Don’t Play Biblical Tit for Tat

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

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

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

Immersed in God’s Goodness

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

Immersed in God’s Goodness Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Today we hear about John’s baptism with water and Jesus’ baptism by fire. We also […]

Immersed in God’s Goodness
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dreaming Dreams into Reality

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

Dreaming Dreams into Reality Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. It’s Epiphany. We’re supposed to talk about the magi today. And I will, but just […]

Dreaming Dreams into Reality
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is the good news. Amen.

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

Christmas Eve at Sunshine Cathedral – We Need a Little Christmas

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

We Need A Little Xmas Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. What god does for us, god does through us. We can pray […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light

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

Light Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. One of the sheroes of my spirituality is Nona Brooks. She was a teacher of the omnipresence of […]

Light
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courage

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

Courage (Esther 4) Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. The Bhagavad Gita has God saying, “I am the Self that dwells in the heart of […]

Courage (Esther 4)
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deciding to Keep Our Eyes Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reign of Christ

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

Reign of Christ Rev Dr Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. You’ll remember Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith Show. Well, I had an Auntie […]

Reign of Christ
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister

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

You’ll remember Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith Show.
Well, I had an Auntie from Wickes, AR.
Auntie was my dad’s aunt. She was the first person in the family to go to college and the first to earn a Master’s degree.

Auntie’s parents died in their 50s. Auntie, by contrast, almost doubled that by living to be 96. As a kid, she suffered from Asthma. She was considered the most delicate of her siblings, and yet she outlived them all.

When Auntie was 88 she was diagnosed with cancer. Because the disease was thought to be aggressive, the treatment would have been harsh, and she was already 88, the doctor suggested that she get her affairs in order, enjoy her remaining months and he assured her that he could keep her comfortable throughout.

She countered, “Tell me more about the treatment option.”

The doctor assured her it would be unpleasant, there was only a 50% chance of it working, and even if it did…why bother extending her life a year or two, if most of the next year would be uncomfortable from the treatment? At 88, there was just no point.

Auntie said, “I don’t seem to have much to lose, and I’d like to give it a shot.” The doctor thought this was foolish, but since she insisted, he would give her the difficult treatment.

PS – the treatment worked. At 88, Auntie received a treatment that had a 50% chance of giving her two more years of life…She lived 8 more years happy and surrounded by love and joyful activity. In fact, on her last day alive…her attendant picked her up, took her to get her hair done, and then took her to lunch…some of her favorite activities, and when she got home she lied down with perfectly coiffed hair, took a nap, and never woke up. 96 years concluded with a perfect day that ended with a peaceful passing.

She wasn’t afraid to try the treatment even with no guarantee of it working.
She wasn’t afraid of what people would think of her for seeking treatment against advice.
She wasn’t afraid to look for hope in what was described as a hopeless situation.
Because she could SEE hope, should could SEIZE it. And she seized 8 more years of life while she was at it.

Rev. Ike used to say, “If you can see it, you can be it.”

And comic Flip Wilson famously and repeatedly quipped, “What you see is what you get.”

If we can see it, we can seize it.
If we can see it, we can be it.
What we see, is what we are likely to get.

In the 6th chapter of the book of Isaiah we read, “I saw God on a lofty throne with a robe that filled the entire Temple.”
Throne represents power. Temple represents holiness. And a robe that fills all space symbolizes omnipresence. The prophet’s vision is of an omnipresent power that is all good.

Isaiah “sees” God as omnipresent, benevolent power.
He saw a power that was everywhere present. He understood God to be omnipresent Goodness.

How do we “see” God? It will determine how we experience God.

Today – the brief gospel lesson shows us Jesus riding into town on a donkey’s colt.
Not a stallion.
Not a chariot pulled by a team of horses.
A donkey.
And a colt at that – a baby donkey!
How ridiculous. Not a king on a war horse, but a peasant on a jack ass.

But what does the scripture say?
DO NOT BE AFRAID! Look! Your sovereign, your Lord is coming sitting on a donkey’s colt!

Do not be afraid to see hope in the unlikely.
Do not be afraid to see possibility in the ridiculous.
Do not be afraid to see the sacred in the silly.
Do not be afraid to see a miracle where others haven’t even looked yet.

Jesus would challenge the power structure, confront injustice, threaten systems of unearned privilege – and he would pay for his effort – but even in his failure he ignited a movement and cast a vision that inspires and challenges us still.

See his courage, his conviction, his conscience, his character…
Look past the clown on a clumsy colt and behold a prince on a prancing pony!
Dare to see possibilities, because what you see is what you get.

Jesus’ whole story is about finding God where others forget to look, remembering that there’s not a spot where God is not.
Jesus is born in a barn,
His mother’s husband is not his father,
His family were refugees in Egypt,
He sometimes (by his own testimony) had no place to lay his head,
He was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed for sedition,
Leaders of his own religion accused him of heresy,
He comes riding into town like a clown or a street performer on a ridiculous little donkey…
And in THAT life our religious forebears saw God.

If God shows up in that life, then God is present in every life…which means God is present to every situation, which means right here, today, no matter who we are, miracles are possible.

If we can see God in the Jesus story, we can see God anywhere, and if we can see God, we can experience God.
So our Reign of Christ scripture isn’t just about Jesus…it’s about life.

Don’t be afraid to try. Effort is empowering with or without success. Jesus failed to topple Rome, but gave a new vision for what the world could be, and that vision is compelling 2 millennia later. Thank God he made the effort.

Don’t be afraid of looking foolish. I had a cousin who wore a copper bracelet on his ankle…Swore it conquered arthritis pain. We laughed at him. But it worked for him, and he wasn’t going to let our chuckles keep him from his relief. Dag Hammarskjold said, “Never for the sake of tranquility deny the reality of your own experience.” Let’em laugh. Look ridiculous. And when you get the breakthrough, you can be the one laughing. And even if things don’t work out, how are you worse off for trying?

Don’t be afraid to see reasons for hope where others have not. If God is omnipresent, then hope is always reasonable. And even in failure, there will still be victory…even if Golgotha should happen, there will be resurrection. So dare to hope.

If we will dare to look for God in our circumstances, we are sure to find something amazing. Even a joker on a jack ass can prove to be a world changing miracle if we know what we’re looking for…and this is the good news! Amen.

There’s not a spot where God is not.
Today I will see and seize miracles.
Blessings abound.
Alleluia!
Amen.

What God Requires

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

What God Requires Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Micah 6.8 Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. The prophet Micah asks rhetorically: How shall I worship God? Shall I give burned […]

What God Requires
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Micah 6.8

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

The prophet Micah asks rhetorically: How shall I worship God? Shall I give burned offerings? Maybe a calf? Should I worship God with a barbecue? Does God like veal?

You know what, I bet that’s not enough. How about I worship God with a thousand rams? How’s that God? You want some rams?!

Wait? You know what’s better than rams? Oil. I don’t mean a little…I’m talking rivers of oil. The expensive stuff. That’ll get God’s attention.

No, shut up. I’ve got it. How about a child? I could give God my first baby.

The prophet’s audience probably thought that calf thing was fine. Doable. Why not?
A thousand rams sounded silly. Who’s got 1000 rams anyway?

Rivers of oil? You ain’t got no river of oil, and no one has enough money to buy that much oil.

But now child sacrifice? That one must have gotten a collective gasp. Micah has taken a flying leap into the middle of Lake Foolish.

But now that Micah has their attention, he gets serious:
You know what God wants. You’ve always known what was right and good. All that God requires of you is to do justice work, show kindness, live humbly.

Now, when we hear this, we usually hear it like this:
What does the Lord require of you but to DO JUSTICE, love mercy, and live humbly with God.

We hear it like it’s a command to do justice work, and then as icing on the cake Micah throws in, “and be nice and a little humble.”

But I don’t believe “love mercy and live humbly” are decorations or after thoughts…I think they are the plan for how to DO JUSTICE.

Oh, we’ve got justice work to do. But we can’t do it, we can’t even have the will to do it, without mercy and humility.

Mother Teresa said, “Justice without love is not justice; and Love without justice is not love.”

Philosopher/activist Cornell West said, “Never forget that Justice is what love looks like in public.”

We can talk about policies, social problems, inequities, systemic oppression, and inherited prejudices…and we have, and we should, and we will…but we won’t do a darn thing about any of it until we care about the people who are hurting.

Without compassion, kindness, empathy…we can’t do justice. We can’t even acknowledge that injustice is real if we don’t care about those who suffer from injustice.

So, mercy or compassion or kindness is a prerequisite for justice work.

If we don’t care that transgender people are routinely dehumanized then why would we work to protect them?

If we don’t care that, even still, same-gender loving people are booted out of their homes and families and churches, then why would we stand up for them?

If we don’t care that Christian theology has contributed to anti-Semitism and the suffering of Jewish people, then what would motivate us to deconstruct the language and attitudes that still hurt Jewish people?

If we don’t see Muslims as beloved children of God, then how can we be allies to them when they are targeted and vilified?

If we are disinterested in the brutal mistreatment of African Americans in this country for centuries, then how can help address the deadly racism of our own day?

Before we can make a difference, we must care. We have to see our fellow human-beings and wish for them all the good fortune we wish for ourselves. So, yes, do justice – but without compassion and empathy, we can’t.

Other biblical contributors were also singing Micah’s song.
You know that 1 John 4 tells us that God is love.
But you may be less familiar with 1 John 3.14 that tells us, “We know that we are fully alive because we love our brothers and sisters.”

We aren’t our best selves until we care about the Other. Not just our friends and the relatives we get along with…but people very different from us also. We live most fully when we care about more than just our small circle of friends.

The Torah instructs us in Deuteronomy 10: “What does God ask of you? To revere and love and serve God with all your heart and soul.”

It takes heart, and soul. Revere and love and serve God. How? With heart and soul. With mercy and empathy. Do justice, love mercy, live humbly.

The prophet Zechariah said, “Show kindness and compassion toward one another. Do not oppress widows and children, aliens in your country, or the poor.”

It’s like Zechariah read the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor, Teen Vogue, listened to NPR, and watched a few minutes of CNN and then responded directly to us: Don’t oppress the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

But when we are operating from love, from compassion and empathy…no one has to tell us that cruelty is wrong. And if we aren’t operating from love, compassion, and empathy…no prophetic exhortation will move us.

In the early days of AIDS, the liberal church was silent, and the conservative church preached blame and condemnation. The Queer Church and the unchurched had to be Christ while the larger church was unwilling. Many churches eventually did better once they realized it could be their siblings, their children, their grandchildren, their dearest friends dying alone. They didn’t change their behavior toward people living with AIDS until they saw them as people. We cannot do justice until we love mercy and live humbly.

About living humbly…Sometimes we equate humility with shame or defeat or low self esteem. That’s not righteous humility.

The humility that supports justice is empathy.
Those lacking empathy are incapable of true justice.
Justice is restorative and healing, and without compassion or empathy, such justice isn’t possible.

C. S. Lewis wrote, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; its thinking of yourself, less.”

When we care about the poor as well as our own comfort,

When we care about a national pathology that allows over 300 mass shootings in 10 months,

When we care about the health and welfare of every ailing or injured body,

When we care about families even if they practice a religion different from our own or if they don’t speak our language or if they came here seeking refuge by desperate means…when we will not abandon people to the hells they risked their lives to escape…that’s biblical humility, empathy, imagining ourselves in the other’s shoes and responding with the kindness we would hope to receive.

We can talk about doing justice, ushering in the kin-dom of God…but without love, without doing unto others as we would have them do unto us…all that justice talk is just talk.

Religion isn’t meant to damn people.
Religion is meant to encourage people to give a damn.

What God requires of us is to care about the person who is hurting. We don’t need to judge their suffering…the church let AIDS patients suffer because it judged them as deserving their plight. The church was wrong.

The church closed its eyes toward slavery. The church was wrong.

The church was silent as indigenous populations were decimated. The church was wrong.

Let us not be so wrong again. Where there is suffering, let us try to offer comfort…compassion, not condemnation.

God loves us, and wants us to share that love with the world. And as we love, we will do justice, because true justice comes from love. This is the good news. Amen.

I am now ready ~
To receive and to share ~
Mighty miracles.
Let the dew of healing grace fall on us all.
Amen.

Prayer Power

On October 28, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Prayer Power 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. When I was young, a priest told me, “To try to pray is to pray.” I believe […]

Prayer Power
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.

When I was young, a priest told me, “To try to pray is to pray.” I believe that still. Any effort to turn godward is an act of prayer. Any loving thought, any positive wish, any feeling of gratitude, any intentional effort to consciously experience a deeper reality, any affirmation of possibilities is, in fact, prayer.

There are lots of forms of prayer. Lots of techniques and formulas.

There is centering prayer (which is sitting in the Silence simply focusing on the divine presence)…it’s one of my favorite forms.
There is Lectio Divina, which is a way of meditating on scripture.
There are mantras, repeating sacred texts and phrases over and over.
There are prayers we read or have learned by heart.

There is chanting, and there are the prayers we sing.
There is praise and thanksgiving.
There is visualization where we imagine things as they could be, and trust that God can make our vision become a reality.

There are many ways to pray…
But the most effective prayers tend to share some things in common, and that’s what Jesus is teaching us today in the gospel.

He isn’t saying we have to pray these exact phrases, or that we have to abandon any other form of prayer…he’s saying, when you pray, however you pray, keep a few things in mind.

1. Acknowledge the divine presence.
“There’s not a spot where God is not.” God is the all-in-all.
God is the Life living through us,
the Wisdom that guides us,
the Love that connects us,
the Power that energizes us,
and the very Substance from which we are made.
God as omnipresence must be right here. So right now is the perfect time to pray.

The first step is to acknowledge the presence of a power.
Dear God.
Abba.
Father-Mother God.
Spirit of Life.
Holy One.
Universal Presence.
Higher Power.
Inward Light.
God of many names, mystery beyond our naming.

Pick a name. It can be Alice or Bozo or Dippity-Do…but let it resonate in your heart, something that speaks to possibilities and love and hope and joy.
Because if you can at least imagine that there is a power, and that the power is always near, THEN you can plug into the power and let it flow in your life. Acknowledge the divine presence.

2. Trust that the divine presence is good.
It’s great for there to be a power or a presence, but it’s really only good news if the power is good.

Abba, hallowed be your name is really saying, “God, not only are you here with me, but I know you are all good.”

To refer to someone’s name in scripture is to say something about the person’s nature.
To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray in the nature of Jesus (which he’s showing us how to do today).
To do something in the name of God is to do it in the nature of God.

To say hallowed is your name means, “Your nature is good, and you always act according to your nature.”

There is only one Presence and one Power in the universe, God the Good omnipotent.

So far, Jesus has told us:
God is.
God is present.
And God is good.

Jesus tells us to start our prayers with the awareness that God is,
And that if God is, then God is everywhere fully present (omnipresent),
And that’s good news because God is all good and only good.

He isn’t telling us what to say so much as he is helping us develop the consciousness that will make any kind of prayer more impactful.

3. Ask for what is highest and best.
If God is, and God is good, then when we ask God for our good we are asking for God’s own goodness to be manifest in our experience. And God’s goodness must be what is highest and best.

Your kingdom come, your kin-dom come, your realm come.
What is God’s realm? Heaven.
Where is heaven? It’s where God is.
Where is God? EVERYWHERE.

So, wherever I am, God is.
Wherever God is, is heaven.
And Heaven is infinite goodness.

Jesus said God’s realm was at hand…it’s in our hands. Prayer helps us see and seize the good that has always been meant for us, the good that is even now at hand.

When we ask for something good, and we are open to it or to something even better, we are saying,
May God’s heaven show up in and as my life.

Heaven is joy. Heaven is peace. Heaven is harmony. Heaven is sufficiency and supply. Heaven is highest and best.

Your realm come…Your Good be made manifest in my life.
What could be better than that?

4. It’s not all about you.
What we wish for ourselves, we should wish for all people.
That is, we want to be happy, healthy, loved, safe, fulfilled, prosperous.
And we ought to want those same blessings for everyone.
Justice is never for just-us.

And so, our prayers aren’t to just have a genie grant our desires or to have Santa bring us our wished for goodies…rather, prayer is how we plug into the omnipresence, the one power, and let it flow through us to bless us and others.

We want everyone to enjoy every freedom, every right, every opportunity, every miracle that we have dared to hope for ourselves.
Give us our daily bread. Not just me…everyone.
Forgive us when we miss the mark. Not just me…all of us. We’ve all fallen short of our highest ideals; heal us all. Help us all be our best.
Save us from trying times…not just me…everyone. Save me from being slandered, and save her from unemployment, and save him from domestic abuse, and save them from the violence they are fleeing, save everyone who needs medical care, and save us all from bigotry, hatred, and irrational fears.
It’s not just about you, or me…it’s about us…ALL of us.

Dear God,
You are everywhere present and you are all Good.
And so I ask for your goodness to be made manifest in my life, and not just mine, but in every life.

Jesus connected with God intimately, directly. He knew God was closer than his next breath, and so he could commune with God fully, instantly.
He was so plugged into God that he could remain calm during a storm.
He could try to feed people when there wasn’t really much food.
He could encourage the physically and mentally ill.
He could forgive his tormentors.
He could speak truth to power.
He could affirm the sacred value of all people.

How could he do that? How could he be that plugged into God?
Probably, his prayer life had something to do with it.

So, his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray the way you pray.”
And Jesus answered:
Acknowledge the divine presence.
Trust its goodness.
Ask for what is highest and best.
And also want the best for everyone.

A short phrase that covers those bases might be: God is all and all is well.

But sometimes, we need to get there. We need a few steps.
So, Jesus modeled prayer by saying:
Abba, hallowed is your name. Your realm come. Give us all each day our daily bread. And forgive us all for missing the mark, and help us be forgiving when others make mistakes. And save us all from times of trial. Amen.

I hope when we pray that same prayer later in the service, you hear it more deeply, you feel it more deeply, you find yourself connecting with God more profoundly. I hope that using the words of the song, your consciousness hears, “God is all, and all is well.”

And so it is. And this is the good news.

Dear God,
You are everywhere present,
and you are all Good.
And so I ask for your goodness …
to be made manifest in my life,
and not just mine, but in every life.
Amen.

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