What a wonderful wedding yesterday. Wasn’t it? The pomp and pageantry of British royal tradition with a refreshing dose of American energy. Fabulous! And the African-American Episcopal bishop who gave the homily! And that gospel choir singing “Stand By Me”!
But that African-American bishop, he spoke of love – as one would expect at a wedding. But he didn’t speak of love in the trite, sentimental ways that we expect to hear at a wedding service. He brought fire into that wedding service – the fire of Christ’s love. The Archbishop of Canterbury was seated right behind him as he delivered his homily. He sat very still, and probably saying to himself, “Why can’t I deliver a sermon like this?” But he can’t; he’s British and he’s high Anglican. And let me tell you why that thought entered my mind about the Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s because that’s what I was thinking. Why can’t I preach like a black preacher? Because I’m not black. I’m Greek and I’m Orthodox, and I’m boring. I’m supposed to be boring!
The good African-American bishop spoke of love, spoke with love, spoke love. He spoke of love as fire. He spoke of love as redeeming. He spoke of love of God and love of neighbor. He spoke of a love that if it were to exist, there would be no wars; there would be no poverty; no hunger. When love is the way, there would be justice and righteousness for all. “When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary,” he said. He spoke the love that Jesus brought into the world. The transcript of Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon can be read here.
Love is everywhere in the Bible. As examples, here are passages in the writings of John in the New Testament.
John 13:1 Having loved his own, he loved them to the end – εἰς τέλος ἠγάπησεν αὐτούς – to the maximum, to perfection.
John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
John 13:34-35 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this all people (πάντες) will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Do you hear that last sentence? Is that why there is no peace, no justice or righteousness in the world? Because the world does not see love even in the lives of the followers of Jesus?
1 John 3:16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
1 John 4:19-21 We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
But who is my brother or sister? you might ask. You really want to ask that question of Jesus? You know what his answer is going to be. Just like he answered the rich man’s question, “Who is my neighbor?”
This is why love is fire. And this is why the fiery American preacher was right on yesterday at that royal wedding. Half the congregation probably didn’t quite know what to do with him. They don’t hear sermons like that in high Anglican churches. They got a bit of a taste of American fiery preaching. And we need some preaching like that to shake us out of our own rut and our own satisfaction with ourselves and our holy tradition and our sense of entitlement.
Jesus ascended. He carried with him every human experience, everything that makes us human. He carried with him to heaven every human race, every form of human existence. That’s how great God’s love is for humanity. What do we do with that love? Fly flags at half mast? Pray with trite words while doing nothing to prevent the killing of our children? Is that the extent of our love? Where is the fire? Next week, on Pentecost, we will hear of how the Holy Spirit came down on the first disciples after Jesus ascended. And the Holy Spirit came down as fire. Jesus carried our shared humanity to heaven so he can send down fire – the fire that makes the world new, the fire that brings the new heaven and the new earth. That is the dream. That is the fire of love.