so few followers.

Mark 10 – a rich young man came to Jesus and said, “Good Master, what must I do to achieve everlasting significance?” And Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? PS, you know what to do. Be kind and generous.” And the young man walked away sad because that’s not what he wanted to hear.
It was so much easier to say “good master” than it was to be committed to kindness and generosity.

“Lord, Lord” is easy to say…but to love neighbor, turn the other cheek, forgive 70 x 7, worship with your last two mites, to touch the untouchable, love the unloved, work for peace, demand justice, affirm the sacred value of all people…that is a lot of work. Can’t we just say, “Lord, Lord!”? Can’t we just say, “Good master!”?

Jesus never once said, “Blow smoke up my skirt.” He did say, “follow me.” And he said, “if you love me, feed my sheep.” And he said, “let the children come to me.” And he said, “come to me all who labor and are heavy burdened and I will refresh you.” Will we dare try, even if means to try and fail, but will we try to follow that example?

Ephesians 2 calls us to remember the Jesus way.
The Roman peace, the peace promised by empire was maintained by domination and intimidation.
Today’s scripture says that Jesus is our peace. Not the Roman peace, not the peace that politics and empire and power and privilege promise…the peace of Christ is the peace that comes from kindness and generosity and caring what happens to LGBTQ people and caring about what happens to people seeking refuge and caring about women having sovereignty over their own bodies and caring about people in Flint not having drinkable water and caring about our friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens in Puerto Rico who are still suffering…the peace that comes from caring and sharing and loving and forgiving and hoping…that is the peace and the power that comes from following Jesus.

Ephesians reminds us that there are no strangers, no aliens, no outcasts, no untouchables…not to followers of Jesus, because we are part of one family, one humanity, we are all children of one God. Jesus is our example of how to live as a child of God. Jesus is an example of how to live so authentically as a human being that divinity is expressed. Jesus is an example of the life changing power of living as if we believed we were one with God.

When we follow the way of Christ, we have the peace of Christ.
The way of Christ is knowing our unity with God, and with one another. If there’s not a spot where God is not, if God is omnipresent, everlasting, unconditional, and all-inclusive love, then peace is possible, it is inevitable, and it will tear down walls and bring us together as a healing force in the world.

The way of Christ is the way of unity, of recognizing that we are one with all life and with the Source of life. The way of Christ is the way to peace, and we are here as the church to practice that way, the way of Christ our peace. And this is the good news. Amen.

I am one with God.
I am one with all life.
I am one with all that is good.
And so it is.

Divine Inheritance

On July 15, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Divine Inheritance Rev. Kevin Tisdol

Divine Inheritance
Rev. Kevin Tisdol

 

Divine Inheritance

On July 15, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Divine Inheritance Rev. Marian Cavagnaro

Divine Inheritance
Rev. Marian Cavagnaro

 

Grace

On July 8, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Grace 2 Cor. 12.2-10 Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins 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. When I was a kid I loved the television show Bewitched. The show had […]

Grace
2 Cor. 12.2-10
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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.

When I was a kid I loved the television show Bewitched.
The show had humor and hijinx, colorful sets and costumes, and lots of magic to stir the imagination. Of course I loved it. It lasted 8 seasons…apparently a lot of people loved it.

But it was more for me. It wasn’t just fun. It was something much deeper.

Samantha, the lead character played by Elizabeth Montgomery, was erudite, beautiful, clever, and kind. She was good by almost criterion. But she had a secret. She had spent her life in the shadows, in an underground community, a sub-culture not known about in mainstream society. When she was around “normal” people, she kept that secret to herself. It wouldn’t do for her to be outed, to be discovered for the different sort of person she was.

Her secret, of course, was that she was part of a magical lineage and tribe. She was a witch. Some people didn’t believe that witchcraft was even a real thing. Others thought it must be bad or scary. Still others, if they knew about it, would want to exploit it for their personal gain or advancement. So, the witching world hid from the rest of the world.

A minority, forced to hide. Gifted, lovers of life, capable of great joy and generosity, but still afraid to be known and forced to hide what made them unique, special. This show was saying something to me.

Then there was Endora. Samantha’s mother (portrayed by the ineffable Agnes Moorehead) who paraded around in colorful kaftans, big hair, false eyelashes and garish costume jewelry…Endora was my first experience of a drag queen!

Samantha married a “normal” person and so she no longer hid in her community; she now integrated into the larger society. She wasn’t just hiding now; she was denying who she was. She was passing as normal, non-magical, not different. And that annoyed her mother. She was annoyed that Samantha caved into the bigoted systems that said she shouldn’t even exist, or if she did, she should lie about it.

Hiding in the safety of a ghettoized community was one thing, but denying one’s truth entirely in order to be accepted by those who would not affirm her if they really knew her, that was a soul-killing deception and Endora could not abide it. So, she was always begging her daughter to embrace her heritage and to live as the person she was meant to be, even if it meant returning to the gayborhood, I mean, magical community.

Then, to really real me in, there was Uncle Arthur…a clown, a trickster, a vaudevillian…and he was played by an obviously gay man (Paul Lynde). The show was called Bewitched but I felt like I was watching This is Your Life.

A closeted witch, a drag queen activist, and a fairy (well, a gay warlock anyway). People struggling to understand themselves and coexist with a larger culture while knowing themselves to be different and special and gifted, while both enjoying their gifts and living in fear of them being discovered: This story was my story, somehow. This fantasy felt all the world like my reality.

The witches hid or lied about their true identity. What I could see, and maybe what I was meant to see, was that what made them different is what made them special. Their unique gifts gave them power. Grace had bestowed upon them the gift of specialness, abilities that others didn’t have and couldn’t even understand. They lived in the margins, but even there, they were amazing, maybe more than they realized.

We all have gifts. Maybe, more than we realize.

In our scripture reading today, Paul is writing, again, to a group in Corinth. Paul has an awkward and sometimes contentious relationship with the Corinthians. They are impressed by psychic gifts, mysticism, paranormal activity – the flashy gifts.

Paul has already told them to stop trying to outdo one another with their various spiritual talents. It’s not a competition. Whatever you’re good at, put it to use in the church to help the church thrive so that it can reach more people with a message of hope. It’s not about who has more gifts or more impressive gifts, it’s about all of us doing all we can to collectively be our very best.

But apparently, someone has come along and demonstrated phenomenal abilities, astral projecting and what not. And Paul, who is repeatedly trying to get the Corinthians to accept his credentials, says,
“So you know a guy! I know someone who flies off into the heavens now and then and hears things so weird and woogie that he can’t even talk about it when he gets back.”

Paul doesn’t have that ability. So he has to affirm the gift that he has. He discovers that his so called weakness is actually his strength. How he handles his difficulty is his gift!

Paul’s overcome some stuff. Paul used religion to justify cruelty before his own enlightenment. He’s no longer that monster, but he is still haunted by his past. Also, he knows the pain of unanswered prayer. He has prayed repeatedly for God to remove a thorn from his flesh, and the thorn remains.

Is the thorn regret for his past cruelty? Is it a physical malady? Is something no one can see?

You know, we never hear of a Mrs. Paul. He’s friends with Lydya, a woman who leads an all women’s community?
And, he visits Mytelene (which, by the way, is the capital of Lesbos). Paul’s singleness and comfort in Sapphic communities may tell us something about Paul. What’s in Paul’s closet?

Is having same gender attraction his thorn? And does he finally come to realize that it is also his gift? He asked God to take it away, and God wouldn’t. He thought something about him was thorny, but maybe in prayer he realizes that God isn’t going to make him be something he isn’t because he’s already who God created him to be.

“My grace is sufficient for you.”
Therefore, (Paul says), “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities…because grace helps me find strength in the weakness!”

Your gifts, your power, your ability may not be flashy, others may not value it, they may not understand it but it is more than enough.

Things aren’t always pretty. They aren’t always easy. They aren’t always fair. But GRACE!

Grace is enough.
Grace says, “You are loved and nothing will separate you from God’s love.”
Grace says, “Even in your weakness you can find strength.”
Grace says, “There is no cruelty in God, and there need not be any in you.”
Grace says, “Your circumstances do not define you.”
Grace says, “You can go to peace instead of to pieces.”

Grace can neither be earned nor lost; it is the unconditional, all-inclusive, everlasting love of God.
My grace is enough.

Maybe that’s why Paul told the Corinthians in his previous letter, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

You’re probably not a broom flying sorcerer, and you may not have vacationed in the third heaven lately, but you have other gifts.
You may be transgender.
You may be a long term HIV survivor or a cancer survivor or depression survivor.
You may be gay or lesbian or bisexual (praise God).
You may be finding strength and courage you never knew you had as you face disappointment, grief, or hardship.
You may be generous, or compassionate, or kind.

Whatever you are, it is God’s gift to you, it is a result of God’s grace, and it is enough.

You are enough.
You are always enough.
It is by the grace of God you are what you are. And this is the good news! Amen.

By the grace of God I am what I am.
And what I am is God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
Alleluia!
Amen.

God Can Help

On July 1, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

God Can Help Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins God Can Help Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins 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. Our scripture reading today comes from the book […]

God Can Help
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

God Can Help
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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.

Our scripture reading today comes from the book of Lamentations.
We all know what lament means: it’s a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. And, that pretty fairly sums up the Book of Lamentations.

Each chapter of Lamentations is a hymn (a funeral dirge in fact) responding to the Fall of Jerusalem and the exile that followed.

The book of Lamentations declares the devastating sorrow the writer feels after the loss of Jerusalem, which wasn’t just a loss of control over real estate, but the loss of a vision, of values, of a dream where peace would reign, and abundance would bless every life, and compassion and justice would rule hearts and homeland, where generosity would outlast animosity and every wayfarer could be seen as a new friend. What happened to the city that could have been? And how will we ever reclaim the vision, the hope of what might be?

The truth is, sometimes loss is so overwhelming, disappointment is so heartbreaking, situations are so monumentally unfair, we can’t possibly move through the ache until we express it. Sometimes we need to swear, to punch a pillow, to break down with an ugly cry. And then, we can say, “God, help me get myself back together. Help me focus more on what is left than on what was lost. Help me see what I can do to rebuild. Help me see how things can get better.”

We can be positive and optimistic and ready for a miracle, once we’ve let ourselves acknowledge that our pain is real and our sorrow is profound.

We see that in Lamentations. Five chapters of moaning and wailing and “why, God, why???!!!” and even in the midst of all that, there is also, “God’s mercies are new every morning” and “I will hope in God.” My hope may be running low today, but I’ll get it back. I WILL hope in God again.
The life of faith is a long game.

There are seasons of ease and seasons of challenge. There are times when we are confident and times when we are burdened with doubt. Times of optimism, and times where we are almost hopeless.

But we will reclaim our hope. We will renew our strength. We will get our second wind. Deliverance is on the way, I promise it is, but I can’t tell you exactly when or how it will show up. But, even in the most troubling times, I do affirm that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.

In the book of Daniel, there is a story about King Nebuchadnezzar who made a huge, garish idol and decreed that all of his subjects must worship it. But there were three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were faithful to their own spiritual path and they would not worship an idol of wealth or power. The huge, gold statue representing the king’s power, privilege, and wealth must have been impressive, but these young men had different values: kindness, courage, hope, peace, generosity, hospitality…their God represented peace and plenty, hope and healing for all people, not just a privileged few. They did not worship the king’s power or his wealth…they did not bow to his idol.

And so, they were sentenced to death. They were to be marched into an oven, a furnace, and burned alive. And they were thrown in the fire. But they survived, the story insists. And what’s more, witnesses said they saw a fourth figure in the fire.

The writer probably meant to suggest that a protective angel was there with them, but an angel in ancient literature symbolizes God’s presence. The young men went through the fire. I’m not sure I take that story literally, but I do take the point to heart. Sometimes we may feel like the world is on fire, but God is in the fire. There’s not a spot where God is not.

When the world is topsy turvey,
When chaos is everywhere,
When what we thought we could count on seems lost,

When peace is in peril,
and dignity is in danger ,
and compassion is crowded by cruelty,
and justice for all is perverted to all for just us,

That is when we are called to renew our hope,
To encourage one another,
To sing and pray,
To resist and rise up.

When a woman was about to be stoned by those who used religion like a weapon against people they didn’t like, Jesus stepped up. He said, “If you’ve never needed understanding, compassion, a second chance, if you’ve never once screwed up, then you be the first to throw a stone.” He saved her life, but also risked his own really. He was out numbered, but still he stood up, and he spoke up. Doesn’t following Jesus demand the same risks even still?

When voting rights are attacked, when the free press is attacked, when Muslims are targeted, when same-gender loving people are dehumanized and demonized, when Puerto Ricans are left in the dark for months on end, when people fight tooth and nail for fetuses but won’t lift a finger to protect brown and black children from being shot, tazed, caged, or ripped from their mothers’ arms, it is time for Jesus people to stand up, to speak up, and even to act up.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fought injustice. They didn’t use deadly weapons or mean spirited propaganda. Integrity, hope, courage, and resilience were their weapons. They fought but without hate and without violence. As St. Paul said, “the weapons of our warfare are not physical, but through God they are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.” The three young men defeated greed, weaponized religion, and authoritarianism by simply not yielding to it. And they prevailed.

I can’t promise there will be no fires. Things seem to be heating up all the time.
I can’t promise that we will never lament; in fact, lamenting seems necessary some days.
But I can promise that no matter what we face we face it with God, and God can help.

God’s help may come in the form of our generosity, our resilience, our support of good causes, our encouragement of one another, our determination to resist injustice…But God’s help is at hand because there’s not a spot where God is not.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, divine mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.
God will help us rise up for justice-love.
God will help us speak up for the marginalized, the downtrodden, the victimized, the hurting and helpless.
God will help us feed the flock.
God will help us work for peace.
God will help us bind up the broken hearted,
God will help us deliver good news to the poor,
God will help us ask for release of political prisoners and asylum seekers,
God will help us welcome the stranger,
God will help us affirm the sacred value of all people!

God will help us stand up, and speak up, and when necessary, act up.
God can help us proclaim, embody, and live out the Gospel of God’s all-inclusive, unconditional, and everlasting love.

God can help; and with God’s help…we will make a difference. And this is the good news. Amen.

God help me to help others.
God help me to be a ray of your light in the world.
God help me to never give up hope.
Amen.

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