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Episcopalians reflect on staying power of ‘the sermon that stole the show’

Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and his wife Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, wave from the Ascot Landau Carriage during their carriage procession on Castle Hill outside Windsor Castle in Windsor, England after their wedding ceremony on May 19, 2018. (Paul Ellis/pool photo via AP)

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle kiss after their wedding ceremony at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, near London, on May 19, 2018. (Ben Birchhall/pool photo via AP)

(RNS) — It’s not Meghan Markle’s stunning 16-foot veil or bouquet of forget-me-nots, the favorite flower of the groom’s late mother, Princess Diana.

It’s not the romantic words Prince Harry whispered to his bride as she joined him at the altar.

Days after the royal wedding, it’s the address by the Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, people still are talking about.

It was a sermon that quoted from American civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, that referenced “slaves in America’s antebellum South” and the theology in the African-American spiritual “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” It proclaimed the “power of love” and challenged its hearers to “think and imagine a world where love is the way.”

It was a sermon that a reporter for Britain’s Sky News referred to as “unconventional” in an interview afterward with Curry and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby of the Church of England. (Welby responded, “There is nothing conventional about Christianity.”)

It was a sermon that stirred even the famously skeptical Brits, half of whom claim to have no religion, according to the Government’s British Attitudes Survey. Former Labour leader Ed Miliband tweeted that Curry “almost made me a believer.” British Airways pilot Dave Wallsworth tweeted: “I’m not a religious person, but Bishop Michael Curry was superb.” In a headline, The Daily Telegraph deemed it “The sermon that stole the show.”

But for many Episcopalians, that message of love wasn’t so different from the messages preached in their pulpits every Sunday. It was “pure Michael,” according to Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, who has known Curry for more than 20 years.

“We have our 10 minutes of fame here,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Lee, bishop of Chicago. “The truth is, what Bishop Curry said is essentially the message you can hear in Episcopal churches all over the place.”

Curry was born in Chicago and raised in Buffalo, N.Y. He began his ministry in Winston-Salem, N.C., and was elected presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in 2015.

The Most Rev. Michael Curry, primate of the Episcopal Church, gives an address during the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19, 2018. (Owen Humphreys/PA Wire via AP)

 

In his address, Curry pulled from a number of sources, including the reading from the biblical book of Song of Solomon that Prince Harry and Markle, now the duke and duchess of Sussex, chose for the service. But the bishop said in his Sky News interview that his inspiration “really was, to be honest, the good news of Jesus Christ and the good news not only that we are loved, but that this love isn’t simply a sentimental thing, it’s a way of life, and it’s a way of life that actually makes a difference in people’s lives and in the life of the world.”

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle leave St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle after their wedding in Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, near London, on May 19, 2018. (Jonathan Brady/pool photo via AP)

As presiding bishop, Curry has been an international figure for some time, said Baskerville-Burrows. She doesn’t see the headlines, the impression by Kenan Thompson over the weekend on “Saturday Night Live” or “a few thousand more Twitter followers” changing him. Instead, she said, “I think what it does more is it changes the church and what people expect or know about the Episcopal Church.”

To wit, the group she runs with has been talking about the address. And, she said, next time somebody asks her about the Episcopal Church, she’ll have a video to send them. She’s excited that conversation is happening both inside and outside the church.

The Rev. Marcus Halley, rector at St. Paul’s Church on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, said that “13-minute trip through African-American history” gives credence and credibility when black voices often are not taken seriously in the white church. For example, he pointed to critiques of Curry’s address as “Christianity light” or a bingo card of phrases Curry often uses in his message that went viral online as efforts to dismiss his message. A spokesperson for the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth said the intent of the bingo game was to encourage viewers to pay attention to Curry’s message.

He also said he thinks Curry’s address will be numbered among history’s great sermons “because of who he is, what he said, where he said it and how he said it.” 

“To hear that this black American preacher going over to England, which until recently sort of sat as the apex of European colonialism in the world — to hear him walking through the hallowed halls of Britain and name and give voice to enslaved Africans whose voices have never traveled that far was absolutely amazing and something I will remember,” Halley said.

(Emily McFarlan Miller reported from Chicago. Catherine Pepinster reported from London.)

Britain’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and his wife, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, wave from the Ascot Landau Carriage during their carriage procession on Castle Hill outside Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, after their wedding ceremony on May 19, 2018. (Paul Ellis/pool photo via AP)

 

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

About the author

Catherine Pepinster

87 Comments

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  • This is the Year of the Curry: PB (Presiding Bishop, The Episcopal Church) Michael Curry and PG (Point Guard, The Golden State Warriors) Stephen Curry.

  • it may have been newsworthy if he served Christ.
    As he has now elected to get into politics, is this RNS interest in him? Beware, he does not serve Christ.

  • The Presiding Bishop preached the Good News of Jesus Christ – love! Love God with all your heart might mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Upon these two things hang ALL the law and the prophets.

  • “It was ‘pure Michael,’ according to Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, who has known Curry for more than 20 years.”

    “‘We have our 10 minutes of fame here,’ said the Rev. Jeffrey Lee, bishop of Chicago. ‘The truth is, what Bishop Curry said is essentially the message you can hear in Episcopal churches all over the place.’”

    Indeed it was.

    Pay no attention to the law.

    Just love one another and you can otherwise do whatever you want.

  • John 14:15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

    I suppose whether it’s “bad” depends on what you’re looking for and what you expected.

    What it is not is Christianity.

  • If a cleric “stole the show” during a wedding (the focus of which was supposed to be on the two people getting married) then something is off kilter. In most cases of “stealing the show” egotism is the usual culprit.

  • I would recommend reading the sermon first. – there is a link to it. I am not sure how you came to the conclusion that he elected to get into politics.

  • I posted it the same day he gave it in one of the then existing discussions on Bishop Curry giving the sermon.

  • Yes, if you keep God’s commandments.

    If you do not keep those commandments, what is being called “love” is a mirage.

  • Almost everyone of the writers and main characters in the New Testament describe love as the means of fulfilling the law. In fact, Paul talks about following the law with no effect for righteousness.

    Please explain, with examples from the text, how Curry’s sermon “isn’t Christianity.”

  • You can’t break the law and then fulfill it with “love”, whatever that is in the context of lawbreaking.

    It would be faster if you took Curry’s sermon and pointed out the Christian component. It won’t take long.

  • Who said anything about “breaking” the law. Of course, we don’t break the law, because the law is made to demonstrate love to one’s neighbor and to God. But fulfilling the law out of mere obligation, fear, or pride does not count for righteousness.

    As for the sermon, I have no problem seeing it as Christianity. Since you challenged it, I was just curious as to your perspective that would negate it.

  • Who said anything about keeping the law?

    No one but me up to this point.

    The fact that you have no problem seeing it as Christian illustrates the problem I was mentioning.

  • The good news is the gospel, and the gospel is a person: “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David — that is my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8).

  • Something is clearly off-kilter: our assumption that too much talk about God is out of place at a wedding. Holy matrimony is the celebration of a sacrament of God’s love, and the focus should be on God. The idea that a wedding is all about the bride and groom is as misguided as the idea of a funeral as a “celebration of life” of the deceased.

  • I think that the press statements may be hyperbole. I can’t imagine that the bride and groom were not the center of attention. I think that what happened is that, for one, a sermon at one of these celebrity weddings actually gave people pause and caused them to think. I can’t see that as a bad thing.

  • The Good News according to Jesus was his announcement of the in-breaking of the Commonwealth of God.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qk2Yc8dyXFE&feature=youtu.be

    Of course, if you love God you keep his commandments.

    The New Testament uses at least four words which we translate in English as “love”:

    Agápe – the love of God for man and of man for God, one feeling towards one’s children and the feelings for a spouse.

    Éros – sexual passion.

    Philia – “affectionate regard, friendship,” usually “between equals”, a dispassionate virtuous love. Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics describes it as loyalty to friends (specifically, “brotherly love”), family, and community.

    Storge – “love, affection” and “especially of parents and children”, the common or natural empathy, like that felt by parents for offspring. Love of country.

    It is difficult, if not impossible, to read the text of Bishop Curry’s sermon

    https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/05/20/612798691/bishop-michael-currys-royal-wedding-sermon-full-text-of-the-power-of-love

    and discern about which of these he is speaking at various points in it.

    Add the words “Jesus Christ” to these lyrics

    https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/beatles/allyouneedislove.html

    and the rest is a much more concise approximation of Bishop Curry’s sentiments.

    What real love entails is sacrifice, God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son to it sort of sacrifice.

    That’s what it takes for a successful marriage – totally absent from Curry’s sermon – and to observe God’s commandments – increasingly absent from Curry’s church.

  • The Kingdom of God, yes… but the Kingdom of God IS Christ. It is His doing in its entirety, and its citizens exist within Him. He is the Stone cut out without hands that smashes the other kingdoms and fills the whole earth.

  • There are a lot of metaphors about Christ, but the Commonwealth of God is a wholly other thing. Just as the Church as the Bride of Christ, also a metaphor.

    We obviously won’t agree upon this like many other things, so I’m moving on.

  • One cherry picked verse does not entail the entire Good News. It is a brand of Christianity that many of us partake in. Whether it’s your cup-o-tea is another matter.

    I thought that you intimated that you weren’t religious?

  • God, that’s incredibly boring!!!! I wouldn’t know if they know of which they speak purely because I nod off trying to listen!

  • I can provide many more.

    The gate is narrow.

    Many are called, few are chosen.

    Yes, it is a brand of Christianity a minority partake of, but not as many in that particular denomination as partook of another brand four decades ago.

    I don’t believe I intimated I was not religious.

    I do tend to avoid religious “proofs” unless the discussion is along these lines about matters of religion.

  • I get that you’ve moved on, but the concept Shawnie5 spoke of, is so utterly powerful and amazing — almost frightening — that every time I see it I gotta stop everything, drop everything, and bow my head.

    There’s a Greek phrase out there. The Autobasileia. The very kingdom of God, all of it, in one single concentrated package, one single ultimate Person. All of it. You don’t walk away from THIS, for any reason.

    The living Lord Jesus Christ, The Autobasileia, the very Kingdom, Presence, and Rulership of God IN PERSON. Period.

    They say Origen used that sobering Greek phrase about Jesus, but it looks like Jesus essentially beat him to it in Luke 11:20.

    Notice the sheer unstoppable power of what He’s saying and doing. He’s utterly Invincible. No problem in your life is too hard for The Autobasileia. Ever.

    “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come unto you.”

    Okay. This is not an attack, not a lecture. It’s just that when Shawnie5 said those few words, everything screeched to a halt again for me. I cannot help it. Cannot help it.
    .

  • I did and I would be among the majority of the 45,000 posting comments not in support of his take starting with accusationa of ariamsim and pelagiansism. Quite obvious though that they wanted more from the sermon or possibly less and quite obvious they were interpreting his words through a different context ie within tensions in the Anglican communion. So they wanted a sermon delivered at the level o the stage of eros love and maybe family love but agape was inappropriate apparently for a couple whose lives will include a great deal of charitable work but also a wedding sermon that included atonement theology while ignoring the reality of having to balance the reality that this was not just a wedding service but also a hugely public event – not only the range of invited guests but for citizens of not just the UK but the Commonwealth as well as audiences of other broadcasters So rather than rely on a YouTube critique, perhaps read the sermon first.

    PS Just wondering how come you post links for others to read, but cop out when others post links for you to read?

  • Had he – Curry – been a Christian, he could have spoken for Christ.
    My husband has asked me not to open links from people I don’t know.

  • Romans 7:7 – English Standard Version

    What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

  • Not quite understanding how your husband allows you to use a computer…at all.
    Anyone who fails to fit snugly into your tiny box of rules is less than and is to be shunned, castigated, maligned, discriminated, and run out of town on rails. YOU and your ilk are the reason I can’t tolerate pious pew perchers to this day. How DARE you, in all your narrow and radicalized fundamentalism, question this man’s faith. How can you clutch your patriarchal manuscript as a woman and challenge a man who is in a position leadership and authority?
    Oh, never mind, you’re not equipped to self reflect and check your hubris.

  • Bob is quite religious. He just likes to pretend that if he doesn’t say what his affiliation is– I’m pretty sure he is hyper catholic– that somehow makes is various pronouncements more objective.

  • Wrong again, Errol Flynn: Mark 12:29: “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.”

    Love of God and humanity are the two great commandments. Your effort to impose the Old Testament rules in the Law of Moses on the “Two Great Commandments” of Christ does not make it so.

  • Christ only gave two commandments: “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29)

  • I know the “holy hypocrite” crowd hates the last 7 words of Christ’s own words because there is no room there for them to reimpose the 10 Commandments of the Law of Moses, but they try to anyway.

  • Nope. Christ emphasized love for people and putting people first. Modern holy hypocrites only give Christ lip service as they follow the “Scribes and Pharisees” instead of Jesus Christ.

  • What do you know about this subject? You and your Duke lacrosse rape hoax disgusting Reverends in Durham. Even after Crystal Mangum stabbed her boyfriend to death we never heard you nor gluttonous Rev. Barber apologize for your lynch mob.

  • Nope. That would be your holy hypocrite redefinition of “Love” and not the one given by Christ.

  • The commission of Christ to the Eleven Apostles is not given to you. You presume to take it upon yourself. But you have no evidence that Christ gave you personally any “Great Commission.” Everything that Christ personally commanded the eleven is given in the Two Great Commandments. Again, it’s more holy hypocrite supposition to try to claim that the 10 Commandments and the holy hypocrite spin on the Law of Moses is somehow still in effect. (Matthew 28:16-20)

  • Nice try at being patronizing. It just undercuts your effort to appear “holier than thou” by 100%. But the nonsense they teach you in holy hypocrite Sunday School simply is not true. The Commission that Christ personally gave the Eleven prior to his ascension has no set of inclusion of other people in it. Christ does not claim to include the Law of Moses in the commandments that he has given the apostles. Christ’s whole personal message was to put people above rules. So-called “Old Testament Christians” are basically the real disciples of the Scribes and Pharisees not Christ.

  • Actually Jesus said he was changing not one jot or tittle of the law.

    That backs us into the Old Testament, which creates a few problems for your theories on morality.

  • Unfortunately for you, that matter was decided in the very first century of the church.

  • Unfortunately for you, there is no history to back up your assertion. The Romanized Christian Church did not come into existence until the 3rd Century of Christianity. The Bible as we now know it did not exist in the first Christian century, just scattered copies of individual parts of it.

  • No it doesn’t. That requires you to put words in Jesus’s mouth. Every time you assert your holy roller Sunday School nonsense, you have to extrapolate key elements of the story. There is no direct, logical connection to any of it.

  • The incorporation of the moral law of the Old Testament into the church is extremely well-attested, and it is found in Christian bodies from India to Europe, from Europe into the Middle East.

  • Nowadays. That does not establish the historicity of it. Modern Christianity is the construct of the Church created under the governmental control of Rome. It was designed in committee, not handed down from God. You have to aim in every direction away from the real origins because the truth is a big scab for you folks.

  • Matthew 5

    17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

    18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

    19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

    I used the King James version since “jot” and “tittle” are such apt words.

    I am a bit surprised, given your proclivity for uttering unsupported opinion as though it means something, and avoiding substantive discussions, that I have not blocked you along the way.

    This may be the day.

  • You’ll need to back that up with something other than your personal zany ex-Christian beliefs to continue the conversation with me.

  • You are the one “continuing the conversation.” Your efforts to show me wrong are not really a conversation, just another failed effort for you in establishing yourself as the “expert” you are not.

  • When Christ gave his two great commandments, he said that they were greater than all the rest. His words, not mine. You are trying to argue with him, not me.

  • Chuckling at the irony of an article posted a few hours after the sermon was preached discussing its “staying power.”

  • “Just love one another and you can otherwise do whatever you want.”

    you make a parody of the very real and good words of bishop curry .

    when he speaks of “Imagin(ing) this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive,” he is not talking of an easy way or a lawless way .

    this is a profoundly christian sermon in the 2000 year tradition of following the way of jesus .

    sorry you missed it with your focus on your own issues .

  • Whatever its other qualities, a royal wedding is an occasion of state. An experienced cleric would recognize the audience of societal and political leaders, and reach for broader themes.

  • In rereading the comments I don’t think “you make a parody of the very real and good words of bishop curry” is a fair assessment.

    I believe, taking his comments and juxtaposing with his personal positions and that of his church, that I correctly note that rather than Jesus he was preaching the Beatles.

  • and the beatles preached :

    “He died to save us all.

    “He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He didn’t… 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 wellbeing of the world… for us.

    “That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered.”

    and the beatles preached that where ?

  • i have . you seem to want a marriage sermon to concentrate on law not love . any other points of significance ?

  • Explain, other than a couple of references to Jesus in passing, the difference between Bishop Curry’s message and “all you need is love”.

    Explain how love of God fits into Bishop Curry’s denomination scrapping a 3,000 year prohibition against same sex relations, a 1,900+ year old prohibition against ordaining women into the apostolic succession.

    I’m sure you see something there that isn’t on the surface.

    Share it with us.

  • No one cares about your 3000-year-old bigotry. Interracial marriage was outlawed for a long time, too. You seem to be stuck on a broken record that says, “Homophobia now, homophobia forever!”

  • I thought “all was fulfilled” with the Resurrection. If not, then shouldn’t Christians be adhering to the entirety of the Torah, not just the laws considered “moral”?

  • at least here you admit what your basic problem is . not the sermon which is totally and deeply in the christian tradition .

    rather you are concerned that the anglican/episcopal tradition is moving away from customary ways of interpreting the bible and christian tradition .

    and, here, you unload on archbishop michael curry for all the “sins” you see in the episcopal churches . he has likely dealt with worse so i am not concerned for him .

    still you are so focused on your issues, as i wrote above, that you miss how the sermon hangs together : those “a couple of references to Jesus” are the framework all the references to love are based .

    in curry’s vision all love comes from god . and all love redeemed by jesus in his sacrificial death leads people to do great things that can change the world .

    no one familiar with the christian tradition should confuse curry’s love, charitas, with the love, eros, that the beatles popularly sang about .

  • Were the sermon “totally and deeply in the christian tradition”, you’d have answered my simple questions.

    Instead you provide platitudes:

    – the anglican/episcopal tradition is moving away from customary ways of interpreting the bible and christian tradition = the Episcopal Church is leaving Christianity behind.

    – you unload on archbishop michael curry for all the “sins” you see in the episcopal churches = the other Anglican churches have been doing a pretty job of unloading on the Episcopal Church

    – you miss how the sermon hangs together = you can’t explain how it differs in substance from “all you need is love”

    – in curry’s vision all love comes from god . and all love redeemed by jesus in his sacrificial death leads people to do great things that can change the world = vote for the Democrats

    – no one familiar with the christian tradition should confuse curry’s love, charitas (sic), with the love, eros, that the beatles popularly sang about = embarrassingly the Beatles sang about agápe and caritas

    because platitudes is all you have to offer.

  • Just a small point:

    Jesus gave up his life as an expiation, a propitiation; not for the well-being of this world, but for mankind’s well-being in the next one.

    If “Love is not selfish and self-centered”, how exactly does that tie into getting married, and how did Bishop Curry make that connection?

  • i answered your question twice . i gave all the information needed to see where i was coming from and for one to understand the biblical origin of the what i wrote and what curry was saying .

    you are, as i am, a stubborn but resourceful commentator rarely giving an inch . that tells me that you are neither slow nor dull .

    you seem simply to want your way in a discussion .

    “…all love comes from god . and all love redeemed by jesus in his sacrificial death leads people to do great things that can change the world = vote for the Democrats”

    are you for real ?

    “because platitudes is all you have to offer,” is humorous coming from you .

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