May 20, 2018
There aren’t many times when literally millions of people get up stupidly early in the morning to watch a church service. But yesterday was one of them – the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Americans love the British royals. It’s part fairy tale, part soap opera, and part the special relationship between Britain and the U.S. But for us, as Episcopalians, there’s an even deeper connection, of course. We’re the American expression of the Church of England, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion – so, in a real sense, it’s our church service that millions of people got up stupidly early to watch.
But in this royal wedding, the connection didn’t stop there. Not only did we witness a marriage very much like one that happened at this altar a few hours later. We also heard our Episcopal presiding bishop preach to the royal couple – and to the world. Michael Curry was a surprise choice as the preacher. I don’t think an American has ever been invited to preach at a royal worship event. But if you’ve heard Michael Curry preach, you know why he was chosen: He pretty much puts every other Anglican preacher to shame.
Perhaps coincidentally – or perhaps not – all this happened on the eve of Pentecost. This is when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ followers, letting them speak in different languages and empowering them to be apostles, which means those sent to bring Jesus’ good news to people who don’t know it. If you’ve been a Christian a while, you may have heard Pentecost described as the birthday of the Church, and that’s true. Because Jesus’ followers received the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit, they were able to turn a story about a resurrected Jewish leader into a global movement.
So, listening to Michael Curry preach at the royal wedding, one might have forgiven him for taking a moment to mention his Episcopal Church, on the eve of the birthday of the whole Church. How many opportunities does he get to talk directly to millions of Americans who have never even heard of us? It was a public-relations dream come true.
But, if you’ve heard our presiding bishop preach – say, when he was here in Kansas City last year – you know he has a very specific way of talking about this denomination of ours. Michael Curry almost never talks about “The Episcopal Church,” the institution he leads. Michael Curry talks about a movement – the Jesus Movement. And he calls this entity he leads “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.”
So, there he was, at the center of the institutional Anglican Church. He was in the royal chapel at Windsor Castle, for God’s sake – at the wedding of a prince, sharing the liturgical duties with the archbishop of Canterbury, representing the American expression of the worldwide Anglican Communion. His role as presiding bishop doesn’t get much more institutional than that.
But because words matter, Michael Curry never even mentioned The Episcopal Church in this homily that reached millions of Americans. Instead, he talked about the Jesus Movement. He said, “Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in all of 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 life of the world itself.”1 That’s the Jesus Movement.
So, what difference does that make for us, here at St. Andrew’s? And what difference does it make for you?
First, let me ask: How many of you are inspired by the idea of being part of an institution? That’s what I thought. Oh, boy – bureaucracies, and entrenched cultures, and personal fiefdoms – and paperwork! Sign me up.
I think Jesus feels the same way. That’s why he never said anything about creating an institutional church. In the Gospels, Jesus mentions the word we translate as “church” a grand total of three times, so it’s not exactly a priority. And even more important, the word he uses actually doesn’t mean what we hear in the English word “church.” In Greek, the word is ecclesia, which means an assembly, a gathered community. Here at St. Andrew’s, we often refer to the same thing as a “family.” The church Jesus has in mind, and the kind of churches the apostles went out and gathered – they were not institutions with Vestries and committees and budgets … or buildings. They were communities, households of the family of God. They were nimble and responsive to the problems and needs and passions and dreams of the places where they rose up. They were outposts of the Jesus Movement in their times and places. They spoke and lived the good news of life and liberation and love for the people around them. Now that’s something I’d like to be part of.
How about you? What difference does any of this make for you? Well, as we celebrate Pentecost, I would say what happened to those followers of Jesus in the upper room 2,000 years ago matters deeply for you – including the seven new members of the family we’re about to baptize today. The power of the Holy Spirit that God poured out on the disciples then is the same power of the Holy Spirit that God pours out on you.
At every baptism, we ask God to bless and inspire those who are coming into the family – and we trust that God hears us and gives us what we ask in Christ’s name: delivering us from the way of sin and death, filling us with God’s holy and life-giving Spirit, loving others in the power of that Spirit, sending us into the world in witness to God’s love, and bringing us into the fullness of God’s peace and glory (Book of Common Prayer 305-306). That’s our birthright as God’s children. When we come through the waters of baptism, dying to sin and rising again in the power of resurrection, the Holy Spirit fills us with everything we’ll need to be part of this Jesus Movement – and change the world.
Just as all politics is local, so is all transformation. We’ve received the gifts of the Holy Spirit to bring the kingdom to life in this time and place that God has given us. You hold that power. You have everything you need to heal and bless and renew your corner of God’s kingdom. For you’ve been baptized into the death and life of Jesus Christ. You’ve joined the family of God. And you’ve been sent out as a witness of these things.
As the presiding bishop said at the royal wedding yesterday, so he says to you: “Love is the way” – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love. And it’s not just God’s way but our way of life. “When love is the way,” Michael Curry said, “people treat each other as if they actually were family.” And when we re-discover that fire of love – as the apostles did on the first Pentecost – when we re-discover the fire of love, Michael Curry said, “we will make of this old world a new world.”1 Sign me up. Now.
Though the service at Windsor Castle yesterday was beautiful, and though the service here today is beautiful, too, the service of God’s people actually begins the moment we walk out those red doors. Today is not the birthday of an institution but the spark of a movement. We know what that movement was – a network of communities that spread from Palestine to the ends of the earth. But even more important is what that movement is: A movement of the Spirit in your own heart. A movement spreading the balm of Gilead to make this old world a new world. A movement empowering you to be the mouth and hands and feet and heart of Jesus to bless God’s people – today.