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Episcopal Church House of Bishops: sermon from the Presiding Bishop

July 29, 2020

The following is the text of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the House of Bishops, which is meeting virtually July 28-29, 2020.

House of Bishops
July 28, 2020

In the name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

From Matthew Chapter five, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

You have heard that it was said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become children of your father, who is in heaven.

The old Gospel songs says it this way:

I got my hand on the gospel plow.
Wouldn't take nothing for my journey now.
Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on, hold on.
Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on.

Our topic for this brief meeting is communion, divine and human, Holy Eucharist and racial reconciliation. Now, I suspect on one glance, that topic may not seem to make a lot of sense: Holy Eucharist, racial reconciliation, communion, divine and human, in a time of pandemic. And to be sure, part of the topic arises from listening to the conversations that have been going on in our community of bishops. There's been a lot of talk about the Holy Eucharist, and we all have missed it [Holy Communion]. There's been talk about the sacrament, and Lord, how we've missed it. There's been talk about racism and the reality, and the imposed reality, rediscovered or unveiled, in the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and many others.

Holy Eucharist and racial justice and reconciliation; communion, divine and human, may not seem like they are related, but they are intimately related. They're intimately related because, on the surface they seem disconnected, but behind each one is the struggle for communion and relationship with God, who is the creator of us all, and the need for communion and relationship with each other as children of the one God, who is the creator of us all. I mean, these two are intimately related, the vision of the Kingdom of God that you see in the New Testament; that just listen to Jesus. It's a kingdom where folk come from the highways and the byways, when all stripes and types of folk gather around the throne. When even John, in Revelation, says, "I saw a host which nobody could number from every tribe and race and nation, and all stripes and types of people, all sorts of folk, all the children of God gathered around the throne." That is the vision of God's heaven.

And we pray, as the Lord taught us, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." No, The Holy Eucharist isn't a disembodied sacrament. It is, if I have my theology right, (I have to be careful, I know that I'm among theologians), I believe we speak of the Eucharist as a foretaste of the kingdom. It is a foretaste of God's dream, what God intends to happen. That when all of God's children are gathered around the throne, when we learn how to lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, and study war no more, where we do not hurt and harm, and all of God's holy mountain. That's the vision of the Eucharist. That is the dream of God, is what Jesus was probably talking about, I suspect, when he said, "Truly, I tell you, I shall not drink of the vine again." He said that at the last supper. "I shall not drink of the vine, the fruit of the vine again, until I drink it with you in the kingdom."

Oh, there is a profound, and intimate, and real relationship between the sacrament of the altar, and a sacramental way of living life, and seeing the presence of God, the presence of Christ in the species of bread and wine, and actually seeing the presence of God, the image of God in the species called the human child of God, and if you can adore God's presence in the sacrament, and dare we not adore the presence of God in the sacrament of all his children, that may well be the real fruit of the Oxford movement. It wasn't about vestments. It wasn't about tabernacles. I love vestments. That's why I'm a Bishop. I love to dress well, but it's not about that. It's about that communion of all of God's children gathered around the throne, where God is in the center, and the new community, the beloved community, gets real.

Got my hands on the gospel plow.
I wouldn't take nothing for my journey now.
Keep your eyes on that prize. Hold on, hold on.
Keep your eyes on that prize.

We are not here to discuss the mechanics of Eucharist. How shall it happen? We’ve got to figure that out, I know, but that's not what this is about. This is about communion with God, and communion with each other. We are not here just to solve the problem of race. We're here to figure out the problem of the human race. This isn’t black folks' problem. And I'm going to let white folks off the hook too. It isn’t your problem. This is our problem. We have got to figure this out together, communion, Eucharist, and race. They're both about communion with God, and with each other.

Dr. King, at the end of the Montgomery bus boycott, was asked by some press folks, “so what was the boycott, was it successful, what was it about? Has the goal been achieved?” And he said, "No. We're working on desegregation of public transportation, and that kind of thing, but there's more work to do.” And then he said a quote that was almost forgotten. He said, "Yeah, we had to desegregate public transportation, and we have more to desegregate. We've got systems of injustice that must be made just. We must find a way to a pluralistic society. We must advocate for equality and justice. We must end criminal violence, and police violence. We must make a world and a country, and our countries, where all of God's children are treated as children of God, no matter who they are."

He said, "No. The end is not reconciliation." He said, "No. The end is not redemption." And then he stepped back and said, "No. The end, the goal is the creation of a beloved community." Keep your eyes on that prize. The goal is the realization of the kingdom, the reign, the rule of God's love, when God is all in all. Keep your eyes on the prize.

I never noticed it in this text, and I'm going to be very brief today. I'm about to stop. We are close to it. In Matthew chapter five, where Jesus, in the sermon on the Mount says, You have heard that it was said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become children of your Father, who is in heaven." It never dawned on me that there it is. There is what we sometimes call that beloved community that it is created when love, the love that Jesus taught us, the love that he showed us when he gave up his life, not for anything that he could get, but that way of unselfish, sacrificial love. That is the way to the beloved community of God. It is the way to redeem our nations. It is the way to overcome the division among us. Unselfish, sacrificial love that seeks the good, that love is the way.

It is the only way. It is the way to the heart of God, and to each other. It's the way to the beloved community. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. I've told you before, on other occasions, how my parents became Episcopalian. Both of them grew up Baptist in the old classic black Baptist tradition. My mother went to college; she was a mathematician. So she was into rationality. She read C. S. Lewis; his approach to faith spoke to her and she eventually got confirmed. My father was dating her years later, and they went to an Episcopal church. This was in the late 1940s, [they] went to an Episcopal church and they were the only black folk, I suspect, in the congregation. And when it came time for communion, he noticed that there was a common cup. He had never been in a predominantly white church before, and he had never been in a church where people were about to drink out of the same cup. And when he saw that my mother drank out of a cup, the chalice, and white folk drank out of the chalice, he would say, “Any church where black folk and white folk drink from the same cup, there was something about the Gospel that I want to be a part of.” I've told y'all that story before. In that moment, he didn't say it. These weren't his words. I suspect he saw something of that beloved community, a foretaste of the kingdom, and he spent the rest of his life trying to make that happen here on earth.

There's another part to that story though. After he saw that vision of beloved community of God gathered around the table, of all races and stripes and types, he then decided, because he had been studying to become a Baptist preacher, he decided to become an Episcopal priest. And the priest who was preparing him for confirmation, and all of that eventually sent him to the bishop for the discussion about going to seminary, going to an Episcopal seminary. And he went to that bishop, and after the bishop listened to him, the bishop said to him, and I quote, "I'm sorry, but I already have one boy, I don't need another one." And he turned him away.

Well, fortunately, in those days, there was an underground network of black clergy. We used to be colored then, but there were underground networks, and folk had their ways. And eventually, somebody, my godfather in fact, got him to Jeff Lee’s diocese, the Diocese of Chicago, where he was eventually ordained and went to seminary. The same church where he had had that vision of the beloved community in the sacrament of the altar, was the same church where he saw that very vision denied, and yet he did not give up. He did not give up until that church would actually live out the teachings of his Lord, Jesus. His way of love, where there would be plenty good room for all of God's children. Hold on to that, to the vision of God, to the mission of Jesus, keep your eyes on that prize.

That's what I saw on Sunday, when I saw the caisson carrying the body of John Lewis draped in an American flag, crossing over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but it wasn't just about John Lewis. It was about Jimmy Lee Jackson who had been killed days before that. It was about Jonathan Daniels who would be killed. Viola Liuzzo. It was about all those folk who walked that day, folk who were beaten that day, as John Lewis’ body was carried over that river. It was about them. It was a great host that no man could number, black folk and white folk, rich folk and poor folk, folk of all religions, all stripes, everybody! All of God's children crossing that bridge together, and state troopers saluted the body of a man that state troopers, 50 years before, had beaten.

And for a brief moment, I saw it. America has not lived up to its ideal. It has failed its own promise, and yet the promise is not about America. It is about God. There is a God who sits on high, the old folk said, and looks down low. There is a God who is the creator of all that is, and of all God's children. There is a God who will not rest, and we must not rest until justice rolls down like a mighty stream, until every man, woman, and child, no matter who they are, every human being is treated as a child of God, and is seen in the eyes of the law, in the eyes of the state, and in our eyes, as someone made in the image and likeness of God.

Oh, keep your eyes on that prize. That's what's going on in Eucharist. That's what's going on in racial justice and reconciliation. That is what Jesus has called us to give our lives for.

So walk together, children. Don't get weary. Oh, no, because there really is a great camp meeting in the promised land.

God love you. God bless you. And may God hold all of us, in those almighty hands of love. Amen.

Nancy Cox Davidge
Public Affairs Officer