Give It All, Receive Even More

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

Give It All, Receive Even More 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. Thursday night someone came to the AirOTic show who had been raised in […]

Give It All, Receive Even More
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.

Thursday night someone came to the AirOTic show who had been raised in a church that did not accept him fully because he is gay. He gave up the church because it was neither a safe nor friendly place for him. But he came to a flying circus as Sunshine Cathedral. He said afterward, “this was the best experience I’ve ever had in a church.”

Thank you, for being a different kind of church. Thank you for helping people come back to a church after years away. Thank you for helping people laugh and experience joy in a church. Thank you for providing a place and a community where people can learn to love and celebrate themselves.

The acrobats from the show were telling me last night that not only have our staff been wonderful to them, but the audiences have been great too. I’ve seen people for several nights come up to them and hug and them and thank them for using their bodies in such amazing ways to inspire, and captivate, and celebrate LGBTQ lives. Something quite extraordinary happened here this weekend because of your willingness to be more, to do more, to give more, to move beyond the past and explore new possibilities. More people felt the healing, loving touch of God this weekend because this is a different kind of church. God bless the Sunshine Cathedral!

We give a lot. But we are called to do even more.

What does it look like to give it all?
When I think of people who gave it all, I think of Absalom Jones.

Absalom Jones was a former slave who became the first African American to be ordained an Episcopal priest and he founded the first African American Episcopalian congregation. He preached that God takes the side of the oppressed and distressed. Of course, that’s just the gospel.

I also think of Janani Luwum, the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda. He spoke out against the abuses of Idi Amin’s regime. For his speaking truth to power, he was executed…not just on Amin’s order, but by Amin himself. He was faithful to the gospel call of justice even unto death.

Another person who gave it all was Frederick Douglas. He escaped from slavery and became a statesman, orator, and passionate abolitionist. With the moral authority afforded him by his lived experience, he confronted the Christian church in this country for being so largely silent regarding the evils of slavery.

Of course, there was Harriet Tubman, called Moses in lore and song. She found personal freedom but did not rest with her own security. She returned to the antebellum South 19 times to help others escape slavery, some 300 individuals before she was done. She risked it all for the sake of justice…the biblical word for that is righteousness.

Several decades later, in the following century, Fannie Lou Hamer would also stand up to injustice and oppression. She challenged segregation and poverty. She was physically attacked many times. She knew the pain of water cannons and attack dogs, but she didn’t give up until she lost her battle with breast cancer.

She famously said, “Sometimes it seems like to tell the truth today is to run the risk of being killed. But if I fall, I’ll fall 5 feet, four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I’m not backing off.”

Pauli Murray comes to mind as someone who gave it all. Pauli (born Anna Pauline) was a lawyer, scholar, and priest. She was the first African American woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest. She wasn’t known for winning big cases as a lawyer, but her legal scholarship inspired and informed Thurgood Marshall. Her behind the scenes work armed some of the front line justice warriors. She’s also an important symbol, not only for being the first African American woman priest, but also for being a Lesbian and probably what we would today call Gender queer as well.

Sister Thea Bowman gave her all. She was a Franciscan nun from Mississippi. She was a teacher for 16 years. Her bishop then asked her to be a consultant for intercultural matters, and she spent the rest of her career visiting churches and attending conferences and speaking at these events. She was known as a dynamic preacher, and when asked about her preaching skill, she would playfully respond, “You know women don’t preach in the Catholic church.”

But she did preach, and sing, and tell stories, and was captivating. She wanted people to know that they could be happy, and that God’s love was for everyone. In 1984 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her prayer was, “Lord, let me live until I die.” And she did. She lived until 1990, preaching from a wheelchair.

Yes, we as people of faith speak out against injustice. We demand compassion for the hurting, and fairness for the marginalized, and we affirm the dignity and sacred value of all people. States are right now, despite a supreme court ruling in 2015, trying to roll back marriage equality. We’ll have something to say about that, I promise.

When we demand equal opportunity and equal protection and nondiscrimination for gay and lesbian and bisexual people, when we affirm the dignity and full personhood of transgender persons, when we cry out as refugees are treated cruelly and families and torn apart and children are incarcerated…we aren’t being partisan (God forbid that compassion and decency and fairness ever be reduced to partisanship); we trying to do what we can to proclaim the gospel, the good news which is meant to be good news for all people. We are trying to demonstrate by word and deed the all-inclusive, unconditional love of God.

The gospel reading today tells us parables about giving it all. A woman who keeps adding yeast until her whole loaf rises. Someone who stumbles upon a treasure in a field and rather than just taking it, buys the field. A merchant who finds such a rare pearl that she is willing to sell all her other merchandise to get this rare beauty. All three stories show people doing all they can, giving all they can, and in the process, receiving even more than they gave.

Didn’t the heroes we’ve heard about today give everything for the cause of Christ, the sake of righteousness, and their work led to advances in justice for more people, and it led to their examples being lifted up today. They gave, but the more they gave, the more they had to give.

We use email, You Tube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, print, pulpit, music, groups, classes, concerts, cabarets, movies, home visits, dinners, drag shows, bible study in bars, food collection, erotic flying circuses…we do and give and create and share all that we can…to reach more people to share with them that they are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

And as you grow spiritually, you will want to give more, too. Worship more frequently, take a class, volunteer, increase your pledge, pray more, study more, maybe just hug two more people every Sunday…but the more you give to God, the more of God you will experience. That’s the pearl of great price, and it’s worth everything.

I honestly hope that none of us has to give as much Bishop Luwum or Fannie Lou Hamer, but I also hope that we will allow their sacrifices to inspire us to give a bit more of ourselves to make the world better. The more we give, the more we will receive… we may even find ourselves experiencing the kin-dom of God, or at least living in the hope of its arrival. What’s better than that? Isn’t that what we’re here to do?

Sunshine Cathedral is an oasis of hope and healing, love and liberation, peace and possibilities. Sunshine Cathedral is a great treasure that people are still finding. And YOU are the Sunshine Cathedral, and this is the good news. Amen.

God gives abundantly.
God’s grace is unlimited.
I am willingly to give myself more completely to God.
The more I give to God, the more of God I experience.
Alleluia!

Why Worry?

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

Why Worry? 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. I was raised by gold medal worriers. Our family motto was “Why do something when you can […]

Why Worry?
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.

I was raised by gold medal worriers. Our family motto was “Why do something when you can you worry?”

We weren’t full on pessimists, those who are able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,
but we were suspicious. We did feel that potential danger lurked around every corner and we were very good at imagining what could go wrong and how bad it could get.

Jesus’ message today seems directed at the chronic worriers of the world. But it seems uncharitable to tell people who are worried about making ends meet to just not give it another thought. Not only does that seem unkind, it is also not what Jesus is saying.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus says(Matt 6.29ff):
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…But store up heavenly treasures…For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. [What we value most is what has our heart]…
“No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and mammon [money].
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or…what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow nor reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet God feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?”

Jesus isn’t saying that you should never worry. He is saying that most of us worry too much about money.

We over spend, or become overly materialistic. We fight over inheritance and we sometimes cheat to get ahead or hoard rather than share, or work ourselves to the point of exhaustion.
We are so afraid that there isn’t enough that we develop a scarcity mentality…but a scarcity mentality isn’t one that sees life as full of possibilities.
A scarcity mentality keeps us scared and prevents us from being as generous as we could be.

Jesus knows some people don’t have shoes, or don’t have proper clothes for job interviews, or don’t receive adequate nutrition. And he wants us to help those people, but we can’t if we have a scarcity mentality. So, he challenges us to seek spiritual treasure more than just money and things. If we care about God’s earth and God’s people, then we won’t be just concerned with our own success, privilege and comfort.

I’m glad Candice Payne didn’t have a scarcity mentality. She embraced heavenly treasure by sharing human generosity last week when she used her own credit card to provide hotel rooms for homeless people during record low temperatures in Chicago. She didn’t worry that she couldn’t; she just did what she could. I think that’s what Jesus is talking about.

While Jesus seems to be challenging us to develop attitudes of abundance and cultures of generosity, his point about habitual worry does apply to other areas of our lives.

Jesus isn’t saying its wrong to ever be scared.Jesus himself had a moment of near panic on the night of his arrest. Matthew’s gospel tells us, “Jesus fell face down and prayed, ‘If it is possible, let this cup pass from me.’” That sounds like someone who was worried. And fair enough! Authorities were coming for him and he was facing capital punishment.

BUT…if he had spent days worrying about all the ways he could get in trouble, he might not have done the things he did. We might not even know his story.

When the guys with spears are on the way, he gets a little anxious – an appropriate response in the moment. But he didn’t develop a habit of worrying constantly or prematurely. The habit of worry would have robbed him of his power.

In Matthew 14, the apostles are in a boat in a storm and Jesus comes walking toward them on top of the water. This is not a story I take literally, but it does offer a point that I take to heart.

The apostles see Jesus on the water and think he’s a ghost.
Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. It’s just me.”
Peter responds, “If its you, tell me to come to you.”
And Jesus answers, “Come!”
And Peter jumps out of the boat and starts walking on the water toward Jesus. But then, he notices the winds, and the waves, and he thinks, “Adam’s figleaf I’m walking on water!” And that moment, he begins to sink.

When Peter scared himself, he went down.
Isn’t that the point?

Isn’t that what Jesus is telling us in the sermon on the mount?
He’s saying, “Don’t scare yourself.”

At times you will be scared, but don’t let it be because you scared yourself.

The truth is, most of what terrifies us has already happened, hasn’t happened yet, or may never happen at all. The things that really are fear worthy, when we face them we usually prove equal to the challenge. So far, every single one of us has survived every hardship and heartache life has thrown at us. So, summon hope when you can, and at very least, don’t scare yourself.

Let me say this one thing about hope…Sometimes, our hopes are met or even exceeded. Other times, our hopes to do not lead to the miracle we wanted. But hope is never wasted. Hope feels better than despair, and yes, we will lose some of our battles, but we can’t even fight them without hope.

The Apostle Paul said, “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit, which has been given to us.” Hope is the gift. It is its own reward. It often leads to other rewards, but even when it doesn’t, thank God we at least had hope.

Don’t beat yourself if you can’t summon hope, but never feel bad because you had hope. Sometimes people will say when things are painful, “I feel foolish for having hoped.” Don’t regret the gift of hope.

That hope may have spared you untold pain. It may have taken you farther than you yet realize. At very least, it offered you moments of relief. Never regret hope. We dont’ always get to choose our feelings, but if you can choose between hope and fear, choose hope.

I don’t want to overestimate my skills, but if I could remove one worry from your mind forever, it would be any worry that God would ever or could ever reject you for any reason. My trust is in the everlasting goodness of omnipresent Love, a power that is for us, and that will never let us go. I hope you get your promotion, I hope your medical treatments are successful, I hope your 401k doubles in value, i hope your team wins the “supper bowl”…but I trust that God is life, love, power, and presence, and that our good God will hold you tenderly throughout this life and forever after. Let us never worry about that. And this is the good news. Amen.

God heal my fears.
Constantly renew my hope.
Help me to trust in your unfailing goodness.
Amen.

Be Happy Anyway

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

Be Happy Anyway 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. In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus gives the beatitudes, that is, he promises joy to people whose […]

Be Happy Anyway
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.

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus gives the beatitudes, that is, he promises joy to people whose lives are pretty challenged. When he says “blessed are you” he’s saying, “there is joy for you…things may be difficult, but you can be happy anyway.”

Jesus seems to be singing that great old hymn of faith:
Look for the silver lining, whenever clouds appear in the blue.
Remember somewhere, the sun is shining, so the right thing to do is make it shine for you.
A heart filled with joy and gladness will always banish sorrow and strife.
So look for the silver lining, and always try to find the sunny side of life.

The beatitudes are 8 steps to finding silver linings and the sunny side of life.

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit (poor in pride).
In my 20s I heard a sermon on 1 Peter 2.9-10: “You are a…peculiar people, that you should show forth the praises of the One who called you out into the Light…Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God…”

The preacher was using the text as a way of building up her predominantly LGBTQ audience. She wanted us to know that just as we were, we were God’s people. We were chosen by God, blessed by God, and if no one else would claim us, God would and indeed, God already had.

She was telling people who were taught to be ashamed of who they were, people who were poor in pride (lacking a healthy self image), that they were entitled to joy (basically that they were God’s miracle and not God’s mistake).

She was telling us what Jesus told us today in the gospel: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the poor in pride, for Heaven is theirs.”

2. Blessed are those who mourn.
They will be comforted.

We’ve all lost loved ones, pets, jobs, maybe homes, maybe mobility or health or relationships with family members or friends…we’ve experienced loss and we know the pain that can cause. Hopefully, we have also discovered that grief is a healing process.
The ache of loss gives way, at least slightly, at least occasionally, to the joyful memories.
Tears, if not replaced, are at least accompanied by smiles.
Comfort comes. Perhaps not quickly, but it does come. As the psalmist declared, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Blessed are the mourners…joy will return to them one day.

3. Blessed are the meek (those who do not seek retaliation).
Vengeance is not as satisfying as we might hope.
Of course we can stand up for our rights and resist oppression and speak truth to power but revenge is not justice and will not bring peace of mind.

When Jesus says turn the other cheek and when he warns that those who live by the sword perish by the sword, he’s reminding us that retaliation is simply a continuation of the violence or the cruelty we felt victimized by. Joy and vengeance are not compatible.

Blessed, happy, are those who rise above petty retaliation. They will inherit the world. In other words, when enough of us plant the seeds of non-violence, a non-violent world is what we will inherit.

4. Blessed are the justice workers.
Righteousness in biblical parlance means justice. Fairness, inclusion, equal protection, equal opportunity, righting wrongs, affirming the dignity of all people…this is godly justice and it brings joy. Hatred and prejudice suspicion and misery. Joyful, are those who care about justice for all.

5. Blessed are the Compassionate,
who do unto others as they would have others do unto them, who can experience empathy, who can imagine being in the other person’s shoes. To be compassionate is to gently blow on the embers of joy. From experience I can promise you that compassion feels better than condemnation, that empathy feels better than harsh judgment. Joyous are the compassionate.

6. Blessed are the sincere.
Pure in heart. People of integrity.
They say what they mean and mean what they say, they offer what they offer genuinely without expecting something in return, they aren’t trying to manipulate people or rig systems or cheat others…Blessed are the sincere. They are operating honestly, with good character, and will more fully experience God, the Good.

7. Blessed are the workers for peace.
Peaceful resolution, peaceful intention, peaceful practice were all so important to the early church that there was a vigorous debate about whether soldiers could be Christian at all.

Non-violent resistance is difficult. Peaceful engagement is not easy, but it is the way of Jesus, and according to Jesus, it is the way of joy.
Of all the beatitudes, peacemaking is the one activity that Jesus associates with acting as if we were the children of God.

8. Blessed are the pursued and persecuted.
Marriage equality is a matter of justice. It’s about fairness, it makes marriage an option for all committed couples without privileging heterosexual orientation.

Many politicians and preachers and corporations fought against marriage equality. But we who worked on the side of righteousness, on the side of justice, on the side of fairness, human dignity – our hope was constantly renewed, and as was our joy. Happy are those who are working for justice. But working against those who seek justice has never brought happiness to anyone.

There seems to always be a targeted group: Muslims, immigrants and refugees, transgender folk, the island of Puerto Rico, women demanding sovereignty over their own bodies. The targeting and dehumanizing and demonizing of any group is unjust and immoral and ungodly. But take joy those who are persecuted for seeking justice – it will one day come, and until then, you have the blessing of knowing that you are on the side of righteousness.

Jesus will go on to tell his audience that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He then encourages them to both believe it and live it.

What Jesus is telling his disciples in the sermon on the mount, and what he’s telling us today, is that even when we can’t control the world around us, we can have some control over our interior world. We can choose hope. We can go to peace instead of to pieces. We can be happy.

Poor in pride – be happy anyway.
Mourning a loss – know that you can be happy again.
Considering revenge? Don’t do it. You’ll be happier for not retaliating.
Working for justice? You’re doing God’s work, be happy about it.
Have you shown compassion lately? Rejoice. That’s God’s love in action.
Are you honest and sincere? Be happy, you are expressing divine qualities.
Are you working for peace? Be happy, because you are living as a child of God.
Are you persecuted for seeking justice? Be happy, because justice is on the way.

Look for the silver lining. You’re bound to find one, and once you do, focus on it, knowing that where attention goes, energy flows. Looking for and finding silver linings will always lead to happiness.

A heart filled with joy and gladness will always banish sorrow and strife. So look for the silver lining, and always try to find the sunny side of life.

And this is the good news! Amen.

Dear God,
Today I look for silver linings.
And I rejoice as I find them.
I choose happiness.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Don’t Play Biblical Tit for Tat

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

Don’t Play Biblical Tit for Tat Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Don’t Play Biblical Tit for Tat
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Immersed in God’s Goodness

On January 14, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Immersed in God’s Goodness 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. Today we hear about John’s baptism with water and Jesus’ baptism by fire. We also […]

Immersed in God’s Goodness
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.

Today we hear about John’s baptism with water and Jesus’ baptism by fire. We also see the baptism of the spirit.
The three aren’t that different really, and one can lead to the next.

Jesus, who was inspired and perhaps mentored by John, submits to John’s water ritual signifying the ability to turn around, or “repent.”

Repentance isn’t shame or regret or begging for pardon…Repentance is a change of attitude or a change of direction.

The greek word for repentance literally means to have a change of mind, but John’s rhetoric of comparing people to lifeless rocks and of saying that trees are meant to bear fruit shows that in John’s mind, a truly changed mind leads to changes in how we engage the world. As Dr. Peale often said, when we change our thinking we change our world.

You know what a fundamentalist is, right? It’s someone who is desperately afraid that somebody somewhere is having a good time. I try hard to justify their fears.

John had a term for zealots, the self righteous, the fundamentalists of his day: brood of vipers.
We don’t honor by being prudish or priggish.
Religiosity used as a weapon to control, shame, or hurt others is not godly. The repentance some people need is to change from being hatefully religious to being lovingly spiritual.

Most religious traditions encourage change, but the difference comes in what they say ought to be changed.
Some traditions say: don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t gamble, don’t kiss on the first date, don’t even think about divorce, don’t tell the truth about being gay, don’t read certain kinds of books, don’t listen to secular music, don’t don’t don’t…

And, if drinking gets you in trouble or if gambling means you can’t pay your rent, then cut it out (and if you can’t then get some help), but that’s not a god thing, that’s a you thing. That’s a common sense thing. That’s a don’t shoot yourself in the foot thing.

No, what we want is a change in attitude that results in changed lives that will bring about a changed world. We want change that results in peace, love, hope, and joy.

If your god hates gay people, you are probably just worshiping your own homophobia. That could benefit from some repentance.

If you tend to think of people from certain regions or nations or races or religions as being innately threatening…that’s not love and that could use some repentance, a serious change in attitude.

If you can’t see the divine spark in your transgender siblings, you have an ideal repentance opportunity.

If you don’t care about hurting children, hungry people, the sick not being able to get the medicines that could save their lives…please, repent. Change your attitude.

If you think violence is strong and compassion is weak…
If you’ve reduced faith to afterlife fire insurance…
If you can only feel good about yourself by thinking badly of others…
If you look in the mirror and can only see failure or flaws…
Then you are prime candidate for repentance.

Dance or don’t dance, eat meat or don’t, swear up a blue streak or use only polite and proper language…that’s a matter of taste and preference. But for God’s sake give up the hate.

So, water baptism symbolized a change. It was therapeutic, healing, an immersion into a new attitude.
It was an affirmation that the past was past and the future had infinite possibilities.

Also, notice there is no formula given in John’s baptism. We don’t know what words he pronounced during the baptism, if any at all. Today people may argue about how much water baptism takes and what special words must be said, but such concerns are noticeably absent from the story of Jesus’ baptism.

John’s baptism ritual was a call to repentance, but the repentance, the attitude change, is the important part. Not the ritual. John’s ritual was creative and embodied, and not uncommon. Water rituals were plenteous in antiquity. But the change of heart, the change of attitude was the point, and that can happen with or without the water. And the change was to benefit this life, not a future one. Remember, Jesus was baptized, the rebel on the cross next to him wasn’t…but according to Jesus, they both were on the way to Paradise that day.

If John was known for his baptism ritual, he tells us that Jesus will baptize a different way. And, we don’t see Jesus conducting water baptisms. His is a baptism by fire, John tells us.

John was an apocalyptic preacher. The Realm of God was on its way and soon, he insisted. And Jesus certainly picked up on John’s theme of God’s Realm breaking through and upending the unjust systems of this world. So, it isn’t surprising that John would use a fiery image to describe Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus’ fire isn’t a threat. The fire attributed to Jesus is a campfire that gives light and warmth, it’s a hearth fire that invites connection and conversation, it’s a sterilizing fire that kills dis-ease, it’s the passionate flame of a loving heart. The holy fire burns the chaff but leaves the wheat. The good is separated from the useless; the good is kept safe while the useless is transformed.

Jesus’ baptism isn’t ritualistic like John’s. His baptism is an immersion in mission, a call to action.
Jesus’ baptism tells us to feed the sheep, to care for the widows and orphans, to welcome the refugee, to see the sacred value of the Samaritan, to heal the Canaanite’s daughter, to touch the untouchable and love the unloved.
Jesus’ baptism shakes things up and following Jesus can generate some heat, and it will shed light on injustice and cruelty and avarice.
Jesus’ baptism of light will overcome the shadows of despair.

It’s not about water or formulas or doctrine or dogma or prejudices or fear…
Jesus’ baptism fires us up and puts us to work.

John says, “I wash you in the river, but someone’s coming who’s going to light a fire under you so that you can change the world.”

When children anywhere are not safe…we need to get fired up.
When we value profits over people and privilege over peace,
When we forget that in the Realm of God no one is forgotten or left out or abandoned…then it is clear, we need to get fired up.

It was the fiery thorn bush that called Moses to action against the Egyptian empire.
It was fire by night that led the wanderers as they fled persecution.
It was the flaming furnace that revealed three young men to be indomitable.
It was the flames of Pentecost that resurrected the church that had been crushed by Rome’s might.

In the face of oppression, it is the fire of resistance that it is needed and that’s the baptism that Jesus modeled.
Lord Jesus, give us today a baptism of fire!

We see the baptism of repentance, an attitude adjustment.
We the baptism of fire, an enthusiasm to help heal a hurting world.
Also in the story, there is the baptism of spirit…an awareness of God’s omnipresence, the all-inclusive, unconditional love of God that will never and can never let us go, the awareness that we are all God’s children, forever.

Which baptism do you need today?
Do you need a change of attitude?
Do you need to get fired up?
Do you need to remember that there’s not a spot where God is not, and that you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

Water, fire, spirit…
Change of attitude, getting fired up for mission, or communing with the omnipresent Love that God is.

It all amounts to being immersed in God’s goodness, which we always are. And this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
Please wash away my fears, regrets, prejudice, and pain.
And please help me get fired up with hope, peace, goodwill, and joy.
And let me know today…
that I am your beloved child with whom you are pleased.
Alleluia!

Dreaming Dreams into Reality

On January 7, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Dreaming Dreams into Reality 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. It’s Epiphany. We’re supposed to talk about the magi today. And I will, but just […]

Dreaming Dreams into Reality
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.

It’s Epiphany. We’re supposed to talk about the magi today. And I will, but just for a bit.

“Magi” comes from the same root as magic and it means wise one. The magi were Zoroastrian priests who practiced the occult art of astrology. That practice led them to the Holy Family where they blessed young Jesus and gave his family gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh.

The gifts are probably not literally, but symbolic.
Gold in ancient literature symbolizes wisdom and illumination. The gold isn’t currency in this tale, it’s coming from wise ones and probably symbolizes wisdom or enlightenment.
Incense represents prayer, communion with the divine.
And myrrh was a medicinal herb and therefore can represent health or healing.

Jesus would be wise (gold), would show people how to live in communion with god (incense), and was considered a healer (myrrh). This is not about the gifts themselves; this is a testimony of who Jesus.

The magi, as they were, practicing their own faith and customs, find and bless the Christ Child, showing that the Christ principle we find in Jesus is universal and can be accessed in innumerable ways.

Also, the Magi are dreamers…in a dream they are told to avoid Herod when they go home. Their dream of finding and celebrating the light of God within and among us is followed by a dream of protecting the powerless and vulnerable. That’s a dream we all can and ought to share.

In the magi story today we see Joseph. Joseph, a carpenter, and the husband of Mary. We don’t much about Joseph the carpenter, but Matthew wants us to believe that he was a dreamer.

Early in Matthew’s gospel, we see Joseph having four life changing dreams. First, he dreams that an angel tells him to go through with his planned marriage to Mary. Once he found out she was pregnant and he wasn’t the father, he wanted out. A dream persuaded him to stick around. A dream can make a big difference.

The second dream Jospeh had we heard about today…to protect his family, he was told in a dream to seek refuge in Egypt, to become a refugee.

Refugees are often viewed with suspicion or disdain, and they live under less than ideal circumstances, but most of them are following a dream…a dream to escape tyranny or war or disaster or famine or persecution…it’s hard being a refugee, but it can be the path to fulfilling a God given dream.

The third dream tells Joseph when it is safe to leave Egypt and return home and the fourth dream indicates that when he returns to his homeland he should go to Galilee rather than Judea (because Herod’s brother is in Judea and why risk it?).

Matthew doesn’t give us a lot of biographical details about Joseph, but Matthew does tell us four times in two chapters that Joseph follows his dreams and because he does, the lives of others are blessed.

Now, we can’t talk about a dreaming Joseph without mentioning the first dreaming Joseph.
In the book of Genesis we find a dreamer, also named Joseph.
This Joseph sometimes liked to talk about his dreams. But when he shared with his family that he was having dreams of achieving great things, they felt like he was forgetting his place and they were not amused.

The name Joseph means, “May God give increase.” To BE Joseph is to have lofty aspirations. May we all dare to be Joseph now and again. May we dream of being and doing more than ever before…as individuals, as families, as a church, as a community. May God give us increase.

Joseph’s brothers decide to put Joseph back in his place and so they sold him to a slave merchant. He dreamed of greatness, and his own family makes him a victim of human trafficking.

I don’t think they really cared what the dream was; I think they were jealous that Joseph had a dream, and they didn’t. If we don’t let ourselves dream, we might become jealous of those who still have a dream. Whether the dream is learning to dance, or going to college, or making friends, or taking a trip of a lifetime…we all need a dream.

In the 1990s I met a man who was struggling with AIDS. He was 6’1” and weighed about 110 pounds. He volunteered as a church receptionist and also volunteered at a food pantry for HIV+ clients. He was determined to spend his final days helping others even though he was weak and tire most of the time. He also had a dream. He wanted to see the new millennium. I don’t know why, but it was a big deal to him. Most people wouldn’t have thought he had 18 months left, but his goal was to make it about 5 more years so he could say he lived though the last day of the 20th century.

I lost track of him and if you had asked me what happened to him, I would have guessed that at some point he passed away.

One day, in the year 2001, I was at the gym. And I saw a new, super buff trainer. It was him! While he was holding on to his dream of surviving to see the new millennium, combination drug therapies were released, his life was saved, and he rejoined the work force as a personal trainer! 5 years before he could barely stand, now he’s doing pushups for a living! A dream to see one New Year’s day in particular gave birth to a whole new life. That’s the power of a dream.

Back to Joseph. He was sold into slavery in Egypt where he wound up in the household of the captain of the emperor’s guard. The Captain, named Potiphar, was impressed by Joseph and soon put him in charge of his entire household. His condition was servitude, but within his condition he rose to the top. Not even the worst of circumstances could keep him from pursuing his dream. Oh Joseph, may God give you increase.

But Joseph’s dream was again attacked.
Potiphar’s wife (called by tradition, Zuleika) tried to seduce Joseph, but Joseph resisted. Zuleika was so insulted she accused him of attacking her and had him thrown in prison. But, the warden was impressed with Joseph and put him in charge of the other prisoners.

Joseph’s dream of rising keeps finding ways of coming true, even as circumstances get worse.
As the overseer of the prisoners, Joseph has a counseling role. When prisoners have frightening dreams, Joseph can help them work out what their subconscious is trying to communicate.

Down the road, the emperor himself is plagued with nightmares, and a former prisoner who had been helped by Joseph remembers him and tells the emperor that he knows a guy who can help him figure out his dreams.

Joseph is summoned from prison, the emperor gets some insight and peace, and Joseph is made Vizier of all Egypt…second in authority only to the emperor himself. Viziers were usually members of the royal family…never was a slave turned prisoner elevated to vizier…an equivalent of a chancellor or prime minister. Once again, Joseph rises…and this time, higher than ever, higher than almost anyone.

It took a while, and there were set backs and delays, but Joseph dared to have a dream, and he didn’t give up on his dream until his dream finally came true.

Dreams…that’s what today is about for me. The joy of a dream, and the possibility of making the dream come true.

The magi followed their dream.
Carpenter Joseph followed his dream.
Joseph, victim turned vizier, followed his dream.

Today isn’t about following a star as much as it is about following a dream. What is your dream for 2019? I hope you have one. And to your dream, let me add this prayer: May God give you increase.

And this is the good news. Amen.

Thank you, God, for the power of a dream.
Give us good dreams.
And the willingness to follow them.
God, give us increase throughout 2019.
Alleluia!

Christmas Eve at Sunshine Cathedral – We Need a Little Christmas

On December 25, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

We Need A Little Xmas Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister 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. What god does for us, god does through us. We can pray […]

We Need A Little Xmas
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister

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.

What god does for us, god does through us.
We can pray for anything as long as we are willing to be the answer to the prayer.

Our theme tonight comes from a Scene from Jerry Herman’s musical, Mame.

During Great Depression…socialite Mame is with her chosen family and things are so dreary…they’re broke, sad, the future is uncertain…and Mame decides what they need is Xmas right now. It’s not yet Thanksgiving and its before department stores started piping Xmas at us around Halloween.

So, by force of will, the Mame household lifts their own spirit. Gifts are exchanged, decorations are dragged out, and, as happens in musical theatre and gay venues, everyone breaks out into song.

They needed hope. They needed joy. They needed peace. They needed togetherness. And they saw no reason to wait for it. So, they named and claimed their blessings on the spot. They celebrated all the good that xmas represents when they needed it. And, not only did they wish for peace and goodwill, but they chose to become the answer to their wish. And a little xmas miracle took place, early but right on time.

Mary is, as they say, with child, but the pregnancy was unplanned. Her situation is not ideal and her obstacles are enormous. Nevertheless, she expresses hope, and offers praise to God. Some might say her condition is unfortunate, but Mary says there is a blessing in this for her. She’ll get through the trial and future generations will celebrate her. Turns out, she was right!

But she isn’t just convinced that her child will be important, or that she will be fondly remembered, she also imagines a day of justice, of peace, of goodwill, a day of healing for all who need.

In her song, Mother Mary prophecies that in the fullness of time, God will have, “scattered the arrogant, put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. And God will fill the hungry.”

As in Mary’s time, today:
We need hope.
We need justice.
We need generosity of spirit.
We need to care and share.

The Magnificat is saying we need a little xmas now…and, Mary is calling us to be the answer to our own prayer…See the need, pray for it be met, and then become the hands that make it happen.

Wish for an end to unjust systems
Wish for an End to exploitation
Wish for a time when all people might enjoy all of Life’s abundance
Wish for a time when all people can live in peace

Dare to dream of what might be, and commit to being part of making the dream come true.

Tonight’s stories tell us that a peasant girl with an unplanned pregnancy can still find reason to celebrate and can dare to imagine a world that is fair and just and filled with goodwill; and that her son, born in a barn facing an uncertain future can actually be the reason that angels sing and that communities gather.

Tonight we learn that every problem has a solution, every obstacle has a gift, and every rough place can be made smooth. The night may start out with all kinds of trouble, but wait, here comes the angel choir! Tonight we remember that the future has infinite possibilities!

We need a little xmas now…and throughout the new year.

And so, tonight, our souls magnify the Lord! As we join the angels in praying for and working for peace on earth, goodwill to all. And this is the good news. Amen.

My soul magnifies the Lord.
I am blessed to be a blessing.
I am a conduit of divine grace.
I am helping to make a better world.
And so it is!

Light

On December 16, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Light 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. One of the sheroes of my spirituality is Nona Brooks. She was a teacher of the omnipresence of […]

Light
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.

One of the sheroes of my spirituality is Nona Brooks. She was a teacher of the omnipresence of God. She had grown up in the Presbyterian Church, but had a dramatic healing experience that changed her life and through her, many other lives.
This is how she told her story:

“I…was in very poor physical condition, being able to eat only very soft, especially prepared food. For more than a year I had been praying almost constantly, ‘God give me light’…

One day her whole being was completely flooded with a great light.
She said, “It filled me! It surrounded me! I was conscious of nothing but that intense…light!…I discovered that I had been instantly and completely healed. Tho’…I truly believe that the months and months of praying that I might receive light had been a preparation for the healing…”

Give me light.
What a simple prayer.
What a dramatic result.

Nona’s experience of light made her a beacon to others. She shared her healing experience and her belief that healing was possible for everyone and her encouragement proved to be a light in the darkness for many.
Nona heard about healing possibilities from a Mrs. Bingham who had experienced her own healing.
Nona was taking a class from Mrs. Bingham with 7 others when she experienced her dramatic breakthrough.
She went on to teach classes, lead churches, write books, speak at conferences, ordain other people to the healing ministry.
She kept the light shining, and encouraged others to do the same.

Joel Goldsmith wrote, “Everyone is here on earth but for one purpose…to show forth the glory of God…”
We greatly admire those who live into that purpose.
Jesus, for example.
He let divine glory shine through him. He gave so much hope, so much love, so much affirmation, so much empowerment, that people experienced dramatic healing in their lives.

Have you ever met someone who loved so generously, who cared so deeply, whose every word was saturated with goodwill and optimism that just being near them made you feel better?

I think people experienced that with the Buddha.
With Paramahansa Yogananda.
With Jesus.
Maybe with Amma, the hugging saint whose ministry really is to hug people all over the world.

I encountered that kind of empowering, healing love from a woman named Kay.
Rev. Kay wasn’t easy to define.
She had been Roman Catholic. She loved numerology, and angels, and Reiki.
She was an ordained Religious Science minister but she also taught A Course in Miracles and Urantia.
She had a jazz band in her worship service.
And she wasn’t afraid to grow, change, evolve.

Her marriage ended in her 50s, so she started working as a promoter in the entertainment industry. And then, she went to ministerial school.
At 60, she started her own church.
And she pastored that church for 32 years before retiring. Retirement lasted a year before she graduated to the next life experience.

She was so loving. Every person who approached her walked away thinking they were her favorite person in the world.
She never said anything mean about or to anyone, even when they were unkind.

Once someone crashed one of her religious education classes and accused her of leading people to hell. He said, “You’re doing the devil’s work!”
She answered, “Oh Darling, I’m just teaching love. If I’ve converted the devil to a message of love, I’ll put that on my resume.”

I called her after receiving a troubling diagnosis. I knew if anyone could help me go to peace instead of to pieces, it would be Rev. Kay.
I told her about my disappointing news.
Her immediate response was, “Oh Darling, that’s just information.”

And I’ve treated it as if it were just information ever since…And, I’m still here.

What a great light in my life Kay Hunter was. And sometimes, I’ll say or do something that I can see deeply touches someone else, I know that I’m passing on something I learned from her, and I smile.

Sometimes just doing what you do and doing it with love can prove to be a bright light in the world. There was a group of gay men who liked to sing evangelical music back in the 90s. They traveled all over Arkansas and Oklahoma and Texas going to churches of all sizes just singing for Queers who loved Jesus. One night they were giving a concert at a church and a frail looking person went up to one of them after the show and thanked him. He said to the performer, “Because of your show, I didn’t have AIDS for a couple of hours.”

Someone was transported past their own pain and fear for a couple of hours because a group of men, some of whom also were HIV+, decided to share their talent to uplift others. What a great light they were at time when light was needed.

The reading from Isaiah that we heard this morning begins,
“God declares: Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him…”

There is some debate about whether the writer was referring to himself, to his community at large, or to a future messianic figure. But in any case, we see a picture of a light bearer, someone who serves, who is held by God, who is God’s delight, and who carries God’s spirit, and whose faithfulness brings hope, healing and justice to a world in need.

Nona Brooks fits that description.
Buddha and Yogananda fit that description.
Jesus certainly fits that description.
Amma fits that description.
Sweet Rev. Kay definitely fit that description.

And we can, too. In fact, I bet each of you has at some time let your light shine so brightly that it changed someone else’s life. You may not know you did it, but someone owes you a big thank you just because you dared to be you in a world that desperately needed you to be you.

We celebrate Light today. And that includes the Light in you. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: YOU are the light of the world. And this is the good news. Amen.

I give thanks for the healing light of God.
God, give me light.
Let me be light in the world.
Amen.

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.

Deciding to Keep Our Eyes Open

On December 3, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Deciding to Keep Our Eyes Open Sunshine Cathedral First Sunday of Advent Habakkuk What a joy to be back at Sunshine Cathedral and see many familiar faces, and many new faces—including the wonderful windows in the sanctuary! It is especially lovely to be with you on this first Sunday of Advent—the beginning of the Christian […]

Deciding to Keep Our Eyes Open
Sunshine Cathedral
First Sunday of Advent
Habakkuk

What a joy to be back at Sunshine Cathedral and see many familiar faces, and many new faces—including the wonderful windows in the sanctuary! It is especially lovely to be with you on this first Sunday of Advent—the beginning of the Christian liturgical year.
I grew up Southern Baptist in Louisiana and we didn’t do Advent. We did do Vacation Bible School in the summer. [slide 1] And I am proud to say that I am a Vacation Bible School graduate! Are there other folks here today who went to Vacation Bible School (VBS)? I have to confess, I almost did not graduate. We had to memorize the books of the Bible to pass. I didn’t have a lot of trouble with the New Testament, but when it came to the Old Testament, those twelve little books at the end with all those names you can’t pronounce or spell, almost did me in.

In the Hebrew Bible these books are lumped together and called The Twelve. I wished I had known that back then. It would have saved me a lot of time and anxiety. Instead of memorizing the list: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. [slide 2] I could have just said, “and The Twelve.”

Habakkuk is one of The Twelve. He was a prophet during a very tumultuous time in Israel’s history. We heard it described in the reading from chapter 1: Destruction and Violence! Strife and contention! The law becomes slack and justice never prevails! Sounds like today’s headlines, doesn’t it? Habakkuk also asks, where is God in all this? How do we as God’s people, live in this tumultuous time? The answer comes in the second installment we heard from Habakkuk today: “the righteous live by their faith.”

What does it mean to live by faith in the face of injustice, violence, and anarchy? What is faith? [slide 3]
Some might say faith is what we believe about God. Churches and denominations often formulate their beliefs into a “statement of faith.” Others might say faith is about trust in God. Rather than trusting in a set of statements about God, one trusts in God. But as Habakkuk has asked, what do we do with our trust, when it is uncertain that God is listening?

Novelist Doris Betts [slide 4]claims that faith is not synonymous with certainty, rather it is a “decision to keep your eyes open.” Faith is a way of seeing. Did you notice it in Habakkuk? He asks, “Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?” He decides to keep his eyes open by saying, “I will keep watch to see what God will say to me….There is still a vision for the appointed time.”
Faithful living in tumultuous times requires being present to what is. Too often we want to numb out, ignore or deny the destruction, violence and injustice in the world. Faith as a way of seeing doesn’t avoid harsh reality.

Living by faith in this season of Advent will have an apocalyptic dimension to it. That doesn’t mean we see harsh reality as signs of the end of the world. The work apocalypse means, “unveiling or lifting the veil.” Movements such as [slide 5] # BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, Time’s Up, and the Migrant Caravans challenge the faithful to make a decision to keep our eyes open. They are a “lifting of the veil,” an exposing, of the heresy of domination. Habakkuk said, “I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what God will say to me.” Faith is a way of seeing that looks for God in the ebb and flow of life. The faithful and apocalyptic message of Advent is that Jesus has “unveiled God” and the possibility for our participation in the divine life.

Habakkuk continues, “there is still a vision for the appointed time…if it seems to tarry, wait for it.” According to theologian Marcus Borg,[slide 6] faith is seeing the whole, and our response to it. Have you ever noticed in the New Testament when a healing encounter happened with Jesus, he often said to the person who was healed, “your faith has made you well.” Jesus saw something in them and responded—faith was that act of opening which released a flow of divine energy that made the healing possible. What I am suggesting here is that faith is not so much something we have, as something in which we participate. It has a generative quality about it. Jesus’ statement, “your faith has made you well” is an acknowledgement of the power of a transaction that occurred between him and the person being healed. A mutual recognition took place. The Hebrew word used for faith in Habakkuk is emunah which means “firm action.” When we can behold others with compassion and respond, we participate in a flow of divine energy that can bring a different kind of world into being.

Borg says faith is not a matter of the head but a way of the heart. This heart space is in the deep level of the self—deeper than our conscious self, below our thinking, feeling, willing, intellect, emotions or volition.

So how do we participate in this kind of faith? How do we cultivate a seeing of the whole with our heart? How do we stay mindful, present to reality with a compassion that releases divine energy into the world?

The best way I have found to do that is through contemplative practices and I want to talk about two of them this morning. The first one is, Pray the News. [slide7] Everyday we are bombarded with headlines from the news. They bling from our smart phones, ticker across our television screens and blare out from our radios. Praying the News is a way to cultivate faithful living by being present to what is. The way we do this is to make time everyday, to be present to the news. After viewing, hearing or reading the news, spend a moment of quiet reflection, letting your heart absorb the news stories you experienced. Let your heart direct you to a particular story. Spend some time praying for the people, circumstances and events of the story. Your prayers could certainly include people, nations, and nature involved in the events. Pray also for the “principalities and powers” the systems and structures that perpetuate violence, fear and injustice. Rather than praying to God about these events, be with God in these events. This kind of praying according to Walter Wink, believes a new world into being.

The second practice I want to mention is meditation. There are many ways to engage this practice. What is most important is that you spend time everyday dwelling in the heart space of your deeper self–deeper than your conscious self, (as Borg says) below thinking, feeling, willing, intellect, emotions or volition. Centering Prayer [slide 8] is one way to enter into that space. Find a quiet place to sit for 20-30 minutes everyday (twice if you can find the time). While you sit, choose a sacred word to focus your attention. The word might be “love,” “peace,” “grace.” As you settle into the quietness let your word be a symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within. If you find your mind wandering, gently return to your sacred word without any kind of judgment. You might want to imagine yourself at the bottom of a lake and wandering thoughts are like boats drifting by on the surface of the lake above you. Simply let them go by, do not attach yourself to them. Over time, this practice will expand your heart space for fuller communion with God and open compassionate seeing within you.

Habukkuk’s words about faith have had powerful influence over the centuries. The apostle Paul quotes them in his epistle to the Romans and when Martin Luther read them 1500 years later the Protestant Reformation was born. The writer of Hebrews quotes Habakkuk and lists the names of that great cloud of witnesses who have demonstrated such a faith, and I am sure we can add the names of those we remembered on World AIDS Day [slide 9]who lived such a life of faith. On this first Sunday of Advent, the “New Year’s Day” of the liturgical year, let us join our lives to their memory and say with Habakkuk, “I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; God makes my feet like the feet of a deer and makes me tread upon the heights.”

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