Resisting Temptation

On October 15, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Resisting Temptation Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace, and may we 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 in wilderness for 40 days/40 nights… Idiom = long time…period of challenge that leads to breakthrough […]

Resisting Temptation
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Let us dwell together in peace, and may we 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 in wilderness for 40 days/40 nights…
Idiom = long time…period of challenge that leads to breakthrough or achievement or relief. It’s not a literal 40 days necessarily. It could be a shorter or even longer period of time. It just means a long time.
40 days rain (Gen 7)
Moses sent spies to explore Canaan for 40 days
Kings reigned for 40 years
Goliath challenged Israelites for 40 days
Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai
Elijah spent 40 days walking
Jonah gave Nineveh 40 days warning

Used over and over to signify a time of working through something, sorting things out, or waiting for things to improve The wait may be long, but and the temptation may be to give up, but don’t give up. It’s worth the wait.

Temptation to doubt his sacred value: If you are God’s child…
Most of our fears come from a mistaken belief that we could ever be separated from God. But that isn’t possible. Remember, there’s not a spot where God is not.

Jesus is then tempted to break his fast (spiritual practice)…
Temptation says:
Give up your spiritual discipline.
Give up making time every day for prayer and meditation.
Give up studying the scriptures.
Give up making weekly worship a priority.
Give up worshiping with your tithes.
Give up practicing affirmations.
Give up your spiritual practices.

But Don’t give them up! They will sustain you. They will carry you when you’re too tired or hurt to carry yourself.

Temptation quoted scripture at Jesus to manipulate, shame, and hurt him. The texts weren’t misquoted, they were just misused.
Don’t fall for it!

“What if they’re right”(the people using scripture to shame or intimidate us)?
They’re not. When people use scripture as a weapon to tear you down they are using it demonically. Don’t buy it!

Jesus was then tempted to ignore his values:
To Give up on justice for all.
To Give up on caring for the least of these.
To Give up on equality and fairness.
To Give up on compassion and generosity.
To Ditch it all for personal gain, privilege, and power.

Don’t do it! Don’t give away your soul, your light, your beauty. don’t believe the lie that there isn’t enough for all of us. Yes, we deserve the best; we ALL deserve the best. We don’t have to cheat anyone to have enough. We don’t have turn away from the struggling to have enough. There is enough to satisfy every person’s need, though, perhaps, not enough to satisfy every person’s greed.

Jesus resisted temptation.
He denied that the temptations, the fears, the sense of notenoughness had any power over him. And he affirmed his truth in the wake of the denials. And angels came and ministered to him.

40…the trials may seem long…don’t give up. The rains may come, but the waters will eventually subside.
The journey may be winding, and you may feel lost along the way, but you will eventually get to a land full of promise.
You may be stuck on a mountain, but mountaintops provide a great view.
The giants may torment you for a long time, but their day will come…the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Resist the temptation to give up too soon!

Resist the temptation to doubt your sacred value.
You are part and parcel of God. You are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. You are part of the creation that God calls very good.
Resist the temptation to doubt your innate goodness.
God is omnipresent, so I am in and part of God’s presence, so I share in the goodness of God. I am a child of God and divine joy is my inheritance.

And don’t phone in your faith.
Church isn’t just for holidays or when you don’t find anything better to do.
Spiritual texts aren’t just background noise in a worship service. Prayer isn’t just grace at holiday dinners. Tithing isn’t spare change.

Commit to your spiritual practices and never let anyone or anything take them from you. They will lead you to deeper trust in God and that trust will lift you up when circumstances have brought you low.

Resist the temptation to ignore your faith practices. They really can lead to miracles.

Resist the temptation to let religion be used against you.
If someone’s religion is about condemning, shaming, controlling, or excluding others, it is misunderstood, misapplied, and misanthropic. No matter who’s selling it, don’t buy it.

Choose instead spiritual views that are uplifting, compassionate, generous, loving, and healing. When people sling religious crap at you,
affirm: I am covered in spiritual teflon; BS just slides right off!

And finally, resist the temptation to give up your hopes.
In our idealistic, optimistic days, we believed that peace was possible, that equal opportunity was our birthright, that equal protection was possible, that we could save the world. We could care for the environment and speak up for the voiceless. We believed the pen was mightier than the sword and that love would win. We believed that the moral arc of the universe was long but it bends toward justice. We knew in our hearts that God is love and divine love leaves no one out.

Sometimes, we are tempted to think that is all terribly naive. Hate seems to be racking up more points these days. Violence is ignored or even rewarded. Rights aren’t always guaranteed and sometimes are even under attack. When the vision is fading, recommit to it. Don’t let the dream disappear. The will to power, oppression, injustice, marginalization of entire communities…those goblins may have their day, but they cannot take our vision of God’s kin-dom away from us.

When things are better, Alleluia! And when they are going in the wrong direction, God give us courage to lift up the dream and breathe new life into it.

Have you been tempted to become pessimistic?
Have you been tempted to disengage?
Have you been tempted to accept something less than God’s best?
Have you been tempted to accept injustice and cruelty in the world?
Have you been tempted to give up hope for your own personal need.

In Jesus’ name, I ask you to resist those temptations, and if you will continue to resist them, I promise there are angels on the way to minister to you. And this is the good news. Amen.

Fear has no power over me.
I am God’s child!
I am forever blessed.
The angels of God’s presence come to my aid.
And I reject any thought to the contrary.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Soaring with the Eagles

On October 8, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Soaring with the Eagles 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. 20 years ago I walked up on a tiny bird guarding her nest and eggs. […]

Soaring with the Eagles
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.

20 years ago I walked up on a tiny bird guarding her nest and eggs. She had set up house on the front lawn of the church, and I just walked up to check it out. This tiny little bird let me know unequivocally that I was not welcome near her home. She spread her little blue wings out and cursed me out in bird language. She was ready to take me on!

I was no threat, of course, but she wasn’t taking any chances. She was ready to give everything in defense of that nest and its inhabitants. That’s how much God loves us. Like a mother bird hovering over, caring for, protecting her young.

God is love, and love loves. Love gives what it is. God is love, and divine love is perfect love, a love that casts out fear, a love that rejects no one for any reason.

That may be a comfort for us today.
This has been an anxious couple of weeks for a lot of people. Old wounds in people’s lives have been reopened. Feelings have been triggered. People have witnessed privilege and patriarchy strike with typical brutal force. And some of us are tired, and heartbroken, and afraid.

But I can tell you this: Nothing that has transpired in the halls of power has or ever will change this truth: You are the apple of God’s eye and God will forever bear you up on eagle’s wings.

The pugnacious power of putrid patriarchy time and again ignores the pain that it perpetuates.

And so, we keep working and waiting and hoping and praying and loving. Let us become more determined than ever to keep Jesus’ dream alive. Let us pray with the angels, “Peace on earth; goodwill toward all people.”

In the gospel of Luke, people come to Jesus to warn him that Herod wants to kill him. The kingdom, the empire, the patriarchy, the status quo, the power keepers are not on board with Jesus’ mission of lifting up the downtrodden and healing the heartbroken and affirming the marginalized. And word on the street is Herod is coming for Jesus, but Jesus says, “You tell that old fox, Herod, that I will keep on driving out demons and healing the sick today, tomorrow, and the day after that” (Luke 13.32).

The pendulum swings. There is good news and bad news; there are hills and valleys, seasons of rain and seasons of drought: but somebody can tell patriarchy that come what may, we will keep on confronting diabolical injustice and we will keep giving hope to the hurting and we’re going to do it this year, and next year, and the year after that!

People still heartbroken from Pulse and from school shootings…here, we see you and we grieve with you.

You who were told by religion that you were broken or damaged…here, we see you and we see you as whole and beautiful and innately good.

Those who realize you are more likely to be killed, incarcerated, or discriminated against because of your race…here, we see you and we declare boldly that your lives matter.

Same-gender loving people who waited a lifetime to marry the person you love…here, we see you and we affirm your union and your love always.

Transgender friends, please forgive us for waiting so long to try to hear your stories and understand your struggles…but here, now, we see you and we bless you and we thank God for who you are.

Caribbean neighbors who have been dislocated by brutal storms followed by deadly apathy…here, we see you and we embrace you with open arms.

Women who have found the world too often to be an unsafe place…here, we see you and we hear you and we believe you.

Jesus was in a desert right before he kicked off his ministry. And while he was in the desert, he was tempted. He was tempted to give in to fear, to greed, to despair, to short cuts and cheating and selfishness. Why should he emerge from a desert only to confront empire and wind up with his butt in a sling. There must be easier, more self-gratifying paths to take!

And so temptation came. The first was to abandon his fast. Abandon his spiritual practice. In the end, he refused to relinquish his soul nourishing spiritual practices.

The second temptation was to hurt himself. Why abuse yourself in a misguided attempt to prove that God loves you. That’s twisted thinking. It’s also all too common. Jesus, thankfully, didn’t give in to that temptation either.

The third temptation was the most insidious. The final temptation was that Jesus considered the kingdoms and fortunes of the world. He thought about the benefits of power and privilege and patriarchy. And temptation said, “you can have it all if you worship me.”
If you worship power rather than sharing empowerment, if you tolerate oppression instead of seeking liberation, if you adore hierarchy rather than equanimity, if you embrace an unfettered will to power you can have it all…others may be get hurt or left behind, but you can come out on top.

And Jesus remembered this phrase from the Torah: “Pay homage to god only. God alone is who you must serve.”
There is only one presence and one power in the universe and in me: God the good, God the good, God the good omnipotent.

God the good. God who is love. God who is omnipresence and includes all life. God who is the substance of the whole world. That’s what we worship, and that worship demands justice and generosity and compassion and caring.

Power and privilege and turning his back on those who have been denied justice is not what Jesus was about! So he said, “Get away from me Satan!”
Get away from me temptation to value my own privilege over justice for all.

Jesus wouldn’t reject the hurting, the abused, the victimized, the poor, the sick, the refugee. He wouldn’t abandon those already left in the margins. He could have, and he could have benefitted from the systems of patriarchy, but to that he said, “Get away from me Satan.”
He didn’t change the systems. He didn’t defeat the systems. But he chose to confront them when he could. It cost him his life, but it gave hope and joy to countless other lives.

And so it is that he soared from that desert experience and began a ministry that changed lives and changes lives still.

We may feel like we’re in a desert, but we’re not alone. We’re together. Always together. And when we have one another, even desert sands can become an ocean of hope and empowerment.

With Jesus, we can be mount up on eagles’ wings, our strength can be renewed, we can find ourselves being carried on currents of divine grace today, and we can say no to the temptation to give in to despair, and we can move forward continuing to tell every person who has been wounded, “YOU ARE GOD’S MIRACLE AND NOT GOD’S MISTAKE.”

Friends, “let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” God will sustain us in the desert and care for us; God will guard us as the apple of God’s own eye. As an eagle hovers over her young, covering them with her wings, and bears them up…So God does care for us. And, as we are God’s hands, let us care for one another…in the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Heal me deeply, O God.
Fill me with peace, hope, and joy.
I receive your blessings with gratitude.
And I share them gladly.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Healing Past Hurts

On August 19, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Healing Past Hurts Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Ruth 4) 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. Once upon a time a man named Elimelech and his wife Naomi moved from […]

Healing Past Hurts
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
(Ruth 4)

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.

Once upon a time a man named Elimelech and his wife Naomi moved from Judah to Moab because there was a severe drought in Judah. Moab might seem a strange place for them because they grew up hearing that the Moabites were not good people. In fact, as the story of Sodom suggests the Moabites were born out of drunken incest. But prejudices need to be challenged.

Elimelech and Naomi built a life in Moab and raised their sons there, and their sons grew up and took Moabite wives. But eventually, Elimelech and his two sons died. Naomi and her two daughters in law were left alone. No children. No means of support. One daughter in law, Orpah, reluctantly went back to her family to start her life over. But Ruth would not leave Naomi. In fact, Ruth makes a till death we do part sort of vow to Naomi:
Entreat me not to leave thee, nor to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: [let nothing] but death part thee and me.

Naomi decides to move back to her homeland. The drought is over there, and one has struck Moab. So she goes back to Judah, and Ruth goes with her, because she has vowed to stay with Naomi until one of them leaves this world.

In Judah, Ruth seeks work picking up leftover grain in a barley field. It’s not much, but one does what one must. She meets the owner of the barley farm, Boaz, who is very kind to her and she later learns that he is a relative of her late husband’s.

That’s good news because it was the custom in some cultures for childless widows to be married to their husband’s nearest male relative, to secure the dead man’s family lineage and to secure the widow’s safety and comfort as well.

Boaz has never married before but he agrees to marry Ruth if a closer relative does not wish to do so. Marrying Ruth means getting Ruth AND Naomi, because they have vowed to be together until death, like a marriage. So, the husband will get a wife and a dead cousin’s mother. Any takers? Nope? Just Boaz? So be it.

Boaz, the lifelong bachelor marries Ruth (and takes in Naomi for good measure), and Boaz and Ruth have a child, Obed.

Now, the child is Boaz’s and Ruth’s, or we could consider it Ruth’s first husband’s, since Boaz was basically acting as surrogate for him. But the women in town don’t call the baby Boaz’s or Ruth’s or Ruth’s late husband’s; they call the baby Naomi’s!

One woman has a child but the other woman is considered its parent…so much so the neighbors imagine that Naomi nurses the baby! Of course, Naomi hasn’t been pregnant in decades, but don’t let such trivial details ruin a good story.

In the end, the women in town tell Naomi, “Ruth is more to you than seven sons.”

Ruth never left Naomi. Promised to be with her forever. Went to work to support them. Married a guy and even proposed to him to keep the family safe. Ruth, the Moabite, and Boaz the lifelong “bachelor” have come together to provide for Ruth and Naomi (the couple bound by sacred covenant) and to have a baby that is considered Naomi’s.
This story is almost too queer for the Logo television network!

And then the piece de resistance: Ruth is more important to Naomi than 7 sons.

NOTHING is more important to a woman in patriarchal antiquity than a son. Sons are social security. Sons are survival. And 7 is the number of perfection. There is nothing that could be imagined to be better than 7 sons, but Ruth is more valuable to Naomi than even multiple sons (in case you haven’t caught the way their feelings for each other have developed).

In chapter 4, Naomi is given a blessing: “May your house become like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” Tamar prostituted herself. Remember, her husband died, and then his brother her second husband died, and so Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute to entrap her father in law. Her plan succeeded and she finally had children, including Perez.

Naomi gets a blessing, and the blessing is a reminder of a son whose mother lost everything, but who would not let her past be the blueprint for her future. May your house be the like the house of Perez.
In other words, may your past hurts be healed, and your future be joyous.

Naomi has twice lost her home – first in Bethlehem, then in Moab.
She’s lost her husband, and her sons.
But she never lost Ruth. When we can be thankful for what is left, we can build on it. We can heal from the pain of the past and reclaim our joy. There is healing from past hurts.

This story can help us heal from past hurts. Maybe religion was used as a weapon against us, but right here in scripture we see Jesus’ ancestors. We see Jesus coming from the wrong kinds of people, we see the condemned becoming the affirmed, the rejected becoming the celebrated, the heartbroken becoming the healed.

Prostitutes, Moabites, a lifelong bachelor who has lots of queer qualities if you ask me…THESE are the ancestors of Jesus (whose own mother got caught in a scandal when she was pregnant).

These are the people who are part of Jesus’ family tree, along with David the murderer and Solomon with his 700 wives and 300 concubines (1000 spouses…I had to wait half my life to legally get one!).

By the standards of religious fundamentalists, Jesus was trash from a long line of trash, and yet he is CALLED the son of God, the anointed one. The story of Jesus is the story that proclaims without equivocation: ALL PEOPLE HAVE SACRED VALUE.

To say that someone with Jesus’ pedigree is Lord is to say that God doesn’t have a soul to waste…no one gets left out, no gets left behind. I got a robe, you got a robe, ALL God’s children got a robe!

Jesus’ story is the story that promises: YOU ARE GOD’S MIRACLE AND NOT GOD’S MISTAKE.

To call Jesus Lord is to reflect on crazy Abraham, dishonest Jacob, enslaved Joseph, Madam Rahab, Tamar the seductress, Ruth the Moabite, David the murderer, Solomon the out of control polygamist, Mary the unwed pregnant teenager…to love Jesus is to love the people religion always taught you to hate! To follow Jesus will put you in suspect company. I promise you, Jesus would be often found on Wilton Drive today. We’ve always been his peeps.

Sons and daughters of Ruth, sisters and brothers of Jesus: You are forever held in the love that God is because there is not a spot where God is not. You have sacred value. You are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. And this is the gospel, the good news! Amen.

Dear God,
Heal my past hurts.
As I am healed, others are as well.
Thank you, God!
Amen.

We Can Make a Difference

On August 12, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

We Can Make a Difference Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Ruth 3) 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 new in town. I was in my early 20s and […]

We Can Make a Difference
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
(Ruth 3)

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 new in town. I was in my early 20s and had transferred to a larger university from a smaller college. As has always been my way, on Sunday, I was looking for a church. I found myself walking into St. Barnabas and I loved it…everything was wonderful. But, there was one thing I needed to get out of the way.

On the way out of church in the receiving line the curate (aka known as an assistant pastor) noticed that I was new and invited me to return. I told her I would love to as long as I could be honest about who I was. “I’m gay,” I said. She seemed stunned not by the fact but by my directness. It was the 80s in the Bible Belt after all.
She smiled and said, “That won’t be a problem here.”
She then invited me to join the Canterbury Club at the university. She was the club’s chaplain.

I became part of the Canterbury Club. We had mass every Tuesday morning at 7:30 am (an ungodly hour for a holy service) and again on Thursdays at noon (much more civilized). Thursday mass was followed by lunch. We also had a Saturday morning discussion group and the occasional movie night. I’d go to church on Sundays, but during the week, the Canterbury Club was like a parish of its own right there on campus.

That priest who welcomed an audacious young queer into her parish and into her campus ministry was the first person who ever said to me, “I think you may have a priestly vocation.” Those words changed my life.

Simple actions. But those acts of simple generosity helped shape my life and ministry. We don’t even know the difference we may be making in someone’s life by sharing a glance, a word, an invitation, a smile.

This church touches lives. But what is this church?

It’s the retired designer who volunteers to make our lovely vestments. It’s the usher team. This church is the garden team that labors in the hot sun on Saturdays so that we can utilize the GLF prayer garden.

This church is a facility that houses support groups and senior services and transgender programs that give hope to people every day.

This church is the music ministry that is here every Thursday night rehearsing so that we can have a beautiful worship experience. It’s the volunteers who put together 200 brown bag lunches every week to give to people who need assistance with food. This church is the people who bring food items to share with local food banks beyond our own food sharing ministry.

This church is the prayer team holding you in prayer every week. This church is every volunteer who lectors and serves communion. This church is a volunteer who comes in once a week just to clean bathrooms.

This church is every person who lovingly and joyfully tithes to the work of this ministry. This church is the couple that helps people make arrangements to be interred in our columbarium. It’s the home and hospital visitation team, the hospitality team, the ministers who facilitate worship at assisted living facilities, the team that ministers to people as they begin their journeys to recovery.

This church is a professional painter who gives us her time and labor for free. This church is a group of volunteers who count offerings and enter data and address envelopes. This church is the A/V volunteers, the part time employees who work other jobs as well, the full time staff who in some cases left more lucrative corporate jobs to serve this community.

This church that touches, uplifts, blesses, and maybe even saves lives is YOU. Stuffing an envelope, saying a prayer, reading a passage, singing a song, digging in the dirt, putting some money in the plate, visiting someone in the hospital…it may not seem like much, but it makes this church what it is and this church is a miracle to someone.

Because of YOU, people know they are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
Because of YOU, people know there’s not a spot where God is not.
Because of YOU, people know there is a church that will affirm their sacred value.
Because of YOU, people are a little less food insecure.
Because of YOU, people find community.
Because of YOU, people have a place to face their challenges and embrace the power of hope.

We can make a difference.
You make a difference.

Boaz made a difference in Ruth and Naomi’s life. Naomi concocts a scheme to get Ruth to seem him privately. “Wait until he’s eaten a big meal and had some wine after a long day’s work. When he goes to bed, he’ll be out like a light. You slip in and position yourself at his feet. He’s bound to notice you and then you can announce your intentions.“

Well, being at someone’s feet is an intimate posture to be sure, and in ancient literature, “feet” sometimes symbolize genitalia, making the posture even more intimate. Boaz does awaken at some point and finds a woman at his…”feet”…and he’s startled. Ruth explains that she’s a childless widow, and as he is her husband’s cousin, she’d like him to marry her.

It was a common practice in the culture. If a man died childless, his nearest single male relative was expected to marry his widow, thus providing security for her and the new husband would serve as a surrogate father. When the widow had her first child by the new husband, the child would be called the departed husband’s child. So, Ruth asks Boaz to take her as his wife.

But why Boaz? He’s not the closest kin. There’s one person closer in line. Why skip him?

Ruth and Naomi have made a life long commitment to each other. I think Naomi knew something about Boaz that led her to believe that he might be okay with that. She sent Ruth to him to lie at his “feet” trusting that he wouldn’t make a move on her. That’s risky, unless she knows something.

Boaz is successful, is a life long “bachelor” (like Rock Hudson), and while he agrees to marry her he also says without hesitation, “there is a nearer relative and if he’ll do it, LET HIM.” If Boaz aint, I ain’t!

But, two women who have pledged to be together for the rest of time. What man would understand and support that? A man like Boaz. And he does. And he will marry Ruth and provide a home for her and Naomi and he will even try to have a child with Ruth. He is willing to form a family so that two women can stay together and be safe. And because of Boaz’s generosity, Ruth and Boaz become Jesus’ ancestors. Without Boaz, we wouldn’t have Jesus! You never know what a difference your one simple action can make.

When you make your offering today, or hug someone at the sign of peace, or speak to someone in the social hall, or invite someone to lunch…you don’t know what you might be setting in motion. But know that your every loving intention and act of compassion matters, and may even help launch a ministry, or contribute to a church that changes lives, or even help Jesus become more real to someone. We can make a difference. And we will, and we do. And this is the good news. Amen.

Possibilities Beyond Problems

On August 5, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Possibilities Beyond Problems Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Ruth 2) 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. Last Sunday and today we’ve been hearing the story of Ruth and Naomi. They’ve […]

Possibilities Beyond Problems
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
(Ruth 2)

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.

Last Sunday and today we’ve been hearing the story of Ruth and Naomi. They’ve had some bad breaks. They’ve lost their husbands. Naomi has lost her sons. Naomi left her homeland during a famine and took refuge in Moab. Now Moab is having a famine and Ruth has left her homeland to return with Naomi to hers. Their options for supporting themselves are limited, but as hard as things are, Ruth is determined to find a way through the difficulties.

Ruth goes to a barley farm. The harvesters drop some barley on the ground while they are harvesting and Ruth and other women who have fallen on hard times scrounge around to collect the barley that winds up on the ground.

The owner of the farm, Boaz, has heard of this Moabite who has traveled with her mother-in-law from Moab to Judah and has promised to care for her. This story moves Boaz and he arranges for Ruth to collect more barley than she otherwise might. At least she and Naomi won’t starve now.

When Naomi and her husband faced a famine, they moved to Moab. There were possibilities beyond their problems.
When Naomi’s husbands and sons died, and she was facing another famine, she and Ruth moved to Judah. There were possibilities beyond their problems.
When they didn’t have a way to support themselves, Ruth found work scavenging for left behind grain. And when Ruth met Boaz, Boaz showed her extra kindness. There were possibilities beyond her problems.

Maybe Boaz admired plucky women. His mother was one. The first chapter of Matthew’s gospel tells us that Boaz’s mother was Rahab, a woman who ran and inn that apparently doubled as a brothel. Rahab (in the book of Joshua) provided cover for Israelite spies. Rahab is an ancestor of Jesus, as is Ruth, the Moabite. In fact, Rahab and Ruth may wind up being related, but that’s for next week.

Ruth has no children…yet. She’s lost a husband. She’s left her homeland. She picking up barley scraps for survival, but she is surviving and her story is about to get a lot better.

Ruth and Naomi faced multiple difficulties, but beyond each difficulty there were possibilities.

In 1914 a career was born. A young lady, for a lark, was an extra in a silent film called The Song of Soul. She liked the work and wound up featured in a few films over the next few years. Then, throughout the 1920s, Gloria Swanson became one of the biggest silent film stars in Hollywood.

But times change. Silent movies were to be replaced by talkies. In 1929 Swanson along with Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore, Charlie Chaplain, and Mary Pickford made a radio show appearance to show the world they had voices and they could use them. So, throughout the 1930s, Swanson continued to make films, but her popularity waned.

So, she started doing theatre in the 1940s and in 1948 she hosted one of the first live series on television: The Gloria Swanson Hour.

And then, she got back on top in 1950 when she took a role that Mae West and Mary Pickford turned down…Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. A superstar again!

She went on to do a few more plays, a few more television appearances, a few more movies, she wrote her autobiography. She showed for six decades that when the industry changed, she could adapt. If one thing she tried didn’t bring satisfying results, she’d try something else. If Gloria Swanson got knocked down, she’d get back up. If she got left behind, she’d catch up. If the medium that began her career ceased to exist, she’d just move on to another medium. She worked it out. She gleaned leftover grain at times, but it was part of a larger story of success and survival.

Morris Goodman is known as the Miracle Man. He had a pilot’s license and in March of 1981 he was flying a small plane which malfunctioned and crashed. He sustained major injuries including spinal damage. He was completely paralyzed, unable to even swallow or breathe on his own. His sister helped him develop a system of communication using his eyelids. They worked out a code so that she would know what a series of blinks meant.

Goodman was a fan of Zig Ziglar and Napoleon Hill and he believed in the great powers of the mind. He started focusing his attention on one finger, trying to move it. Eventually, he was able to slightly move one finger. If he could communicate by blinking and by force of will move one finger, maybe he could see improvement in other parts of his body and he chose to hope for just such progress. Somehow, he dared to believe that there were possibilities beyond his incredible problems.

In pretty short order he found himself being able to breathe on his, and then he could swallow. Just four months after his plane crash, he was walking. Not skipping. Not dancing. There was pain. But he was walking.

Goodman wrote a book about his miraculous recovery, has made television appearances, and was featured in the film “The Secret.” He had his devastating accident at the age of 36, and today he is 72 and still telling the tale.

Ruth and Naomi had to cope with grief and financial uncertainty; but they discovered there were possibilities beyond their problems.

Gloria Swanson had ups and downs in her career, but she kept going. She kept finding ways to do what she loved. She discovered that there were possibilities beyond her problems.

Morris Goodman had his health demolished in the blink of an eye…and so he learned to communicate by blinking his eyes, and he did what most medical experts would say could not be done…he learned to walk and talk and breathe and eat again…he’s a living miracle. He definitely discovered that there are possibilities beyond problems.

What are your challenges, problems, disappointments? What ever it is, don’t get too bogged down in it. Don’t give it more power than it deserves. The problem may seem big, but I promise you, there are possibilities beyond problems. This is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
I affirm that there are possibilities beyond problems.
Even miracles are possible!
Alleluia!
Amen.

Covenant Relationship

On July 30, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Covenant Relationship 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 the book of Genesis there is a story about a town called Sodom. Sodom was a […]

Covenant Relationship
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 the book of Genesis there is a story about a town called Sodom. Sodom was a rough place. It was notoriously wicked.

Sodom was known for cruelty, for indifference toward those in need, and for being unkind to travelers and newcomers to their town. The prophet Ezekiel wrote: “Now this was Sodom’s sin – they were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

Abraham’s nephew, Lot, lived in Sodom. He was considered the most righteous person in Sodom. And if he was the most righteous, then it really was a cess pool.

Lot one night came across a couple of strangers who needed lodging and he graciously offered them his guest room. So far, he seems like a great guy. But things got ugly quickly.

A nefarious gang shows up at Lot’s house and demands that he turn his guests over to them. Sexual assault is their plan and they say as much. Lot rushes to the defense of his guests, saying, “I will not let you hurt my guests…BUT, you can have my daughters and do whatever you want to them.”

Righteous Lot? Not so much.

Well, his guests have a few tricks up their sleeves, they get Lot and his family out of the house safely. Next thing you know Sodom is somehow blown to smithereens and Mrs. Lot is killed in the process. Lot and his daughters take refuge in a cave. Apparently this cave had a well stocked bar because Lot proceeds to get drunk and commits incest with his daughters.

Righteous Lot?? I don’t think so.

Both daughters conceive and the child that one of the daughters conceived is said to be the ancestor of the Moabite nation.

In other words, the writer is saying the Moabites are inbred. It’s an ethnic slur. The writer is saying he or she doesn’t think very highly of the Moabites.

You may have heard that the story of Sodom condemns same gender love or attraction. I defy you to find romance in the entire story. There is violence and there are threats and there is incest committed by the most righteous person in town…but romance or attraction or caring relationships are never seen in the story.

But the story we heard read today (Ruth 1) is a story about a caring relationship.

There was a famine in Judah, and a guy named Elimelech migrated with his wife Naomi and their two sons from Bethlehem to the country of MOAB.
Moab…we don’t like them (remember?). We make up stories about how their whole nation is the result of inbreeding. But when we don’t have food and they do, Moab doesn’t seem so bad. And what’s more…they let us come in?! We were hungry and scared and desperate and we sought refuge in Moab and those gross Moabites took us in and let us build a new life among them.
Elimelech and Naomi discovered that Moabites can in fact be generous and kind; and so their sons grew up in Moab and married Moabite women.
In time, Elimelech died, and later, the Widow Naomi’s sons died also. The sons never had children.

Eventually, Moab experiences a famine, and Naomi decides to return to her home country. At first her daughters in law want to go with her, but Naomi insists that they go back to their families and start their lives over. She finally persuades Orpah to do just that. But Ruth will not abandon Naomi.

Ruth says to Naomi: “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried…[Not] even death [will part] me from you!”

Those words are often read at weddings between a man and a woman, but the words originally are said by a woman to a woman. A sacred oath. A loving commitment. A life-long vow from one woman to another. A covenant relationship. Please don’t miss how powerful that fact is.

Ruth and Naomi go back to Naomi’s homeland. People who remembered Naomi were surprised to see her. But when they exclaimed, “Is this Naomi?” She answered them, “Don’t call me Naomi” (which means pleasant). She said, “My new name is Mara” (which means bitter). She’s lost her husband, her sons, will never see one of her daughters in law ever again, and now she has left her adopted home. She’s lost so much. Of course she feels more bitter than pleasant.

She does something we are all tempted to do when we are feeling sad or overwhelmed. She imagines that she never had troubles before these, and now there is nothing good in her world. Neither are really true. Her life wasn’t without challenges before. Hunger drove her family to Moab after all. She’s faced difficulties before and got through them. She’s stronger than she realizes. We all are.
And, she hasn’t lost everything. She still has Ruth. Even when she tried to ditch Ruth she couldn’t. You see, the disappointment at hand can be mitigated by blessings we might have overlooked so far.

The story shows us that God’s love will never let us go. Ruth’s affirmation of love and devotion is not only her commitment to Naomi, it is God’s commitment to us. God, the All-in-all, the omnipresence, the Love that is the fabric of the universe, the Life that expresses in, through, and as our lives will not abandon us because God cannot abandon us. “Whither thou goest, I will go.” Wherever I am, God is.

And the story shows us that love makes a family. Ruth chooses to be with Naomi. She chooses to live with her, care for her, provide for her, make a home with her, make a life with her. Ruth formed a covenant relationship with Naomi, a ‘til death do us part sort of relationship, and she honored it. Ruth knew what we know: Love makes a family.

The story shows us that God is love, and wherever love is genuinely expressed, is holy ground. This is holy ground. And this is the good news. Amen.

God is love.
Love works miracles in my life.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.

Unity

On July 23, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Unity 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. Lev 15 – menstruating woman is untouchable. Any furniture she sits on will be considered contaminated. Mark 5 […]

Unity
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.

Lev 15 – menstruating woman is untouchable. Any furniture she sits on will be considered contaminated.
Mark 5 – woman had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. Touched Jesus.

In the 80s, many people with AIDS felt untouchable. People wouldn’t hug them. Some people wouldn’t visit them without being covered from head to toe. Some care facilities would leave their food outside their doors, even if they were too weak to go to the door and get it. When fear and prejudice and ignorance and condemnation left people with a dis-ease feeling untouchable, the way of Jesus was still to hold their hands, to hug them, to wipe their brow, to pray for them, to remind them that to God there is no such thing as untouchable.

Lev 24 – Whoever injures a neighbor is to be injured the same way – limb for limb, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. It was mean to limit retribution, but it still allowed for violent retribution.

Matt 5 – Turn the other cheek. Fight? Yes. But without violence. As St. Paul would tell us, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. Oh, we will take some risks, but bombs and bullets are not the weapons of Jesus. We may say with the psalmist, “the rod and staff comfort me,” but Jesus said, “Put away your sword”. The Jesus way is hard sometimes, and it remains counter cultural.

Psalm 109 – May my enemy’s days be few;…May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow!…Let there be none to extend kindness to him. (Straight up cursed an enemy with prayer)…

But Jesus…

Luke 23 – Forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.

Jesus’ way was not the way of condemnation. Even when others weaponized scripture, he liberated scripture and then used it to liberate others. Jesus’ way was always the way of welcome, of affirmation, of celebration, of dignity, of compassion.

It’s not easy, and we get it wrong (God knows I do), but that’s when we pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” and we try again. We start over practicing love, compassion, hope, gentleness, forgiveness, peace. We try again to remember that we are all the children of God and we are all meant to enjoy peace and plenty, hope and happiness.

The way of the world, the way of politics, the way of many families, the way of society, even the way of religion can be harsh, frightening, unfair, cold, even cruel.
But Jesus demonstrates a different way and followers of Jesus are meant to practice that different way.

To be a FOLLOWER of Jesus is to reject violence.
To be a follower of Jesus is to extend compassion to the hurting.
To be a follower of Jesus is to be concerned for the prisoner, the refugee, the poor, the sick, the lonely, the marginalized, the oppressed.

It’s hard to be nonviolent in a violent world. But its the Jesus way.
It’s hard to be compassionate when fear and hatred seem to saturate the fabric of society. But compassion is the Jesus way.
It’s hard to be generous when “me first” and “us first” are being pumped into our consciousness every day.
It’s hard to forgive. It’s hard to risk. It’s hard to get up when you’ve been knocked down. It’s hard to imagine that beyond the darkness of a tomb there are resurrection possibilities. It’s hard to follow Jesus which is why he has a billion worshipers and so few followers.

Mark 10 – a rich young man came to Jesus and said, “Good Master, what must I do to achieve everlasting significance?” And Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? PS, you know what to do. Be kind and generous.” And the young man walked away sad because that’s not what he wanted to hear.
It was so much easier to say “good master” than it was to be committed to kindness and generosity.

“Lord, Lord” is easy to say…but to love neighbor, turn the other cheek, forgive 70 x 7, worship with your last two mites, to touch the untouchable, love the unloved, work for peace, demand justice, affirm the sacred value of all people…that is a lot of work. Can’t we just say, “Lord, Lord!”? Can’t we just say, “Good master!”?

Jesus never once said, “Blow smoke up my skirt.” He did say, “follow me.” And he said, “if you love me, feed my sheep.” And he said, “let the children come to me.” And he said, “come to me all who labor and are heavy burdened and I will refresh you.” Will we dare try, even if means to try and fail, but will we try to follow that example?

Ephesians 2 calls us to remember the Jesus way.
The Roman peace, the peace promised by empire was maintained by domination and intimidation.
Today’s scripture says that Jesus is our peace. Not the Roman peace, not the peace that politics and empire and power and privilege promise…the peace of Christ is the peace that comes from kindness and generosity and caring what happens to LGBTQ people and caring about what happens to people seeking refuge and caring about women having sovereignty over their own bodies and caring about people in Flint not having drinkable water and caring about our friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens in Puerto Rico who are still suffering…the peace that comes from caring and sharing and loving and forgiving and hoping…that is the peace and the power that comes from following Jesus.

Ephesians reminds us that there are no strangers, no aliens, no outcasts, no untouchables…not to followers of Jesus, because we are part of one family, one humanity, we are all children of one God. Jesus is our example of how to live as a child of God. Jesus is an example of how to live so authentically as a human being that divinity is expressed. Jesus is an example of the life changing power of living as if we believed we were one with God.

When we follow the way of Christ, we have the peace of Christ.
The way of Christ is knowing our unity with God, and with one another. If there’s not a spot where God is not, if God is omnipresent, everlasting, unconditional, and all-inclusive love, then peace is possible, it is inevitable, and it will tear down walls and bring us together as a healing force in the world.

The way of Christ is the way of unity, of recognizing that we are one with all life and with the Source of life. The way of Christ is the way to peace, and we are here as the church to practice that way, the way of Christ our peace. And this is the good news. Amen.

I am one with God.
I am one with all life.
I am one with all that is good.
And so it is.

Grace

On July 8, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Grace 2 Cor. 12.2-10 Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or other people’s oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. When I was a kid I loved the television show Bewitched. The show had […]

Grace
2 Cor. 12.2-10
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

When I was a kid I loved the television show Bewitched.
The show had humor and hijinx, colorful sets and costumes, and lots of magic to stir the imagination. Of course I loved it. It lasted 8 seasons…apparently a lot of people loved it.

But it was more for me. It wasn’t just fun. It was something much deeper.

Samantha, the lead character played by Elizabeth Montgomery, was erudite, beautiful, clever, and kind. She was good by almost criterion. But she had a secret. She had spent her life in the shadows, in an underground community, a sub-culture not known about in mainstream society. When she was around “normal” people, she kept that secret to herself. It wouldn’t do for her to be outed, to be discovered for the different sort of person she was.

Her secret, of course, was that she was part of a magical lineage and tribe. She was a witch. Some people didn’t believe that witchcraft was even a real thing. Others thought it must be bad or scary. Still others, if they knew about it, would want to exploit it for their personal gain or advancement. So, the witching world hid from the rest of the world.

A minority, forced to hide. Gifted, lovers of life, capable of great joy and generosity, but still afraid to be known and forced to hide what made them unique, special. This show was saying something to me.

Then there was Endora. Samantha’s mother (portrayed by the ineffable Agnes Moorehead) who paraded around in colorful kaftans, big hair, false eyelashes and garish costume jewelry…Endora was my first experience of a drag queen!

Samantha married a “normal” person and so she no longer hid in her community; she now integrated into the larger society. She wasn’t just hiding now; she was denying who she was. She was passing as normal, non-magical, not different. And that annoyed her mother. She was annoyed that Samantha caved into the bigoted systems that said she shouldn’t even exist, or if she did, she should lie about it.

Hiding in the safety of a ghettoized community was one thing, but denying one’s truth entirely in order to be accepted by those who would not affirm her if they really knew her, that was a soul-killing deception and Endora could not abide it. So, she was always begging her daughter to embrace her heritage and to live as the person she was meant to be, even if it meant returning to the gayborhood, I mean, magical community.

Then, to really real me in, there was Uncle Arthur…a clown, a trickster, a vaudevillian…and he was played by an obviously gay man (Paul Lynde). The show was called Bewitched but I felt like I was watching This is Your Life.

A closeted witch, a drag queen activist, and a fairy (well, a gay warlock anyway). People struggling to understand themselves and coexist with a larger culture while knowing themselves to be different and special and gifted, while both enjoying their gifts and living in fear of them being discovered: This story was my story, somehow. This fantasy felt all the world like my reality.

The witches hid or lied about their true identity. What I could see, and maybe what I was meant to see, was that what made them different is what made them special. Their unique gifts gave them power. Grace had bestowed upon them the gift of specialness, abilities that others didn’t have and couldn’t even understand. They lived in the margins, but even there, they were amazing, maybe more than they realized.

We all have gifts. Maybe, more than we realize.

In our scripture reading today, Paul is writing, again, to a group in Corinth. Paul has an awkward and sometimes contentious relationship with the Corinthians. They are impressed by psychic gifts, mysticism, paranormal activity – the flashy gifts.

Paul has already told them to stop trying to outdo one another with their various spiritual talents. It’s not a competition. Whatever you’re good at, put it to use in the church to help the church thrive so that it can reach more people with a message of hope. It’s not about who has more gifts or more impressive gifts, it’s about all of us doing all we can to collectively be our very best.

But apparently, someone has come along and demonstrated phenomenal abilities, astral projecting and what not. And Paul, who is repeatedly trying to get the Corinthians to accept his credentials, says,
“So you know a guy! I know someone who flies off into the heavens now and then and hears things so weird and woogie that he can’t even talk about it when he gets back.”

Paul doesn’t have that ability. So he has to affirm the gift that he has. He discovers that his so called weakness is actually his strength. How he handles his difficulty is his gift!

Paul’s overcome some stuff. Paul used religion to justify cruelty before his own enlightenment. He’s no longer that monster, but he is still haunted by his past. Also, he knows the pain of unanswered prayer. He has prayed repeatedly for God to remove a thorn from his flesh, and the thorn remains.

Is the thorn regret for his past cruelty? Is it a physical malady? Is something no one can see?

You know, we never hear of a Mrs. Paul. He’s friends with Lydya, a woman who leads an all women’s community?
And, he visits Mytelene (which, by the way, is the capital of Lesbos). Paul’s singleness and comfort in Sapphic communities may tell us something about Paul. What’s in Paul’s closet?

Is having same gender attraction his thorn? And does he finally come to realize that it is also his gift? He asked God to take it away, and God wouldn’t. He thought something about him was thorny, but maybe in prayer he realizes that God isn’t going to make him be something he isn’t because he’s already who God created him to be.

“My grace is sufficient for you.”
Therefore, (Paul says), “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities…because grace helps me find strength in the weakness!”

Your gifts, your power, your ability may not be flashy, others may not value it, they may not understand it but it is more than enough.

Things aren’t always pretty. They aren’t always easy. They aren’t always fair. But GRACE!

Grace is enough.
Grace says, “You are loved and nothing will separate you from God’s love.”
Grace says, “Even in your weakness you can find strength.”
Grace says, “There is no cruelty in God, and there need not be any in you.”
Grace says, “Your circumstances do not define you.”
Grace says, “You can go to peace instead of to pieces.”

Grace can neither be earned nor lost; it is the unconditional, all-inclusive, everlasting love of God.
My grace is enough.

Maybe that’s why Paul told the Corinthians in his previous letter, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

You’re probably not a broom flying sorcerer, and you may not have vacationed in the third heaven lately, but you have other gifts.
You may be transgender.
You may be a long term HIV survivor or a cancer survivor or depression survivor.
You may be gay or lesbian or bisexual (praise God).
You may be finding strength and courage you never knew you had as you face disappointment, grief, or hardship.
You may be generous, or compassionate, or kind.

Whatever you are, it is God’s gift to you, it is a result of God’s grace, and it is enough.

You are enough.
You are always enough.
It is by the grace of God you are what you are. And this is the good news! Amen.

By the grace of God I am what I am.
And what I am is God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
Alleluia!
Amen.

God Can Help

On July 1, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

God Can Help Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins God Can Help Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or other people’s oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Our scripture reading today comes from the book […]

God Can Help
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

God Can Help
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

Our scripture reading today comes from the book of Lamentations.
We all know what lament means: it’s a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. And, that pretty fairly sums up the Book of Lamentations.

Each chapter of Lamentations is a hymn (a funeral dirge in fact) responding to the Fall of Jerusalem and the exile that followed.

The book of Lamentations declares the devastating sorrow the writer feels after the loss of Jerusalem, which wasn’t just a loss of control over real estate, but the loss of a vision, of values, of a dream where peace would reign, and abundance would bless every life, and compassion and justice would rule hearts and homeland, where generosity would outlast animosity and every wayfarer could be seen as a new friend. What happened to the city that could have been? And how will we ever reclaim the vision, the hope of what might be?

The truth is, sometimes loss is so overwhelming, disappointment is so heartbreaking, situations are so monumentally unfair, we can’t possibly move through the ache until we express it. Sometimes we need to swear, to punch a pillow, to break down with an ugly cry. And then, we can say, “God, help me get myself back together. Help me focus more on what is left than on what was lost. Help me see what I can do to rebuild. Help me see how things can get better.”

We can be positive and optimistic and ready for a miracle, once we’ve let ourselves acknowledge that our pain is real and our sorrow is profound.

We see that in Lamentations. Five chapters of moaning and wailing and “why, God, why???!!!” and even in the midst of all that, there is also, “God’s mercies are new every morning” and “I will hope in God.” My hope may be running low today, but I’ll get it back. I WILL hope in God again.
The life of faith is a long game.

There are seasons of ease and seasons of challenge. There are times when we are confident and times when we are burdened with doubt. Times of optimism, and times where we are almost hopeless.

But we will reclaim our hope. We will renew our strength. We will get our second wind. Deliverance is on the way, I promise it is, but I can’t tell you exactly when or how it will show up. But, even in the most troubling times, I do affirm that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.

In the book of Daniel, there is a story about King Nebuchadnezzar who made a huge, garish idol and decreed that all of his subjects must worship it. But there were three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were faithful to their own spiritual path and they would not worship an idol of wealth or power. The huge, gold statue representing the king’s power, privilege, and wealth must have been impressive, but these young men had different values: kindness, courage, hope, peace, generosity, hospitality…their God represented peace and plenty, hope and healing for all people, not just a privileged few. They did not worship the king’s power or his wealth…they did not bow to his idol.

And so, they were sentenced to death. They were to be marched into an oven, a furnace, and burned alive. And they were thrown in the fire. But they survived, the story insists. And what’s more, witnesses said they saw a fourth figure in the fire.

The writer probably meant to suggest that a protective angel was there with them, but an angel in ancient literature symbolizes God’s presence. The young men went through the fire. I’m not sure I take that story literally, but I do take the point to heart. Sometimes we may feel like the world is on fire, but God is in the fire. There’s not a spot where God is not.

When the world is topsy turvey,
When chaos is everywhere,
When what we thought we could count on seems lost,

When peace is in peril,
and dignity is in danger ,
and compassion is crowded by cruelty,
and justice for all is perverted to all for just us,

That is when we are called to renew our hope,
To encourage one another,
To sing and pray,
To resist and rise up.

When a woman was about to be stoned by those who used religion like a weapon against people they didn’t like, Jesus stepped up. He said, “If you’ve never needed understanding, compassion, a second chance, if you’ve never once screwed up, then you be the first to throw a stone.” He saved her life, but also risked his own really. He was out numbered, but still he stood up, and he spoke up. Doesn’t following Jesus demand the same risks even still?

When voting rights are attacked, when the free press is attacked, when Muslims are targeted, when same-gender loving people are dehumanized and demonized, when Puerto Ricans are left in the dark for months on end, when people fight tooth and nail for fetuses but won’t lift a finger to protect brown and black children from being shot, tazed, caged, or ripped from their mothers’ arms, it is time for Jesus people to stand up, to speak up, and even to act up.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fought injustice. They didn’t use deadly weapons or mean spirited propaganda. Integrity, hope, courage, and resilience were their weapons. They fought but without hate and without violence. As St. Paul said, “the weapons of our warfare are not physical, but through God they are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.” The three young men defeated greed, weaponized religion, and authoritarianism by simply not yielding to it. And they prevailed.

I can’t promise there will be no fires. Things seem to be heating up all the time.
I can’t promise that we will never lament; in fact, lamenting seems necessary some days.
But I can promise that no matter what we face we face it with God, and God can help.

God’s help may come in the form of our generosity, our resilience, our support of good causes, our encouragement of one another, our determination to resist injustice…But God’s help is at hand because there’s not a spot where God is not.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, divine mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.
God will help us rise up for justice-love.
God will help us speak up for the marginalized, the downtrodden, the victimized, the hurting and helpless.
God will help us feed the flock.
God will help us work for peace.
God will help us bind up the broken hearted,
God will help us deliver good news to the poor,
God will help us ask for release of political prisoners and asylum seekers,
God will help us welcome the stranger,
God will help us affirm the sacred value of all people!

God will help us stand up, and speak up, and when necessary, act up.
God can help us proclaim, embody, and live out the Gospel of God’s all-inclusive, unconditional, and everlasting love.

God can help; and with God’s help…we will make a difference. And this is the good news. Amen.

God help me to help others.
God help me to be a ray of your light in the world.
God help me to never give up hope.
Amen.

Beliefs Matter

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

Beliefs Matter Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or other people’s oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Jesus tried to help people feel better about their lives. He wanted people to feel as […]

Beliefs Matter
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

Jesus tried to help people feel better about their lives. He wanted people to feel as if they mattered, as if they had purpose. And so he prayed for people’s healing. He affirmed their sacred value. He tried to chase away the demons, the fear thoughts, the internalized oppression that kept people miserable.

Jesus was a mystic. He encountered God directly and he shared God one on one with the people he encountered, and that threatened both political and religious establishments. He offered people a vision of a divine kin-dom, a non-kingdom, an anti-empire where there were no slaves, no prisoners, no outcasts, no untouchables…a blessed community where the first were last and the last were first and no sword would be drawn but the sword of truth and no power unleashed but the power of love.

For his noble vision and his life changing ministry, the Empire called him an insurrectionist, and the religious establishment in bed with the empire called him demonic.

He was doing good. Helping people. Loving people. Tearing down walls and barriers. Lifting people up. Giving people their dignity back, resurrecting their hope.

But domination, whether it takes the form of politics or religion, doesn’t recognize or celebrate potential wholeness. Oppression deals in fractures and wounds and deception. It is a broken religion, and a broken society that will offer hate and call it love, and look at love and call it demonic.

Jesus believed in a good God.
Jesus believed in human potential.
Jesus believed that justice for all was the will of God.
And Jesus believed that healing was possible.
His beliefs empowered people, and those who didn’t want people empowered came down hard on Jesus…that’s how much his beliefs mattered.
And so do ours.

Let me share with you some of my beliefs. I’ll limit it to seven, though really, they could all be summed up by combining the first two into one…God is omnipresent Love.

But borrowing from tradition, 7 being the number of sacraments, the first deacons, and the gifts of the Spirit as named by the prophet Isaiah, I will share 7 beliefs. If you find them empowering, I invite you to adopt and if need be, adapt them.

Number 1.
I believe in the omnipresence of God.
“There’s not a spot where God is not.”

For God to be omnipresent, God must be everywhere, fully, evenly, at the same time present. That means we must be in God, part of God.
God is with us, within us, is the source and substance of all being, the ground of being. God is Life living itself through All that is.

I cannot be separated from, lost from, abandoned by, or forgotten by God. I am forever safe in God because it is in God that I live and move and have my being. And if it’s true for me, it’s true for you.

Number 2.
I believe that God is love.
Not merely loving, not just kind or generous, not just forgiving or understanding …God is love itself.

God is perfect love, and perfect love rejects no one. Perfect love is all inclusive, unconditional, and everlasting.
Perfect, omnipresent love must embrace and celebrate every life.

God is a presence from which we cannot be separated and a love that will not let us go.
Some people preach wrath, judgment, condemnation and damnation, but none of that can be true in the presence of omnipresent love.

Number 3.
I believe that all people have sacred value. If God is omnipresent love, that means we are made from love and are part of a loving presence that is the only presence there is. We, then, like Jesus, are the incarnation of God’s love. To be made by God, from God, in God, for God, and filled with God’s own life and love is to have sacred value.

Number 4.
I believe in miracles.
A miracle is a change in perception from fear to love.
Once we release a fear, we have experienced a miracle.

Once we see past pessimism, past fear, past regret, past other people’s limiting beliefs, past the past and we embrace the infinite possibilities that exist within a loving omnipresence, then how we experience life changes in joyful ways.

And the biggest miracle may just be the one that comes from knowing God as an all-loving omnipresence, because once you know God as omnipresent Love you know that you have sacred value, which means that you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

Number 5.
I believe that we are meant to be blessed.

Emma Curtis Hopkins said, “There is good for me and I ought to have it.”

Jesus prayed, “give us this day our daily bread.”

John prayed, “May you prosper and be in good health.”

Isaiah heard God saying, “Like a mother comforts her child so will I comfort you.”

Moses led people through a wilderness where they found manna and quail to eat and where even toxic water was made fresh.

Ezekiel had a vision of his dried up, worn out, downtrodden community getting a second wind and coming back to life.

We pray, “thy will be done,” and it is God’s will for us to be blessed and to share our blessings.

Number 6.
I believe that injustice is sin.

I don’t use the word “sin” a lot because it has been used in sinful ways to hurt, control, and terrorized people.
But sin is missing the mark and injustice is missing the mark.
Cruelty is missing the mark. Oppression is missing the mark. Avarice is missing the mark. Spreading hate and fear is missing the mark.

Injustice denies the love that God is, and the love God calls us to share.

It is unjust, unloving, and sinful to vilify transgender people.
It is unjust, unloving, and sinful to torment, bully, and exclude same-gender loving people.
It is unjust, unloving, and sinful to harden our hearts toward the poor, the sick, the asylum seeker, or the refugee.
Injustice is sin.

Number 7.
I believe that since injustice is sin, our sacred mission is to correct injustice.
The prophet Micah said that this is what God requires of us, ONLY to do justice and love mercy and live humbly.

Justice and mercy.
Fairness and compassion.
What else would omnipresent Love ask of us?

Justice work is the call of the gospel.
It is how the kin-dom of God will be established on earth.
It is what the church is supposed to be about.
I believe that justice and mercy are our guiding principles as followers of Jesus.

I believe that God is omnipresent
And I believe that God is love.

Therefore, I believe that all people have sacred value,
That miracles are possible,
And that we are meant to be blessed.

And I believe that injustice is sin,
And that we are called to correct injustice with the ministry of justice and mercy.

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the mission of his church as I understand it today.
Will you support this mission faithfully and enthusiastically?
If so, then this is the good news. Amen.

God is omnipresent love.
Therefore, I have sacred value,
I believe in miracles,
And there is good for us and we ought to have it!
May we be blessed to be a blessing…
In the name of all that is good and holy.
Amen.

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