Healing Past Hurts

On August 19, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Healing Past Hurts
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
(Ruth 4)

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.

Once upon a time a man named Elimelech and his wife Naomi moved from Judah to Moab because there was a severe drought in Judah. Moab might seem a strange place for them because they grew up hearing that the Moabites were not good people. In fact, as the story of Sodom suggests the Moabites were born out of drunken incest. But prejudices need to be challenged.

Elimelech and Naomi built a life in Moab and raised their sons there, and their sons grew up and took Moabite wives. But eventually, Elimelech and his two sons died. Naomi and her two daughters in law were left alone. No children. No means of support. One daughter in law, Orpah, reluctantly went back to her family to start her life over. But Ruth would not leave Naomi. In fact, Ruth makes a till death we do part sort of vow to Naomi:
Entreat me not to leave thee, nor to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: [let nothing] but death part thee and me.

Naomi decides to move back to her homeland. The drought is over there, and one has struck Moab. So she goes back to Judah, and Ruth goes with her, because she has vowed to stay with Naomi until one of them leaves this world.

In Judah, Ruth seeks work picking up leftover grain in a barley field. It’s not much, but one does what one must. She meets the owner of the barley farm, Boaz, who is very kind to her and she later learns that he is a relative of her late husband’s.

That’s good news because it was the custom in some cultures for childless widows to be married to their husband’s nearest male relative, to secure the dead man’s family lineage and to secure the widow’s safety and comfort as well.

Boaz has never married before but he agrees to marry Ruth if a closer relative does not wish to do so. Marrying Ruth means getting Ruth AND Naomi, because they have vowed to be together until death, like a marriage. So, the husband will get a wife and a dead cousin’s mother. Any takers? Nope? Just Boaz? So be it.

Boaz, the lifelong bachelor marries Ruth (and takes in Naomi for good measure), and Boaz and Ruth have a child, Obed.

Now, the child is Boaz’s and Ruth’s, or we could consider it Ruth’s first husband’s, since Boaz was basically acting as surrogate for him. But the women in town don’t call the baby Boaz’s or Ruth’s or Ruth’s late husband’s; they call the baby Naomi’s!

One woman has a child but the other woman is considered its parent…so much so the neighbors imagine that Naomi nurses the baby! Of course, Naomi hasn’t been pregnant in decades, but don’t let such trivial details ruin a good story.

In the end, the women in town tell Naomi, “Ruth is more to you than seven sons.”

Ruth never left Naomi. Promised to be with her forever. Went to work to support them. Married a guy and even proposed to him to keep the family safe. Ruth, the Moabite, and Boaz the lifelong “bachelor” have come together to provide for Ruth and Naomi (the couple bound by sacred covenant) and to have a baby that is considered Naomi’s.
This story is almost too queer for the Logo television network!

And then the piece de resistance: Ruth is more important to Naomi than 7 sons.

NOTHING is more important to a woman in patriarchal antiquity than a son. Sons are social security. Sons are survival. And 7 is the number of perfection. There is nothing that could be imagined to be better than 7 sons, but Ruth is more valuable to Naomi than even multiple sons (in case you haven’t caught the way their feelings for each other have developed).

In chapter 4, Naomi is given a blessing: “May your house become like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” Tamar prostituted herself. Remember, her husband died, and then his brother her second husband died, and so Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute to entrap her father in law. Her plan succeeded and she finally had children, including Perez.

Naomi gets a blessing, and the blessing is a reminder of a son whose mother lost everything, but who would not let her past be the blueprint for her future. May your house be the like the house of Perez.
In other words, may your past hurts be healed, and your future be joyous.

Naomi has twice lost her home – first in Bethlehem, then in Moab.
She’s lost her husband, and her sons.
But she never lost Ruth. When we can be thankful for what is left, we can build on it. We can heal from the pain of the past and reclaim our joy. There is healing from past hurts.

This story can help us heal from past hurts. Maybe religion was used as a weapon against us, but right here in scripture we see Jesus’ ancestors. We see Jesus coming from the wrong kinds of people, we see the condemned becoming the affirmed, the rejected becoming the celebrated, the heartbroken becoming the healed.

Prostitutes, Moabites, a lifelong bachelor who has lots of queer qualities if you ask me…THESE are the ancestors of Jesus (whose own mother got caught in a scandal when she was pregnant).

These are the people who are part of Jesus’ family tree, along with David the murderer and Solomon with his 700 wives and 300 concubines (1000 spouses…I had to wait half my life to legally get one!).

By the standards of religious fundamentalists, Jesus was trash from a long line of trash, and yet he is CALLED the son of God, the anointed one. The story of Jesus is the story that proclaims without equivocation: ALL PEOPLE HAVE SACRED VALUE.

To say that someone with Jesus’ pedigree is Lord is to say that God doesn’t have a soul to waste…no one gets left out, no gets left behind. I got a robe, you got a robe, ALL God’s children got a robe!

Jesus’ story is the story that promises: YOU ARE GOD’S MIRACLE AND NOT GOD’S MISTAKE.

To call Jesus Lord is to reflect on crazy Abraham, dishonest Jacob, enslaved Joseph, Madam Rahab, Tamar the seductress, Ruth the Moabite, David the murderer, Solomon the out of control polygamist, Mary the unwed pregnant teenager…to love Jesus is to love the people religion always taught you to hate! To follow Jesus will put you in suspect company. I promise you, Jesus would be often found on Wilton Drive today. We’ve always been his peeps.

Sons and daughters of Ruth, sisters and brothers of Jesus: You are forever held in the love that God is because there is not a spot where God is not. You have sacred value. You are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. And this is the gospel, the good news! Amen.

Dear God,
Heal my past hurts.
As I am healed, others are as well.
Thank you, God!

We Can Make a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This church touches lives. But what is this church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can make a difference.
You make a difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possibilities Beyond Problems

On August 5, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Possibilities Beyond Problems
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
(Ruth 2)

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.

Last Sunday and today we’ve been hearing the story of Ruth and Naomi. They’ve had some bad breaks. They’ve lost their husbands. Naomi has lost her sons. Naomi left her homeland during a famine and took refuge in Moab. Now Moab is having a famine and Ruth has left her homeland to return with Naomi to hers. Their options for supporting themselves are limited, but as hard as things are, Ruth is determined to find a way through the difficulties.

Ruth goes to a barley farm. The harvesters drop some barley on the ground while they are harvesting and Ruth and other women who have fallen on hard times scrounge around to collect the barley that winds up on the ground.

The owner of the farm, Boaz, has heard of this Moabite who has traveled with her mother-in-law from Moab to Judah and has promised to care for her. This story moves Boaz and he arranges for Ruth to collect more barley than she otherwise might. At least she and Naomi won’t starve now.

When Naomi and her husband faced a famine, they moved to Moab. There were possibilities beyond their problems.
When Naomi’s husbands and sons died, and she was facing another famine, she and Ruth moved to Judah. There were possibilities beyond their problems.
When they didn’t have a way to support themselves, Ruth found work scavenging for left behind grain. And when Ruth met Boaz, Boaz showed her extra kindness. There were possibilities beyond her problems.

Maybe Boaz admired plucky women. His mother was one. The first chapter of Matthew’s gospel tells us that Boaz’s mother was Rahab, a woman who ran and inn that apparently doubled as a brothel. Rahab (in the book of Joshua) provided cover for Israelite spies. Rahab is an ancestor of Jesus, as is Ruth, the Moabite. In fact, Rahab and Ruth may wind up being related, but that’s for next week.

Ruth has no children…yet. She’s lost a husband. She’s left her homeland. She picking up barley scraps for survival, but she is surviving and her story is about to get a lot better.

Ruth and Naomi faced multiple difficulties, but beyond each difficulty there were possibilities.

In 1914 a career was born. A young lady, for a lark, was an extra in a silent film called The Song of Soul. She liked the work and wound up featured in a few films over the next few years. Then, throughout the 1920s, Gloria Swanson became one of the biggest silent film stars in Hollywood.

But times change. Silent movies were to be replaced by talkies. In 1929 Swanson along with Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore, Charlie Chaplain, and Mary Pickford made a radio show appearance to show the world they had voices and they could use them. So, throughout the 1930s, Swanson continued to make films, but her popularity waned.

So, she started doing theatre in the 1940s and in 1948 she hosted one of the first live series on television: The Gloria Swanson Hour.

And then, she got back on top in 1950 when she took a role that Mae West and Mary Pickford turned down…Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. A superstar again!

She went on to do a few more plays, a few more television appearances, a few more movies, she wrote her autobiography. She showed for six decades that when the industry changed, she could adapt. If one thing she tried didn’t bring satisfying results, she’d try something else. If Gloria Swanson got knocked down, she’d get back up. If she got left behind, she’d catch up. If the medium that began her career ceased to exist, she’d just move on to another medium. She worked it out. She gleaned leftover grain at times, but it was part of a larger story of success and survival.

Morris Goodman is known as the Miracle Man. He had a pilot’s license and in March of 1981 he was flying a small plane which malfunctioned and crashed. He sustained major injuries including spinal damage. He was completely paralyzed, unable to even swallow or breathe on his own. His sister helped him develop a system of communication using his eyelids. They worked out a code so that she would know what a series of blinks meant.

Goodman was a fan of Zig Ziglar and Napoleon Hill and he believed in the great powers of the mind. He started focusing his attention on one finger, trying to move it. Eventually, he was able to slightly move one finger. If he could communicate by blinking and by force of will move one finger, maybe he could see improvement in other parts of his body and he chose to hope for just such progress. Somehow, he dared to believe that there were possibilities beyond his incredible problems.

In pretty short order he found himself being able to breathe on his, and then he could swallow. Just four months after his plane crash, he was walking. Not skipping. Not dancing. There was pain. But he was walking.

Goodman wrote a book about his miraculous recovery, has made television appearances, and was featured in the film “The Secret.” He had his devastating accident at the age of 36, and today he is 72 and still telling the tale.

Ruth and Naomi had to cope with grief and financial uncertainty; but they discovered there were possibilities beyond their problems.

Gloria Swanson had ups and downs in her career, but she kept going. She kept finding ways to do what she loved. She discovered that there were possibilities beyond her problems.

Morris Goodman had his health demolished in the blink of an eye…and so he learned to communicate by blinking his eyes, and he did what most medical experts would say could not be done…he learned to walk and talk and breathe and eat again…he’s a living miracle. He definitely discovered that there are possibilities beyond problems.

What are your challenges, problems, disappointments? What ever it is, don’t get too bogged down in it. Don’t give it more power than it deserves. The problem may seem big, but I promise you, there are possibilities beyond problems. This is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
I affirm that there are possibilities beyond problems.
Even miracles are possible!