9 Pentecost 11: Jeremiah 2:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, July 22, 2018
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
Earlier this summer our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, preached at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It was the “sermon heard round the world” as some have called it. Over two million viewers tuned in and heard that sermon. The London Sun, the most circulated daily in England, called him a “Frock Star. “ Saturday Night Live parodied him. The View, The Today Show, CNN, and many others interviewed him in the weeks that followed. There were accounts of record numbers of visitors to Episcopal churches the following Sunday. The Episcopal Church and Bishop Curry’s YouTube sites received significant hits in the weeks that followed.
It was Episcomania to say the least—though granted that is a much calmer and more reserved mania than say, Beatlemania. Instead of getting mobbed by thousands of screaming teenage girls and declaring one’s self more popular than Jesus, Bishop Curry gets mobbed by dozens of Episcopalians asking for selfies with him and he is always proclaiming Jesus.
I have to admit I’ve wondered why the royal couple asked Bishop Curry to preach at their wedding. It can’t be simply because he is black—the Archbishop of York, The Most Reverend John Sentamu, is black and second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Communion. And I don’t think it is because he is American, though it is possible that Meghan Markle would have seen that as poignant in some way. It is certainly not because he had any sort of relationship with the couple prior to the wedding—he didn’t know them. To hear Bishop Curry tell the story, someone from his office told him the Archbishop of Canterbury had called and asked him to preach at the Royal Wedding. Bishop Curry thought it was an April Fool’s joke and it took some time for it to sink in before he returned the phone call. So, if it didn’t have to do with his color, his nationality, or his relationship then what? I think to determine the answer as to why Bishop Curry was asked to preach, we have to also ask ourselves what was so compelling about his preaching that made the world take notice.
I’ll give you that a black, American preacher at such a hoity-toity royal event seems counter-intuitive—not quite the freak show of the bearded lady at the circus, yet still unexpected—but it was the compelling message of love that drew people in. Over and over again, Bishop Curry talked about the power of love. He started by quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.” He went on to say, “There’s power in love. Do not underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power in love.”
Sixty-five times in thirteen minutes, Bishop Curry uttered the word “love.” Sixty-five times. And he didn’t just talk about romantic love—he talked about love as a Balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul. That capturing the energy of love is like harnessing the energy of fire. He asked us to imagine what the world could be if love were the way—what our homes and families, neighborhoods and communities, governments and nations, business and commerce might look like if love were the way. And he reminded us that the source of love is God himself.
Why did Bishop Curry get nicknamed Frock Star and Episcomania sweep the church? Because he reminded us all that we are loved and need only too love; because he shined the light of love into this dark and broken world.
We are desperate for the message of love and so when we hear it, we flock to it. Too often we hear only the message of judgment and condemnation from religious leaders, despair and hopelessness from the media, greed and corruption from our political leaders. We live in a world divided by color, by politics, by socio-economic status, even by football teams and those divisions neither fulfill nor nurture us. Of course we yearn for the message of love. And I have a feeling that the longing for that message was not so different in Jesus’ day.
The people of Israel knew what it was to be sheep without a shepherd. Their prophets of old had often equated the ruling authority to good or bad shepherds. David was a good shepherd. But as we hear in the prophet Jeremiah today, most of Israel’s kings were not. Jeremiah warns those bad shepherds who have destroyed and scattered the sheep that their doings are evil and that the LORD will gather his flock back into his fold, raising up good and righteous shepherds over them. So I think it is by no sheer coincidence that we find this language in Mark’s Gospel as well—Jesus looks upon the people and has “compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” How haunting these words are when we remember that in the passage that precedes this one (the one we read last week) King Herod gives his daughter John the Baptist’s head on a platter because she pleased him with her dancing.
Of course the people of Jesus’ day were like sheep without a shepherd for their leaders did not care about them. They did not bring them to green pastures or lead them beside the still waters. They didn’t restore the vitality of the people nor guide them in the paths of righteousness—their leaders weren’t righteous themselves. When the people walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death they were afraid—that’s where they lived—because the governing authority used rod and staff to keep them controlled not comforted. The table that was prepared wasn’t set in the presence of enemies; it was set for the enemy. Heads weren’t anointed; they were cut off. There was no hope for goodness and mercy, no dwelling in the house of the LORD. Instead the people were scattered, divided amongst themselves and yet desperate to be drawn into one flock.
Enter Jesus who looks upon them with compassion and care: Who heals them, not to just rid them of their infirmities and ailments but to restore them to wholeness; who feeds them, who calms storms and walks on water. Of course the people flock to him as soon as they recognize him—they saw the power of transformative love, Jesus is transformative love.
In one of Bishop Curry’s post royal wedding interviews, he said, “Jesus Christ’s message of love is not just sentimental but a way of life. Love with a purpose, love to change the world.” That’s what Jesus sent his apostles out to do and to teach. Its how he approached the great crowd in the deserted place. Its why he healed those at Gennesaret and the surrounding villages and cities and farms. The difference between being a good shepherd and a bad shepherd is simply love.
That’s what the Jesus Movement is all about—love. We can follow the ways of the world—culturally, politically, economically or we can follow the way of Jesus. As Bishop Curry is fond of saying, “Love God, love neighbor, and while you’re at it, love yourself.”