God is Good

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

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

God is Good
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Trinity 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Are Conduits of Divine Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Isn’t Condemned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Are Part of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Doesn’t Play Favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing Good News

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

Sharing Good News Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Sharing Good News
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Love Lives Forever

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

Love Lives Forever Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Easter 2019 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, ay only God’s word be heard. Amen. The tomb was empty…the first resurrection experience was emptiness. No body. No explanation. No […]

Love Lives Forever
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Easter 2019

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, ay only God’s word be heard. Amen.

The tomb was empty…the first resurrection experience was emptiness. No body. No explanation. No proof. No argument. Just emptiness. Unanswered questions. And an angelic urgency to return to living fully.

Jesus was a friend to the friendless, a healer, a teacher, a conduit through which love flowed (human love and divine love, if there is a difference).
Jesus told people they were lovable.
He loved the unloved, touched the untouchable, affirmed those who had been pushed to the margins.
He loved people into wholeness.
He helped them love themselves, and he encouraged them to share the healing power of love with the world.

When hate and fear came for Jesus, tried to bring him down, vilified him and condemned and killed him, his friends and admirers were devastated.
Some wanted him to be their conquering hero.
But it was he who was vanquished. Betrayed. Arrested. Tried. Convicted of sedition. Finally executed.

But all that love that Jesus preached, demonstrated, shared…that love lives forever. People soon discovered that even after he was killed, they could still love Jesus, and continue to love in his name. They may be feeling some emptiness right now, but love fills the empty spaces, and brings hope and healing. Love lives forever.

Now, some women (Mary, Mary, and Mary) go to visit the body. The first people to experience the hope and the recharge that we call Resurrection were a bunch of Marys…aintathat good news?

The body is gone. Nothing has worked out as expected.
But he’s still with us, somehow. He still wants us to heal the hurting and offer hope to the hopeless and encourage the lonely and speak truth to power and resist injustice.
That’s what got him killed, but love gives even when there is risk involved. And we if are to love, we will have to take some risks. And somehow, the Marys, and the disciples, and you and I feel the strength of his love urging us to love in ways that threaten domination systems with the possibility of radical healing, restorative justice, and divine peace.

Even with all that’s gone wrong, we know that he wants us to go on to Galilee, to keep moving forward; he wants us to be, as he was, divine love in action. Because, as it turns out, love lives forever.

Go to Galilee the Marys are told. Get back into life.
Easter raises them from their funk so that they can share the message that God is all-inclusive, unconditional, everlasting love.

And you get that angels give the women a message to share …women are called to proclaim good news. Luckily the angel didn’t stop to ask if the institution ordained women. The angel just said, ladies, I need you to share your story.

Love wouldn’t leave women out. Love wouldn’t leave same-gender loving people out. Love wouldn’t leave gender non-conforming people out. Love wouldn’t leave people from various traditions and cultures out. Love includes all and Love lives forever.

When I was in seminary, my grandmother died. I was very close to my grandmother. Many nights during that year of grieving, I would go to a small chapel at the seminary. It was an empty, tomblike space. I could cry there. Feel all my feelings, no matter how messy they got. I could speak to my grandmother. Her body died, my love for her didn’t, nor did hers for me. I would ask God to heal my heart, but not too quickly. The loss was too deep…I couldn’t imagine the pain leaving all at once…it had to heal by degrees. I just wanted a presence to be with me in the pain, and to help me move through it in the way that I could.

Thank God for that empty chapel, and those empty hours. How healing they were. They led to new life. Nothing would ever be the same, but so much would still be very good. The progression was Heartache. Emptiness. Resurrection. New life. Alleluia.

In that chapel I experienced resurrection. Priest and poet John Bannister Tabb wrote:
“Out of the dusk a shadow, then a spark.
Out of the cloud a silence, then a lark.
Out of the heart a rapture, then a pain.
Out of the dead, cold ashes, life again.”

Easter for me isn’t about proving something happened once upon a time. Easter, for me is a reminder that love will not let us go, and because of that, new life is always possible. We will experience emptiness, but even in the emptiness there is a sustaining presence and it will lead us to new life.

The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities…that’s Resurrection.

Anyone who has found sobriety,

Anyone who has moved through grief,

anyone who has survived abuse and thrived in spite of it,

anyone who has been demonized or dehumanized because of where they are from or who they love or how they pray or how they identify in their bodies – but who insist on affirming their own sacred value,

anyone who has fallen but somehow has managed to get back up knows that weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. That’s resurrection power. And it can lift you up today.

Have you ever faced difficulty, and afterward, felt an emptiness? There are angels today encouraging you to embrace life fully, to keep loving, to keep sharing…you’ll encounter something divine along the way. Head toward Galilee…there is a miracle or two for you just ahead.

The emptiness of the tomb, the emptiness of any experience isn’t the end of the story, it’s the first hint of resurrection. There’s more to come. Don’t give up yet because Love lives forever; that’s the message of Easter and this is the good news. Amen.

Love lives forever.
Love embraces me forever.
Love renews me today.
Alleluia!
Amen.

A House & A People of Prayer

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

A House and a People of Prayer Palm Sunday 2019 Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Jesus and his friends make a pilgrimage to the […]

A House and a People of Prayer
Palm Sunday 2019
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use It or Lose It

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

Use It or Lose It Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Use It or Lose It
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Feast or Famine

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

Feast or Famine Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace; and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Some king throws a party but apparently doesn’t know anyone, so he invites the world and […]

Feast or Famine
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is the good news. Amen.

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

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