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.

Always Another Chance

On October 22, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Always Another Chance 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. 2 Sam 11. 1-5: One evening King David rose from his bed and strolled about on […]

Always Another Chance
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.

2 Sam 11. 1-5: One evening King David rose from his bed and strolled about on the roof of the his house. From the roof he saw a woman bathing; she was very beautiful. David sent people to inquire about the woman and was told, “She is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, and wife of Uriah the Hittite, Joab’s armor-bearer.” Then David sent messengers and took her. When she came to him, he took her to bed, at a time when she was just purified after her period; and she returned to her house. But the woman had become pregnant; she sent a message to inform David, “I am pregnant.”

Well, that’s bad news. Bathsheba, otherwise known as Mrs. Uriah, is pregnant, but her husband has been away at war. So, it ain’t his.
So David sends for Uriah to have him bring a report on the war, and after getting the report, he tells Uriah to go home and get some rest before going back to the front. Of course, he hopes Uriah and Bathsheba will have a romantic reunion, and Uriah will think the child that will come in 9 months is his.

But Uriah disobeys the king! He doesn’t feel right enjoying the comforts of home and hearth while others are fighting. So instead of going home, he sets up camp at the door of the king’s house. This completely messes up David’s plan.

David, then, goes to plan B. He sends Uriah back into battle, and arranges for him to be stranded alone in the fighting. Of course, Uriah is killed in battle.

David allows a brief time of mourning for Bathsheba, and then he marries her, thus covering his indiscretion. It now looks like he has given a home to a widow, and then within the bonds of marriage, they will have a child. Problem solved. Except, the chapter concludes with this sentence, “In the sight of the LORD, what David had done was evil.”

That leads right into chapter 12, part of which you heard this morning.

The Prophet Nathan comes to the king and spins a yarn about someone who stole a man’s cherished pet and used her in heartbreaking ways. And the king is infuriated, saying, “bring this wretch to me. He’ll pay for his cruelty.” And Nathan says, “Um, it’s you.”

This is one of the most horrific stories in scripture.
David is a war hero, a religious person, and a leader. Luke, in Acts 13, says David was lifted up to a position of authority because he was a person after God’s own heart, committed to the will of God.

Now, the pure heart didn’t keep him from having a bit of mean streak. I mean, he paid a dowry for his first wife, and the dowry was the foreskins of 200 Philistines. As Big Mama used to say, “that boy ain’t right.”

But he had been brave, standing up to Goliath.
David had been kind, marrying the widow Abigale when she was alone. Of course, David had at least 8 wives…so, you know, biblical marriage.

David had been tender, showing devotion and love to Jonathan, making a life long covenant with him, declaring in song that his love for Jonathan surpassed his love for women. Yes, David is the most clearly bisexual person in scripture…though Jesus in my view is a close second (but that’s another sermon).

David had shown his good heart…showing love, keeping promises, exhibiting courage, being generous…but David could forget his innate goodness. Even David, ancestor of Jesus, could ignore his better angels, miss the mark, and hide his inward light.

His treatment of Bathsheba and Uriah was not godly, not descent, not moral; it was reprehensible.

David was the king. Bathsheba couldn’t refuse his summons. She couldn’t refuse him anything. She didn’t have the wherewithal to withhold consent. And so when the king sends for her…She wasn’t asked what she wanted. Bathsheba is a victim of a powerful man. This wasn’t an affair. This wasn’t adultery. This was an act of violence.

Then, when Bathsheba was pregnant and that could expose David’s sexual abuse, David arranges to have Uriah murdered.

David has a good heart. But he has gotten caught up in his privilege and power; he has made idols of them. And by worshiping the false gods of class privilege and political power he has destroyed innocent lives.
When he lost his compassion, when he lost his empathy…he lost touch with his goodness. It is a terrible thing when we forget our goodness. If we don’t see it, we won’t show it.

But that’s not the end of the story. Here comes Nathan. Here comes the preacher. Here comes the moral imperative to speak truth to power. Here comes the prophet Nathan to hold the king accountable.

In a way, Nathan is clumsy with it, showing you don’t have to be brilliant or eloquent…you just have to do your best in service of justice and healing.

Nathan compares sexual assault and murder to the mistreatment of a beloved pet. It’s not a great comparison. But it did demonstrate cruelty and abuse of power, and it stirred David to outrage. And then, clumsy but courageous Nathan goes for the jugular: The monster in the story is YOU!

Nathan could have been fired as court prophet. Might have been jailed. Could have been made chaplain to the warriors on the front line. He took a risk by holding the king accountable. But to remain silent would have been to be complicit. And so the person of faith holds the most politically powerful person in the land accountable for his cruelty. May it ever be so.

This is a text of terror. A story of violence, betrayal, and murder. We need this story to keep us from making an idol of the text. We need to see human fragility and human cruelty and human ignorance as part of our sacred texts so that we will not dare make an idol of the book. And to see, that even with our innate purity, we can mistakenly choose lesser gods, and fall short of our highest ideals. We can also repent and get back on track.

There is healing in the story. The healing doesn’t justify a single terrible deed, but it does show that pain need not get the last word. The child that resulted from Bathsheba’s nightmare would become king (Solomon). She who was once powerless would become mother of the powerful. David was confronted by the prophet and presumably tried to turn back to the light and seek redemption and healing for himself.

Here’s the word of hope for us today: healing is possible.
The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities.

If we regret past mistakes, GOOD…that means we know that wasn’t our best, and we’ll never do that again.
If we fell short of our highest ideals and we regret that, GOOD…that means we’ll care more and love more from now on.
If we wish we had handled things better, GOOD…maybe next time, we will.

We can make amends.
We can start over.
We can do better.
We can be healers in our world, even if that means helping to heal some of the wounds we’ve caused.

I’m making no excuses for my misdeeds, or for yours, or for anyone else’s. What I am saying is that healing is still possible. We can learn, we can heal, we can be healers, we can rise above the pain of the past.

God gave you a pure heart…and there’s always another chance to remember that and to live in the joy of that truth.

That’s why I remind us every single week: We are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
We make mistakes. We regret our mistakes. We work to recover from our mistakes. But who we are…that’s not a mistake. We are people after God’s own heart. When we remember that, we live like it, and that’s where healing beings. And this is the good news. Amen.

The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities.
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
God’s healing grace is at work in me.
And so it is.

Resisting Temptation

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

Resisting Temptation Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace, and may we not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Jesus in wilderness for 40 days/40 nights… Idiom = long time…period of challenge that leads to breakthrough […]

Resisting Temptation
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soaring with the Eagles

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

Soaring with the Eagles Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. 20 years ago I walked up on a tiny bird guarding her nest and eggs. […]

Soaring with the Eagles
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healing Past Hurts

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

Healing Past Hurts Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Ruth 4) Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Once upon a time a man named Elimelech and his wife Naomi moved from […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Can Make a Difference

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

We Can Make a Difference Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Ruth 3) Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. I was new in town. I was in my early 20s and […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This church touches lives. But what is this church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can make a difference.
You make a difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possibilities Beyond Problems

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

Possibilities Beyond Problems Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Ruth 2) Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Last Sunday and today we’ve been hearing the story of Ruth and Naomi. They’ve […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covenant Relationship

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

Covenant Relationship Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. In the book of Genesis there is a story about a town called Sodom. Sodom was a […]

Covenant Relationship
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Righteous Lot? Not so much.

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

Righteous Lot?? I don’t think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unity

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

Unity Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Lev 15 – menstruating woman is untouchable. Any furniture she sits on will be considered contaminated. Mark 5 […]

Unity
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Jesus…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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