Good Neighbors

On September 30, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

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Good Neighbors
Lk 16.19-31
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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.

Once upon a time…
That’s basically how the gospel lesson begins today, clearly indicating that it is a parable.

And in today’s parable, we see Lazarus winding up in the arms of Sarah and Abraham. Even when the world has no place for him, Lazarus still has a place in divine love. Being in the arms, the bosom, the embrace of the ancestors is an intimate image of love and acceptance.

If you feel lost, abandoned, discouraged, wounded, or afraid, the gospel message is that God’s love enfolds you and will never let you go.

Lazarus will never be rejected by God, but Lazarus should have never been abandoned by us, either.

Lazarus is the queer teen on the streets who was rejected by her family.
Lazarus is the trans woman of color brutally murdered for being who she is.

Lazarus is the refugee.
Lazarus is the planet whose environment is attacked in the name of profit.

Lazarus is the person who cannot find affordable, permanent housing.
Lazarus is the abused child, the neglected elder, the person working 2 jobs and still can’t afford medical care.

Lazarus is loved by God and shouldn’t have to wait until the next experience of life for that love to be shown to him.
Any of us could be Lazarus under certain circumstances, and all of us can be a better neighbor to Lazarus.

Suffering Lazarus winds up in the loving arms of the ancestors, while the greedy, cruel, selfish rich guy winds up alone and joyless in Hades. It is a parable, a fictional story meant to show us the difference in a life of love and a life of avarice, the difference between compassion and cruel indifference.

Don’t be thrown by the word “Hades” in the story. Hades has a complex history and we’d have to go back to multiple ancient cultures and mythologies to see how each contributed to the evolving Hell/Hades/Gehenna narrative, and even then, the afterlife pictures we usually conjure in our minds are more from the art and poetry of the middle ages than from scripture.

But in this case the rich man’s hell is his legacy, the mark he left on the world, how he’ll be remembered, how lives were impacted because he lived. He’s not in after life prison; he’s simply being remembered for being a jerk in life. That’s hell enough.

There is no literal hell, but people do have hellish experiences in life.
Have we responded to their hells with heavenly, healing love? That’s the question of today’s parable.

The rich man isn’t being shamed for his beliefs, religious affiliation, gender identity, sexual orientation, or even for being successful.
He’s being remembered poorly because he was greedy, selfish, and unconcerned about the suffering of others.

The author isn’t manipulating us with threats of afterlife hell; he’s challenging us to be kinder, more empathetic, and more generous here and now.

Neither the rich man character nor his experience of comeuppance are factual, but they do communicate a profound truth. If we don’t care about the person who has less privilege or more peril than we have, then we are not demonstrating the love that God is.

The founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day, said, “I only really love God as much as I love the person I love least.”

God is love. We can only be truly conscious of God’s presence when we are loving. The rich man didn’t let himself love. And so, he didn’t have a full experience of God which is love.

Heaven is the experience of God, and God is love. We experience God to the degree that we love.

I believe that the rich man could have been freed from his nightmare in an instant if he had simply let himself love, if he had said to himself, “I didn’t treat Lazarus, and all the Lazaruses fairly. I wish I had been kinder.” That alone, that affirmation of love and compassion would have freed him to experience the love that God is.

But instead, he clung to his privilege. He wants his family protected, no one else’s. He wants to treat Lazarus like a slave, demanding Lazarus to comfort him, though he never offered comfort to Lazarus. To the end and even beyond, the rich man cares only about himself and a few close to him. The story shows us how ugly that kind of life can be, and how isolating, and how tragic.

No one in the story even asks the rich man what he believes or what religious sect he belongs to; the only question is, why didn’t you care for the starving, homeless, sick person at your gate? Why didn’t the plight of others move you?

The only person ever in scripture said to be in a state of hell is this nameless character in a fictional story.
One nameless, fictional person mentioned exactly one time is the only person said to be in such a hell. That tells me it was never meant to be taken literally, and that religion really isn’t meant to be fire insurance.

The imaginary nameless character in the imaginary hell isn’t meant to scare the hell out of us.
It is meant to show us that a lack of love is hell.
When we don’t love, we don’t let ourselves experience God, and that is hell. But that is corrected the minute we do love.

Be good neighbors. Love your neighbor. Remember everyone is our neighbor. Care and share. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. We only really love God as much as we love the person we love least.

Let us show love to the housing insecure.
Let us show love to the food insecure.
Let us show love to the depressed.
Let us show love to the LGBTQ+ children of God.
Let us show love to the closeted and to those fearfully coming out.
Let us show love to the wounded planet.
Let us show love to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, Agnostics, Mambos, and Santeros.
Let us show love to refugees, to children, to the lonely, and to those seeking lifesaving medical care.

Today’s gospel isn’t about afterlife suffering; it’s a call to reduce suffering in this life. And we can. And I declare in Jesus’ name, we will. This is the good news. Amen.

Dear God.
We experience and express you…
When we show and share love.
Love the world through us.

True Prosperity

On September 23, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

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Trust Prosperity
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister


God’s Relentless Love

On September 15, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

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God’s Relentless Love
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Psalm 23; Luke 15.1-7

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.

God is good (all the time)
All the time (God is good)
God is good (all the time)
All the time (God is good)
God is good (all the time)
All the time (God is good)
Alleluia (Amen).

Emily Dickinson wrote, “That love is all there is, is all we know of love.”

That love is all there is, is all we know of love.

God is love, and love is all there is.

So why is there so much hate, anger, fear, and ugliness in the world?

Where does evil come from and what can we do about it are questions philosophers, priests, and shamans have asked since the the dawn of consciousness. But I know this…

When I am loving, it feels good. It feels right. Love brings joy and peace and a sense of fulfillment.
When I express or demonstrate or even contemplate love, the world for those moments makes sense and I am occupying my rightful place in the universe.

When I am unloving…when I am enraged, or afraid, or bitter…no matter how justified I feel in nursing those thoughts and emotions, I do not feel “right.” Only love feels right.

I believe that is because love is all there is in truth, and when I am temporality out of truth, or unaware of truth, or in opposition to truth, then I feel conflicted because I am at odds with reality itself.

God is ultimate reality.
God is love.
Love is all there is.
So, when we are loving, we are expressing God.
When we are unloving, we are denying God, and to deny what is really real will make us out of sorts.

The religious life, the spiritual path is meant to constantly remind us that we are one with infinite Love.
We are loved by God because God is love and all love can do is love.
God can only give what God is…oranges will never give grape juice….an orange must express its truth, so an orange gives orange juice.

God is love. God must express God’s truth, so God loves. God must express what God is.

That’s what Jesus is showing us today.

First of all – Jesus is socializing with people that others labeled as sinners. They were tax collectors and they were called sinners because they were often dishonest. They were in service of an empire that conquered and exploited people, and they often got rich in that service, sometimes by padding their own nests…over charging and pocketing the difference.

Tax collectors were hated.
But Jesus found ways to love those who others hated.
Jesus accepted his unity with God, and God is love, so Jesus knew it was his job to show love, especially to those who were unloved.

Jesus tried to explain the relentless love of God with a parable. He imagines a shepherd who is in charge of 100 sheep.
One wanders away.
But the Shepherd will not lose a single lamb. Not one. And so the shepherd is relentless in finding the lamb that wandered off.

God will not, cannot lose a single soul. God’s love is relentless.
Maybe church or society or family has labeled this person or that as lost or sinful, but God loves that person and will never let them go.

God is love, and
that love is all there is, is all we know of love.

Now, Jesus does add that heaven rejoices when a sinner repents. Remember, the people called sinners in the story, and throughout the gospels, are tax collectors, and their great sin was dishonesty. They cheated people. If they were to give up their dishonesty, if they would live in the power of truth, that would make heaven happy. There would be rejoicing.

This isn’t telling people to convert from one religion to another, or to hate themselves, or to feel guilty or ashamed. It’s telling people to come out into the light and joy of truth.

When a lesbian or gay man comes out of the closet and starts living their truth openly, heaven rejoices.

When a transgender or non-binary or gender queer person speaks their truth and lives their authentic life, heaven rejoices.

When allies of queer people stand up for their LGBTQ+ loved ones and share the truth of their love for God’s Rainbow people, heaven rejoices.

When people are honest about their questions and doubts, heaven rejoices.

When people face their self-destructive habits and say, “I am powerless over this problem but I believe there is a power that can restore me to sanity”, heaven rejoices.

When we speak our truth and live in the authenticity of who we are, heaven rejoices.

That’s what it means for a sinner to repent and heaven to rejoice…it means there is holy power in living our truth.

And one truth that I want us all to embrace is this: God is love…all-inclusive, unconditional, everlasting, omnipresent love.

A god who is omnipresent love will never lose you or forget you or abandon you. God’s love will never let you go.

Bigotry, injustice, economics, disease, war, accidents, disaster…nothing can separate us from God’s love. We can tap into comfort and hope and empowerment at any time because we are surrounded by and filled with an everlasting love.

How can learn to trust that? By saying it over and over. The psalmist shows us today the power of affirmations, of reminding ourselves of God’s goodness and God’s nearness.

The LORD is my shepherd (a shepherd who will never let me wander off, who will never give up on me, who refuses to lose me); there is nothing I lack.
God restores my strength.
God guides me along the right path…
Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side…
Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life.
I will dwell in the house of the LORD…

Say it until you feel it.
Feel it until you believe it.
Believe it until you know it.

God is love.
I am one with God.
God’s love cannot let me go.

There’s not a spot where God is not.
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities.
There is good for me and I ought to have it.

God is my shepherd.
God restores my strength.
Only goodness and love will pursue me.
I will always dwell in God’s presence.

And this is the good news. Amen.

Divine Love is all-inclusive,
And omnipresent.

Strategic Spirituality

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

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Strategic Spirituality
Rev. Anne Atwell

Children of God

On September 1, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

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Children of God
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
John 1.1-5, 14

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.

I say, “God is good.”
You say, “All the time.”
I say, “All the time.”
You say, “God is good.)
After we do that three times, I’ll say, “alleluia.
And you will answer, “Amen.”

God is good (all the time)
All the time (God is good)
God is good (all the time)
All the time (God is good)
God is good (all the time)
All the time (God is good)
Alleluia! (Amen).

Wouldn’t it be exciting if we believed God was truly good, and also, always present. What difficulty or obstacle could ever steal our joy if we believed there was an infinite goodness that was everywhere present, including right wherever we happen to be?

The gospel tells us today that God dwells among us, that the divine Idea for the universe and all that is in it was with God always and that divine Idea continues to express through all that is, including us.

The wisdom literature we find in the book of Proverbs tells us that Wisdom, or we could still say the divine Idea, is available to us and always has been.

We often think of Jesus as being the chid of God, but Franciscan spirituality suggests that creation itself is the first incarnation of God. All life is the divine Self made visible. All life is the child of God, part of God, coming from God and carrying something of God.

God is all-in-all expressing through all.
God is source and substance.
God is not a being, but Being itself, the ground of all being.

In other words, God is omnipresence.
There’s not a spot where God is not.

If God is omnipresent it means God is the one presence, the only real presence, and that means that all that is must be in and part of that presence. You and I, then, are part of God. Of course we have sacred value.

Why is this important?
Because we will welcome refugees if we see them as children of God, part of God, expressions of God.

We will never accept hunger for anyone if every person is an expression of God.

We will never let anyone be humiliated or dehumanized or abused because of their gender identity or sexual orientation if we see them as incarnations of God.

We would do everything we possibly could to prevent bombs from being dropped on children of God.

What if the word of God, the divine Idea, is made flesh, that is, is made manifest in, through, and as the physical world?
What if John’s gospel is more than adulation of Jesus, but a call to see a gleam of divine light in every life and also a call to respond with love to that light in every person?

And if we believed that WE were expressions of the divine, that we were lighthouses beaming divine grace into the world, that we were the dwellings of God…then we would seek to be generous, welcoming, comforting, forgiving…we would wish for everyone to have all that joy and good fortune we have ever enjoyed, and we would work tirelessly for justice for all.
If we knew ourselves to be children of God, we would want to demonstrate divine qualities…mercy, hope, compassion, grace.

God the angry punisher hasn’t made the world a better place God the rule maker and enforcer hasn’t made the world a better place.
God the tribal deity who prefers one group over all others hasn’t made the world a better place.
God the warrior who takes sides in conflicts hasn’t made the world a better place.
Trying to ignore God, deny God, or portray God as absent hasn’t made the world a better place.

The God who is Good News for the world is an omnipresence who cannot exclude, abandon, or condemn anyone.

And once we believe in such a God we know ourselves to be part of this God, and so we seek to be more godlike, which is more loving; and the omnipresent God must be with and within all others, and so we must treat all people with dignity and respect and fairness. Regardless of political or religious or cultural labels, we would see all people as children of God and then act accordingly.

Rabindranath Tagore taught, “Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment. It is the ultimate truth that lives at the heart of creation.”

If God is love, and God is omnipresent, then Love is omnipresent. Love is everywhere and part of everything. To love, then, is the best way to honor and express God.

If you are sick today, you are not alone. There is a love that is embracing you and will never let you go.

If you are heartbroken right now, trust that there is a love that feels your every tear and is waiting with you for joy to return.

If you are struggling, know that there is a love within you that is cheering for you every minute of every day.

If you’ve made a big mistake, or dozens of them, there is a love that sees your innate goodness. Even if you haven’t always expressed it, the love that is God knows the goodness within you…the godness within you.

If the storms of life have you anxious, know that there is a love that the storms will never chase away, a love that will still be with you long after the storms have passed.

God is love, and there’s not a spot where God is not. You are from God, part of God, filled with God’s qualities; you are God’s chid. You are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

Are you willing to know God as all good, only good, and everywhere fully present? If so, then peace, hope, and joy are available right now to bless your life.

God is good (all the time).
All the time (God is good).
Alleluia! (Amen).
And this is the good news. Amen.

I am forever part of the one All.
I am a beloved child of God.
This fills me with gratitude & joy.
And so it is!