“And God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet. God has work for us to do. Jesus has work for us to do and it’s the Jesus Movement. So don’t worry. Be happy!”
All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2015
A Sermon Preached by the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry
The Installation of the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and Primate
The Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul, Washington, D.C.
In the Name of our loving, liberating and life giving God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
It really is a joy and blessing to be able to be here and for the church to gather and to ask for God’s blessing.
Allow me a point of personal privilege. I am looking forward to working with my sister the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies. We’ve been working with each other a bit over the summer. And I look forward to working together with her in the years to come.
I want to offer thanks on your behalf for Dick Schori, the spouse of the Presiding Bishop.
In a time when there is often debate and genuine consternation as to whether courageous, effective leadership is even possible anymore, let the record show that The Episcopal Church has had a leader in Katharine Jefferts Schori.
It is an understatement to say we live in a deeply complex and difficult time for our world. Life is not easy.
It is an understatement to say that these are not, and will not be, easy times for people of faith. Churches, religious communities and institutions are being profoundly challenged. You don’t need me to tell you that.
But the realistic social critique of Charles Dickens rings true for us even now. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
But that’s alright. We follow Jesus. Remember what he said at the Last Supper, just hours before he would be arrested and executed? “In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 KJV)
As that great biblical scholar has said, borrowing from what might be Bobby McFerrin’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words: Don’t worry. Be happy!
Don’t Worry. Be Happy.
Let me offer a text from the 17th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
When [the angry crowd could not find the Apostle Paul and Silas], they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” (Acts 17:6-7)
What you have there is a First century description of the Jesus movement. Don’t worry. Be happy!
Many centuries later, Julia Ward Howe, writing in the midst of America’s Civil War, spoke of this same movement, even amidst all the ambiguities and tragedies of history. This is what she wrote:
In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea,
with a glory in his bosom
that transfigures you and me,
as he died to make folk holy
let us live to set all free,
while God is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah,
God’s truth is marching on.
That’s the Jesus movement. What was true in the First Century and true in the 19th Century is equally and more profound in this new 21st Century.
So don’t worry. Be happy.
God has not given up on the world, and God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.
The truly liberating truth is that Jesus didn’t come into this world to found a religion, though religious faith is important. Nor did he establish a religious institution or organization, though institutions and organizations can serve his cause. You will not find an organizational table in the New Testament.
Jesus came to continue a movement. Actually, Jesus picked up and took the movement of John the Baptist to a new level. John was part of the movement born out of prophets like Amos and Isaiah and Jeremiah. And prophetic movement was rooted in Moses, who went up to the mountaintop. Jesus crystalized and catalyzed the movement that was serving God’s mission in this world. God has a passionate dream for this world.
Jesus came to show us the way. Out of the darkness into the dream.
That’s what is going on in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles — the movement! The Apostle Paul and Silas, his partner in ministry, have been preaching, teaching and witnessing to the way of Jesus in the city of Thessalonica. While their message finds some resonance with many, it is troublesome to others. A riot breaks out because of the tensions. Our text describes those who are troubled by the teaching about The Way, as the Jesus movement was first called.
Listen to this description of the first followers of Jesus:
These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus. (Acts 17:6b-7)
Notice that the activity of Paul and Silas was seen not as an isolated incident in Thessalonica, but as part of a greater movement of revolution. “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.” Paul and Silas by themselves might not have been of much consequence. But as part of a movement, they posed a problem.
This movement was perceived as somehow reordering the way things were, “turning the world upside down.”
The reason the movement was turning the world upside down was because members of the movement gave their loyalty to someone named Jesus and committed themselves to living and witnessing to his way above all else. “They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” That’s what we did at the beginning of this service when, in the Baptismal Covenant, we reaffirmed our commitment to be disciples, living by and witnessing to the way of Jesus, our Savior and Lord.
The Way of Jesus will always turn our worlds and the world upside down, which is really turning it right side up!
That’s what Isaiah was trying to tell us in Isaiah 11. He saw the dream. When God’s way is our way:
The prophet Isaiah saw this. When Gods dream happens, when the world is upside down…..
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them….
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)
St. John saw in his vision of the world end in the Book of Revelation. Exiled and imprisoned for his witness to the way of Jesus, John was caught up “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). He lifted up his head, and he saw the dream.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more. (Revelation 21:1-4)
No more war.
No more suffering.
No more injustice.
No more bigotry.
No more violence.
No more hatred.
Every man and woman under their own vine or fig tree.
The rule of love. The way of God. The kingdom. The reign.
The great Shalom, Salaam of God.
God’s on a mission to work through “our struggle and confusion,” as the Prayer Book says, to realize God’s dream.
My brothers and sisters, God has not given up on the world,and God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.
We are the Jesus movement. So don’t worry, be happy!
Now I know we all thought we were coming here today, via the live-stream of the internet or here in the cathedral, for the Installation of our Presiding Bishop. I thought that too until I was on the plane earlier this week, flying from North Carolina to the Episcopal Church Center in New York.
And I kid you not, a thought popped into my head: “You know this is not about you.” It sort of jolted me inside. A lot was going on. I was on the way to fill out employment and insurance papers. The movers were coming to Diocesan House in Raleigh. I was going to spend one last day with Bishop Katharine.
The real Michael Curry was frankly scared to death and wondering, “Did you all make a mistake?” I was stuck on a plane, strapped into my seat belt because of turbulence on the flight, and I couldn’t get off. At that moment, and I’m not trying to get mystical or anything, but at that moment something said to me, “Michael Curry, this is not about you.”
I must admit that was a moment of some sweet liberation. Because it’s not about me. It’s about God, and it’s about Jesus. It’s about that sweet, sweet Spirit who will show us the way “into all the truth,” as Jesus promised (John 16:13), who has shown us the way to be who we really were created to be.
The way of Jesus will always turn our lives and the world upside down, but we know that that’s really right side up. Therein is the deepest and fondest hope for all creation and the human family.
Just listen to what Jesus said. What the world calls wretched, Jesus calls blessed, turning the world upside down.
Blessed are the poor and the poor in spirit.
Blessed are the merciful, the compassionate.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, that God’s righteous justice might prevail in all the world. (Matthew 5:3-9, paraphrased)
Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Matthew 7:12)
At home and in the church, do unto others as you would have them do to you. That will turn things upside down. In the boardrooms of the corporate world, in the classrooms of the academic world, in the factories, on the streets, in the halls of legislatures and councils of government, in the courts of the land, in the councils of the nations, wherever human beings are, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
That’s a game changer! “Things which were cast down are being raised up. And things which had grown old are being made new.” That will turn things upside down, which is really right side up! That’s what Jesus said and what the Jesus movement is about!
Love is the key
But the key to this turning, which is at the center of the way of Jesus, is love. Later, in the Sermon on the Mount, where our Gospel reading came from, Jesus said this:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45a)
The liberating love of God is the key to the way of Jesus. Both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels tell about the lawyer or scribe who came up to Jesus one day. Great teacher, he asked, in all of the massive legal edifice of Moses, what is the greatest law? What is the cardinal principle on which it all stands? What is the goal? What is the point of it all? In other words, what is God really getting at?
Jesus answered, bringing together a teaching of Moses from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 and a text from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
This is really a stunning declaration. On these two — love of God and love of your neighbor— hang, hinge, depend ALL the law and the prophets.
Everything Moses taught.
Everything the prophets thundered forth about justice.
Everything in the Bible.
It’s about love of God and the neighbor.
If it’s not about love, then it’s not about God.
This way of love is the way of Jesus. This is the heart of the Jesus movement. And it will turn the world, and the Church, I might add, upside down, which is really right side up.
Let me show you what I mean. In Luke’s gospel, chapter 10, Jesus and a lawyer come to an agreement that love of God and love of neighbor is the standard of all morality. But then the lawyer says (and I paraphrase):
Ok, I’ll grant the point about love for God and neighbor as Moses taught. But we need to carefully define what we mean by neighbor. Just how expansive or inclusive is this definition? This could have far-reaching impact. So, who exactly is my neighbor?
That’s when Jesus makes up a story, a parable. This guy was walking on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. That road was known to be a pretty dangerous road to travel at night. But this guy needed to go where he was going. As it happened, he got mugged and robbed. He was beaten pretty badly and was lying on the side of the road. A priest was coming down the same road, saw him lying there, but for whatever reason, walked on by. Another religious leader from the community came by a little later, and probably for fear of his own safety, walked on by, too, leaving the guy on the side of the road.
Then this Samaritan guy came by. Samaritans were not well-regarded. There was some real animosity toward them that had a long history. But ironically it was that Samaritan who actually stopped, cared for the guy, bound up his wounds, put him on his own donkey and took him into town. Then he paid for his health care and made sure the guy was taken care of until he was well.
Jesus then asks the lawyer, “Now, who was a neighbor to the man?” Jesus didn’t fall for his question. By asking that question, Jesus reveals to that lawyer – and on down the centuries to us — what the love of God really looks like.
But imagine the same parable with slightly different characters. A Christian was walking the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and she fell among thieves. Another Christian came by, but passed on by. Another did the same. And still another follower of Jesus passed on by. A brother or sister who is Muslim came by and stopped and saw her in need and helped her. Imagine. Who is the neighbor?
It could be a young black or Hispanic youth who is hurt, and a police officer who helps. Or the police officer hurting and the youth who helps. Imagine.
Do you see where Jesus is going? He’s talking about turning this world upside down.
God has not given up on the world, and God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.
We are the Jesus movement. So don’t worry, be happy.
Last summer, the 78th General Convention of our Church did a remarkable thing: the General Convention invited us as a church to take this Jesus Movement. We made a commitment to live into being the Jesus movement by committing to evangelism and the work of reconciliation — beginning with racial reconciliation. Across the divides that set us apart. I believe the Holy Spirit showed up. I was telling someone about this, and they said, “Do you realize this Church has taken on two of the most difficult and important works it could ever embrace?”
Let’s get real. Imagine “Jeopardy” or another television game show. The question asked of the contestants is this: “Name two words that begin with ‘E’ but that are never used at the same time.” And the answer? What is ‘Episcopalian’ and ‘evangelism’ ?
I’m talking about a way of evangelism that is genuine and authentic to us as Episcopalians, not a way that imitates or judges anyone else. A way of evangelism that is really about sharing good news. A way of evangelism that is deeply grounded in the love of God that we’ve learned from Jesus. A way of evangelism that is as much about listening and learning from the story of who God is in another person’s life as it is about sharing our own story. A way of evangelism that is really about helping others find their way to a relationship with God without our trying to control the outcome. A way of evangelism that’s authentic to us. We can do that.
And this idea of reconciliation, beginning with racial reconciliation — really?
Racial reconciliation is just the beginning for the hard and holy work of real reconciliation that realizes justice but really across all the borders and boundaries that divide the human family of God.
This is difficult work. But we can do it. It’s about listening and sharing.
It’s about God.
In this work of reconciliation we can join hands with others.
It is as the Jesus movement, following Jesus’ way, that we join hands with brothers and sisters of different Christian communities, with brothers and sisters of other faith and religious traditions and with brothers and sisters who may be atheist or agnostic or just on a journey, but who long for a better world where children do not starve and where is, as the old spiritual says, “plenty good room for all of God’s children.” We can join together to do this work.
In evangelism and reconciliation has got to be some of the most difficult work possible. But don’t worry. We can do it. The Holy Spirit has done this work before in The Episcopal Church. And it can be done again for a new day.
It was sometime in the 1940s, when the armed forces had not be desegregated. Just after the Second World War. In the United States, Jim Crow was alive and well. Segregation and separation of the races was still the law in much of the land and the actual practice in other areas, even if it wasn’t technically the law there.
The armed forces had not yet been desegregated. The Tuskegee Airmen were still a unit. Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas had not yet been issued. Long before Rosa Parks had not yet stood up for Jesus by sitting down on that bus in Montgomery. Long before Jackie Robinson was playing baseball, before Martin Luther King, Jr. was still in seminary.
An African American couple went to an Episcopal church one Sunday morning. They were the only people of color there. The woman had become an Episcopalian after reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, finding the logic of his faith profoundly compelling. Her fiancé was then studying to become ordained as a Baptist preacher.
But there they were on America’s segregated Sabbath, the only couple of color at an Episcopal Church service of Holy Communion according to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
When the time came for communion the woman, who was confirmed, went up to receive. The man, who had never been in an Episcopal Church, and who had only vaguely heard of Episcopalians, stayed in his seat. As he watched how communion was done, he realized that everyone was drinking real wine — out of the same cup.
The man looked around the room, then he looked at his fiancée, then he sat back in the pew as if to say, “This ought to be interesting.”
The priest came by uttering these words as each person received the consecrated bread: The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.
Would the priest really give his fiancée communion from the common cup? Would the next person at the rail drink from that cup, after she did? Would others on down the line drink after her from the same cup?
The priest came by speaking these words to each person as they drank from the cup: The Blood our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.
The people before her drank from the cup. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ…. Another person drank. Preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. The person right before her drank. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee…. Then she drank. And be thankful. She drank. Now was the moment her fiancé was waiting for. Would the next person after her drink from that cup? He watched. The next person drank. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee…. And on down the line it went, people drinking from the common cup after his fiancée, like this was the most normal thing in the world.
The man would later say that it was that reconciling experience of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist that brought him into The Episcopal Church and that he had an evangelism. He said, “Any Church in which blacks and whites drink out of the same cup knows something about the Gospel that I want to be a part of.”
That couple later married and gave birth to two children, both of whom are here today, and one of whom is the 27th Presiding Bishop.
We are Gods’ children, all of us. We are God’s baptized children. We are here to change the world with the power of love.
God really does love us.
The Spirit has done evangelism and reconciliation work through us before. And the Spirit of God can do it again, in new ways, now beyond the doors of our church buildings, out in the world, in the sanctuary of the streets, in our 21st-century Galilee where the Risen Christ has already gone ahead of us.
Yes, the way of God’s love turns our world upside down. But that’s really right side up. And in that way, the nightmare of this world will be transfigured into the very dream of God for humanity and all creation.
My brothers and sisters,
God has not given up on God’s world.
And God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.
God has work for us to do.
Jesus has work for us to do and it’s the Jesus Movement.
So don’t worry. Be happy!
He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.