Courage

On December 10, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Courage (Esther 4) 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. The Bhagavad Gita has God saying, “I am the Self that dwells in the heart of […]

Courage (Esther 4)
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.

The Bhagavad Gita has God saying, “I am the Self that dwells in the heart of every mortal creature…I am the beginning, the middle, and the end in creation…I am the divine seed of all lives. In this world nothing animate or inanimate exists without me. I am the strength of the strong. I am the purity of the good. I am the knowledge of the knower. There is no limit to my manifestations.”
This ancient, holy scripture from Hinduism tells us that God is everywhere. That everything is part of God. That we all have sacred value. That hope and peace and joy are always possible. That there’s not a spot where God is not. Why am I absolutely obsessed with the idea of omnipresence? Why do I remind you constantly that God is a loving presence that will never and could never let you go?
There are two reasons, really.

1. If it is true that God is omnipresent…and both reason and experience tell me that is the case, then we are never alone. We never have to face anything alone. We can never face anything alone. And so comfort, and peace, and assurance, and courage are available to us in every moment, because there’s not a spot where God is not.

2. If God is an omnipresent power, then we are never truly powerless. Even if we seem powerless over a particular problem, we nevertheless ask a Higher Power to restore us to sanity, and the power works. It is always available to us.

God’s will must be for God’s creation to flourish, and so when we pray, “Thy will be done” we are praying, “help us to experience peace and joy and fulfillment and hope and courage and wisdom and health and love and even miracles.”

I so want everyone, no matter what they are facing, to know they are not alone, and that miracles are possible. I know that fear keeps us from giving miracles a chance.

We don’t want to be disappointed if the magic doesn’t work. We don’t want to look foolish by being seen to hope for what other said was hopeless.

Early in my ministerial training, I was in the middle of the AIDS crisis, we all were. And we were praying for new meds, for people to beat individual opportunistic infections, for people to face their challenges with courage, for people who had been abandoned by families to feel loved all the same.

But one of my mentors prayed every Sunday…EVERY Sunday, “And God we continue to pray for a cure for AIDS.”
How naïve, I thought. We haven’t cured baldness or the common cold. How are they going to cure AIDS? Praise Jesus and Mary and a dozen other reliable souls that my self-insulating pessimism didn’t impact her. She prayed week after week for a cure.
There’s still no cure, but there are treatments and prophylaxis meds and people are living long, healthy lives with what was once considered a death sentence. She didn’t manifest a cure for AIDS, but she generated hope that I believe was life-saving for some people, and life changing for others. And so, now, a quarter of a century later, I am praying for a cure for AIDS. And I won’t stop until it happens.

In the fictional story of Esther a Jewish person who wasn’t out about her Jewishness was encouraged to come out to help rescue her own people.

How could she make a difference?
What if she got in trouble?
What if her courageous, faithful act failed?
But in the end, she fasted, she prayed, and risked everything to make a difference.
There were no guarantees, but she realized, If I try, it may or may not work; if I don’t try, nothing good will happen. So, better to try.

Was it foolish? Some would say so. Was it dangerous? Absolutely. But was it worth it to pray through, and give the miracle a chance? The author would have us believe the answer is yes.

In the story, there is a eunuch is also courageous. He is a messenger for Esther and Mordecai, and in an earlier chapter he’s Esther’s personal makeup artist. He risked getting some notes snatched or overdoing the Queen’s makeup and being scorned by the other eunuch cosmetologists. But Esther risked so much more. She risked her faith.

She risked it not working. She risked it not saving the day. She risked feeling like a failure if it didn’t pay off. And, in very real ways, she risked her life for her faith. It took courage to give miracles a chance.

I have prayed for people whose circumstances gradually improved. I have prayed for people whose circumstances got dramatically, incredibly, and almost instantly better. I have prayed for people who found strength to endure their trials, and blessings in spite of their trials, but who otherwise weren’t freed from their difficulties.

And I have prayed for people who didn’t seem to get anything other than the goodwill it took for me to utter the prayer.
We detach from the outcomes, but even not knowing how it will work out, we dare to give prayer a chance, trusting that something good will come of it.

We focus not so much on the trouble or dire predictions, but on the omnipresence of divine love…and we ask that presence to do something good.

Esther knew that her plan could get her in deep trouble, but she prayed up the courage and took the risk to come out, to use whatever influence or privilege she had to save others from peril.

The risk paid off in the fictional story, but that’s not even the point. The story could have ended with tears, and there still would have been a beautiful lesson about a woman who risked everything to give a miracle one more chance. That’s the prize…not that it worked out to her delight, but that she dared to try at all.

A woman with AIDS came to me one day (c. 1998), depressed. She had been fighting for her life for a long time, and she was discouraged.
She asked what was the point of keeping up the fight; I answered that the fight wasn’t over, so the winner hadn’t been declared yet. It could still be her. And, I added, even if she lost the fight, she could spend her final hours knowing she did everything she could for as long as she could, and she could take comfort in knowing that her courageous example surely inspired others to keep pushing forward. She did keep fighting and lived another dozen years.

And she was a hero to many. Don’t give up on miracles. My mother grew up believing nothing was worse than being gay. In 2015 she attended my wedding and next month is going on the Sunshine Cathedral cruise. Don’t give up on miracles.

12 years ago, this church was about $300k in the hole; today we own this property outright, have a world class staff, beautiful windows, live saving programs, and we end almost every year in the Black (be it ever so barely).

Don’t give up on miracles. I’ve experienced and offered forgiveness in the wake of behavior that was clearly unforgivable and found love and healing and restoration as a result. Don’t give up on miracles.

Summon the courage to hope for better days. I can’t promise you a miracle today…but I will promise you that it’s okay to hope for one, and I’ll promise you one more thing…I’ll hope with you.

Let’s have the courage to hope. Let’s hope together, and come what may, the hope itself will prove to be a great blessing. And this is the good news. Amen.

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