You bet I watched the royal wedding last Saturday! And I loved it.
I’ll admit, if I’d heard the words of Michael Curry’s sermon on your average Sunday morning, from your average preacher with your average congregation, I’d have been underwhelmed.
As it is, I’m giggling a little inside. It’s the thought of “I can’t believe he just got away with that.” A black American, an LGBT+ affirming Episcopalian, came into a traditionally white, elitist, patriarchal institution and said we’ve all got to love each other – and if we do that, we’ll change the world.
Everyone in the room had to shut up and listen. (Tee hee.)
And he was broadcast to over 1 billion people.
But it’s more than just the numbers. By speaking, this man carried representation for his nation, for people of colour and for people groups he campaigns for. It meant he was not just speaking his message – he was embodying it too.
And having a rip-roaringly fun time whilst he was at it!
He has certainly had an impact. Everyone has been buzzing about him and even some celebrities who are hardly Christian and not exactly people I admire (Piers Morgan, for example) are applauding him on Twitter. Curry has succeeded in showing who God truly is, in a way that people could see and understand and delight in.
And that’s what real preaching is about.
On its own, his message is not enough.
My complaint isn’t that he left out the cross (and for the record, he didn’t) and it’s not that he didn’t speak about repentance. No, my complaint is that aside from his opening prayer, the Holy Spirit wasn’t mentioned once.
Curry preached a message about being agents of transformation in the world and the Holy Spirit wasn’t mentioned once.
There were three and a half minutes about fire and the Holy Spirit wasn’t mentioned once.
It was the day before Pentecost and the Holy Spirit wasn’t mentioned once.
Now, this could have been a deliberate choice on Curry’s part. As my husband commented to me afterwards, it wouldn’t have been good if half of his listeners had come away saying, “God I’ve heard of, and Jesus I’ve heard of – but who is the Holy Spirit?” And the sad fact is that the church hasn’t taught consistently or reliably about the Holy Spirit, veering from one extreme of sensationalising to the other of ignoring.
And I know, I know Curry was talking about love. But come on, people! Love is not a substitute for the Holy Spirit and it is the Holy Spirit who enables love within us. Given that fire is such an established image for the Holy Spirit, it seemed (to me at least) a big gap for Curry not to at least reiterate at the end what he’d said earlier: that God is love and love comes from God. It wouldn’t have been hard. Maybe he had this in his notes and he missed it in the delivery.
But this is important. If we forget where love comes from and we don’t contemplate long and hard about what it looks like, then love is relativised and reduced to feelings. Now I don’t think that’s what Curry was preaching – but that’s where we easily end up if we take his sermon on its own.
I was once given a little book called The Fruit of the Spirit is Love which was filled with quotes about, well, love. One of them was this:
He walked by faith and not by sight,
By love and not by law;
The presence of the wrong or right
He rather felt than saw.
To me, it said, “Throw out the rules and trust your feelings!” And it actually left me angry. Because I never had these feelings of love the way other people seemed to. And, well, truth be told, I had a quite a soft spot for the books of law.
Yes, you read that right.
You see, reading the Old Testament law was what taught me how to love. Or perhaps I should say, at that stage of my life, it was through the Old Testament law that the Holy Spirit had spoken most clearly to me about love. It was there that I found things like, “Don’t curse the deaf or put a stumbling-block in front of the blind.” (Leviticus 19:14)
Now I’ve heard enough complaints against legalism to know that my experience is not the experience of many others. I also know that many people come away from Leviticus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 22:13-30 with the message of, “You should be dead right now.” But I also know that these laws weren’t given in a vacuum. And I don’t read them in that condemnatory way.
Instead, I had a moment of sheer delight during Curry’s sermon. He repeated Jesus’ teaching that two commandments summed up the whole of the Law: to love God and to love your neighbour. But he didn’t stop with Jesus’ teaching recorded in the gospels, he went back and named the books where these laws came from: Deuteronomy and Leviticus. And he even named one the underlying assumptions of these laws: that we are to value and love ourselves.
Hearing him say this was like poetry to me. I love the books of law and I love to remember that the commands to love were written in them.
But again, they weren’t given in a vacuum.
They came in a great sweeping story of God revealing himself to humanity, showing his saving power and giving instructions in the ways of life.
And this is my point: we can’t separate love from God’s revelation in history. We can’t separate love from God. For God is love. Love comes from the Father, was shown in the Son and is kindled in us by the Holy Spirit.
That’s why when love abounds in our lives, we call it the fruit of the Spirit.
So if you found your heart strangely warmed when you heard Curry’s sermon, this is my appeal to you: search deeper into the meaning of love, invite the Holy Spirit to dwell richly within you. And listen.
We are all made with an innate capacity for love, because we are made in the image of God. The hard part is finding the way we can express this capability in its fullness. That’s why learning to love is a lifelong mission. And it’s why we need a lifelong companion and comforter whose very essence is love.
Meanwhile if, like me, you find it hard to know what the word ‘love’ really means, I offer you this quote from Charles Stanley, again from the little book on love my husband and I were given:
JOY is love enjoying.
PEACE is love resting.
PATIENCE is love waiting.
KINDNESS is love reacting.
GOODNESS is love choosing.
FAITHFULNESS is love keeping its word.
GENTLENESS is love empathising.
SELF-CONTROL is love in charge.
A transcript of his sermon is available here.
Other interesting posts I read about Michael Curry’s sermon include this piece in Premier Christianity “4 reasons people didn’t like the royal wedding sermon – and why they’re wrong“. It was a nice counter to an unnecessarily scathing (and factually incorrect) post I read.
I also loved this piece from Diana Evans in Guardian: Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon will go down in history. I particularly liked this bit:
It was a sermon that will go down in history as a moment when the enduring seat of colonialism was brought before the Lord, and questioned in its own house. In the mention of slavery was the inherent accusation of white silver-spoon complicity, and that this union should not go forth without acknowledging it.
Meanwhile, I haven’t written specifically about how my theology fits in with my LGBT+ affirming stance, but I wrote a challenge to non-LGBT Christians after the Orlando nightclub shooting, which (funnily enough) also talks a fair bit about the Holy Spirit. Plus there’s this piece To stay or to go? On church, LGBT+ affirmation, and uncomfortable places.
Oh, and if you wondered about the phrase ‘strangely warmed’ – yes, I chose that deliberately. It’s May 24th, after all.