On October 15, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Focus Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Oct. 15, 2017 Let us dwell together in peace, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Our readings today seem to be telling us to focus on possibilities more than on […]

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Oct. 15, 2017

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

Our readings today seem to be telling us to focus on possibilities more than on problems, focus on what’s good more than on what’s troubling, focus more on what’s left than on what’s lost. That the psalmist and St. Paul (and Dr. Myss) would give us such counsel is not surprising. We find it throughout the Bible.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, when Moses was guiding his community through the wilderness, some of them wanted to turn around and go back to Egypt. They had been enslaved in Egypt. They had their personhood denied. They were mistreated. But better the devil you know, some say.

Yes, to get to the Promised Land, we’re going to have to find water in rocks, and hunt quail, and eat manna (”what is it?” – probably plant or bug secretions…but if you’re hungry enough, it’s bread from heaven). The path to the promise is full of challenges and difficulties and uncertainties. But the past was bondage. The future has infinite possibilities.

Going back to Egypt or going forward to the Promised Land both will be difficult, but one set of difficulties can lead to better days, the other path is a trap. Which direction will we choose? What will our focus be?

Focusing on a future filled with possibilities, even if the path forward is full of snakes and sickness and eating bug droppings, is the better way. Flaky bug ick goes from “What is it?” to “Hey guys, it’s edible! It’s a gift from heaven!” with a simple change of focus. Even in the wilderness, we get to choose our focus.

In the 1990’s I was an AIDS chaplain. There was one guy I would visit who was very weak. To cheer him up, I asked him, “When you get to feeling better, what is the first thing you want to do.” He said he wanted to go to his favorite bar. In a city that had about 30 gay bars, his fave was about the 3rd raunchiest. And he lit up when he talked about it. He had enjoyed some pretty great nights there. His friends went there. His favorite bar tender worked there. It was Cheers, if Cheers was super shady and scary.

When he focused on the good times he had enjoyed at Shady Cheers, and when he focused on the possibility of returning there, that dear man was filled with delight; gratitude tempered his grief and fond memories replaced his fears…for a few moments, it was as if he wasn’t sick at all. I don’t know if he ever got back to that bar before he died, but I know thinking about it gave him a great deal of pleasure. Focusing on good times brought him joy even in a very difficult period of his life.

Also in the 90s, I used to know a traveling singing group that was popular in the area where I lived…all gay, and they sang gospel music. One night they were singing at a church, and after the concert a man approached one of the singers. He told the singer he had AIDS but that he was so enraptured by the music that night that he forgot for a couple of hours that he was ill. He told that singer, “It was like I didn’t have AIDS, at least for a little while.”
He changed his focus, and thereby, at least for a short time, changed his experience.

”Where attention goes, energy flows.”
We know that. We’ve said it a thousand times. And these stories show just how that is true, how a change of focus can change our direction.

A Course in Miracles teaches that a miracle is a change of perception from fear to love. In other words, a miracle is a change of focus.

Am I a person defeated by my pain, or I am a person determined to experience joy in spite of my pain. Which will my focus be?
And if I focus on joy rather than pain, isn’t it possible that I will also have less pain? Less fear? Less regret? If not today, then one day?

I can’t promise things will be easy or that things will always go our way. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, but how we respond to the difficult times is where our power lies. Our focus can pave the way for hope beyond horror and peace beyond pain.

In our third reading this morning, the Apostle Paul is trying to change a congregation’s focus. There is bickering and conflict in the congregation. Paul tries to get them to stop focusing on their personality conflicts and petty squabbles; he wants them to focus on what is good in their ministry, on what is beautiful and lovely and worthy of praise. He wants them to focus on justice work, and compassion, and healing, and on all the things that are amazing. Think on these things, he tells them. Then, he adds, the peace of God will guard your hearts. By the way, Paul is writing from prison. The man is incarcerated, and he says, “There’s bound to be something good in your lives. Focus on that!”

Yes, there are things that are difficult, things that aren’t going according to plan sometimes, but how we deal with the bumps in the road is to celebrate what is good, what is powerful, what is working, what is changing lives, what is absolutely miraculous.

The funny thing is, that’s not just good advice for a church, it’s good advice for the work place, for a relationship, for a family, and for any challenge one might be facing. Focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, commendable, excellent…Focus on the good, on the opportunity, on the possibilities, on the lesson, on the rose blooming on top of the thorns.

We pray each week: “There is only one presence and one power in the universe and in me, God the good, God the good, God the good omnipotent.” It’s a reminder to focus on God and God’s goodness, because our focus determines our direction, and we choose our focus.

No wonder the great teachers tell us, “Change your thinking and you change your world.” In other words, Change your focus and you’ve changed your destiny.

Today, let our main focus be to remain focused on what is good and on what is possible in our lives. We have the power to choose our focus, and this is the good news. Amen.

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