|The Right Reverend Michael B. Curry preaching to Integrity at Church of the Good Shepherd, Raleigh, NC|
On Thursday, November 6, 2014, Integrity USA inaugurated its 40th Anniversary year with a Eucharist and celebration. The Right Reverend Michael B. Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, celebrated and preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, in Raleigh, North Carolina. His sermon can be watched here and our transcription follows below.
This 40th anniversary is significant because Integrity from your very beginning (I see my friend [Louie Clay] sitting here) was a call to hear the deep call of God, and for the church to be who Jesus calls us to be, and for what God dreams for this world to be. So thank you.
So let me talk to the text from the Gospel that was read a few moments ago. John 21; the crucifixion has happened, Jesus has died, then that great gettin' up moment happens. And he was raised from the dead. I'm somewhat relieved the brother got up, 'cause if he didn't get up, I'm gettin' out. (laughter) I can make more money than I can with this gig, so get it real.
So he's raised from the dead. I don't know how it all happened, I don't explain it, I just accept it. He was raised from the dead, and he appeared on different occasions, and the Gospel writers tried to put their hands around it, and finally in one of them, in John's Gospel, in one of the appearances after the disciples have been eating breakfast on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus pulls Peter aside, and he says, "Simon bar Jonah, do you love me more than these?"
And Peter says, "Yes, of course I do, Brother!"
"Feed my sheep."
"Do you love me?"
"Lord, you just asked me that question!" He's looking back. (laughter) I'm reading between the lines. "You just asked me that question. Of course I do!"
"Tend my sheep."
And then again he says to him, "Simon, son of John! Do you love me?"
And Peter at that point is beginning to get exasperated: "You may be the Lord, but you're gettin' on my last nerve! Yes, you know that I love you!"
Then he says to him, "Well when you were young, you used to go where you wanted to go. You used to do what you wanted to do." I'm getting older now, and I can't do what I used to be able to do. But when you were young, you did what you wanted to do, you went where you wanted to go, you kinda felt your own power and your own energy, and did your own thing. Like the Isley Brothers (sings) It's your thing, do what you wanna do Right? Someone here remembers that song! (laughter)
"When you were young, that's what you could do, but when you're old, when you mature in this relationship with me, when you mature in your relationship to God, when you mature in your relationship with the Spirit, another will take you by the hands, and lead you where you do not want to go. Now follow me!" John said Jesus said this to indicate the manner by which Peter would sacrifice his life for the cause of that love that Jesus was talking about.
See, that love was the key. It was the key to Peter's discipleship. Without that love, it doesn't work. Without that love, it becomes a mechanical, rote formula. Without that love, there is no reason for doing it. It's love that is the key to the following of Jesus in good times and in bad. It is love that is key to living a life (here, I'm coming to it now!) of Integrity (silence) I worked on that for an hour! (laughter, applause) It is that love that is the key to life itself! It is love that is the key to the life of the world. It is the love that is the key to saving this planet. It is love that will be the key to abolishing war. It is love that will be the key to making poverty history! Love!
"Now," Jesus says, "Integrity, do you love me?"
"Now," Jesus says, "Episcopal Church in North Carolina, do you love me? Bishop, do you love me? Christians, do you love me? Then follow me. Not where you want to go. Follow me where the spirit of God has already gone. Love."
See, I've noticed something. When you read the Bible -- parents do this with their kids all the time; when parents repeat stuff, they really mean for you to pay attention. When the Bible repeats something, it's probably worth paying attention. When you see a theme that keeps getting repeated in church. Or when Jesus keeps saying the something over and over again, it's probably worth paying attention, like that little gospel song "God is Trying to Tell You Something".
When Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me? Do you love me? DO YOU LOVE ME???" He was telling him something so profound that one time was not enough to get it. "Do you love me? Do you love me? DO YOU LOVE ME???" Peter, you denied me three times! But love can heal. Love is a balm in Gilead, and it can heal you in your denial, Peter. "Do you love me? Do you love me? DO YOU LOVE ME???" Love is power that can conquer evil and that can vanquish death.
If you go back and look at John's Gospel, it's interesting that Jesus's conversations about love cluster at the Last Supper. John 3:16: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not perish...." Everybody knows that; at least if they're Rite I Episcopalians, they know that one! And these present of his body, they know that.
That's probably the one exception to the love theme in John that is early in the Gospel. The rest of the passages about Love in John's Gospel cluster in chapters 13-17 which is John's Last Supper. It is at the Last Supper that Jesus says, "I give you a new commandment that you love one another." It is at the Last Supper that he takes a towel and a basin of water and washes their feet. "I'm giving you an example of what love looks like."
This is not easy stuff. This is not a Hallmark greeting card. This is tough stuff I'm talking about. At the Last Supper he says, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love."
At the Last Supper he says -- as Judas is about to slither out of the room to betray him -- Love.
Peter will deny that he even knows him -- love. And most of them who would abandon him, save a few faithful ones -- Love.
As he's tried on trumped-up charges in the middle of the night -- Love.
As human tribunals dare to try the Lord -- Love.
As soldiers take him and mock him and spit on him and torture him -- Love.
As they nailed those hands that only healed to a blood-stained cross - Love.
When he cried his last, and looked in his mama's eyes, and then said, "it is finished" -- Love.
Sunday morning. The Earth is starting to shake. (Like the song "Shake, Rattle and Roll!") Nobody's quite sure what, but something's going on: something seismic. Something deep within the hall of reality is being disturbed and shaken and rent asunder, it's LOVE! Cracking open the tomb! LOVE! Giving life anew again! LOVE! Simon, do you love me? LOVE has the power that can set you free! LOVE can heal you! LOVE can reconcile you! LOVE can liberate you! Love can show you the way with integrity... (to Louie) I got it again! (laughter) Life with dignity, and life saturated with eternity.
Phew! Thank you. You have reminded the church again -- and we must continually be be reminded -- that that love is our calling.
I was the brand-new rector of St. James: Baltimore back in 1988. The first Sunday that I was there, I was in the sacristy and people were coming up to me and introducing themselves: the head of the altar guild, the ladies' choir... I was just greeting people, and finally got to this one gentlemen, who became a dear friend... he put out his hand and said his name, and said, "I'm I'm the treasurer." I said "Very glad to meet you," and he said "... and I'm in the 'B Group'"
I remember thinking I know about the St. Francis Guild, the Altar Guild... we had a lot of guilds, but I said "I'm interested; I don't know what the B Group is."
And he said, "Well, Father, I've been here before you got here, I'll be here while you're here, and I'll be here when you're gone." (laughter)
And when I was made the bishop here, it was in the chapel down the road, and there he was in the last pew, in the last seat. He looked at me coming out of the procession, and he said, "Well, Father, I'm still in the 'B Group' and you're gone!" (laughter)
I want to suggest that God is the ultimate 'B Group'. The Bible says God is the Alpha and the Omega, God is the beginning and the end. God is the one who was, and is, and is to come. God is God. God is ALL THAT! God is all that God needs to be whole and complete and fulfilled. God and God! Paul Tillich once said when you're think you've got God learnt, God is the god behind that god. We're talking about GOD.
Which is another way of saying God has all the company that God needs within God's self. You think you're more important than the Trinity? Which is another way of saying God doesn't need us. God doesn't need the world. God didn't make the world... and he didn't make us... because God needed it. God did it because 1 John 4:7 "Beloved let us love one another, because love is of God and those who love are born of God and know God because God is Love." The reason this world is here, the reason that we are here is because God is love.
And in the words of St. Paul... you gotta get him on a good day... 1 Corinthians 13:1: "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" If you read into the middle of Chapter 13, you'll discover that Paul says, "love is not jealous; love is not rude, love is not boastful; love does not does not insist on its own way," which is a way of saying that real love looks out for the good and the welfare of the other. Real love is willing to move over and space for the other to be. Real love! God moved over, and made space for the world. Moved over and made room for you... and you... and me. God said, "let there be, because God is love, and that is what love does. And that is the most titanic power in all of history. "Simon, son of John. Do you love me?"
See, the truth is that battles have been won, but the war is not over. The struggle with day-to-day inequality is not over. We have a long-distance race yet to run. Jesus understood that, and understood that we don't have the strength in ourselves alone to run it. You don't have the strength in yourself alone to run it. There will be setbacks yet to come: don't be fooled! In any struggle, there will be setbacks yet to come. I mean, I thought the kingdom of God was gonna come when Barack Obama became president; we saw what happened with that! The brother can't get a break no matter what he does. I mean, the President of the United States has to convince people that he's an American! Let's get real, right? But that's the reaction. That's the reality.
And you need a power greater than your own to run this race. We need a power that is generated by the love that is between us. We need a power that is generated by the God who created us, and Jesus understood that. You can't follow him without living in his love. That's the power that can lift you up! That's the power that does not say no. St. Paul said it this way: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
I'm going to sit down, 'cause we've got more church to do. Thank you.
Have you seen that movie 42? Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey.... it's worth it; in fact, there ought to be a catechismal requirement! (laughter) It's the story of the desegregation and integration of Major League Baseball. In the 1940s and 1950s and before that, baseball was America's game, and -- like America -- it was completely segregated. You had the old Negro Leagues and incredible ball players there, and the American League and the National League, and everybody was white there. And never the twain shall meet. There was no All-Star Game where they played together; that didn't happen. This was total, complete segregation: America's game.
Branch Rickey, God love him, was a baseball man who loved that game. He loved it enough to challenge it. See that's what you've been doing, Integrity. You love the church enough to challenge us to claim a higher calling. Branch Rickey, like you, realized he could not just sit back and play the game, that he had to challenge Major League Baseball to be better, to find its higher and noble self. He was convinced it was necessary to desegregate the ball game and eventually integrate baseball, and that the way to do it was to find one ball player; I gotta start with him. God knew that too. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Yea! You all know what that refers to; that's the first one, that's the beginning.
So Rickey said If I could find one of the best ball players, both in terms of his statistics on the field, but also in terms of his character.... There were lots of recommendations, and some better, more physical ball players than Jackie Robinson. But Rickey said, "No, no; I want Jackie Robinson." And they kind of insisted and said, "Robinson's good but there are some other people who are better!" But Rickey said "He's good, but he's got a temper; and he messes around too much; and he likes money too much. I need somebody who is so clean that they can't touch him, and such a character that they won't get inside him."
Branch Rickey, as it turned out, was a devout Christian. He was a cigar-chewin', cussin', whisky-drinkin' ... he wasn't even an Episcopalian (laughter) Christian... my book is called Crazy Christians but I think the next one is going to be called We Need Some Cussin' Christians. We need cussin' Christians like Branch Rickey who are not going to sit still for the world as it is, but won't waver until the world becomes what God dreams that it can.
So he said, "I want Jackie Robinson!" And they asked "Why" and he said " 'cause Robinson's a Methodist." And they asked, "What's that got to do with baseball stats?" And he said, "Because Robinson's a Methodist, I'm a Methodist, and God's a Methodist! I want Jackie Robinson!"
So they they bring Jackie Robinson into the room (and this is history accurate, it's both in the film and Rickey's biography's) and Rickey gives the proposal in front of Robinson and says, "I know you're a ball player, you wanna play ball, and I know that, but you have to do more than play ball. There are going to be people who spit at you , and you can't spit back. They're going to curse you, and you can't curse back. They're going to call you every name but a child of God, and you can't call them any names back. And God forbid, they may try to kill you, and you can't strike back."
At that point Robinson kind of arched his back. He could feel the anger of repressed feeling bubbling up... the anger. He said "Rickey, you want a negro who's afraid to fight back." And Rickey said, "No, I want a ballplayer who's got the courage not to fight back." Rickey took a book out of his drawer... this is in his biography... it was titled The Life of Christ. And he read to Jackie Robinson, "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you, and so you will be children of your Father in heaven."
Robinson at that point put out his hand, and he and Branch Rickey shook. Those two guys through the power of love, changed baseball. Baseball helped to change America. And America at its best can help to make a better world.
Don't you underestimate the power of love. Don't you give up on the power of love. Because the source of all love is God. And if God be for us, who can be against us?
My grandmother used to sing:
I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore.
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more;
But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.
Love lifted me, love lifted me
When nothing else would help
Love lifted me.
God love you. God bless you. And God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.