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This past Saturday I was pretty busy, participating in the Commencement for Calvin Theological Seminary late-morning and then attending the Calvin College Commencement in the afternoon to celebrate my son’s graduation with an English degree. Those festivities were followed by a wonderful family dinner at a favorite local restaurant. Hence I did not have time to take in the royal wedding in merry ole London or even catch up on any news stories about it. And yet, by the time my first commencement was finished–and definitely by the end of the second one late afternoon–people were coming up to me to say “Did you hear about the sermon delivered at Harry and Megan’s wedding? It was amazing and it has already gone viral! You gotta check it out!”
“Sermon.” “Viral.” I will tell you as a preacher that I long to have those two words go together, preferably in regard to one of my own sermons of course, but when you are in the preaching business, there is great satisfaction in anyone’s achieving a viral sermon. And Michael Curry did. And for good reason.
In the span of thirteen minutes Rev. Curry managed to quote Martin Luther King, Jr., Solomon, the Apostles Paul and John, Jesus, the African-American spiritual “There is a Balm in Gilead,” and as the cherry on the top he offered some musings about the power of fire by the philosopher Teilhard de Chardin.
But it was not the verses and people he quoted that makes this an exciting piece of public preaching. It was, rather, that the whole thing was a proclamation of the Gospel. Rev. Curry gave a full-throated recitation on the love of our Triune God and how that love climaxed in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Jesus did what had to be done, not what was popular, not what seemed sensible, not what was aimed at earning for him the very worldly accolades that have accrued to so many of the rich and famous sitting in the pews of that church Saturday morning. “He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He didn’t [get] and 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 well-being of the world, for us. That’s what love is.”
And before it was finished, he did what I wrote about two weeks ago here on The Twelve: Show, Don’t Tell. Because he did not make this a tidy little homily to prop up Harry and Megan’s marriage and call them to sacrificial faithfulness, though he did that too (on at least one cutaway shot Prince Charles seemed not to know where to look, though he had the sense not to look at his second wife Camilla at least). No, the love of God in which we were created and for which we live in Christ calls us to change the world. A world of love that only God can bring about calls us to not let children go to bed hungry, to make war no more, to make room for all God’s children wherever they come from. Those who had ears to hear–and I suspect that was more people than not on Saturday–needed no translator to tell them why this message was needed in this age so characterized by ethnocentric, “us first,” trash-your-neighbor-on-Twitter-and-Facebook mentalities.
When it comes to public preaching, Martin Luther King, Jr., still leads the way, though Billy Graham’s sermon at Richard Nixon’s funeral was also a fine public sermon testifying to our only hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. But now Michael Curry can rightly take his place among an august company of people who were able to stand in a pulpit and still have people listen to them.
Some commentators after the ceremony seemed almost confused. “So was that, like, a sermon?” seemed a common sentiment. It was as though they had long heard about a rather rare bird but then actually spied one during a tramp in the woods one afternoon. Sure, they’d heard that species existed but never thought they’d actually encounter one. So also Saturday morning: everybody knows millions of sermons get delivered every week but most people never actually hear one and would be sure that tuning out would be the thing to do if they somehow found themselves on the receiving end of such dull, moralistic diatribes. Madonna’s old song “Papa Don’t Preach” sums up lots of people’s boilerplate attitude toward sermons–they don’t want to hear them.
But for all of us who do that daring act each Sunday of climbing into a pulpit or standing behind a lectern or music stand, who clear our throats, and who say some version of Rev. Curry’s opening line “And now in the name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”–for all such as this, take heart. When the Good News is delivered as truly good, when Jesus is shown as the supremely loving One who sacrificed himself so the world could one day be made new, people listen. They sit up a little straighter. They lean in, even if only for thirteen minutes. But they hear something. Something good. Something they are pretty sure they’d be glad to hear again in this world’s cacophony of angry voices.
The Gospel can go viral.
But then we knew that. After all, the day after the royal wedding was Pentecost.
[By the way: You can see it here, though try not to be distracted by the cutaway shots to George Clooney, Elton John, Camilla, and the blushing bride. Listen with your eyes closed perhaps.]