Following Christ

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

Following Christ Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell Sunday, December 29, 2019 My friends, would you please pray with me. Divine Spirit, Holy One of goodness and of light. Guide us to be your presence in this world. May we offer hope and love to all that we meet. And may the words of my […]

Following Christ
Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell
Sunday, December 29, 2019

My friends, would you please pray with me.
Divine Spirit, Holy One of goodness and of light. Guide us to be your presence in this world. May we offer hope and love to all that we meet. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts bring healing and peace to our world. It is in your many names that we pray; Amen.

When I was a kid growing up in Pennsylvania, we went to Sunday School every week at our home church – the Brockway Presbyterian Church. The weekly Sunday School class was held before the church services so it was my job as the oldest child to pick up my younger sister and brother from their classrooms before we would go into the big church.

I remember one Sunday morning, I went to get my brother and I could tell just by looking at him that he was very unhappy. He had his arms crossed and he looked more than a little angry. He was just about 5 years old at the time so it didn’t take much for Scott to be upset. My sister and I tried talking to him before we took him into the sanctuary but he was just really unhappy and there wasn’t much we could do. So we went in and took our seats with our parents. I remember my sister and I were on the one side of our mother and my brother, being the youngest, sat in between my parents. My mother saw immediately that Scott was troubled and she began to ask him questions. “How was Sunday School?” Scott just shrugged his shoulders and didn’t say anything. “Did you sing?” and he nodded his head, “yes.” “Did you color some pictures?” and again he nodded his head, “yes.” My mom said, “Scott, what is it? What’s the matter?” To which my brother announced to everyone within earshot….”I’M JUST SO SICK OF THOSE OLD JESUS STORIES!!”

What Scott didn’t understand at that time is the powerful shift that can occur when one hears the stories of Jesus – the accounts of his life and his ministry. To a small 5 year old boy, it probably just didn’t make much sense. But, for each of us, if we really listen, the profound impact of Jesus’ message in our lives, can be monumental! And yet, it can also be disconcerting. These narratives call us to new ways of living, to let go of the old way of doing things, and they may even shake us out of our comfort zones.

The reading we heard from Mark’s Gospel this morning is intriguing. Mark is believed by biblical scholars to be the first of the Gospels that was written. I like the style of Mark’s author. It is quick. It is to-the-point. It is succinct. No messing around. And that is something you may notice while listening to Mark’s message. It begins with proclaiming the good news of one who will come – the one who will make the roads smooth. And, just 20 verses later, the one, Jesus, is inviting people to follow him, to fish for people, to bring them into the fold by sharing the Good News that God’s realm is near!

Mark’s author is very intentional about moving the Jesus narrative forward. There is Good News to be had and Mark wastes no time in conveying that to the community. John is baptizing people in a desert place and God is there. Jesus is in a desert place for 40 days (which just means a long time) and God is there. Simon and Andrew leave their nets and immediately follow Jesus. It moves quickly and if the reader and the listener aren’t paying attention, it could move right by them.

I will share with you that when I was reviewing the readings for today, I wasn’t terribly sure of what I could do with them. There is a lot to take in. So how do I preach a meaningful message where there is so much information! The readings are important, they’re significant. How do I do justice to them?

When I am unsure or confused, not really knowing what to do, I stop and I pray. And my prayer in this instance was really quite simple. “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?” I realized after a day or two was that my questioning prayer of “What am I going to do?” was really the answer I was seeking. “What am I going to do?” “What can I do?” “What can we do?”

No longer was the question about preaching from specific sacred texts but had become the message that I was to receive – that each of us is to receive from these readings. What can we do that will carry the joy and hope and love and peace into the New Year? When it comes to following Christ, what can I do AND what can we do?

Now that the pageantry, the celebration, the hope and joy of Christmas Day is behind us, what do we do? We are now in the liminal space that is Christmastide; still Christmas and yet it doesn’t seem so. It is a time of reflection and contemplation. What can we do to continue carrying the Christmas message?

We are on the precipice of a New Year, a new decade. What can we do to ensure that the message of Jesus becomes an integral part of who we are – our being and our actions? We know that Advent is a season of preparation. Is it possible that Christmastide is a season of preparation, as well?

The past few years have been difficult and more than a bit stressful. It seems almost impossible at times to find goodness in the world. When more and more people are being oppressed, when basic civil rights are being challenged, we may wonder what it means to truly follow Christ. How can we bless others when we feel overwhelmed by antagonism that seems to be all around us? I think that the answer is to be constantly aware that each person does have sacred value. Each person is a beloved child of God. Each person deserves respect and dignity – care, kindness, and love. Each person recognizes the Christ in others – no matter the circumstances.

LGBTQ+ people – they are beloved by God.
Women and children – they are beloved by God.
Refugees running for their lives – they are beloved by God.
Those who are food insecure or housing insecure – they are beloved by God.

A number of years ago, a friend told a story that impacted me deeply. He shared a personal experience when he helping in a soup kitchen. Now the motivation for providing food assistance was two-fold. He wanted to feed people and he wanted to tell them about the good news of Jesus Christ in order to save their souls. At that time he was attending a very religiously conservative school and he was encouraged to save as many souls as he could.

While volunteering at the soup kitchen, he saw an older man come in who appeared hungry and who also, in his mind, appeared in need of saving. So the young man took some food over to the gentleman and began to proselytize. The older man paused and said, “You know, I think it’s great that you’re here feeding people and spending time with us. That’s really wonderful! But instead of feeding me because you think I need to find Jesus, how about feeding me because you see Jesus in me?”

This friend said that this encounter was a turning point for him in his faith journey. And it was something I never forgot. When we help others, pause for a moment – and recognize the Divine in them. Be kind – because we all deserve a little kindness. Be compassionate – because we all deserve a little compassion. Be giving – because anytime we serve others, we are serving Christ.

On Christmas Eve, we heard the message from Luke’s gospel, “And [Mary] brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped in him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” When I read that passage, I wondered to myself, how many of us, myself included, have thought, “Well, if I had been there, I would have made a room for them. I would never have left them in the cold. I would welcome them. I know I would!” Friends, now is the time for us to make room. Now is the time for welcome. Now is the time for us to notice who is missing from our table and make a concerted effort to be more inclusive, to be more welcoming. We do this not to feel good about ourselves but because we have chosen to follow Christ. To follow Christ means to welcome all, love all, to serve all….without question, without judgment.

I was at a holiday gathering this past week and one of the guests was lamenting about Christmas being over. She shared, “I wish the Christmas feeling could last all year long. Everyone is so kind and nice. I really miss that when Christmas is over.” Her seemingly innocuous comment gave me pause. My friends, if we follow Christ, Christmas kindness will last all year long. We need to be more loving. We need to break down systems that oppress. We need to remember what it does mean to follow Christ’s message of love and compassion.

There is poem from Howard Thurman that brings this message to heart. We hear it often at Christmas. It might just be the perfect message for Christmastide and our New Year.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When (all royalty) are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
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 (all people),
To make music in the heart.

My friends, what is it that you can do? What are new, positive, uplifting ways of being you want to create in your life? How will you follow the message of Jesus during the coming year? Let’s each of us make a resolution to speak a word of joy, of compassion to be made manifest in our world. Let’s look beyond ourselves and into the heart of others. Let us be the Christ presence in the world.
And this is the good news!


Today and always
I will be present to the light of the Divine in others
I will follow the message of the compassionate Christ
And so it is

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Season of Love

On December 23, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Season of Love Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Advent 4 “Love never ends.” Mary = pregnant Joseph = heart broken? Certainly embarrassed. Could have ruined Mary. But being RIGHTEOUS (just, fair, merciful) he didn’t want to expose her to disgrace. Women had no status apart from a man…she could have been left destitute and without any […]

Season of Love
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Advent 4

“Love never ends.”

Mary = pregnant

Joseph = heart broken? Certainly embarrassed.
Could have ruined Mary.

But being RIGHTEOUS (just, fair, merciful) he didn’t want to expose her to disgrace.

Women had no status apart from a man…she could have been left destitute and without any legal protections or social advantages. People in such circumstances were often reduced to begging, or prostitution, some were killed outright. He didn’t want to leave her that vulnerable even though it appeared as if she had betrayed him.

Love doesn’t rejoice in wrongs. Loves hopes all things, bears all things. Love never ends.

Joseph had a dream wherein the angel of God (the messenger of love) tells Joseph: DO NOT BE AFRAID.

Love casts out fear.
FEAR = Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise Love’s message was don’t be afraid; Face Everything And Rise

Freda Smith = resolving problems:
Find it
Face it
Fix it
Finish it
Forget it

Do not be afraid.
Find the truth.
Face the difficulty.
Fix what you can.
Finish your part.
And then move forward.

God is love, and love never ends.
God’s angel, Love’s messenger didn’t say hate Mary, or condemn her, or shame her, or abandon her, or threaten her…
Love said don’t be afraid of your love.
Don’t be afraid to be kind, generous, forgiving.
Don’t be afraid to love.

And so Joseph took Mary in.
He gave her a husband, a family, a home.
And he gave her child a name, a future.
In Joseph’s story, Love Wins.

If religion condemned you, rejected you, vilified you, demonized you, or dehumanized you…religion was misused. The angel of God is a messenger of love, and Love’s messenger says don’t be afraid to love! Don’t be afraid to show compassion, kindness, welcome, generosity, and mercy. Love says see the light in every person. Love says you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.

We are entering a Season of Love…let yourself know that you are, just as you are, lovable and you have love to give. Do not be afraid. God’s love never ends.

To celebrate the season of love, I want to share a song about a special kind of love for one of God’s creatures. Maestra, if you please.

“I want a hippopotamus for xmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
Don’t want a doll, no dinky tinker toy
I want a hippopotamus to play with and enjoy.

“I want a hippopotamus for xmas
I don’t think Santa Claus will mind do you?
He won’t have to use the dirty chimney flue Just bring him through the front door that’s an easy thing to do.

“I can see me now on xmas morning creeping don the stairs Oh what joy and what surprise when i open up my eyes And see a hippo hero standing there

“I want a hippopotamus for xmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
No crocodiles or rhinoceroses
I only like hippopotamuseses
And hippopotamuseses like me too
And hippopotamuseses like me too”

This is a season of love.
In God, every season is a season of love.
And this is the good news. Amen.

Divine Love,
Fill my heart,
And heal it.

Joy Beyond Conditions

On December 16, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Turning Pink with Joy Rev Elder Dr Mona West Today we lit the third candle in the Advent wreath. Has anyone noticed that it is pink? (This is a queer church, of course we noticed!) Pink, or Rose, is the liturgical color for Joy. In the early history of the Christian church, Advent was observed […]

Turning Pink with Joy
Rev Elder Dr Mona West

Today we lit the third candle in the Advent wreath. Has anyone noticed that it is pink? (This is a queer church, of course we noticed!) Pink, or Rose, is the liturgical color for Joy. In the early history of the Christian church, Advent was observed as a penitential season, much like the season of Lent. On the third Sunday there is a call to take a break from all that penance and rejoice. This is Gaudete Sunday which is the first word in Latin for the Introit to the Mass: Gaudete! or Rejoice! Deep into the rhythm of repentance of the season, the third candle is lit as an invitation to joy. In protestant traditions we tend to focus on the waiting and anticipation of the season, and not so much on the repenting. But we still have this pink candle that we light, right smack dab in the middle of the season. In our time and place, we light this Gaudete candle, deep into the rhythm of the scarcity and fear that pervades our culture and our lives. In the midst of global warming, immigration injustice, impeachment hearings, fake news, terrorist alerts, and mass shootings, this candle invites us to rejoice.

This morning we heard some familiar stories from the gospel of Luke, that I will get to in a moment, but first I want to share from the gospel of Brené Brown… She is a sociologist and researcher who has written many books on how to live courageously and compassionately in our world today. In one of her first books, Daring Greatly, she shares stories of her research on vulnerability. In it she claims that vulnerability is joy’s constant companion. In order for us to receive joy we must be willing to be vulnerable.

Let’s think about that for a minute. All of us want to be joyful, right? Who wouldn’t want joy in their lives? I’m not talking about happiness, which is an emotion connected to circumstances. We get a new car, we are happy. We get a speeding ticket, we are unhappy.

Joy has a deeper dimension to it, a spiritual quality about it. But we resist it because in order to feel and live in that deeper level of joy, we have to be vulnerable. Brown explains it this way: “We wake up one morning and think, Work is going well. Everyone in the family is healthy. No major crises are happening. The house is still standing. I’m working out and feeling good….Oh, shit. This is bad. This is really bad. Disaster must be lurking right around the corner.”

She calls this “foreboding joy.” We resist joy because in order to receive it, we open ourselves to risk and uncertainty. We are afraid the joy won’t last, or we don’t deserve it. To receive joy is certainly a set up for failure, as soon as we let down our guard and receive it, surely some disaster will come along to take it away. And so, we shield ourselves from this kind of vulnerability with “foreboding joy.”

I grew up in Louisiana and there is something about southern culture that thrives on “foreboding joy.” Don’t play in the front yard, you might wander out into the street and get hit by a car. Don’t play in the rain, you might get a cold. Make sure you have bread close by when you eat fried fish in case you get a bone stuck in your throat.

When I was about 10 years old, I had a best friend named Cindy Littleton. One day she invited me to go with her family to their grandmother’s house in the country. Her grandmother had a pond on her property, and we could go swimming! Well, when I asked mother if I could go, she agreed but told me under no circumstances could I swim in that pond, because I might drown.
So, off to grandmother’s house we go. Me, Cindy, her sister Sandra, and her daddy, Shorty, in his El Camino. Now for those of you who don’t know, an El Camino was a cross between a chevorlet truck and station wagon. It’s like a car-truck…

Of course the first thing we did when we got to Cindy’s grandmother’s was to take off our clothes and go swimming in the pond, which was at the bottom of a hill. Shorty was fishing on the other side of the pond, Sandra was in the El Camino parked at the top of the hill, listening to the radio. The next thing I knew, Sandra was running down the hill screaming, “get out of the way, get out of the way of the car!” Somehow she had released the emergency brake on the El Camino while listening to the radio and it was rolling down the hill toward us!

I barely made it out of the path of the El Camino as it hit the water, suffering a bruised knee. By the time Shorty made it to the scene of the accident I was standing there with mud all over me, crying and exclaiming, “God punished me for disobeying my mother!”

The moral of this story is not, “mind your mother.” The moral of this story is “we can pass foreboding joy on to our kids, and it can lead to bad theology!”

Well, on to the gospel according to Luke. I believe the characters in the stories we heard today have some lessons to share with us about embracing joy. First of all, joy comes to us in the ordinary moments of our lives. We can miss joy’s surprise if we are busy chasing after it in the extraordinary. What could be more ordinary that tending sheep, or going to the Temple every day. The shepherds and Simeon don’t feel entitled to joy, in fact they are the last people their society would have expected to experience any kind of joy. Being a Shepherd was one of the worst occupations you could have in the ancient world, no one would expect a shepherd to have joy! As an old man with no family of his own, Simeon would also be considered an outcast, and worthless in his society. Nearing the end of his life, certainly his odds for joy had run out. But that is the good news of the gospel of Luke. The joy found in the Christmas story comes to the most unlikely characters of the day—an unwed mother, smelly shepherds, asenior citizen…There is something about the “ordinariness” of joy that makes it subversive, and we need more of that kind of joy in our society today.

Which leads me to my second point: joy is for the telling and celebrating. Don’t apologize for your joy! We might be tempted to shrink back from our joy with all the chaos, loss and meanness around us, but there is something about that pink candle that doesn’t just invite us, it commands us to “rejoice.” Just like the candle pinkness inserts itself into the rhythm of this season, sharing our joy can be a spiritual practice that inserts itself into our weary world. Simeon shared his joy in a song, and that shared joy is prayed by thousands of people today every night before going to sleep: Now let your servant go in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.
Luke tells us “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Can you imagine what Christmas would have been if the shepherds had kept the experience of the nativity to themselves. “What if people think we were crazy to leave our sheep to go find this baby? We aren’t sure this child is going to be all that is expected of him; maybe we should forget this happened. We might be arrested for sharing this kind of news.”

The shepherds teach us not to squander our joy. Instead of resisting it because of fear of vulnerability, lean into it. When we overcome our foreboding and lean into joy, we build resilience and cultivate hope. Joy becomes a part of us and when bad things do happen we don’t lose our joy, instead we are stronger to endure those times.

Richard Rohr defined joy as both a decision and a surrender. Eventually we stop being preoccupied with creating a fault-free environment that will ensure our own happiness, and we discover that joy is much more like falling into God, falling into Love. You don’t manufacture joy, you collapse into it when you give up trying to make it happen.

Today, on this third Sunday of Advent, I invite us to turn pink with joy

Angelic Peace

On December 16, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Angelic Peace Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. I have friend who has been going through a very difficult ordeal for months now. She’ll tell me […]

Angelic Peace
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

I have friend who has been going through a very difficult ordeal for months now. She’ll tell me when she’s tired or in pain or anxious or deeply disappointed, and if I catch myself trying to put a coat of emotional paint on her frustration, I immediately apologize and say something like, “you’re entitled to those feelings. What do you need from me?”
Or sometimes I’ll say, “that sucks, but you’re amazing.”
Or sometimes I’ll just say, “I love you.”
My job isn’t to overcome my discomfort by trying to make hers go away.
My job is just to hear her and love her. Full stop.

We see in the story of Hagar how peace can come from just being heard.

Hagar is an enslaved person.
She has been forced to be someone’s concubine.
And now, the same people who have used her in such terrible ways, have turned her out into the wilderness.
She is now homeless and facing starvation, with her child. Hagar has known pain, frustration, and injustice and much of it has been caused by people of faith!

Hagar doesn’t need anyone to tell her to bear with the abuse and cruelty because things will be better in the next life.
She doesn’t need anyone to tell her that her suffering is redemptive, or that God won’t give her more than she can bear, or that she’s being tested, or attacked by demonic forces, or punished by God.
She doesn’t need anyone to tell her that she needs more faith.
She doesn’t need anyone telling her that if she had just stayed in her country of origin bad things might not have happened to her.

Religious people, religious superstars have abused her and then rejected her. she’s not interested in other religious people blaming her for the mistreatment she has received.

She doesn’t need bad theology; she needs to be seen, and heard.
She’s scared and lonely and hurting and overwhelmed and has no idea what to do next.

And then God’s messenger, God’s angel, a manifestation of God’s presence appears to her and says this: God has heard your child crying.

That’s the good news. Not that the mother and child shouldn’t be scared or angry or perplexed. Just that they have been heard.

God sees them. God cares. God responds with the power of presence. That’s the healing. That’s the possibility of peace. That’s the miracle.

No one was able to make it okay, there’s nothing okay about Hagar’s predicament. It’s unfair, it’s unnecessary, it’s heartless, it’s awful.
but God could remind her that she was worthy of care and concern.
God noticed. God cared. She was never alone. She was not forgotten. She was heard.

In fact, her child’s name, Ishmael, means “god has heard.”

A famous minister lost his son in a car accident. Well meaning friends tried to comfort him with bad theology. They told him, “God called him home.” He corrected them sharply. he said, “God didn’t kill my boy; in fact, when my son died, God was the first one to shed a tear.”

16 year old Guatemalan Carlos Vasquez died in border custody. He had the flu and 103 degree temperature. He needed medical care. He collapsed on the hard floor of his cell, and hours later died. You’d think the only possible human response would be gut wrenching sorrow. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. It didn’t need to happen. But I do believe that he did not die alone. The light of God surrounded him, the love of God enfolded him, the presence of god watched over him, and when he took his last breath God wailed with the pain of a mother watching her child die.

Human politics and human prejudice and human institutions failed to treat Carlos as a child of God, but divine love never let him go. That doesn’t excuse the injustice, it simply reminds us that not even human cruelty can separate us from the love that God is.

There’s not a spot where God is not.
God is present.
God knows.
God hears.
God cares.
God sends angels, signs of God’s presence, to remind us that God is near; that God’s love will never let us go.

The other day I was a little down in the dumps. While I was sitting in my recliner looking, I imagine, quite forlorn, my sweet dog Bella crawled into my lap (all 80 pounds of her), and put her head on my shoulder. She noticed. She cared. She loved. She was my angel. I felt better. Not that my doldrums were instantly cured, but I felt noticed, cared about, my heart and soul had been heard.

A cat, a dog, a friend, a stranger, a song, a line in a movie, a phrase in a book, a butterfly, a memory, a thought, a sunset…an angel can take any guise and remind us that God is with us. The power of presence can offer peace, angelic peace.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising god and saying, ‘glory to god in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill to all people.’”

I don’t know what you may be facing, and I don’t know how to fix it whatever it is…but I do believe that God is aware of it, and God is with you, and God may just have an angel ready to remind you that God hears the cry of your heart and responds with pure love.
Listen to your angels…they are reminding you that God knows; God cares. And this is the good news. Amen.

God hears the cry of my heart…
and responds with pure love.

Prophetic Hope

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

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

Prophetic Hope
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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