Sermon: A Fresh Spirit

A Sermon for Pentecost Sunday

Yesterday some 23 million Americans rose early to witness the wedding of Prince Harry of Great Briton and Megan Markle of the United States. Those 23 million Americans were joined by a worldwide audience that thought they were tuning in to watch a young couple in love exchange their vows and begin their married life together. But what they got was a stirring sermon about love from an American bishop.

It has to be mentioned that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Michael Bruce Curry, is the descendant of slaves and sharecroppers from North Carolina and Alabama. It should be noted that this “son of slaves” although born in Chicago and educated at Yale, returned to North Carolina as the Episcopal Bishop in 2000. This “son of slaves” was elected as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States in 2015 on the first ballot. And this “son of slaves” was asked by a young couple to preach at their wedding, at St George Chapel in Windsor England.

Now it should also be noted that in 2016 the Episcopal Church of the United States was sanctioned by the world Anglican Communion for its stand on inclusivity. You see the Episcopal Church, as our United Church of Christ, does not believe anyone has the right to tell anyone else who they can and cannot fall in love with. But the world Anglican bishops gathered in London and kicked the Episcopal Church, and its almost 2 million members, out of the club for being inclusive. And on Saturday, the Presiding Bishop of that church, the “son of slaves” stood at not only the heart of the British political system but at the center of the British religious system. I tell you all of this because for Bishop Michael Curry it is all about love.

Bishop Curry began his sermon with a quote from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King:

“We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love, and when we do that we will make of this old world a new world. For love is the only way.”

As Bishop Curry began to speak the internet exploded with Tweets and quotes of “amen” and “preach.” Now, Bishop Curry did not say anything that many of my fellow preachers and I have not been saying. If you have listened to me preach these last three years, or so you know that for me the central theme of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is the love of God and love of neighbor. You know that I believe, as Jesus did that everything is central to this concept of radical love, radical welcome, and radical inclusion. But what many other Tweeting preachers and I were the happiest about, is that Bishop Curry preached a message of love so radically different from that of many Evangelical preachers in the United States today. In one very short sermon, and I am not sure if this was his intention, Bishop curry snatched back Christianity from fringes, on both sides of the theological, political, and ideological spectrum and told the world that enough is enough and that “love is the only way.”

About the halfway mark in his sermon, Bishop Curry reminded those listening that love has power:

“Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial. And in so doing, becomes redemptive, and that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love, changes lives. And it can change this world. If you don’t believe me, just stop and think or imagine. Think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive. When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down, down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room, plenty good room, for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.”

Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. Fifty days ago we celebrated the fact that Jesus Christ overcame death and set us on a new path, not a new way of righteous indignation but a path of love, radical love. Jesus was not hung on that cross because he was a timid preacher who was afraid to say anything about the way the world was going, no, Jesus Christ was killed because he stood in the face of everything that was wrong and he told them no and show a new way forward.

Some call Pentecost the birthday of the Church and well, I think that is wrong. The Church was not born in that Upper Room on that day when Holy Spirit came rushing in like a wild wind; no, the Church was reformed on that day. No longer was it to be a church of exclusion, but it was to be a church of inclusion a place where it did not matter how much money you had or how your clothes looked. A church where it did not matter where you came from, where you were going, or what job you had. A church where it did not matter whether you were a saint or a sinner all were welcome. A church that says “No matter who you are, No matter where you are on life’s journey, You are welcome here.”

One of the first commentaries I read yesterday afternoon regarding the Sermon by Bishop Curry mentioned how stoic the British people, especially the Royals are. The article went on to speak about the younger generation of Royals, the likes of William and Kate and now Harry and Megan and how they are breathing new life into an old institution. As Bishop Curry preached, and the camera panned around the Chapel, there were a lot of dower faces in that room, but there were also some smiles. The conclusion of the review and it seems funny to read a review of a sermon, but the conclusion was that Bishop Curry brought a breath of fresh air into an otherwise stale system. In other words, he brought a Pentecost into the room.

The message of Jesus Christ was that the only way we had to transform the world was through this idea of radical love. Bishop Curry ended his sermon by saying that we need to discover love. We need to rediscover the redemptive power of love, that same redemptive power of love that was shown when Jesus Christ willing went to the cross. The cross is a symbol of inclusion and the redemptive power of love and not a symbol of exclusion and hate that so many have turned it into. Jesus believed, Dr. King believed, Bishop Curry believes, and I believe that the only way we have of ever beginning the process of healing and transformation of the world is to discover that redemptive power of love.

Jesus told his Apostles that he was leaving them with a new commandment and that new commandment was to love one another. Let us pledge on this day, this day of rebirth and regeneration, that we will go from this place to simply love each other.