There Are Still New Tongues Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Pentecost 2013 “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, [...]
There Are Still New Tongues
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
When the day of Shavuot, a Jewish harvest festival had come, members of the Jesus Movement were together in one place. And suddenly from the plenum (the Allness) there came a sound like the rush of a strong wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Different ways of speaking, like a warm, glowing, beautiful fire broke out among them, and a different way of talking was associated with each one of them. All of them were filled with divine Life and began to speak in new ways, as the divine Presence gave them ability.
In a legendary sense, Pentecost is the church’s birthday, the day it “took off.” Of course, that isn’t literally true. The church didn’t spring to life fully formed all at once. It is insulting to our ancestors to suggest that their faith died on Good Friday, was suddenly resurrected 36 hours later but put on hold, and then released to become the institutional church 50 days after that. Life isn’t nearly so neat, so precise, so exact, or formulaic.
But still, the story of Pentecost represents newness…new courage, new beginnings, new understanding, new energy to do something new. And for what it represents, it is very powerful and remains very relevant.
Luke talks about “tongues” (languages, speech, ways of talking) as a way of showing there was a new way of communicating a message of hope and healing to the world. Different kinds of people from all kinds of experiences of life can hear this message, and share in ways that seem new or strange to some people, and yet the many ways of sharing it all offer the unified message of the sacred value of all people and the possibility of peace, justice, and healing for all people.
And Luke is very dramatic, creative, imaginative with his imagery (he is, after all, a very good storyteller!). A message that will spread like wildfire is represented in Luke’s imagery as tongues of fire. Tongues (languages) spreading a message (speech) that people could find enlightening, warm, purifying, energizing (fire) are pictured as tongued shaped flames hovering over each person.
A diversity of tongues can still be heard today.
Some people need sacraments…sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, and grace is unconditional love that can neither be earned nor lost. Sacraments are the language of divine love spoken to the subconscious where symbols and archetypes are so plentiful.
Some people need intellectual stimulation, the spoken word for them to chew on, contemplate, think about…readings and sermons. Intellect is a composite of spiritual gifts (understanding, teaching, knowledge, wisdom) and the verbal ways that the intellect is nourished are also the language of divine love spoken to the mind.
Some people need the arts…film, music, dance, drama, comedy, costumes, poetry. The arts are the language of divine love spoken to the emotions, the feeling part of ourselves, the heart.
Some people need activism…calls to action, work for justice, benevolence, doing things beyond the worship experience to make a difference in the world. Activism is the language of divine love spoken to the spirit, the passionate energy that longs to be a healing force in the world.
And some people need quiet: meditation, centering prayer, silent communion with the inner presence, candle lighting, deep breathing, visualization. The Silence is the language of divine love spoken by divinity to divinity within us.
Many languages, but all communicating the same message: It is in God that we ALL live and move and have our being (Acts 17), that God is love and whoever lives in love lives in God and God lives in them (1 John 4). Just as Moses heard the divine message from a burning bush, Luke imagines the early church experiencing holy fire as they hear the divine message as well. Each hears the language that is theirs, but all the “tongues” share the same positive, life-giving message.
In the middle ages, Cathedrals were places of pageantry, drama, creativity. They used creativity and the artistic expression available to them to bring hope, healing, joy, and joy to the people of their day. In the ceilings, they created Holy spirit holes, through which volunteers on Pentecost would pour out rose petals and release live doves as the choir would go “whoosh.” It was a new tongue, and it offered comfort and joy to people whose lives were very hard otherwise.
Similarly, Vatican II tried to enliven the Catholic Church by bringing it into the 20th century. Nuns shed their habits and new churches were more open with fewer statues and more opportunities for the laity. Mass was said in the language people actually spoke, and guitar masses attracted a whole new generation of worshipers. There have been those who have spent decades trying to roll back the progress of Vatican II, but thankfully, they have been unable. The new tongue spoke to new people and the church experienced renewal.
In the 80s, Pentecostal churches got a facelift. Make up was no longer universally taboo, and music might sound more like Motown or Nashville than an old time tent revival. And they took over the airways, buying radio stations and tv stations and starting television networks and buying time on cable networks. And as a result, many of their churches became megachurches and they became largely mainstream. The new tongue spoke to new people.
And on October 6, 1968, God breathed new energy into the world of religion again, and yet again a new tongue would be heard as Metropolitan Community Churches came to life.
Our affirmation of the human body is a new language for some people.
Our affirmation of human sexuality as a divine gift is a new language for some people. Our affirmation of LBGT people as part of the divine diversity of creation is a new language for some people.
Our boldness in using language that is gender inclusive is new for some people. But these tongues have brought warmth and life (fire) to many lives, and because of these tongues, some people have heard for the first time that they are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake, part of the creation that God calls very good (Gen. 1).
And, as a new religious movement, we are an emerging church free of many of the ancient traditions that keep other churches stuck in the past and unable to engage the 21st first century. Many of the exciting, growing churches today, including MCCs, often have less iconography and use contemporary readings, secular music, secular sounding religious music, poetry, drama, film, dance, interviews, orchestras, bands, video, electronic images, multi-purpose rooms, and other media to reach people in the way they actually live.
This is a new tongue, a new language for some people, and yet it is conveying the same message that all the tongues of Pentecost convey, and that is all people are the children of God, loved by God eternally.
And what we are doing with sacraments and silence, with preaching and performance, with secular and sacred music, with activism and optimism is living out the message of Pentecost.
From the plenum comes a strong wind of grace that fills the entire house of humanity. And to reach more of the human family, we will continue to speak in NEW ways as the divine Presence gives us ability, and as a result, more and more people will come to believe in themselves and come together to work for peace, justice, and healing for the whole world.
The fiery tongues of Pentecost helped the early church believe in itself so it could do the work of moving forward. The old Shavuot was reinterpreted and celebrated in new ways to include more kinds of people. The old harvest festival would now celebrate a different kind of harvest, a harvest of people building up the kin-dom of God! It wasn’t about making anyone comfortable; stormy winds and bursts of flame are not comfortable; but they are energizing. The church was shaken up in those early days. Some were offended. Some were frightened. Some were confused. Some were excited. But the important thing was that the movement was enlivened, was forever changed and continuously changing, and therefore, they could be change agents in the world. That was the miracle of Pentecost. It still is!
The wind of the Spirit is blowing again today and new tongues are breaking out all over; and we are the ones to experience this new Pentecost, and to share it with a world in need of spiritual renewal. The power of Pentecost is within and among us today, and this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2013
God’s spirit fills me with hope, peace, and joy.
God’s spirit renews my mind and body.
God’s spirit is offering me gifts…
And I share those gifts with my world.
Mothers’ Love and Ascension Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Ascension 2013 This is the Sunday of the year when we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. 40 days after Easter (always a Thursday) is the Feast of the Ascension, but we Protestants who acknowledge it all tend to do so on the following Sunday, which is today. [...]
Mothers’ Love and Ascension
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
This is the Sunday of the year when we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. 40 days after Easter (always a Thursday) is the Feast of the Ascension, but we Protestants who acknowledge it all tend to do so on the following Sunday, which is today. And my focus today will end with Ascension, but first I want say a word about Mothers as this is also Mothers Day.
We think of Mothers Day as a secular holiday, a Greeting Card marketing invention, but in reality, Mothers Day has very spiritual roots.
Hymn writer Julia Ward Howe (who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic) also wrote a poem in 1870 called A Mother’s Day Proclamation. It was a call to action for women of faith to stand up for peace instead of war so that mothers would no longer know the heartache of having their children wounded and killed in preventable wars. Her poem was radically inclusive and radically visionary. Howe wrote,
“Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
‘Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’
Blood does not wipe our dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his [or her] own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.”
Almost 4 decades later, a woman named Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother. Her mother had been a pacifist and social justice advocate in the 19th century, like Julia Ward Howe. Jarvis’ mother had organized mothers to work for better sanitation and cleaner water for the health of their children in West Virginia. She also worked for universal access to medicine for poor families. During the Civil War, Jarvis’ mother volunteered for BOTH the Union AND the Confederacy, offering comfort to all who were wounded.
One day in 1907, Anna Jarvis passed out white carnations to her Methodist congregation to commemorate the life of her heroic mother. Progressive Christian organizations picked up the idea and lobbied Congress to create a national Mother’s Day, and in 1914 Mothers Day became a national holiday.
So, Mothers Day isn’t just an excuse to call our moms, or to fondly remember them if they have passed away, but is the result of women who worked for justice, inclusion, progress, forward movement, peace, and healing in the world. Mothers’ Day is the story of mothers trying to uplift the world with the power of hope; mothers’ love being activated to create an Ascension experience for those who were downtrodden.
If you have a mother figure in your life who you cherish or if you are a mother figure to someone who is blessed because you fill that role, my prayer is that God will bless you richly today and I want to affirm the power of the ministry of motherhood.
The uplifting mother figure is a biblical image. One of the names for God in the bible, used on eight different occasions, is El Shaddai, which literally means, “almighty breasted one” (a nurturing, nursing, obviously maternal image).
The Hebrew word for spirit is Ruach, and that word is feminine. In the creation myth of Genesis chapter 1, we see the spirit giving birth to our world; she moves and creation comes into being.
The only time in scripture that God is imagined as having genitalia is in Job 38.29, where the writer suggests that ice storms are birthed from God’s own womb.
Psalm 23, God spreads a table, like a mother, a wife, or a servant in that patriarchal culture.
Psalm 91.4, “God will cover you with feathers and under God’s wings you will find refuge.” The image is clearly that of a mother bird protecting her young.
We see a similar imagery in Deuteronomy 32.11, “like a Mother Eager that stirs up her nest and hovers over her young and spreads her wings to catch them and carries them aloft…”
And again in Isaiah 40.31, “but those who hope in the Divine will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Just as a mother eagle teaches her young to soar, those who turn to the God Presence within will be uplifted and encouraged to soar. God, with motherly love, will help us rise above the difficulties and setbacks in life to experience the heights of joy that circumstances can neither give nor take away.
Isaiah 45.15, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and ignore the child she has borne? Even if your human mother could do so, I will not forget you.”
Isaiah 66.13, “Like a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”
In Luke 15 we see God as a housewife or mother who will not accept losing a decorative coin that probably represented her family. Just as a good mother never gives up on any of her children, God will not, cannot lose any of her children.
Jesus used birth-language when arguing with the Pharisees, saying that the goal of spirituality is to be reborn, or as one branch hanging from the Christian tree loves to say, “born again.” But how is one born? Through a mother. Mothers give birth; a divine mother gives rebirth. To be reborn is to have a new lease on life, a new way of seeing the world, a new way of understanding one’s place in the world, a new understanding of one’s sacred value. And the image Jesus uses for that new lease on life is the image of birthing.
These uplifting images of God in scripture fit very easily with the Ascension story today.
Luke writes in the Acts passage we heard this morning, “[Jesus said], ‘You will receive power when the holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”
That is another uplifting message, but we have focused on the wrong part of it. We get stuck on the bit where Jesus takes an invisible escalator into a cloud, and that so offends our modern understanding of cosmology, that we don’t let the image have meaning for us. But it’s not about the imaginary escalator! Enoch, Elijah, even Caesar all had stories of ascending into the heavens. But these ancient stories come from a time when the world was thought to be flat and gravity was unknown and the earth was believed to be the center of the cosmos, and so being lifted above a flat earth to the sky attack fit with how people understood the universe. But Jesus’ Ascension isn’t about making him a celebrity.
Nothing about Jesus points to Jesus. Jesus is always lifting up others; never himself. Jesus isn’t Caesar on a throne; Jesus is a prophet challenging oppression, touching the untouchables, and showing a new way over against the old traditions that no longer bring new people into the Blessed Community. Jesus isn’t an idol of the status quo; he is a destroyer of idols and the hope of a new day.
Jesus is born and angels sing to shepherds. The miracle for Luke isn’t how Jesus is born, but that his birth is good news for poor outcast shepherds living and working in the fields!
The Last Supper is a gift to his friends. He knows he’s in trouble and he may not survive much longer, but he tells his friends that they can always have him with them by just remembering him. Sit at table, share some bread and wine, and remember, and all your memories of me and all I’ve taught you will be present. Remember me, and you’re never alone.
Even in Luke 15, the story of the Prodigal son, the son thinks of the unconditional love that is his natural inheritance, and he says, “I will arise…” Jesus is always trying to lift us up.
And now, there is this Ascension story. But the invisible escalator that could make sense in a world where the earth was flat is preceded by the message we are meant to embrace in every age:
YOU WILL RECEIVE POWER…and then what? YOU will have something to do, like Julia Ward Howe, like Anna Jarvis, YOU will have something to do. You will be a witness in Jerusalem (the big city), in Judea (the towns and rural areas of the country most of us are from), in Samaria (where people we don’t understand, agree with, or even like sometimes are), and to the ends of the earth (because a flat earth has ends), but that means the whole world.
You will be empowered to reach out, to reach new people, to include new kinds of people, to reach new generations, to tell people who have never heard before that they are persons of sacred value, that all people can experience peace beyond pain and hope beyond horror and joy beyond jeopardy. You will be empowered, not to demand privilege, but to reach out to lift up the downtrodden, to bring in the marginalized, to lift up the oppressed, to comfort the suffering, and to share with all people regardless of their circumstances the peace that passes understanding.
Ascension isn’t a parlor trick that Jesus pulls off once; Ascension is the promise that we have purpose and we will be empowered to live into that purpose and carry it out! Luke is imagining Jesus passing the torch, as it were, so that WE might be Christ in the world! That is our calling, and our joy.
And of course, as we give, we receive; as we lift up others, we feel lifted up, and as we move forward, we discover the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities. For us and for those we are still to reach, this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2013
I have purpose.
My hands are the hands of Christ.
God in and through me is blessing my world.
And as I give, I also receive.
Thank you, God!
Resurrection Means Victory Over Fear Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Easter 6, 2013) Today we come to the end of our six week sermon series: Resurrection Means… And today we look at Resurrection as rising above our fears, or at least some of them. Fears will always present themselves, we will always find something to attach [...]
Resurrection Means Victory Over Fear
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Easter 6, 2013)
Today we come to the end of our six week sermon series: Resurrection Means…
And today we look at Resurrection as rising above our fears, or at least some of them. Fears will always present themselves, we will always find something to attach our fear to, but then we can work through our fears and return to peace in spite of the troubling times. It may take time and support, but then, that’s what spiritual communities are for; we can help one another return to peace. We can help one another have victory over fear.
The psalmist said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23.4) and “The Divine is my light and my safety; whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27.1).
“Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out.” Karl Augustus Menninger
“FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real.” copied
“You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith.” Mary Manin Morrissey
“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.” Andre Gide
“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.” Hafiz
“The wise person in the storm prays God, not for safety from danger, but for deliverance from fear.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Professional athlete Jason Collins showed great courage recently by coming out.
In 1969, NYC cross-dressers, drag queens, and transgender folk showed great courage by saying, “We won’t take being harassed for being different anymore.” Their courage spurred the Stonewall Riots and the Gay Liberation Movement was born.
MCC founder Troy Perry showed great courage when he started a church that would welcome and affirm and celebrate gay men, lesbians, transgender people, leather folk, heterosexual friends, relatives, and allies of LBGT people, Christians, Jews, and all the children of God. In a time when same-gender love was criminal in most states, and considered disordered in the medical community, Troy prophetically stood up and said Queer people are God’s people and we are going to do drag shows and leather balls and pride parades and offer a NEW kind of worship experience and preach empowerment until all people are treated with dignity and justice.
Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich, showed profound courage when, far ahead of her time, she referred to God as both Father AND Mother, and also used the provocative image of God as her Lover, and when she offered one of the most comforting prayers in Christian history, All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. To affirm that all is well even when conditions don’t yet demonstrate that takes great faith, or we could say, courage. The spirit within us can provide such courage.
Louise Hay teaches, “When a problem comes up, one of the best things you can do is say these positive affirmations: ‘All is well. Everything is working out for my highest good. Out of this experience only good will come. I am safe.’”
An MCC minister and a mentor of mine, Rev. Irene Travis died a few days ago. She was a marvelous preacher. She preached the first Nativity sermon I ever heard that included the word afterbirth! She wanted us to see the event more realistically than might be portrayed on a Hallmark card.
She preached the best gay pride sermon I ever heard titled, “Let My People Go!”
And in a chapel service for ministry students, she one preached a sermon titled “Unfettered” (based on Luke 19′s rendition of Jesus sending people to untie a donkey and bring it to him) and the great zinger of that sermon was when she said to us, “Honey, your ass has been set free!” Of course, we loved it!
But what was most inspiring about Rev. Travis, to me, was in the late 90s when she was diagnosed with cancer. She had a radical mastectomy and a year of intense treatment. Still, she had such a positive attitude about it. After she recovered, she smiled once as she said with remarkable joy, “I can wear vests now!”
She faced the facts with an assurance of a greater truth. Her wholeness and happiness didn’t depend on circumstances. And rather than being bitter or discouraged from the challenge, she chose to be grateful for the love and support she received. She said the prayers of the people helped her survive the terrible ordeal. Someone asked her if she really believed that, and she said, “Well, people prayed and I am better, and it’s more fun to believe that one had something to do with the other.” She focused on what was good more than on what was difficult, and she praised the blessings rather than obsessing on the challenges.
MCC instills courage if we embrace the mission of MCC.
The MCC Core Values are: Inclusion, Community, Spiritual Transformation, Social Justice.
It takes courage to live into those values.
It takes courage to reach out to and welcome new kinds of people, people of all ages, people who speak various languages, people who struggle with sobriety, people who struggle with depression, people whose gender identity do not fit neatly into artificial binaries, people longing for spirituality but who have no particular loyalty to religious tradition…
It takes courage to build a community based on diversity rather than tradition, on an egalitarian vision rather than on privilege for a few, on the promise that we can will stand together to make the world better rather than simply to make a few happy while teaching all who will receive the message that there are tools we can all use to take responsibility for our own happiness and well-being…
It takes courage to offer the hope of spiritual transformation, because transformation means change and there are those who violently oppose it, and yet, a message that does not include the possibility and promise of transformation is not a gospel message…
and It takes courage to stand up for justice rather than being content with Just Us. To be MCC is to embrace a life of courage.
MCC doesn’t stand for Mean Critical Christians. There are enough of those outside of MCC.
MCC stands for many things in this faith community: We are a Metropolitan Community Church, we are a Multi-faith Community Church, we are a Marvelously Caring Community, we are Mendacity Confronting Church, we are a Metaphysical Community Center, and we are a Mission Conscious Church. To be any of those things, and certainly to be all of them, is to rise above fear and move boldly and intentionally forward into a future with infinite possibilities.
We are a movement of courage, a movement that defies the status quo, that learns from the past but refuses to repeat it, a movement that will not let bigotry, privilege, hate or fear dictate our direction, a movement that says until the Trans person is afforded full dignity and equality, our work is not done.
Until marriage equality is a universal reality, our work is not done.
Until calling women butch or men girly is no longer considered insulting because however we express ourselves and however we are comfortable in our bodies should be celebrated, until that day, our work is not done.
Until women have the final say over their bodies, our work is not done.
Until economic justice is recognized as much as a spiritual issue as a political one, our work is not done.
Until diversity is no longer resisted and not merely tolerated, but worked for and lifted up as Sacred, our work is not done.
Until the entire church of Jesus Christ says boldly that God is beyond nationality, that English is not God’s language, and God is not a boy’s name, our work is not done.
Until heterosexuality and homosexuality and bisexuality are equally affirmed as good gifts from God, our work is not done.
Until we can celebrate our religious path without insisting that it is the only way to experience divine Love, our work is not done.
The work we are called to do takes courage, but guess what; courage is just another word for trust, and trust is the literal meaning of the biblical word often translated as faith, and faith is a gift of God’s spirit.
Our work requires trust in the goodness of it and trust in our worthiness to perform it, and when we operate in the power of that trust, or faith, miracles will happen in our lives and in our world.
And I have one more bit of good news for you. By participating in this courageous movement, this movement leading our community into a new day, and by participating in this church which is a leader in the movement, by sharing positive speech, goodwill, financial generosity, loving prayer, your presence in worship, your volunteer service with this progressive, positive, practical ministry, by being fully engaged in and supportive of Sunshine Cathedral which is a DIFFERENT kind of church where the past is PAST and the future has INFINITE possibilities, you will be sharing hope and joy and courage with the world; and what we focus on we experience more of, and what we give we tend to receive.
By supporting this courageous, bold, forward moving ministry, you will be sowing seeds of courage in your own life, courage that will help you face illness, financial difficulties, disappointments, slander, injustice, loneliness, loss, or depression. By being part of this courageous movement, you will find you are increasingly experiencing victory over fear in your own life. When there is no fear, there is peace, and where there is peace, there is joy, and where there is joy, all is well. Resurrection means victory over fear, and what that means is, in the words of Blessed Irene Travis, honey, your ass has been set free! That’s Resurrection power; and this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2013
“All is well.”
“Everything is working out for my highest good.”
“Out of this situation only good will come.”
“I am safe.”
And so it is!
Resurrection Means Peace Beyond Pain Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Apr. 28, 2013 – Sunshine Cathedral Growing up, there was a song I often heard at funerals: My God is real, real in my soul; my God is real and has renewed and made me whole. God’s love for me is like pure Gold. My God [...]
Resurrection Means Peace Beyond Pain
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Apr. 28, 2013 – Sunshine Cathedral
Growing up, there was a song I often heard at funerals:
My God is real, real in my soul; my God is real and has renewed and made me whole. God’s love for me is like pure Gold. My God is real for I can feel God in my soul.
The thought of the presence of divine Life within one’s own life is bound to offer peace; and during times of despair and grief, peace is needed most. How miraculous in such times to be able to affirm, “I feel God in my soul.”
In my early 20s when I discovered MCC and the AIDS crisis was raging without much hope being offered yet by medical science, there was a song I frequently heard in worship, usually at Communion, that brought peace, at least for a moment, to all who sang and heard it: Surely the presence of our God is in this place; I can feel Her mighty power and His grace. I can hear the brush of angel wings; I see glory on each face. Surely the presence of our God is in this place.
To acknowledge the divine presence, to know as Emerson said that we are part and parcel of God, to know as the Apostle Paul did that nothing can separate us from the love that God is, to deeply feel as Jesus did that divine Life is our life, that we are each one with God, is to experience peace that isn’t dependent on and can’t be diminished by any circumstance in life.
The divine presence is the Source and Substance of all life is affirmed in the Acts reading today. It may be shocking to read about circumcision being so openly discussed in a scripture reading, but our spiritual ancestors were less uptight about bodies than we may have been led to believe. An “incarnational” spirituality will naturally assume that bodies are good and can be spoken of freely without shame. We should remember that our spiritual ancestors could name body parts without shame in spiritual discourse which even found its way into our sacred canon! God is the substance from which our bodies are made, so they are good. We may not always treat them well, we may not always appreciate them, we may not always see their beauty because we’ve been conditioned to think only certain types of bodies are beautiful, but bodies are part of the creation God calls very good, are part of the divine unity and wholeness of life.
Perhaps even the post-biblical doctrine of the Trinity suggests that all life is One Life. The three in and as one imagery of the Trinity may well suggest the unity of all life; one is all and all is one. If there is one Substance from which all life is made manifest, if it is true that “there’s not a spot where God is not”, then divine Life is the “stuff” of all life.
The Revelation text today tells us that God is among and within people.
And the Gospel reading concurs that ALL people can come to the Christ Consciousness, the awareness of one’s unity with divine Life, the recognition that God is omnipresent and therefore is inclusive of every life and is THE Life from which all “lives” are pressed out or made manifest.
There are no magic words or mystical moment in which all the problems of life are solved and we become so happy that no burden or trial can get us down. But we have an example of one who did develop the Christ Consciousness, an awareness of his unity with the divine Presence, and we can return to that image and let it help us move more deeply into our own discovery of the divine Presence in our lives. We can look to Jesus not as the human exception but as the human example, the example of what we can be and what we can do and what we are indeed meant to be, and then we discover the Christ in us, the hope of glory.
There’s not a spot where God is not, and yet, we don’t always feel the presence. When Jesus was being publicly persecuted and brutalized and tortured, while he still had breath he started to pray the 22nd psalm that begins, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” He had a moment where he forgot, or where he almost forgot that there’s not a spot where God is not.
But the gospel writer suggests that he had a trick for remembering. He started to pray the 22nd psalm. Psalmist apparently thought that when things were hurtful and overwhelming that maybe God had forgotten him, so he started to pray about it, and in fact prayed through it, and by the end of Psalm 22 the psalmist is praising God and affirming God’s never-ending presence and goodness.
And so Jesus, it is imagined, in his moment of suffering, begins to pray the 22nd psalm, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” Because of the pain, he isn’t able to recite the whole psalm, but we can easily imagine Jesus reciting the whole piece in his mind, and then thinking with a smile that no one else could understand, “Oh, that’s right, you haven’t. You can’t. You never will. There’s not a spot where God is not.”
And his friends insisted that those horrific moments at Golgotha did not end the Jesus story, and it certainly did not end the Jesus movement. Apparently, there was hope beyond horror, and peace beyond pain. That’s resurrection.
Once when St. Teresa was having a particularly bad day, she turned to prayer, as one might. She prayed, “God, if this how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them.” Even such a prayer of exasperation affirms the closeness of the divine presence; a trust that the divine can be played with, and accessed, and I’m sure the grin that such an irreverent prayer brought to St. Teresa’s face was nothing less than the healing touch of God helping her face the challenges at hand.
Oneness, or divine unity is affirmed in each of our texts this morning and such unity with the divine assures us of our sacred value and innate goodness. This realization can bring peace beyond pain.
“Peace is not the absence of affliction, but the presence of God.” (anonymous)
Experiences come and go and often seem beyond our control, but difficulties can’t rob us of our sacred value nor can they separate us from our divine Source. That offers us the encouragement we need to move through the difficulty and to know that better days are on the way…God is Good and God is omnipresent, so anything unlike God can’t be permanent and that gives us the hope we need to continue moving forward to claim the life that is ours by divine right.
12th century Christian mystic Hildegard of Bingen said, “There is no one in whom the Divine is missing.”
“All are but parts of one stupendous whole, whose body Nature is, and God the Soul.” Alexander Pope
Mine is neither a doctrinal nor a dogmatic faith. My theology is pretty simple: it’s just that God is omnipresence. God is the only true presence, filling all space, serving as the substance of all that exists, enfolding and flowing through and expressing as all life; in short, there’s not a spot where God is not.
When we don’t recognize the divine presence, we invent dramas and nightmares, wars and crime, abuse and loneliness, we invent distractions to keep us from communing with the One All, and then we fear that the dramas we’ve created are real, and God is an illusion, but it is exactly the other way ‘round.
That’s why Anne Frank, martyr of the Nazi reign of terror, could say such powerful things as, “I don’t think of all the misery, but all the beauty that still remains.” Life was difficult for that young girl would never get to grow old, and yet, she somehow experienced peace beyond pain. She somehow knew that even in the midst of her suffering, the infinite Goodness that we call God was still present, and focusing on the presence gave her a peace that passes understanding.
Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple, was made into a movie and a Broadway musical, and in each of the tellings of the story, there is a now famous moment when two African American women living in the Jim Crow era South are sharing their hopes and disappointments during a private moment. One is in an abusive relationship and longs to get out of it. She also had experienced a very difficult childhood, so really, her life has been filled with suffering for a very long time.
She is frustrated with God, and calls God “trifling and low down.” In the musical version, her friend tells her, “Oh, I’ll admit God seems to be taking God’s time getting to you, but look at all that God has given us.” She then rattles off a list of blessings that even the most wounded or disappointed person would have to acknowledge. And then she tells her hurting friend, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
And that’s the point, isn’t it? The mean stuff, the hurtful stuff, the unfair stuff, the unjust stuff, that isn’t God. God isn’t the bomb in Boston; God is the people rushing to help the ones who were hurt. God isn’t the explosion in Texas; God is the wind diminishing the damage. God isn’t the homophobic legislation demonizing people; God is 10 states and the District of Columbia and two Native American tribes and 12 countries around the world that have marriage equality. God isn’t the disease that took a loved one; God is the blessed memories that keep our loves ones alive in our hearts. God is infinite life, and in God all are alive forever. Do we dare to look past the appearance of discord to see the truth of God’s loving presence? If so, we’ll have peace beyond pain. Even when the world seems to be coming apart at the seams, will we dare to still notice the color purple, the goodness that no amount of difficulty can take away?
In the musical version of The Color Purple, the woman who is in so much pain, Celie, is given words of comfort from her friend, Shug. Shug tells her God isn’t a mean man in the sky, that really God isn’t a man at all (rather like Jesus saying that God is spirit). And Shug offers her a broader concept of God to comfort her in her time of pain. Shug tells her:
God is inside you and everyone else that was or ever will be. We come into this world with God but only them who look inside find It. God is the flowers and everything else that was or ever will be. And when you feel the truth so real, and when you love the way you feel, you’ve found it.
The omnipresent God, the God that neither sends pain nor is limited by it, awareness of and focus on that Reality is what offers peace beyond pain. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2013
I feel God in my soul.
Wherever I am, God is.
And so peace is always possible.
There is peace beyond pain.
Thank you, God!
Resurrection Means Wherever I am, God is! Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Easter 4, 2013 This week’s readings and topic were, of course, chosen well in advance of this week. We couldn’t have known that explosions in Texas and New England would disrupt our whole country. But they did, and our readings and topic today, I [...]
Resurrection Means Wherever I am, God is!
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Easter 4, 2013
This week’s readings and topic were, of course, chosen well in advance of this week. We couldn’t have known that explosions in Texas and New England would disrupt our whole country. But they did, and our readings and topic today, I believe, offer something relevant in response. But first, let’s talk for a minute about Jesus. It’s what we do.
Jesus, you’ll remember, was born in a barn. That story actually comes pretty late in the Christian tradition, but it does make the point that there’s not a spot where God is not. You can find yourself homeless, giving birth in a barn, and right in the midst of the difficulty, the presence of God is.
Jesus’ story continues to unfold with him demonstrating again and again that no one is ever outside of God’s presence.
The book of Deuteronomy says that Canaanites should be destroyed; but we find Jesus healing a Canaanite woman’s daughter and praising her faith in Matthew 15. He didn’t try to destroy her, he affirmed her sacred value! Jesus figured out that if God is omnipresent, then that means God is everywhere fully present, which means God could not exclude the Canaanites or anyone else. So, even though he had been taught to be suspicious of Canaanites, Jesus moved through his social conditioning to see the divine light in a Canaanite woman and he affirmed that light and let it bring forth renewed hope and joy in her life.
Jesus touched the untouchables, lepers, who were called by scripture unclean, but Jesus knew that a soul couldn’t have leprosy even if a body did, and he knew the soul was whole and complete no matter what the physical condition, and he affirmed that wholeness and said that because God cared about the leper, was in fact with the leper, then the leper deserved the healing power of touch as much as anyone else.
Women in Jesus’ day had no status apart from a man; but Jesus affirmed women, called them to follow him, sent them out as disciples, and it was women who first had the experience we call resurrection. It wasn’t just men who were made in the divine image. Men and women, adults and children, all parts of creation were called by God very good.
And even when he was tortured to death by crucifixion, a penalty meant not only to cause unimaginable pain but also to instill fear and shame, Jesus was able to face the fear and reject the shame and know that the pain was not able to define nor diminish him and that life was more than the sum of earthly years. Romans mocked him, insulted him, beat him, and tortured him, but he said to a fellow sufferer, “today you’ll be with me in paradise” (Luke 23). He knew that even that terrible circumstance could not separate him from the presence of God, and no one else could be separated either. Today we are in God’s presence.
And after that dim and terrible day, people continued to experience the hope, the peace, the courage, the joy, the dignity Jesus had offered throughout his ministry and their witness was that they could still touch the power of Jesus’ life and it could still empower their own. That’s resurrection, and it means that wherever we are, God is.
That’s what we heard in today’s gospel when Jesus said, “The Eternal and I are one” and we heard it also in the reading by Trine, “The great value of God as taught by Jesus is that God dwells in us. It is truly Emmanuel – God with us…”
Wherever we are, God is. That phrase of course comes from James Dillet Freemans’ Prayer of Protection which we say every week in our liturgy. Wherever we are, God is. Do you believe that wherever we are, God is! Say yes. Better, let’s sing it: “yes, yes, yes, yes; yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”
The Qu’ran teaches that God is closer to us than our neck-veins.
The Greek poet Epimenides said that it is in God that we live and move and have our being, and Luke in the book of Acts says that the Apostle Paul used that quote in his ministry.
Quaker founder George Fox said there is that of God in every person.
Self-help writer U.S. Anderson wrote, “Anything infinite occupies all the space there is and therefore does not leave room for anything else.”
In other words, wherever we are, God is.
God is everywhere, is the source and substance of all life, is the ground of being, is ultimate reality, is with us, in us, flowing through us, expressing as us, wherever we are, God is. Right? “Yes, yes, yes, yes; yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”
In the ancient drama of Job, the main character says, “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the almighty has given me life.” Divine Life is our life; the breath, the energy, the life of God is our life, it is in us and part of us; wherever we are, God is!
In the New Testament we read, “Know that we dwell in God and God dwells in us…” (1 John 4.13)
And, “There is…one God…who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Eph. 4)
If we live in God, and God is infinite and therefore fills all space, then it is true that there’s not a spot where God is not, so I cannot be lost from or separated from God, ever!
Life is filled with experiences and not all of them to our liking and yet they are manageable when we know wherever we are, God is. The experiences are passing, but God is eternal, and God is good, and God is omnipresent, everywhere fully present.
Like you, I’ve had many challenges, times when I didn’t know where to turn or what to do.
When I was diagnosed with HIV and there were no effective treatments yet, I somehow went to peace instead of to pieces, but only because I trusted that wherever I am, God is.
In my ministry so far, 22 years of leading churches in the direction of healing and growth, 22 years of affirming the sacred value of all people, 22 years of standing up for social and economic justice, 22 years of affirming that homosexuality is not a sin but homophobia is!…
22 years of honestly trying to be an ally and supporter of women, standing with them as much as my understanding would allow in their work for justice. I’ve had men tell me from time to time that rather than allowing feminism to influence my preaching they wish I would preach in a way that would just let them be proud to be men; and I usually respond by saying, if you want to be proud to be a man then be secure enough to appreciate women and you can be very proud indeed…
22 years of saying God is bigger than AIDS, 22 years of saying racism has no place in the kin-dom of God, 22 years of learning that gender is much more complex and diverse than the constructed binaries of male and female; 22 years of celebrating the gifts of the leather community and of the bear boys, 22 years of affirming the talents and courage and contributions of drag performers, a fine MCC tradition in fact. Not only have drag performances helped fund MCC ministry for decades, but drag queens and drag kings have shown us that there is the feminine and the masculine within all of us and it is all holy. The occasional MCC preacher has even joined them in rather obvious ways in sharing that good news.
22 years of insisting that a message of hope, healing and divine empowerment can be heard in the writings of every positive religion, and in the words of poets and dramatists and filmmakers and pop singers as well as in the music of a high mass or a gospel tent revival. 22 years of saying there is not a spot where God is not …you will be surprised to learn that those efforts have not always been universally appreciated, sometimes have been viciously attacked.
MCC founder Troy Perry has a marvelous story of a fundamentalist preacher screaming at him that when he died he’d go to hell, and Troy shouted back, “I’m not going to hell because I never want to see any of you people again.” Of course I don’t believe in hell, except for the hellish experiences we endure here and now; and we’ve all been there. I love the wisdom of the 12 Step Movement that tells us religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, and spirituality is for those who have already been there.
O God give us the grace to release a few more of the trappings of religion and to embrace the healing that spirituality offers. Let us seek not so much to be a religious community as a spiritual community. Amen.
I share this with you only to let you know that my struggles may not be yours but I have them as you have yours, and like you I have to find ways of coping with them and moving forward. How can we face the difficulties and keep hope alive and hold our heads up until the storm passes by? Rather than wallow in the difficulty, we can choose to remember that wherever we are, God is! Let’s say that together, “Wherever we are, God is!”
As we focus on that, divine possibilities come into our focus and as we keep them in focus, they begin to manifest in our experience of life. We’ve proven it time and again, so now, let’s remember and keep affirming and demonstrating that wherever we are, God is.
And so, for those in Boston and in a town in Texas called West, near Waco, who have suffered this week from explosions and gunfire, who have lost loved ones and who have been injured and who lived for days in fear and uncertainty and continue to cope with grief, I have no words to make the pain go away, but I can know with them that God, the Spirit of life, the presence of Love, web of existence, the light that will never be extinguished, call it what you will but I affirm it is with them, holding them, never letting them go. I do believe that in the fullness of time from the ashes of despair a phoenix of renewed hope and joy will rise, because I believe in resurrection power, that is, I believe that wherever we are, God is.
For our friends in Texas and Massachusetts, and for any of us who have gone through a dark night of the soul, who have known despair and grief and fear, I offer this reminder that wherever we are, God is, and wherever God is, wonderful possibilities remain. These final words are from William Ernest Henley,
“Out of the night that covers me, dark as the pit from pole to pole/I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud./Under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears, looms but the horror of the shade;/And yet the menace of the years finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll,/I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” (Invictus)
And so are you; and this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2013
Wherever I am, God is!
There’s not a spot where God is not.
And so it is that I am filled with hope and peace.
Resurrection Means Abundant Life Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Easter 3, 2013) The Season of Easter, or Eastertide, continues. Of course, in the Christian tradition, every Sunday is a Resurrection day, but we focus specifically on Resurrection Possibilities from Easter Day to Pentecost. And so we continue our series today, “Resurrection Means…” Today’s thought is Resurrection [...]
Resurrection Means Abundant Life
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Easter 3, 2013)
The Season of Easter, or Eastertide, continues. Of course, in the Christian tradition, every Sunday is a Resurrection day, but we focus specifically on Resurrection Possibilities from Easter Day to Pentecost. And so we continue our series today, “Resurrection Means…” Today’s thought is Resurrection Means Abundant Life.
Abundance is feeling supported in life, by life. Abundance is trusting that there is grace equal to every need. Abundance is the awareness of our unity with All Good. Abundance is the power to recognize and accept the blessings that are always at hand.
Jesus said, “…I have come that [you] may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10)
We usually think of abundance as wealth, but the greatest wealth we can have is the power to choose our thoughts and to direct the energy of thoughts to create harmony, joy, and peace in our lives. Are you aware of such abundance? Do you know that such abundance is within your grasp?
When I speak of abundance I don’t really mean money. Money is one of the many forms that energy takes and we need money in our society and most of us can think of ways we could use a bit more of it. But money is one manifestation of abundance, not the meaning of abundance.
There are those with vast sums of money who don’t believe they have enough. And there are others who make what many would consider a meager income, and yet they find their every need is perfectly met and they experience happiness and love and fulfillment every day of their lives. Abundance can’t be limited by empty pockets and it can’t be limited to gross income. Abundance is the experience of life that is joyful, meaningful, and productive.
There is an abundance story we all share. Sunshine Cathedral outgrew their previous location several years ago (as they had outgrown the one before that). Under the leadership of the previous two pastors, the church kept moving forward and needing to expand and change and grow, a leadership tradition I have dedicated myself to continuing.
When the church outgrew their second property, they tried to buy a new property but some errors were made and they didn’t get the property and spent most of their reserves trying to get out of the situation. Later, Walt Lawrence (for whom this room is named) and others stepped up to help purchase this property and Sunshine Cathedral had a new home.
But with the new home came new expenses, and almost no reserves. A Foundation was formed to secure the needs of the physical property and I encourage you to plan to leave some part of your life insurance or savings to the Sunshine Cathedral Foundation in your will as that is how the bricks and mortar needs will be maintained. What you give in the plate supports daily operations and ministry; and what you leave in your estate planning supports property preservation and expansion and future endowments. The church and its foundation working together are tapping into a future of infinite possibilities!
Dreams were dreamed and risks were taken and thank God for the dreams and the dreamers and the risks and the risk takers; but dreams do come at a cost. New property, new windows, new piano, new organ, new chancel…its all lovely and people were generous to make it all happen with above and beyond donations, but there remained the daily and weekly needs of outreach, ministry, worship planning, pastoral care, religious education, benevolence, and so forth. We looked good, and still do, but what many people didn’t see was the struggle to maintain ongoing ministry within the beautiful space.
In time, a couple of hurricanes came along and took their toll on the community and eventually the housing market crashed and the economy suffered, and as was true of many families and businesses, Sunshine Cathedral found itself in full blown financial crisis by 2006. Let’s face it, we were broke. Some individuals made heroic sacrifices to keep the doors open and ministry going. One of them our own Executive Director, Ed Johnson, whose dedication and radical generosity remains one of the untold stories of selfless Christian stewardship.
Our aged payables took multiple pages to record and our debts were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. A quarter of payroll taxes went unpaid and in the summer of 2007 a payroll bounced and recovery from that was not quick.
Following all of that, in the fall of 2007, I was installed as senior pastor, and instead of enjoying the usual 18 month honeymoon period, I had to launch into budget cutting, fund raising, and morale boosting from day one.
But we said over and over that God was the source of our supply and our source was infinite. We remembered the words of Emma Curtis Hopkins, “There is Good for me and I ought to have it!” and “There is no mixture of evil with my good.”
We affirmed that grace was equal to every need. We held an intention to build a culture of generosity whereby we would all share the burden and responsibility and rewards of ministry, and that together as a generous community, we would overcome our difficulties.
Each year since then we’ve grown.
Each year since then giving has increased.
Each year since then we have paid down debts.
And we ended 2012 in the Black and experienced a record first quarter in 2013! Give yourselves a hand!
We still have aged payables, but not dozens…they now number in the single digits.
We still don’t have great reserves, but we consistently take in more than we spend and spend less than we budget, and we have discovered how to do a lot of ministry on a tight budget no matter what the economy is like, because God is the source of our supply and source is infinite.
The dreams and risks of the past can now be honored by renewed health and vitality.
The air castles were well built, and we have spent the last half decade putting foundations under them.
And that has meant new visions, courageous changes, and deep faith; and as a result we have been blessed and the best is still to come. I have so much faith in you, in your dedication, in your positive thinking, in your generosity, in your commitment to being the manifestation of God in the world today, I have no doubt that we will double our outreach and impact over the next half decade.
We have experienced abundance, even in difficult times, we were abundantly blessed. We didn’t always experience avalanches of cash, and we’ve done everything from yard sales to drag shows to raffles to raise the money needed for ministry, but we consistently have had the experience of abundance. Do you see the difference? Do you see how you can tap into abundance regardless of circumstances right away? An abundance of hope, joy, insight, wisdom, courage, and peace is always at hand!
We now know that the storms of life can hit, but they cannot wash away hope or commitment or faith, and with those tools we can also rebuild, or resurrect, the abundant life we have been promised.
Now, we have more women in worship. And thank you, women, for taking a chance on us; thank you for even though you were outnumbered still showing up, participating, contributing, inviting friends, and helping us become more diverse. Please, keep up the good work! Will the men please thank our sisters who have helped revitalize our church! You are part of this church’s abundance!
Half the staff and half the board are now women, a gender balance first in our church’s history. We have inter-religious couples, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender folk, a growing Latino/Latina presence, and people of all ages. And of course we still have lots of men, myself included, and we are learning to become men who rely less on male privilege and more on the values and ideals of the justice seeking, world changing, diversity demanding Christ.
Our difficulties don’t define us, our hopes do.
Circumstances don’t define us, our generosity does.
Ups and downs don’t define us, our commitment does.
We are each the thinker that thinks the thought that makes the thing and we can choose to keep our thoughts positive and we can choose to remember that we live in an abundant universe and God is the source of our supply and our supply is infinite.
We are the channels through which the Source flows, and as we participate in the circulation of divine supply we seem to prosper more as well, but we remain clear that God is the Source and the Source will never run dry.
When Jesus’ friends were fishing but catching nothing, and they kept doing what was no longer working, Jesus comes along and suggests they try a new thing, that they try a new thought. He says, “cast your net on the other side of the boat.” Dare to change your approach, your attitude, your expectation, your thinking. Reach out in a new direction! Change your thinking and change your world. And it worked. Their net was filled to capacity as they dared to trust the abundance of the sea by approaching it in a new way.
We’ve proven it as a church; now you know how to apply it in your own life.
Cast your net in a new direction…be grateful for what you have. What we praise, we raise. Where attention goes energy flows. What we think about consistently we bring about eventually. If the church had only focused on lack and difficulty, we’d still be stuck in lack and difficulty! But we focused on possibility and hope and grace equal to every need. The struggle may not go away over night; ours didn’t. We have a bit more healing to do still, but we trust that just as things have gotten so much better, they will continue to get better. We focus on the progress, and therefore we will experience more progress.
Where attention goes, energy flows. Whatever the struggle, we are meant to have an abundant life. Faith can sustain you until the better days come, and if you stay focused on the Good, Good is what must eventually show up in your life.
Jesus promised us an abundant life, and today’s story shows us how we can tap into the abundant, divine life…cast your net in a new direction…look to the future, not the past, change your focus to what is good, be grateful for what you have and know that the Source of All Good has more blessings to offer, and those nets will eventually be filled with more good than you can carry; but that’s ok too, because with so much good, we’ll have even more to share. But then, that’s another sermon. And this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2013
There is Good for me and I ought to have it!
There is no mixture of evil with my Good.
God is the Source of my supply…
And my Source is infinite.
Resurrection Means Healing is Possible Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Easter 2 2013 When I was in my late 20s a friend of mine was leaving a bad marriage and she moved in with me. She brought her cat. I was, since early childhood, deathly allergic to cats, as was my mother and my first cousin. [...]
Resurrection Means Healing is Possible
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Easter 2 2013
When I was in my late 20s a friend of mine was leaving a bad marriage and she moved in with me. She brought her cat. I was, since early childhood, deathly allergic to cats, as was my mother and my first cousin. Cats were tools of the devil and served no good purpose on this earth.
But my friend, my dear friend whom I adored since the 7th grade was moving in, and I couldn’t ask her to part with her feline companion.
So, I would be a noble martyr. I would live on Benadryl and suffer through the constant onslaught of cat dander for the sake of my dear friend.
Well, she wasn’t going to be overcome by guilt every time I teared up, wheezed for air, or had a sneezing fit, so she went out and bought me a really nice air filter.
Hallelujah! I wouldn’t die from cat evil.
I ran that filter night and day. Never turned it off. And, it worked. Nary a problem with Satan Kitty did I have.
Until about three months later, I decided I should change the filter, so that it would continue to work properly and keep me from a life of unbearable misery.
I opened up the filter, than had been running non-stop for a quarter of a year, only to discover the actual filter part of the contraption was still wrapped in plastic. It hadn’t filtered a darn thing the whole time!
Since that moment, I have been a certified Feline Friend and for 13 years now have cohabitated with two cats of my own without so much as a sniffle.
What that infamous air filter incident taught me that day is that some of our dis-ease is just that…a lack of ease within our own consciousness. We believe in or accept or expect difficulty and it shows up.
And likewise, even when a problem is completely legitimate, though if we are experiencing a problem for us it is legitimate in any case, but our attitude can determine how well we deal with the problem and a positive attitude can increase our chances of overcoming the difficulty.
I know, and you know, that colds are viral infections which is why we are told to wash our hands frequently, wash our dishes with hot water, cough into our sleeves, stay home from work if we are sick, and so forth. We don’t want to share a hateful virus with one another.
But my grandmother believed as much as I believe the earth is round that colds were caught from sitting in front of air condition vents or getting caught out in the rain. She didn’t know anything about viruses, she knew whatever she grew up hearing, and because she believed it totally, she experienced it, which for her was the proof in the pudding.
People would have a cold and say, “Audrey don’t come near me, I have a cold,” and she would always say, “I never catch other people’s colds. I come up with my own.” And sure enough, she could be in an elevator with Typhoid Mary and never even get a tickle in her throat, but if a drop of rain touched her hair once she got outside, she’d have to take to her bed for a week.
The power of the mind. It can create, and maybe even cure allergies. It can protect one, at least some times, from the common cold, and other times, it can manifest the symptoms of a cold according to your belief.
And our prayers…they aren’t trying persuade God to intervene in human affairs; they are trying to change OUR minds so that we can accept more of the Good that Life has already provided for us. It’s all there, but we must learn to see it and accept it; we must change our minds, our attitudes, our thoughts in order to change our experience; and affirmative prayer is how we try to change our minds.
The theme I find running through the readings this week is wholeness.
The ministry of healing in the Acts reading attracts new people to the movement.
Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that within us is the Soul of the WHOLE.
And in the gospel text Jesus is imagined as offering peace and helping the apostles receive the essence (spirit) of wholeness (holiness).
We forget that Christianity started out as a healing movement. It was also a liberation movement, responding to the power and privilege of Empire, offering the peasants and nobodies a sense of self-esteem and the idea that they were as good as the richest, most powerful member of the Roman Senate! But then, that’s healing, too, isn’t it?
Primitive Christianity also ministered to the very poor, offering them assistance when they could, and even when they couldn’t, they still gave the poor hope and the promise of peace and dignity. But then again, that’s healing, too, isn’t it.
Maybe that’s why Luke has Peter say to an infirm person in Acts 3.6, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have I give to you: in the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise and walk!”
Peter knew that even when his pockets were empty he still had something to give, and sharing whatever he had, even if it was a word of hope, had a powerful healing impact. If you think you have nothing to share, you are wrong, and what you share might actually change or even save someone’s life.
And the early church offered support to the psychologically tormented, the so-called “demon-possessed.” But those early Christian figures helped the tormented souls release their demons, release the past to the past, release their fears, regrets, sadness, shame, and guilt and move forward into the newness of life. But then, that’s healing, too, isn’t it?
And of course, Jesus and his followers prayed for those who were sick in their bodies, and many of those people discovered they could feel whole in spite of conditions, and some of them even found that when they conquered their fears and believed in themselves, their physical ailments could be relieved as well.
In every case, it was a change of mind, a change of habitual thinking, a change of perception that created a change of experience.
Rev. Dr. Johnnie Colemon teaches the affirmation, “I am the thinker that thinks the thought that makes the thing.”
In other words, I choose my thoughts, and my thoughts determine my feelings, and my feelings are how I experience life.
Every once in a while, not often because I am an enlightened soul on the path of higher consciousness, but once in a great while I forget how evolved I am, and I feel victimized or underappreciated or overlooked or picked on, and I start complaining about “them” (pick a them…politicians, parents, whoever). But complaining has never once made me happy. Years ago I could complain about the same thing for years at a time, as could my mother before me, but I eventually learned that complaining only made me miserable.
Complaining never once made me happy, it only added to my misery, and the more I was miserable, the more there seemed to be miserable about (where attention goes, energy flows).
But I learned, on the spiritual path, that I choose my thoughts and I choose my words and if the thoughts and words I was choosing were just keeping me stuck and aggravated, then only I could change that. And sure enough, almost the minute I stop complaining about a thing, that thing stops being such a big deal to me. And then, miracle of miracles, I feel better. And when I feel better, life is better. It’s called healing, and I can initiate it any time I need to.
Oh, I’ll forget again and get cranky about something. But I won’t stay there too long, because I’ve learned that I’m worth more than that. I deserve to be happy, and wallowing in self-pity and blame and fault-finding will not make me happy. It never has and it never can.
So, when I remember that I deserve to be happy, then I can remember to let that mess go, to release it, to forgive myself and others for getting caught up in such a silly story, and to think a new thought. And voila! With the new thought comes a new experience. It’s just an attitude adjustment, and with a change of attitude, my experience changes instantly.
Dr. F. Bernadette Turner was a psychologist, and a Divine Science minster, and in 1991 at age 87 she became an Episcopal priest. I’m sure someone said to her, “Why would you become a priest at 87?” And I can imagine her saying, “I was going to be 87 anyway? Why not be an 87 year priest.” And her ministry was serving as a chaplain to assisted living facilities! Isn’t that marvelous?! She said, and proved, that we need not be “trapped by the years.” She wasn’t afraid of change or new experiences. Dr. Turner wrote, “Experiences are what we make of them…Life can be a malady or a melody…”
When it rains, is it a horrible day? Or is it just a wet day? Attitude determines which is true for us. The rain still happens, but how we experience it is up to us. I can go from having a terrible day to having a wet day in the blink of an eye. It’s just a matter of choosing a new thought.
When people are diagnosed with any scary sounding illness, I sometimes suggest to them, “You may have it; but it can’t have you without your permission.” Dis-ease or poverty or depression or addiction can’t define you, or determine how you will experience the next moment of your life. You may have XYZ, but don’t let it have you! You are the thinker that thinks the thought, and you can see a wet day instead of an awful day, just by choosing a new thought. You really do have the power.
Are you focusing on what you’ve lost, or on what you have left?
Are you focusing on what could go wrong, or what could be beautiful and amazing?
Are you focusing on how things could fall apart, or on how you’ll be OK come what may?
Are you stuck in the past or are you ready to live fully in the now?
Are you ready to go from fear to faith,
from horror to hope,
from pain to peace,
from anxiety to vitality,
from being overwhelmed to being overjoyed?
If you are ready, then it can happen in a holy instant! The change is just a change in perception, and you have the power to change your perception right now. Are you ready behold more good in your life? If so, you are ready to be healed. Cure may or may not happen, give every medical treatment a chance, and if it happens it may happen quickly or over time, but healing, the experience of hope and joy and innate wholeness no matter what is happening, healing is available to you right here and now.
Life can be a malady or a melody, and the choice is entirely yours. You always have the power to think a new thought. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2013
Resurrection Means the Future Has Infinite Possibilities! Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins – Easter Sunday 2013 Executed. Brutally, horribly, viciously, in the way that the Romans and the Babylonians before them had perfected. Jesus wasn’t the first, or the last, or even the only one that day to be crucified, but we have inherited the story [...]
Resurrection Means the Future Has Infinite Possibilities!
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins – Easter Sunday 2013
Executed. Brutally, horribly, viciously, in the way that the Romans and the Babylonians before them had perfected.
Jesus wasn’t the first, or the last, or even the only one that day to be crucified, but we have inherited the story of those who suffered the loss of his physical presence from their lives. And even though they tell us that they were hurt and scared, they also tell us that Life is greater than misfortune, that Love is more powerful than tragedy, and that Hope has a quality that is indestructible. And that message speaks to our hearts even still.
Remember that the Jesus movement made a dramatic change after Good Friday. Things changed, and the movement survived by adapting to that change. The execution of Jesus was a devastating moment, but rather than simply reminisce about how good it was when Jesus was still leading the movement, the apostles moved forward and grew the movement; in fact, as they moved forward, reached out, adapted to changing realities and allowed themselves to be constantly re-newed, the book of Acts said that their numbers grew daily!
They even changed how they viewed themselves. They grew from seeing Jesus as God’s chosen one to seeing themselves in sharing Jesus’ anointing, in sharing his calling, and becoming the new body for his message beyond his earthly existence. They changed how they understood themselves and thereby changed the world. Positive change is part of the gospel message.
In 1968 the Metropolitan Community Churches movement was born to affirm the sacred value of all people, the sanctity of same-gender love, and the human body as part of the creation that God calls very good. This was a new message for some people, a change from they had always heard. Thank God for that change, it has forever changed Christianity and the world. Our movement has added to the complexity, diversity, and evolution of Christianity. The change we represented breathed new life into a two thousand year old religion.
And that is why Christianity is alive today. It has changed over and over again. When the church closed the canon, when it held councils to debate issues, when East and West went their separate ways, when the Protestant Reformation opened up new understandings of the faith, when churches started ordaining women and requiring more scholarship of its clergy, over and over the church has changed. It adapted to changes. And as a result, here we are, praise God! Change not only helped the church survived, change is what keeps it relevant as the world changes. If the church won’t evolve, it will stagnate and become a museum of history rather than a living movement that continues to progress forward. Change is the only constant in the universe, and those who survive change are the ones who adapt to it. The church sometimes is slow and stubborn when it comes to change, but eventually embraces it…it must in order to continue being the living church of Jesus Christ.
Golgotha represented a major change to the Jesus movement, but they adapted to that change and their story became that even death could be changed! Alleluia, Christ is Risen, Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Their experience, their witness, their affirmation was, even when the worst thing imaginable happened, divine grace could help them move through it and experience new hope and new joy on the other side. Following a Resurrected Christ looked very different than following a flesh and blood Galilean prophet, but they made the change and by knowing that Golgotha couldn’t destroy Jesus’ message or the purpose of his life, they also didn’t let it destroy their movement. They just changed as their world changed. They evolved as their world evolved. And through evolution, they not only survived, they continued to inject healing energy into the life-stream of humanity. They became something new so as to remain something relevant. They changed so they could be agents of change in the world. That’s what being Resurrection people looks like.
Resurrection represents a new day. It doesn’t negate Jesus’ ministry before Golgotha, but it also doesn’t let the ministry die at Golgotha. The new day invites new ideas, new people, new energy, and thereby life is constantly renewed.
I think that is a powerful message even today. And it always works. I remember when AIDS swept across our nation and the world like a viral tsunami. That was so scary, and the losses were so devastating. We’d go to multiple funerals each week, and sometimes we’d see a friend for brunch on Sunday, and the next Sunday they weren’t around, and the following Sunday we were at their memorial. Some people lost more than one partner during the crisis. But as horrible as that time was, I don’t remember anyone saying, “Do you remember how great it was before AIDS?” We seemed to know, intuitively, that if we were going to get through this overwhelming crisis, we had to move forward. There was no going back to the world before AIDS; our best hope was to create a world post-AIDS, a world where the virus could be managed, and maybe one day defeated completely. But that would only happen by living in the moment and moving forward to what was possible.
AIDS is still around, but most people have a fighting chance now. We rose above the terror, we rose above the heartache, we rose above the temptation to feel hopeless, and we created a world where AIDS could be understood, prevented, and treated. We resurrected our hopes, we resurrected our communities, we resurrected the belief that a future was possible if we would move into it rather than trying to replay the past. We honored those we lost by continuing the work in their names, and by moving forward we created a world where AIDS need not be considered an immediate death sentence. We were part of a miraculous change in the world; we were Resurrection in motion.
I remember when multiple states had laws denying the right to privacy for same-gender couples. I’ve lived in two of those states. But we didn’t go back to the days of the closet. We kept moving forward, and then one day the right to privacy was affirmed nationwide! And then marriage equality discussions started to happen in earnest, and now 9 states, multiple countries, and even Native American tribal communities have marriage equality and the Supreme Court of the United States has heard arguments supporting marriage equality even more broadly. There is more work to do, but look how much we’ve risen above and how far forward we have gone; look at how much positive change we have facilitated. And as we face what is, and keep hope alive, and move forward courageously, more miracles will take place.
There are losses along the way. Set-backs. Defeats. Golgotha happens. But Golgotha is never the end of the story if we choose to move forward, to adapt to changes, and to allow ourselves to evolve, grow, and change as well.
I’ve seen people lose every penny they had and bounce back to prosperous living. I’ve seen people utterly abandoned by their families who nevertheless found success in life, self-esteem, and who formed families of choice that brought them great joy. I’ve seen people go back to college after they retired and others who became athletes for the first time in middle age. I’ve seen people battle addiction for many years and finally break old patterns and live lives of sobriety and self-determination. I’ve seen people struggle with depression and learn to manage it and live with courage and joy. I’ve seen people given terrifying diagnoses and live with incredible grace and dignity in the face of their troubling news. I’ve seen people time and again march right to the shadow of Golgotha, and rise above the experience to find a future filled with hope just waiting for them to experience.
Emerson said, “The finite alone suffers…the Infinite lies stretched in smiling repose.” That’s resurrection. The moment may be difficult, but we can rise above it. The possibilities that exist for us are limitless and eternal, so it is always too soon to sacrifice our joy. Don’t let illness steal your joy. Don’t let bullies steal your joy. Don’t let gossip steal your joy. Don’t bigotry, even when it is disguised as religion, steal your joy. Don’t let an empty wallet steal your joy. Don’t let anything steal your joy! Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be trouble, neither let them be afraid.” Don’t let fear rob your joy; fear is almost always a False Evidence Appearing Real. When there is a real tragedy, people are usually incredibly brave. But fear is often a lie. As the saying goes, “Danger is real, but fear is a choice.” Let not your hearts be troubled. Beyond the experience of Golgotha the Infinite lies stretched in smiling repose, the infinite life within you lies stretched in smiling repose, the divine life in you is ready to break forth, shine through, and lift you up to new experiences of unfettered joy!
Author Sara Moore Campbell tells us, “We push away the stone and invite the light to awaken us to the possibilities within and among us – possibilities for new life.” Elsewhere, she has said, “We receive fragments of holiness, glimpses of certainty, brief moments of insight. Let us gather them up for the precious gifts they are and renewed by their grace, move boldly into the unknown.”
Bishop John Spong writes, “Life that transcends every human limit is a powerful portrait…That is what the stories of the resurrection are all about.”
Resurrection is a dramatic change. It is something new and different and life-changing; but it means that the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities. It means injustice doesn’t get the last word. It means that not even death can rob life of its meaning. It means that love cannot be destroyed and even when hope is utterly decimated it can be brought back to life. It means, in the words of the Psalmist, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Good morning! Good resurrection morning. I don’t know what changes are coming your way, but I know if you will adapt, you will also thrive. There is joy for you if you will release the past to the past and move into the future filled with possibilities. Resurrection is an invitation into a glorious future. And this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2013
God of infinite and unending life,
You dwell within us and your grace is equal to every need. We call forth miracles in our lives today, miracles of healing, of renewal, of peace, of joy. We choose to trust in the goodness of life, in the goodness of OUR lives, and in the future we can create by being optimistic, generous, and willing to always grow and change. And so it is in the spirit of Jesus that we now affirm:
Resurrection Power renews my joy.
Resurrection Power blesses my life.
Resurrection Power propels me forward.
Resurrection Power is my strength today.
Lift Up Your Heads, O Gates! Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Palm Sunday 2013, Sunshine Cathedral Video (Iyanla Vanzant & Oprah Winfrey) Help! Help me now. Thank you. Those prayers are particularly meaningful this week. And we’ll come back to them. But first, by request, here is one from the vault: My great-aunt Gladys needed to [...]
Lift Up Your Heads, O Gates!
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Palm Sunday 2013, Sunshine Cathedral
Video (Iyanla Vanzant & Oprah Winfrey)
Help! Help me now. Thank you.
Those prayers are particularly meaningful this week. And we’ll come back to them. But first, by request, here is one from the vault:
My great-aunt Gladys needed to exercise her donkey Dorothy (I got to name the donkey). Aunt Gladys also needed some cheese, so she thought it would be fun if we rode the donkey to the little country market to get the cheese. Two birds/one stone.
So, I hop up on Dorothy, and Aunt Gladys begins to lead Dorothy by the reins. As we pass Mr. Porterfield’s house, Mr Porterfield shouts at me, “Son, you ought to be ashamed of yourself riding on that donkey while your poor old aunt has to walk!” I was overcome with guilt and remorse and jumped off the beast at once and insisted that Aunt Gladys ride.
A little while later as we pass Mrs. Cooper’s house, Mrs. Cooper yells out her kitchen window, “Gladys, I ought to report you, making that poor little boy walk in this heat while you ride up on that donkey.”
Aunt Gladys immediately jumped off the donkey and we both walked on either side of Dorothy. Until, of course, we came to Mr Bottom’s house. From his porch he started laughing at us and pointing and shouting, “What a couple of fools, walking when they could be riding their donkey!”
So, we both jumped on Dorothy and continued our trek to the market, until we passed by the Widow Glen’s house. Mrs. Glen was mowing her lawn and stopped long enough to wag her finger at us and shout, “Animal abuse! How dare you overburden that poor donkey by making her carry both of you!”
So, we got off of Dorothy and picked her up and started carrying the donkey on our shoulders! We came to an old creaky wooden bridge that we had to cross but the boards of the bridge buckled, we lost our balance, and we dropped poor Dorothy over the side of the bridge into the creek below. Dorothy apparently couldn’t take it anymore and just ran away!
In disgust, Aunt Gladys just looked at me and snorted, “Well, that just goes to show you, if you try to please everyone you’ll lose your ass.”
Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know what the secret of success is; but the secret of failure is to try to please everyone.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the United States Supreme Court will hear cases about marriage equality. One case will decide if the Defense of Marriage Act is actually unconstitutional, and the other will decide the fate of California’s Proposition 8. This is a defining moment in our country. Will we continue to talk the talk of freedom and equality while codifying discrimination, or will we live our rhetoric by saying with our laws that all means ALL, liberty and justice for all isn’t a protection of privilege but a guarantee of equal protection and equal opportunity for all people.
Five or more of the Supreme Court justices need to put aside concerns about pleasing political parties or religious organizations or even voters in rural regions. They will not be able to advance fairness, protect civil liberties, and liberate people from the margins of society AND satisfy the prejudices of every group in our nation. They can’t have it all; they will have to make a choice, and I hope they choose fairness and equality.
The Supreme Court has an opportunity not to try to please everyone, but to do what is right and fair and just for everyone. By doing so the potentates of power and protectors of privilege and preachers of prejudice may well be unhappy with their decision. But hopefully, they care more about justice than bigotry, more about equality than the tyranny of tradition, more about what can be than about what always has been.
If they try to give lip service to equality to appease same-gender loving people, but also deny equality under the law to all people so as not to offend those who would label homophobia as righteous and heterosexism as sacred, then no one will win anything and what we will lose is integrity, moral authority, and the right to use the rhetoric of freedom.
If they try to please everyone America will lose her ass, as it were, but if they dare to do what is right, what is fair, what is just, and live into the promise liberty and justice for all, then the United States of America will be a better place, a stronger nation, and a land where love and law need not be opponents but can work together for the good of all people. And as we join the nations that lift up the ideal of justice-love, then the world will be a better place.
And so, tomorrow night, March 25, 2013 at 7 pm, we will gather in this room and we will pray and we will invite the community to join us and I hope you will all come and that you will each bring someone with you and we will lift our voices and our hope and our courage and our commitment in the service of liberty and justice for all.
And that’s what Jesus was doing by the way. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He had friends and admirers waiting for him, shouting praises and waving leafy pom-poms. But crowds can be fickle, and not long after arriving in Jerusalem, another crowd would be shouting, “Crucify him!” Maybe some people were in both crowds. But when the crowds cheered him and when they jeered him, when they approved of him and when they didn’t, Jesus remained committed to comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable and to building up the Blessed Community, the kin-dom of God where all people have sacred value and wherein there is no law against love.
All people have sacred value. That’s why Jesus declared a divine kin-dom, a spiritual commonwealth, a Blessed Community where the last would be first and the first would be last and the least and the lowly could hear, “come unto me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.”
Come to me ALL. For Jesus, all meant all. The next time our politicians and judges pledge their allegiance to our republic and its flag, and they conclude their pledge with the words, “with liberty and justice for all,” I hope that like Jesus, when they say all, they will mean ALL.
As we approach this important moment in history, I want to remind you of the words of the Psalmist.
“Lift up your heads, O gates! Be lifted up, O ancient doors!”
The head, your head, my head symbolizes thinking. The head represents thinking, and the psalmist wisely counsels us, “Lift up your heads.” Lift up your thinking.
The writer even gives a powerful word picture. Lift up your heads, O gates! Gates of castles, city walls, fortresses, were often heavy and had to be lifted by weights and pulleys. When the very heavy gates or doors were lowered potential attackers would have a very difficult time getting in and the people inside would be safe.
Sometimes our fear based thinking, our anxieties, our worries, our prejudices, our selfishness, our complaining, our constant fault finding, our negativity…those are defense mechanisms that we developed at some point to keep us safe; but they don’t keep us safe, they keep us trapped. And the psalmist gives us the cure for that – lift up your heads, O gates…lift up your thoughts, lift up those heavy defenses that are keeping you from experiencing hope and joy in your life, that are keeping you frustrated and bitter. “Lift up your heads, O gates. Be lifted up, O ancient doors.”
The habitual negative thinking and dismal attitudes, they may be ancient. They may be old. We may have developed them decades ago, but it’s never too late to change our thinking and thereby change our lives. Lift up your heads, and be lifted up.
Lift up your thoughts and attitudes and feelings, and you will be lifted up. You will have more hope, more happiness, and more to offer your world.
The world needs us right now. The world needs to be hopeful no matter what happens this week. The world needs us to rise above hopelessness and despair. The world needs us to show them with our lives what Dr King prophetically taught, “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” We won’t stop until there is justice for all…not justice for just us, but justice for all. The world needs us to lift up our heads and our hearts; the world needs us to be lifted up so that we can lift up others. Whether the crowds are waving palm branches or wooden stakes, whether they cheer or jeer, whether they like us or not, the world needs us to model healthy self-esteem, indomitable hope, and the courage of our convictions. The world needs someone to believe in and stand for liberty and justice for all, and each of us is that someone.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem people cried out, “Hosanna!” Basically, that means, “help us.” Literally it means rescue us or liberate us. If we are going to work for liberation, we’ll need spiritual help, inward strength to sustain us and help us to move forward when we’ve been pushed back, to help us get back up when we’ve been knocked down, and to help us care for others even when we have finally reached the promised land. There is always more to do, and we are called to do it, but we need help. And so we pray for help: Hosanna! Help us. Or, as Iyanla Vanzant has taught us to pray: Help! Help us now. Thank you.
This is a defining moment. No matter what happens, we will have to decide what to do next. If the news is good, we’ll have to build on it. If the news is bad, we’ll have to challenge it. We will celebrate victory next Sunday or we will be resurrected above disappointment so that we can continue to build the Blessed Community. Either way, Easter is our day next week! Join us for the Holy Week services this week, and worship with us at 8 or 9:30, or 11 am on Easter Sunday.
We’ve got work to do and we will do it. We won’t please everyone, but we can do what is right and make a difference in our world. Oh what a difference we are going to make! And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2013
Help me now.
Easter miracles are on the way.
I am ready to receive them.
Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos Associate Director MCC’s Office of Formation and Leadership Development The Blessing of Shamelessness Sunshine Cathedral MCC Sunday, March 17, 2013 Good morning, Sunshine Cathedral. I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be with you this morning. I’m grateful to your Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, for the [...]
Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos
Associate Director MCC’s Office of Formation and Leadership Development
The Blessing of Shamelessness
Sunshine Cathedral MCC
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Good morning, Sunshine Cathedral. I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be with you this morning. I’m grateful to your Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, for the invitation to preach and I’m grateful to Durrell and Robert for their hospitality and their ongoing friendship. I am among many who are blessed by their ministries and their unparalleled good humor, and (you should know) by the amazing resources that this congregation constantly shares with the broader MCC community and world. On behalf of MCC’s global staff, I want to personally thank you for your generosity and hospitality as you have hosted various groups of MCCers working on denominational initiatives – most recently the clergy well-being advisory group that Rev. Elder Mona West and I convened here a few months ago. You know, in many ways I feel like I’m already a part of the Sunshine Cathedral because I am with you every week on the Weekly Lectionary Call that you host in partnership with our office, I read Spirit & Truth semi-religiously, and I have both worshipped and led worship at the Sunshine Cathedral in Second Life. You may not even be aware of the people whose lives you impact and whose journeys you resource and bless, people you never see and whose stories you never hear. But, I stand here today as one of them, and for myself and countless others, I want to say thank you … sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
The Blessing of Shamelessness
And now, would you pray with me as we enter into this time of reflection.
Holy One Everywhere Present, Spirit of Life of Love which flows in, through, and as each one of us here gathered, we give you thanks for this time of connection and celebration. Help us open our hearts and our minds to the blessings you have in store for us today – don’t let us miss a single moment in which you pour your love over us. Allow us to take it all in. Speak to our hearts, God, … continue to form our lives that they may always be shaped by your goodness and light. And in all that we say and do and are, may you be honored. Amen.
In the gospel reading for today, we have one of the early churches favorite stories. At least one version of it appears in all four of the gospels. And in this story, Jesus gathers in the home of his family of choice, the Bethany family – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. In John, this is the place Jesus goes again and again for refuge; a home of his own choosing where he can truly be himself with those he loves and those who love him. And prior to this particular gathering, a lot had happened in the lives of these folks. You might say they’d been put through the ringer. As you’ll recall, just prior to this passage, Jesus had commanded Lazarus (who had been dead for four days) to come out of the tomb.
And here he is, gathered at the table with the people he loves more than anyone else on earth. However, the protagonist in this particular story is not Lazarus but Mary.
In the main event, Mary brings forth some ointment that is reported to have been worth a full year’s salary. (Think about that—a full year’s salary … this is the kind of perfume you definitely want to buy duty-free while vacationing in the Caribbean, if you know what I mean.) Mary falls down before Jesus and lavishly pours this ointment over his feet and dries them with her hair, which (abandoning decorum) she has loosened. This is the type of public display of affection that people can’t turn away from. Even if they tried to turn their heads, avert their eyes, and politely pretend they didn’t notice, the smell of the ointment fills the room – it’s unavoidable, un-ignorable. This multi-sensory event was in many ways shameless … which is to say: flagrant, blatant, overt, brazen, brash, audacious, outrageous, undisguised, unconcealed, immodest, unashamed, and unrepentant. This action of Mary in no way conforms to the conventions for acceptable behavior.
Now, of course, Judas is the one who objects, and he does so ostensibly for economic reasons. (Though I daresay that wasn’t the true source of discomfort for him or anyone else watching.) Nevertheless, he says the money represented by this extravagant use of resources could have been given to the poor. And, before, we vilify him too hastily, let’s admit he makes a fair point. In fact, Judas exhibits some of the characteristics we find most desirable in a church treasurer—someone with an eye to detail, someone unafraid to rigorously question expenses down to the last cent, someone who asks the difficult questions about how limited resources might best be allocated to do the most good. Into the mouth of Judas, the author of John places a reasonable objection that many readers would be thinking themselves. In fact, I suspect the parenthetical stage notes alerting us to the fact that Judas was a crook are the author’s way of ensuring we don’t think about this fiscal conservative too sympathetically.
And to Judas’ objection, Jesus responds, “Leave her alone. Leave her alone. You will always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me.” This last bit has been misinterpreted over the years by those who wish to abrogate responsibility for caring for the poor (they’ll always be around so why bother, so the argument goes), but that couldn’t be farther from the point Jesus intends to make. The emphasis here, I think, is heightened by the rest of what we know is going on—Jesus is in danger, about to face betrayal, condemnation, and death. In this moment, a moment that will not come again, Jesus needs to receive the blessing that Mary needed to give him, a blessing present especially in the shamelessness of this display of affection.
Everyone in this story – and those of us who read it – are invited to reconsider their priorities, and to recognize that in this moment there isn’t anything more important than what Mary was doing. This shameless expression of love and affection and the blessing it represents is all that matters. The movement in this story is from stinginess to extravagance; from a preoccupation with scarcity to a shameless celebration of the present reality of abundance. And in fact, this moment was so important in the life of Jesus that in Matthew’s telling of the story, Jesus praises Mary and says to everyone around, “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” This was a pivotal moment on Jesus’ journey.
Some have speculated that it was this shameless act of Mary’s that Jesus later sought to emulate when he washed the disciples feet. And, they were uncomfortable with it too, right? Too touchy feely, too intimate, too vulnerable. Remember Peter … “Heck no, you’re not going to wash my feet, Jesus.” Now, we don’t know for sure if Jesus was emulating Mary, of course, but there can be no question that Jesus would have put this moment, this shameless display of affection –this blessing from Mary, into his memory box for keeps.
Now, that’s the Biblical story we have as background for our reflections today, but I want to spend the rest of this time talking about us — you and me.
For, we also have a lesson to learn about the sacred value of shamelessness. In other words, we have lessons to learn so that we, too, can claim and receive the blessing that comes from being shame-free.
Researcher, scholar, story-teller, and author, Brené Brown tells us that shame is an epidemic in our society. And, it takes an extraordinary toll on folks in the queer community, its ubiquitous. Dr. Brown argues that shame is the source of so many self- and other-destructive attitudes and behaviors, including addiction, depression, violence, suicide. Sadly, our religious traditions have sometimes been twisted to be the very thing that has instilled shame in us. And our culture, largely shaped by religious tradition, doesn’t help. Both inside and outside of the church, way too many people receive the message that they aren’t good enough, aren’t pretty enough, aren’t smart enough, talented enough, young enough, thin enough, wealthy enough, powerful enough, and the list could go on and on and on.
Shame shrinks the human spirit and prohibits us from living our lives fully and well. If we are to become the people we are intended to be, we have to learn to overcome shame and trust in our own goodness, our own beauty. If we don’t, we will miss the blessings of life, the miracles present in each moment … and shame also inhibits us from being able to fully love and bless the beings around us that we most care for. The movement towards shamelessness in our gospel story is a movement we need to make, all of us.
Now, if you’ll work with me, I’d like to read a poem about a pig.
This is one of the award-winning poet, Galway Kinnell’s most famous works. It’s called St. Francis and the Sow.
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing,
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of the sow.
Sometimes it is necessary to re-teach a thing it’s loveliness … in words, in touch. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this may have been what Mary did for Jesus in our story. Her shameless display of affection might have been the very shock he needed to understand again that he was lovely and beloved. Had it not been for this blessing, he might not have been able to find the strength (that we know was tested mightily) required for him to go from this place to Jerusalem for the events we call his Passion. Who’s to say? We only know it made a huge difference for him.
All of us need to be reminded from time to time that we matter, that we are loved. Because I don’t know about you, but I forget … I get so busy and preoccupied with things I have to do that my immunity to the toxic voices from within and without that tell me otherwise is weakened and they win the game, or at least a round of it. I sometimes get stuck again in the trap that shame sets. Too many of us live stuck in the trap that shame sets, and we need all the help we can get to free ourselves so that we can live shamelessly. So that we can flower from within, of self-blessing.
A few years ago, I went to visit my mother (that’s her picture there—holding my nephew. We have quite a complicated relationship, as I think is true for most children and their mothers – but I love her and I know she loves me fiercely). At the time of this particular visit, she was recovering from a mastectomy and preparing for chemotherapy as another strategy in her struggle against breast cancer.
And we sat at a picnic table at a park near a beautiful little river. The water was clear enough you could see the reflection of the Fall trees in all their splendor. And my mom was telling me about how at peace she was, how much more centered and strong she felt than ever before in her life. (It’s funny how that happens sometimes in the midst of difficulty.) And then she said something to me that I’ve never forgotten. There at the river at that table, my mother said to me, “You know what, Kharma, after 52 years, I finally believe that I am enough.”
“I am enough” … Such simple words, but so powerful. I felt the force of them that day, and I cried … I cried for the 52 years when that was not the case in her life, for the times in my own life when I have not known or believed that … I cried for the years upon years in the lives of too many people I love when that has not been the case … when shame had squeezed out the possibility of self-worth. And I cried also with joy, hearing and knowing that it can be different … for my mom and for all of us. The shame-based soundtracks that play automatically in our minds that tell us again and again that we are not enough for whatever reason … those can be changed. Sometimes, we need someone or something to remind us – in a shameless display of affection and affirmation – that we are good, lovely, worth something not because of what we do or how much we achieve, but simply because of who we are.
One of the things I love about the Sunshine Cathedral is your commitment to progressive, positive, and practical spirituality. So, I want to offer you a practical challenge today …
I want to challenge you to live shamelessly. Live your lives shamelessly, un-concerned with the judgment of the world around you, un-dependent on validation from some external source of authority to know that you are enough. Love yourselves shamelessly and as your lives flower from the self-blessing that results, you will be a source of blessing and encouragement to those around you. That’s a guarantee.
Love each other shamelessly … because at the end of the day—at the end of a life—that’s all that really matters. If you should offend someone else because your expressions of genuine care and affection for one another are a little too vulnerable, a little too intimate, a little too queer, a little too in-your-face, well consider it a grand accomplishment and throw a party to celebrate!
Be spiritually shameless … blatant and flagrant and bold in your conviction that faith is not fire insurance for some life to come (as Durrell often says), but rather a practical way of living gratefully and fully right here and now, aware that each moment we are given holds the promise and reality of abundance and each person we encounter (including ourselves) is an expression of divine goodness.
Friends, I really do believe that if we can follow Mary’s example … if we can jump the hurdle of shame and leave it behind, it will radically improve our lives … and through our lives, the world. I don’t mean to imply that this is easy. In fact, I think it might be one of the hardest things there is. We have to train ourselves for it, and make it a spiritual discipline that we commit to regularly practicing. But, if we can make that movement towards sacred shamelessness, if we can free ourselves to be authentic, transparent, humbly confident, and laser-focused on lavishly loving ourselves and those around us … I am as confident as I am about anything that abundant blessings will flow in and through us.
May it be so for us. And so it is.