Be Happy Anyway

On January 28, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Be Happy Anyway 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 today’s gospel lesson, Jesus gives the beatitudes, that is, he promises joy to people whose […]

Be Happy Anyway
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 today’s gospel lesson, Jesus gives the beatitudes, that is, he promises joy to people whose lives are pretty challenged. When he says “blessed are you” he’s saying, “there is joy for you…things may be difficult, but you can be happy anyway.”

Jesus seems to be singing that great old hymn of faith:
Look for the silver lining, whenever clouds appear in the blue.
Remember somewhere, the sun is shining, so the right thing to do is make it shine for you.
A heart filled with joy and gladness will always banish sorrow and strife.
So look for the silver lining, and always try to find the sunny side of life.

The beatitudes are 8 steps to finding silver linings and the sunny side of life.

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit (poor in pride).
In my 20s I heard a sermon on 1 Peter 2.9-10: “You are a…peculiar people, that you should show forth the praises of the One who called you out into the Light…Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God…”

The preacher was using the text as a way of building up her predominantly LGBTQ audience. She wanted us to know that just as we were, we were God’s people. We were chosen by God, blessed by God, and if no one else would claim us, God would and indeed, God already had.

She was telling people who were taught to be ashamed of who they were, people who were poor in pride (lacking a healthy self image), that they were entitled to joy (basically that they were God’s miracle and not God’s mistake).

She was telling us what Jesus told us today in the gospel: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the poor in pride, for Heaven is theirs.”

2. Blessed are those who mourn.
They will be comforted.

We’ve all lost loved ones, pets, jobs, maybe homes, maybe mobility or health or relationships with family members or friends…we’ve experienced loss and we know the pain that can cause. Hopefully, we have also discovered that grief is a healing process.
The ache of loss gives way, at least slightly, at least occasionally, to the joyful memories.
Tears, if not replaced, are at least accompanied by smiles.
Comfort comes. Perhaps not quickly, but it does come. As the psalmist declared, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Blessed are the mourners…joy will return to them one day.

3. Blessed are the meek (those who do not seek retaliation).
Vengeance is not as satisfying as we might hope.
Of course we can stand up for our rights and resist oppression and speak truth to power but revenge is not justice and will not bring peace of mind.

When Jesus says turn the other cheek and when he warns that those who live by the sword perish by the sword, he’s reminding us that retaliation is simply a continuation of the violence or the cruelty we felt victimized by. Joy and vengeance are not compatible.

Blessed, happy, are those who rise above petty retaliation. They will inherit the world. In other words, when enough of us plant the seeds of non-violence, a non-violent world is what we will inherit.

4. Blessed are the justice workers.
Righteousness in biblical parlance means justice. Fairness, inclusion, equal protection, equal opportunity, righting wrongs, affirming the dignity of all people…this is godly justice and it brings joy. Hatred and prejudice suspicion and misery. Joyful, are those who care about justice for all.

5. Blessed are the Compassionate,
who do unto others as they would have others do unto them, who can experience empathy, who can imagine being in the other person’s shoes. To be compassionate is to gently blow on the embers of joy. From experience I can promise you that compassion feels better than condemnation, that empathy feels better than harsh judgment. Joyous are the compassionate.

6. Blessed are the sincere.
Pure in heart. People of integrity.
They say what they mean and mean what they say, they offer what they offer genuinely without expecting something in return, they aren’t trying to manipulate people or rig systems or cheat others…Blessed are the sincere. They are operating honestly, with good character, and will more fully experience God, the Good.

7. Blessed are the workers for peace.
Peaceful resolution, peaceful intention, peaceful practice were all so important to the early church that there was a vigorous debate about whether soldiers could be Christian at all.

Non-violent resistance is difficult. Peaceful engagement is not easy, but it is the way of Jesus, and according to Jesus, it is the way of joy.
Of all the beatitudes, peacemaking is the one activity that Jesus associates with acting as if we were the children of God.

8. Blessed are the pursued and persecuted.
Marriage equality is a matter of justice. It’s about fairness, it makes marriage an option for all committed couples without privileging heterosexual orientation.

Many politicians and preachers and corporations fought against marriage equality. But we who worked on the side of righteousness, on the side of justice, on the side of fairness, human dignity – our hope was constantly renewed, and as was our joy. Happy are those who are working for justice. But working against those who seek justice has never brought happiness to anyone.

There seems to always be a targeted group: Muslims, immigrants and refugees, transgender folk, the island of Puerto Rico, women demanding sovereignty over their own bodies. The targeting and dehumanizing and demonizing of any group is unjust and immoral and ungodly. But take joy those who are persecuted for seeking justice – it will one day come, and until then, you have the blessing of knowing that you are on the side of righteousness.

Jesus will go on to tell his audience that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He then encourages them to both believe it and live it.

What Jesus is telling his disciples in the sermon on the mount, and what he’s telling us today, is that even when we can’t control the world around us, we can have some control over our interior world. We can choose hope. We can go to peace instead of to pieces. We can be happy.

Poor in pride – be happy anyway.
Mourning a loss – know that you can be happy again.
Considering revenge? Don’t do it. You’ll be happier for not retaliating.
Working for justice? You’re doing God’s work, be happy about it.
Have you shown compassion lately? Rejoice. That’s God’s love in action.
Are you honest and sincere? Be happy, you are expressing divine qualities.
Are you working for peace? Be happy, because you are living as a child of God.
Are you persecuted for seeking justice? Be happy, because justice is on the way.

Look for the silver lining. You’re bound to find one, and once you do, focus on it, knowing that where attention goes, energy flows. Looking for and finding silver linings will always lead to happiness.

A heart filled with joy and gladness will always banish sorrow and strife. So look for the silver lining, and always try to find the sunny side of life.

And this is the good news! Amen.

Dear God,
Today I look for silver linings.
And I rejoice as I find them.
I choose happiness.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Don’t Play Biblical Tit for Tat

On January 21, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Don’t Play Biblical Tit for Tat Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Don’t Play Biblical Tit for Tat
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Immersed in God’s Goodness

On January 14, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Immersed in God’s Goodness 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. Today we hear about John’s baptism with water and Jesus’ baptism by fire. We also […]

Immersed in God’s Goodness
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.

Today we hear about John’s baptism with water and Jesus’ baptism by fire. We also see the baptism of the spirit.
The three aren’t that different really, and one can lead to the next.

Jesus, who was inspired and perhaps mentored by John, submits to John’s water ritual signifying the ability to turn around, or “repent.”

Repentance isn’t shame or regret or begging for pardon…Repentance is a change of attitude or a change of direction.

The greek word for repentance literally means to have a change of mind, but John’s rhetoric of comparing people to lifeless rocks and of saying that trees are meant to bear fruit shows that in John’s mind, a truly changed mind leads to changes in how we engage the world. As Dr. Peale often said, when we change our thinking we change our world.

You know what a fundamentalist is, right? It’s someone who is desperately afraid that somebody somewhere is having a good time. I try hard to justify their fears.

John had a term for zealots, the self righteous, the fundamentalists of his day: brood of vipers.
We don’t honor by being prudish or priggish.
Religiosity used as a weapon to control, shame, or hurt others is not godly. The repentance some people need is to change from being hatefully religious to being lovingly spiritual.

Most religious traditions encourage change, but the difference comes in what they say ought to be changed.
Some traditions say: don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t gamble, don’t kiss on the first date, don’t even think about divorce, don’t tell the truth about being gay, don’t read certain kinds of books, don’t listen to secular music, don’t don’t don’t…

And, if drinking gets you in trouble or if gambling means you can’t pay your rent, then cut it out (and if you can’t then get some help), but that’s not a god thing, that’s a you thing. That’s a common sense thing. That’s a don’t shoot yourself in the foot thing.

No, what we want is a change in attitude that results in changed lives that will bring about a changed world. We want change that results in peace, love, hope, and joy.

If your god hates gay people, you are probably just worshiping your own homophobia. That could benefit from some repentance.

If you tend to think of people from certain regions or nations or races or religions as being innately threatening…that’s not love and that could use some repentance, a serious change in attitude.

If you can’t see the divine spark in your transgender siblings, you have an ideal repentance opportunity.

If you don’t care about hurting children, hungry people, the sick not being able to get the medicines that could save their lives…please, repent. Change your attitude.

If you think violence is strong and compassion is weak…
If you’ve reduced faith to afterlife fire insurance…
If you can only feel good about yourself by thinking badly of others…
If you look in the mirror and can only see failure or flaws…
Then you are prime candidate for repentance.

Dance or don’t dance, eat meat or don’t, swear up a blue streak or use only polite and proper language…that’s a matter of taste and preference. But for God’s sake give up the hate.

So, water baptism symbolized a change. It was therapeutic, healing, an immersion into a new attitude.
It was an affirmation that the past was past and the future had infinite possibilities.

Also, notice there is no formula given in John’s baptism. We don’t know what words he pronounced during the baptism, if any at all. Today people may argue about how much water baptism takes and what special words must be said, but such concerns are noticeably absent from the story of Jesus’ baptism.

John’s baptism ritual was a call to repentance, but the repentance, the attitude change, is the important part. Not the ritual. John’s ritual was creative and embodied, and not uncommon. Water rituals were plenteous in antiquity. But the change of heart, the change of attitude was the point, and that can happen with or without the water. And the change was to benefit this life, not a future one. Remember, Jesus was baptized, the rebel on the cross next to him wasn’t…but according to Jesus, they both were on the way to Paradise that day.

If John was known for his baptism ritual, he tells us that Jesus will baptize a different way. And, we don’t see Jesus conducting water baptisms. His is a baptism by fire, John tells us.

John was an apocalyptic preacher. The Realm of God was on its way and soon, he insisted. And Jesus certainly picked up on John’s theme of God’s Realm breaking through and upending the unjust systems of this world. So, it isn’t surprising that John would use a fiery image to describe Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus’ fire isn’t a threat. The fire attributed to Jesus is a campfire that gives light and warmth, it’s a hearth fire that invites connection and conversation, it’s a sterilizing fire that kills dis-ease, it’s the passionate flame of a loving heart. The holy fire burns the chaff but leaves the wheat. The good is separated from the useless; the good is kept safe while the useless is transformed.

Jesus’ baptism isn’t ritualistic like John’s. His baptism is an immersion in mission, a call to action.
Jesus’ baptism tells us to feed the sheep, to care for the widows and orphans, to welcome the refugee, to see the sacred value of the Samaritan, to heal the Canaanite’s daughter, to touch the untouchable and love the unloved.
Jesus’ baptism shakes things up and following Jesus can generate some heat, and it will shed light on injustice and cruelty and avarice.
Jesus’ baptism of light will overcome the shadows of despair.

It’s not about water or formulas or doctrine or dogma or prejudices or fear…
Jesus’ baptism fires us up and puts us to work.

John says, “I wash you in the river, but someone’s coming who’s going to light a fire under you so that you can change the world.”

When children anywhere are not safe…we need to get fired up.
When we value profits over people and privilege over peace,
When we forget that in the Realm of God no one is forgotten or left out or abandoned…then it is clear, we need to get fired up.

It was the fiery thorn bush that called Moses to action against the Egyptian empire.
It was fire by night that led the wanderers as they fled persecution.
It was the flaming furnace that revealed three young men to be indomitable.
It was the flames of Pentecost that resurrected the church that had been crushed by Rome’s might.

In the face of oppression, it is the fire of resistance that it is needed and that’s the baptism that Jesus modeled.
Lord Jesus, give us today a baptism of fire!

We see the baptism of repentance, an attitude adjustment.
We the baptism of fire, an enthusiasm to help heal a hurting world.
Also in the story, there is the baptism of spirit…an awareness of God’s omnipresence, the all-inclusive, unconditional love of God that will never and can never let us go, the awareness that we are all God’s children, forever.

Which baptism do you need today?
Do you need a change of attitude?
Do you need to get fired up?
Do you need to remember that there’s not a spot where God is not, and that you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

Water, fire, spirit…
Change of attitude, getting fired up for mission, or communing with the omnipresent Love that God is.

It all amounts to being immersed in God’s goodness, which we always are. And this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
Please wash away my fears, regrets, prejudice, and pain.
And please help me get fired up with hope, peace, goodwill, and joy.
And let me know today…
that I am your beloved child with whom you are pleased.
Alleluia!

Dreaming Dreams into Reality

On January 7, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Dreaming Dreams into Reality 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. It’s Epiphany. We’re supposed to talk about the magi today. And I will, but just […]

Dreaming Dreams into Reality
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.

It’s Epiphany. We’re supposed to talk about the magi today. And I will, but just for a bit.

“Magi” comes from the same root as magic and it means wise one. The magi were Zoroastrian priests who practiced the occult art of astrology. That practice led them to the Holy Family where they blessed young Jesus and gave his family gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh.

The gifts are probably not literally, but symbolic.
Gold in ancient literature symbolizes wisdom and illumination. The gold isn’t currency in this tale, it’s coming from wise ones and probably symbolizes wisdom or enlightenment.
Incense represents prayer, communion with the divine.
And myrrh was a medicinal herb and therefore can represent health or healing.

Jesus would be wise (gold), would show people how to live in communion with god (incense), and was considered a healer (myrrh). This is not about the gifts themselves; this is a testimony of who Jesus.

The magi, as they were, practicing their own faith and customs, find and bless the Christ Child, showing that the Christ principle we find in Jesus is universal and can be accessed in innumerable ways.

Also, the Magi are dreamers…in a dream they are told to avoid Herod when they go home. Their dream of finding and celebrating the light of God within and among us is followed by a dream of protecting the powerless and vulnerable. That’s a dream we all can and ought to share.

In the magi story today we see Joseph. Joseph, a carpenter, and the husband of Mary. We don’t much about Joseph the carpenter, but Matthew wants us to believe that he was a dreamer.

Early in Matthew’s gospel, we see Joseph having four life changing dreams. First, he dreams that an angel tells him to go through with his planned marriage to Mary. Once he found out she was pregnant and he wasn’t the father, he wanted out. A dream persuaded him to stick around. A dream can make a big difference.

The second dream Jospeh had we heard about today…to protect his family, he was told in a dream to seek refuge in Egypt, to become a refugee.

Refugees are often viewed with suspicion or disdain, and they live under less than ideal circumstances, but most of them are following a dream…a dream to escape tyranny or war or disaster or famine or persecution…it’s hard being a refugee, but it can be the path to fulfilling a God given dream.

The third dream tells Joseph when it is safe to leave Egypt and return home and the fourth dream indicates that when he returns to his homeland he should go to Galilee rather than Judea (because Herod’s brother is in Judea and why risk it?).

Matthew doesn’t give us a lot of biographical details about Joseph, but Matthew does tell us four times in two chapters that Joseph follows his dreams and because he does, the lives of others are blessed.

Now, we can’t talk about a dreaming Joseph without mentioning the first dreaming Joseph.
In the book of Genesis we find a dreamer, also named Joseph.
This Joseph sometimes liked to talk about his dreams. But when he shared with his family that he was having dreams of achieving great things, they felt like he was forgetting his place and they were not amused.

The name Joseph means, “May God give increase.” To BE Joseph is to have lofty aspirations. May we all dare to be Joseph now and again. May we dream of being and doing more than ever before…as individuals, as families, as a church, as a community. May God give us increase.

Joseph’s brothers decide to put Joseph back in his place and so they sold him to a slave merchant. He dreamed of greatness, and his own family makes him a victim of human trafficking.

I don’t think they really cared what the dream was; I think they were jealous that Joseph had a dream, and they didn’t. If we don’t let ourselves dream, we might become jealous of those who still have a dream. Whether the dream is learning to dance, or going to college, or making friends, or taking a trip of a lifetime…we all need a dream.

In the 1990s I met a man who was struggling with AIDS. He was 6’1” and weighed about 110 pounds. He volunteered as a church receptionist and also volunteered at a food pantry for HIV+ clients. He was determined to spend his final days helping others even though he was weak and tire most of the time. He also had a dream. He wanted to see the new millennium. I don’t know why, but it was a big deal to him. Most people wouldn’t have thought he had 18 months left, but his goal was to make it about 5 more years so he could say he lived though the last day of the 20th century.

I lost track of him and if you had asked me what happened to him, I would have guessed that at some point he passed away.

One day, in the year 2001, I was at the gym. And I saw a new, super buff trainer. It was him! While he was holding on to his dream of surviving to see the new millennium, combination drug therapies were released, his life was saved, and he rejoined the work force as a personal trainer! 5 years before he could barely stand, now he’s doing pushups for a living! A dream to see one New Year’s day in particular gave birth to a whole new life. That’s the power of a dream.

Back to Joseph. He was sold into slavery in Egypt where he wound up in the household of the captain of the emperor’s guard. The Captain, named Potiphar, was impressed by Joseph and soon put him in charge of his entire household. His condition was servitude, but within his condition he rose to the top. Not even the worst of circumstances could keep him from pursuing his dream. Oh Joseph, may God give you increase.

But Joseph’s dream was again attacked.
Potiphar’s wife (called by tradition, Zuleika) tried to seduce Joseph, but Joseph resisted. Zuleika was so insulted she accused him of attacking her and had him thrown in prison. But, the warden was impressed with Joseph and put him in charge of the other prisoners.

Joseph’s dream of rising keeps finding ways of coming true, even as circumstances get worse.
As the overseer of the prisoners, Joseph has a counseling role. When prisoners have frightening dreams, Joseph can help them work out what their subconscious is trying to communicate.

Down the road, the emperor himself is plagued with nightmares, and a former prisoner who had been helped by Joseph remembers him and tells the emperor that he knows a guy who can help him figure out his dreams.

Joseph is summoned from prison, the emperor gets some insight and peace, and Joseph is made Vizier of all Egypt…second in authority only to the emperor himself. Viziers were usually members of the royal family…never was a slave turned prisoner elevated to vizier…an equivalent of a chancellor or prime minister. Once again, Joseph rises…and this time, higher than ever, higher than almost anyone.

It took a while, and there were set backs and delays, but Joseph dared to have a dream, and he didn’t give up on his dream until his dream finally came true.

Dreams…that’s what today is about for me. The joy of a dream, and the possibility of making the dream come true.

The magi followed their dream.
Carpenter Joseph followed his dream.
Joseph, victim turned vizier, followed his dream.

Today isn’t about following a star as much as it is about following a dream. What is your dream for 2019? I hope you have one. And to your dream, let me add this prayer: May God give you increase.

And this is the good news. Amen.

Thank you, God, for the power of a dream.
Give us good dreams.
And the willingness to follow them.
God, give us increase throughout 2019.
Alleluia!

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