Come Holy Spirit, and enkindle in the hearts of your faithful, the fire of your Love. Amen.
By now, I bet you’ve heard that after The Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, spoke here at Good Shepherd Saturday-before-last, he received an invitation to preach at a fancy wedding yesterday. And I say good on him! To the best of my knowledge, we have not yet received our thank-you note for positioning him for that honor, but please know that when we do we will post it to the bulletin board outside our administrative offices, right there along with the baby announcements and the Subway coupons.
I mean, what a weekend to be an Episcopalian! Twitter hasn’t seen so many Episcopal references since…well, Twitter has never seen so many Episcopal references (and neither Saturday Night Live)!
While Sarah Lyall of The New York Times wrote of the experience, “It was hard to tell, looking out over the church crowd, what the general reaction was to Bishop Curry’s address,”[i] in the feed I watched, the reactions among English royalty seemed more easily discernable along a continuum of confusion, embarrassment, and horror. In one photo of the congregation, Elton John looked like he might throw up his toes, “But outside the ancient walls of the chapel and across the country, the response was jubilant. It was as if Bishop Curry had opened the windows and let a breath of fresh air into a room that had felt [more than] a little stifling.”[ii]
Happily, Lyall’s British counterparts agreed with her assessment, as BBC presenter Jeremy Vine tweeted, “[This] preacher is doing 50 in a 30 zone and it’s brilliant.”[iii] And Bishop Curry was right here just two weeks ago…he’s our guy! Amazing and surreal and, indeed, “brilliant,” an appropriate occasion for the Holy Spirit’s unexpected appearance, given this weekend’s celebration of Pentecost.
See, this morning we mark fifty days after the feast of the Passover and our celebration of Easter, and we recall another stuffy room, this one two thousand years ago, congested with all the believers in the risen Christ pressing against one another. When, like thunder from heaven, a noise as loud and violent as a tornado split that thick air, and a presence surrounded and filled every small space between the disciples. “Divided tongues, as of fire,” emerged from this presence and came to rest on those gathered, until, impossibly, the community began speaking and hearing in one another’s native languages.[iv] “Amazement and perplexity” ensued, as well as the sneering suggestion, “They are filled with new wine.”[v]
See, with this upper room experience as the standard, charting the Holy Spirit’s more contemporary movement proves an intimidating task. However, occasionally the preacher can simply point to an event and say, “There! That is the work of the Holy Spirit.” And even I – who shares Lorde’s perspective of “Royals”[vi] and who thought “Meghan Markle” was the clandestine name of a new Marvel superhero – even I can point toward Windsor Chapel and simply say, “Yes. That is the work of the Holy Spirit: fresh air and truth and, above all, Love.”
And I don’t know about you, but after an awfully long week, I needed some Good News.
Last Monday’s news cycle began with the move of the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. There, San Antonio televangelist, John Hagee, delivered the benediction at the relocation ceremony, and Dallas pastor, Robert Jeffress, offered prayer at the opening of the embassy. While they prayed, more than 1,200 protestors along the Gaza border were injured by gunfire, and more than 55 died, a stark juxtaposition of the powerful and the powerless, the manicured and the masses. [vii]
You may remember Hagee from the 2008 presidential election, when then-candidate John McCain rejected his endorsement after learning of Hagee’s ideas that God deployed the Holocaust as part of a plan for the salvation of Christians,[viii] or from 2006, when he said, “All hurricanes are an act of God, because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and [in Hurricane Katrina,] they were recipients of the judgement of God.”[ix] Similarly, you may remember that Jeffress, as one of the president’s “evangelical advisers,” has released a statement claiming “God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary – including war – to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”[x]
While both Hagee and Jeffress self-identify as Christian, both preach a triumphalist message of financial prosperity for themselves and for the righteous, as well as the God-breathed persecution of those whose faith disagrees with their own. Both men nuzzle like-minded politicians like puppies in a terrible basket, and they view worldly power as a confirmation of God’s blessing. Be clear that their Mideast priorities do not reflect any interfaith respect or call to altruism, but witness their dispensationalist worldview[xi] that identifies the establishment of a Kingdom of Israel as parcel to the assembly of competing armies at Armageddon and the very end of time.
It hurts even to set their words on my tongue.
Compare their vision to the hope Bishop Curry preached in his wedding homily:
“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 discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way’…
“Think and imagine a world where love is the way:
Imagine our homes and families where love is the way.
Imagine our neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.
Imagine our governments and nations where love is the way.
Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.
Imagine this tired 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, the [whole] earth will be a sanctuary…When love is the way, we [will] know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, [all] children of God.”
When Love is the way…
American preachers don’t often make international headlines (much less twice in the same week), and the media’s excited reaction to Bishop Curry expresses shock that such a potently hopeful experience was possible in church, of all places. I pray that we here on Exposition Boulevard and atop The Hill on Woodland Avenue know better and more often find the Holy Spirit at work in our community – from Sunday baptisms like these we share today; to our approaching Edge and Shepherd summer camps; to the daily devotions in service of children and families at Hillside and Good Shepherd Episcopal School; to our care and support of the suffering and the grieving – I pray that we experience the Holy Spirit here. Even so, this weekend’s carryings-on make clear that the world outside of our Episcopal pews has given up on the Church as an agent of Love…almost given up.
So accustomed has the world become to the dangerous and divisive rhetoric of premillenialist preachers that their harangues have been allowed to stand as the public voice of Christianity, and we, too, have tacitly accepted their judgments by not more boldly challenging them. We have hidden our lamp, that righteous lamp of mercy and justice, of generosity and love, but – thanks be to God! – Bishop Curry brought it back out and set it where everybody could see it shine, and, perhaps to the royals’ great surprise, the world welcomed its light.
See, in response to the violence as nearby as Santa Fe High School and as far away as the Sinai Peninsula, instead of numbing ourselves with those vapid public liturgies of politicians processing in front of television cameras to offer their empty promises of trickle-down “thoughts and prayers,” yesterday, tens of millions of people around the globe shared in a liturgy of substance and beauty and surprise, and those millions upon millions felt a consequential hope: not a bottom-of-the-cereal-box happiness, but the kind of hope that begins movements, that makes a difference, that changes history’s course.
While for so much of my life I have winced at the crusaderism of this morning’s collect – it’s call to “shed abroad [the gift of the Holy Spirit] by the preaching of the Gospel,”[xii] – yesterday reminded me of the holy gifts we as Christians and as Episcopalians do have to offer this world. To these sweet, newly baptized babies, take heart that this is the Church into which you are being baptized: that while others beat the drums of war, we will sing hymns of peace! To all of you, brothers and sisters, this is the vision of God we inaugurate in everything we do: that while others call for division, we seek the mystery of that union between Christ and his Church and the whole world. And if we have hidden the Light of that Gospel, dear Lord, we pray that you will forgive us, and we ask that you would equip and empower us with your Holy Spirit from this day forward, that we would never do so again.
In his Royal Wedding recap for Esquire – that bastion of Christian apology, Esquire magazine – Dave Holmes concludes, “Raw displays of emotion such as Bishop Curry’s are profoundly un-British, but we as Americans are free to eat them…up. And at this point in history, when the world seems to be getting crueler by the minute, an impassioned plea for self-sacrifice, a call for a life centered on love for one’s neighbor, is exactly what we need to be hearing. Particularly when it’s delivered in a castle that has survived the Norman conquest and two world wars…We can come through this. But we have to start loving one another…
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to join [The] Episcopal Church.”[xiii]
Well, Mr. Holmes, we’re making room for you right here.[xiv]
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,