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 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 […]
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.
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
#1: In the creation myth, Satan takes the form of which reptile?
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?
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”?
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 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.
Dare to Care and Share Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Feb 2nd 2014 The Tao te Ching teaches, “I teach three treasures which you may keep close by. The first is compassion. The second is humility. The third is simplicity. Compassionate, a person can be courageous. Simple, a person can be open to all visions. Humble, […]
Dare to Care and Share
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Feb 2nd 2014
The Tao te Ching teaches, “I teach three treasures which you may keep close by. The first is compassion. The second is humility. The third is simplicity. Compassionate, a person can be courageous. Simple, a person can be open to all visions. Humble, a person can develop leadership.”
Doesn’t that sound remarkably like that beautiful verse we heard from the prophet Micah this morning.
This is what is required of us, ONLY to work for justice, and to love kindness, and to live humbly in the presence of whatever we consider sacred.
Justice, compassion, and humility. That’s the divine trifecta.
We are certainly free to pray with beads or splash around with water rituals.
We can have coffee hours and high spirited hallelujah hoe downs.
We can wear costumes, I mean vestments, from centuries long gone.
We can sing hymns and create art and share symbolic feasts.
We CAN do all of these things, and more. But that’s for us. That makes us happy. That expresses our creativity. That connects us to others who observe similar rituals and who are looking in similar ways for hope, comfort, strength, and wisdom.
We can do almost anything that doesn’t deny the sacred value of others, that doesn’t endanger our planet, or that doesn’t deprive others of their basic needs or rights. But what OUGHT we to do?
We CAN do lots of things that we enjoy, but what OUGHT we to do?
Micah, unlike some other writers, doesn’t lose his point in poetic flair. He says what he means, and presumably, he means what he says. What he thinks are signs of a life devoted to holiness are simply to care about justice, compassion, and humble, balanced living.
Now, compassion is easy enough to understand.
If someone is hurting, we notice, we care, we express concern.
We just show some simple kindness.
A smile, a hug, an encouraging email, a Facebook post, even to simply offer a prayer for someone…there are countless ways to show some measure of care and concern for one who is hurting.
And humility is easy enough to understand, though not always easy to demonstrate.
We want to have pride in ourselves, but our pride shouldn’t be the sort of conceit that suggests I’m good because I’m better than someone I view has bad…that’s not goodness, that’s just being less heinous than someone, and that’s no great compliment. I’ve heard it said that humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s just thinking of yourself less.
So when we can affirm our sacred value, appreciate our gifts, know what we are good at and know that we are then responsible to share our talents to bless the world around us and we can do all that without feeling superior to others or entitled to more than others or feeling privileged because of who are, if we can achieve that delicate but life-giving balance, then that is healthy humility.
I recently saw a great Facebook meme that said, “Privilege is thinking something isn’t a problem because it isn’t a problem for you.” If we can dismiss the plight of immigrants because by accident of birth we grew up in the country we want to live in, in other words, if can dismiss someone’s struggle to live a life of dignity and hope because we haven’t had to face their particular struggle, that means we are operating from a place of privilege, and that isn’t living humbly with our God, is it?
Of course the list could go on for days…if we can hold onto some ancient prejudice and call it a value or a matter of righteousness, if we can, say, try to silence women or deny same-gender loving people the joy of building a life with the person who has occupied their hearts, if we can ignore the overwhelming loss of indigenous peoples or fail to care about the long lasting devastation caused by imperialism and colonization, then we are operating from privilege rather than from the humble and healthy view that we all have sacred value and we all deserve to live lives of happiness, health, and opportunity.
So, care about people who are hurting and believe in yourself because you are a child of the universe and not because you are glad to not be in a group of people you look down on…that’s what is meant by living with kindness and holy humility; but what about the justice piece?
Justice simply means that we aren’t concerned about just us.
We don’t have to march in the streets or become attorneys bringing class action suits against mega-corporations. Maybe we are called to do one or the other of those things, but voting for candidates who want to defend the rights of those who have been marginalized as well as represent the luckier among us…that’s working for justice.
Giving to justice seeking work like what we do here at Sunshine Cathedral, and supporting other just causes as well, that’s working for justice.
Refusing to abuse children or pets, caring about the environment, volunteering for an organization that serves some population in need, that’s working for justice.
Standing up, even if it’s only at dinner with friends, for people who suffer from depression, or for people who have been denied access to quality health care, or for people who have been abused because their gender experience doesn’t fit neatly into artificial binaries that mostly privilege a narrow definition of maleness, that’s working for justice.
Even to say we want to build a spiritual community that sees gender as a continuum, that sees all mutually loving relationships as holy, that says God is not a boy’s name and the planet is our mother and not our toy and that all people are made in the divine image and no one, regardless of their religious affiliation, is every outside the all-loving omnipresence…to believe in and to support such a vision is to work for justice.
So, there are many ways to work for justice, and as long as the motivation is remembering that justice is never about just us, we’re probably on the right track.
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. That remains a powerful and relevant lesson even today.
And isn’t that what Universalist minister and women’s rights activist Olympia Brown (1835-1926) was saying when she boldly affirmed, “Every nation must learn that the people of all nations are the children of God, and must share the wealth of the world”?
And isn’t that what Jesus was doing in the beatitudes? Just simply showing kindness and humility and a passion for justice by affirming that people, even in their pain, are children of God and they deserve to feel good about who they are in the world.
The disadvantaged, the bereaved, those who risk their own safety to bring about peace, those who long for a richer experience of divine Life, those who try to do good even when their efforts don’t seem to pay off, those who seek to serve and assist those less fortunate than themselves, and even those who have been vilified, humiliated, persecuted, abused, abandoned, or falsely accused…all of these people with all of their various kinds of sufferings and challenges are still children of God. Even when things are difficult, they still have a right to believe that God believes in them; they still have a right to experience a peace that passes understanding, and an assurance that even when the fit hits the shan, it remains an eternal verity that there is not a spot where God is not.
And to affirm them, to name them, to see goodness within them, to openly wish them increased happiness and to hope with them for better days, that is an act of kindness, that is an act of uplifting humility, that is an act of justice, and that is exactly what the beatitudes are doing, that is exactly what Jesus is modeling in our gospel text today.
Neither the prophet Micah nor the Galilean prophet Jesus in his sermon on the mount tell us that the number of sacraments you have or the day of the week you call holy or the presence or absence of a y chromosome in your marriage is what ultimately matters in the spiritual life. No, they both are pretty emphatic that seeing the divine spark in every life and working to acknowledge, affirm, and celebrate that spark is what matters most. What you call God isn’t nearly as important as how treat God’s people, which is all people. Or, to paraphrase Jesus, blessed are all kinds of people, no matter what they are going through in life. God’s love enfolds them; God’s light indwells them. God cares about them and so should we all.
Or, as Micah said so succinctly and perfectly, “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.”
Or, we could put it in our own language: . The religion of Jesus and the prophets is just this~Dare to Care and Share.
That’s all; and this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
May God fill me with hope, peace, and joy.
As I am blessed, I choose to bless others.
With God’s help I will dare to care and share.
Spiritual Liberation Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin It is fascinating to me that a universal liberation movement for the entire world would begin in an ancient pocket of political oppression at that time, in the land of Zeb-u-lon and Naph-ta-li, which involves a great story about Deborah, a prophetess of God, telling her top military person […]
Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin
It is fascinating to me that a universal liberation movement for the entire world would begin in an ancient pocket of political oppression at that time, in the land of Zeb-u-lon and Naph-ta-li, which involves a great story about Deborah, a prophetess of God, telling her top military person to take soldiers from both nations and go and take some property at Mt. Tabor. The military later tells Deborah, out of mistrust, I won’t go unless you go … so Deborah goes and there is a victory. The troops are humbled because a woman of God led them to victory. Then Zebulon and Naphtali tried to move the Canaanites out of their land, and it didn’t happen, so they decided to just move in with them and things kinda went downhill from there. And that is a much abbreviated version of how we get to our gospel reading today.
Matthew views Jesus as the prophetic fulfillment of the liberation movement spoken of by Isaiah. But the first thing that we need to note is that there is a word change between what is written in Isaiah and what is quoted in Matthew. Isaiah 9.2 says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Matthew quotes this verse a little differently by saying, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
In Isaiah, it is the people who walked in darkness who have seen a great light and those who lived in a land of deep darkness on whom the light has shown. In Matthew it is those who have sat (lived) in darkness and those who sat in the region and the shadow of darkness who have seen a great light.
Matthew’s image, to me, highlights a sense of darkness that the prison of oppression might bring to one either figuratively or physically. Like John, in our gospel, locked in prison, I would imagine was not so much worried him about his physical incarceration, because in John’s day, being locked up for speaking out against the authorities meant going to prison or worse. I would imagine John was more concerned about his spiritual incarceration and not wanting his present circumstances to hinder the larger message he was attempting to share.
Now, when we look at this story from a different perspective, we can see that many of us live with some form of spiritual incarceration every day. I believe that spiritual incarceration immobilizes us on many levels. It may come in the form of self doubt, telling ourselves that we are not worthy, allowing our past to hold us back, allowing a decision that happened 5 or 10 years ago to keep us wondering “what if we had made another decision,” meanwhile, life is passing us by. But in proclaiming that light is breaking through from the kin-dom of God, Jesus, in this story, is initiating a movement of spiritual liberation.
When we look at our first reading today, we can hear the words of the Psalmist as good news that will help us overcome whatever we might be immobilized by today.
We hear as an affirmation, “God is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? God is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
We can hear the words of the Psalm as good news when we move into Divine Unity when we hear, “One thing have I asked of God, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of God, and to inquire in the temple.”
And when we allow these words to dwell in our spirit we can then offer Praise & Gratitude, as we hear, “And now my head shall be lifted up…and I will offer in God’s tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to God.”
The metaphor of light dispelling darkness is sometimes used for finding good in spite of trouble, of having hope even when things seem hopeless, of going to peace instead of to pieces when things are difficult. If God is our light (if divine life is our life, if the divine presence is omnipresent), then we can find comfort in knowing that difficulties aren’t forever, but divine life (our life) is (“God is my light…whom shall I fear?”).
Thinking of reasons for hope, for gratitude, for believing things can get better is like lighting a candle when life seems dim or desperate.
Thinking of reasons for hope, for gratitude, for believing things can get better is like lighting a candle and realizing that wherever we are, the Divine is and all will be well.
Thinking of reasons for hope, for gratitude, for believing things can get better is like lighting a candle and realizing that we need no longer live in our past, but rather look to our future and know it is filled infinite possibilities.
Thinking of reasons for hope, for gratitude, for believing things can get better is like lighting a candle knowing without a doubt that our lives can and will be transformed for the better. And that we need not wait for tomorrow or the next day, but that that transformation can begin right here and right now.
And we here at Sunshine Cathedral have had testimonies of people sharing what it has been like to experience transformation:
One person wrote:
“The first time I came to Sunshine Cathedral, having not set foot in a Christian church in /years/, I stood in the pews and cried for like half the service, and the whole drive home. I had /never/ felt really welcome in a church before I went there. When I got home, I emailed a Christian friend whom I’d told beforehand that I was going to try going to the MCC, and I said to her,
“THIS is what I’ve always needed. A church for all the ‘black sheep’ to come together in our ‘black-sheep-ness’!
Another person wrote, “There aren’t words enough to describe how much I wish I could transplant the entire Sunshine Cathedral community to where I live [out here to CO with me.] Fortunately, we live in the age of the Internet, so at least I can still maintain some connection.”
Sunshine Cathedral, when we light the candle of a positive, progressive and practical message, transformation will happen.
Presbyterian minister Alan Brehm: “…God’s presence doesn’t always change the circumstances that create fear; but God’s presence does lift the fear itself and remind us that whatever we…suffer in this life is not the ultimate truth of our lives.”
Sunshine Cathedral, when we light the candle of a positive, progressive and practical message, we keep hope alive.
Lisa Nichols reminds us that, “Every single thing you’ve been through, every single moment that you’ve come through, were to all prepare you for this moment right now. Imagine what you can do from this day forward with what you know…How much more do you get to be? How many people more people do you get to bless, simply by your existence?…No one else can dance your dance, no one else can sing you song, no one else can write your story. Who you are, what you do, begins right now!”
Nichols suggests, in the alliteration of our senior pastor Durrell Watkins that it is possible to salvage
Comfort from Chaos,
Hope from horror,
Meaning from Misery
Purpose from Pain
Serenity from Sorrow
Overcome fear by looking more for what is left than for what is lost, for what is possible beyond the problem, for how new beginnings can emerge from failures or disappointments.
Sunshine Cathedral, when we light the candle of new beginnings, we keep the doors open for that one person who has yet to experience that moment that they need to know that despite the fact of what they may be going through that all will be well!
When I read the words of Nichols, it reminds me that we have proclaimed 2014 as a Year Transformation here at the Sunshine Cathedral and brings even more meaning to our affirmations, that the past is past and our future has infinite possibilities.
In 1959, Dr King speaking to a Jewish congregation in the midwest offered a message of hope even when current situations are less than ideal… “I have faith in the future. I believe in the future because I believe in God. I believe there is a creative force in this universe, call it what you may. Maybe you don’t believe in a personal God…you may refer to [it] as Being itself or as an impersonal Brahman or as an unconscious force or as an unmoved mover; call it what you may. There is a creative force in this universe that seeks to bring together the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole. There is a power…” Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
I believe that we have the power within us to bring about our own moments of spiritual liberations.
I believe that we have the power within us to bring about our own comfort, hope, meaning, purpose and serenity and when we can’t find it within ourselves we have a higher power to which we can turn.
Because like the Buddha says, “We are shaped by our thoughts; what we think, we become.” May our thoughts only be thoughts that bring joy, happiness and spiritual liberation to our lives. And this is the good news! Amen.
I am Divine
I am hope
I am love
My life has meaning and purpose
I live in complete Serenity
We’ve Come Too Far to Look Back Rev Dr Durrell Watkins January 19th, 2014 I don’t remember who sang it, when it came out, if it was ever popular beyond the region of my upbringing, but in the bible belt mid-south of my youth there was a camp meeting sort of song that seemed to […]
We’ve Come Too Far to Look Back
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
January 19th, 2014
I don’t remember who sang it, when it came out, if it was ever popular beyond the region of my upbringing, but in the bible belt mid-south of my youth there was a camp meeting sort of song that seemed to be ubiquitous. I haven’t thought of it in years and years, but as I was reading this week’s texts, the song kept coming to mind…
I’ve come too far to look back
My feet have walked through the valley
I’ve climbed mountains crossed rivers, desert places I’ve known
But I’m nearing the home shore, the redeemed are rejoicing
Heavens Angels are singing, I’ve come too far to look back.
Now, I’m sure the composer and original performers of the song would be surprised if not aghast to learn that the chorus could inspire a progressive message in a different kind of church, but my mind works as it does and, in the end, all things work together for good…
Our first reading was from the now famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
There had been marches and sit-ins in Birmingham, AL protesting racial segregation in 1963.
In an attempt to stifle the African American community from calling for fair and equal treatment, a judge prohibited all parading, picketing, and boycotting. In response, the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and other civil rights leaders decided to ignore the judicial order. Soon, Dr King was arrested, treated roughly, and jailed.
From his jail cell, Dr King wrote an open letter that would in time become a sort of manifesto for the civil rights movement. To critics who accused Dr King of being an outsider and an agitator, Dr King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…”
And, as you heard earlier, he said, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul…”
Of course, Dr King would be vilified, arrested, stalked by the FBI, and ultimately slain for not only working for equality for all people, but doing so non-violently. He didn’t say mean things about those who were unkind to him, he didn’t call for anyone to be hurt, denigrated, or in any way diminished. He didn’t demonize his detractors, even those whose practices he vehemently opposed. And even when he was harmed, his only retaliation was to stand in integrity.
Dr King was committed to non-violent Christian social activism to challenge and heal racism and he was also a peace activist working to end the US involvement in the Vietnam war and he took on the cause of Memphis sanitation workers earning insufficient wages for their hard work. It was in Memphis while advocating for the sanitation workers that Dr King was assassinated in 1968.
You see, Dr King had gone too far to look back. He couldn’t stop caring about social justice. He couldn’t care just about the people of Atlanta or Mobile or Birmingham or Memphis. He couldn’t just care about people in the US. He cared about Vietnam, about soldiers dying needlessly, about the poor, about workers being exploited.
One of his aides and one of the primary architects of the March on Washington was out gay man Bayard Rustin. Dr King worked closely with someone he knew to be gay when being identified as gay was a criminal offense in most places. Dr King’s widow Coretta said that had Dr King lived he’d have eventually taken up the cause for LBGT rights.
Because you see, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere; and, any law that degrades human personality is unjust. So, when we are talking about health care or fair wages or environmental stewardship or marriage equality…we are saying we’ve taken up the cause of Christ, which is the cause of justice and fairness and peace and healing, and we’ve come too far to look back.
Influenced by Gandhi and Tolstoy, and of course, Jesus, Dr King pressed forward to bring hope and healing to a hurting and divided society. He tried to love the oppressor even while saying oppression was unacceptable, and he tried to lift up the oppressed while challenging them to never resort to the violent tactics of the oppressor.
Even when it was difficult, even when it cost him dearly, Dr King continued to affirm the sacred value of all people, with special focus on those who were currently marginalized by unjust systems of power and privilege. There was no stopping…at some point, one simply has gone too far to look back. As Jesus is imagined saying, “No one who starts plowing and then looks back is fit for the kin-dom of God” (Luke 9.62).
In the second reading today we heard that the realm of God, the presence of God is within us and all around us. That isn’t a surprising message from a book named for Thomas, whose name means Twin. The suggestion is that in the kin-dom of God we are all spiritual twins of Jesus, we all have innate Christ qualities, we are all children of God. And once we know that, we can’t go back to thinking of ourselves as broken, sinful worms lost from God…once we know that the divine light and love and life that God is resides in us and expresses through and as us, there’s just no going back. The gospel of Thomas didn’t make it into our bibles, but it was read by many early Christian communities and may be as old as the gospel of Mark.
The third reading was from the fourth gospel, called John’s gospel though the actual author is unknown. John’s gospel is written at least 60 years after Jesus’ execution. But even though Jesus was no longer physically with them, the movement that embraced him as their primary symbol kept moving forward, kept offering hope and healing, kept affirming the sacred value of all people, especially those who had been marginalized by systems of oppression. They’d been committed to the cause of six decades already…they’d gone too far to look back.
In John’s reading John the Baptizer perceives a spiritual anointing on Jesus’ life and he says that Jesus shares that anointing with others, that he immerses people in an awareness of God’s presence, or in the language of the text, that he baptizes with the holy spirit, that is, the whole spirit, essence, energy, power, presence of God.
Once we know that there’s not a spot where God is not, there’s no going back to feeling lost, lonely, desperate, unworthy, or afraid.
All three readings share a theme, don’t they?
Dr King shows with his very life that all people have dignity and deserve to be seen as children of God.
The gospel of Thomas suggests that we are Jesus’ spiritual twins, his brothers and sisters, and like him, we can each know ourselves to be a child of God. In fact, God’s presence, or home, or realm is within us the text says.
And the gospel of John lets us know that following Jesus helps us become aware that we are immersed in God, washed with divine love, forever part of the one Power and Presence that we call God. We can follow Jesus while respecting other paths to spiritual wholeness, but for those of us who have chosen Jesus as our model and wayshower, he is the one reminding us that we are forever immersed in God; we can never be separated from divine Love.
There’s no looking back. There’s no looking back to an age where God was male and heaven was a country club in the sky, exclusive and restricted.
There’s no looking back to a time when women were kept from political, commercial, or ecclesiastical leadership.
There’s no looking back to a time when gays and lesbians had to live in secret as if they needed to be ashamed of who they were.
There’s no looking back to the days when marriage was assumed to be exclusively a heterosexual privilege.
There’s no looking back to where people could be excluded, exploited, or publicly eroticized for their race or ethnicity.
We’ve come too far to look back.
The past was neither all good nor all bad, but it is all over.
We can remember the good fondly and learn from the mistakes, but there is no going back.
This church has spent the last six years making a point of becoming more welcoming to more kinds of people.
By insisting that omnipresence, social justice, and the sacred value of all people are core concepts of the gospel message, we have brought healing and empowerment to many lives.
Our leadership is gender balanced, our language is inclusive, our message is optimistic, our outreach is intentional, and we challenge every person to be fully engaged and committed, to do her or his share, to give all they can, to do all the good they can, to serve with time, talent, and treasure to build up a loving, joyous community that is transforming lives.
We’ve come too far to look back.
And, there’s more to do.
We’ve taken a church that was in financial crisis and turned it around, and now we want to build on our newfound financial health so that we can do more than ever before!
We want to reach more people. We want to offer more programming. We want to engage more volunteers.
We want to have more fun…yes, fun is a spiritual gift and we relish it.
We want to share good news in even more ways.
We want to pray more, learn more, grow more, and bless more people than ever before.
As a church and as individuals on the spiritual path, we have simply come too far to look back.
Sunshine Cathedral is a different kind of church, where the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities!
And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
I’ve come too far to look back.
I’m moving forward into a life of joy and blessings.
The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities.
And so it is!
Immersed in God Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Baptism of Jesus Sunday 2014 Jesus, like many people in antiquity, participates in a cleansing ritual, or so the gospel writers tell us, though each imagines it quite differently. In Matthew’s version, the event includes a dialogue between John and Jesus that shows John acknowledging Jesus’ superiority to […]
Immersed in God
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Baptism of Jesus Sunday 2014
Jesus, like many people in antiquity, participates in a cleansing ritual, or so the gospel writers tell us, though each imagines it quite differently. In Matthew’s version, the event includes a dialogue between John and Jesus that shows John acknowledging Jesus’ superiority to him.
This encounter between two apocalyptic prophets that results as Jesus emerging as the greater of the two served to establish authority in a first century movement. Both Jesus and John had followings; the stories we’ve inherited come from Jesus’ followers, so we see why they might think it important to paint Jesus as the stronger or more anointed or more significant leader.
These stories are often used to make a case for our own baptismal rituals, which are fine and even very meaningful; but an imaginative story of the Jewish John baptizing the Jewish Jesus is NOT a divine directive for the Christian sacrament of baptism as we know it today.
Of course, not all Christians observe baptism. The Salvation Army doesn’t offer an ordinance of baptism.
Quakers do not have a baptismal ritual, but believe that real baptism is a life following the teachings of Jesus.
The Christian Science statement about baptism says, “[We] emphasize the meaning behind a Christian symbol more than the outward practice of a symbolic act. [We] practice baptism daily by studying the Word of God and living [our] lives in a way that gives evidence that [we] are being bathed in Spirit…”
Unitarian Universalists usually offer child dedication ceremonies rather than baptism, and they don’t require baptism for membership.
So, when we are speaking about baptism, we do need to realize that we don’t all have the same experience or understanding of it.
Baptism as a rite of passage, as an affirmation of our place in the spiritual community, as a symbol of divine Love with and within us, never to let us go, is beautiful and I love performing baptisms; but whatever ritual that John was offering is not necessarily the one that we hold dear today.
Baptism, for me, doesn’t wash away original sin (with Pelagius, I utterly reject Augustine’s notion of original sin), nor is it the hazing ritual that allows us into an elite club, nor is it a magical rite that assures us of an enjoyable life after this one reaches its expiration date.
Baptism is, for me, an experience in consciousness, an awareness that we are in God and God is in us, that we are (as Emerson said) “part and parcel of God”, and we are called to contribute to share the gifts, talents, passions, and skills that we have. In other words, baptism reminds us that divine Light is within us, and then calls us to let that light shine.
The story of Jesus beginning his ministry with baptism can be seen as an allegory for how all of us can be immersed in a greater awareness of Omnipresence, know ourselves to be children of God, and feel called to share ourselves in creative ways to bless our world.
This spiritual baptism may or may not be celebrated with a water ritual, because the ritual is merely an outward sign of the inward event, and it is the inward event, the raising of consciousness, the awareness of God with, in, and expressing through us, that is most valuable in my view.
A sacrament isn’t a magical spell that makes something happen; it is an outward sign of inward grace, and grace is freely bestowed, withheld from no one; it can neither be earned nor lost.
Grace, unmerited favor, unconditional love, is simply the reality that divine Life is our life, it flows through us, it expresses as us, and it will never and can never abandon us.
Whether we are talking about the sacraments of baptism or holy communion, or sacramental rites such as confirmation or marriage or praying for the sick, or other actions that connect us to the indwelling gift of divine grace, such as volunteering, financial sharing, and even unrestrained laughter, we aren’t talking about doing something that makes something happen; we are talking about doing something that reminds us that right where we are, God is, and we are loved by this divine Presence.
So, baptism isn’t about how much water we use, or the age of the person getting splashed. It’s about a divine affirmation of our innate goodness. It’s never too soon and it’s never too late to celebrate that gift.
The divine voice in the story affirming Jesus’ sacred value and holy mission is actually a rendering of Isaiah 42.1, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations.”
Hebrew bible scholars tells us that Isaiah’s “servant of God” image refers either to Israel as it was, or to ideal Israel as the prophets hoped it would become, or to Isaiah himself or some other prophet at the time. The gospel writers take the ancient text and apply to Jesus, as if to say that his ministry was about bringing forth justice to all people, the affirmation of the sacred value of all people, promise of God’s all-inclusive and unconditional love.
Matthew, with his star narrative last week affirming the sacred value of a peasant child and foreign astrologers from a religion different from Matthew’s own, does it again with Jesus’ baptism.
The heavens open. The divine and the human merge. The sacred is found in the mundane. The transcendent is imminent. Eternity is now. And sacred value of God’s child, God’s children, God’s creation, is affirmed.
Following baptism Jesus’ ministry commences. Baptism is a beginning, a launching pad, a calling forth, a word of encouragement as one is sent out to do something.
Bible scholar David Lose says, “And this is where these stories of Jesus’ baptism intersects with the stories of our own. For we, too, can only live into the mission that God has set for us to the degree that we hear and believe the good news that we, too, are beloved children of God. As with Jesus, we discover in baptism who we are by hearing definitively whose we are. Baptism is nothing less than the promise that we are God’s beloved children. That no matter where we go, God will be with us. That no matter what we may do, God is for us and will not abandon us. In baptism we are blessed with the promise of God’s Spirit…”
Spirit is power, all power, or omniscience.
Spirit is presence, all presence, or omnipresence.
Spirit is unconditional love, or grace, the divine touch on our lives.
Spirit is the substance of life, God’s own Self from which God creates all life, including us.
When the gospel writers imagine the spirit, in some way, anointing Jesus and declaring Jesus to be God’s own child, we are to know that Spirit also embraces, enfolds, flows through, and fills us and we, therefore, are all God’s children, blessed with God’s grace, marked as God’s own forever.
Baptism doesn’t make that happen; it is the celebration that it is already and forever will be true. We are loved and our lives are sacred.
In 1864, Unitarian theologian Theodore Parker published a beautiful prayer.
In it, Parker affirms that God is omnipresent, the source and substance of all life, part of and in every soul, a presence that is all-loving and whose power, or spirit, or breath, is wherever we may choose to look. Parker prayed:
O Thou eternal One, may I commune with thee, and for a moment bathe my soul in thy infinity.
Mother and Sire of all that are, in all that is art Thou; Being is but by thee, of thee, in thee;
Yet, far Thou reachest forth beyond the scope of space and time, or verge of human thought Transcendent God, yet, ever immanent in all that is.
I flee to thee, and seek repose and soothing in my Mother’s breast.
O God, I cannot fear, for thou art love, and wheresoe’er I grope I feel thy breath!
That’s baptism. The water is a party favor, but the party itself is the experience of God as our very life, the love that will not let us go, the omnipresent power that is always with and within us, the eternal love in which we are forever immersed. Rather than make too much of the baptism ritual, we should focus on baptismal living, the transformational experience of being aware that we are immersed in God, forever one with God.
If we can embrace and embody this thought, our lives will be transformed into experiences of abundant and never-ending joy. Our lives will be transformed by the power of indomitable hope. Our lives will be transformed by the awareness that we are in God, God is in us, and we are God’s precious children with whom God is forever well-pleased. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
I am immersed in God’s power, presence, and love.
I am filled with God’s light and grace.
I am forever blessed.
And I am deeply grateful.
A Progressive Epiphany Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Epiphany Sunday 2014 Today is the last day of Christmas, a 12 season lasting from December 25th to January 5th. Tomorrow is the feast of the Epiphany, and our readings today are the texts for that Feast Day. In years past, when Matthew’s epiphany story has come ‘round […]
A Progressive Epiphany
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Epiphany Sunday 2014
Today is the last day of Christmas, a 12 season lasting from December 25th to January 5th. Tomorrow is the feast of the Epiphany, and our readings today are the texts for that Feast Day.
In years past, when Matthew’s epiphany story has come ‘round again, I have pointed out the significance of the three gifts the magi are said to have offered the holly family: gold, incense, and myrrh, each symbolizing states of consciousness.
Gold represents abundance thinking.
Incense represents prayer.
Myrrh, used medicinally in various cultures, represents healing.
To discover God within us, to realize that right where we are, God is, and where God is all good is possible is to also discover that we have amazing gifts that we can enjoy and that we can share to help our world.
A mentality of abundance and generosity, a life of prayer, and a profound hope that healing is always possible are among those great treasures.
In previous years when discussing this passage I have also delighted in sharing another observation: that the magi are Persians, Zoroastrian priests. They weren’t Christians (there were no Christians yet in the world) and they weren’t Jewish. But religion is a social institution, created by and for humans. God is bigger than our religions and is not limited by their various dogmas, doctrines and traditions.
And so these Eastern priests from another religion discover the gift of God among us, within us. We can be faithful within our religious framework while respecting others who are faithful within theirs. We don’t need them to be wrong for us to be OK.
But this year, I want to offer another spin on epiphany.
Epiphany means “appearance” and refers to a striking realization, a dramatic breakthrough.
The epiphany story, then, calls us to search for our own divine encounters and to celebrate them with the gifts we have to share.
Here is an epiphany of mine that I have devoted more than two decades of ministry so far to sharing:
Progressive Christianity isn’t something new.
I love that we are a progressive faith community, but as different as they may be from the fundamentalism some of us came out of, it isn’t new in the history of our faith…We are a DIFFERENT kind of church from many other churches today, but progressive faith is actually rooted in antiquity and may be among the oldest schools of Christian thought!
We see in our own bible stories of Jesus challenging systems of privilege to be more inclusive of those his society routinely ignored, or worst, condemned: women, children, prostitutes, lepers, the poor, Samaritans, Canaanites…even the story of the magi today show us people beyond a particular tradition discovering sacredness in their own context.
Practicing THEIR faith they found the sign that led them to a personal encounter with divine light. Rather than being a barrier or a wedge that divides people of different faiths, Jesus actually shows the way of universal spirituality, of divine omnipresence that embraces, holds, and nourishes all people.
Perhaps people came to see Jesus as a son of God because he spent his life seeing them as sons and daughters of God.
In the Book of Acts, we see Paul visiting a woman named Lydia, a woman leader of a women’s community. These independent women who lived without men actually supported Paul’s ministry. Paul’s ministry benefited from the support of strong, independent women.
Paul, also in Acts, visits Mytilene, which is interesting because Mytilene was the capital of Lesbos. OMG I love the bible!
Also, in the book of Acts Luke tells us that Paul quotes a pagan Greek poet to make the point that it is in God that we all live, and move, and have our being. We are always in God, of God, never separate from God. The idea that all people have sacred value and all people can have personal experiences of the omnipresence isn’t some new age invention, it is a message as old as our bible.
And in the years that followed bible days, the progressive messages kept coming.
Just a hundred years after Matthew’s gospel was written, a man named Origen was born. Origen was a universalist, who unlike me he believed in demons, he also believed that divine grace was bigger than the diabolical and that ultimately, even the demons would be reconciled to God. A divine love that never gives up on anyone, even the demonic…that was a teaching of an early Christian theologian.
Of course, by the 6th century, his teachings were condemned by the institutional church that had a lot invested in an us vs them system, but very early on, there were Christians teaching that God’s love embraced all souls unconditionally.
In the 300s a same-gender loving couple, Sergius & Bacchus, were martyred for their Christian faith. They never doubted that their shared love was an expression of God’s love. They were faithful to their love of God and to their loving commitment to each other until their last breath.
In the 400s, there was a theologian named Pelagius. His nemesis, Augustine, came up with the notion of original sin, but Pelagius didn’t buy it. Pelagius said that we are not innately depraved, our origins are not sinful.
We can make poor choices but we can also make good ones, and our seeming imperfection is due to our not having evolved yet to where we are meant to be. We are at least potentially good, and we can always grow into deeper expressions of our goodness.
Also in the 400s there was an anonymous writer who borrowed the name of a companion of the Apostle Paul, Dionysus. Because Dionysus was his nom de plume, we now call him Pseudo-Dionysus. Pseudo-Dionysus stressed the idea of divine omnipresence (there’s not a spot where God is not).
In the 800s there was a Christian teacher called Eriugena who translated the works of Pseudo-Dionysus and was so influenced by them that he then taught that the divine Nature embraces everything, that nothing and no one is beyond God’s presence. Indeed, Eriugena insisted that God is actually in all life as the essence of all life, that all things that exist are manifestation of God.
In the 1300s a guy we call Meister Eckhart said that God is the innermost part of each and everything. He was a Christian academic, but he also studied Jewish and Muslim literature. He thought no one held the exclusive rights to truth and God could speak through any tradition.
Later in that same century was a Christian mystic named Julian. She lived in a turbulent time, but her theology was outrageously optimistic. While the plague and peasant revolts were shaking her world, she insisted that God’s love embraced all people.
In the 14th century she called God both Father and Mother. MCC has used inclusive language since 1981 and most mainline Protestant seminaries use inclusive language today, but Julian beat all of us to it by knowing in the middle ages that God is beyond and part of every gender expression.
She also insisted that God was all-loving with no wrath at all.
And so, even when appearances suggested devastation, Julian used an affirmation to express faith in a Truth beyond current facts. Her now famous affirmation was, “all shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
In the 1600s Quaker founder George Fox would say that there was an Inward Light, that of God in every person.
In the 1800s Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson would declare, speaking for all of us, “I am part and parcel of God.”
And 20th Protestant theologian Paul Tillich understood God as the “ground of being.” He said, “the power of being…works through [even] those who have no name for It, not even the name ‘God.’” A God who lives in and through us even when we have more questions than answers about It…that was the God of arguably the most significant theologian of the last century!
Many of us are survivors of narrow, myopic, and even hostile fundamentalist churches. The good news is that fundamentalism is not the only expression of Christianity nor has it ever been. There have always been progressive thinkers, teachers, practitioners, healers, and leaders among us.
There have always been faithful visionaries who believed to follow Jesus was to have a progressive understanding of spirituality, who believed that following Jesus meant learning that God is the source and substance of our lives, present in our hearts and in our loving relationships and in our thinking and in our sharing and in our searching.
There have always been those who held a vision of Jesus as one calling us to believe in our sacred value, in the goodness of life, and in the ability to have hope even when conditions seem hopeless.
There have ALWAYS been progressives among us, calling us to wider visions and more joyous understandings. Some of us even believe Jesus must have been such a progressive; that’s what must have made him so attractive to the hurting and so dangerous to the privileged.
This time of epiphany can be transformational.
Those who have insisted that God hates gays, that God hates non-Christians, that most Christians aren’t really Christians, that God doesn’t regard women as highly as men, that God opposes science, that God hates pluralism and diversity, that basically God hates what every small-minded bigot hates will be so surprised to learn that there have always been women in religious leadership, there have always been Gay people of faith, there have always been Christians who respected and loved non-Christians, and there have always been people who thought the Christian message was that God is everywhere, embracing everybody, an no one is ever beyond the reach of God’s love.
We are the remnant of faithful Christians who have been here since bible days. But this message is new to some people, and as we share it, lives will be transformed.
Let’s make this a year of transformation, where we share more boldly than ever our progressive, positive, practical spirituality that can change and even save lives. Let’s support this message, mission, and ministry with time, talent, and treasure and make sure that more people than ever before know that right where they are, God is, and that means that all good is possible for them. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
All shall be well…
All shall be well…
And all manner of things shall be well.
Thank you, God!
The Power of Dreams Rev Dr Robert Griffin Dec 29th, 2013 Well, here we are. The last Sunday of 2013 and what a year it has been. There have been highs and lows. There have been moments of sadness that were then followed by joy. There have been valleys moments – some think of valleys […]
The Power of Dreams
Rev Dr Robert Griffin
Dec 29th, 2013
Well, here we are. The last Sunday of 2013 and what a year it has been. There have been highs and lows. There have been moments of sadness that were then followed by joy.
There have been valleys moments – some think of valleys as places of uncertainty while others think of valleys as places of new vision and perspective.
We have witnessed natural disasters around the globe that devastated communities, businesses and lives and we have seen human compassion in action in response to those disasters.
We witnessed the strength of the people of Boston following the Boston Marathon Bombing.
Many things came about this year that most of us never thought we’d see in our lifetimes!
For example…we saw the second term inauguration of the country’s first African American president. It wasn’t a one-time fluke; an African American president won two consecutive national elections. An entire segment of the US population who had paid taxes and contributed to the economy and voted in multiple elections and served in the military finally, for the first time in the nation’s history, saw a president who looked like them.
Women, gays, Native Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, the differently abled…there are many others who long to see someone like them in the top positions of leadership, and they will, because another barrier has been broken.
In February we heard the news that a sitting Pope had resigned, the first Pope to do so since 1415.
And we witnessed advances around Marriage Equality. At one point, I ran to my crystal ball to see what else was on the horizon; I quickly checked my lottery tickets…well, let’s just say, I’m still checking the lottery tickets and I think my crystal ball needs a new battery.
Even here at Sunshine Cathedral, we too have gone through our moments of, “really”, (now, I don’t know if you ever have done this, but when you hear or read certain things, sometimes you just have to twist your face and say “really, where did that come from” and there were moments that I just had to throw my hands up and say, “sweet baby Jesus, you have got to be kidding me.”
When ridiculous things happen or hurtful or untrue things are said, I sometimes take comfort from the words of wisdom of Kurt Litzenberger has been known to utter: “does your ‘butt’ every get jealous of the crap that comes out of your mouth.”
But not only have there been moments of “really?” there have also and much more importantly been moments of hearing how lives have been touched, transformed and even in some cases, literally saved, because of the ministry of Sunshine Cathedral.
I have been blessed to hear your stories of up and downs, good days and bad days, hospital stays and recovery. There have been lots of both/and moments in our congregation this year AND we are still here! You are still here! And that, my friends is worth honoring as we prepare to close another year as we look to a future filled with infinite possibilities.
I am a firm believer that the obstacles we may have faced this past year did not rob us of our strength or dignity and they alone could never keep us from reclaiming our peace of mind.
The difficult moments may have tested our faith, even our belief in a Higher Power or ourselves or each other, but deep down, regardless of what we were facing, we had breakthrough moments that led to understanding and healing and renewed confidence in the goodness of life.
We came to realize, again and again, that Sacred Energy, Divine Light, Infinite Spirit is always with us, will never forsake us, and there is always reason to hope that things will work out for our highest good.
The other side of what we may have gone through, (a medical problems, job loss or job change, people in our lives making their transition to the next experience of life) may not have yielded the results we desired, but I feel comfortable in declaring that we have been changed for the better because of what we have gone through.
I believe that we learned to not allow those situations and circumstances to become our “lived in” but rather our “lived through destiny.”
We got through it and became ready to receive and celebrate something much better, more joyous, and more abundant.
IT could have been very easy to get stuck in the “lived in” reality but as Colin Powell said in our first reading, “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”
And granted, there are some who want to stay in the dream world.
But dreams are the beginning; we make them come true by waking up and getting to work. If we have determination, then there is nothing that can stop us from achieving our greatest good. If we are willing to work hard, then there is nothing that can stop us from breaking through the barriers we have encountered.
A Black man is president; a pope created a retirement option, and gays are getting married all over. ANYTHING is possible!
Colin Powell is an example of what it looks like to not let societal limitations hold one back from achieving their dreams. I am sure that he instilled hope in many people like the nearly confirmed Vice Admiral Michelle Howard, making her the first female four-star admiral in the Navy. Colin Power and Michelle Howard, and many others know all too well what it also means to make a home and family, despite wherever you may end up. Difficulty isn’t the end…it may be a new beginning, a doorway to a fabulous future.
When I was on active duty in the US Navy, many were required to move often, and sometimes with just 24 hour notice. One could very easily find oneself in places that may not have even existed at the time on any map. In the end, where ever we landed, we would find a way to make that be home and the people we encountered became family. We took what life offered and found opportunities and blessings right where we were. We learned that we can always do that.
Being on the go, moving from town to town, was also not unfamiliar to the couple in our gospel reading today.
The dreamer of dreams once again hears an angel in a dream telling him to, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’
One of the things about dreams is that for them to become reality they require action. Otherwise, it is just a fantasy. I believe the best kind of dreamer is one who not only dreams but who then believes in their dreams and acts on those dreams.
The dreamer who dreams, believes, and acts is the one to see and share miracles in the world. And those are the dreamers who inspire the rest of us to dream, believe, and act.
Today let’s find ways to make our dreams come true. Our dreams are ours to fulfill. Our dreams should move us to act and feel good in the process.
In a dream, Joseph is told to flee to Egypt with his family, not realizing that this would not be home; then in another dream, he is told to flee to Israel, and that would not be home, and then finally, Joseph and family arrive in Galilee, and settled down in Nazareth, and find a place to call home.
A series of changes, challenges, or even failures doesn’t mean that success isn’t possible; in fact, it may yet occur in the most unlikely way or place and it will be all the sweeter because we waited and we worked for it even when it seem delayed.
For 45 years, many have called MCC home…the fulfillment of a dream to belong, to grow, to heal, to celebrate their life and love.
And for over 41 years many have called Sunshine Cathedral home…the fulfillment of a dream to belong, to grow, to heal, and to celebrate their life and love.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Sunshine Cathedral and MCC worldwide started as a beautiful dream…our faithfulness, our time, talent, and treasure, our working together and learning together and moving forward together has taken the dreams and turned them into reality, and there are still more dreams, and more work to do, and more achievements that we will experience and celebrate together. Our work is not yet done!
Today, I am thankful for dreamers like Troy Perry, founder of MCC.
I am thankful for dreamers like Edith Windsor and many others who have forever changed the course of history by working for Marriage Equity. I am dreaming that Florida will soon be a place where the dream of marriage equality will also become a reality. That our community will no longer have to go north of the border to break the chains of Marriage Inequality only to come back home to find ourselves still under the marginalization of Amendment #2. This going north and getting married is our modern day Underground Railroad and we must work to end those tracks of oppression once and for all.
I am thankful for DREAMers fighting for immigration reform.
I am thankful for the dreamers of United We Dream who worked to reunite DREAMers with their parents who are trapped on the other side of the US border.
I am thankful for dreamers like the Fast For Families where immigrant rights, and labor leaders fasted for immigration reform on the National Mall. They stayed out there every day and night, abstaining from all food to move the hearts of members of Congress to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship.
I am thankful for the dreamers of Moral Mondays in North Carolina: When right-wing legislators targeted voting rights, women, and families across the state with extreme legislation the people fought back — flooding the capitol and engaging in civil disobedience that drew national coverage to these issues.
I am thankful for dreamers like Texas State Senator Wendy Davis who, with back brace and all, held the floor for 11 hours to delay an extreme piece of anti-choice legislation in Texas — creating a national moment and giving a spark to the movement for women’s rights.
There are dreams that still need our attention and there are dreams yet to be completed and there are more dreams to be had!
Through all this dreaming and dreams yet to be realized, we hear these words from Howard Thurman,
“When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among people, To make music in the heart.”
The one thing about dreams is that they keep coming as a reminder that there is still work to do. When we dream of a better future we must heed the angel call, just like Joseph, to “get up” and move forward.
We have a lot to get up and do. We too are called to get up and do something about our dreams. Dream your dreams, live your dreams, own your dreams, believe in your dreams, and act on those dreams so that they will become more than dreams.
Dear dreamers, life can have so much joy and together we can continue to build a life-changing, world changing faith community. 2013 is almost over, the past is past, but that’s OK, because the future has infinite possibilities! And this is the good news.
My dreams are my dreams
I prepare to act on my dreams
I bless and release 2013
I look forward to infinite possibilities in 2014
And so it is … Amen.