Speaking of that sermon

I must confess to feeling slightly, well slightly something I can’t really put into words, when I heard that Bishop Michael Curry, had been invited to preach at the Royal Wedding. I knew that his address would be different. I knew that it wouldn’t conform to the normal suggestions given to preachers for big set piece occasions: ‘Keep it short, keep it dignified and keep it safe!’ Such advice comes with an inbuilt guarantee: that you will add to the occasion by saying nothing of any substance but that you will do so beautifully. We have all heard, maybe even given, such sermons!

But, Michael Curry didn’t give a short, dignified, (well, dignified in the British sense of the word) and safe sermon. He gave a fiery, charismatic, pentecostal sermon. He spoke as much to the heart as to the mind and he dared his listeners to imagine. In a strangely bizarre way I couldn’t help but think of the first lines of St. Benedict’s rule: ‘Listen, child of God, to the guidance of your teacher. Attend to the message you hear, and make sure it pierces your heart, so that you might accept with willing freedom, and fulfill by the way you live, the directions that come from your loving Father.’ His use of the phrase ‘my brothers and sisters,’ reinforced his starting point; that we are all beloved children of God.

Michael Curry invited us all, including the happy couple, to enter into the ‘imagination of their hearts,’ to paraphrase the words of the Magnificat. He asked his congregation, and especially Harry and Meghan, to enter fully into the greatest love story ever told and, to play their part, as humanitarians, in accepting and bringing into the here and now the reality that salvation’s story is the universal story and that God’s lavish love is for all people in ‘all nations.’ 

His sermon went right to the very heart, or start, of the Gospel Manifesto. His message was that love is not something to be sentimentalized, hoarded, personalized, domesticated, and kept safe. God’s love is for the common good or common wealth. Love, he seemed to be saying, is the virtue through which we play our part in bringing something of the Kingdom of God into every nook and cranny of the here and now; ‘thy kingdom come.’ 

Love, sacrificial love, is the virtue that is to be taken into places of squalor and injustice.  If love is kept safe and contained it can never to borrow a word from Bishop Michael be ‘redemptive.’ To strip love of its redemptive power would be, in many ways, the ultimate act of selfishness and sin, for love’s biggest request is to be given and shared. Bishop Michael’s sermon was an invitation to move beyond eros and into agape.

Bishop Michael’s’ s address was highly personal. It was personal to Meghan and Harry and, it was personal to all who dare to call themselves Christian. There was nothing abstract in his sermon for he spoke of Christianity’s most abiding theological virtue: love.

He challenged each and every one of his 2 billion plus listeners to listen,imagine, and act; to get on with the sometimes dirty job of holiness, and that is why his sermon had such impact.

 

 

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Talking of ‘thy kingdom come.’

I was slightly shocked and surprised to read a couple of critiques of the ‘thy kingdom come’ initiative; truth be told. I thought it was sad that an idea, or even a movement, which has garnered such success has been used as a weapon in our ecclesiological disputes and disagreements.

The initiative, it strikes me, is an example of how our senior leaders can, and in this case have, motivated the church to get on and do what the church should do: pray! Of course we all come to prayer with our own unique concerns, anxieties, biases and preferences, but prayer, true prayer, is bigger than these.  Prayer is capable of subsuming and redeeming our egos. Isn’t that, in some senses, the whole point of prayer. Isn’t  the very phrase ‘thy kingdom come,’ a plea, from the deep, for the suppression of ego?

My own suspicion is this: that if we are praying for the breaking in of God’s kingdom ‘on earth as in heaven’ with a fixed idea of what this does, or doesn’t, mean then we cannot be doing anything other than offering a superficial  uttering of the words that Jesus taught us. We need to pray these words in a spirit of openness to change and transformation. We need to allow the results of our prayers to be unexpected. As a church we need to be rooted in and routed from prayer. If we pray these words with a fixed view of what the church should look like then we have missed the whole point of prayer.

If we pray the Lord’s Prayer in a spirit of partisanship, or even resentment, then we might as well not even bother. To ‘pray with confidence as our Saviour  taught us’ requires us to put aside all enmity and to provide the space for God to do God’s work in and through us; individually and collectively. I know that it is difficult to put aside our differences and biases, even our mistrusts and dislikes, when we pray but, if we can’t, then maybe we run the risk of praying in the spirit of the publican and pharisee?

The ‘thy kingdom come’ initiative is a gift to the church. Not just the Church of England, but the church. In my own benefice I have been ever so slightly amazed to discover how enthusiastically it has been received by members of the Roman Catholic congregation and the Free Church fellowship:  Beholdhow good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity(Psalm 133 verse 1). Whilst on holiday in Cornwall this week I worshiped in an Anglo-Catholic Church on Sunday and mid-week in Truro Cathedral. In both places ‘thy kingdom come’ was being promoted and entered into with excitement. The Archbishops’ initiative is, I think, both an ecumenical and denominational gift.

The Lord’s Prayer is, of course, the prayer of the Church. It belongs to all who worship. It matters not a jot whether those who pray it are deeply committed Christians, or seekers. God, I suspect doesn’t care whether it is prayed from the depths by evangelicals or catholics. The Lord’s Prayer cannot be owned and  should not be politicized.

It was given simply to be prayed.