It Gets Better

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

It Gets Better Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Oct 27, 2019 The prophet Joel declared, “God has poured out for you abundant rain.” Join me in the spirit of prayer. 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 […]

It Gets Better
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Oct 27, 2019

The prophet Joel declared, “God has poured out for you abundant rain.” Join me in the spirit of prayer.

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.

Most of us probably didn’t hear a lot about the prophet Joel in our religious education. We don’t know much about the prophet. We aren’t certain when he was writing.

Joel tells us that his people experience a plague of locusts. Some scholars take him at his word and think his agrarian society was devestated by locust swarms. It does happen. Others believe the locusts are a euphemism for invading armies. Whatever the locusts were, they caused damage and heartbreak. As a result, the people cry out to God for relief, and eventually, the rains come and restore the land…healing eventually comes.

It’s a tale of woe, but also of encouragement.

Joel doesn’t ask why these locusts have done what they’ve done. He doesn’t say, “Why us?” He doesn’t suggest the people deserved it. He doesn’t imagine how they could have prevented it; he doesn’t even offer a plan for how they can get better faster. He just acknowledges that sometimes things are difficult, and then he encourages his people to not give up hope for better days.

Locusts come, they do damage.
But the rains also come, and the damage begins to be repaired.
Locusts are hurtful, but the rains can begin a process of restoration.

It’s horrible that the locusts have eaten the crops and left us with famine and drought and despair…but the rains will come and healing will begin. No matter how much we’ve lost, the future can be better.

The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities!

Dr. Peale said in our second reading today: “Great people do not allow the vicissitudes of life to defeat them. They have something within them that rises victoriously above losses and disappointments. Whatever comes, life is good.”

Misfortunes come. It may take time and effort to get past them. Sometimes it takes a while to heal from the pain they caused. But those misfortunes don’t have to be the end of the story.
Our story can be how we survived, how we learned, how we helped others survive, how we got our second wind, how we loved and laughted and shared and cared through it all.

Those locusts are frightful, but they can’t touch our spirits, they can’t take away our hope, they don’t determine our future.

I attended over 100 funerals in the 90s. Almost all of them were for people who died from complications from AIDS. Of those who died from AIDS, not one was over the age of 50.

AIDS was terrifying, and ubiquitous, and I didn’t know a single gay man who didn’t think at one time or another, “am I next?”

The fear. The regret. The grief. How did we get through it?

I remember Louise Hay encouraging us to love ourselves, and to affirm possibilities. It was a good way to live. It might improve our health, and it would definitely help us be happier.

I remember spelling “aids” with all small letters trying to take some of the sting out of it.
We would redefine HIV to mean “Hope Is Vital.”
And I remember saying that people were living with AIDS rather than dying from it. If they were alive today, they were living. And we focused on that.

A friend and mentor of mine would pray in every public, pastoral prayer for a cure for AIDS. The idea of a cure seemed impossible but she dared to pray for it anyway.

And Troy Perry would say, time and again and always with great passion: God is greater than AIDS.
People were dying, but we still declared that there was a power that was greater than the plague at hand.

Eventually, a medical miracle occurred. Combinations of drugs became available that could help people survive, even live vibrant, long lives.

There is not yet a cure and the meds aren’t always easy, but after the viral locusts had devastated our community the rains finally came and restoration and resurrection began. Damn the locusts, but thank God for the rains.

Joel encourages his audience by saying that “God will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten…You shall know that I am in the midst of you, and…I will pour out my spirit on all flesh…[and] everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved…”

Joel doesn’t surmise why the tragedy occurs, he just trusts that in the fullness of time, what was lost will be restored.
He doesn’t say that locusts won’t do more harm, he just trusts that there will always be a reason to be glad and grateful.
He doesn’t say that everyone will have it easy, but he does trust that God’s spirit will never be withheld from anyone.
And he doesn’t say that there won’t be hard times, but he does insist that those who call on God will be heard, and somehow, God will respond.

He doesn’t blame anyone for aids, and he doesn’t predict when or how the cure will come, the prophet just insists that God is greater than aids.

He doesn’t say that there will never be injustice or oppression, but the prophet declares boldly that God’s spirit is never withheld from anyone.

There’s not a spot where God is not.
You are God’s miracle, and not God’s mistake.
No amount of locusts will ever change that.

That’s the Jesus story, isn’t it?
His conception was a scandal, he was born in a barn, his childhood was spent as a refugee, he betrayed by a friend, and at 33 years old he was executed as a criminal.
The locusts certainly plagued Jesus. But they didn’t end his story.

In, through, and as the church, he was raised to new life. And that new church, the raised body of Christ, was refreshed by the rains of Spirit at Pentecost. The locusts struck and struck hard, but the rains came, and Resurrection and Restoration and Renewal were the result.

I don’t know what you’re facing, and i can’t tell you when or how it will be resolved, but I can stand with Joel and prophetically declare…it gets better.

Be encouraged: The locusts have done their worst, but the rains of restoration are on the way. And this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
Let showers of blessing flow into my life.
I give thanks for restoration and renewal.
Alleluia!
Amen.

 

Praise God!

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

Praise God! Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Psalm 150 Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. In 1950 an Irving Berlin musical debuted on Broadway: Call Me Madam. There is a song […]

Praise God!
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Psalm 150

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

In 1950 an Irving Berlin musical debuted on Broadway: Call Me Madam. There is a song from that show that is on an endless loop in my head, and in my soul.

{You’re Just in Love}

I often break out into song. I always have. And Hand to God, the first song I ever learned was from the musical Hair. Imagine 1970 or 71, a 4 or 5 year Durrell standing on a cocktail table in the living room singing,

“When the moon is in the 7th house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius, age of Aquarius….”

My first time in drag…
In 1969 a Saturday morning show called HR Pufnstuf aired just 17 episodes, but the network continued to show those episodes until 1972. One of those episodes had the villainess of the show, Witchiepoo, performing in a talent show, singing,

“Oranges poragnes, who said, orange poranges, who said, oranges poranges, who said there ain’t no rhyme for oranges.”

One day, took a skirt of my mother’s and wrapped it around me like a cape, and put on her swimming wig (it was circa 1970) and i appeared in the living room in drag performing Oranges Poranges. But I didn’t understand or remember the words properly, so I sang,

“Orie orie, who say, orie orie, who say”

It wasn’t one of the great moments of drag performance, but it was a clear affirmation of who I was and how my life was going to unfold.

Well, Your’e Just in Love, Age of Aquarius, and a mangled rendition of Oranges Poranges were the songs I found in me from almost the start of my life. You have songs in you, too.

I can prove it…join in when you’re ready:
When i was just a little girl, I asked my mother, what would I be.
Will i be pretty
Will i be rich
Here’s what she said to me:
Que sera sera, whatever will be will be,
the future’s not ours to see, que sera sera,
what will be will be.

You just experienced and expressed the power of the 150th Psalm.
Psalm 150 encourages us to break out in song.

Whatever we share in joy, is praise.
Peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars? That is an affirmation of the power of peace and love, and praise for its expression.

Oranges poranges? That is a refusal to be limited by other people’s perceived limitations, and a celebration of the human imagination.

Que sera sera? An affirmation that ultimately, all is well, and feeling gratitude for it.

Psalm 150 says praise God with trumpets. When you make sound joyfully…that’s praise.
Praise God with harp and lyre and flute and crashing cymbals.

Some people will have an out of body experience if they hear bagpipes. I think bagpipes sound like a weapon of war…but if you love it, then when you play them you are singing a love song to God, or to life, or to the field of infinite possibilities.

The thumpa thumpa of gay dance clubs, the chants of childhood games, and the haunting sounds of Gregorian chants…are all ways of praising life and its source.

No instrument is too vulgar or too obnoxious according to Psalm 150.
Trumpet and harp and lyre and tambourine and cymbals, as well as singing and dancing…all praise God simply by being what they are. When you are what you really are, God is praised and you are raised.

Religion is too often mean, and shaming, and cruel. and that doesn’t honor God.
Joy, hope, generosity, love, kindness, show tunes, Halloween block parties…those things honor god. #ADifferentKindOfChurch

And let me say this about praise…God isn’t something separate from us with an ego that needs stroking.

We are part of God, so when we find joy, embrace hope, express love…that honors, delights, praises God, because God gets to express more perfectly in, through, and as us.

What better pat on the back could we give God than to give joyful expression to God in our world?

Have you ever said to your dog or cat, “Good girl”? Just praise just because you love her? She may give you a tail wag or a purr, but notice how great you feel, too.
A word of praise blesses the one to whom it is offered, but it feels good to the giver ,also. When we praise, we are raised.

We praise God by expressing God.
We praise God is by living our best lives, by being happy, by being generous and kind, by dancing and banging on cymbals and belting out show tunes.

Let everything that breathes praise God, and when we love ourselves and one another, when we rejoice in who we are, when we find the song within us and let it out…we are praising God, and as we praise, we are raised. And this is the good news. amen. .

God’s light guides me, alleluia!
God’s love enfolds me, alleluia!
God’s power sustains me, alleluia!
I am always in God’s presence, alleluia!
I give praise and I am raised.
Alleluia!
Amen.

We Can Do It

On October 6, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

We Can Do It Exodus 1.8-14; 3.1-15 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. Jesus said blessed are those who show mercy, but empire, however much it […]

We Can Do It
Exodus 1.8-14; 3.1-15
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.

Jesus said blessed are those who show mercy, but empire, however much it may try to weaponize and monetize the name of Jesus, rarely supports the Christ values of mercy, justice, and love.

The Egyptians showed no mercy to the Israelites. That’s what we read in the opening chapter of Exodus. The empire, the superpower, was unmerciful toward the religious minority, unmerciful to the descendants of immigrants and refugees, unmerciful toward exploited laborers, unmerciful toward the oppressed.

Then in Exodus 3, Moses is called to speak out against empire’s cruelty to vulnerable populations. Moses is called to challenge empire and encourage the oppressed. Moses says, “But who am I?” And God says, “The important thing is who I am.”

God is the word that sums up ultimate meaning and our search for meaning.
God is the life within us.
God is connection between all lives.
God is the universal presence in which we all live.

Something so ubiquitous, and eternal, requires almost countless myths and symbols and names to help us give voice to our experience of It.

But of all the names for God, the simplest is also the most profound, and that is the name shared in today’s story: I Am.

Who shall I say sent me to challenge injustice, to confront cruelty, to lead people to a more hopeful future?
Who am I to do it and by whose authority could I do it?

And the answer is, “I Am.”

From a light that will not be extinguished, the name of God is given and it is I Am.

Moses is an exile; he went from being a prince to being a shepherd.
And he encounters a burning thorn bush in the desert.

Where is God in the story? In the fire. In the thorns.
When we are in pain or fear or confusion, where is God?
God is in the pain. God is in the doubt. God is in the chaos.
God is in the thorns. God is in the fire.
Even in our desert experiences, God is there; there’s not a spot where God is not.

In the story, God says, “I have seen the troubles of my people.”
God says, “I have heard their cries.”
God says, “I know their pain.”

Where is God when everything sucks? Watching, listening, knowing, caring.
We are never alone with our challenges. There is a love that will never let us go. There is a presence watching over us. There is a strength that is giving us endurance. There is a wisdom guiding us forward.

There is a voice in the thorns, there is grace in the fire, there is a presence in the desert…we are not alone and there is something good still to come.

I Am is God’s name, and so I Am never alone.
I Am never without comfort.
I Am never without strength equal to the moment of need.
I Am never on my own…a band of angels is coming after me, because God sees, God hears, God knows, and God responds. I Am hopeful and I Am grateful because God is I Am.

God is life.
God is light.
God is hope.
God is strength.
God is love.
God is.

Isness. Our isness: That’s what I Am means.

Who am I to challenge abuse and call for healing and try to empower the marginalized?
I Am.

How can I try to make a difference.
Because I Am!

I Am is God in me.
I Am is my call to action.
I am part of God because God is I Am.

So, never say I am worthless.
Never say I am a loser.
Never say I am a lost cause.
Never say I am a wreck.
Cancel all that self-abusive BS. Cancel, cancel, cancel.
Never follow “I Am” with anything negative because to do so is to use God’s name in vain.

I am a person of sacred value.
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
I am part and parcel of God.
I am part of the creation God calls very good.
I am wise and wonderful.
I am loved, loving, and lovable.

That’s the proper use of God’s name; that’s honoring and praising God and God’s handiwork.

In the 1950s a Baptist minister, Rev. William H. Borders wrote a poem to encourage the poor and disposed of his city. The poem because a tool of the civil rights movement and in 1971 the Rev. Jesse Jackson recited the poem masterfully on Sesame Street. It was a brilliant and theologically sound use of the divine name, I Am.

Rev. Borders wrote, and Rev. Jackson shared:

“I am Somebody!
I may be poor, But I am Somebody.
I may be young, But I am Somebody.
I may be small, But I am Somebody.
I may have made mistakes, But I am Somebody.
My clothes are different, My face is different, My hair is different, But I am Somebody.
I am Black, Brown, or White. I speak a different language.
But I must be respected, protected, never rejected. I am God’s child!
I am somebody.”

I am Somebody.
I Am that I am.

That offers great ability, and great responsibility.

Look one more time at Ex. 3.

God said to Moses:
I have seen their troubles…
I have heard their cries…
I know about their pain…
Now I will go and lead them…I am sending you to Pharaoh. Go! Lead my people.

I’ll go – YOU go.
I’ll lead – YOU lead.
I’ll fix it – Get to fixing it.

God sees, God hears, God knows, and God will do something about it…in, through, and as Moses.

How can I stand up to oppression?
How can I make a difference?
How can I resist cruelty and hate and greed?
I can and I must…My hands are God’s hands.
What God does for us, God must do through us.

I see. I hear. I know, I care. I’ll fix it, as soon as the you part of I get to work.
That’s God’s message to Moses.
That’s God’s message to us.

We can do it.
Because we are God in action.
God sees. God hears. God knows. God cares. And God is saying to us, “We can do it. Let’s get busy.”
And when we answer the call, Empire cannot keep us from the land of promise, a future with infinite possibilities.

And this is the good news. Amen.

I am Somebody.
I am God’s child.
I am how God is helping and healing our world.
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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