‘That’s why we are here’

‘That’s why we are here’ May 21, 2018

We’ve got a funeral today, so I’ll be away from the Internet for most of the day. So let me subcontract this space out to the Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, who made headlines this weekend when he took a cathedral to church with this sermon at the royal wedding.

You can read Bishop Curry’s sermon here, but it wants to be seen and heard. It’s short and to the point, well worth the 14 minutes it takes to watch:

Wedding sermons tend to have a sameness to them that can lull us into missing what’s being said. Someone gets up and reads 1 Corinthians 13 and the familiarity of it tempts us to miss the clarifying extremity of those pretty words. We miss the whole point of that passage — which was also Curry’s whole point: that love is the best thing, the only thing we can be certain of, the only way we can be certain of anything. Love is the only thing that matters, the only thing we can know, the only thing we’re meant to do. The rest, Paul says, is just noise.

Curry included a snippet of 1 Corinthians 13, but he also raced through a half-dozen of the other great love passages — the Great Commandment’s many iterations in the books of Moses, in the Gospels, in Romans, the categorical bluntness of 1 John 4: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God, and those who love are born of God and know God. Those who do not love do not know God. Why? For God is love.”

The sermon was bookended with quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. about the transformative power of love to remake the world. King’s language — “make of this old world a new world” — takes on a cheeky resonance when spoken by an American preacher in a London pulpit, but that was just a grace note. What made that compelling, I think, was Curry’s impassioned insistence that this new world shaped by love was not just some airy figment of the imagination. He was testifying that he had seen it. He had himself visited that new world as someplace real and possible and available for the choosing.

“Imagine” he said, but he said it with the authority of someone who wasn’t just imagining. He said it with the authority of an eyewitness who had seen it as reality, if only a partial glimpse:

Imagine our homes and families where 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 where this love is the way.

Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. 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 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.

Some criticized Curry’s sermon as “political,” which of course it was. How could it not be? That description of a world transformed by love is going to sound harshly political in any other world. “Plenty good room for all God’s children” can’t help but be “political” when spoken in the context of Brexit xenophobia. “Study war no more” is inescapably political-sounding in the context of imperial forever wars. (Although I imagine it also sounded beautiful to a war-weary prince after years in Afghanistan.)

Describing the new world shaped by love is always going to sound political to the Powers That Be of the old world shaped by anything else. A subtle reminder of that followed Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding, when a choir rose to sing a love song for the happy couple. They sang “Stand By Me” — a romantic, secular love song, mostly, but one built upon an earlier Sam Cooke gospel number which leaned, in turn, on Psalm 46.

The striking thing, though, was the name of the gospel choir that performed this song: the Kingdom Choir. This was a royal wedding. The queen herself was there, along with all the heirs to her throne. But the name of that choir referred to a different kingdom, to a new world which, as Curry reminded us, is greater than the old.

That’s “political” too. Always has been. And, as Bishop Curry said, “That’s why we are here.”

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