Experiencing Christ

On November 24, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

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Experiencing Christ
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Luke 24

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 Luke’s gospel today, two people are on a journey, and along the way they encounter Jesus.

The story really isn’t about the days immediately following Jesus’ execution; it’s about how what Jesus represents is timeless and can be experienced whatever path we may be on.

A beautiful prayer, one of my favorites, is based on today’s gospel story. It is an evening prayer:
“Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love.”

Even though it is currently morning, that prayer is my heart today.
Lord Jesus…be our companion in the way, on our path.

My spiritual path has been a winding one and it ain’t over yet.

On every leg of my journey, I have bumped into Jesus.
My first experience of Jesus was kind of dysfunctional. He was my protector from an angry god.
It was neither a mature nor healthy theology, but I was young and my ideas about God would become less troubling.

Jesus then becam for me the one offering afterlife fire insurance. How fear based and self-serving was that?
Without Jesus, I was told, there would literally be hell to pay, but when the Grim Reaper showed up, if i said, “I’m with Jesus”…I’d get in to the exclusive club rather than being sent to the cosmic penal colony.
I blame, in part, the “fishidie” prayer…”If I should die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.” I said that prayer every night and developed the idea that the point of prayer was to remind or persuade God to welcome me “if i should die.” Luckily, over time, my God and my Jesus would get a few upgrades.

As I matured, Jesus continued to evolve for me. He became for me a philosopher, a morality teacher, a justice warrior, a life changer, a soul healer. As I allowed God to get bigger, Jesus got better. He didn’t save me from God’s wrath, but rather helped me to think about God in more joyful and life-giving ways.

But one of the sweetest experiences I’ve had of Jesus so far is Jesus as Lord.

To call Jesus “Lord” is camp. It’s ironic. It’s humorous. It’s political. It’s subversive. It’s world changing.

Caesar was lord.
Military might, economic power, class privilege…these were the marks of lordship and Jesus didn’t have any of that, and he was pretty critical of many who did, especially if they didn’t use their advantages to help others.

Jesus is the opposite of a “lord” in any conventional sense.
His conception was a scandal.
He was born homeless.
As a toddler he became a refugee, crossing an uninviting border with his family to find safety.
As an adult he was arrested for sedition and convicted and executed.

To call that outcast, that rebel, that peasant Lord is to say that God has special care for the broken hearted, the mistreated, the oppressed, the poor, the marginalized.

To call Jesus Lord is to say that there’s not a spot where God is not, and we are each God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
If Jesus is Lord, he is the Lord of outcasts, and that means no one gets left out.

If Jesus is Lord, we all have sacred value. As an archetype, he is our hero, the symbol of rising from the dust of despair to dwell forever in the glory of grace.

As a friend of our hearts, he is someone who knows suffering, who knows injustice, who knows cruelty, and who stands in solidarity with the weeping and the weary, the despised and the dispossessed of the world.

To say Jesus is Lord is to repudiate Jim Crow era racism and its lasting legacy.
To say Jesus is Lord is to remove all shame from HIV/AIDS.
To say Jesus is Lord is to have as much compassion for a fractured spirit as for a fractured skull.

To say Jesus is Lord is to atone for the idolatry of worshiping cisgender heterosexism.
To say Jesus is Lord is to ache for those tormented by flood or fire, war or want, disease or despair, closets or cages.

To call Jesus Lord is to fight hunger, not the hungry.
To call Jesus Lord is to affirm same-gender loving people. God is love and WHOEVER lives in love lives in God and God lives in them.

To call Jesus Lord is celebrate transgender lives in the Rainbow diversity of creation. In Christ there is neither male nor female but we are all one in Christ.

To call Jesus Lord is to say that every person from cradle to casket has innate worth and dignity.

Jesus is Lord is the oldest creed of Christianity.
It is the opposite of empire, dictatorship, and domination.
The Lordship of Jesus is a commitment to the kin-dom of God, a realm where peace is the goal and love is the law and every person is known as a child of God.

I’m so glad I didn’t give up on my journey until I could say, for me, Jesus is Lord.

Let me hasten to add, That in no way detracts from other faith vocabularies. The deepest truths of the way of Jesus are true in other faith traditions. Buddhists and the B’hai, Muslims and Mormans, Jews and Jains, Hindus and Humanists all have gifts that bless this world.
Every love filled faith experience I have ever had or witnessed was a window to the Divine. Any tradition that affirms the sacred value of all people, that prioritizes unconditional love, and that believes religion is best when it seeks justice for all is participating in the kin-dom of God and is compatible with the way of Jesus.

In the gospel story today, how did the travelers experience Jesus?
They told their stories. They were hurting, grieving, and they shared their hearts. They were vulnerable.
Christ was experienced in an open heart.

Then, they offered Jesus hospitality.
They didn’t know who he was, only that he seemed to need shelter for the night, and they provided it, no questions asked. They experienced Christ in their own act of generosity.

Then they sat down to share a meal…the open table, with a stranger, everyone valued, and in that moment of connecting, comm-union, they experienced Christ.

To say Jesus is Lord isn’t to argue details about his life, but to let the stories of his life inspire and transform our own.

When Jesus is Lord, we share our hearts, we share our resources, we share our lives.
Such sharing in Jesus’ name healed hurting people in the first century, and it still can today. And so I say this morning, for me, Jesus is Lord, and this is the good news. Amen.

Lord Jesus,
Be my companion.

The Day of the Lord

On November 18, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

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The Day of the Lord
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Malachi 4.1-6

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.

A day is coming, we are told in both prophetic and apocalyptic literature, a day is coming that is going to be eventful. The sages called the upcoming day the day of the Lord…but even though several prophets and preachers imagined an upcoming day of the Lord, they all seemed to mean different things by it.

Some thought the day would be a day of battle.

Some thought the day would be a natural disaster…flood, fire, wind, earthquake.

Still others thought the day of the lord would be some sort of cosmic event.

So…people have all kinds of ideas about what the day of the Lord will be…but its big and its coming.

Malachi is one more prophet using the day of the lord motif. But I like what he does with it.
He says something big and possibly difficult may be in the future, but he also promises healing.

Hard times come. Things aren’t always easy. Of course trouble will come…it has before and it probably will again…BUT, to those who revere God’s names (Nature), the sun of justice, the sun of righteousness, the sun of goodness will rise with healing in its rays.

What is god’s nature?

Crap happens, but for those who know God as omnipresence, comfort is always available.
Hate and bigotry may try to tear the world apart, but those who know God as love will always see past hate’s lies and will always find something good to strive toward.

Peril and danger may come, but those who know God as life will remember that nothing can separate us from the source of our lives.
Problems come and sometimes like an avalanche, but those who know god as wisdom will trust that there are answers to problems and we can find them.

Days may be coming when transgender women of color are killed almost weekly,
Days may be coming when children are separated from their parents in heartless and needless ways,
Days may be coming with children live in fear of school shootings,
Days may be coming when wars are waged on nations, communities, and even the environment itself,
Days may be coming where honesty and integrity and fairness and kindness are all but lost or forgotten,
BUT to those who know that God is love, life, presence and wisdom, healing rays will shine and hope will be renewed and peace will be possible.

If you know the nature of god to be good, you’ll have joy that circumstances cannot take away…you’ll break out into dancing…it may look ridiculous, like a cow leaping out of the barn, but you’ll be so happy you won’t care.

And what happens while we’re dancing for joy? We know that god is not vengeful, petty, or cruel. We know that god is love and there’s not a spot where god is not and we are each god’s miracle and not god’s mistake so we have joy and we dance like leaping cows and while we dance we stomp on the wicked.

That isn’t telling us to do harm to people we’ve judged to be wicked….that’s how religion plays sometimes, but that isn’t the way of the god of love, the god of joy. Our dance is a joy dance, not a war dance. No, the wicked we stamp out are wicked thoughts….thoughts of bigotry, thoughts of xenophobia, thoughts of domination, thoughts of exploitation, thoughts of greed, thoughts that would deny anyone dignity or hope or a hand up in a moment of need. We know god’s good nature and we will have too much joy to try to make anyone else miserable, and too much joy to let anyone keep us miserable.

Malachi asks his community to remember Moses who gave the commandments – take care of the elders, don’t lie about people, don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t begrudge your neighbor their joys and good fortune, don’t break the vows you make…these are all ways of saying, be kind, be loyal, be loving, don’t try to hurt people, in fact, try to help and even to heal people. Those are god’s commandments delivered by moses. We who know god’s nature know that god’s commandments can be summarized in a single word: love.

Malachi also says that Elijah will return. Elijah was a fierce prophet. He stood up to government abuse. He challenged those who gained power and privilege by oppressing minorities. Malachi says Elijah will be back to stand against bigotry and cruelty and hatred.

Jesus compared John the baptizer. At the Passover meal, his last supper, he drank from Elijah’s cup.
Maybe we are the return of Elijah. I believe we are even the return of Christ. Bad days happen, but god in us is present to shine healing rays into our lives, and through us, into the world.

Malachi imagines god saying, “I will send Elijah and I will not strike the land with a curse.” Maybe we are the cure, the healing presence, the healing rays.

If god is omnipresent, then every day is god’s day. And those who know god to be good can rejoice no matter what circumstances may be. And if we know god to be good, we can be the prophetic voice sharing good news with the world, the good news that all people have sacred value, the good news of god’s all-inclusive, unconditional, everlasting love. And when enough of us embrace that message, there is no curse, there is just us experiencing and sharing the power of love.

God’s about cures, not curses.
God’s not coming; God is here.
God is love, and those who know that have joy in their lives.
And this is the good news. Amen.

Every day is God’s day.
I trust the one Power.
I am serene, peaceful, and joyful.

Grace Is True

On November 10, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

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Grace Is True
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Hosea 11

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.

I often hear well-meaning Christians say that grace is a new testament concept, or the God of the Old Testament is angry and punishing but the god of the new testament is a god of love and grace.

Newsflash…Jesus’ god is the god of the bible he knew, and the bible he knew is what we call the old testament, the Hebrew bible. If Jesus speaks of a gracious god, he learned about that god from what we call the old testament.

In Genesis 21, Hagar has been thrown out of her home.

Hagar was Abraham and Sarah’s slave. She was then forced to be Abraham’s concubine. A surrogate mother for Sarah who had been unable to conceive.
But when Sarah did conceive, Hagar went from being a commodity to a perceived threat, and she was thrown out of her home with no resources.

In the desert, facing probable death, God showed Hagar a well in the wilderness. In the midst of unfairness, injustice, oppression, and betrayal…God was with Hagar. After discovering that lifesaving well, hagar also found a community and a new home. Comfort in a moment of anguish, a well in the wilderness, was a moment of grace when it was desperately needed.

In 1 Kings 17, there was a terrible drought. A widow was about to make her last meal. After that, she and her son would just wait to starve to death. The prophet Elijah came to the widow and asked for food. She told him she only had enough provisions to make some flat cakes as a last meal for her son and herself. Graciously, she decided to share her last meal with the prophet, and from her act of generosity a miracle of provision occurred. The flour and oil that she had which was just enough for one last meal lasted throughout the drought, and she and her son did not die. God was in the act of sharing. God was in the act of courage. God’s amazing grace was present in the time of need.

And we all remember the story of Jonah. Jonah went to Ninevah, the capital of Assyria, to preach their destruction. He got to Ninevah by way of a big fish, or sea monster. The story shouldn’t be taken literally, but its point is powerful. Jonah told the Ninevites that God was angry with them and was going to destroy them. But God did not. God was more gracious than Jonah wanted to believe. The Assyrians were an abusive empire, and Jonah didn’t like them. He pretended to believe that God didn’t like them either, But when God didn’t destroy them, this is what Jonah said:
“I didn’t want to come to Ninevah, God, because I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God…abounding in love…”

Jonah knew that God was love, and that love was by nature, gracious. He didn’t like it, but deep down, he knew it.

If we haven’t found grace in the Old Testament, we haven’t looked carefully enough. Yes, there are wars and smiting and finger wagging, but in spite of the imagery imposed by patriarchal times, the message of divine grace comes through, time and again.

We see that again when we read the prophet Hosea. Poor Hosea is married to a woman named Gomer. Hosea couldn’t get Gomer to stay home nights. Basically, Gomer would get picked up for solicitation and Hosea would always pay her bail.
Hosea was hurt, and humiliated. He could have left his wandering wife, but he loved her too much. No matter how much she hurt him, betrayed him…he couldn’t abandon her. Today we would call Hosea desperately co-dependent and suggest he check out a support group, but what Hosea did, instead, is use his heartbreak to help people understand the love and grace of God.

Hosea couldn’t abandon the woman he loved, no matter how she behaved; and God, Hosea believed, would never abandon us, no matter what.

Hosea knew his community didn’t always live up to the love ethic, didn’t always welcome the stranger, didn’t always love neighbors, didn’t always seek to keep the Sacred at the forefront of their consciousness. They turned to the false gods of nationalism, greed, racism, xenophobia. They worshiped cruelty and called it divine.
Hosea imagined this must have grieved God, and so, he imagined God being like a jealous husband raging against the unfaithful spouse, saying threatening things like, “One day you’ll call me and I won’t answer. I won’t care anymore!”

But that’s not God. God wouldn’t even snuff out the capital of a cruel empire. God moved the heart of a hungry widow to share what little she had and then helped her survive. God directed Hagar to a well in the wilderness. God is love and love is gracious.

So Hosea imagines God remembering: “I taught you how to walk. I bent down to feed you, like a nursing mother. I can’t give up on you. My love for you is too strong. I’m the holy One. I am with you. I will not show anger.”

That’s grace. That’s who God is.

There’s not a spot where god is not.
There’s not a place beyond god’s grace.
There’s not a time that’s not sublime.
God is all-in-all.

People have been abused, neglected, rejected, terrified, belittled, demonized, and dehumanized in the name of God. And, many have left religion, or even tried to leave God. But the prophet Hosea tells us that god is love and love is gracious and even if in our pain we turn from faith, the love that god is will never turn from us.

I hope you fall in love with God, but if you’re not there yet, I hope you will hear this: God is in Iove with you and that will never change, because Grace is True, and this is the good news. Amen.

Divine Love will never let me go.
I am amazed by divine grace.
And I am thankful.

Holy Fire

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

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Holy Fire
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
1 Kings 18.21-39

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.

There’s an old magical incantation meant to give power to those going into battle, especially on cold Autumn Friday nights.
It was a cheer we chanted at pep rallies and ball games 30+ years ago.

The cheerleaders would yell, “Let’s get fired up.”
The pep squad, band, and exuberant sports fans would respond, “We are fired up!”

Let’s get fired up;
We are fired up!

Let’s get fired up;
We are fired up!

Let’s get fired up;
We are fired up!

Let’s get fired up;
We are fired up!

Let’s get fired up;
We are fired up!

Yeah, like that. The blood would get pumping. Adrenaline and morale would soar.

In today’s scripture reading, we see a cheerleader, known as a prophet in biblical parlance, trying to get his people fired up.

The story plays fast and loose with meteorological and physical realities. I don’t think for a moment that God sent fire from the sky that burned up wet wood and mud puddles. But the story isn’t really about weather or combustion. The fire is a metaphor for firing up the faith community.

The story also shows us how when we reduce religion to a means of gaining political influence or personal privilege or when we use it as a competition, we can take religion in some pretty disturbing directions.

We have competing religious communities in our story today insisting they each have a lock on divine power, they each have direct and exclusive access to cosmic forces, they each are the one true way to peace and paradise. Even if its the one you inherited, beware of fire insurance religion. When religion says: “We have the key and no one else has a clue,” just be mindful.
Of course every religious path believes it has some useful insight, some special gift…but when they turn faith into a zero sum game, people get hurt and hearts get broken.

Neither Elijah nor the priests of Baal are making their faith traditions proud in today’s story.
In their posturing and chest thumping, both sides look petty and pugnacious.
”The God of my understanding can beat up the God of your understanding” is a silly, but still oft repeated boast to this day.

There are clues that the child sacrificing cult of Moloch was actually the cult of Baal by another name.
Baal means “Boss” or Owner. To satisfy Baal, the Boss, people would sacrifice their children.

The queen was also a member of the cult of Baal, and she wanted government to be run on the precepts of the cult. She wanted a world where her religion was dominant, and people could be sacrificed to make sure her ideology reined supreme.

Elijah is a prophet of Yahweh.
Yahweh isn’t a person, but a presence.
Not power over, but power with, is all power.
Not a being, but pure being, being itself, the ground of being.
Yahweh is I Am, or I Will Be. Yahweh is Isness.
Yahweh is our life, our heartbeat, the love the that will not let us go, the presence in which we live and move and have our being.

This mythic battle today isn’t between two gods, or even two communities, the battle is over how we will choose to see and share the Sacred.

Is God to us the boss who requires us to sacrifice our children if they are same-gender loving or gender non-binary?
Is God the owner of our lives who will reject us if we don’t follow the rules?
Is God the will to conquer without the willingness to show compassion, more interested in crushing than in creating? If so, Baal is the understanding of divinity we have embraced.

But if our understanding of God is that God is all-presence, all-power, all-love, all-life, and all-goodness, that God’s justice-love is restorative rather than retributive, that God’s light shines in every soul and God’s grace embraces every person…If God is all-inclusive, everlasting divine Life…then we know God as Yahweh, the Great I Am.

Today’s myth challenges us not to demand the sky gods rain fire…but to get us fired up about a more loving, more inclusive, more healing understanding of God.
Is God anger, violence, greed, cruelty, and fear….
or is God love, mercy, joy, peace, and kindness?
We get to decide how we will experience the divine. We are free to embrace either the Baal understanding, or the Yahweh ideal, but the writer seems to believe that imagining God as Yahweh is the more empowering, healing choice. I quite agree.

Of course, even those of us who believe that God is love, can forget, can stumble, can make mistakes in judgement. Elijah says he believes in Yahweh, but is using Yahweh like a parlor trick to embarrass his enemies. Elijah, dude, do better. And after he wins this particular contest, he then orders his opponents killed! Elijah, you’ve crossed over into Baal’s lane!

We all do, but even when we fall short of our ideals, we can still return to them. We can choose to have a shift in consciousness, to remember that we are in God, part of God, expressions of God, and God is Love.

Today, let’s get fired up, not for battle, but for living lives of hope, peace, love, and joy.
That’s holy fire, and this is the good news. Amen.

Divine Love,
Fire us up today,
with joy, hope, compassion, and love,
Bless us to be a blessing.