Now that the dust has settled on a weekend in which we witnessed a truly memorable royal wedding and, with it, a perhaps still more memorable wedding homily by one of the most prominent leaders (and finest preachers!) of the global church, Bishop Michael Curry, I’d like to offer a few thoughts.
Having delivered dozens of wedding homilies myself over the years, most often to very mixed audiences (believer and nonbeliever alike), I know the pressure: to blunt the hard edges of the Christian message in order to deliver a talk palatable to general taste. Read a little Scripture, congratulate the couple, and make a few points to them on how to have a successful marriage.
Let us give thanks to God that on a platform like the one he had, that is exactly what Bishop Curry did not do. His message on love–the grounded-in-the-Triune-God, redemptive, sacrificial, transformative kind of love the Bible talks about–was deeply rooted in Scripture and in the best part of our Christian heritage. I loved it. As he delivered it with his characteristic fire (and there are all kinds of lessons there for preachers on how to handle a tough room), I found myself resonating in the deepest parts of my soul. My wife can attest to the “amens” and “yes’s” that kept rolling up from my belly and off of my lips.
And still more, I couldn’t help the “c’mons” from erupting in my soul when I watched Bishop Curry ground his comments on love not just in “God-in-general” but in the specifics of Jesus of Nazareth; not merely his teaching, but in the whole manner of his “poured-out-unto-death” life… Can I just say: it takes unusual courage to preach that message with so many watching… and to relate it to the great social and political struggles of our day the way that he did, connecting it all to the great hope of the new heavens and the new earth. We can only say “thanks be to God” for that.
And–lest it be lost on anyone–that this whole fire-filled thing was delivered by an African American preacher, the grandson of former slaves, right there in front of the British Royal Family, proclaiming the gospel with such poise and passion… that, my friends, is a kind of poetic justice that only the kingdom makes possible. We are living in remarkable times indeed. In a world still riddled with divisiveness, the rhetorical and symbolic importance of the moment we witnessed on Saturday cannot be overstated.
But now, may I offer a thought that nags me? And here I beg the reader not to hear this as a bit of impolite or nitpicky armchair-quarterbacking from a pastor in the proverbial peanut gallery; still less as an admonishment, which I am in no position to offer. It is just that as I listened, and now even more several days after the fact, I found myself wishing that Bishop Curry had made the final move, and it is the move that makes a sermon of any kind a Christian sermon in the fullest possible sense:
“So, trust Jesus.”
Do not misunderstand me here. From my vantage point, Bishop Curry’s sermon passes every test of orthodoxy. The Triune Name was invoked. God’s nature as love was beautifully characterized. The manifestation of divine love in the person of Jesus was compellingly proclaimed to the watching world.
But the missing piece was the summons—to put our trust not in “love,” which is so easily misconstrued and misunderstood and even, sadly, put in the service of not-love, but in Love Incarnate: Jesus the Lord, who came among us precisely because our love was and is painfully defective, because our love was and is “sick unto death,” as Kierkegaard would have put it, and in the final analysis in need not merely of higher and better examples (though it certainly does need that) but of healing. Confused, misguided, damaged and defective human love is why Jesus came; it is what strung him up on a cross; it is what God buried in Jesus’ death and raised to new life in the triumphant resurrection of the Son of God.
The preaching of the Apostles, from all I can tell, did not call people to “love.” It called people to Jesus. And in so doing, a community of love was born that revolutionized the world.
I found myself when the sermon was over wondering what those who heard it would take back into their lives with them. Love? Or the only hope for broken love’s healing: Jesus? I kept thinking, “We all, in our best moments, know we need to love. The problem is not instruction. The problem is our sin-sick souls, which lead us to visceral hatred and fear when we know there is a better way. Who will rescue us from this body of death…?”
This, once again, is not an admonishment of Bishop Curry in any way–far be it from me. But it is a question. I wondered why that element was missing. I wonder it still. I desperately wanted him to parlay the strength of his powerful sermon into the summons that puts biblical truth into radical motion: “Trust Jesus.”
For the record, I don’t think it would have required anything ostentatious, gaudy, or improper, given the situation. For Jesus himself is none of these things. Just a line… or two… admitting that we cannot live the life of love on our own… that we need him… that only in and by relationship to He who is the Love will the dream of a new world be realized…
“So, trust Jesus…”
For that is the moment when the conscious is pricked most decisively. When we find ourselves summoned, not by an abstract standard, but by God of very God.
Still, let no one gainsay the beauty, power, and importance of a message like the one Bishop Curry delivered on Saturday. In a world that riven by violence, strife, and fear, we need to hear the message of love as often as we can. Let us just remember what Love has done to save us, and what we must do in response, what heals our broken love and makes it whole: