Faith

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

Faith Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Hebrews 11 Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. I have heard […]

Faith
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Hebrews 11

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

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

I have heard so much bad theology based on that line.
I had a friend who sold Cadillacs in the 80s in the Southwest. In my friend’s town there was a famous preacher who used to tell people that they should spend money as if they had it even if the bank account was empty. Their faith would provide the needed funds. Especially, the preacher added, if they tithed to his ministry. So, give a real check to his ministry, then write a faith check to someone else, andGod would magically cover all the transactions. My friend said faith checks were bouncing all over Tulsa and many a Cadillac was repossessed because the finance company didn’t care about faith checks as much as actual, legal tender.

Now, you and I both know that churches need money to do ministry and I want you to give generously, consistently, and joyfully as a spiritual practice and because you believe in the work of this church. But I don’t promise you anything other than good work and possibly a good feeling for your contributions. I believe most tithers feel blessed, but stewardship isn’t a cosmic lottery. Give for the love of giving, and for the hope of a Cadillac.

Faith isn’t magic.
Faith isn’t uncritical acceptance of dogma.
Faith is, very simply, trust.

But the anonymous writer of the epistle to a Hebrew community is specifically referring to trust in a divine presence.
That’s it. The writer is asking us to trust that there’s not a spot where God is not.
The writer is asking us to trust that God is all-inclusive, unconditional, everlasting love, a love that will not and cannot let us go.

The writer is not promising us Cadillacs or wish fulfillment. The writer is trying to assure us that no matter what happens, in good times and bad times, God is with us as a loving presence.

When things look terrible, faith tells us that the unseen God is real and is with us and isn’t leaving us alone with our disappointments and hurts.

Faith is the evidence that God is with us, not matter what is happening in our lives.

The writer brings up heroes from various legends and myths of the religious tradition. He interprets and applies them awkwardly, but what he is pointing out is that the heroes of sacred story were all on journeys. They faced the unknown, they faced difficulties and disappointments, some of them had grand visions that were not realized in their lifetimes, but they were faithful because they trusted that God was with them on the journey and would be forever. And where God is, joy is always possible.

We can’t control every situation in life.
We can influence many of them, we can choose how we respond to them, and we can trust that there will be joy on the journey, and that the journey is leading us forward into realms of infinite possibilities.
Don’t write a faith check, but trust that no matter what the bank balance says, God is with you to give you peace, hope, and joy. And with those gifs, you can probably build up that bank balance.

Now I am not telling you to not hope or work for any good thing in life. Pray for opportunities, pray for wisdom, pray for guidance, pray for resilience, pray for peace, pray for joy…apply for the job, work to improve your credit, start the diet, take the class, try the medicine…nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Hope, try, pray, work, wait..and perhaps blessings will result. But faith isn’t what made the blessings show up…faith is what reminded you that you were God’s beloved child no matter what happened.

Faith is the trust that whether or not things go my way, ultimately, all is well.

Such trust often frees us up to achieve what we desire…but hope, work, good timing, random chance all work together to make the good things happen…Faith is the trust that until the good things happen and even if they do not, I am part of God, loved by God, forever in God’s presence and therefore, all is well.

No matter what the doctor tells you, no matter what the financial advisor says, no matter what things look like, I will hope with and for you that things improve. But if they do not, it is not because you lacked faith. No, on the contrary, you can have faith that says God is good, I am one with God and therefore I am good, no matter what occurs in the realm of experience.
I used to have a friend who respond to every disappointment with the phrase, “Praise the Lord anyway.” That’s faith. When it goes my way and when it doesn’t, I will find something to be thankful for, some reason to rejoice.

Multiple times, I have prayed with people who were too sick to live but too afraid to die. They thought God was angry with them, that God would reject them. I have prayed with them and spoken with them trying to be a witness to the trustworthiness of God. And when they finally trusted that God’s love included them without condition of any kind, I have seen them make a peaceful transition.

A few times, its been the parents or grandparents of a gay or lesbian or transgender person who was afraid to die. They weren’t afraid for themselves, but they didn’t want to go because they were afraid that their Queer loved one would be rejected by God, and they didn’t want to leave them. And more than once those dear loved ones have come to trust the goodness of God and have said, “I am ready to go now, because I now know that God will not reject my child.”

With Elsie MacKay we can trust that we are one with God, and therefore peace and love and joyful living are possible. We are one with the goodness of God and we can trust that goodness at all times.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that trust in divine goodness is evidence that goodness exists.

But the writer of a letter to a group in Ephesus makes it even clearer.
That writer tells us in Ephesians 4.6 that there is “one God of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
God for, with, and in you. How could you ever be lost or separated from an omnipresent God?

And Ephesians 2.8 tells us, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God…”

Salvation is wholeness, or liberation, or well-being. You have been liberated, made whole…you are alright. This is God’s gift of grace.
By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is God’s gift.

That verse has been used to suggest that if you have enough faith, that God would be okay with you…but that’s not grace; that’s an exchange. That’s commerce.

No, by grace (something freely given) you have been made whole and wonderful and delightful and worthy of God’s goodness, through God’s faith in you.

God trusts us to be how God ministers to the world.
God trusts us to be conduits through which divine love might flow.
God’s faith in us wasn’t something we earned, it was a free gift, grace.
We are the face and hands of God, we are God’s love in action because God trusts us with the task.
We are made from God, by God, and we are filled with God…and so it is that we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

We are saved from needless fear by God’s gracious trust in us to be God’s body in this world. A God who so trusts us, can be trusted by us.

Trust in God’s goodness is evidence of our own. That’s the message of Hebrews 11.
People entrusted with the very goodness of God can heal the world. This is the reality of my faith, and this is the good news. Amen.

God for me,
God with me,
God in me,
I trust in your goodness.
I Am abundantly blessed.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Our Divine Source

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

Our Divine Source Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Luke 11.1-13 Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Jesus’ disciples say to Jesus, “Teach us to pray like John does for his disciples.” […]

Our Divine Source
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Luke 11.1-13

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

Jesus’ disciples say to Jesus, “Teach us to pray like John does for his disciples.” These are religious people. They have been praying their whole lives. But they want to pray like Jesus. His prayers suggest an intimacy with God, and a trust that good things are meant to happen. They want to pray like that!

Now, all of the apostles suffered, as did Jesus. Jesus was crucified, as were several of his apostles. One was flayed to death, two were beaten to death, one was beheaded…so, clearly praying like Jesus doesn’t mean getting everything you want or never facing difficulties.

But in spite of difficulties, Jesus’ prayers seemed to remind him that God was always near, and that God’s love was dependable.

Jesus’ prayers did bless people, and make them feel whole and hopeful. Teach us to pray like that, Lord!
We want our prayers to make us know that there’s not a spot where God is not.
We want our prayers to help us go to peace instead of to pieces.
We want our prayers to make others feel better and live happier. Teach us to pray like that, Lord.

So Jesus gave them a sample prayer.
He suggested thinking of God as a loving, gracious, generous friend or caregiver. Jesus used the word “Abba” (a parental figure), but any name that makes you feel safe and loved will do. I like Big Mama God, and that’s in the ballpark of Abba.

After knowing God to be loving and nurturing, affirm God as good, goodness itself. Hallowed is your name. You are holy, All Good.

And then, Jesus said, affirm God’s nearness. Your dominion will come, it is coming, it is here within us.

Once you’ve recognized God as loving, good, and present, now ask God to help you meet today’s needs. Give us our daily bread.

And then ask God for spiritual, inner healing. Ask God to help clean up the inside, because when the inside is good, the outside will seem a lot better. When you squeeze an orange, what comes out? Orange juice. What’s inside is what comes out. Nothing else can.
So forgive us our mistakes, our pettiness, our bitterness, our selfishness, our lack of concern for the oppression and suffering of others….forgive, heal the inside so that what we express can be more beautiful.

And, of course, part of what needs healing are the grudges we have nursed and rehearsed over the years. So forgive us, and help us forgive others.

And finally, save us from the time of trial. Save us from giving up too soon. Save us from fear. We know that the way over problems is through them…so don’t leave us in our messes, help us move through them. Save us from our dramas, don’t let us get stuck in them.

That’s the Lord’s prayer, the prayer Jesus taught, the model he gave.

God is present and is good, is able to help us live one day at a time with peace and joy, offers inner healing, and gives us the grace to know that hell is something we go through, not to.

Acknowledge God’s loving presence and infinite goodness.
Ask God for grace to live this day well.
Ask God for inner healing because if the inside is good, then only good will come from us. And that healing may mean some forgiveness work on our part.
And we’re going to step in it sometimes, so when that happens, trust God to help you move through it to better days.
That’s how to pray like Jesus.

Now, what can we know for certain that we will receive from praying like that?

Jesus says if your neighbor needs a cup of flower, you’d probably help them out. Even if it wasn’t terribly convenient.
And if your kid wanted a snack, you’d give them an apple or a banana or juice box, not a rock.
You want to be kind and generous. Those are divine impulses. Your ability and desire to be good, even sometimes, is a witness to the infinite goodness of God.

My first night ever in a gay bar in the mid80s was a magical night. I was surrounded by gay folks. All together, all having a good time together. Men and women, all ages…some out, many not…just together being who God made us each to be. It was glorious. Now I call it any given afternoon on Wilton Drive, but that first time…I had found the Promised Land.

Our revelry that awesome night was interrupted by a shrill voice from the front door, “Girls! Get out here quick. Mary has driven her car into the ditch!” Mary by the way was a man known generally as Rick.

There was a sodomy law on the books. Preachers were saying AIDS was divine punishment against gays. Gays weren’t allowed in the military. If teachers were discovered to be gay they would be fired no questions asked. So, calling family or even AAA for help to rescue your car from Studio Homo on the edge of town really wasn’t an option. The kindness of strangers was the best hope.

40 queer folk ran out into the gravel covered parking lot to find a car leaning at a 45 degree angle in a 4 foot ditch. 40 people, at the time outlaws in our state and mostly strangers to one another surrounded that thankfully small car in the dark of night, and on three (1-2-3) hoisted it into the air and back down on level ground. One short, corpulent fellow shouted with glee, “I’ve never felt so butch!”

That was a god moment. That was love, kindness, and compassion in expression. Jesus says if 40 strangers can rush to save the day (or night as it happened), just know that is only a fraction of God’s willingness to lend a hand in your moment of need.
In fact, wasn’t it divine grace in, through, and as those parking lot good Samaritans that helped a soul in need that night?

Leave us not in the ditch of despair, but help us feel utterly fabulous again! That’s the Lord’s Prayer in action.

So ask, seek, knock. God hears. And God will respond.
And what will God give us? She hasn’t given me the mega millions hook up yet, and she hasn’t rigged elections for my various candidates, and God hasn’t showed me the effortless diet that you go one once and its results last forever…but God, according to Luke’s Jesus, has given me and all of us a promise.

If you can give your neighbor a cup of flour, or your kid a tasty snack, or a careless driver a boost out of a ditch, how much more will God give the holy Spirit to those who ask?!

The Spirit! God in us. God expressing…that’s what prayer guarantees, a deeper experience of God which often leads to other amazing blessings, but nothing could be greater than communion with our divine source!

God will help us experience God as life, love, wisdom, power and presence. God will give us peace, and hope, and the conviction that we are each God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. And, after all, isn’t that what Jesus had that made his followers say, “Lord, Teach us to pray like you do”?

Praying like Jesus reminds us that God is here as love to help us make the most of this day, to heal our inner wounds, and to help us move through the challenges of life. And as we turn to God in prayer, we can be sure that God is able, willing, and ready to give us unlimited experiences of peace, hope, and joy. And this is the good news. Amen.

Omnipresent, divine Love,
Help us to heal our world.
Minister to our every need.
Forgive our mistakes,
And help us be more forgiving.
Do not leave us in our fears,
But bring us through and out of them.
Amen.

Seeking to Live & Love like Jesus

On July 22, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Seeking to Live & Love like Jesus Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Luke 10 Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. 722 years before the common era, the Assyrian empire conquered Samaria […]

Seeking to Live & Love like Jesus
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Luke 10

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

722 years before the common era, the Assyrian empire conquered Samaria and relocated most of its Jewish inhabitants, but the Assyrians let some of the Jewish farmers stay in Samaria, and those farmers’ families started marrying settlers from Mesopotamia and Syria.

Later, when the Jewish people who had been scattered and exiled by various empires were allowed to return to their homeland, the Samaritans were still there, but in the time of separation, the Samaritans had been regarded by the exiles as renegades. They are not part of us, the returning exiles decided.

In the book Ezra, the Samaritans offer to help rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, but the heads of the Jewish families said, “Thanks but no thanks.”

Tensions between the groups got worse over the years. In the year 108 BCE, Jewish forces destroyed the Samaritan Temple.
A century later, some Samaritans desecrated the Jewish temple by scattering bones throughout the sanctuary.

Samaritans and Jews had separate holy sites.
Both Samaritans and Jewish sects believed themselves to be the faithful inheritors of God’s precepts. “We are God’s people and they are not,” both sides insisted.

Religion, politics, culture, misunderstandings, prejudice…they all conspired to keep these people not only apart, but deeply suspicious of one another.

The hatred of Samaritans by Jewish Palestinians and the hatred of Jews by Samaritans was fierce and ugly. The ethnocentric, xenophobic fear and hatred of the other was toxic. Each side hated the other for their religion, politics, and ethnic heritage. I’m so glad we don’t see anything so ugly today.

Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies, even though geographically they were neighbors, even though less than a millennium earlier they were the same nation, the same people, the same community…but now, they see one another as monsters and they treat one another monstrously.

So it was jaw dropping when Luke’s Jesus spun a yarn about a GOOD Samaritan. John’s gospel shows Jesus interacting with a Samaritan woman in ways that affirmed the Samaritan woman’s dignity, but Luke has Jesus telling a story about a heroic Samaritan.

When a religious leader asks Jesus in Luke 10 what he needs to do to have a significant life, a life that will reverberate throughout the ages, Jesus says, “What does the Torah say?”
The religious guy quotes Deuteronomy and Leviticus saying love God and love your neighbor. Easy peezy lemon squeezy.
Jesus says, “then do that.”

But the religious guy…Religious people often want to use religion to figure out how they don’t have to be kind or generous or even decent to someone else. This religious dude is no different. He says, “Fine. Love God and love my neighbor; but who exactly is my neighbor?”
What he’s really asking is, “Who is so different from me that I can treat them like dirt?”

And Jesus says: Once upon a time a man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho and he got mugged and left for dead. Religious folk walked right by him. They probably had bible verses at the ready as to why it was okay for them to ignore this man’s suffering. When AIDS first showed up among us, Fundamentalists has verses to prove it was God’s wrath on display, instead of, you know, showing concern for people who were terrified, sick, and dying.

Religious folk walked right by the man on the ground, offering him not so much as a “God bless you.”
But then came a Samaritan, who saw someone in need and tried to respond with compassion to that need. He offered first aid and paid for the man to have a room and some food so he could heal. He didn’t give religious arguments as to why the victim deserved his plight or didn’t deserve kindness…he just saw a man in desperate need and he did what he could.

Jesus then asked, “who was a neighbor to the victim?” And the religious guy answered, “The one who wasn’t a jerk. The one who gave a damn.” And Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”

The Samaritan saw someone he would have been taught to call an enemy, but he was in trouble, and the Samaritan responded to the need rather than to the bigotry he had inherited. He acted like a child of God reaching out to another child of God. He let goodness and compassion rather than religious legalism and cultural differences be his guide. And Jesus says, “Be like the Samaritan.”

How we treat people who need access to medical care, people who have their rights denied or threatened, people whose physical safety is at risk, people who flee hellish situations to seek refuge in hopefully friendlier places…How neighborly we choose to be shows our commitment to the way of Christ more than any creed ever could.

A rabbi was once traveling and saw a monastery. He was out in the boonies and he hadn’t seen any hotels. He thought he’d see if he could secure lodging at the monastery for the night. The monks welcomed him, of course, and gave him dinner and a room. The rabbi asked what life at the monastery was like. The Abbot said, “We’ve seen better days. There’s only six of us left in the order. No one comes to our masses but us, no one comes here for retreat, and we haven’t had anyone join the order in years.“ The rabbi said, “I’m sorry to hear that but I very much appreciate your hospitality. You were certainly a godsend to me.”

The rabbi went to bed and the next morning after a delicious breakfast he took his leave. As he was going, he said non-chalantly, “Oh, by the way, one of you is the messiah. Bye!” And he left.

The monks were abuzz with excitement. Could it be? Could one of them be the messiah for real?
But wait. He forgot to tell us which one of us is the messiah. And now he’s gone. Oh snap!

A year later, the rabbi was in the area again. He stopped at the monastery, not out of desperation this time, but to visit the friends he had made. It was different this time. There were families having picnics on the grounds, individuals praying in the various chapels, and he counted at least 13 monks. The abbot greeted him with a big hug but the rabbi couldn’t wait to ask, “this place seems so different; what’ve you done?”

The abbot said, “we have people on retreat here almost every week. People come daily just to pray. We doing weddings here pretty often now. We offer spiritual direction to people in the community. And people come to mass, not just on Sundays but during the week, too! We’ve picked up new brothers. The place has come alive since you were here.”
“I see, I see” the rabbi said. “But how?”
The abbot said, “You told us that one of us was the messiah, but you didn’t tell us who. So we started treating each other as if it could be any one of us. We became happier, less afraid, and more loving, and then people started showing up to experience some of that.”

Religion’s job isn’t to make us hate ourselves or anyone else. Religion should encourage us to treat everyone as a child of God. When we do that, we can change the world, or at least our part of it.

And this is the good news. Amen.

Divine Love,
Heal our mental wounds,
Our physical wounds,
The wounds of our society,
The wounds of our nation,
The wounds of our world.
Amen.

Working for the Good of All

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

Working for the Good of All Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Galatians 6.2-10 Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. The Apostle Paul’s letter to a Galatian community is only 6 chapters […]

Working for the Good of All
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Galatians 6.2-10

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

The Apostle Paul’s letter to a Galatian community is only 6 chapters long, and we heard from the final chapter this morning. The letter talks very frankly about anatomy. Paul had created a controversy in his circle by declaring himself the apostle to the uncircumcised. What? Who talks like that? The Apostle Paul.

Paul has recently gone to meet with a council of church leaders in Jerusalem headed by James, the brother of Jesus. The council members tend to agree with James that followers of Jesus should be or become Jewish, and for men, that will require circumcision.

Paul disagrees with them. So, he says Jewish members of the movement should honor their Jewish heritage and observe the traditions, but gentiles who want to follow the Jesus way shouldn’t have to observe every Jewish tradition, such as circumcision. He discerns that if men have to have elective surgery on their nether regions to join the movement, that’s going to be a deal breaker for a lot of guys.

Now, notice, religious people are arguing over people’s bodies. What should people do with their bodies? What should they not do with their bodies? Who is in charge of their bodies, specifically, their genitalia? Oh thank God we are so far beyond that today!

When Paul goes to Jerusalem he takes Barnabas and Titus for moral support, and he brags in Galatians 2 that even though Titus is an uncircumcised Greek, the council didn’t insist he be circumcised. And if Titus gets a pass, why require it of anyone?

Paul says also in chapter 2 that he thinks of Peter as the apostle to the circumcised and himself as the apostle to the uncircumcised.

Paul values his religious traditions, he just doesn’t think all of them have to be imposed on people from beyond his religious background who want to follow Jesus. Why set up a lot of roadblocks?

In chapter 4 Paul reminds the Galatians of the story of Abraham having a child with his slave, Hagar, and another child with his wife, Sarah.

Now, Paul doesn’t seem to realize that slavery is evil, or that Hagar was abused when she was forced by Abraham to have his child (a son whom he abandons when his wife finally conceives).

When people use the Bible to condemn women’s autonomy over their bodies, or transgender expression, or same-gender love and attraction, they seem to forget about Abraham having slaves, forcing one of them to be a surrogate mother for his wife (whom he earlier sold to a regional potentate and then reclaimed). And that’s before he attempted to murder the son that he didn’t abandon. It is ridiculous to use the Bible to condemn people. But I digress.

Paul uses the story of Abraham and Hagar and Sarah an allegory. He says those trapped in legalism and condemnation and religious rigidity are children of bondage, Hagar. But those who freely, joyously follow Jesus without all the fetters of legalism are children of freedom, of Sarah.

And then in chapter 5 Paul tells the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set you free.”

Reject bondage (I’m not talking about your social life, that’s your business). Reject religious bondage, and embrace spiritual freedom.

And in verse 14 he says, “The whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The people who use tradition and dogma to control, condemn, and exclude are missing the whole point. For freedom Christ has set us free, and instead of straining at gnats, just love yourself and loves others as much as you love yourself and you’ll be in good shape.

In verse 22 of chapter 5, Paul says, “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such,” Paul says, “there is no law.”

You are not being faithful when you toss the Queer kid out of the house, or when you ignore the violence toward transgender people, or when you demonize desperate asylum seekers, or engage in Isalmaphobia…that isn’t faithful, it’s cruel, but the law of Christ is love of neighbor…welcome, compassion, kindness and there is no faithful reason to withhold compassion to the hurting or endangered, whoever they might be.

Paul says in chapter 6 as we heard today, “Bear one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Paul isn’t seeking doctrinal purity or compliance with tradition, he’s focusing on the law of Christ whose burden is easy and whose yoke is light. And what is the law of Christ?

Paul says it’s to bear one another’s burdens.
He says it’s to love your neighbor as yourself.
He later wrote to a house church in Rome, “…the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” The law is to LOVE.
His frenemy James said, “If you fulfill the divine law, which is ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”
Jesus quoted the Torah when he said the greatest of all commandments were to love God and neighbor, and he told a story about people that you condemn or hate might be the best neighbors of all.
And of course we read in 1 John 4.16, “God is love and whoever lives in love lives in God and God lives in them.”

Legalism is usually just an excuse to beat up people, figuratively, and sometimes literally. But the law of Christ is love, compassion, kindness, justice, generosity. Bear someone’s burden and thus fulfill the law of Christ.

Paul tells us, “Let us not grow weary in doing good.” Indeed, he exhorts us, “Work for the good of all…especially your friends, but not just your friends.” Work for the good of all.

If someone tells us that they are afraid to come out,
or they are having doubts about God,
or they are marrying outside their faith,
or they are struggling with an addiction,
or they are battling depression,
or they are burdened by profound grief…they are not asking us for a bible verse, a lecture, or an opinion. They are asking us to hear them, to love them, to sit with them. They are giving us an opportunity to share their burden, not to add to it with our own bigotry and baggage.

People’s pain is not an opportunity to defend our beliefs;
their pain is an opportunity to help them bear their burdens.

“If the church were Christian,” a wise Quaker pastor tells us, “gracious behavior would be more important than right belief.”

If the church were truly following Jesus and his kin-dom of God message, we would bear the burdens of others rather than trying to add to them, we would love our neighbor while realizing all of God’s children are our neighbors; if the Church were following Jesus, it would work for the good of all.

And this church will; and this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God, as a disciple of Jesus I pray,
bless me to be a blessing.
Give me joy and peace,
And for the sake of your love,
give me the grace to share those gifts.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Celebrate Your Life

On July 2, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Celebrate Your Life Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Pride 2019 Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. It’s World Pride Weekend. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. I want to […]

Celebrate Your Life
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Pride 2019

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

It’s World Pride Weekend. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. I want to lift up heroes and history makers today, but our time is limited. I’ll mention a few, but oh so many will be missed today.

I wish I could tell you about St. Paulinus who wrote really steamy love poems to a dude named Ausonius, and I wish I could share the story of Wenceslaus (of xmas carol fame) and his “chamber page” Podivan.

I wish I could tell you the stories of Ss. Bacchus and Sergius, Ss. Perpetua and Felicity, St. Bernard of Clariveaux who wrote erotic poetry to an Irish bishop and who was buried with that bishop each wearing the others’ clothes (like buddies do).

I wish I could tell you about the Reverend Troy Perry who founded a church with an affirming outreach to LGBTQ people in 1968, the Metropolitan Community Church, 9 months before the Stonewall Uprising.

I wish I could mention Father John McNeill who was booted out of the Jesuits by Cardinal Ratzinger himself (later known as Pope Benedict). John was expelled for his advocacy of LBGTQ people. He himself was gay and is at rest in our columbarium here at Sunshine Cathedral.

I wish I could tell you about Pauli Murray who was the first Black woman priest in the Episcopal church. She was also a Queer person, and today she (or “they”) would probably identify as gender non-binary.

But I just don’t have the time.

But I will take the time to tell you about three people from the Stonewall era.

And so I lift up Marsha P. Johnson today. She was given the name “Michael” at birth but she was really Marsha.

Marsha moved from NJ to NYC when she was 17. She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and with Sylvia Rivera, she co-founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries).

She was active in Act Up and she was there that night that the Stonewall Inn broke out in revolution.

Marsha died in 1992 after a hard life of fighting and activism. She was found in the river with a head wound. Her life is an embodiment of Jesus’ words: “Whoever accepts you also accepts me.”

And I lift up Sylvia Rivera today. Sylvia was named “Ray” at birth. That name didn’t fit at all. She was Sylvia.

Sylvia was abandoned by her father early in life, and her mother died when she was just three years old. She then lived with her grandmother who thought she didn’t act boyish enough. Apparently, when Sylvia (still known to her grandmother as Ray) came out of her room with a fully beat mug, that is, with a face adorned with makeup, Granny was not pleased.

Sylvia was living on the streets by age 11 and surviving as a sex worker. She was taken under the wings of older drag queens living on the streets. They may have saved her life.

For much of her life, Sylvia was housing insecure and she battled drug addiction. She was part of the Stonewall era and culture, but there was doubt about whether she was at Stonewall the night of the riots. Once when she told a reporter that she had been there that night, her best friend, Marsha P. Johnson just said, “Sylvia, you know you weren’t there.”

Nevertheless, Sylvia with Marsha cofounded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR).

Sylvia wound up working on the staff of MCC New York in their food sharing ministry!

Her friend and Pastor, Rev. Pat Bumgardner, loves to tell the story of Sylvia’s many foiled arrests. Repeatedly, when Sylvia would be arrested and the police would put her in the car, she would slide all the way over to the other door, get out and run away.

And Sylvia was the first transgender woman to have a portrait in the Smithsonian.
Her life is an embodiment of Jesus’ words: “Whoever accepts you also accepts me.”

And I lift up Storme DeLarverie today. Storme worked as a bouncer, a drag king, an MC, and a body guard. She was from the time when people like her were called dykes or butches. Those terms were used by her and by those who loved her.

Storme was bullied as a kid in New Orleans. When she could she moved to New York and lived there until her death in 2014.

Storme was at Stonewall. Indeed, she may have been the match that lit the powder keg.

Witnesses say that that night police arrested what they described as a butch dyke, and the woman complained that the handcuffs were too tight. Her response was a nightstick to the head, and then people said they kept seeing this bleeding, handcuffed woman running. She’s get away from the cops, they’d chase her down, she’d fight them off and run away and they’d apprehend her again. That happened several times. Finally, they did overpower her and physically toss her into the police wagon. That violent act, according to some, was what triggered the revolt. Also, some of the witnesses believed the amazon warrior to have been Storme DeLarverie. Whether or not it was her, she was there that night and part of the riot.

Actually, she denied it was a riot. She said, “It was a rebellion. It was an uprising. It was a civil rights disobedience. It wasn’t no damn riot.”

In her 80s, she roamed lower 7th and 8th avenues, looking into lesbian bars and hangouts to make sure no one was mistreating her “baby girls” as she called the younger generations.

Her New York Times obituary said, “She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero.”
Her life is an embodiment of Jesus’ words: “Whoever accepts you also accepts me.”

Well, that’s the intro. Let me give you the sermon now.
Relax. It’s super short and it only has two points.

1. Celebrate your life. People have paid a high price, sometimes everything, so that we can. Oh there is more to do. The work isn’t over. But even as we work and wait and lift our voices and lift our prayers…let us celebrate who we are. Let’s celebrate our place in the rainbow diversity of creation. Let’s know and declare that we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

2. Care about others. In telling the story of Queer heroes we have also heard about issues of poverty, sexism, racism, violence, homophobia, transphobia, gender fluidity. We have heard of people who served church and society in silence and others who took to the streets. To tell the Queer story is to tell the human story and the human story continues to show the horrors of injustice, oppression, greed, and cruelty, and it also shows the healing power of courage, hope, generosity, and love.

We don’t get to just be concerned about whatever impacts us most directly…our lives and experiences overlap…if we want God’s LGBTQ+ children to be treated with dignity and respect, then we must want and demand the same for God’s refugee children, God’s food insecure children, God’s medically at risk children, God’s unjustly incarcerated children, God’s girl and women children whose bodily autonomy is threatened daily, God’s planet that really is experiencing deleterious climate change…Pride Sunday is a reminder that LGBTQ+ people and all people have sacred value…and it is a call for LGBTQ+ people to stand up for our rights, and for everyone else’s. As we accept the other, we accept Jesus and the kin-dom of God that he preached. And this is the good news. Amen.

God for us, with us, and in us:
We celebrate our lives today!
We give thanks for divine diversity.
Heal our hurts.
And help us to live with hope, love, and joy.
Alleluia!
Amen.

God is Good

On June 19, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

God is Good Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Trinity 2019 Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Scott Dittman in Pittsburg was invited to a Pride Parade. He heard about the free […]

God is Good
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Trinity 2019

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

Scott Dittman in Pittsburg was invited to a Pride Parade. He heard about the free mom hugs movement. And it occurred to him that dads, at least some dads, might be more likely to reject their LGBTQ children than moms would be. So, he decided he would give dad hugs at the parade. It changed his life. He gave over 700 hugs that day. He was moved as he considered that some people are so hurt by rejection that they would melt into the arms of a stranger. On this Father’s Day, I am happy to share the story of a dad who offered love to everyone’s children at Gay Pride.
Why do we still have Pride parades? Because rejection is still destroying lives, and Pride is affirmation, Pride is celebration, Pride is a chance to be embraced and affirmed.

Pride month recalls the liberating Stonewall riots where Queer people in a bar not only stood up to harassment from the police, but also stood up to shame and fear and said, “Enough.” That story still offers empowerment and the hope of finding our voice and daring to live out loud…LGBTQ Pride month actually sets the tone nicely for Trinity Sunday.

Trinity Sunday is always the Sunday after Pentecost. Luckily, unlike the 7 weeks of Eastertide, Trinity Sunday is just one day. I wouldn’t want to tackle it more than that.

The Trinity is not part of Jewish theology, and our scriptures were written by Jewish people. There is not a clear doctrine of the Trinity in our bible, but in Deuteronomy we read, “the Lord our God is One.” The word Trinity is never used in scripture.
In art, the Trinity is often depicted as two men and a bird. Maybe the bird is female; if their isn’t feminity, the image (in my opinion) is incomplete.

So, the Trinity for most of my adult life has been something hard for me to affirm. I finally got comfortable with public use of Trinitarian verbiage, letting it mean to hearers whatever it might. For me, I was simply naming three out of countless attributes of the one God.

But more recently, the Trinitarian metaphor for God has grown on me.

Just as the bible says God is one, we also find throughout the Bible that the ONE is experienced and explained and explored in countless ways.

All God language is metaphorical. So we see the ONE God in the Bible being Lord and Mother and Father and Healer and Warrior and Provider and Rainbow and Cloud and Fire and Light and Castle and Rock and Power and bunch of other things, each a metaphor pointing toward Mystery and each a poor substitute for the mystery to which it points.

But by 325 AD (296 years after Jesus’ death), the church codified another metaphor: the Trinity. It wasn’t biblical, but why should our metaphors be limited to the first century and before? And while the church eventually took the metaphor too literally, as it is wont to do, the metaphor may still be useful as one possible metaphor among many.

And so, I would like to offer, fittingly enough, THREE reasons the Trinity as a metaphor might be worth considering.

1. The Trinity subverts power systems.
The Trinity can be subversive.
Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer (Being-Wisdom-Glory)…Call the masques or modes or personas of the Trinity whatever seems right to and for you, but in every iteration, the three are working together. The Trinity is power with, not power over.
One aspect doesn’t boss or bully the others. They are one, united, sharing life together. There are different roles but a united purpose and there is harmony in working toward it. There are no power struggles in the Trinity. Power with, not power over. Isn’t that the kin-dom of God (which was Jesus’ preferred metaphor).
The Trinity is eternal, like a circle…without beginning or end. It’s circular power, not hierarchical. One power, shared by all. It is a subversive, divine vision of how things could possibly be. God is good, and goodness empowers, it doesn’t over power.

2. The Trinity highlights communion, or we could say, connection.
More simply put, the Trinity is relationship. The three in one shows the three united, flowing into and out of and through one another. The power flows, is shared. It unites, brings together, forms a community, a family, an interconnected whole.
A metaphor of God as Relationship affirms God’s relationship with us.
Creator – that’s God for us.
Redeemer – that’s God with us.
Sustainer – that’s God in us.
We are also part of the Relational God…God for us, with us, in us…The Trinity is a reminder that there’s not a spot where God is not. God is good, and goodness is always present. A good God will not, cannot abandon us, ever. God is forever offering mom hugs and dad hugs, leaving no one out.

3. The Trinity is a source of joy.
Wherever there are three, there’s a party. The creator, God for us looks at creation and calls it good…takes pleasure in it.
God with us gathers us around tables to share food and drink and companionship and prayer and hope and love.
God in us gives us gifts and helps us bear good fruit in our lives.
If religion has made you hate yourself or fear God or reject others because of what they call God or who they love or what they tell you their gender is…then you’ve missed the point. God as Trinity is joy.
God is at the dinner party. God is at the parade. God is at the celebration. God is admiring the good work. God is looking at our lives and seeing something good. If religion has made you mean, bitter, or afraid, you’re not doing it right. And if anyone has used religion as a weapon against you, they weren’t doing it right. The Trinity is the power of joy.

There is an old legend, it didn’t make it into our bible, but i do love it. It’s a creation myth. The story says the Trinity loved to play. And one day, that circular power, that love in expression, that relational impulse, the Trinity, started to dance. And the dance party got so ecstatic, that there was an explosion, an emission as it were, of pure delight. And the fallout from that explosion, is creation. Creation, according to that parable, is the manifestation of divine joy. God is good, and goodness is joyful.

If the Trinity as one of several metaphors for God can help you resist systems of domination and oppression, if it can help you experience and celebrate God in your life…God for you, with you, in you, if the Trinity as a metaphor for God can give you permission to experience and share joy, then why not give it a whirl?
If you are like i was for so long, and you just can’t with the Trinity right now…no worries. There are other symbols and metaphors for God. Just don’t over literalize any of them. But, whatever metaphor you work with and play with, let it be a constant reminder of this: God is good. And this is the good news. Amen.

God is good.
God is for me.
God is with me.
God is in me.
And all is well.
Alleluia!
Amen.

We Are Conduits of Divine Love

On June 9, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

We Are Conduits of Divine Love Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Pentecost 2019 Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. To discuss Pentecost is the discuss quite a lot of the bible […]

We Are Conduits of Divine Love
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Pentecost 2019

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

To discuss Pentecost is the discuss quite a lot of the bible (get ready!). Pentecost was a harvest festival, a festival of the first fruits, and according to a story in the book of Acts, it was during the time of Pentecost that the disciples had a powerful spiritual experience. It was on the 50th day after the Easter moment, just as Moses received the Torah 50 days after Passover.

The symbolism is obviously meant to connect the Jesus movement with his Jewish heritage, scriptures, and traditions.

Pentecost calls to mind not only Moses, but also Elijah (remember how Jesus encounters them both on the Mount of Transfiguration?).

2 Kings 2: The prophet Elijah is taken into the heavens at the end of his ministry. He ascends to the sky while his disciple, Elisha, watches. Elisha has been told that if he witnesses Elijah’s ascension, he will receive a double portion of the prophet’s spirit. Sure enough, according to the tale, a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses appears and Elijah is carried away by a strong wind.

Fire and wind. The disciple receives the prophet’s spirit. Immediately after, Elisha starts doing powerful deeds.

He parts a body of water, for example. He also curses some mean kids who make fun of his baldness, and then a bear eats the kids…but let’s not get into those weeds today.

Ascension. Fire. Wind. Disciple. Miracles. That’s the story.

Pentecost happens 10 days after Jesus’ ascension, and at Pentecost, the disciples receive the spirit their teacher promised. It comes with tongues of fire, and a mighty wind, and soon after they start working miracles.

The story, referring to the Elijah & Elisha legend, is affirming the prophetic mission of Jesus and of his disciples. They are as called by God and as equipped by God as Elisha was.

Tradition says that the Spirit fell at Pentecost with wind and flames and people speaking different languages in the Upper Room where Jesus shared the Last Supper 7 weeks earlier. I was recently in that Upper Room, hearing people speak all kinds of languages from all over the world, but I could understand their curiosity, their devotion, their wonder…each spoke differently, but all communicated the same message. I could feel something in the room, and at one point I looked up and saw shadows of the people dancing on the ceiling, resembling flames. It was a moment of communion, a moment of call, a moment to remember there is a power of divine love flowing through us, bidding us to do what we can to be healers of a wounded world.

While in Jerusalem, we heard stories about Mary, the mother of Jesus, returning to the building where the Last Supper was held and serving as an interim leader of the Jerusalem group until her son James was ready to lead the Jerusalem church. There is quite a lot of art showing Mary central at Pentecost, with the disciples all around her as they must have been around Jesus at the Last Supper. Mary was a conduit of divine love, and so are we, doing what we can to share hope and healing in the world.

The gospel writers foreshadow the Pentecost experience. Both Matthew and Luke have John the Baptizer saying,
“I baptize with water, but there is one coming after me who will baptize with the holy Spirit and fire.”
Pentecost is when we see the wind of spirit blow and fire dancing overhead, a baptism of spirit and fire.

Luke, in Acts 2 imagines the scene very dramatically. John’s gospel imagines the baptism of spirit and fire looking more subdued. In John 20, the fire is simply the fire of life, as the Resurrected Christ appears to the disciples and instead of a mighty wind, there is a gentle breath. Jesus breathes on his friends and says, “Receive the holy Breath, the holy Spirit.” He affirms peace for them, and sends them out into the world to continue the work they had been doing. Whether by mighty wind or gentle breath, the spirit empowers us to share divine love with a hurting world.

Mark 1, Matthew 3, Luke 3, and John 1 all say at his baptism, the Spirit descended on Jesus and he was affirmed as God’s chosen one.
Pentecost tells us that we who follow Jesus have been affirmed by the same spirit to be the vehicles by which the Christ work continues.

After his baptism, Jesus went into the desert. After the spirit descends on him, Jesus has to get busy. He has work to do. A baptism of spirit is a call to action. A baptism of spirit is a reminder that we are conduits of divine love.

For Luke, writing the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, Jesus is executed but somehow is experienced beyond his death, and we call that Resurrection. A few weeks later, he ascends, as the prophet Elijah did, and then a week and half later, his spirit descends on the disciples like Elijah’s spirit descended on Elisha. It’s the old story being retold, and repurposed, and relived. And now, the spirited church is sent out to continue the Christ-work, making the church the returned body of Christ.

We, the Church, are meant to be Christ in the world. Christ has returned every time we feed the hungry, and work for the release of political prisoners, and show compassion to refugees, and work for medical treatment for all people regardless of their income, and try to be good stewards of the planet, and work for justice and peace…when we embody the Christ message, we are the body of Christ, the return of Christ.

In Matthew chapter 9, Jesus shows compassion to a man who couldn’t walk, to a woman who had been chronically ill, to a girl thought to be dead, to some people who were vision impaired, to a person who couldn’t speak, and after he had done all of that, he says, “We need more laborers in the harvest.” And then in chapter 10, he calls together his 12 disciples and he tells them to get to work. He sends them out to show compassion, and work for justice, and remind people they are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

And Acts 2, the Pentecost story, it happens again. The spirit empowers disciples to get back to work for the kin-dom.
You have the power. Feel the wind? See the flames? Those are reminders that you have the power, now use it to make the world a better place.

A harvest festival celebrating the first fruits is when a group of devotees get energized by the spirit with signs of dancing flames. A day of fruits and flames – how appropriate for Pride month; and what an excellent reminder that we are all conduits of divine love. This is the Pentecost message and this is the good news. Amen.

Spirit of wisdom, love, and power:
Fill me with hope and joy;
flow through me as healing love.
Bless me, and through me, bless the world.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Love Isn’t Condemned

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

Love Isn’t Condemned Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Ascension Sunday (2019) Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Thursday was Ascension Day. The Ascension story is simply that Jesus Ascended into the […]

Love Isn’t Condemned
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Ascension Sunday (2019)

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

Thursday was Ascension Day. The Ascension story is simply that Jesus Ascended into the heavens. Like Elijah did, allegedly.
In the early stories of Jesus escaping the fate of Golgotha, Ascension and Resurrection may have been referring to the same event. In time they became two concepts, but for Paul, they may be the same.

He writes: “Paul…set apart for the…gospel about God’s Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grace to you and peace from God and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

That is huge.
Paul tells us his life’s purpose is to share good news.
The good news he has to share includes the story of how Jesus became the son of God. Biologically, he’s a descendant of David (Paul says), but in the spirit he is God’s son and that was established when God raised Jesus to everlasting glory and significance.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is declared a son of God at his baptism. Matthew and Luke, in their nativity stories, have Jesus from conception being called God’s child. John suggests that Jesus as the Wisdom, or Logos of God has existed in a cosmic or mystical sense from the beginning of time, but before any of those texts were written, Paul writes that the spirit raised Jesus to life after Golgotha and that was the moment he became God’s son and our Lord.

God raised Jesus to everlasting significance. That’s Paul’s Ascension message.

We see that Paul had his ideas and experiences, as Mark had his and Matthew and Luke had theirs, and so on. If your Christ experience isn’t just like someone else’s or dosesn’t fit some inherited dogma, you’re in good company. The first Christian leaders were all over the map; why shouldn’t we be?

Now, Paul has shared his witness of his experience and understanding of the Risen Christ…God wouldn’t let Golgotha have the last word, and so Jesus was raised beyond the horror of the cross, and in being raised, was made God’s son.

But that affirmation is more than a personal experience. It is also political and it is seditious.

Who were the sons of God in Hebrew history? The kings of Israel.
To call Jesus the son of God is to claim he is the messiah, the anointed leader of the people, God’s chosen one, a king. Of course we are all the children of God, but when ancients used that as a title, it was a royal title.

Paul is saying, even though Jesus was killed, he’s still God’s anointed. He’s the Lord anyway. His camp is in heaven instead of here. You thought that because of the cross Jesus failed? Paul is saying that Jesus still lives, is God’s son and therefore is Messiah and Lord and that means the cross failed. Ha! Caesar will never rule our hearts.
Paul will soon be beheaded.

But wait, there’s more. Caesar was also called son of God. Emperors were often divinized, and then their heirs would be called divine sons. Not only is Paul giving Jesus the title of previous kings, he’s giving him the title of the current big chief. PS, Paul gets beheaded.

Also, the founder of the Roman Republic, Julius Caesar, was the son of gods (descended, it was said, from Ares and Aphrodite), and when he died, his divine son (Augustus) said that Julius ascended to the heavens to take his place among the gods and watch over Rome forever.
Paul says that Jesus, too, has risen to everlasting glory to watch over and help us…just like Caesar, whose government killed Jesus.

Julius Caesar was a military genius. Jesus was an illiterant peasant from a ghost town called Nazareth who was executed as an insurrectionist. And Paul dares to give him the title of former kings and current emperors. Did I mention Paul gets beheaded?

Crucifixion was brutal, monstrous, inhuman. And Paul, even under house arrest, says, “Guess what Rome? In Jesus’ case, it didn’t work! He lives. He’s Lord. And he wishes us peace.”

But Paul resists the oppressive political system of the day, but he also challenges the religious community to whom he writes. He warns them about the problems with idols.

Anything can be an idol. Money, ideologies, power, preferences, privilege, habits, etc. But idols are usually an attempt to avoid change, an attempt to enshrine the past.

Paul tells us that the gospel, the good news, is the power of god. Idols have no power. They limit us. They keep us stuck.

Paul writes: “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be,,,perceived…While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of humans or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. Therefore, God handed them over to impurity…”

Many of us grew up in churches that told us Romans 1 was a condemnation of same-gender love and attraction. They said the impurity mentioned was us, and that we were perdition bound.

But love is never condemned in the passage. In fact, Romans 1 starts out with a pretty liberal christology by today’s standard, goes on to give a Bronx cheer to the entire Roman imperial system, and then challenges people’s idolatry. But Love is never condemned.

Paul suggests, oddly, that because people succumbed to idolatrous temptations, God punished them by letting them become impure. And the impurities are voluminous. They include:
Being unjust, envious, malicious, violent, deceitful, scheming, slanderous, petty, vindictive, arrogant, and unmerciful. Most people arof our that list at one time or another. And some of those so-called impurities have become the creed, covenant, and sacraments of many churches today.

The point isn’t to pick something on the list and go after people we believe fit the description. The point is that idolatry keeps us from experiencing God fully, and if we have dimmed God’s light in our lives, we won’t be our best.

Making an idol of homophobia, for example, has left people unmerciful, malicious, and unjust. Idolatry gets in the way of spiritual health and growth.

That’s the point. It is not a condemnation of love. As this comes in the midst of an exhortation against idolatry, Paul may be disapproving of pagan rituals that include orgies that would get so out of hand that people would sometimes mutilate themselves. That’s an extreme case of idolatry leading to suffering (or due penalty in their bodies, as Paul says), but what is never condemned is loving, mutual, joyous relationships, or the desire to find one.

Paul writes that he is not ashamed of the Good News, and the Good News is that the bad news is wrong.

Romans 1 was never meant to shame or torment LGBTQ+ people. In fact, the cruelty shown to Queer people is part of the impurity that can arise from idolizing heteronormativity. And when LGBTQ+ people are harassed and hurt in God’s name, God’s name is being used in vain.

Romans 1:
1. Offers one of many understandings of Jesus.
2. Challenges an oppressive, power mad government.
3. And warns us that idolatry is an obstacle to spiritual growth.

But In Romans 1, Love is not condemned. And this is the good news. Amen.

I am not ashamed of the gospel.
It is the power of God.
The gospel, the good news is…
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
Alleluia!
Amen.

We Are Part of God

On May 29, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

We Are Part of God Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Easter 6 (2019) Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. We are the children of God. The omnipresent love that is the […]

We Are Part of God
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Easter 6 (2019)

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

We are the children of God. The omnipresent love that is the source of all that is, can never release us. We are God’s self-portraits some have said. We are part of God.

But when did you first realize that?
When did you first consider that God believes in you?
When did you adopt the idea that you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake?

We make mistakes. But our mistakes cannot separate us from God.

The writer of Deuteronomy imagines God going on a bit of a rant because people forget who they are, and where they came from…people forget they have sacred value, that they are children of God.
The writer was frustrated about that and projected those frustrations onto God, but even in mid-rant, the writer has to admit: “You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

God is portrayed as a Rock and a birthing mother in one sentence, and to similar effect.
You were carved from the divine rock.
You were born of the divine mother.
You are part of God.

Isaiah wrote, “Listen to me, you who pursue justice, who seek the LORD; look to the rock from which you were hewn…”

The sculptor sculpts from sacred substance.
The Creator, the creative action, and the creation are all one.
The Rock, the Substance, is the maker and the stuff from which we are made.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn.

That’s what St. Paul was telling a house church in Rome.

In Rome, adoption was pretty common. But adoption didn’t make you an heir. That took something more.
Julius Caesar adopted his nephew. His nephew was already related to him, part of his family, but he adopted him, making him a son. But then, he went further, and made his nephew/adopted son, his heir and his heir later became Caesar Augustus.

Using topics from the news and recent history, using language that the Romans would have been familiar with, Paul says that we are children of God.

But not all children are heirs, not in Paul’s time.
Augustus was a nephew, then a son, then an heir.
But Paul makes the case that being God’s children makes us all heirs. God has not only created us, but God has chosen us, and wishes to lavish us with joy. All of God’s children are heirs of God’s goodness.

If we see something of God in Jesus, if see a divine spark in Jesus, we can know that it’s in us too…we are co-heirs with Christ!

Adoption here isn’t to suggest that we weren’t part of God and at some point God let us join the family…no, the point is that we are all children of God, and unlike other families of the time, in God’s family all children are heirs. We all get it all. When we adopt a theology of omnipresence, we discover that all that God is, is available to us.

Now, we may need to unpack the last sentence in the reading today.
Where we’re told we are joint heirs “if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

Oh, the doomandgloomers have squeezed that one almost dry, haven’t they?
But remember, the good news is the bad news is wrong.

I think what Paul is saying…Paul who used to torment Christ followers and who has become one who is tormented for being a Christ follower, is telling people that to follow Jesus involves risk and even sacrifice, but the joy that it offers makes the perils worth it all.

God isn’t requiring that we suffer, but God, divine Love, does require that we speak up for the suffering, that we reach out to the suffering, that we confront injustice and lend aid to the hurting and advocate for the marginalized, and when we do that, the keepers of power and privilege will often try to punish us for it.

God doesn’t want anyone to suffer, which is why we are called to respond to suffering.
It is in Jesus’ name that we mourn children in cages, that we are compelled to cry out when trans women of color are murdered, that we insist that healthcare should be a right and not a privilege, that we insist that it is love that makes a family.
It is for the sake of divine love that we dare to pray in the name of the prince of peace, no more war.

God wants all the suffering to be relieved, but what God does for us, God through us. We are God’s hands, and when we do what we can to bring hope and healing to the world, there is sometimes a price to pay. Paul says, do it anyway. There may be some peril, but it pales to the glory of being Christ’s healing body in the world today.

One more thing for us to consider today.
WE are part of God. Not just me, but we.

Me religion is not the gospel. The gospel includes me, but it’s for we.

Lots of people believe God approves of them or that God is on their side, but then they go off the rails and decide that if God loves them, then God can’t love those who differ from them.
God loves me – I don’t care for you – ergo, God has no use for you.

But remember, the good news is the bad news is wrong.
They got the first bit right…God loves them.
What they need to learn is that God loves everyone else as much.
God is love and is the rock from which we are hewn…we are forever part of God. God will never abandon anyone for any reason.

We need to remember that God’s healing, transforming love is a we thing.

Transwomen are being mowed down regularly, while churches argue over décor.

40% of queer youth wind up at one time or another on the street, while denominations split over whether or not gay children are God’s children. (Spoiler alert: they are).

We can’t even wrap up a war before threatening to launch another, while we complain about matters of personal taste and preference (in our politics, in our neighborhoods, in our worship).

When religion becomes “me” rather than “we”…we’ve lost the plot.

But it’s not that hard to get back. Worship is how we practice how we wish to live.
We come together and practice being gracious, being generous, being forgiving, being supportive, being encouraging, being healers…because that’s how god’s love is made manifest among us. We practice being our better selves on Sunday, so that we have more hope and love to share during the week. We all need the practice, and thank God, we come together and we do practice and we grow and we are transformed and we become healers for our world.

Following Jesus is a “we” – not a “me” thing.
That is neither politically nor religious popular these days, but as Paul said, there are some risks. Take them, because they pale in comparison to God’s love being experienced and shared.

God is the god of gays, of Muslims, of Jews, of Christians, of refugees, of transgender folk, and of every single person you can imagine.
We are children, and heirs, and joint heirs with Christ.
We. Not just me. All of us.

We are all hewn from the same divine rock, by the same divine sculptor, who adores us all, forever.
And this is the good news. Amen.

Divine Presence,
I am always in and part of you.
I am an heir of your goodness.
We all are.
Alleluia!
Amen.

God Doesn’t Play Favorites

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

God Doesn’t Play Favorites Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Easter 3 (2019) Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Rachel Held Evans was a progressive Christian in the Bible Belt. She was […]

God Doesn’t Play Favorites
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Easter 3 (2019)

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

Rachel Held Evans was a progressive Christian in the Bible Belt. She was a writer who explored spiritual themes.
A couple of weeks ago, Rachel went to the hospital with flu symptoms. She had an allergic reaction to the meds they gave her, and she was placed in an induced coma. Yesterday morning, Rachel Held Evans, 37 year old wife and mother, died.

I want to read you something Rachel wrote, so if you were not familiar with her before you can be blessed at least once by her progressive christian witness.
She wrote:

“If you are looking for [bible] verses to support slavery, you will find them; if you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them.
If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them; if you are looking for verses with which to liberate or honor women, you will find them.
If you are looking for reasons to wage war…[or] to promote peace, you will find them…This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not ‘what does it say?,’ but ‘what am I looking for?’…
If you want to do violence in the world, you will always find the weapons. If you want to heal, you will always find the balm.”

In these human words, God’s voice is heard.

Rachel tried to open the word of faith to people who had been excluded, wounded, demoralized, or heartbroken by the misuse of religion.

Rachel believed in grace, in love, in compassion. Sadly, there are still far too many people who wield influence and power who use religion as a poison gas to choke the joy out of those who don’t fit into their boxes. And that, interestingly enough, is what our scripture reading discourages today.

Acts 10: Cornelius loves God. He’s not a member of the faith community, but he prays and he’s very generous with good causes. But he’s not “in” the religious community. He’s still on the edges of it. Why hasn’t he joined? Maybe it would get him in trouble with his job as a Centurion. Maybe he doubts he’d be fully welcome. Maybe the requirements to join are too onerous. For whatever reason, he’s not all the way in…yet.

But he’s giving, and praying, and trying to serve in the ways he can.

And he gets a clear vision. He is clearly told to connect with Peter. No guessing, no riddles, not funky symbols…just a directive…reach out to Peter. Cornelius, the person not in the religious club, had a direct line to God. How about that?

Peter, a religious leader, he also has a vision…but he can’t figure it out. It wasn’t as clear as Cornelius’.
A blanket with a bunch of animals falls out of the sky and a voice tells him barbecue up one of the animals that Peter doesn’t think are edible. In fact, his religious training tells him those animals are unclean. He has religious reasons to reject those animals. So he refuses.

Peter hears from God. God tells Peter to do a thing, and Peter says, “I don’t think so.”

God tells Cornelius to reach out to Peter, and Cornelius says okie dokie.
God tells Peter to throw some meat on the grill, and Peter says, “You can’t make me.” Who’s open to God in the story so far?

Cornelius saw, heard, and responded.
Peter saw, heard, and refused.

Of course, Peter’s vision of food wasn’t about food. Once he see’s Cornelius’ messengers, he understands that the barbecue blanket symbolized people he had judged to be unworthy or unclean. But God made them. They were part of the creation that God calls very good. What God has made, what God has blessed, you don’t get to call unclean. No one is rejected by God.

Peter accepts Cornelius’ invitation to visit. If we had continued reading we would have seen Cornelius welcoming Peter warmly and honoring him.

Cornelius is generous.
Cornelius has an active prayer life.
Cornelius responds to the promptings of God.
And Cornelius has been gracious to a man who without out divine intervention might have judged him to be unworthy.

Peter will ask what Cornelius wants from him, and Cornelius says, “Just preach.”
Cornelius wanted good news. Cornelius wanted to hear that he was God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
He wanted to hear that there’s not a spot where God is not.
He wanted to hear that God is a loving Presence that will not and can not reject him for any reason. What do you want Cornelius? What do you need? I just need to hear some truly good news.

And Peter starts to preach for Cornelius and his household. And while Peter was speaking, the story tells us, the holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his loved ones. The power, the glory of God fell on them. They weren’t members of the religious movement. They weren’t considered by some to be worthy. But Cornelius was generous, and gracious, and responsive, and when he heard the good news he longed for, the power of God fell on him and Peter took notice.

Those people…them….those Roman pagans, those military types, those outsiders, those foreigners, those queers, those gender non-binary folk, those people who call God some other name, those people who look or sound or pray or love or speak differently than we do…THOSE PEOPLE have been touched by the holy Spirit, the spirit of wholeness, the spirit of goodness, the glory of God. Whodathunk?

The story concludes by saying that those people were then baptized in the name of Jesus…that is, they were welcomed, just as they were, the way Jesus would have welcomed them. They were immersed in the good news that God is love, and that love leaves no one out.

God loved Cornelius from the start.
Cornelius was open to God from the start.
It was Peter, it was the church that had to learn to open up and be a bit more welcoming, more inclusive, more affirming of different kinds of people.

God doesn’t play favorites. God’s love embraces us all, unconditionally, and forever.

The church is still learning that lesson. We aren’t here to spread hate and fear and condemnation; we are here to get over that pettiness and see the light of God in every life and welcome the world in the name of Jesus.
We are here to affirm the sacred value of all people.
We are here to offer good news, and the good news is that the bad news is wrong.

We are here to proclaim tirelessly…whosoever will, may come, because you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. And this is the good news. Amen.

There is good for me and I ought to have it.
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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