A House & A People of Prayer

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

A House and a People of Prayer Palm Sunday 2019 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. Jesus and his friends make a pilgrimage to the […]

A House and a People of Prayer
Palm Sunday 2019
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.

Jesus and his friends make a pilgrimage to the Holy City and its Temple today. He rides in on a borrowed donkey, people who have heard about his ministry of healing and empowering people and challenging injustice get excited when they see him ride into town. They break out with improvisational street theatre, pretending Jesus is a conquering hero riding into town gloriously like a general or a king. They even sing choruses from their hymnal, the Psalter: “Save us! Rescue us! Hosanna!”

Of course, Jesus has no fortress, no army, no influence in the Senate, no friends in high places, not even a proper horse…he comes into town on rent-an-ass.
He’s just a progressive preacher telling people that they are innately whole and forever loved by God. The palm waving, song singing, hero cheering spectacle is funny, and seditious, and it’s empowering, and dangerous.

People treating Jesus, even in jest, like a king could get him into really hot water.
A prophet? A preacher? A healer? Those things are fine, but kings don’t just pop up in Caesar’s empire. If Caesar didn’t hand pick you as a puppet, you ain’t going to be a king. So, even pretending to have kingly ambitions can be deadly.

Immediately following the impromptu street performance where Jesus plays the role of a warrior king to a small audience of enthusiastic would be resisters, he goes to the Temple.

Now remember…it’s the time of Passover, a feast that recalls Moses, with divine aid, leading his people out of bondage from the Egyptian empire. The Passover feast is a memorial of oppressed people placing thumb to nose and waving fingers at the Empire, and getting away with it.

Passover reminds us that God is deeply concerned with the oppressed – the poor, the outcast, the ill, the refugee, the asylum seeker, the transgender soldier, gays and lesbians who remain the target of toxic fundamentalism…Passover is a time where we hear true spiritual leaders advocating for the oppressed, demanding of Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”

And Jesus is going start some mess at Passover?! He and is palm waving fans are basically saying to Caesar, “Let my people go!”
Oh yes, there will be hell to pay and in just a few days.

And now Jesus has a fit and falls in it in the Temple.
The Temple is government sanctioned. At this point the Temple system is a loyal and cooperating part of the empire. And Jesus goes to the Temple.

He sees businesses profiting from Passover. They have set up money exchange counters….like at the airport, so that people can exchange their coins that have Caesar’s image on them for coins that do not (because you can’t have graven images in the Temple, not even coins with graven images on them).

So, enterprising people have set up shop. For a fee, they’ll exchange your currency.
But this is the Holy Temple…not an Amway convention, not Mary Kay, not a Tupperware Party…this is the sign and symbol of our faith. These shopkeepers aren’t offering fundraisers for ministry. They aren’t trying to raise Passover bonuses for the hard working priests. They aren’t funding social services or trying to repair the Temple roof, they are just using the Temple to put money in their own pockets and Jesus can’t stand it.

He quotes them a scripture from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah comforted enslaved eunuchs, telling them are forever part of God’s family, they are forever loved by God, and God’s house is their house – a place of refuge and hope and healing for the wounded and oppressed.

Jesus uses a scripture meant to comfort the oppressed, the outcast…to remind leaders of business, religion, and politics that the Temple is a place of prayer for all people, not a place where the privileged increase their personal power and profits. Religion isn’t meant to maintain white privilege or heteronormativity or gender binaries…religion isn’t meant to be a tool of oppression, its meant to be a house and a people of prayer, of communion with omnipresent, divine love.

And then, Jesus does what the Temple is meant to be used for…he starts praying with people, blessing them, healing them. And the establishment gets angry.

Jesus, on the anniversary of people escaping an oppressive empire, has roused rabble and has confronted the beneficiaries of empire. It should come as no surprise that by Friday, he’s toast. Not because God wanted him to suffer (let us forever be done with the idea of god as a cosmic child abuser…God does not order, ordain, require or rejoice in torture). No, Jesus will suffer because he wouldn’t stay silent about others who suffer.

Since Jesus wants to protect the house of worship as a place of life-changing prayer, I want to lift up three observations about prayer from the text.

On the way to Jerusalem, they stopped in Bethphage. They weren’t yet ready for what Jerusalem had in store. The City of God promises peace, but peace is not apathy. God’s peace includes justice. It takes work, it takes commitment, it takes strength, and we aren’t always ready to do what we must to live out God’s will.

They stopped in Bethphage to pray, prepare, get their stuff together. Prayer helps us prepare for the work in the world we are called to do.

Then they leave Bethphage and journey to Jerusalem. They stopped in Bethphage to prepare, to pray. And prayed up, fueled up, poised and prepared, Jesus can confront injustice. When we’re prayed up, we find that we are powered up to do what is difficult. When it gets ugly, he doesn’t fall apart because he’s prayed up and he’s standing on the principles by which he lives his life.

After challenging the powers that be, Jesus and the gang choose to spend the night in Bethany. We know from other gospel stories that Jesus’ chosen family lives in Bethany. Lazarus, Mary and Martha are his people. They help him feel loved, safe, cared for. He goes to his friends for encouragement. They’ll love him, and pray with him, and remind him of his potential. It’s a house and a family of prayer. He’ll face the music for what he’s done today, but if he reconnects, recharges with the people who believe in him and in whom he believes, he can continue to do what must be done.

Jesus let the people have a cathartic, theatrical experience.
He challenged exploitation.
He ministered to the sick and weary.

He’s had a busy day, and he will pay the price for it…but prayer is how he was able to do all of that, and how he will be able to face the difficulties still to come.

Prayer helps us prepare for the challenges ahead.
Prayer helps us feel empowered.
And prayer helps us recharge.

Sunshine Cathedral is a house and a people of prayer. And this is the good news. Amen.

In this house of prayer
May we become
Prepared,
Empowered,
Recharged.
Hosanna!
Amen.

Use It or Lose It

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

Use It or Lose It Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Use It or Lose It
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Feast or Famine

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

Feast or Famine 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. Some king throws a party but apparently doesn’t know anyone, so he invites the world and […]

Feast or Famine
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.

Some king throws a party but apparently doesn’t know anyone, so he invites the world and turns out, the world is busy. Then he gets an attitude.

After multiple attempts to get people to show up to his soiree (and some bloodshed along the way), finally, he gets a room full, only then to throw some dude out for not dressing well enough. Who could like this king?

The guy is not just asked to leave; he is tied up and told he’s being tossed into a dark place where light will never reach him (for showing up wrinkled or without a tie).
The attire and the darkness are probably metaphors (spoiler alert: they are totally metaphors) and we’ll get to them later.

The 21 chapters that lead up to chapter 22 in Matthew’s gospel are full of good news: Healing, feeding, forgiving, inclusion, hope, peace, generosity. So what’s up with today’s psychodrama?

To make it more perplexing, if we read just 22 verses ahead in the same chapter, we’d see Jesus saying the greatest commandments are to love God and love people. Just love.

But punishing people for not coming to your party isn’t love.
Violently tossing out an invited guest because they didn’t look right isn’t love.

But this is a parable and if we take it literally we’ll miss it entirely. Parables call for and require out of the box thinking.

In today’s parable, the people don’t trust the party host, but the host desperately wants to feed the people and give them joy, but they can’t believe the offer is genuine…they’ve been burned a time or two before, and so they resist the king or even put up a fight when he sends people to collect them.

Matthew imagines this is what it’s like for God: forever preparing beautiful feasts and endlessly begging people to enjoy them, but so many people not being able to trust the invitation, not believing they are welcome just as they are.

It’s like, Matthew has been telling us for 21 chapters that God is good and we are good and we are meant to enjoy sweet communion with God every moment, but as many ways as he’s tried to tell us that we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake, some people are still saying, “That is just too good to be true.” They aren’t showing up to the party, or worse, they are even attacking those who are catering it.

It is worth noting that no matter how many times people refuse to come to the party, the host keeps sending out invitations. The invitation is delivered
by Jesus, by Krishna, by Sidhartha, by Lao Tzu,
by Amma, by Mother Teresa, by Father Richard Rohr,
by Nona Brooks, by Paramahansa Yogananda,
by Louise Hay, by Bishop Barbara Harris,
by Bishop Yvette Flunder, by Thich Nhat Hanh, by the Hebrew prophets, by us!

God will never stop calling us to wake up to who and whose we really are.

So what about that “few are chosen” statement? What’s up with that? I’m glad you asked.
Our contemporary ears might hear it more easily if it could be stated like this: “Everyone is part of God, but we tend to be slow to wake up to that fact.”
Everyone is invited to wake up to our magnificence, but we’re not all fully awake yet.

And what about the garment? It’s not about fashion.

Clean garments represent righteousness, that is, the work to make the world a more just and peaceful place.

The host begs and begs and begs people to come to the party, to realize they are made of starlight and joy, that they are part of a creation that is very good, that they are animated with God’s own breath.
Come to the party! Please! Live in the joy of this banquet.

And, once you wake up to who you are, get to work to help others wake up.

The garment that isn’t appropriate suggests someone who gets that they are okay, but they aren’t interested in helping others know it too. So, they aren’t really experiencing the light fully. They think that because they didn’t have to earn the seat at the table, they don’t have to make room for others. But that means they don’t really understand what the party is about. There in the dark about it.

The darkness isn’t punishment, it’s a false perception…it’s lack of awareness that there is not a spot where God is not.

Matthew’s Jesus is saying, “Please come. And, once you’re here, get involved. Help us help others know what we are learning…that we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.”

St. Paul put it this way in letter to the Galatians: “You who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves in Christ.”
The wedding garment is about putting on our Christ clothes – our healing, helping, hope sharing outfits.

Worship weekly, pray daily, give generously, volunteer, come to our shows or tell people about our groups, take one of our classes, join our justice work, participate in our efforts to reach more people with more good news.

You can’t do it all, but you can do something and your doing something is going to help someone else get a glimpse of light within them that they didn’t know was there.

That’s what it means to wear the appropriate garment. Come to the party ready to help other people come to the party.

A narrow reading of today’s story makes it look like a choice between feast or famine…accept the invitation, or get forever abandoned; and, even if you accept the invitation, you might still be rejected. But that understanding rejects the larger witness of love and inclusion that Matthew has been sharing throughout his gospel. So today’s parable can’t be about who’s in and who’s out…that isn’t good news.

This story, like all of the gospel, is about including everyone, getting them involved, and thereby helping them discover and share the light that has always been theirs.

First, trust the invitation to the party really is for you.
Second, show up dressed to pass on the blessings you’ve received so others will know the party is for them, too.

You can do that in a tank top, in leather, in sweat pants, in a tuxedo, in a sundress and sneakers…it’s not about the clothes, it’s about the commitment to love yourself more and then to love others as you love yourself.
When we do that, as Matthew’s Jesus says in the sermon on the mount, we are the light of the world.

And this is the good news. Amen.

Thank you, God, for your feast of love.
Thank you for including us all.
Thank you for calling us to welcome others.
Thank you the light that shines within us.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Divine Abundance

On March 17, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Divine Abundance 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. Matthew 20 can be a difficult passage. I mean, just imagine: If I hired Twila at $10 […]

Divine Abundance
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.

Matthew 20 can be a difficult passage. I mean, just imagine:
If I hired Twila at $10 an hour for a day’s work and she worked 8 hours, that’s $80 she’s due.

If I hired Tara, same wage, but she works 6 hours, and I hire Anne who works 4 hours….we all know how that should shake out. Twila gets $80, Tara gets $60, and Anne gets $40.
If i decide to be generous and give them all a $10 bonus – great, then Twila gets $90, Tara gets $70 and Anne gets $50.

But if i get a wild hair to pay them all $80, that’s kind of kick in the shin to Twila.
Anne and Tara may be thinking, “Sweet!” But it’s hard to make the case that I’ve been fair to Twila.

And this scenario is our gospel lesson today and I’m supposed to do something with it. I should get a bonus for that!

Jesus weaves a tale today that teaches two lessons.
The first is, is treat people better.
The second is, God’s love really is all-inclusive and unconditional.
He does this by making up a story about day laborers, a notoriously exploited group since time immemorial.

Day laborers are often treated like fire wood, used as fuel that burns up quickly and is easily replaced.
So from the moment we hear that someone is looking for day laborers, we already are feeling a little uneasy.

A landowner hires some people, and the some more, and then some more.
Then, after everyone has done their work for the day, the employer makes a point of letting them all know that they are getting paid according to his whim and not their work.

Why was he so messy about announcing everyone’s wages? He could have paid them and said nothing and most people would have never been the wiser. He has intentionally stuck his finger in Twila’s eye, and for what?

Twila complains. She’s like, “WTH, man?!”
He tells her to dummy up. He can do as he likes.

Finally, we hear the last are first and the first are last…is that meant to shut up Twila, or is it foreshadowing…You see, the first person mentioned in the story is the landowner. He’s first; will he wind up last? Is Jesus saying that the current power holders who play games with our lives won’t always be in charge? Those who are in charge now will one day be last.

See…it’s tricky. If the story is about our world, then it seems to be chastising the landowner, and is therefore a call to social and economic justice.

But this parable is a double edged sword. The very first line of the reading tells us that this parable is meant to describe God’s Realm.

We aren’t talking about the ways of the world. We are talking about God’s realm. In the world, there are always struggles between deeds, needs, and greed. We have to work for fairness and equity.

But God’s realm isn’t exactly fair. Fair would mean people would get what they deserved (or at least what they needed to live with dignity), but in God’s realm, grace, not merit or even need, is the the measurement used. Grace – unmerited, unearned, absolutely free favor.

God’s realm is like the family of the prodigal son. One son stayed home and was a good boy, the other son wasted his inheritance and came crawling back and was received warmly. The good son was like, WTH, man?! But the parents said, “you’ve always had it all. Your brother forgot who he was and lived in needless separation. We are just happy that he now remembers what you’ve always known…he can’t be lost, forgotten or denied.”
No child of God can be lost, forgotten, or denied.

That’s the real lesson. God gives all to all because God is all in all.
That’s divine abundance. It’s not as much about stuff as it is about the peace and joy that comes from knowing we are forever one with God. Its the allness of God in which we all share.

Transgender people, you are in and of God, forever.
Same-gender loving people, you are in and of God, forever.
Migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, you are in and of God, forever.
LGBTQ United Methodists, you are in and of God, forever.
The 49 Muslims in NZ who were killed during their time of prayer and worship were and are in and of God, forever.
Our loved ones, including Bishop Grant Lynn Ford who made his transition yesterday, are in and of God, forever.

If you’ve been told that you had to earn God’s favor with creed or coin, then I urge you to reject that mess for the lie that it is. You are forever part of an everlasting omnipresent love; please let nothing ever take that blessed assurance from you.

The 8 hour laborer who has spent her whole life in church, The 6 hour laborer who found religion after college and became Jewish, The 4 hour laborer who thought religion was silly until in midlife when she discovered and started to practice Buddhism, The 2 hour laborer who has found sobriety and salvation late in life and in religion but in a 12 Step Program…
One and all are embraced fully by the Love that we call God. That’s what the story is telling us today.

There are well-meaning folk, themselves victims of oppressive theologies, who insist that you must do this, or believe that, or reject those in order to be embraced by God, that you must earn God’s acceptance by accepting the theology they are peddling.
Sometimes they‘ll try to seal the deal by saying, “You’ll have a long time in hell to figure out how wrong you are.”
But hear this: a threatening gospel is no gospel at all.
I will never reduce my faith to fire insurance.

God is all loving and omnipresent…So God is the Love that is everywhere; it will not and cannot let us go, not in this life or beyond. I worship not to appease an angry God, but because I know God to be my life, and I worship in community because in the presence of God-filed people I find encouragement and hope and joy.

God is what I call the life, love, wisdom, power, and presence that fills the universe and beyond; it is the one presence and the one power and it will never and can never reject anyone for any reason.

A god who simply gives all that God is to all of us all the time…I believe that is the point of today’s parable. And this is the good news! Amen.

I cannot earn God’s love,
Nor can I lose it.
God gives abundantly.
I receive God’s grace gratefully.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Forgiveness

On March 11, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Forgiveness Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Forgiveness
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Miracles

On February 26, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Miracles 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’s gospel readings are miracle stories. I don’t take either of them literally but see them as allegories. […]

Miracles
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’s gospel readings are miracle stories. I don’t take either of them literally but see them as allegories. The miracle in each story is someone’s willingness to confront a crisis, to do what could be done, even if it seemed inadequate to the need.

Before we revisit those gospel stories, I want to share another miracle story.
Loretta Mary Aiken was a star of vaudeville and in the twilight of her career was known as a comic who was frequently featured on television variety and talk shows. Of course, she didn’t go by Loretta then; in show business she was known as Jackie Moms Mabley.

Moms was a successful African American performer in the days of Jim Crow. But that isn’t her biggest miracle.
She’d give bits of wisdom that had hidden meaning. Warning adults to keep their eye on what’s really going on in politics, she joked, “I tell children crossing the street – Damn the lights, watch the cars. The lights ain’t never killed nobody.”

But she’s probably best known for joking about her attraction to younger men. She’d say, “If you ever see me with my arms around an old man, I’m holding him for the police.”

Moms joked about liking younger men, but in reality, she was as queer as a Jerry Herman musical. She had children, and took the name “Mabley” from an early boy friend, so may have been bisexual or just didn’t come out until later. A male dancer shared a dressing room with Moms for the run of a theatrical production…he shared the dressing with Moms and Moms’ girlfriend.

But Moms was also a gender bender. She wore house coats on stage, but in the dressing room and after a show, she’d put on slacks and a silk shirt and a fedora hat, and with her lady on her arm, go out for the evening. Her friends called her Mr. Moms.

She was an African American in a society where white people held all the power.
She was a woman in a business where men had most of the power.
And she was queer in a society that at the time criminalized same-gender love and attraction.

She faced racism, homophobia, misogyny…she faced them all and lived her life her way and thrived in her career. That’s a miracle.

She faced her fears, faced the storms in life, faced perceived limitations…and because she faced them, she was able to overcome some of them.

That’s the point of today’s stories from Matthew’s gospel.

In the first story, we a small lunch of fish and bread…fish tacos basically, feeding a great multitude. As I said, I don’t take that literally. A sack lunch didn’t magically feed thousands of people, but someone making an effort in spite of unfavorable odds, that’s a miracle.

I may be beaten, but it will not be by my fears. That decision is a miracle, and it’s a decision we can make.

In the second story, Peter jumps out of a boat and walks on water, at least for a few steps.

People don’t walk on water. AirOTic almost makes me believe that people can walk on air, but walking on water is not a thing.

Walking on water isn’t the miracle.
The miracle is that Peter got out of the boat.
He left the familiar and jumped into the unknown. And he failed. But that he tried was the miracle.

He got overwhelmed. He gave in to fear. He started to sink. But not before he tried the impossible.

I’ve seen some of you do that.

When you tried medical treatments, with no guarantee of their working but you gave it a fighting chance, that was a miracle. That was the birth of hope, maybe in a manger of despair, in a place where hope had been told there was no room for it, but still you found a place and a way for it to be born. No matter what happened later, you knew the joy of hope come to life. That’s the Nativity.

When you came out of the closet, that was a miracle. Despair was left behind and you walked into the light of truth and wholeness and love. Alleluia! That was Resurrection.

When you found Sunshine Cathedral after you had decided that religion was irrelevant or cruel or boring or prudish or superstitious…you were through with religion…and then you found a different kind of church. And your heart began to sing. You still left the old rules and the old prejudices behind (praise God!), but you started to experience love and hope and joy and connection and you started to believe that THIS is what God is…God is love, period. And a community that celebrates love is a church for me. You had an epiphany; you discovered that all people have sacred value and you were willing to give frankincense, myrrh, and gold…time, talent, and treasure to help others experience the joy that you found.

You probably haven’t walked on water. But you have gotten out of the boat and faced your fears. And that is a miracle.

You haven’t fed the world. But you have fed or helped or encouraged or comforted someone, and that gesture did more than you even knew it could. And that is a miracle.

You even learned that you are a miracle. Just as you are, you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. And this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
I am thankful for miracles.
I am a miracle.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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

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