God is Good

On June 19, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

God is Good Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Trinity 2019 Let us dwell together in peace, 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. Scott Dittman in Pittsburg was invited to a Pride Parade. He heard about the free […]

God is Good
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Trinity 2019

Let us dwell together in peace, 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.

Scott Dittman in Pittsburg was invited to a Pride Parade. He heard about the free mom hugs movement. And it occurred to him that dads, at least some dads, might be more likely to reject their LGBTQ children than moms would be. So, he decided he would give dad hugs at the parade. It changed his life. He gave over 700 hugs that day. He was moved as he considered that some people are so hurt by rejection that they would melt into the arms of a stranger. On this Father’s Day, I am happy to share the story of a dad who offered love to everyone’s children at Gay Pride.
Why do we still have Pride parades? Because rejection is still destroying lives, and Pride is affirmation, Pride is celebration, Pride is a chance to be embraced and affirmed.

Pride month recalls the liberating Stonewall riots where Queer people in a bar not only stood up to harassment from the police, but also stood up to shame and fear and said, “Enough.” That story still offers empowerment and the hope of finding our voice and daring to live out loud…LGBTQ Pride month actually sets the tone nicely for Trinity Sunday.

Trinity Sunday is always the Sunday after Pentecost. Luckily, unlike the 7 weeks of Eastertide, Trinity Sunday is just one day. I wouldn’t want to tackle it more than that.

The Trinity is not part of Jewish theology, and our scriptures were written by Jewish people. There is not a clear doctrine of the Trinity in our bible, but in Deuteronomy we read, “the Lord our God is One.” The word Trinity is never used in scripture.
In art, the Trinity is often depicted as two men and a bird. Maybe the bird is female; if their isn’t feminity, the image (in my opinion) is incomplete.

So, the Trinity for most of my adult life has been something hard for me to affirm. I finally got comfortable with public use of Trinitarian verbiage, letting it mean to hearers whatever it might. For me, I was simply naming three out of countless attributes of the one God.

But more recently, the Trinitarian metaphor for God has grown on me.

Just as the bible says God is one, we also find throughout the Bible that the ONE is experienced and explained and explored in countless ways.

All God language is metaphorical. So we see the ONE God in the Bible being Lord and Mother and Father and Healer and Warrior and Provider and Rainbow and Cloud and Fire and Light and Castle and Rock and Power and bunch of other things, each a metaphor pointing toward Mystery and each a poor substitute for the mystery to which it points.

But by 325 AD (296 years after Jesus’ death), the church codified another metaphor: the Trinity. It wasn’t biblical, but why should our metaphors be limited to the first century and before? And while the church eventually took the metaphor too literally, as it is wont to do, the metaphor may still be useful as one possible metaphor among many.

And so, I would like to offer, fittingly enough, THREE reasons the Trinity as a metaphor might be worth considering.

1. The Trinity subverts power systems.
The Trinity can be subversive.
Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer (Being-Wisdom-Glory)…Call the masques or modes or personas of the Trinity whatever seems right to and for you, but in every iteration, the three are working together. The Trinity is power with, not power over.
One aspect doesn’t boss or bully the others. They are one, united, sharing life together. There are different roles but a united purpose and there is harmony in working toward it. There are no power struggles in the Trinity. Power with, not power over. Isn’t that the kin-dom of God (which was Jesus’ preferred metaphor).
The Trinity is eternal, like a circle…without beginning or end. It’s circular power, not hierarchical. One power, shared by all. It is a subversive, divine vision of how things could possibly be. God is good, and goodness empowers, it doesn’t over power.

2. The Trinity highlights communion, or we could say, connection.
More simply put, the Trinity is relationship. The three in one shows the three united, flowing into and out of and through one another. The power flows, is shared. It unites, brings together, forms a community, a family, an interconnected whole.
A metaphor of God as Relationship affirms God’s relationship with us.
Creator – that’s God for us.
Redeemer – that’s God with us.
Sustainer – that’s God in us.
We are also part of the Relational God…God for us, with us, in us…The Trinity is a reminder that there’s not a spot where God is not. God is good, and goodness is always present. A good God will not, cannot abandon us, ever. God is forever offering mom hugs and dad hugs, leaving no one out.

3. The Trinity is a source of joy.
Wherever there are three, there’s a party. The creator, God for us looks at creation and calls it good…takes pleasure in it.
God with us gathers us around tables to share food and drink and companionship and prayer and hope and love.
God in us gives us gifts and helps us bear good fruit in our lives.
If religion has made you hate yourself or fear God or reject others because of what they call God or who they love or what they tell you their gender is…then you’ve missed the point. God as Trinity is joy.
God is at the dinner party. God is at the parade. God is at the celebration. God is admiring the good work. God is looking at our lives and seeing something good. If religion has made you mean, bitter, or afraid, you’re not doing it right. And if anyone has used religion as a weapon against you, they weren’t doing it right. The Trinity is the power of joy.

There is an old legend, it didn’t make it into our bible, but i do love it. It’s a creation myth. The story says the Trinity loved to play. And one day, that circular power, that love in expression, that relational impulse, the Trinity, started to dance. And the dance party got so ecstatic, that there was an explosion, an emission as it were, of pure delight. And the fallout from that explosion, is creation. Creation, according to that parable, is the manifestation of divine joy. God is good, and goodness is joyful.

If the Trinity as one of several metaphors for God can help you resist systems of domination and oppression, if it can help you experience and celebrate God in your life…God for you, with you, in you, if the Trinity as a metaphor for God can give you permission to experience and share joy, then why not give it a whirl?
If you are like i was for so long, and you just can’t with the Trinity right now…no worries. There are other symbols and metaphors for God. Just don’t over literalize any of them. But, whatever metaphor you work with and play with, let it be a constant reminder of this: God is good. And this is the good news. Amen.

God is good.
God is for me.
God is with me.
God is in me.
And all is well.
Alleluia!
Amen.

We Are Conduits of Divine Love

On June 9, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

We Are Conduits of Divine Love Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Pentecost 2019 Let us dwell together in peace, 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. To discuss Pentecost is the discuss quite a lot of the bible […]

We Are Conduits of Divine Love
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Pentecost 2019

Let us dwell together in peace, 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.

To discuss Pentecost is the discuss quite a lot of the bible (get ready!). Pentecost was a harvest festival, a festival of the first fruits, and according to a story in the book of Acts, it was during the time of Pentecost that the disciples had a powerful spiritual experience. It was on the 50th day after the Easter moment, just as Moses received the Torah 50 days after Passover.

The symbolism is obviously meant to connect the Jesus movement with his Jewish heritage, scriptures, and traditions.

Pentecost calls to mind not only Moses, but also Elijah (remember how Jesus encounters them both on the Mount of Transfiguration?).

2 Kings 2: The prophet Elijah is taken into the heavens at the end of his ministry. He ascends to the sky while his disciple, Elisha, watches. Elisha has been told that if he witnesses Elijah’s ascension, he will receive a double portion of the prophet’s spirit. Sure enough, according to the tale, a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses appears and Elijah is carried away by a strong wind.

Fire and wind. The disciple receives the prophet’s spirit. Immediately after, Elisha starts doing powerful deeds.

He parts a body of water, for example. He also curses some mean kids who make fun of his baldness, and then a bear eats the kids…but let’s not get into those weeds today.

Ascension. Fire. Wind. Disciple. Miracles. That’s the story.

Pentecost happens 10 days after Jesus’ ascension, and at Pentecost, the disciples receive the spirit their teacher promised. It comes with tongues of fire, and a mighty wind, and soon after they start working miracles.

The story, referring to the Elijah & Elisha legend, is affirming the prophetic mission of Jesus and of his disciples. They are as called by God and as equipped by God as Elisha was.

Tradition says that the Spirit fell at Pentecost with wind and flames and people speaking different languages in the Upper Room where Jesus shared the Last Supper 7 weeks earlier. I was recently in that Upper Room, hearing people speak all kinds of languages from all over the world, but I could understand their curiosity, their devotion, their wonder…each spoke differently, but all communicated the same message. I could feel something in the room, and at one point I looked up and saw shadows of the people dancing on the ceiling, resembling flames. It was a moment of communion, a moment of call, a moment to remember there is a power of divine love flowing through us, bidding us to do what we can to be healers of a wounded world.

While in Jerusalem, we heard stories about Mary, the mother of Jesus, returning to the building where the Last Supper was held and serving as an interim leader of the Jerusalem group until her son James was ready to lead the Jerusalem church. There is quite a lot of art showing Mary central at Pentecost, with the disciples all around her as they must have been around Jesus at the Last Supper. Mary was a conduit of divine love, and so are we, doing what we can to share hope and healing in the world.

The gospel writers foreshadow the Pentecost experience. Both Matthew and Luke have John the Baptizer saying,
“I baptize with water, but there is one coming after me who will baptize with the holy Spirit and fire.”
Pentecost is when we see the wind of spirit blow and fire dancing overhead, a baptism of spirit and fire.

Luke, in Acts 2 imagines the scene very dramatically. John’s gospel imagines the baptism of spirit and fire looking more subdued. In John 20, the fire is simply the fire of life, as the Resurrected Christ appears to the disciples and instead of a mighty wind, there is a gentle breath. Jesus breathes on his friends and says, “Receive the holy Breath, the holy Spirit.” He affirms peace for them, and sends them out into the world to continue the work they had been doing. Whether by mighty wind or gentle breath, the spirit empowers us to share divine love with a hurting world.

Mark 1, Matthew 3, Luke 3, and John 1 all say at his baptism, the Spirit descended on Jesus and he was affirmed as God’s chosen one.
Pentecost tells us that we who follow Jesus have been affirmed by the same spirit to be the vehicles by which the Christ work continues.

After his baptism, Jesus went into the desert. After the spirit descends on him, Jesus has to get busy. He has work to do. A baptism of spirit is a call to action. A baptism of spirit is a reminder that we are conduits of divine love.

For Luke, writing the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, Jesus is executed but somehow is experienced beyond his death, and we call that Resurrection. A few weeks later, he ascends, as the prophet Elijah did, and then a week and half later, his spirit descends on the disciples like Elijah’s spirit descended on Elisha. It’s the old story being retold, and repurposed, and relived. And now, the spirited church is sent out to continue the Christ-work, making the church the returned body of Christ.

We, the Church, are meant to be Christ in the world. Christ has returned every time we feed the hungry, and work for the release of political prisoners, and show compassion to refugees, and work for medical treatment for all people regardless of their income, and try to be good stewards of the planet, and work for justice and peace…when we embody the Christ message, we are the body of Christ, the return of Christ.

In Matthew chapter 9, Jesus shows compassion to a man who couldn’t walk, to a woman who had been chronically ill, to a girl thought to be dead, to some people who were vision impaired, to a person who couldn’t speak, and after he had done all of that, he says, “We need more laborers in the harvest.” And then in chapter 10, he calls together his 12 disciples and he tells them to get to work. He sends them out to show compassion, and work for justice, and remind people they are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

And Acts 2, the Pentecost story, it happens again. The spirit empowers disciples to get back to work for the kin-dom.
You have the power. Feel the wind? See the flames? Those are reminders that you have the power, now use it to make the world a better place.

A harvest festival celebrating the first fruits is when a group of devotees get energized by the spirit with signs of dancing flames. A day of fruits and flames – how appropriate for Pride month; and what an excellent reminder that we are all conduits of divine love. This is the Pentecost message and this is the good news. Amen.

Spirit of wisdom, love, and power:
Fill me with hope and joy;
flow through me as healing love.
Bless me, and through me, bless the world.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Love Isn’t Condemned

On June 3, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Love Isn’t Condemned Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Ascension Sunday (2019) Let us dwell together in peace, 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. Thursday was Ascension Day. The Ascension story is simply that Jesus Ascended into the […]

Love Isn’t Condemned
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Ascension Sunday (2019)

Let us dwell together in peace, 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.

Thursday was Ascension Day. The Ascension story is simply that Jesus Ascended into the heavens. Like Elijah did, allegedly.
In the early stories of Jesus escaping the fate of Golgotha, Ascension and Resurrection may have been referring to the same event. In time they became two concepts, but for Paul, they may be the same.

He writes: “Paul…set apart for the…gospel about God’s Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grace to you and peace from God and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

That is huge.
Paul tells us his life’s purpose is to share good news.
The good news he has to share includes the story of how Jesus became the son of God. Biologically, he’s a descendant of David (Paul says), but in the spirit he is God’s son and that was established when God raised Jesus to everlasting glory and significance.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is declared a son of God at his baptism. Matthew and Luke, in their nativity stories, have Jesus from conception being called God’s child. John suggests that Jesus as the Wisdom, or Logos of God has existed in a cosmic or mystical sense from the beginning of time, but before any of those texts were written, Paul writes that the spirit raised Jesus to life after Golgotha and that was the moment he became God’s son and our Lord.

God raised Jesus to everlasting significance. That’s Paul’s Ascension message.

We see that Paul had his ideas and experiences, as Mark had his and Matthew and Luke had theirs, and so on. If your Christ experience isn’t just like someone else’s or dosesn’t fit some inherited dogma, you’re in good company. The first Christian leaders were all over the map; why shouldn’t we be?

Now, Paul has shared his witness of his experience and understanding of the Risen Christ…God wouldn’t let Golgotha have the last word, and so Jesus was raised beyond the horror of the cross, and in being raised, was made God’s son.

But that affirmation is more than a personal experience. It is also political and it is seditious.

Who were the sons of God in Hebrew history? The kings of Israel.
To call Jesus the son of God is to claim he is the messiah, the anointed leader of the people, God’s chosen one, a king. Of course we are all the children of God, but when ancients used that as a title, it was a royal title.

Paul is saying, even though Jesus was killed, he’s still God’s anointed. He’s the Lord anyway. His camp is in heaven instead of here. You thought that because of the cross Jesus failed? Paul is saying that Jesus still lives, is God’s son and therefore is Messiah and Lord and that means the cross failed. Ha! Caesar will never rule our hearts.
Paul will soon be beheaded.

But wait, there’s more. Caesar was also called son of God. Emperors were often divinized, and then their heirs would be called divine sons. Not only is Paul giving Jesus the title of previous kings, he’s giving him the title of the current big chief. PS, Paul gets beheaded.

Also, the founder of the Roman Republic, Julius Caesar, was the son of gods (descended, it was said, from Ares and Aphrodite), and when he died, his divine son (Augustus) said that Julius ascended to the heavens to take his place among the gods and watch over Rome forever.
Paul says that Jesus, too, has risen to everlasting glory to watch over and help us…just like Caesar, whose government killed Jesus.

Julius Caesar was a military genius. Jesus was an illiterant peasant from a ghost town called Nazareth who was executed as an insurrectionist. And Paul dares to give him the title of former kings and current emperors. Did I mention Paul gets beheaded?

Crucifixion was brutal, monstrous, inhuman. And Paul, even under house arrest, says, “Guess what Rome? In Jesus’ case, it didn’t work! He lives. He’s Lord. And he wishes us peace.”

But Paul resists the oppressive political system of the day, but he also challenges the religious community to whom he writes. He warns them about the problems with idols.

Anything can be an idol. Money, ideologies, power, preferences, privilege, habits, etc. But idols are usually an attempt to avoid change, an attempt to enshrine the past.

Paul tells us that the gospel, the good news, is the power of god. Idols have no power. They limit us. They keep us stuck.

Paul writes: “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be,,,perceived…While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of humans or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. Therefore, God handed them over to impurity…”

Many of us grew up in churches that told us Romans 1 was a condemnation of same-gender love and attraction. They said the impurity mentioned was us, and that we were perdition bound.

But love is never condemned in the passage. In fact, Romans 1 starts out with a pretty liberal christology by today’s standard, goes on to give a Bronx cheer to the entire Roman imperial system, and then challenges people’s idolatry. But Love is never condemned.

Paul suggests, oddly, that because people succumbed to idolatrous temptations, God punished them by letting them become impure. And the impurities are voluminous. They include:
Being unjust, envious, malicious, violent, deceitful, scheming, slanderous, petty, vindictive, arrogant, and unmerciful. Most people arof our that list at one time or another. And some of those so-called impurities have become the creed, covenant, and sacraments of many churches today.

The point isn’t to pick something on the list and go after people we believe fit the description. The point is that idolatry keeps us from experiencing God fully, and if we have dimmed God’s light in our lives, we won’t be our best.

Making an idol of homophobia, for example, has left people unmerciful, malicious, and unjust. Idolatry gets in the way of spiritual health and growth.

That’s the point. It is not a condemnation of love. As this comes in the midst of an exhortation against idolatry, Paul may be disapproving of pagan rituals that include orgies that would get so out of hand that people would sometimes mutilate themselves. That’s an extreme case of idolatry leading to suffering (or due penalty in their bodies, as Paul says), but what is never condemned is loving, mutual, joyous relationships, or the desire to find one.

Paul writes that he is not ashamed of the Good News, and the Good News is that the bad news is wrong.

Romans 1 was never meant to shame or torment LGBTQ+ people. In fact, the cruelty shown to Queer people is part of the impurity that can arise from idolizing heteronormativity. And when LGBTQ+ people are harassed and hurt in God’s name, God’s name is being used in vain.

Romans 1:
1. Offers one of many understandings of Jesus.
2. Challenges an oppressive, power mad government.
3. And warns us that idolatry is an obstacle to spiritual growth.

But In Romans 1, Love is not condemned. And this is the good news. Amen.

I am not ashamed of the gospel.
It is the power of God.
The gospel, the good news is…
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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