I did not watch the wedding, but by lunchtime yesterday I had read enough comments on line that I KNEW I needed to watch the sermon … and I was NOT disappointed … That was one of the finest Pentecost Sermons I have ever heard … it was one of the best sermons I have ever heard.
It spoke of love, but it also dripped with a powerful social justice message that was delivered in the heart of the rich and powerful from around the world … and it was delivered by an American preacher from the Episcopalian Church, a church that is no longer in full communion with the Mother Church of England because the Episcopalians keep doing things like ordaining women, ordaining gays and lesbians and recognizing same-sex marriages as a sacrament blessed by God … so the homiletic arrow the reverend curry launched yesterday was directed at the heart of our society and said clearly – we can do better.
That he spoke of love hearkens back to that heart wrenching day when a young Prince Harry watched his mother’s funeral and heard the immortal words of St Paul speaking of Love, eloquently offered by Tony Blair … words that Rev Curry picked up when he said:
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 and 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.
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 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. My brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new Earth, a new world, a new human family.
That in an eloquent and beautiful nutshell is the guts of Pentecost!!
And Curry knew this as he spoke because he went on to speak of the importance of FIRE to humanity … how fire allows us to do all that we do today from live in cold frost places like Canada, to flying across the ocean, to doing things we do every day without even considering them … and he challenged his listeners – those in the chapel and the BILLIONS who have listened around the world to consider that we MUST discover for a second time the gift of fire – but the fire this time is LOVE …
The redemptive power of love – and when we rediscover it we will, as he says, make of this old world a new world …
In our readings today we hear of the spirit coming upon the disciples of followers of Christ like tongues of fire … fire … love … the redemptive power of love falling on the disciples – the church – you and I – as tongues of fire. And what does fire do? It either sputters out and is extinguished, or it grows and strengthens and spreads …
Yesterday, we were challenged to celebrate love by encouraging that fire to spread and to transform the world with its power … it is, as poet Ann Weems observes of Pentecost:The church is Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit is poured out upon us
and sends us out together
aflame with new life,
inheritors of the wealth of God:
We are liberated from the prisons of pettiness,
jealousy, and greed,
liberated to be the church.
We are freed to free others.
We are affirmed to affirm others.
We are loved to love others.
We are family;
we are community.
We are the church triumphant—
you, me, anyone who would come unto the Lord—
renewed, redirected, empowered
to change things and lives
together in love and wholeness.
We are the Lord’s church,
the church of justice and mercy,
the people sent to open prisons,
to heal the sick
to clothe the naked
to feed the hungry
to be alleluias when there is no music.
The mantle is upon our shoulders.
Joy is apparent in our living.
We have been commissioned to be the church of Jesus Christ
For me, this weekend I have rediscovered my flame for preaching … in the fall of 1990, I remember going into the Anglican Book room in downtown Kingston – we called it “Maria’s” because the lady running it was named Maria and even though it was an offshoot of the Anglican Diocese in Kingston, it was very much Maria’s bookstore … it was where we theology college students went to get our text books, and where we could go to just browse and make purchases on an account we could carry until we graduated three or four years later … I know my library expanded exponentially in my three years at Queens’ and I’m also sure I’m not the only one … but some purchases stand out more than others … I can still remember the grey rainy September day I discovered the works of Ann Weems … her book “Reaching for rainbows” was like a theological bomb for me … her use of language, her insistence on focusing on pushing the boundaries and celebrating the joy that is within the church touched me deeply and radically altered my view of church and ministry and life … I have all of her collected books of poems and liturgies, and I have used them over and over and over …
But to be wholly honest … after 28 years, I had grown weary and her words didn’t resonate with me like they once did … I was approaching preaching my 27th Pentecost wondering what I could possible share or reflect on that was new and that could revive that fire …
And so yesterday I listened to the preaching of Rev Curry on love and fire, and I felt a stirring … Listening to rev curry, I was reminded of the power that we hold as people of faith when we take the message we hear over and over seriously … I was blown away as he quoted Solomon, Martin Luther King, Pierre De’ Chardin, and pulled it all together with a POWERFUL proclamation of love and its power to transform not only the world, but those who open themselves to it …
The backstory of this weekend is how Prince Harry’s life is framed by the words LOVE … as a young boy we ALL saw beautiful pictures of he and his brother with their mother Diana, and there was clearly deep love shared between them … at her memorial the words of Paul spoke of the kind of love we all saw reflected in Diana, and our hearts broke for young William and Harry at their loss … and I’m sure many of us prayed that they wouldn’t simply fall into the clutches of the grey men made famous by their mother … then as a teen Harry had a wild reputation, but as a young man joined the British Military and served in combat – a first for a Royal putting himself in harm’s way as part of a larger whole … then with his discharge he truly embodied love by being one of the forces behind the Invictus games that celebrates the accomplishment of men and women damaged by combat, allowing them a place to bring their best and achieve more than perhaps even they thought possible … and now, this weekend as a young man becoming a husband, we celebrate the presence of love and ALL that it has done in his young life and we wish he and Megan well in their life together … it is as we were told – power in love, and where true love is found, God is there.
The message that falls upon us today – Pentecost – as we leave this place is the message that tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves – and everything hangs on that love of God and our neighbour – EVERYTHING …
And so, what shall we do with this? How shall we nurture and sustain and grow the Pentecost flame that rests within each of us?
Shall we allow it to sputter out and die? Or shall we fan it and help it grow and strengthen?
Today is the birthday of the Church – the day we as a church universal and catholic came into being … the day, like that of the tower of Babel, when we were sent into ALL the world to proclaim and live the Gospel … and what was the message?
One simple inalterable, accepting, welcoming, and transformative word: Love … our message is love, and now it rest upon us to share it in all that we do and say and think … and it isn’t as hard a task as we may think.
I would like to end by sharing some of the powerful words by the late Ann Weems that helped propel me into the last 25 years of ministry … she once wrote:
We don’t pretend to understand
the mystery of what goes on in God’s church.
We just know we feel a pervading spirit of love
that reaches into the niches of all of us
and pulls us out into the open, free and alive and belonging.
We believe this spirit of Love exists
because God’s spirit lives within this Church,
this unity of persons trying to be the Good News.
We see this Church as a circle of people …
… holding hands … and dancing … supporting each other,
accepting each other, loving each other …
Each person in this dancing circle is facing outward …
reaching into God’s world,
listening for the whimpering,
watching for the hurting,
willing to offer a cup of cold water in God’s name …
Sometimes they need the water …
Sometimes you need the water …
Sometimes I need the water …
Being a part of the Church means knowing
that the cup is always filled in GOD’S name …
(searching for shalom pg 54)
May it be so … thanks be to God … let us pray …