In March of 2018, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry got a call from a member of his staff that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office had called and would like Bishop Curry to preach at the Royal Wedding of Meaghan Markle and Prince Harry. Bishop Curry’s first reaction was that it was a little too early for an April Fools’ joke. His staffer was finally able to convince him of the legitimacy of the call and the rest, as they say, is history.
To read the headlines and media coverage of the day and since, it is easy to see that Bishop Curry was the “surprise star” of the event. Harper’s claimed he, “Blew the Place Open” at the Royal Wedding. The BBC said, “Bishop Curry captured the world’s attention with a fiery address at the Royal Wedding.” The sermon itself has not only been called a “fiery address” but also an “impassioned speech” and a “rousing sermon.” Having reached an audience of over two billion people it is also being called, “the biggest single presentation of the gospel in human history.”
Curry admits to feeling nervous before the sermon. But once he began to speak, he wasn’t concerned about the global stage he was on nor was he that cognizant of the royals gathered there. It was certainly the largest wedding he had been a part of but in that day and in that moment, he was attuned to a couple in love and knew that in speaking to their souls, he would speak to the souls of all who would listen. So Bishop Curry did what Bishop Curry does best, he spoke with passion about the power of love.
Bishop Curry went almost twice as long as time had been allotted for him and he referenced social justice issues that most of us would rather turn a deaf ear too, but he was funny, engaging, inclusive, and passionate and the world was touched by it. If you paid any attention to that sermon, you could not help but be inspired by the power of love—not just the love of the young couple getting married but the love that is deeply rooted in the source which is God alone. Bishop Curry may have written and delivered that message of love, but it was the Holy Spirit that inspired it. For Bishop Curry tapping into the Holy Spirit inspires his passion and it is that passion, that gift of the Holy Spirit that the disciples knew on the day of Pentecost.
The Acts of the Apostles describes the day of Pentecost as starting out like any other ordinary day. Jesus has ascended into Heaven and, though they are not too saddened by his departure, they’re not really sure what to do next. They’ve gathered together in a house that is suddenly filled with a rush of violent wind and tongues of flame that rests on each of them and they are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives them the ability to speak in different languages—and those languages are native to the diverse population of foreign nationals who are devout Jews living in Jerusalem.
Imagine for a moment living in a foreign place where maybe you speak the language or bits and pieces of it or maybe you don’t and then one day you heat the English language spoken in a public square—and not simply English, but the American Southern Drawl and dialect we know so well. You would probably find yourself immediately attracted to it. And what if the speaker was not only speaking your native tongue but was passionately and joyfully proclaiming good news—maybe it’s the Gospel or maybe its something personal like winning the lottery or getting engaged. Whatever it is, the idea is that to be in a strange and foreign land and to hear your own language is a comfort and to hear someone else’s passion that reflects your own belief, desire, and joy is a blessing and inspiration.
That is what the disciples do that day. They share their passion through the inspiration and work of the Holy Spirit. Not all were impressed—some were even turned off by the scene claiming the disciples must be drunk. But that did not dampen their Spirit, only cause Peter to scoff at those who would not listen. But for those willing to hear, those willing to allow the passion of the Spirit into their own lives, they heard the message of love, inclusion, and salvation. They heard the message that all flesh, everyone, everywhere—young and old, slave and free, men and women—would receive the Holy Spirit and would be known as the sons and daughters of God and that “all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Not everyone gets it. Some will always sneer at a spirit of passion—or at least they will do so for a time. Our passions can offend as much as they attract even when they are spirit-led. Even the most powerful sermon preached in modern times from a place of Spirit-filled passion did not inspire everyone. A poll taken after the initial frenzy caused by the Royal Wedding sermon dissipated found that only 16% of Brits were more likely to go to Church and only if the preaching was similar to Bishop Curry’s style. Scrolling through Twitter feed during and after the sermon found some very negative reactions like. “Who’s this clown of a preacher stealing the show at the Royal Wedding?” And, “Maybe I’m the only one but I found it so inappropriate at a royal wedding. I was embarrassed just watching it…it was tacky and uncouth.” “Tacky and uncouth.” “They are filled with new wine.” Our complaints haven’t changed all that much in the last two thousand years. But neither has our ability to be transformed in response to the presence and passion of the Holy Spirit.
After the disciples prophesy, about three thousand people were baptized and devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. That same poll that identified an apathetic response to Bishop Curry’s sermon also noted that a small minority of people, including non-Christians were transformed by that sermon and were considering a conversion to Christianity, or at least wanted to further explore it. And the best comment of that day came from one of Bishop Curry’s staff members, “My boss slayed. For Jesus.”
The passion inspired by the Holy Spirit may delight us or offend us but its capacity to transform us depends, in part, on our willingness to be amazed and astonished and even perplexed. Be slayed in the Spirit. Think and speak and act passionately about the work God calls you too. Let others think you are drunk or tacky and uncouth. It does not matter because it is not about you. As Bishop Curry wrote about “the magic of that sermon, that wasn’t me. I couldn’t manufacture that. I’m not that good. I don’t think anybody is. My grandmamma would say, ‘that ain’t nothing but the Lord.’” The power and passion of the Spirit is in the conversion of those to the way of love, to the way of Jesus and that ain’t nothing but the Lord.
Day of Pentecost Year C: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, 25-27
Church of the Ascension – Episcopal, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, June 9, 2019
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer