What was missing from Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon?

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry speaks in a question and answer gathering of diocesan clergy. https://www.edomi.org/presiding-bishop-curry-were-the-episcopal-branch-of-the-jesus-movement/
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry speaks in a question and answer gathering of diocesan clergy. https://www.edomi.org/presiding-bishop-curry-were-the-episcopal-branch-of-the-jesus-movement/

It was great to see a Christian sermon — and such a passionately delivered one — being watched by millions on Saturday, at the royal wedding of Harry and Meghan at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. But what was missing from it?

You can watch the Most Reverend Michael Curry’s fourteen-minute sermon here and read the transcript here. It was certainly entertaining and charismatic stuff. Indeed it has been remarked Revd. Curry “stole the show.”

“There was a great deal positive to say about Michael Curry’s sermon. It was very watchable and it certainly presented Christianity in a positive way. Contrast this with the plethora of negativity on social media recently towards the so-called ‘Trump Evangelicals.’”

I thought that the integration of American, and generally cross-cultural, elements into the ceremony was an inspired touch. Given the setting, I was naturally reminded of the lively African singing and dancing which formed part of the enthronement of Archbishop Dr. Rowan Williams at Canterbury Cathedral in 2003.[1]

It’s relatively rare to get such openly Christian content on the main UK channels. It takes something like a royal wedding. There is a regular Sunday morning worship programme on Radio 4, but frankly it’s often uninspiring stuff and not likely to get the nation talking as did Michael Curry’s sermon on Saturday.

There was a great deal positive to say about Michael Curry’s sermon. It was very watchable and it certainly presented Christianity in a positive way. Contrast this with the plethora of negativity on social media recently towards the so-called ‘Trump Evangelicals.’ I find the apportioning of American Christianity into a political ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ divisive and unhelpful, and I sorely wish that the labels weren’t there: the views of Christians on all sorts of political views are often far too nuanced to be simply classified as ‘left’ or ‘right’; but there we are, that’s the social media world for you.

“To hear something that transcended all this invidious politics and got the nation speaking so positively about Christianity was refreshing. So why was I left feeling that something vital was missing?”

To hear something that transcended all this invidious politics and got the nation speaking so positively about Christianity was refreshing.

Revd. Curry’s invocation of Dr. Martin Luther-King was of course inspirational, as was his passionate, energetic style as he discoursed on the power of love. It was a far cry from the dry, fusty sermons that one often imagines from their endless appearance in adaptations of Jane Austen.

So why was I left feeling that something vital was missing?

As passionately and as enthusiastically as Revd. Curry spoke — and as frequently as he quoted from the Scriptures — I got very little sense from his sermon of the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

To be fair, he did say that Jesus “died to save us all,” courtesy of the classic negro spiritual song ‘There is a balm in Gilead’:

“There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.

“If you cannot preach like Peter,
And you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
How he died to save us all.”[2]

I only wish he had made this point at the very end, instead of burying it in the middle of his sermon where, frankly, nobody will remember it.

In fact, the overall impression one was left with, was that Jesus came to bring humanity the greatest moral message that the world has ever seen. A message of love — sacrificial love.

If we can only all learn to live with this kind of love — the love that Jesus taught, the love that Jesus demonstrated — then the world really will be a transformed place.

“If you don’t believe me, just stop and think and imagine a world where love is the way.

“Imagine our homes and families when this way of love is the way. Imagine our neighbourhoods and communities when love is the way. Imagine our governments and nations when love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when this love is the way. Imagine this third old world when love is the way.

“No child would go to bed hungry in such a world as that. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a might stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

“When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.”[3]

This is inspiring stuff, and admirable. We ought to be striving for a world like this.

The problem is, one is left with the impression, “Hey, we’re all one happy, global family. Why don’t we just all get along?” And that is not the gospel. It may be a great moral message — it certainly is — but it is not the gospel.

If you have time, compare this message with the apostolic sermons which we have recorded for us in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament. Two good examples are Acts 13:16-43 and Acts 17:22-34.

“Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”
Acts 13:38-39[4]

Notice the urgency with which Paul — speaker of both these sermons — urges his hearers to believe in Jesus. It is through him that forgiveness of sins is proclaimed.

Of course the gospel demands love. The gospel demands that we love God, and that we love our neighbour as ourselves — as Revd. Curry rightly pointed out.[5]

“The gospel is that through Jesus Christ we can be freed from all the sins against God which we have ever committed and by which he is rightly incensed. Sadly, I think that most people hearing Revd. Curry’s sermon on Sunday will have heard a different message, a message which says, ‘Let’s all just get on better, since we’re one big, happy, human family.’”

But that love to which he called us — it is a love which is to be expressed within the context of faith in Jesus Christ. It is not a love which can be divorced from loving Jesus Christ himself, nor from the love he has shown to us in dying for us and rising again from the dead.

The gospel isn’t, “Let’s all just love one another more, and then everything will be alright and God will be pleased.”

The gospel is that through Jesus Christ — through his death on the cross, and through his resurrection from the dead — we can be freed from all the sins against God which we have ever committed and by which he is rightly incensed.

Sadly, I think that most people hearing Revd. Curry’s sermon on Sunday will have heard a different message, a message which says, “Let’s all just get on better, since we’re one big, happy, human family.”

It is a wonderful thing that people in the UK are speaking positively about Christianity as a result of the sermon broadcast on Saturday. My earnest hope and prayer is that it will lead people to pick up the New Testament and from its page to ask themselves the question, “What did Jesus really teach?”

 

 

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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 


[1] https://www.voanews.com/a/a-13-a-2003-02-27-13-rowan-67595662/389519.html; http://www.anglicannews.org/news/2003/02/enthronement-of-rowan-williams-as-the-104th-archbishop-of-canterbury.aspx

[2] http://time.com/5283953/royal-wedding-sermon-transcript/

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+13%3A38-39&version=ESVUK

[5] See, e.g., Matthew 22:34-40.

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