Prophetic Hope

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

Prophetic Hope Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. The Apostle Paul wrote: “…We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And, we also […]

Prophetic Hope
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

The Apostle Paul wrote: “…We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
And, we also boast in our sufferings…”

We boast in our hope of sharing glory.
Shared hope. Shared glory.

1963.
One of the primary organizers of the historic March on Washington was a gay man, Bayard Rustin. He worked with Dr. King, who knew Rustin was gay. Bayard Rustin spent his entire life working for economic justice, racial justice, and justice for gay people. In the late 80s, he also advocated for people living with AIDS. Rustin is one of our heroes, a symbol of shared hope and shared glory.

1990.
Kieth Haring died from AIDS related complications. He was only 31 years old. But he did not die before leaving his mark on the world.
Haring created more than 100 pieces of chalk graffiti art in NYC and his work was so amazing it gave him uncommon notoriety for a chalk artist. He went on to do more than 50 commissioned public art pieces around the world, often for hospitals and charities. He used his art work to bring awareness to the AIDS crisis and to advocate for LGBTQ equality. He taught children’s art workshops all over the world, and started his own foundation. But what he may be most famous for is creating the National Coming Out Day logo. Haring is one of our heroes, a symbol of shared hope and shared glory.

1997.
Ellen DeGeneres came out as lesbian, (although I believe she used the word gay). She came out to Time Magazine, she came out on the Oprah Winfrey Show, she came out through her character on her sit-com. Ellen changed how gay characters are portrayed on television. She paved the way for relatable, leading gay characters and out gay actors to be seen and heard on television. It cost her…she didn’t work for 3 years, and almost went broke. But she made a mighty comeback and remains television royalty to this day. Ellen is one of our heroes, a symbol of shared hope and shared glory.

Hope can be individual. But prophetic hope is for the community, for the nation, for the world. Prophetic hope is shared. Prophetic hope is hope that is offered to and celebrated by us all. We hope in sharing divine gory, and we celebrate when we, any of us, demonstrate the fulfillment of that hope.

But we boast also in our sufferings. Why? I don’t believe that God sends suffering, or requires it. I don’t believe that suffering is required to make us good. But I do know that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. We all experience suffering at some time. And if we’ve survived it, if we learned from it, or used it to help others, that gives us reason to be thankful.

AIDS decimated a generation. Today, it is preventable, treatable, and I choose to believe that a cure will be found.

Transphobia has vilified and hurt and even killed transgender and gender non-binary people. Today, we know that well over 1 million people identify as trans*, Janet Mock and Laverne Cox are trans-women and are superstars, and even legendary sex symbol Billy Dee Williams has come out as non-binary.

Racism is ugly, but we continue to work for justice.
Xenophobia is ugly, but we work for justice.
Women’s bodies are treated like a commodity by Hollywood and like a battle ground by the Right Wing…but we work for justice.
Suffering is real, but our response to suffering can be something to boast about.

In my life – I have endured the indignity of sodomy laws.
In my life – I have endured the indignity of being told there were career paths I couldn’t even consider because of my sexual orientation.

In my life – I have had preachers condemn me for being gay.
In my life – I have heard preachers say that bad weather, terrorists attacks, and a viral epidemic were all divine plagues sent by God to punish the world for gay people being in it. It seems stupid now, and certainly it was bad theology, but even bad theology can be weaponized and cause deep pain to those attacked by it.
In my life – I have had relatives try to shame me for who I am.
In my life – I have lived in a state that wrote discrimination into its constitution to keep me from marrying the person I love.

In my life – I’ve seen courts packed with homophobic judges committed to limiting my rights.
In my life – I’ve heard leaders meant to represent all citizens declare that if people say their homophobia is religiously motivated, their prejudice matters more than my life and love.
In my life – I have had to exercise extreme caution because being gay put me in danger in some environments.
In my life – I have had word and ritual, text and table used against me.

Is that reason to boast? You better believe it!
Because I’m here!
I love my life.
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake and I get to tell others that they, too, are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

Suffering produced endurance, and endurance produced character, and character produced hope, and hope does not disappoint….it keeps us going.

Situations disappoint, circumstances disappoint, people disappoint, heck, I can even disappoint myself sometimes, but HOPE…does not disappoint. It says hold on.
Hope says things might get better.
Hope says today was a bust, but let’s see what tomorrow is like.
Hope says this was crushing, but I’m still here, and I can make something of this mess.

Moses spent his life trying to get to the promised land. He got his people almost there. They made it because of him. He didn’t make it…but his hope for his people paid off later. Even when we don’t see our hopes fulfilled, we still may have contributed to a miracle.

Dr. King told a crowd in Memphis in 1968: “I may not get there with you but I want to you know.that we, as a people will get to the promised land.”

We. Us. Everyone. That’s prophetic hope. We each do what we can, hoping to improve things, honoring the heroes, celebrating our resilience, and trusting that whether we see it or not, we are part of the healing that is needed in the world.

We’re here.
Hope got us here.
We are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
We are making a difference.
And this is the good news.
Amen.

Thank you, God, for the gift of hope.
Hope will not disappoint.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Experiencing Christ

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

Experiencing Christ Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Luke 24 Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. In Luke’s gospel today, two people are on a journey, and along the way they encounter […]

Experiencing Christ
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Luke 24

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

In Luke’s gospel today, two people are on a journey, and along the way they encounter Jesus.

The story really isn’t about the days immediately following Jesus’ execution; it’s about how what Jesus represents is timeless and can be experienced whatever path we may be on.

A beautiful prayer, one of my favorites, is based on today’s gospel story. It is an evening prayer:
“Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love.”

Even though it is currently morning, that prayer is my heart today.
Lord Jesus…be our companion in the way, on our path.

My spiritual path has been a winding one and it ain’t over yet.

On every leg of my journey, I have bumped into Jesus.
My first experience of Jesus was kind of dysfunctional. He was my protector from an angry god.
It was neither a mature nor healthy theology, but I was young and my ideas about God would become less troubling.

Jesus then becam for me the one offering afterlife fire insurance. How fear based and self-serving was that?
Without Jesus, I was told, there would literally be hell to pay, but when the Grim Reaper showed up, if i said, “I’m with Jesus”…I’d get in to the exclusive club rather than being sent to the cosmic penal colony.
I blame, in part, the “fishidie” prayer…”If I should die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.” I said that prayer every night and developed the idea that the point of prayer was to remind or persuade God to welcome me “if i should die.” Luckily, over time, my God and my Jesus would get a few upgrades.

As I matured, Jesus continued to evolve for me. He became for me a philosopher, a morality teacher, a justice warrior, a life changer, a soul healer. As I allowed God to get bigger, Jesus got better. He didn’t save me from God’s wrath, but rather helped me to think about God in more joyful and life-giving ways.

But one of the sweetest experiences I’ve had of Jesus so far is Jesus as Lord.

To call Jesus “Lord” is camp. It’s ironic. It’s humorous. It’s political. It’s subversive. It’s world changing.

Caesar was lord.
Military might, economic power, class privilege…these were the marks of lordship and Jesus didn’t have any of that, and he was pretty critical of many who did, especially if they didn’t use their advantages to help others.

Jesus is the opposite of a “lord” in any conventional sense.
His conception was a scandal.
He was born homeless.
As a toddler he became a refugee, crossing an uninviting border with his family to find safety.
As an adult he was arrested for sedition and convicted and executed.

To call that outcast, that rebel, that peasant Lord is to say that God has special care for the broken hearted, the mistreated, the oppressed, the poor, the marginalized.

To call Jesus Lord is to say that there’s not a spot where God is not, and we are each God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
If Jesus is Lord, he is the Lord of outcasts, and that means no one gets left out.

If Jesus is Lord, we all have sacred value. As an archetype, he is our hero, the symbol of rising from the dust of despair to dwell forever in the glory of grace.

As a friend of our hearts, he is someone who knows suffering, who knows injustice, who knows cruelty, and who stands in solidarity with the weeping and the weary, the despised and the dispossessed of the world.

To say Jesus is Lord is to repudiate Jim Crow era racism and its lasting legacy.
To say Jesus is Lord is to remove all shame from HIV/AIDS.
To say Jesus is Lord is to have as much compassion for a fractured spirit as for a fractured skull.

To say Jesus is Lord is to atone for the idolatry of worshiping cisgender heterosexism.
To say Jesus is Lord is to ache for those tormented by flood or fire, war or want, disease or despair, closets or cages.

To call Jesus Lord is to fight hunger, not the hungry.
To call Jesus Lord is to affirm same-gender loving people. God is love and WHOEVER lives in love lives in God and God lives in them.

To call Jesus Lord is celebrate transgender lives in the Rainbow diversity of creation. In Christ there is neither male nor female but we are all one in Christ.

To call Jesus Lord is to say that every person from cradle to casket has innate worth and dignity.

Jesus is Lord is the oldest creed of Christianity.
It is the opposite of empire, dictatorship, and domination.
The Lordship of Jesus is a commitment to the kin-dom of God, a realm where peace is the goal and love is the law and every person is known as a child of God.

I’m so glad I didn’t give up on my journey until I could say, for me, Jesus is Lord.

Let me hasten to add, That in no way detracts from other faith vocabularies. The deepest truths of the way of Jesus are true in other faith traditions. Buddhists and the B’hai, Muslims and Mormans, Jews and Jains, Hindus and Humanists all have gifts that bless this world.
Every love filled faith experience I have ever had or witnessed was a window to the Divine. Any tradition that affirms the sacred value of all people, that prioritizes unconditional love, and that believes religion is best when it seeks justice for all is participating in the kin-dom of God and is compatible with the way of Jesus.

In the gospel story today, how did the travelers experience Jesus?
They told their stories. They were hurting, grieving, and they shared their hearts. They were vulnerable.
Christ was experienced in an open heart.

Then, they offered Jesus hospitality.
They didn’t know who he was, only that he seemed to need shelter for the night, and they provided it, no questions asked. They experienced Christ in their own act of generosity.

Then they sat down to share a meal…the open table, with a stranger, everyone valued, and in that moment of connecting, comm-union, they experienced Christ.

To say Jesus is Lord isn’t to argue details about his life, but to let the stories of his life inspire and transform our own.

When Jesus is Lord, we share our hearts, we share our resources, we share our lives.
Such sharing in Jesus’ name healed hurting people in the first century, and it still can today. And so I say this morning, for me, Jesus is Lord, and this is the good news. Amen.

Lord Jesus,
Be my companion.
Amen.

The Day of the Lord

On November 18, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

The Day of the Lord Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Malachi 4.1-6 Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. A day is coming, we are told in both prophetic and apocalyptic literature, […]

The Day of the Lord
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Malachi 4.1-6

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

A day is coming, we are told in both prophetic and apocalyptic literature, a day is coming that is going to be eventful. The sages called the upcoming day the day of the Lord…but even though several prophets and preachers imagined an upcoming day of the Lord, they all seemed to mean different things by it.

Some thought the day would be a day of battle.

Some thought the day would be a natural disaster…flood, fire, wind, earthquake.

Still others thought the day of the lord would be some sort of cosmic event.

So…people have all kinds of ideas about what the day of the Lord will be…but its big and its coming.

Malachi is one more prophet using the day of the lord motif. But I like what he does with it.
He says something big and possibly difficult may be in the future, but he also promises healing.

Hard times come. Things aren’t always easy. Of course trouble will come…it has before and it probably will again…BUT, to those who revere God’s names (Nature), the sun of justice, the sun of righteousness, the sun of goodness will rise with healing in its rays.

What is god’s nature?
Presence.
Love.
Life.
Wisdom.

Crap happens, but for those who know God as omnipresence, comfort is always available.
Hate and bigotry may try to tear the world apart, but those who know God as love will always see past hate’s lies and will always find something good to strive toward.

Peril and danger may come, but those who know God as life will remember that nothing can separate us from the source of our lives.
Problems come and sometimes like an avalanche, but those who know god as wisdom will trust that there are answers to problems and we can find them.

Days may be coming when transgender women of color are killed almost weekly,
Days may be coming when children are separated from their parents in heartless and needless ways,
Days may be coming with children live in fear of school shootings,
Days may be coming when wars are waged on nations, communities, and even the environment itself,
Days may be coming where honesty and integrity and fairness and kindness are all but lost or forgotten,
BUT to those who know that God is love, life, presence and wisdom, healing rays will shine and hope will be renewed and peace will be possible.

If you know the nature of god to be good, you’ll have joy that circumstances cannot take away…you’ll break out into dancing…it may look ridiculous, like a cow leaping out of the barn, but you’ll be so happy you won’t care.

And what happens while we’re dancing for joy? We know that god is not vengeful, petty, or cruel. We know that god is love and there’s not a spot where god is not and we are each god’s miracle and not god’s mistake so we have joy and we dance like leaping cows and while we dance we stomp on the wicked.

That isn’t telling us to do harm to people we’ve judged to be wicked….that’s how religion plays sometimes, but that isn’t the way of the god of love, the god of joy. Our dance is a joy dance, not a war dance. No, the wicked we stamp out are wicked thoughts….thoughts of bigotry, thoughts of xenophobia, thoughts of domination, thoughts of exploitation, thoughts of greed, thoughts that would deny anyone dignity or hope or a hand up in a moment of need. We know god’s good nature and we will have too much joy to try to make anyone else miserable, and too much joy to let anyone keep us miserable.

Malachi asks his community to remember Moses who gave the commandments – take care of the elders, don’t lie about people, don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t begrudge your neighbor their joys and good fortune, don’t break the vows you make…these are all ways of saying, be kind, be loyal, be loving, don’t try to hurt people, in fact, try to help and even to heal people. Those are god’s commandments delivered by moses. We who know god’s nature know that god’s commandments can be summarized in a single word: love.

Malachi also says that Elijah will return. Elijah was a fierce prophet. He stood up to government abuse. He challenged those who gained power and privilege by oppressing minorities. Malachi says Elijah will be back to stand against bigotry and cruelty and hatred.

Jesus compared John the baptizer. At the Passover meal, his last supper, he drank from Elijah’s cup.
Maybe we are the return of Elijah. I believe we are even the return of Christ. Bad days happen, but god in us is present to shine healing rays into our lives, and through us, into the world.

Malachi imagines god saying, “I will send Elijah and I will not strike the land with a curse.” Maybe we are the cure, the healing presence, the healing rays.

If god is omnipresent, then every day is god’s day. And those who know god to be good can rejoice no matter what circumstances may be. And if we know god to be good, we can be the prophetic voice sharing good news with the world, the good news that all people have sacred value, the good news of god’s all-inclusive, unconditional, everlasting love. And when enough of us embrace that message, there is no curse, there is just us experiencing and sharing the power of love.

God’s about cures, not curses.
God’s not coming; God is here.
God is love, and those who know that have joy in their lives.
And this is the good news. Amen.

Every day is God’s day.
I trust the one Power.
I am serene, peaceful, and joyful.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Grace Is True

On November 10, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Grace Is True Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Hosea 11 Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. I often hear well-meaning Christians say that grace is a new testament concept, or the […]

Grace Is True
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Hosea 11

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

I often hear well-meaning Christians say that grace is a new testament concept, or the God of the Old Testament is angry and punishing but the god of the new testament is a god of love and grace.

Newsflash…Jesus’ god is the god of the bible he knew, and the bible he knew is what we call the old testament, the Hebrew bible. If Jesus speaks of a gracious god, he learned about that god from what we call the old testament.

In Genesis 21, Hagar has been thrown out of her home.

Hagar was Abraham and Sarah’s slave. She was then forced to be Abraham’s concubine. A surrogate mother for Sarah who had been unable to conceive.
But when Sarah did conceive, Hagar went from being a commodity to a perceived threat, and she was thrown out of her home with no resources.

In the desert, facing probable death, God showed Hagar a well in the wilderness. In the midst of unfairness, injustice, oppression, and betrayal…God was with Hagar. After discovering that lifesaving well, hagar also found a community and a new home. Comfort in a moment of anguish, a well in the wilderness, was a moment of grace when it was desperately needed.

In 1 Kings 17, there was a terrible drought. A widow was about to make her last meal. After that, she and her son would just wait to starve to death. The prophet Elijah came to the widow and asked for food. She told him she only had enough provisions to make some flat cakes as a last meal for her son and herself. Graciously, she decided to share her last meal with the prophet, and from her act of generosity a miracle of provision occurred. The flour and oil that she had which was just enough for one last meal lasted throughout the drought, and she and her son did not die. God was in the act of sharing. God was in the act of courage. God’s amazing grace was present in the time of need.

And we all remember the story of Jonah. Jonah went to Ninevah, the capital of Assyria, to preach their destruction. He got to Ninevah by way of a big fish, or sea monster. The story shouldn’t be taken literally, but its point is powerful. Jonah told the Ninevites that God was angry with them and was going to destroy them. But God did not. God was more gracious than Jonah wanted to believe. The Assyrians were an abusive empire, and Jonah didn’t like them. He pretended to believe that God didn’t like them either, But when God didn’t destroy them, this is what Jonah said:
“I didn’t want to come to Ninevah, God, because I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God…abounding in love…”

Jonah knew that God was love, and that love was by nature, gracious. He didn’t like it, but deep down, he knew it.

If we haven’t found grace in the Old Testament, we haven’t looked carefully enough. Yes, there are wars and smiting and finger wagging, but in spite of the imagery imposed by patriarchal times, the message of divine grace comes through, time and again.

We see that again when we read the prophet Hosea. Poor Hosea is married to a woman named Gomer. Hosea couldn’t get Gomer to stay home nights. Basically, Gomer would get picked up for solicitation and Hosea would always pay her bail.
Hosea was hurt, and humiliated. He could have left his wandering wife, but he loved her too much. No matter how much she hurt him, betrayed him…he couldn’t abandon her. Today we would call Hosea desperately co-dependent and suggest he check out a support group, but what Hosea did, instead, is use his heartbreak to help people understand the love and grace of God.

Hosea couldn’t abandon the woman he loved, no matter how she behaved; and God, Hosea believed, would never abandon us, no matter what.

Hosea knew his community didn’t always live up to the love ethic, didn’t always welcome the stranger, didn’t always love neighbors, didn’t always seek to keep the Sacred at the forefront of their consciousness. They turned to the false gods of nationalism, greed, racism, xenophobia. They worshiped cruelty and called it divine.
Hosea imagined this must have grieved God, and so, he imagined God being like a jealous husband raging against the unfaithful spouse, saying threatening things like, “One day you’ll call me and I won’t answer. I won’t care anymore!”

But that’s not God. God wouldn’t even snuff out the capital of a cruel empire. God moved the heart of a hungry widow to share what little she had and then helped her survive. God directed Hagar to a well in the wilderness. God is love and love is gracious.

So Hosea imagines God remembering: “I taught you how to walk. I bent down to feed you, like a nursing mother. I can’t give up on you. My love for you is too strong. I’m the holy One. I am with you. I will not show anger.”

That’s grace. That’s who God is.

There’s not a spot where god is not.
There’s not a place beyond god’s grace.
There’s not a time that’s not sublime.
God is all-in-all.

People have been abused, neglected, rejected, terrified, belittled, demonized, and dehumanized in the name of God. And, many have left religion, or even tried to leave God. But the prophet Hosea tells us that god is love and love is gracious and even if in our pain we turn from faith, the love that god is will never turn from us.

I hope you fall in love with God, but if you’re not there yet, I hope you will hear this: God is in Iove with you and that will never change, because Grace is True, and this is the good news. Amen.

Divine Love will never let me go.
I am amazed by divine grace.
And I am thankful.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Praise God!

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

Praise God! Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Psalm 150 Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. In 1950 an Irving Berlin musical debuted on Broadway: Call Me Madam. There is a song […]

Praise God!
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Psalm 150

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

In 1950 an Irving Berlin musical debuted on Broadway: Call Me Madam. There is a song from that show that is on an endless loop in my head, and in my soul.

{You’re Just in Love}

I often break out into song. I always have. And Hand to God, the first song I ever learned was from the musical Hair. Imagine 1970 or 71, a 4 or 5 year Durrell standing on a cocktail table in the living room singing,

“When the moon is in the 7th house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius, age of Aquarius….”

My first time in drag…
In 1969 a Saturday morning show called HR Pufnstuf aired just 17 episodes, but the network continued to show those episodes until 1972. One of those episodes had the villainess of the show, Witchiepoo, performing in a talent show, singing,

“Oranges poragnes, who said, orange poranges, who said, oranges poranges, who said there ain’t no rhyme for oranges.”

One day, took a skirt of my mother’s and wrapped it around me like a cape, and put on her swimming wig (it was circa 1970) and i appeared in the living room in drag performing Oranges Poranges. But I didn’t understand or remember the words properly, so I sang,

“Orie orie, who say, orie orie, who say”

It wasn’t one of the great moments of drag performance, but it was a clear affirmation of who I was and how my life was going to unfold.

Well, Your’e Just in Love, Age of Aquarius, and a mangled rendition of Oranges Poranges were the songs I found in me from almost the start of my life. You have songs in you, too.

I can prove it…join in when you’re ready:
When i was just a little girl, I asked my mother, what would I be.
Will i be pretty
Will i be rich
Here’s what she said to me:
Que sera sera, whatever will be will be,
the future’s not ours to see, que sera sera,
what will be will be.

You just experienced and expressed the power of the 150th Psalm.
Psalm 150 encourages us to break out in song.

Whatever we share in joy, is praise.
Peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars? That is an affirmation of the power of peace and love, and praise for its expression.

Oranges poranges? That is a refusal to be limited by other people’s perceived limitations, and a celebration of the human imagination.

Que sera sera? An affirmation that ultimately, all is well, and feeling gratitude for it.

Psalm 150 says praise God with trumpets. When you make sound joyfully…that’s praise.
Praise God with harp and lyre and flute and crashing cymbals.

Some people will have an out of body experience if they hear bagpipes. I think bagpipes sound like a weapon of war…but if you love it, then when you play them you are singing a love song to God, or to life, or to the field of infinite possibilities.

The thumpa thumpa of gay dance clubs, the chants of childhood games, and the haunting sounds of Gregorian chants…are all ways of praising life and its source.

No instrument is too vulgar or too obnoxious according to Psalm 150.
Trumpet and harp and lyre and tambourine and cymbals, as well as singing and dancing…all praise God simply by being what they are. When you are what you really are, God is praised and you are raised.

Religion is too often mean, and shaming, and cruel. and that doesn’t honor God.
Joy, hope, generosity, love, kindness, show tunes, Halloween block parties…those things honor god. #ADifferentKindOfChurch

And let me say this about praise…God isn’t something separate from us with an ego that needs stroking.

We are part of God, so when we find joy, embrace hope, express love…that honors, delights, praises God, because God gets to express more perfectly in, through, and as us.

What better pat on the back could we give God than to give joyful expression to God in our world?

Have you ever said to your dog or cat, “Good girl”? Just praise just because you love her? She may give you a tail wag or a purr, but notice how great you feel, too.
A word of praise blesses the one to whom it is offered, but it feels good to the giver ,also. When we praise, we are raised.

We praise God by expressing God.
We praise God is by living our best lives, by being happy, by being generous and kind, by dancing and banging on cymbals and belting out show tunes.

Let everything that breathes praise God, and when we love ourselves and one another, when we rejoice in who we are, when we find the song within us and let it out…we are praising God, and as we praise, we are raised. And this is the good news. amen. .

God’s light guides me, alleluia!
God’s love enfolds me, alleluia!
God’s power sustains me, alleluia!
I am always in God’s presence, alleluia!
I give praise and I am raised.
Alleluia!
Amen.

We Can Do It

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

We Can Do It Exodus 1.8-14; 3.1-15 Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Jesus said blessed are those who show mercy, but empire, however much it […]

We Can Do It
Exodus 1.8-14; 3.1-15
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

Jesus said blessed are those who show mercy, but empire, however much it may try to weaponize and monetize the name of Jesus, rarely supports the Christ values of mercy, justice, and love.

The Egyptians showed no mercy to the Israelites. That’s what we read in the opening chapter of Exodus. The empire, the superpower, was unmerciful toward the religious minority, unmerciful to the descendants of immigrants and refugees, unmerciful toward exploited laborers, unmerciful toward the oppressed.

Then in Exodus 3, Moses is called to speak out against empire’s cruelty to vulnerable populations. Moses is called to challenge empire and encourage the oppressed. Moses says, “But who am I?” And God says, “The important thing is who I am.”

God is the word that sums up ultimate meaning and our search for meaning.
God is the life within us.
God is connection between all lives.
God is the universal presence in which we all live.

Something so ubiquitous, and eternal, requires almost countless myths and symbols and names to help us give voice to our experience of It.

But of all the names for God, the simplest is also the most profound, and that is the name shared in today’s story: I Am.

Who shall I say sent me to challenge injustice, to confront cruelty, to lead people to a more hopeful future?
Who am I to do it and by whose authority could I do it?

And the answer is, “I Am.”

From a light that will not be extinguished, the name of God is given and it is I Am.

Moses is an exile; he went from being a prince to being a shepherd.
And he encounters a burning thorn bush in the desert.

Where is God in the story? In the fire. In the thorns.
When we are in pain or fear or confusion, where is God?
God is in the pain. God is in the doubt. God is in the chaos.
God is in the thorns. God is in the fire.
Even in our desert experiences, God is there; there’s not a spot where God is not.

In the story, God says, “I have seen the troubles of my people.”
God says, “I have heard their cries.”
God says, “I know their pain.”

Where is God when everything sucks? Watching, listening, knowing, caring.
We are never alone with our challenges. There is a love that will never let us go. There is a presence watching over us. There is a strength that is giving us endurance. There is a wisdom guiding us forward.

There is a voice in the thorns, there is grace in the fire, there is a presence in the desert…we are not alone and there is something good still to come.

I Am is God’s name, and so I Am never alone.
I Am never without comfort.
I Am never without strength equal to the moment of need.
I Am never on my own…a band of angels is coming after me, because God sees, God hears, God knows, and God responds. I Am hopeful and I Am grateful because God is I Am.

God is life.
God is light.
God is hope.
God is strength.
God is love.
God is.

Isness. Our isness: That’s what I Am means.

Who am I to challenge abuse and call for healing and try to empower the marginalized?
I Am.

How can I try to make a difference.
Because I Am!

I Am is God in me.
I Am is my call to action.
I am part of God because God is I Am.

So, never say I am worthless.
Never say I am a loser.
Never say I am a lost cause.
Never say I am a wreck.
Cancel all that self-abusive BS. Cancel, cancel, cancel.
Never follow “I Am” with anything negative because to do so is to use God’s name in vain.

I am a person of sacred value.
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
I am part and parcel of God.
I am part of the creation God calls very good.
I am wise and wonderful.
I am loved, loving, and lovable.

That’s the proper use of God’s name; that’s honoring and praising God and God’s handiwork.

In the 1950s a Baptist minister, Rev. William H. Borders wrote a poem to encourage the poor and disposed of his city. The poem because a tool of the civil rights movement and in 1971 the Rev. Jesse Jackson recited the poem masterfully on Sesame Street. It was a brilliant and theologically sound use of the divine name, I Am.

Rev. Borders wrote, and Rev. Jackson shared:

“I am Somebody!
I may be poor, But I am Somebody.
I may be young, But I am Somebody.
I may be small, But I am Somebody.
I may have made mistakes, But I am Somebody.
My clothes are different, My face is different, My hair is different, But I am Somebody.
I am Black, Brown, or White. I speak a different language.
But I must be respected, protected, never rejected. I am God’s child!
I am somebody.”

I am Somebody.
I Am that I am.

That offers great ability, and great responsibility.

Look one more time at Ex. 3.

God said to Moses:
I have seen their troubles…
I have heard their cries…
I know about their pain…
Now I will go and lead them…I am sending you to Pharaoh. Go! Lead my people.

I’ll go – YOU go.
I’ll lead – YOU lead.
I’ll fix it – Get to fixing it.

God sees, God hears, God knows, and God will do something about it…in, through, and as Moses.

How can I stand up to oppression?
How can I make a difference?
How can I resist cruelty and hate and greed?
I can and I must…My hands are God’s hands.
What God does for us, God must do through us.

I see. I hear. I know, I care. I’ll fix it, as soon as the you part of I get to work.
That’s God’s message to Moses.
That’s God’s message to us.

We can do it.
Because we are God in action.
God sees. God hears. God knows. God cares. And God is saying to us, “We can do it. Let’s get busy.”
And when we answer the call, Empire cannot keep us from the land of promise, a future with infinite possibilities.

And this is the good news. Amen.

I am Somebody.
I am God’s child.
I am how God is helping and healing our world.
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
Alleluia!
Amen.

Good Neighbors

On September 30, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Good Neighbors Lk 16.19-31 Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins 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. Once upon a time… That’s basically how the gospel lesson begins today, clearly indicating that it […]

Good Neighbors
Lk 16.19-31
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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.

Once upon a time…
That’s basically how the gospel lesson begins today, clearly indicating that it is a parable.

And in today’s parable, we see Lazarus winding up in the arms of Sarah and Abraham. Even when the world has no place for him, Lazarus still has a place in divine love. Being in the arms, the bosom, the embrace of the ancestors is an intimate image of love and acceptance.

If you feel lost, abandoned, discouraged, wounded, or afraid, the gospel message is that God’s love enfolds you and will never let you go.

Lazarus will never be rejected by God, but Lazarus should have never been abandoned by us, either.

Lazarus is the queer teen on the streets who was rejected by her family.
Lazarus is the trans woman of color brutally murdered for being who she is.

Lazarus is the refugee.
Lazarus is the planet whose environment is attacked in the name of profit.

Lazarus is the person who cannot find affordable, permanent housing.
Lazarus is the abused child, the neglected elder, the person working 2 jobs and still can’t afford medical care.

Lazarus is loved by God and shouldn’t have to wait until the next experience of life for that love to be shown to him.
Any of us could be Lazarus under certain circumstances, and all of us can be a better neighbor to Lazarus.

Suffering Lazarus winds up in the loving arms of the ancestors, while the greedy, cruel, selfish rich guy winds up alone and joyless in Hades. It is a parable, a fictional story meant to show us the difference in a life of love and a life of avarice, the difference between compassion and cruel indifference.

Don’t be thrown by the word “Hades” in the story. Hades has a complex history and we’d have to go back to multiple ancient cultures and mythologies to see how each contributed to the evolving Hell/Hades/Gehenna narrative, and even then, the afterlife pictures we usually conjure in our minds are more from the art and poetry of the middle ages than from scripture.

But in this case the rich man’s hell is his legacy, the mark he left on the world, how he’ll be remembered, how lives were impacted because he lived. He’s not in after life prison; he’s simply being remembered for being a jerk in life. That’s hell enough.

There is no literal hell, but people do have hellish experiences in life.
Have we responded to their hells with heavenly, healing love? That’s the question of today’s parable.

The rich man isn’t being shamed for his beliefs, religious affiliation, gender identity, sexual orientation, or even for being successful.
He’s being remembered poorly because he was greedy, selfish, and unconcerned about the suffering of others.

The author isn’t manipulating us with threats of afterlife hell; he’s challenging us to be kinder, more empathetic, and more generous here and now.

Neither the rich man character nor his experience of comeuppance are factual, but they do communicate a profound truth. If we don’t care about the person who has less privilege or more peril than we have, then we are not demonstrating the love that God is.

The founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day, said, “I only really love God as much as I love the person I love least.”

God is love. We can only be truly conscious of God’s presence when we are loving. The rich man didn’t let himself love. And so, he didn’t have a full experience of God which is love.

Heaven is the experience of God, and God is love. We experience God to the degree that we love.

I believe that the rich man could have been freed from his nightmare in an instant if he had simply let himself love, if he had said to himself, “I didn’t treat Lazarus, and all the Lazaruses fairly. I wish I had been kinder.” That alone, that affirmation of love and compassion would have freed him to experience the love that God is.

But instead, he clung to his privilege. He wants his family protected, no one else’s. He wants to treat Lazarus like a slave, demanding Lazarus to comfort him, though he never offered comfort to Lazarus. To the end and even beyond, the rich man cares only about himself and a few close to him. The story shows us how ugly that kind of life can be, and how isolating, and how tragic.

No one in the story even asks the rich man what he believes or what religious sect he belongs to; the only question is, why didn’t you care for the starving, homeless, sick person at your gate? Why didn’t the plight of others move you?

The only person ever in scripture said to be in a state of hell is this nameless character in a fictional story.
One nameless, fictional person mentioned exactly one time is the only person said to be in such a hell. That tells me it was never meant to be taken literally, and that religion really isn’t meant to be fire insurance.

The imaginary nameless character in the imaginary hell isn’t meant to scare the hell out of us.
It is meant to show us that a lack of love is hell.
When we don’t love, we don’t let ourselves experience God, and that is hell. But that is corrected the minute we do love.

Be good neighbors. Love your neighbor. Remember everyone is our neighbor. Care and share. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. We only really love God as much as we love the person we love least.

Let us show love to the housing insecure.
Let us show love to the food insecure.
Let us show love to the depressed.
Let us show love to the LGBTQ+ children of God.
Let us show love to the closeted and to those fearfully coming out.
Let us show love to the wounded planet.
Let us show love to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, Agnostics, Mambos, and Santeros.
Let us show love to refugees, to children, to the lonely, and to those seeking lifesaving medical care.

Today’s gospel isn’t about afterlife suffering; it’s a call to reduce suffering in this life. And we can. And I declare in Jesus’ name, we will. This is the good news. Amen.

Dear God.
We experience and express you…
When we show and share love.
Love the world through us.
Amen.

God’s Relentless Love

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

God’s Relentless Love Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Psalm 23; Luke 15.1-7 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. God is good (all the time) All the time (God is good) God […]

God’s Relentless Love
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Psalm 23; Luke 15.1-7

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.

God is good (all the time)
All the time (God is good)
God is good (all the time)
All the time (God is good)
God is good (all the time)
All the time (God is good)
Alleluia (Amen).

Emily Dickinson wrote, “That love is all there is, is all we know of love.”

That love is all there is, is all we know of love.

God is love, and love is all there is.

So why is there so much hate, anger, fear, and ugliness in the world?

Where does evil come from and what can we do about it are questions philosophers, priests, and shamans have asked since the the dawn of consciousness. But I know this…

When I am loving, it feels good. It feels right. Love brings joy and peace and a sense of fulfillment.
When I express or demonstrate or even contemplate love, the world for those moments makes sense and I am occupying my rightful place in the universe.

When I am unloving…when I am enraged, or afraid, or bitter…no matter how justified I feel in nursing those thoughts and emotions, I do not feel “right.” Only love feels right.

I believe that is because love is all there is in truth, and when I am temporality out of truth, or unaware of truth, or in opposition to truth, then I feel conflicted because I am at odds with reality itself.

God is ultimate reality.
God is love.
Love is all there is.
So, when we are loving, we are expressing God.
When we are unloving, we are denying God, and to deny what is really real will make us out of sorts.

The religious life, the spiritual path is meant to constantly remind us that we are one with infinite Love.
We are loved by God because God is love and all love can do is love.
God can only give what God is…oranges will never give grape juice….an orange must express its truth, so an orange gives orange juice.

God is love. God must express God’s truth, so God loves. God must express what God is.

That’s what Jesus is showing us today.

First of all – Jesus is socializing with people that others labeled as sinners. They were tax collectors and they were called sinners because they were often dishonest. They were in service of an empire that conquered and exploited people, and they often got rich in that service, sometimes by padding their own nests…over charging and pocketing the difference.

Tax collectors were hated.
But Jesus found ways to love those who others hated.
Jesus accepted his unity with God, and God is love, so Jesus knew it was his job to show love, especially to those who were unloved.

Jesus tried to explain the relentless love of God with a parable. He imagines a shepherd who is in charge of 100 sheep.
One wanders away.
But the Shepherd will not lose a single lamb. Not one. And so the shepherd is relentless in finding the lamb that wandered off.

God will not, cannot lose a single soul. God’s love is relentless.
Maybe church or society or family has labeled this person or that as lost or sinful, but God loves that person and will never let them go.

God is love, and
that love is all there is, is all we know of love.

Now, Jesus does add that heaven rejoices when a sinner repents. Remember, the people called sinners in the story, and throughout the gospels, are tax collectors, and their great sin was dishonesty. They cheated people. If they were to give up their dishonesty, if they would live in the power of truth, that would make heaven happy. There would be rejoicing.

This isn’t telling people to convert from one religion to another, or to hate themselves, or to feel guilty or ashamed. It’s telling people to come out into the light and joy of truth.

When a lesbian or gay man comes out of the closet and starts living their truth openly, heaven rejoices.

When a transgender or non-binary or gender queer person speaks their truth and lives their authentic life, heaven rejoices.

When allies of queer people stand up for their LGBTQ+ loved ones and share the truth of their love for God’s Rainbow people, heaven rejoices.

When people are honest about their questions and doubts, heaven rejoices.

When people face their self-destructive habits and say, “I am powerless over this problem but I believe there is a power that can restore me to sanity”, heaven rejoices.

When we speak our truth and live in the authenticity of who we are, heaven rejoices.

That’s what it means for a sinner to repent and heaven to rejoice…it means there is holy power in living our truth.

And one truth that I want us all to embrace is this: God is love…all-inclusive, unconditional, everlasting, omnipresent love.

A god who is omnipresent love will never lose you or forget you or abandon you. God’s love will never let you go.

Bigotry, injustice, economics, disease, war, accidents, disaster…nothing can separate us from God’s love. We can tap into comfort and hope and empowerment at any time because we are surrounded by and filled with an everlasting love.

How can learn to trust that? By saying it over and over. The psalmist shows us today the power of affirmations, of reminding ourselves of God’s goodness and God’s nearness.

The LORD is my shepherd (a shepherd who will never let me wander off, who will never give up on me, who refuses to lose me); there is nothing I lack.
God restores my strength.
God guides me along the right path…
Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side…
Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life.
I will dwell in the house of the LORD…

Say it until you feel it.
Feel it until you believe it.
Believe it until you know it.

(Repeat)
God is love.
I am one with God.
God’s love cannot let me go.

There’s not a spot where God is not.
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities.
There is good for me and I ought to have it.

God is my shepherd.
God restores my strength.
Only goodness and love will pursue me.
I will always dwell in God’s presence.

And this is the good news. Amen.

Divine Love is all-inclusive,
Unconditional,
Everlasting,
And omnipresent.
Alleluia!
Alleluia!
Amen.

Children of God

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

Children of God Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins John 1.1-5, 14 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. I say, “God is good.” You say, “All the time.” I say, “All the […]

Children of God
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
John 1.1-5, 14

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.

I say, “God is good.”
You say, “All the time.”
I say, “All the time.”
You say, “God is good.)
After we do that three times, I’ll say, “alleluia.
And you will answer, “Amen.”
Okay?

God is good (all the time)
All the time (God is good)
God is good (all the time)
All the time (God is good)
God is good (all the time)
All the time (God is good)
Alleluia! (Amen).

Wouldn’t it be exciting if we believed God was truly good, and also, always present. What difficulty or obstacle could ever steal our joy if we believed there was an infinite goodness that was everywhere present, including right wherever we happen to be?

The gospel tells us today that God dwells among us, that the divine Idea for the universe and all that is in it was with God always and that divine Idea continues to express through all that is, including us.

The wisdom literature we find in the book of Proverbs tells us that Wisdom, or we could still say the divine Idea, is available to us and always has been.

We often think of Jesus as being the chid of God, but Franciscan spirituality suggests that creation itself is the first incarnation of God. All life is the divine Self made visible. All life is the child of God, part of God, coming from God and carrying something of God.

God is all-in-all expressing through all.
God is source and substance.
God is not a being, but Being itself, the ground of all being.

In other words, God is omnipresence.
There’s not a spot where God is not.

If God is omnipresent it means God is the one presence, the only real presence, and that means that all that is must be in and part of that presence. You and I, then, are part of God. Of course we have sacred value.

Why is this important?
Because we will welcome refugees if we see them as children of God, part of God, expressions of God.

We will never accept hunger for anyone if every person is an expression of God.

We will never let anyone be humiliated or dehumanized or abused because of their gender identity or sexual orientation if we see them as incarnations of God.

We would do everything we possibly could to prevent bombs from being dropped on children of God.

What if the word of God, the divine Idea, is made flesh, that is, is made manifest in, through, and as the physical world?
What if John’s gospel is more than adulation of Jesus, but a call to see a gleam of divine light in every life and also a call to respond with love to that light in every person?

And if we believed that WE were expressions of the divine, that we were lighthouses beaming divine grace into the world, that we were the dwellings of God…then we would seek to be generous, welcoming, comforting, forgiving…we would wish for everyone to have all that joy and good fortune we have ever enjoyed, and we would work tirelessly for justice for all.
If we knew ourselves to be children of God, we would want to demonstrate divine qualities…mercy, hope, compassion, grace.

God the angry punisher hasn’t made the world a better place God the rule maker and enforcer hasn’t made the world a better place.
God the tribal deity who prefers one group over all others hasn’t made the world a better place.
God the warrior who takes sides in conflicts hasn’t made the world a better place.
Trying to ignore God, deny God, or portray God as absent hasn’t made the world a better place.

The God who is Good News for the world is an omnipresence who cannot exclude, abandon, or condemn anyone.

And once we believe in such a God we know ourselves to be part of this God, and so we seek to be more godlike, which is more loving; and the omnipresent God must be with and within all others, and so we must treat all people with dignity and respect and fairness. Regardless of political or religious or cultural labels, we would see all people as children of God and then act accordingly.

Rabindranath Tagore taught, “Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment. It is the ultimate truth that lives at the heart of creation.”

If God is love, and God is omnipresent, then Love is omnipresent. Love is everywhere and part of everything. To love, then, is the best way to honor and express God.

If you are sick today, you are not alone. There is a love that is embracing you and will never let you go.

If you are heartbroken right now, trust that there is a love that feels your every tear and is waiting with you for joy to return.

If you are struggling, know that there is a love within you that is cheering for you every minute of every day.

If you’ve made a big mistake, or dozens of them, there is a love that sees your innate goodness. Even if you haven’t always expressed it, the love that is God knows the goodness within you…the godness within you.

If the storms of life have you anxious, know that there is a love that the storms will never chase away, a love that will still be with you long after the storms have passed.

God is love, and there’s not a spot where God is not. You are from God, part of God, filled with God’s qualities; you are God’s chid. You are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

Are you willing to know God as all good, only good, and everywhere fully present? If so, then peace, hope, and joy are available right now to bless your life.

God is good (all the time).
All the time (God is good).
Alleluia! (Amen).
And this is the good news. Amen.

I am forever part of the one All.
I am a beloved child of God.
This fills me with gratitude & joy.
And so it is!

It’s Always Time for a Miracle

On August 25, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

It’s Always Time for a Miracle Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Luke 13.10-17 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. Dt. 5 tells us that rest and prayer are important for our […]

It’s Always Time for a Miracle
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Luke 13.10-17

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.

Dt. 5 tells us that rest and prayer are important for our mental, spiritual, and even physical well-moving.

Dt. 22 tells us that when we see a need, we ought to do what we can about it.

One truth doesn’t negate the other.
Sabbath rest, a day of worship, prayer, relaxation, focusing on spirit rather than just on making money or completing tasks is important, but its important because it contributes to the wellbeing of human lives. It should never be the reason we ignore people in pain.

Dt. 5 says take care of yourself.
Dt. 22 says help others.
It’s both/and spirituality rather than either/or religion.

In the gospel lesson today, we see Jesus helping a woman on the Sabbath. She was hurting. She was weighed down with pain, burdened by grief, bent over with despair. For 18 years she had been looking down, feeling down, and Jesus lifted her up.

The religious gatekeepers used religion to control and restrict.
But the spirituality of Jesus says there’s not a spot where God is not.
The spirituality of Jesus says there’s not a place beyond God’s grace.
The spirituality of Jesus says there’s not a time that not’s sublime.
NOW is the point of power.

Religion often says you can’t; but spirituality says that all things are possible.
Religion has said that you are broken; but healthy spirituality says you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake!

Religion said Jesus shouldn’t care for this woman on the Sabbath. Healing is work, and you can’t work on a day of rest. But Jesus knows that rest is for our health, and so helping this woman reclaim her life is the actual purpose of the Sabbath.

Religionists wanted to use religion to tell Jesus what he could not do; but Jesus thought spirituality was meant to heal, empower, uplift.

Religion is too often weaponized to keep people from experiencing hope or joy, but love of God should lead to love of neighbor, and love of neighbor is how best to show love for God.

Jesus saw a neighbor in need of love, and he loved her. That’s worship.
Fear of religious condemnation could have silenced him, but he chose love. He chose love over fear, and that’s a miracle.
When and where love is needed is when and where it ought to be shared. It’s always time for a miracle.

“There appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.”

This story resonates with me very strongly. My mother had difficulty conceiving and carrying children to term. Her doctor gave her medication to help her carry a child to term. The medicine was known to cause certain problems. I was born with spinal birth defects, possibly the result of that medication.

Prayer, pain killers, muscle relaxers, massage, chiropractic, a walking cane, even injections are all well known to me. In the last few years I have developed recurring bouts of super painful sciatica. I always recover, and in between flareups I live an active, happy life.
Every time I can’t stand up straight, or need a cane to walk, or need 15 minutes to exit my bed…I think of this story.

My grandmother had osteoporosis. My mother earlier this year fractured a couple of vertebrae. Back pain…my own and others, has been part of my life all my life. But I don’t think this story is about medical issues. For medical issues, see medical professionals. Of course, pray also. I aways say, Say a prayer and take a pill, if one doesn’t work the other will.

But the gospel story doesn’t say this woman was born with back troubles, and it doesn’t say she sustained an injury. The story says, “She had a spirit” that kept her from holding her head up high.

How did Jesus help her with the spirit, the attitude, the outlook, the feelings that caused her to be bowed low? He did three things:

He saw her.
He called to her.
He extended a healing touch.

In other words,
He noticed her.
He spoke to her.
And he reached out to her.
And when he did these things, she was uplifted. She stood tall. She held her head up. She was renewed.

There are people today who are hurting.
They are having trouble holding their heads up.
They are ashamed.
They are afraid.
They are lonely.
They are exhausted.
They are bereaved.
They need a miracle. They need to have their fears healed by love.
What can we do?

We can notice them.
We can speak to them.
We can reach out to them.

If they are hungry,
If they are housing insecure,
If they struggle with depression,
If they lack access to medical care,
If they are lonely,
If they have been abandoned by faith, family, or friends, If they are targeted because of their heritage, If they are having their civil rights threatened, If they are demonized or dehumanized, If they are bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, If their very bodies are used as political and ideological battle grounds, If their existence is used to fuel political hatred or religious rejection…

They need a miracle, and we can offer that miracle by simply standing on the side of love.

We can see them.
We can speak words of hope and care to them.
We can reach out to them.

There is a world of people bowed down with suffering, and religion is often used to perpetuate their suffering. Thank God for “a different kind of church.”

Like Jesus, let us counter religious abuse with spiritual liberation, and let us offer the love that will help lift people’s spirits and allow them to hold their heads up high.

This is the gospel message, which is to say, this is the good news. Amen.

God heal our fears.
God heal our deepest wounds.
May we be uplifted.
And may we uplift others.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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