Camping in Jerusalem

On April 13, 2014, in Morning, Sermons, by Robert

Camping in Jerusalem Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Palm Sunday 2014 (Bic Banana video) That, of course, was Charles Nelson Reilly, who though a classically trained actor and brilliant acting teacher, was as importantly a Camp hero. Did you notice how Charles sang about the colors being bright and gay? And was it my imagination or […]

Camping in Jerusalem
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Palm Sunday 2014

(Bic Banana video) That, of course, was Charles Nelson Reilly, who though a classically trained actor and brilliant acting teacher, was as importantly a Camp hero.

Did you notice how Charles sang about the colors being bright and gay? And was it my imagination or did he really hammer “gay”? Think it was code? Think it was a word of affirmation, a hint at acceptance, a thumbs up suggesting that we have our place in the world and we are an integral and necessary part of human diversity. Could a campy comic in a banana costume really offer all of that?

Here’s another clip with Charles Nelson Reilly from the campiest game show in the history of American television, Match Game (Snow White video).

He wants to call the dwarves Mon-Sun, in other words, he wants to call the dwarves, those MEN, every day of the week! Ha!

Isn’t that amazing? It’s the 70s! Marriage equality isn’t even a dream. Sodomy laws make many of us criminals in the states where we live, work, and pay taxes. MCC is only a few years old and Stonewall is still fresh in many people’s memories. And being “outed” can very much result in the loss of relationships or employment.

That’s the world we lived in at the time, and Charles Nelson Reilly, without ever saying the word gay or mentioning his life-partner or making any overt political statement was living out loud right in front of us. He used humor, clowning, exaggeration, wit, playfulness, and full blown ridiculousness to tell us who he was, and to let those of us who intuited the code that we’d be OK. There was a place of him in the world; there was a place for all of us. How ingeniously seditious is that?!! That’s Camp at its most successful.

Finally, here’s one last visit from one of my early heroes, Charles Nelson Reilly (Beverly Hills video).

That rapier wit. He was hardly a man of brawn, and yet still he was somehow so daring, so honest, so in your face, laughter his mighty weapon, and when people made fun of him, he chose to take it as good natured play. By making fun of himself first, others were powerless to hurt him when they hurled their insults…he had already co-opted their poisonous darts and immersed them in a comic antidote. And when he courageously and humorously poked fun at others he was so quick and so sharp, few would dare meet him head to head on that field of battle, and even those who received his playful jabs had to chuckle. Charm not only delivered the counter-cultural message, it disarmed many of those who might wish to respond more venomously.

Susan Sontag in her 1964 essay “Notes on Camp” wrote, “Camp is generous… It only seems like…cynicism…(if it is cynicism, it’s not a ruthless but a sweet cynicism).”

Sweet cynicism. Wasn’t that Charles Nelson Reilly?
Camp is the clever way marginalized people can speak truth to power with a wink and an empowering grin.

Camp is exaggeration.
Camp makes fun of what is odious while lifting up a subtle vision of what could be fabulous!
Camp acknowledges pain and treats it with the medicine of laughter.
Camp is so wonderfully bad it becomes brilliant; it is so ridiculous that it winds up being profound.
Sontag called it the “good taste of bad taste.”

An example of Camp that we all probably know would be the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The Sisters, while making fun of trappings and traditions that may not be as relevant as they once were, and that have actually contributed to the oppression of some, they also are affirming their own morals and values, the ideals of empowerment, the sacred value of all people, the sacredness of love regardless of the genders of those who share it. Bad drag can be good Camp and good Camp is very powerful.

Now, fascinating as all this is, it has what exactly to do with Palm Sunday? I’m so glad you asked!

Jesus and his troupe enter Jerusalem for Passover. Jerusalem is occupied by Rome, and at the main gate of the city there would have been an official parade that day, with governors and magistrates and nobles and military leaders. It was a show of power. Yes, Rome would allow Jerusalem to observe Passover, but Passover is a commemoration of the Jewish people liberating themselves from another empire, the Egyptian empire. So, Rome is basically saying, “enjoy your holiday, but don’t get any ideas. We know what you are celebrating and we are watching you.”

Jerusalem is well guarded, but Jesus has made a career, however brief it’s been, of helping people who felt broken finally feel whole. His reputation is growing, and the people traveling with him are very excited to travel with him to the big city. Once they get there, they help work up the local crowds into a frenzied state, sharing the news about this new prophet who makes people feel free even in the midst of imperial occupation.

With all this hype, Jesus can’t just see military exploitation and soul crushing shock and awe techniques and let them go unchallenged. But what sort of weapon is at this disposal?
Creativity. Street theatre. Camp.

The Roman officers ride with two war horses; one in tow as a spare in case the one they are riding is rendered lame.
Jesus mocks this practice by riding into town not on two noble steeds, but on two jack asses. He rides one and has the other in tow, just like the Roman soldiers. How funny is that? And when you’re laughing, you can’t be scared.
Jesus can’t overthrow Rome, but he can help people cast off the terror that has poisoned their souls!

The Romans used the front gate; Jesus and his entourage come through a lesser used, more ignominious back gate.
The Romans take their might, glory and ostentation so seriously; and Jesus and his gang laugh at it all. Rome can moisten our soil with our blood, but they can’t occupy our hearts without our permission. And we have some donkeys and palm fronds and spontaneous parades at back gates that all say our hearts remain our own. You cannot colonize an indomitable spirit!

Jesus is empowering the oppressed by giving them a playful way of expressing their anxieties, offering them a cathartic experience, facilitating a huge group “up yours” to the Roman Empire!

Passover is a remembrance of unarmed people walking away from Empire and finding freedom in the wilderness; without the mighty weapons, they used ritual, storytelling, and creativity to throw off the shackles of slavery.
And Jesus is helping the people celebrate Passover by reminding them that the weapon of creativity is still in their hands.
Wave the victor’s palm branches, through cloaks and leaves on the road like red carpet for royalty, form your own parade instead of attending the imperial show at the main gate, shout out praises and hopes even when courage and imagination and shear resilience are the only weapons you really have. But in the fullness of time, those may prove to be enough!

50 years later, the situation isn’t better; in fact, it’s worse.
Jesus for his cheek was arrested, tried, and executed.
40 years after that, Jerusalem was completely destroyed.
And now 10 or 15 years after that, Matthew is telling his tired and scared community, “yes things are still difficult, but remember when Jesus chose to hope anyway, chose to affirm possibilities anyway, chose to celebrate what could be even though there is no way of knowing when what could be might be? Things are still bad, but we still have the power of hope.”

And so, Matthew recalls Jesus’ camp performance from half a century earlier…like I still remember Charles Nelson Reilly 4 decades after he first touched my imagination.

In my favorite Stephen Sondheim musical, Follies, there is a character, Carlotta Campion (yes, CAMP is part of her name), a former performer in the Follies has returned for a reunion before the old theatre that housed the Follies is demolished. She was originally played by Yvonne DeCarlo after she had gone from being a big screen sex symbol to being the middle age mom in a Camp comedy called The Munsters. No wonder she performed the role with so powerfully.

Carlotta’s had ups and downs, successes and failures, career highs and lows, but she has endured.
She sings,
“Black sable one day, next day it goes into hock; but I’m here.
Top billing Monday, Tuesday you’re touring in stock; but I’m here.
First you’re another slow eyed vamp, then someone’s mother, then your CAMP.
Then you career from career, to career; I’m almost through my memoirs and I’m here!”

Matthew is telling his community…we’ve been through a lot, but we’re still here!

That’s the message of all camp performance. We’ve been through a lot, but we’re still here. And because we are still here, tomorrow may be the day that brings the miracle we need. That’s reason for hope and that’s the point of the Palm Sunday narrative, that ancient camp performance which is STILL the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014

Laughter lifts me up.
Hope heals my heart.
I am strong and full of life.
And I believe that the future has infinite possibilities.
Amen.

 

Sweet Dreams

On April 6, 2014, in Morning, Sermons, by Robert

Sweet Dreams Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Lent 5, 2014 In the gospel reading today, Lazarus was buried in Bethany when he died (according to the story anyway). That much we knew. The Bethany grave site is a pilgrimage location still. But there is a legend that says sometime after Jesus’ crucifixion Lazarus fled to Cyprus […]

Sweet Dreams
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Lent 5, 2014

In the gospel reading today, Lazarus was buried in Bethany when he died (according to the story anyway). That much we knew. The Bethany grave site is a pilgrimage location still.

But there is a legend that says sometime after Jesus’ crucifixion Lazarus fled to Cyprus where he lived another 3 decades. He dies (again) and is buried (again), this time in Cyprus. The Cyprus grave is also a pilgrimage site.

But wait, there’s more! At some point his remains were excavated and taken to Constantinople and entombed there. But his third resting place was not to be his last (not only can he not stay dead he can’t even stay buried!).

Crusaders (representing a particularly embarrassing time in Christian history) raided Constantinople and took Lazarus’ bones to France where they were buried, as we far we know, for the final time.

There are three points from the Lazarus narrative (and the subsequent grave hopping stories) that I want to lift up:

First – So many graves, so many times of leaving the graves behind!
That actually seems hopeful to me (if harsh and disrespectful of the decaying remains of poor Lazarus).

But if we equate death with endings, failures, defeats, loss…then there is good news in realizing that even a devastating “final blow” may not, in fact, be the end of the story.
Even when all hope is gone, it isn’t really.
There is something to be salvaged, something to be done, something to learn, some new experience to be had. There are dreams to be dreamed and experiences to be had beyond what seemed final.

Second – of course, we can’t gloss over Jesus’ command, “Come out!”

There is no life, no air, no light, no joy, no hope, no beautiful dreams in a tomb, or in a closet. Shame and fear keep us bound and Jesus says to take those grave clothes off.

Come out as an ally of same-gender loving people.
Come out as a friend of gender non-conforming people.
Come out as a progressive.
Come out as a spiritual seeker.
Come out as a spiritual doubter.
Come out as a Queer person.

There are places where to be discovered as gay or lesbian or transgender or even as an ally of the Queer community can cost one life or liberty, and so those of us who can come out must, so that those who can’t will know they aren’t alone and to give them hope until they can do more. We who can must come out so that those who can’t will at least be able to dream.
Like Ezekiel, we can’t fix every problem, but we can dare to dream of a better day and we can share our dream. Come out.

Thirdly, the sexy, and for some, possibly, controversial part (hooray). Remember the tradition that says that Lazarus lived another 30 years… in a world where one was considered fully grown by 15 and few hoped to live past 50, an adult Lazarus living another 30 years means that in the gospel story, he was a young man.

In Mark’s gospel, chapter 10, a young man runs up to Jesus and asks him a question about spirituality. And Mark says Jesus looked at him and loved him.
Four chapters later, chapter 14, there is a young man with Jesus in the garden at night and when the soldiers come for Jesus, the young man runs away naked.
Then two chapters after that, chapter 16, a young man is at the tomb, the first at the tomb, mourning.
Was it the same young man?

What does it mean for Jesus to look lovingly at another man?
Why was a young man with Jesus at night; and why is a young man the first mourner at the tomb?

Who is this young man that keeps popping up, that keeps being found in deeply intimate situations: looks of love, alone time at night, the first to grieve as a spouse might?

And in John’s gospel, there is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus, whom tradition said lived 30 more years, which would have made him a young man in our story. Is Lazarus the name the writer of John’s gospel gives to the nameless young man who pops up repeatedly in the last half of Mark’s?

John’s story also says that Jesus wept for Lazarus, and apparently couldn’t bear to be without him. Sounds like love to me.

We know that David and Jonathan have a special, probably even romantic love in the Hebrew bible; do Jesus and Lazarus have a similar kind of love? We can’t know, but only homophobia would keep us from wondering.
Is the anonymous author that tradition has called John lifting up special, sacred bonds that are made of love and mutuality and not dependent on gender identities assigned to us at birth? Is so, what a liberating discovery; in any case, what a liberating possibility!

Why ask these kinds of questions? Why not leave well enough alone? Why not just accept interpretations that have historically privileged some while contributing to the oppression of others? The question is the answer.

Because the bible has been used to keep women subservient, it is important to lift up androgynous images of Jesus in scripture, powerful women like Esther and Judith in scripture, images of God as being imagined in feminine ways, such as when the writer of Job suggests it is God’s womb that produces winter storms, when Deuteronomy remembers God’s leading people into a land of promise and possibilities as being like a mother eagle teaching her eaglets to fly, when the writer of the book of Proverbs describes divine wisdom as being a Cosmic Lady, or when one of the contributors to the prophetic book of Isaiah speaks for God saying, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”

Because the bible has been used to protect and maintain class and racial privilege for some while marginalizing others, it is important to notice how marginalized ethnic groups in scripture are lifted up in positive ways, like when Jesus affirms Samaritans or when Ruth is named as a Moabite or when a Canaanite woman confronts Jesus when he is willing to dismiss her for not being part of his community…and in that beautiful story, Jesus has a change of heart.

And, because the bible has been used to brutalize, vilify, demonize and dehumanize same-gender loving people, it is important to notice that David said he loved Jonathan more than his own soul, that Paul himself visited the isle of Lesbos, and that Jesus had intimate connections with men, so intimate, in fact, that were he anyone else we would immediately assume those connections were romantic. Was he gay or bi, or was the writer gay or bi and simply imagining Jesus to be like himself? We can’t know, but there is no reason why we shouldn’t ponder the possibilities…that’s what keeps the scriptures alive and relevant and OURS.

It is important for people who have the bible used against them to be able to see themselves in it, to be able to claim it as their own text.
Our bodies are good. Sexuality is a gift. Gender is a continuum. And same-gender love is as sacred as opposite gender love. And if we really believe those things, then it couldn’t possibly upset us to think that Jesus himself might look like us, whoever we are.

It is liberating, healing, and righteous to see ourselves in the sacred stories and to claim them as our own.
PS – that’s exactly what the gospel writers did. They imagined Jesus as being the perfect symbol of their communities and as being an affirmation for who they were. They dreamed of Jesus not as someone who opposed them, but as someone who would have embraced them, who would have understood their struggles, who was in some sense one of them. Why not follow their example and allow Jesus to symbolize the truth that we are each, just as we are, children of God?

The Ezekiel reading shows that even when we don’t know how or when things can get better, we can be lifted by our dreams and hopes of better days.

The gospel reading reminds us that even from disaster and disappointment new possibilities can emerge.
From closets or tombs of shame, new joy and self-assurance can emerge.
From old, oppressive theologies and outmoded teachings, new, liberating, self-empowering ideas and dreams can emerge.

Basically, what our readings tell us today is that it ain’t over until Mama Cass sings:
Sweet dreams til Sunbeams find you.
Sweet dreams that leave our worries far behind you.
But in your dreams whatever they be,
Dream a little dream of me.

Each of the readings shows their authors and communities dreaming of better tomorrows.

Whatever you are facing in your life today, dare to dream of better tomorrows.
We have the power to dream it until we believe it, and if we believe it we can achieve it.
And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2014
My dreams lift me up.
My dreams sustain me.
I dream of better tomorrows.
And I know my dreams can come true.
And so it is.

 

Removing the Blinders

On March 30, 2014, in Morning, Sermons, by Robert

Removing the Blinders Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Lent 4 (2014) The man born blind. It’s a fairly well known story, though we tend to overly literalize the symbols in the story and thereby miss the point of the story. Today, we will avoid that temptation and let ourselves “see” more than we might otherwise. If […]

Removing the Blinders
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Lent 4 (2014)

The man born blind. It’s a fairly well known story, though we tend to overly literalize the symbols in the story and thereby miss the point of the story. Today, we will avoid that temptation and let ourselves “see” more than we might otherwise.

If I thought this story was about a visually impaired person who was literally healed, I would feel compelled to revisit the story of Job. Regarding the question of blame, whose fault is it that this person is impaired, I would remember that Job was a good person who suffered.

Job doesn’t deserve to suffer. He hasn’t been irresponsible, cruel, or selfish. In fact, the story says that Job is a very good person, but situations beyond his control bring him heartache. He loses his life’s savings, his family, and his friends turn out to be anything but comforting.

Eventually, things turn around, but the point is that even though Job proved to be resilient and the tough times didn’t out last him, he didn’t deserve the tough times to begin with.

Sometimes, we just step in it and it takes a lot of time and effort to get the carpet clean afterwards.

But the story isn’t about a visually impaired person. The blind guy is a character, a symbol. He represents the hyper-religious types who try to lock life down in dogma and tradition, even in narrowly interpreted verses of scripture lifted out of their cultural, historic, literary and linguistic contexts.

Instead of faith, which is trusting the unmapped journey, the hyper-religious types with their onerous and burdensome fundamentals pretend to have all the answers. They have creeds and catechisms and anyone who doesn’t accept their pre-packaged answers to pre-approved questions are dismissed as heretics. Instead of exploring the mysteries of life and supporting one another in community as they tackle the big questions, they try to lock life down with their fundamentals.

In other words, hyper-religious zealotry can blind us to the wonder, the beauty, the infinite possibilities that life has to offer.

How many of us were blind from birth, that is, there was very little light beyond a small world of prejudices and fears that we were taught from the start?

The blinders are still being put on people. More and more people are rejecting them, they are being healed and are experiencing new vision, but there are still efforts to keep people from seeing beyond the rage posing as religion,
the hatred presented as holiness, the fear that is mislabeled faith, and the venom that is hailed as virtue.

Four days ago, Pat Robertson said on his television program that if Jesus had a business he would not serve openly gay customers. He said that in Jesus’ day any such couple would have been stoned to death so there would have been no such customers for him to deal with…Aaaccckkk! Wrong answer, thank you for playing, we have some lovely parting gifts for you.

Actually, in scripture, Jesus encounters a Roman centurion who asked Jesus for help because his same-sex companion was ill. The Greek word in the text used for his companion would have meant lover, or more specifically, body slave. He would not have been stoned; in fact, such arrangements were very common in the Roman empire of Jesus’ day. The arrangement usually amounted to a high ranking military officer or nobleman taking a slave as a lover. It was not the model of mutuality that we would insist upon today, but it was a common practice and not viewed in its culture and context as unethical.

Now, when we see the story, we take issue with the fact that the lover was a slave; we don’t care about his gender but about his liberty being robbed, even if his so-called owner did care deeply about him.

But dominance is the ethical violation, not the genders making up the relationship. In the story, Jesus praises the faith of the Roman who comes to him for help and then the servant-lover is said to be healed. Not only Jesus not condemn the same-gender couple, he came to their aid and praised one of them for having such faith. PS, the Roman aristocrat would have been a pagan, so there is a universalist, pluralistic case to be made too, but that is beyond the scope of today’s focus.

Homophobic diatribes are meant to blind people to the sacred value and innate dignity of same-gender loving people (and other marginalized people for that matter), but we spiritual progressives can help remove the blinders and help people see more than they ever had before.

Also this week another far right Christian reportedly told an American Family Association leader that Satan is the reason that a growing number of practicing Christians are renouncing their homophobia. He told the AFA leader that Satan was deceiving people and that’s why there is less hatred toward gays and lesbians.

Now, I don’t believe in a literal Satan, because, you know, it’s the 21st century but if I did believe in Satan I don’t think I would try to give him credit for making people nicer, friendlier and more tolerant. But like the religious extremists Jesus was confronting in today’s gospel, contemporary extremists still can’t see all the good that is around them. They refuse to see that what makes love sacred isn’t the gender identities of the people in love. They refuse to see that not everyone who disagrees with them is a tool of malevolence, that not every opinion that differs from theirs is manufactured from a spooky factory in an unseen hell dimension.

Also this week, it was a busy week in Fundy Land, Franklin Graham said that God is going to punish America because of the growing acceptance of marriage equality and gay rights. Meanwhile, England and Wales just joined the growing number of nations that are upholding full equality for all citizens, gay and straight. But the son of Billy Graham thinks that the US, which has not gone as far as the UK yet, is going to be punished for trying to honor its pledge to concepts of liberty and justice for all.

I wouldn’t even bother arguing with Graham about it…if Graham’s version of God is the truth then that God is a petty tyrant and should be resisted at all costs as all tyrants should be. I would have no use for a deity that would deny me the joy of spending my life with the person I love most. And these messages of hate and shame and exclusion are being exported around the world, and in some places they are taking root and lives are being destroyed as a result. There is too much blindness when it comes to justice and equality and we need to be the healers helping more and more people experience a bit more light.

Isn’t it time that we simply stand united and say that people are more important that doctrine, that love trumps dogma, that justice, love and mutuality are signs of spiritual health, that bigotry is not holy and any god that cannot bless genuine love is simply not god enough! The hyper-religious types with their blinders on are who Jesus confronts in the gospel today.

Who’s to blame? Why is the blind person the way he is? Has he chosen ignorance, or is he the victim of a dysfunctional family, an abusive church, a tyrannical political system. Who’s to blame for why the bigot, the hatemonger has turned out this way? Jesus says why bother assigning blame? This isn’t a time for blaming; this is a time for healing. Let’s not get bogged down in analysis paralysis, let’s offer a better vision and let more light in for anyone who is ready to lift those blinders.

And you know what? The healing message may seem counter intuitive. If you’ve heard your whole life that God created women as second class occupants of this planet, that children should be seen and not heard, that only our religious group has access to God, that same-gender love is somehow a demonic curse, and that human behavior rather than being about mutuality and integrity is simply meant to appease a deity with anger management issues, and if we fall short then that deity may unleash unimaginable suffering to force us into submission, if that’s the message that’s been drummed into you then your view of reality might be a little skewed.

To hear that love is divine, that hope is holy, that compassion is angelic, that life is meant to be enjoyed, that bodies are good and mutually shared genuine affection is never wrong…that might seem too odd to digest all at once. It might seem uncomfortable, even disgusting, like a salve made of dirt and spit rubbed in your eye, but it’s the odd, the unlikely, the new, the queer remedy that shakes loose the blinders and allows new vision of infinite possibilities to be embraced.

The gospel passage concludes today with Jesus saying, “Those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.” The peddlers of blame and shame, guilt and guile are being exposed…not as bad people, but as people who have lived in the darkness of illusion, a world of fantasy, a realm of mischievous demons and angry deities, a landscape where love can be called sin and oppression can be called love…and that world just isn’t going to be good enough for a lot of people any more.

Spiritual work is about removing blinders. So let’s do all we can to let more light in, and the more the light shines, the more the insanity will be exposed, and the more it is exposed, the more people will choose to see the ways of hope and healing, joy and justice; and this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014

The light of love shines on my path.
The light of hope shines in my life.
The guiding light of life leads me to health and happiness.
I see and share the light!
Amen.

 

Water Works

On March 23, 2014, in Morning, Sermons, by Robert

Water Works Rev Dr Durrell Watkins – Lent 3 (2014) Moses and his fellow travelers are in a wilderness. To escape oppression they have fled to the wilderness, but the fear of being lost, the difficulty of finding food in a barren area, and the stress of having not quite enough water in a desert […]

Water Works
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins – Lent 3 (2014)

Moses and his fellow travelers are in a wilderness. To escape oppression they have fled to the wilderness, but the fear of being lost, the difficulty of finding food in a barren area, and the stress of having not quite enough water in a desert region are all overwhelming. They named and confronted the problem of bondage, but fixing the problem means change and challenge and facing the unknown and as we all know that can be a terrifying experience. Still, there is hope in spite of horror and the possibility of peace in the face of pain.

Moses needs a miracle, but it won’t be forced on him; it never is. He has to find a rock that might have water and then strike it to release the water. The water works don’t appear until he does his part. The miracle that happens for him actually happens through him.

The people in the Exodus narrative are complaining because they want magic, they want fairies and unicorns and elves to prance about showering pixie dust on them to make everything OK without effort, and because that so rarely happens, they are agitated and bitter. But when one among them is willing to think outside the box and do the work that is required, THEN the experience changes. When Moses starts beating the rock, someone must have said, “That’s new. That’s not how we used to do things.” Someone else must have said, “It will never work.” But I promise when the water starting flowing those same people were first in line with their cups in hand and the next day they were bragging about how they gave Moses the idea to do it and asking why on earth he didn’t try it sooner.

Moses’ attempt to try a new thing could have failed. But still, it is better to try and then fail than to simply complain and hope that things will magically self-correct.

When schools were racially segregated, when women couldn’t vote, when Jewish people could be denied employment or housing in some cities, when Japanese Americans were interred in their own country during WW2 because their country’s enemy shared their ancestry, when LBGT people were until very recently second class citizens, and in some states and many countries they still are, when the native inhabitants of this continent suffered genocide as their lands were colonized and their populations decimated, how hurting people must have complained over the years, heartsick and weary from the burden of oppression, crying out for justice which was their right. Susan B Anthony, Harvey Milk, Dr King, Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, Gloria Steinem, Medgar Evers, Troy Perry…oh how lucky we are that some people braved the blows and faced the fury and struck the rock.

But just being sad, or scared, or angry isn’t enough to change anything. We can cry out about how terrible things are, how awful someone else may be, but who is willing to strike the rock? How ridiculous must Moses have seemed beating that rock? Who is willing to try the improbable, to move beyond the safe or comfortable? Who is willing to risk failure in order to give success a chance?

Moses takes calculated risks and pays a price to lead the people from bondage to a brighter future, and he must have been so relieved when the water works project succeeded. The people were weary from hunger and fear and exhaustion, but Moses suffered all those same things and had the added burdened of being heckled by the people he was doing everything in his power to help.

Every performer, amateur or pro, who sings or plays or dances or acts their hearts out for an audience only to have critics who never trained as hard or took the risks they have tear them apart knows how Moses must feel.

Every business leader who has tossed and turned at night worrying about how to pay her staff,
every parent who has cared for a special needs child while those who do not share their circumstances judge them for their struggles,
every person who has been judged by their gender or sexual orientation or race or ethnicity rather than on their actual character,
every lesbian or gay person who knew they were sincere in their spirituality but were told by people who have no idea what it is like to be same-gender loving in a heterosexist society that their spirituality couldn’t be legitimate if they loved someone of the same gender,
every addict who has fallen off the wagon and summoned the courage to return to meetings,
every person who was told that hoping for improved health was silly and they chose to hope anyway,
every person who has started a new diet after the last ten failed,
every person who has struggled with grief longer than others said they should…
knows what it is like to be vilified for daring to be out, to try their best, to give hope one more chance.

There is always someone who thinks they know how it should have been done…they weren’t around to help or encourage when you were doing it, but now that it’s over they are too happy to tell how you could have done it better.

The complainers we will always have with us, but few are those with the insight and courage to strike the rock of despair and allow fresh streams of hope to flow through!

The gospel story is offers more water works.
Jesus is traveling and finds himself alone and thirsty. He finds a well but doesn’t have a bucket. So, he asks for help. The woman he asks is, well, a woman. And she is a Samaritan. And, if we read more of the story, we’d find she is a Samaritan woman with a reputation. Jesus pushes past the sexism, the ethnocentricity, the religious prejudices, and the prudery that would have been common among his contemporaries. And by overcoming those obstacles, he received the help he needed.

In traditional reflections on this story, we usually focus on Jesus really seeing the woman and not just judging her by her reputation. He sees she has been objectified and, by contrast, he treats her like a person. And that affirmation of her sacred value was the water that changed her life, the water that never runs out…because once you really believe in your innate goodness you’ll never let anyone take that from you again.

But what occurs to me as I read these stories this time is that Moses’ people had a real need and Moses was committed to ministering to it (not carving out his own privilege or legacy or comfort, but taking risks to help others),
and Jesus has a real need and the marginalized woman he encounters ministers to it. He gives her respect, but she gives him kindness, it is a mutually beneficial exchange of energy. We all have something to share, and we are better when we share what we can.

Working for justice, sharing compassion, building community…that’s hard work, and it is sometimes met with hostility instead of gratitude or praise, but for those that work has touched, it was like giving water to a thirsty person.

Offering a progressive message to those who have been served a steady diet of fear and condemnation, it’s like giving water to a thirsty person.

Was the rock really a rock in the Moses story? Was it a type of cactus? Was it a pool simply hidden by a rock? Is the story a parable with no historical accuracy at all? I don’t know.

And the same with the Gospel story. Did Jesus really encounter a Samaritan woman at a well? Did he really suggest that a change in consciousness would be like drinking water that would never dry up? Did he really change a woman’s life by affirming her sacred value, and did he really accept her kindness? If so, they were both surely changed for the better.

I can’t prove that these stories did or did not happen, but I feel strongly that they are true in that they show us that far too many people remain parched for hope and affirmation. The same old same old won’t quench their spiritual thirst, and our rock striking efforts to help and heal our community may be met with more grumbling than gratitude, but we are in the thirst quenching business and we will not be deterred.

When we add our voices and efforts to help LBGT people in Uganda, Nigeria or Jamaica find safety,
When we celebrate every place that passes marriage equality and keep an eye on every place that hasn’t so far (FLORIDA),
When we insist that divine Love rejects no soul ever for any reason,
When we advocate for gender non-conforming people who have yet to be consistently afforded the respect they deserve even in our own community,
When we remember that AIDS isn’t over and our concern is still needed,
When we challenge racism and sexism within and beyond the walls of the church,
When we gather food or clothing or school supplies for people who need a helping hand,
When we build community and strive for more diversity and care for people from 2 to 102,
When we challenge ourselves to be more generous, more concerned with the marginalized and disadvantaged,
When we do everything we can think of to affirm the sacred value of all people, we are sharing our bucket at the well of healing; we are striking the rock of despair and allowing the water of hope to flow unobstructed into lives that need to be refreshed. And this is the good news.
© Durrell Watkins 2014

Let the healing waters flow today.
Let us be refreshed and renewed.
Let hope wash over us.
And let us share these droplets of grace with others.
Amen.

 

Thinking Again About Being Born Again

On March 16, 2014, in Morning, Sermons, by Robert

Thinking Again About Being Born Again Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Lent 2 (2014) Part of the joy and the challenge of my job is hearing people share their personal stories. The stories are often filled with pain and regret, but then to see them move through that pain and rediscover hope and peace affirms the […]

Thinking Again About Being Born Again
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Lent 2 (2014)

Part of the joy and the challenge of my job is hearing people share their personal stories. The stories are often filled with pain and regret, but then to see them move through that pain and rediscover hope and peace affirms the healing balm that our progressive message offers.

One of the things that the shared stories continually bring up is the question of eternal security, that is, how can we know that we are OK with God, that God will not reject or abandon us?

The people plagued and tormented by these questions usually grew up hearing that they were born bad, that to be human is to be flawed, even depraved. To be saved from their own depravity, they must believe certain things, sometimes things they can’t believe, or they can’t be sure that they believe. Beliefs are just well rehearsed opinions, and as we learn more, sometimes our opinions, and therefore our beliefs, change. But they are told that such change is unacceptable.

To add to their burden, many of them fear that regardless of what they try to believe that being gay or lesbian is somehow a deal breaker.

These survivors of religious abuse are usually from traditions that historically used narrow interpretations of isolated scripture texts lifted out of their literary, historical, linguistic, and cultural contexts to justify or even promote such injustices as the subjugation of women, the evil of slavery, and oppressive acts of colonization disguised as missionary endeavors.

These flawed and hurtful uses of religion even remarkably and ridiculously took texts written by and for Jewish people to justify anti-Semitism.

They forget that Genesis says God looked at God’s creation and called it very good.

There is no “fall” in the creation story…the fall from grace of the human soul is an idea that comes from Augustine and not from the creation myth itself. In a post-Darwinian age, we now know that we haven’t fallen from perfection but that we are always evolving toward it, the pattern of perfection is already within us. God has already called it very good.

People also forget Ephesians 2.8 where the writer says that we are saved by grace through faith, but that can’t be through our faith, because then faith would be the currency we were using to purchase it, which keeps it from being grace.

No, we are kept safe and whole by grace, a free gift we can neither earn nor lose, and that gift is through faith, but whose faith? God’s faith in us!

God so trusts God’s own creation to evolve and unfold as it should, so knows it to be innately perfect and whole, that God gives the free and unreturnable gift of unending place in God’s own light and love.

God calls us good and keeps us safe in that goodness through a divine gift of grace, grace motivated by God’s own faith in us!

You can select any group of disconnected proof texts to make any claim you want no matter how ridiculous, unreasonable, or even wicked the claim may be. Matthew 27.5 – Judas hanged himself; Luke 10.37 – Go and do likewise. The mythical Satan tempts Jesus to doubt his own worth by quoting scripture at him! And he doesn’t misquote it; he just misuses it, showing that people who use scripture like a weapon against you don’t really have your best interest at heart.

So I don’t believe that something is right just because you can find it in the bible.

In the bible Abraham loses his mind and thinks God is telling him to kill his child, Isaac; and after he has terrorized and permanently scarred Isaac by making him believe he was willing to go through with it, then Abraham decides that God is tell him to kill a ram instead. Still, Abraham was certain that God needed something to die.

Abraham gets his housekeeper pregnant and then kicks her out the house with only a sack lunch and their baby.
Abraham pimps out his wife Sarah so that he can move through a territory safely.

Wow, when you string the stories together like that you realize Abraham had issues! Just because something is in the bible doesn’t make laudable.

One New Testament writer encouraged his readership to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim 2.15) and that’s what we want to do. Not every word of scripture is a word of instruction.

Sometimes we are reading a descriptive word, describing how things were, like Paul shamefully sending the runaway slave Onesiumus back to his captor, Philemon.

Sometimes we are reading a prescriptive word, prescribing how things ought to be, as when Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

If the bible is to be meaningful to us, we must do our part to redeem it from the ways it has been misused to hurt people, and we must admit that not every word of scripture is the word of God for our lives.

Slaves obey your masters (Col 3.22) has never been the word of God to anyone, but the prophetic challenge to bind up the broken hearted always is (Isaiah 61.1).

One of the bible passages that are used to make us believe that we are innately flawed and that only some of us will ever be saved from our wretchedness is this passage today telling someone he must be born again.

I love the t-shirts, memes, and bumper stickers that try to defang the ways this verse has been misused.

One says, “Why be born again when you can just grow up?”

The other says, “Born again? Nope, I got it right the first time.”

Let’s look more closely at our gospel reading today.

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night…

I remember in the early 90s, especially in more rural areas, people would often come to MCCs with trepidation. They would park at some distance and then walk to the church. They would refuse to sign up for mailing lists and they would shy away from photos at church events. Sometimes they would drive by the church for weeks in a row before actually summoning the nerve to walk in it. Bars felt safer, under the cover of darkness, but to be seen in the daylight, even to worship, with a group that openly and proudly said that spirituality and sexuality did not have to be at odds was risky and frightening.

They were drawn to MCCs message and possibilities but were afraid of being “outed.”

To be gay in some places was to be a criminal…as it remains in some parts of the world today. To be outed as gay or to be affiliated with gay people could result in job loss, family rejection, religious persecution, and even violence. So, seekers would sneak into MCC until they found the courage to come out, or least come in without dark glasses.

This is actually what is happening in John’s gospel. People flirting with the Johannine worship community were sneaking in the back door, coming to them by night, like Nicodemus. John imagining Jesus telling a stealthy Nicodemus to be born again was a marketing scheme to get people to join John’s spiritual community, and to do so in the daylight, openly, publicly; be born again into a new world of justice seeking, community building courage and hope.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

The writer challenges would be members of the spiritual community to be “born again,” to make a new beginning, try a new way of experiencing religion.

Being born again isn’t about being zapped into righteousness while those who don’t share your experience are written off as cosmic garbage to smolder throughout eternity.

Born again means to let go of the old fearful, oppressive, narrow thinking and try on new ideas, a new attitude, a new approach.

Dare to step away from a religious experience that hurt you or encouraged you to hurt others and try something new, be born into a new way of exploring spirituality, a more open, more inclusive, more progressive way.

I was born again when I found MCC.

Not that I was bad before and magically was made better; not that I am now in the club and everyone else is destined to run through a fiery hell wearing gasoline drawers.

No, but when I found MCC I was invited to leave behind what didn’t make sense and embrace new thoughts that would add hope and joy to my life and help me affirm my sacred value and innate dignity. What a new way to be religious!

Born again.

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”…

This is a FABULOUS example within scripture itself of how taking religious language too literally can be ridiculous.

Here at the Sunshine Cathedral we take the bible seriously rather than literally. Jesus is imagined in this text as using creative language to make a point and Nicodemus almost misses the point by taking what is clearly a metaphor and literalizing it. Literalism, is always selected literalism…

Nicodemus shows us how silly literalism can be.

To be born again is to think differently, and when we change our thinking, we change our lives.

Half a millennium before John’s gospel was written, the Buddha also used the phrase “born again” to describe new attitudes, new beginnings, new approaches, when he said, “Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.”

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Spirit can’t be limited to or contained by tradition, texts, rituals, sacraments, dogma or doctrine. To think out of the box of religious tradition means letting go of some old assumptions and certainties.

And maybe that’s what faith is…trusting the journey rather than pretending that everything can be locked down in fundamentals; moving forward with wonder rather than trying to dig your heels into the traditions and dogma that may feel safe but doesn’t really facilitate change, healing, or transformation.

If the bible, dogma, or tradition ever persuaded you that you were anything other than a living miracle,

if you have ever been told you had to choose between the truth of your life and eternal salvation,

if you have ever been made to weep in the dark hours of the night for fear that the Source of life had somehow abandoned you because you were attracted to someone of the same gender, or loved someone of another religion, or made the best choice available to you in the moment about your own body, or couldn’t accept an unreasonable viewpoint presented as a point of doctrine, then I encourage you to be born again today.

That doesn’t mean you have to believe anything in particular to be acceptable to God; it just means that the old mindset of fear and regret and internal torment can be left behind and a new experience of hope, joy, dignity and self-affirmation can begin today.

To be born again simply means this: the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities. And this is the good news! Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2014

I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
I am eternally safe in the Love that God is.
And so I am thankful.
Amen.

 

Get Away from Me!

On March 9, 2014, in Morning, Sermons, by Robert

Get Away from Me! Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Lent 1, 2014) In the drama of Job, probably the oldest story in our bible, Job is accused or slandered by ha satan. The satan, the accuser, the slanderer says that Job is only a devout person of faith because his life has been so easy. If […]

Get Away from Me!
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Lent 1, 2014)

In the drama of Job, probably the oldest story in our bible, Job is accused or slandered by ha satan. The satan, the accuser, the slanderer says that Job is only a devout person of faith because his life has been so easy. If he were less lucky, then he might be less faithful.

Now, in the story, God takes the bet! God willingly allows Job to suffer unimaginable disappointments and heartaches and Job, though he asks a lot of questions and complains quite a bit, never gives up on his ideals, never quite abandons hope, never is willing to believe that his suffering is deserved or that it can’t be turned around. Job remains faithful, even though God in the story seems pretty petty to allow a good person to suffer just to prove a point.

Also, in the story, ha satan is not evil. The accuser has full access to the court and council of God. Walks right into the place, has the pass codes, has the key to the executive wash room, eats in the angelic lunchroom. He is the accuser; that’s his job. So when he brings charges against Job, he’s only doing what he is meant to do. The accuser doesn’t become the boogie man until much later as the stories continue to evolve.

In the story of Job, the accuser slandering Job and God taking the bait are not excuses for Job. He is responsible for how he reacts to whatever happens in life. He doesn’t cause every terrible thing to happen, he doesn’t deserve every terrible thing that happens, but how he responds to events and circumstances is his choice; and what he thinks and says and does in response to difficulties are completely in his power. Ha satan doesn’t make Job do anything, and neither does God. Job is responsible for his attitudes and choices.

By Jesus’ day, Satan has developed a more nefarious character. In fact, he now looks more like the Persian deity, Angra Mainyu (destructive spirit).

When the Jewish people were conquered by the Persian empire, they were exposed to the Persian religion, Zoroastrianism, the religion of the Magi earlier in Matthew’s gospel.
In Zoroastrianism, the previous Persian pantheon was reduced by the philosopher Zoroaster to just two deities…the benevolent Ahura Mazda and the malevolent Angra Mainyu.

After the Persian domination, some communities started to refer to a mischievous being opposed to God and God’s people, and the previously non-nefarious but still accusatory ha satan became the one to fill the role. In fact, Matthew is writing is just 300 years after the period of Persian domination. That’s just about the right amount of time for a myth to take hold of a community’s imagination.

But it is important to remember, the satan’s debut way back in Job was not the face of all evil nor was he the cause of human evil…it wasn’t until much later that people would try to escape personal responsibility by claiming “the devil made me do it.”

Now, let’s back up 500 years before Jesus, almost 600 years before Matthew’s writing. And this time instead of going to Persia, let’s go to Nepal and India.

There once was prince named Siddhartha. He lived a sheltered, privileged, and happy life. While still a young man he wandered off beyond the idealic life of the royal court and he say poverty and illness. He was devastated to learn that there was real suffering in the world. He felt compelled to learn the cause and the cure for suffering, so he left his family and became a monk in search of spiritual enlightenment.

After suffering himself from needlessly harsh religious practices, Siddhartha one day was ready to simply meditate until the answers he longed for could be revealed. He took his place under the Bodhi tree to meditate until he achieved enlightenment, and while he was in deep meditation the demon Mara tried to distract, or “tempt” him so that he would become focused on petty matters and thereby delay enlightenment.

Mara means “one who wounds” and is sometimes called “Lord of the ego”, the sense of smallness and separateness that causes one to be afraid and insecure.

The three temptations of Siddhartha were:
Mara’s three (& very beautiful) daughters approached Siddhartha in an attempt to seduce him (their attempts failed).

A vast army stormed toward Siddhartha, but all the while he continued meditating and when the army showered their arrows down on him, the arrows magically became lotus blossoms and didn’t hurt him at all.

Mara approached Siddhartha personally to persuade him to return to the court of the king (who just happened to be Siddhartha’s father). Hoping, obviously, to appeal to some sense of greed or fear of lack, Mara tried to persuade Siddhartha to claim his place as his father’s heir and enjoy the power and privilege that would afford him.

Lust (out of balance desire), fear, and greed (scarcity thinking that leads to hoarding or selfish action) are the three things that could keep Sidhartha from becoming spiritually awake. He overcame the temptations thus became the Buddha, the awakened one. And after his awakening, or enlightenment, he spent another 40 years leading others in the paths of enlightenment.

The Buddha’s ministry began (though he had been a religious hermit already) after the “wilderness” experience of sitting under the bodhi tree meditating and overcoming the temptations that could have sabotaged his enlightenment.

500 years AFTER the time of Buddha, a Galilean prophet, Jesus, is said to have gone into a wilderness for a time of fasting and prayer (meditation). Following this wilderness experience he would begin his world changing ministry, after confirming within himself his anointing (enlightenment), the divine power on his life making him the “Christ.”

The tempter that challenges Jesus is often called “Satan” (ha satan in Job & Zechariah) which means “the accuser.” In Greek it is rendered “diabolos” and means “slanderer” and he heard some of his story ma few minutes ago.

Jesus, like Sidhartha, faces three temptations:
To break his fast (tempted with lust for food)

To needlessly put himself at risk by leaping from a tall place (weapons of harm being heights and stones rather than spears and arrows)

To entertain the possibility of militaristic rule, rising up against governments in an attempt to make himself a ruler.

We only read the first of three this morning, but if we read verses 5-10 we would have heard the other two.

Lust, fear, and greed…the same temptations as in the older, Eastern myth.
Both spiritual traditions seemed to realize that these emotions, uncontrolled, could sabotage spiritual growth.

The point isn’t to literalize Mara or Satan or Angra Mainyu or any other fictional monster.
In fact, Matthew 4.10 has Jesus dismissing his imaginary adversary by saying, “Get away from me Satan!” We don’t have to believe in, entertain, be afraid of, or engage the lies that Mara, Angra Mainyu, or Satan symbolize. We can just move past the need for these mental monsters, shoo them away and move on free from their attempts to keep us from knowing how truly magnificent we are! In the temptation story today, Satan has no more power than Jesus will give him over him, and Jesus chooses to give him none so he has none. Our demons only have the power we give them and we cut off their power supply today! We are the power! We created the demons, and we can banish them to nothingness from which we summoned them.

Lent is the journey where we realize that Mara is just our ego trying to make us feel small.

Angra Mainyu is just the symbol for all that is unlike God, but anything unlike God isn’t real, so Angra Mainyu is just the lie that we could ever be beyond God’s omnipresence.

Satan is just the deception, the slanderous accusation that we are anything less than incarnations of divine love.
Once we overcome the temptation to play small, then we have infinite reserves of hope and generosity and goodwill to share.
And sharing the best of what we really are is life-giving, and embracing what is life-giving is the message of Easter.

Beliefs are just well rehearsed opinions; Lent can be a time to practice new and more empowering thoughts and attitudes.

There’s not a spot where God is not, so there is no wilderness beyond grace, no desert apart from goodness, no wasteland beyond hope, no place in the entire universe where we could ever be separated from the love that God is.

When we can believe in our goodness, like Job, even when the world seems to be coming apart all around us, then that goodness will eventually be made manifest in our experience again. Lent can be a season of intention where we live more and more into the awareness that we are part and parcel of the perfect wholeness we call God. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014

To anything that would deny my innate goodness…
To anything that would deny my sacred value…
I now say, “Get away from me! And I am free. Amen.

 

Transfiguration: Growing Past Traditions

On March 2, 2014, in Morning, Sermons, by Robert

Transfiguration: Growing Past Traditions Rev Dr Durrell Watkins How many people grew up with kneeling rails at the front of the worship space? When I was young I assumed there was a theological reason for those rails. Imagine my shock and surprise when I learned that those rails originally served as fences to keep livestock […]

Transfiguration: Growing Past Traditions
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins

How many people grew up with kneeling rails at the front of the worship space? When I was young I assumed there was a theological reason for those rails. Imagine my shock and surprise when I learned that those rails originally served as fences to keep livestock away from the altar!

There’s an old story about a devout rabbi who spent three hours every day studying the Torah, the Talmud and saying prayers. His cat, being a cat, was not impressed with his discipline and piety and would walk across his books and papers, throw its tail in his face, bump its head against him and rub against his legs. So that the rabbi could study and pray, he would put the cat outside the house for those three hours.

The rabbi’s son noticed his father’s ritual of study and prayer and the exile of the cat to make it possible. But the rabbi’s son didn’t have three hours a day to devote to study and prayer, so his devotions only took an hour, but to have an hour of uninterrupted time, he, too, would put the cat out for that hour.

The rabbi’s granddaughter, following family tradition, every day, put the cat out. No prayer or study, just put the cat out. The point of the tradition got lost in the observance of the tradition, and the tradition then stopped being useful as a spiritual discipline.

Do you remember that hateful cotton in aspirin bottles? How many times have you fought with that demonic, shapeless bit of cotton, sometimes using tweezers to get it out so you could have access to the painkilling, fever reducing, sometimes lifesaving medication? What sadists devised the nefarious plan to stuff an impenetrable wall of cotton between medication and one in desperate need of it?

Actually, in the beginning, the cotton served a purpose. Aspirin was dry and crumbly and when the tablets rattled around in the bottle during shipping they would break into pieces; so, the cotton was meant to hold the tablets steady so one could take aspirin pills rather than aspirin bits.

Eventually, manufacturers learned to coat the aspirin so that the tablets would break when they were jostled about. But even though the cotton was no longer needed to keep the aspirin from being pulverized, the companies kept stuffing the bottles with cotton. Not only was the cotton useless, it was an added expense; so why continue doing it? An executive at one company was asked that very question, and he said, “No real reason; just tradition I guess.” Today in a world of coated tablets and medicinal gummies, cotton wrestling is less and less part of the medicine taking experience.

You see, the traditions that tend to idolize almost always began as practical events. What at one time was a practical and maybe even ingenious response to a practical need might have been repeated over and over until it became a stylized ritual, but the ritual without the context often becomes empty, superstitious, cumbersome, or even silly, like needless cotton in an aspirin bottle.

The story of the Transfiguration, which always pops up the Sunday before the beginning of Lent, reminds me of the need to let traditions evolve rather than cling mindlessly to them as if they were meaningful in themselves instead of being useful tools that were used at one time to respond to current needs, and that can be adapted and transformed to continue to meet new needs.

In fact, that is exactly what the story of Transfiguration is.

Some scholars believe the strange story was meant to be a resurrection narrative, a post-Easter story and it somehow mistakenly wound up in the middle of Mark’s gospel, and then when Matthew was writing his gospel with Mark’s account in front of him, he simply left the story in the middle rather toward the end. So, that’s an example of how holding to tradition for tradition’s sake can radically alter the point and purpose of the tradition.

But beyond the possible editorial snafu of the Transfiguration story, it is clearly a reworking of a much older narrative, a retelling of an old story in a new way for a new audience to meet a new need.

Queer scholars sometimes apply the Transfiguration story to Transgender realities. Jesus is transfigured, bathed in light so that his friends see more of him, see him as he truly is. He seems different but in reality he is just more himself and is understood a little better by some of his loved ones. Isn’t that the transgender experience? We learn that a transgender friend is more than the gender binaries we try to force on people. We see them in a new light. They may change their name or how they dress or they may even have surgery to alter their appearance but what they are really doing is becoming more obviously who they’ve always been. We are simply seeing more of them than we allowed ourselves to see before.

The same analogy can be made to coming out. When someone we thought was straight tells us they are lesbian or gay, they aren’t becoming something different, they are sharing more of the light of their truth, they are showing us more of who they really are, and they are embracing the message that they are God’s children with whom God is well pleased.

Matthew is shedding a new light, or more light on Jesus, helping his community to think of Jesus, and therefore themselves, in new and larger ways.

You see, Matthew has been subtly suggesting that Jesus is building on Moses’ foundation while making the vision broader and more inclusive, more relevant to a new age.

In chapter 7, Matthew’s Jesus boils down the commandments of Moses, in fact the whole of scripture, to just the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would wish to be treated. He even adds, “THIS is the law and the prophets”…the law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets, in other words, this is what the bible is all about. Just don’t be a jerk.

Religious zealots with their fiery passion and faux righteous indignation calling for oppressive and discriminatory laws in Africa and Asia and the Caribbean and the Southern and Southwestern United States never seem to have the Golden Rule as their primary, guiding sacred text. If you wouldn’t want your love demonized, your humanity minimized, and your rights trivialized, then don’t try to do that to others!

When Moses goes up the mountain, he takes three friends: Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu (Ex 24.1-2).

When Jesus goes up the mountain in today’s story, he takes three friends: Peter, James, & John (Mt 17). Did Jesus really take three friends with him, did he really have a mystical experience on a mountain? Did Moses? Who knows? The point isn’t to prove what happened in the past. The point is that the story of God at work in, through, and as us in an on-going story and so we do well to always retell it and always place ourselves in the story.

When Moses encounters God on the mountain, he enters into a cloud like a devouring fire. And an overwhelming bright cloud shows up in the Transfiguration story.

Moses and his companions see God on the mountaintop. Jesus’ friends hear God on the mountain.

Again, the parallels are probably too close to be anything other than literary invention, but we are looking for truth, not for facts. As the native American storytellers will sometimes say, “I’m not sure that it happened exactly this way, but I am sure that it is absolutely true.” And the truth is that when we go to the mountain, that is, when we spend time in communion with the source of life, and especially when we journey in community, that is, with friends and neighbors, we find new insights, new courage, new hope, new understandings, and we are therefore transformed and we can help transform our world.

Now, Matthew has been having Jesus build on Moses’ legacy all the while. And today, he brings Moses into the story for a cameo appearance, and not just Moses but Elijah, too.

Now remember, Elijah didn’t die (according to legend). He was taken to God in a whirlwind and his spirit rested on his disciple, Elisha to carry on his work. And so tradition said that Elijah, having never died, could return one day to help lead the people to liberation. Matthew transforms the returning prophet myth by saying we don’t need to wait for Elijah to come back, he just did. In a mystical, imaginative way, he returned at the Mount of Transfiguration. He and Moses returned as if to validate Jesus’ mission, and Jesus validates ours, so let’s keep working for hope and healing and justice in the world.

Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets, the liberator and the justice worker, have passed the torch in Matthew’s imagination, to Jesus, and we being followers of Jesus continue to carry that torch. We are the children of God with whom God is well pleased. That’s transfiguration, and it leads quite naturally into the Lenten journey.

Tonight we’ll gather for our annual gospel drag revival. If you were planning to go the gospel drag revival at Calvary Chapel or First Baptist I will ask that you come to ours instead. It’s a fun way to gather community, fund ministry, and let people experience a kind of music that they may not hear much anymore but which brings back fond memories for them. It’s also a safe way to get some people into a worship space for the first time in a very long time. So, do come out tonight.

And then Wednesday we’ll gather again for our Ash Wednesday service. On Ash Wednesday we are reminded of our mortality and of our faith that death is not the end of our significance, purpose, or even existence. We won’t focus on sin and sorrow, on guilt and grief, on shame or blame; we won’t call you to give up chocolate or movies or sodas. We will ask you to make Lent a time of growth and renewal; a time of transformation and healing, a time not of denial, but of commitment.

And then we’ll move through our Lenten journey toward Easter. We’ll take the old stories, and we may put a new spin on some of them. We will probably apply them in what are new ways for some people. But that is what a living faith does. That is the path to transformation. That’s the point of transfiguration. And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2014

I am learning to see life in new and exciting ways.
I am learning to let my own light shine more brightly.
I am learning to trust my own goodness.
And I am learning that the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities.
And so it is!

 

Plain Talk

On February 23, 2014, in Morning, Sermons, by Robert

Plain Talk Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Feb 23, 2014 We conclude today our February trek through the fifth chapter of the gospel of Matthew. As we’ve mined this especially rich chapter we have discovered many great treasures. We started with the beatitudes, seeing the power and possibility of affirming those who have experienced heartache and […]

Plain Talk
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Feb 23, 2014

We conclude today our February trek through the fifth chapter of the gospel of Matthew.
As we’ve mined this especially rich chapter we have discovered many great treasures.

We started with the beatitudes, seeing the power and possibility of affirming those who have experienced heartache and struggle. Blessed are you who have been vilified, marginalized, who have known depression or grief, who have been forgotten or abused…even when life has seemed unfair, you have always been a person of sacred value…the real you is forever blessed, eternally part and parcel of the divine presence.

The following week we heard Jesus make one of the most soul nourishing and earth shaking declarations in human history. YOU are the light of the world. You are more than your mistakes, more than your disappointments, more than your fears. What you really are is divine light in this world.

And then last week we witnessed Jesus rethinking old assumptions…”you have heard it said…but I say.”

You’ve heard religion used in some negative, scary, and soul crushing ways, but I say we can rethink those old assumptions and have a brighter, healthier, more uplifting spiritual experience.

And we conclude this part of the Sermon on the Mount today with Jesus saying, “Let your yes be a plain yes.” Just operate with integrity. Just be honest. In other words, just dare to tell the truth.

And so, following Jesus’, or at least Matthew’s imagining of Jesus’ line of thinking, I want to do some simple truth telling today. I just want to share some real alternatives to other religious teachings that have hurt and halted and harassed too many people for far too long. I just want to share with you some plain talk.

First, I want to remind you of some plain, simple, and powerful assertions that we make at Sunshine Cathedral.

We affirm that we are a DIFFERENT kind of church…and that is our gift to the world.

We declare that our desire is to rescue religion from irrelevance, practice positive thinking, be justice workers, build community, value diversity, and help people experience peace, hope, and joy in their lives…and that is our gift to the world.

We repeat over and over that our message is that ALL people have sacred value…and that is our gift to the world.

We take our place as a Metropolitan Community Church and MCC today is an inclusive movement committed to social action, an advocate for the marginalized & oppressed, a partner with other organizations working for positive change, a witness calling attention to human rights abuses, a voice for global justice, a source of hope for people all over the world.

And so in 2014 and in the years to come we are going to partner more than ever before with the Global Justice Institute and with the Progressive Christian Network to bring a radically inclusive, life-changing, world shaking, religion shattering, spiritually nurturing, community building message of hope and healing to wounded, hurting, broken hearts all over the world!

Using every technology at our disposal we will not only continue reaching out to Broward County to invite more and more people to experience a liberating gospel message but we will also try to partner with various organizations to create safe havens in Nigeria, to challenge the rhetoric of hate in Uganda, to strengthen community in Jamaica, to offer encouragement to people in Russia, and to rebuke and resist the attempts to create a gay version of Jim Crow in Arizona, Oklahoma, Kansas, Tennessee and anywhere where hate tries to present itself as holiness, where prejudice wraps itself in piety, and where villainy claims to be virtue.

2014 is a year of Transformation for Sunshine Cathedral and the people that call it their spiritual home, so religious and political tyrants from Tallahassee to Tehran, from Oklahoma City to Salt Lake City, from Saddleback to the Outback can now be on notice that in the face of oppression Sunshine Cathedral will not be silent and we will not rest until the worldwide religious reign of terror has come completely to an end.

Oh let us be healers to those in our community who are hurting, and let us be teachers to those who are seeking, and let us have outrageous amounts of fun because we deserve it and it annoys the haters, but let us also be prophets forever shouting out to mighty Caesar that the weapons of our warfare are not physical but they are mighty to the pulling down of oppressive strongholds!

We share MCC’s vision that states, “Following the example of Jesus & empowered by the Spirit, we seek to build leading-edge church communities that demand, proclaim, & do justice in the world.”

Don’t be alarmed by the good news that the universal, benevolent power and presence that we call God is omnipresent, meaning there’s not a spot where God is not, and so, therefore, we could not possibly ever be separated from God. Don’t be scared that it’s too good be true. How could good news ever be too good?

Remember, the writer of 1st John said that God is LOVE and WHOEVER, whoever, that’s you and you and you, whoever lives in love lives in God and God lives in them.

Maybe the people who say God is love and God’s love excludes no one and all people are held forever in God’s embrace are wrong; I can’t prove it one way or the other, but I can declare without apology or reservation that I would rather give God too much credit than too little. If God is a cosmic despot let it be said I tried to clean up her image; but heaven forefend that God be gracious and all-loving and we present such a beautiful Reality as a petty, punishing, potentate.

But if God is all hope, all joy, all compassion, all beauty, all peace, all love, then I would never want to blaspheme God’s goodness by suggesting that God was anything less than all-inclusive, unconditional love.

The Apostle Paul prayed, “May the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace…”

Fear is not of God. God is love and perfect love casts out fear. Not only is God love but God is the God of HOPE who can fill us with joy and peace, the opposite of fear.

We cannot love what we fear. If we worship God out of fear of being tormented or abandoned by God then that is not love and it doesn’t bring peace or healing. But God if is love and it’s in this omnipresent, divine love that we live and move and have our being, and when we love we are in communion with God, then we have access to hope and peace and joy and we are saved from fear. If your religion has filled you with fear it has done you a disservice, but there is a different way of being religious and we are declaring it ever more boldly at this different kind of church!

There is a story about St Peter and the Angel Gabriel having a spat. St Peter was trying to let only some people into heaven, while turning others away. But there were always more people in heaven than Peter had let in. Gabriel demanded that Peter explain how this could happen but Peter insisted that he only let a few people in of the many who approached the gate. Meanwhile, as they were arguing, Jesus was at the side wall helping people climb over into the realm of paradise.

The so-called saints and gatekeepers want to decide who is fit to be in God’s presence, but God and God’s true prophets are saying that God is love and divine love never rejects anyone for any reason.

Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgender friends, heterosexual allies of the Queer community, I remind you again, you are God’s miracle, not God’s mistake. Are you willing to be liberated by that simple but powerful thought. If so, then let your yes be a simple, but sung, yes: yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

In the room: Hear me Sunshine Cathedral.

On the worldwide web: Here me Broward County. Hear me Jamaica. Here me Nigeria. Here me Russia. Here me Arizona. God is love and whoever lives in love lives in God and God lives in them. This is the plain truth, the simple yes of divine grace. And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2014

I say yes to indomitable hope.
I say yes to unconditional, divine love.
I say yes to my own potential.
I say yes to joyful living.
I say yes to who God has created me to be.
Alleluia!
Amen.

 

You Have Heard It Said…But Let’s Rethink It!

On February 16, 2014, in Morning, Sermons, by Robert

You Have Heard It Said…But Let’s Rethink It! Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Feb 16th, 2014 Pop Quiz: #1: In the creation myth, Satan takes the form of which reptile? Serpent? WRONG. Satan isn’t in the creation story. A serpent is the creation story, well, there are two contradictory, pre-scientific creation stories in Genesis and the […]

You Have Heard It Said…But Let’s Rethink It!
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Feb 16th, 2014

Pop Quiz:
#1: In the creation myth, Satan takes the form of which reptile?
Serpent? WRONG.
Satan isn’t in the creation story. A serpent is the creation story, well, there are two contradictory, pre-scientific creation stories in Genesis and the serpent is a character in one of them, but in the story the serpent is just a serpent, though strangely chatty. The human characters in the story don’t seem to know that as a rule snakes make miserably poor conversationalists. The serpent will MUCH later be identified as the boogey man by the writer of Revelation, but in the story itself, the verbose snake is just a snake.

#2: What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah?
Right! Selfishness.
Sodom & Gomorrah is a horror story about violence and drunkenness and incest and all kinds of ghastly behavior, none of which is condemned in the story.

A biblical writer actually spells out what the sin of Sodom was and it had nothing to do with a rainbow flag or a Donna Summer dance mix.

Ezekiel 16.49 tells us, “This was the sin of Sodom – they were arrogant and self-satisfied and they did not help the poor and hurting.”

So, to use the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a weapon against same-gender loving people is a little bizarre. The truth is that love and attraction and covenantal fidelity and mutuality are not even part of the story, and certainly loving relationships of any gender makeup are not condemned. In fact, loving, mutual, adult relationships are never condemned in the bible regardless of the gender of the partners.

#3: Last one.
Where in the bible can we find the phrase, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”?
Proverbs? WRONG.
That phrase is nowhere in the bible.

The phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child” is by Samuel Butler, who in the 1600s wrote a poem called “Hudibras”
(Joo-di-braes), which was a satirical poem making fun of religion and politics and even bad poetry itself.

The hero of the mock epic is Sir Hudibras, and Butler says of the hyper religious but not terribly reasonable Hudibras,

“For his Religion, it was fit to match his learning and his wit;
‘Twas Presbyterian true blue; for he was of that stubborn crew
Of errant saints, whom all men grant to be the true Church Militant;
Such as do build their faith upon the holy text of pike and gun;
Decide all controversies by Infallible artillery;
And prove their doctrine orthodox by apostolic blows and knocks;
Call fire and sword and desolation, a godly thorough reformation,
Which always must be carried on, and still be doing, never done;
As if religion were intended for nothing else but to be mended.”

Later in the poem, Butler actually becomes a bit ribald, making use of double entendre. Romantic affection is like a child, he suggests, and the rod is a bawdy metaphor for male anatomy. Butler basically says that if you want to spoil the baby making process, then one’s rod should be used judiciously, or sparingly. He writes,

“What medicine else can cure the fits of lovers when they lose their wits?
Love is a boy by poets styled, then spare the rod and spoil the child.”

Nope, it ain’t in the bible, but if it were it would need to be in the Song of Songs.

Now, Proverbs 23 does say that if you beat your children they will not die, which (1) isn’t necessarily true, and (2) isn’t nearly as fun as the satirical poem which actually does say, “spare the rod and spoil the child”!

In any case, the phrase is only about four centuries old and comes from a comedic, English poem, not from ancient Hebrew scriptures, and the phrase is about romance, not about roughing up your children.

Now, we could have lots more fun exploring what the bible does and doesn’t say.

We could read portions of the Song of Songs, sometimes called Song of Solomon, an erotic collection of songs that talks about forbidden love, outdoor lovemaking, frequent lovemaking, explicit descriptions of body parts (and fun ways they can be used), and is exclusively about the love and passion two people share, never mentioning religion at all!

We could focus on Leviticus’ prohibitions against eating shellfish, pork, and getting tattoos as we compare tats while eating shrimp cocktail and ham sandwiches at the Knights of the Flat Earth and Biblical Literalism Hall.

We could talk about the so-called sin of Onan. As a child I was led to the believe the sin of Onan was a solo act, but Gen 38 says that Onan’s misdeed of spilling his seed (as sloppy gardeners do) happened during a conjugal visit with the Mrs.
So, I think that one was not really presented to me with literary integrity.

We could also then explore those same passages more deeply and discover liberating truths that exist even when the stories themselves are not factual or have been misunderstood or poorly communicated.

Yes, we could do that, and we should. That’s what Jesus is doing in the gospel reading today.
He tells his listeners, “You have heard that it was said to those in ancient times…but here’s what I say.”
You’ve heard it presented one way, but let’s look at it a little differently.

You’ve heard it said in the Ten Commandments that you should not commit murder, but I say to you that unreasonable anger that leads you to try assassinate someone’s character is also unworthy of you. Sure, if you assaulted someone you’d wind up in court, but the court of conscience and character would convict you at the soul level for trying to kill someone’s dignity.

Biblical literalism isn’t good enough (it’s also not possible; biblical literalism is selective literalism, always).
You’ve heard bible verses and stories, but I say keep thinking and go beyond what you’ve been spoon fed. That’s what Jesus is saying today.

Like Sirach, Jesus is telling us that we have the power to make choices, and if our choices have brought undesired consequences, we can make new choices. We can even choose new ways of understanding and approaching the bible.

People taking responsibility for what they bring to and what they take from religion is actually part of the gospel witness. Luke begins his gospel by saying, “I have carefully investigated” (not I received all this by way of angelic telegram)…I have CAREFULLY investigated everything (I’m writing about) from the beginning and I DECIDED (me, I made a choice) to write an account for you.” No hiding behind “God told me this” or “some ancient text told me that” but Luke just saying, “I have something to say, I’ve done some work on this, and I’m sharing my thoughts with you.”

And in Matthew 15 when Jesus is asked about divorce, he says, “Moses permitted divorce” not God or the church or tradition or some oracle or book, MOSES said divorce was OK, and then he adds, “but I tell you…” and then he goes on to discourage divorce. Moses thought this, but I think something else. God gave us brains, we get to use them.

Jesus, or at least the Jesus Matthew would have us consider, was no fundamentalist. Now, I will add that Jesus’ issue with divorce wasn’t to keep people trapped in miserable or unsafe situations. In Jesus’ day and culture women had almost no status apart from a man, so for a man to leave a woman was almost always to leave her destitute with no means of support. Jesus liked women more than that and said you don’t get to let someone starve just because you lost that loving feeling. Jesus doesn’t say divorce is wrong; he says it can be wrong for MEN to leave their wives in a society where women have a difficult time surviving without a man. Jesus’ issue with divorce wasn’t because marriage was more important than people, it was because women were more important than unearned male privilege.

If Jesus were to rework his sermon on the mount today, he might add a few more zingers, like:
You’ve read in Colossians 3.22 “slaves obey your masters” but I say to you do not use scripture to dehumanize anyone!

You’ve read in 1 Corinthians 14.34 “women should remains silent in church” but I say to you that Paul telling a few disruptive people in one church to behave themselves is not the same as telling all women for all time to just sit in a pew like a bump on a pickle; women are made in the image of God and are called to share in God’s work.

You’ve read in Ephesians 5.22 “wives submit to your husbands” but I say to you couples, whatever the gender identities in the relationship, support each other, lift each other up, be loving and generous and helpful to each other; it’s about love, not who does or doesn’t have a Y chromosome.”

Matthew’s Jesus tells us that we don’t get to hide behind tradition and dogma. We must make choices, and make new choices when the old ones prove to be less than ideal. We get to reexamine our scriptures, ask questions, try on new ways of understanding and employing the old teachings so that they can be relevant and liberating to new generations. You’ve heard a lot of stuff said in the name of God, but we can always rethink it. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014

I give thanks for power of choice.
I give thanks that spirituality can be joyous and liberating.
I give thanks that no matter what I’ve heard…
I am free to rethink it;
because the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities!
And so it is.

 

A Message of Light

On February 9, 2014, in Morning, Sermons, by Robert

A Message of Light Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Feb 9th, 2014 John 8.12 ~ the anonymous author imagines Jesus saying, “I am the light of the world.” 1 John 1.5 says, “God is light and in God there is no darkness.” The Apostle Paul experience God in light (Acts 9) And Matthew attributes this phrase […]

A Message of Light
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Feb 9th, 2014

John 8.12 ~ the anonymous author imagines Jesus saying, “I am the light of the world.”
1 John 1.5 says, “God is light and in God there is no darkness.”

The Apostle Paul experience God in light (Acts 9)

And Matthew attributes this phrase to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “ You are the light of the world.”
God is light. Jesus is light. We are light. Light (spirit, energy, life-force) is what is “really” Real.
It’s in this divine Light that we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17).
God’s first creation or emanation (according to one of the biblical creation myths) is light (Gen 1.3).

Light is a symbol for the power, the presence, the spirit, the energy, the eternal life that individuates as each of us.

We are unlikely to consistently give or do more than we are; we can’t do better than we know ourselves to be. So, we can’t tell people they are worms in the dust and then demand that they behave with dignity, honor and compassion. If we want people to act as if they are good we must help them believe they are good. We must tell people they are the light of the world.

So, first we are encouraged to know that we are “light” (made in the divine image, filled with divine Life) and THEN to express the light that we are.

We see in scripture demonstrations of divine living:

“My message wasn’t just given with words but with demonstration of spirit and power.” The Apostle Paul (1 Cor 2.4)

“[The truly happy] have distributed freely; they have given to the poor.” Psalm 112.9

“Is not this the fast that I choose ~ to loose the bonds of injustice…to let the oppressed go free…to share your bread with the hungry, to house the homeless and clothe the naked…” Isaiah 58.6-7

This is a continuation of last week’s theme when the prophet said, “God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what is required of you? Only to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6.8

The Sermon on the Mount begins with beatitudes where Jesus affirms blessings for those who have been marginalized, who have suffered, but he declares that circumstances cannot diminish one’s sacred value, and even when life seems unfair, there is still peace and happiness to be experienced because God is with and within EVERY person.

That line of thinking continues with the salt and light imagery. Jesus builds up his listeners by affirming that they are light while reminding them that light must shine.

We are good, so we are to do good, not to earn bonus points from God but to demonstrate the God qualities that are innate to us.

Carol Parker was a member and faithful volunteer at her Midwestern church for over a dozen years. Carol’s mother died and of course she thought her church would be a source of comfort during her time of grief. She probably didn’t expect them to do anything extraordinary, but she did plan to have her mother’s funeral service at her church; but, not only had Carol been an active member of her church for 12 years, she also has been in a loving, committed relationship with another woman for 20 years.

When both Carol and her life-partner were listed as survivors in her mother’s obituary, the priest of her church called her on the phone to inform her that he would not serve her communion at her mother’s funeral mass.

Assuming that he was trying to be faithful, the fact remains that the priest valued bread and wine, however much it was prayed over, more than the pain and suffering of someone who had lost her dear mother. In her time of grief, her two great loves, her church and her wife, should have lifted her up; but instead, her church denied her comfort because she would not hide or lie about the blessing her life mate was to her. No wonder the open communion table that we feature remains so powerful…it affirms rather than shames; it unites rather than excludes.

You may have read the story of Carol’s heartache in the Huffington Post last week, or on Facebook, but one need not peruse the news, the blogosphere and social media to hear these stories.

Also last week, an acquaintance of mine lost his mother. The only reason he isn’t estranged from his family is because he hasn’t given up on them, even though they have repeatedly expressed their rejection of who he is.

His family has repeatedly said cruel things to him saying that his love for another man is disordered and diabolical, well not exactly. They wouldn’t have used words with that many syllables.

What they have said is that because of who he is and who he loves they will not see him in heaven. They mean that pejoratively, but if he didn’t have to spend eternity with them I think he would be the lucky one. And anyway, it’s the 21st century, can we finally get past fire insurance religion?! Religion should affirm and encourage and heal us now, not serve as the bouncer at the cool cosmic dance club keeping the riff raff out!

Even after this young man’s mother died, a family member called him not to console him but to insist that he not bring his partner with him to the funeral.

So many times people come to me in tears to share how their families have rejected them in the name of faith. And so often, it is the rejected victim of the family dysfunction who tries to defend the family, saying that the families are just trying to be true to their understanding of religion. I think they are being gracious. It is a profound mental illness that wraps bigotry and hatred in the language of values and virtue and it is religion at its worst that would choose a homophobic or sexist or anti-Semitic or xenophobic or racist deity over one’s own child.

That’s why the message remains revolutionary and necessary, that YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD! People have heard their whole lives that they are miserable sinners, innately flawed. How liberating and healing it would be for them to finally hear that they were God’s miracle and not God’s mistake, that they were the light of the world!

A few states offer marriage equality, a few denominations will ordain and marry same-gender loving people, and sometimes we are tempted to believe that is good enough. Why make such a fuss in 2014? Because there is a woman in Missouri who is being denied communion because of her sacred union with another woman; because there is a man in Ohio who is being told by his family that he is vile and his love is illegitimate, and both on the occasion of losing loved ones; because religion is still used as a tool of oppression against Queer people, against women, against children, against people of other religions and no religion.

That’s why it is nothing less than an act of God that there is in Fort Lauderdale, FL a DIFFERENT kind of church where the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities!

Enough of dehumanizing dogma! Oh we still sing hymns and offer sacraments and preach sermons and meet on Sundays…we still look like other churches, but please God may our message be broader, bigger, and more liberating. We will insist that all genuine love is divine and that all people have sacred value, and beyond that, let us be dogma free.

That is why we emphasize the omnipresence of divine Love. There’s not a spot where God is not. It is not possible to be lost form divine Love. If God is love, and God is omnipresent, then divine Love is everywhere fully present and will never let any of us go for any reason. If God is omnipresent Love then God CANNOT let any of us go for any reason.

I am so tired of teens being bullied because of the misuse of religion.
I am so tired of youth winding up homeless because of the misuse of religion.

I am so tired of people destroying their health with drugs or alcohol abuse because their sense of self has been destroyed by religion.
I am so tired of learning that people can’t have healing closure at a funeral because priests and families use even burial to assault LBGT loved ones.

I am so tired of human pettiness, bigotry, ignorance, and hatred being presented as if these debilitating, deleterious character flaws where divine.

I am so tired of people lacking the courage, the conviction, the character to own their own prejudices and hatreds…but instead hiding behind the language of religion as if the gods of Olympus dictated their reprehensible, soul-killing, dignity crushing abuse of people they don’t understand or like.

We can’t undo all the damage that has been done in the world; we can’t heal all the wounds that have been inflicted; but we can build a different kind of church that tells all who need to hear it that they are the light of the world, the salt of the earth, children of God made in the image and likeness of God, part of the creation that God calls very good!

Your presence in worship, your positive speech, your loving prayers, your consistent generosity, your support of the vision and mission of this progressive, positive, and practical ministry is reaching more and more people with the life-saving, soul-soothing message that we all have sacred value, that we are all part of the divine diversity of creation, that God’s love embraces every person.

If you have heard from politicians, parents or priests that you are beyond the reach of God’s love, it’s a lie.
If you have heard that God will reject you for being honest about who God created you to be, it is a lie.

If you have heard that the only way to experience after life joy is to hate who you are in this life, it is a lie, it is a lie, it is a lie.

And my promise to you is that Sunshine Cathedral is not nearly done sharing Jesus’ message in as many ways as possible to as many people as possible that YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2014

I am God’s light.
I am God’s love.
I am God’s miracle.
We all are.
And I will share this good news.
Amen.

 

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