Me too. Like a lot. When he was preaching at the royal wedding last Saturday, I got up and made my coffee for the sole purpose of catching his sermon. The rest of the wedding was, of course, beautiful, but I came for the sermon. I stayed for the rest.
So, the sermon. It was stellar. What he did was very subtle: bringing Black experience into the very seat of iconic white power. He talked about slavery and how those same slaves used the Christian tradition to sing about their own freedom. He talked about Black liberation, in the third sentence! The late Dr Martin Luther King Jr once said, and I quote: “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.” Of course black liberation is white liberation, liberation from hate and violence.
I was concerned that he would stop short of preaching the gospel, but nope, he went there too: “He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He didn’t… he wasn’t getting anything out of it. He gave up his life, he sacrificed his life, for the good of others, for the good of the other, for the well being of the world… for us.
It was great. It was staggering. I wouldn’t change a thing. I was pumping my fist at 7:30 in the morning.
I also took great delight in watching some of the guests squirm under the unbridled joy and intensity of the gospel being preached.
The sermon has been on Saturday Night Live, the New York Times, Esquire, you name it. It’s also been interesting to see how poorly reporters can sometimes do their job. Though, in their defense, the Episcopal church, like all mainline churches, are hard to understand especially at the level of polity, which itself is an inside baseball term (polity refers to how a group governs and organizes itself.) I really can’t blame anyone for not knowing the difference between a bishop and a presiding bishop; nor can I fault someone for calling a sermon a speech. The fact that several outlets carried a not-quite-true headline about where PB Curry is from, was concerning.
As I’ve talked about this sermon with dozens of people in the last 50 hours or so, the response has been as staggering as the sermon itself. I think my colleague Cathie Caimano says it best: “Facebook, Twitter, Esquire, CNN, NPR, NY Times, Buzzfeed, People, Saturday Night Live…EVERYONE is talking about the love of God. On Pentecost. In their own languages. Don’t tell me this is not a miracle.”
I want you to notice one thing about what Cathie said: “the love of God.” She did not say, “How awesome the Episcopal Church is.” It can be pretty awesome by the way, it can also be maddening. The main thing though is that Cathie’s statement was God-centered.
I’ve heard more than a couple people say that they were so glad for the Episcopal church to get such a great showing, perhaps, even help our numbers. I admit on Friday night that I said to someone that perhaps PB Curry’s sermon would help heal some of the wounds that exist in the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
Cathie noticed a God-thing going on, not a church thing, and certainly not an Episcopal thing. That’s what we ought to be interested in: God-things. I daresay that since the beginning of the decline of the mainline churches in the U.S. since the 1960s, we have almost exclusively been asking church-centered questions: why are we declining? Why won’t young people come to church? How can we be relevant? How can we fix what’s broken in the church?
What if what’s broken in the church were these kinds of church-centered questions?
What if, instead of asking church-centered questions we asked God-centered questions? Namely: what is God doing in the world? How might we be invited to what God is already doing in our neighborhoods?
Just look at all the people talking about the content of this sermon: all across the Christian perspective, non-Christian, and atheist alike. All of these are God-centered responses. They are interesting precisely because they are God-centered.
If we began to ask these God-centered questions, then perhaps the church-questions and concerns would take care of themselves. Then again, maybe they wouldn’t. Then we’d be walking in faith. The church as we know it may even die. If that happens, and we are a community that has been habituated to asking God-centered questions, and is disciplined in practices that have created a people that are curious about God, over the church; then perhaps God, who knows precisely what to do with death, could raise us to new life.