Last week, Bishop Revered Michael Curry delivered an impassioned sermon during the royal wedding. The Most Reverend Michael Curry became the first black presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church when he was appointed in 2015.
It seems odd to me that a message about the power of love has been seen as almost revolutionary – should that be the case, that Love is still a revolutionary message?
I was struck by the sermon; it hit me as I had been thinking about the Quaker commitment to sustainability and whether we would need one if we lived with love. When I came into work, I thought I would ask my colleagues if they had heard it and what their reflections might be. I have pasted the text of the sermon below and my colleague’s comments under that. Maud.
The Power of Love
And now in the name of our loving, liberating and life-giving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
From the Song of Solomon in the Bible: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
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.”
There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love.
If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved.
Oh there’s power, power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved, and you know it, when someone cares for you, and you know it, when you love and you show it – it actually feels right.
There is something right about it. And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love, and our lives were meant – and are meant – to be lived in that love. That’s why we are here.
Ultimately, the source of love is God himself: the source of all of our lives. There’s an old medieval poem that says: ‘Where true love is found, God himself is there.
The New Testament says it this way: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God, and those who love are born of God and know God. Those who do not love do not know God. Why? For God is love.”
There’s power in love. There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can.
There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.
There’s power in love to show us the way to live.
Set me as a seal on your heart… a seal on your arm, for love is as strong as death.
But love is not only about a young couple. Now the power of love is demonstrated by the fact that we’re all here. Two young people fell in love, and we all showed up.
But it’s not just for and about a young couple, who we rejoice with. It’s more than that.
Jesus of Nazareth on one occasion was asked by a lawyer to sum up the essence of the teachings of Moses, and he went back and he reached back into the Hebrew scriptures, to Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
And then in Matthew’s version, he added, he said: “On these two, love of God and love of neighbor, hang all the law, all the prophets, everything that Moses wrote, everything in the holy prophets, everything in the scriptures, everything that God has been trying to tell the world … love God, love your neighbors, and while you’re at it, love yourself.”
Someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in human history.
A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world – and a movement mandating people to live that love, and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.
I’m talking about power. Real power. Power to change the world.
If you don’t believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America’s Antebellum South who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform.
“They explained it this way. They sang a spiritual, even in the midst of their captivity. It’s one that says ‘There is a balm in Gilead…’ a healing balm, something that can make things right.
“‘There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.’
“And one of the stanzas actually explains why. They said: ‘If you cannot preach like Peter, and you cannot pray like Paul, you just tell the love of Jesus, how he died to save us all.”‘
“Oh, that’s the balm in Gilead! This way of love, it is the way of life. They got it. He died to save us all.
“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 wellbeing of the world… for us.
That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.
“If you don’t believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.”
Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.
Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.
Imagine this tired old 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, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
When love is the way, there’s plenty good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children.
“Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well… like we are actually family.
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.
My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.
And let me tell you something, old Solomon was right in the Old Testament: that’s fire.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – and with this I will sit down, we gotta get you all married – French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was arguably one of the great minds, great spirits of the 20th century.
Jesuit, Roman Catholic priest, scientist, a scholar, a mystic.
In some of his writings, he said, from his scientific background as well as his theological one, in some of his writings he said – as others have – that the discovery, or invention, or harnessing of fire was one of the great scientific and technological discoveries in all of human history.
Fire to a great extent made human civilization possible. Fire made it possible to cook food and to provide sanitary ways of eating which reduced the spread of disease in its time.
Fire made it possible to heat warm environments and thereby made human migration around the world a possibility, even into colder climates.
Fire made it possible – there was no Bronze Age without fire, no Iron Age without fire, no Industrial Revolution without fire.
The advances of fire and technology are greatly dependent on the human ability and capacity to take fire and use it for human good.
Anybody get here in a car today? An automobile? Nod your heads if you did – I know there were some carriages. But those of us who came in cars, fire – the controlled, harnessed fire – made that possible.
I know that the Bible says, and I believe it, that Jesus walked on the water. But I have to tell you, I did not walk across the Atlantic Ocean to get here.
Controlled fire in that plane got me here. Fire makes it possible for us to text and tweet and email and Instagram and Facebook and socially be dysfunctional with each other.
Fire makes all of that possible, and de Chardin said fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history.
And he then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love – it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.
Dr King was right: we must discover love – the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.
My brother, my sister, God love you, God bless you, and may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.
Simon Best our head of Learning shares his thoughts –
As Friends, in our Advices & Queries (number 28) we speak of doing “what love requires” of us. This is one of my favourite Advices & Queries and I use it a lot in my work. Reading Michael Curry’s sermon to me back to that and left me reflecting on it – and on the sermon and wondering what love requires of me – and of us as Friends, as meetings, as a Yearly Meeting? What does love require of us in our lives, in our Quaker community/communities and what does love require us to do in the world. Michael Curry’s sermon drew me back to the most important word in that phrase which is ‘love’ – sometimes the first word I see when I read that is ‘requires’. Love requiring something of us shouldn’t be seen as a burden, we should open our hearts to doing that which is laid upon us by love.
Mark Russ – our tutor who runs courses to nurture Friends and Meetings – ‘My first though is ‘what is there to add?’. Michael Curry covers a lot of ground in a succinct and powerful way. For me, this sermon captures why marriage is so sacramental. A sacrament is a physical symbol of a divine mystery. In marriage we hope to see two people committing themselves to each other, joined in a faithful and joyous relationship. In the Bible, human marriage is both good in and of itself, but is also symbolic of something greater. The final book of the New Testament concludes with a wedding. Not a wedding of two people, but the coming together of Jesus and the Church. Marriage symbolises the intimate uniting of God with God’s people, when everything will be made whole and we will all know true freedom, a reality we hope to taste in Meeting for Worship. Marriage celebrates the love of the couple and at the same time God’s love for, and desire to be reunited with, God’s creation. Thankyou Michael Curry for reminding us that love is not a soppy pink heart on a Valentine’s card. It’s a Fire that will burn all the sentimental chaff away and leave us with the refined gold of God’s Kingdom.
Tim Peat Ashworth, our Biblical studies tutor – had recently used some of this sermon in his teaching, the sequence at the end where Michael Curry uses Teilhard de Chardin’s thought that when we discover the power of love it will be the second time we have discovered fire – something that transforms every aspect of life to create a new world. It connected with his work to get across Paul’s idea that what was set loose in earliest Christianity would transform our relationship with each other and ultimately with the whole of creation.
This is the quote on Paul he uses before the extract from the sermon.
‘Paul is looking forward to the time when each person will no longer live … closed off to others and trapped in a need for self-assertion that inevitably leads to suspicion and conflict. He presents the Spirit-led life of the community in Corinth as prefiguring what is to come for all. Awareness of the divine is restored as they see God’s presence in each other.’
What are your thoughts? What did it stir up for you?