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Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon from Washington National Cathedral live-streamed Eucharist

March 16, 2020

The following is the text of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon from the Washington National Cathedral Eucharist service that was live-streamed on Sunday, March 15, 2020.

 

 

Washington National Cathedral
The Third Sunday in Lent
March 15, 2020

Jesus Loves Me This I Know
Michael B. Curry

 

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” 

—John 13:34,35

And now in the name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God, father, son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

At the last supper, as recorded in John 13, Jesus said this just hours before he would be arrested and eventually executed. “I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you for by this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.”

When I was a little boy, I learned a song in Sunday school that many of you probably learned as well. It said, quite simply,

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong. They are weak, but he is strong.
Yes, yes. Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me, for the Bible tells me so.

Sometimes the most profound and important things come in the simplest of packages, not simplistic, not necessarily easy to do, but simple. Maybe sometimes along the lines of the 19th century Shaker hymn, Tis a gift to be simple. Tis a gift to be free. And I have to admit, if I tell the truth that I've taken to washing my hands with soap and water more frequently and for longer periods of time than I had before. Somebody said, if you just sing the Doxology, “praise God from whom all blessings flow,” and sing the whole thing, that'd be about 20 seconds. And somebody said that they're teaching the children to just sing the happy birthday song and that takes about 20 seconds. So we're all doing that. But I have to admit that there's a part of me that is a bit skeptical.

Surely, something far more scientific, something much more sophisticated than what our mothers taught us will be part of the answer. And while vaccines and effective treatment and various social changes are all part of the equation, soap really helps. Soap actually kills and disarms germs. Ancient people knew this thousands of years ago. I was reading an article earlier this week about soap and this article said, “washing with soap and water is an effective way to destroy and dislodge many microbes including the new coronavirus. At the molecular level, soap breaks things apart. At the level of society it may well hold things together.”

Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free. It may well be when we hear the word love that it sounds simplistic or just sentimental, but here again, 1 John chapter 4, verses 7 and 8. “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God and those who love are born of God and know God because God is love.” The God who made this world, the God who made each one of us is love. We have been made by the hand of God, by the hand of love, and we are meant to live in love.

“A new commandment I give you,” said Jesus. “That you love one another just as I have loved you.” New Testament Professor Amy Jill Levine of Vanderbilt Seminary Divinity School, in her commentary on this text, asked the question, so what's new? How is this a new commandment? The commandment to love has its origins in the Hebrew Scriptures.

When Jesus told a lawyer that on the occasion recorded in Matthew 22 when the lawyer asked, “what is the greatest law in all the legal edifice of Moses?” Jesus reached back to what Moses had taught in both Deuteronomy and Leviticus, brought those two together and he said, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and then Jesus added on these two, love of God, love of neighbor, and while we're at it, love of self, hang all the law and the prophets. There was nothing new in that, but Professor Levine goes on to explain, what was new was when Jesus said, “love one another as I have loved you.” In other words, his love for them was meant to spill over into their love for each other and indeed meant to spill over into their love for all others and meant to spill over into a love that would infect the world.

Bishop Jake Owensby of Western Louisiana, in his blog post this week titled Being Contagious, wrote of maybe the need for us to be contagious with love, to be contagious with healing, to be contagious with help. I think he's right. The kind of love that seeks the good and the welfare and the wellbeing of others is the kind of love that Jesus taught us.

That's the love of Jesus going to the cross. He didn't sacrifice his life for anything that he could get out of it. He did it for the good and welfare and the wellbeing of others. He did it to show us this is what love looks like. Not self-centered, not selfishness, but actually seeking the good and the welfare of others as well as the self, but of others. That's love.

John 3:16 says it so well. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Later at that last supper, Jesus said to his disciples, no one has greater love than this, but that they give up their life for their friends. That kind of love must be contagious, and that kind of contagious love can change the world. We will fight this particular contagion and all of our preexisting social contagions and divisions by the disciplined labor of love. Love working through medical folk, love working through leaders, love working through each one of us who can help and heal maybe in small ways but add them up and they make a profound difference. Maybe even something as small as voluntarily worshiping God online instead of in person, especially if that will help somebody else. Jesus loves me. This I know.

A few days ago, Tim Parks, a writer and translator who lives in Milan, wrote a really beautiful and helpful and I think healing piece in The New York Times. It was earlier this week. The title of the op ed was This is Life Under Lockdown in Milan, Italy, and this is what he said. “In just two weeks, all the usual certainties have gone. It's been a spiritual exercise in letting go. You paid for season tickets on the subway? Now you realize subway travel is the surest way of getting the disease. You have a subscription to the gym? The gym is closed, so is the cinema, your tickets for concerts and soccer games are useless. Your children can't go to school or university. Even mass is canceled. Everybody is being asked to think, not for themselves, but also for the community.

“Milan is a fragmented city. There are all kinds of ethnic groups, Chinese, Arabs, Hispanics, Filipinos, Indians, any number of Romanians and Slavs, Italians from every region, but inevitably the virus is bringing on new awareness. An awareness that we all share the same physical space. Milan, Italy. We really live here. We sink or swim together. Perhaps we may even get to know each other albeit without shaking hands. Maybe there is a new spirit of unity.”

Maybe love really is the way. God's love, and our lived love for each other. Love can heal and help when nothing else can. Love can lift up and liberate when nothing else will. I can almost hear Mahalia Jackson from many years ago singing these words.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring back beauty to a world up wrought
If I can spread love's message that the Master taught
Then my living shall not be in vain

If I can help somebody as I pass along
Then my living will not be in vain.

In the early 1990s, my father, who was a priest, suffered a severe and massive stroke. He was out shoveling snow, which doctors and everyone else told him not to do, but he did it anyway. It was mid-day and fortunately one of the neighbors saw him and called the emergency room. He was taken to the hospital and they operated immediately. Our family came together from wherever we were and arrived by nightfall or first thing the next morning. The surgery had done what it could do, and we were in that kind of period of just waiting. He was in the intensive care unit for a long time, and in the ICU units, you can usually only have visitors two people at a time.

At one point in the room, I went in with my Aunt Carrie, who was one of his sisters, closest to him in age, and the two of them were very close. So we went in the room and we were just kind of standing there talking to him. His eyes were still closed and all the machinery of health and help doing what it does. Aunt Carrie took the bed sheet and pulled it back, so his legs were exposed and she then started to rub his legs. I remember asking her, “why are you rubbing his legs?” She didn't answer immediately, and she just started to sing while rubbing his legs. She was singing some of those old songs.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I'm found,
Was blind, but now I see.

She was singing those songs.

Blessed Assurance.
Jesus is Mine.
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine.

She was singing old songs, O Master. Let me walk with thee. Old songs.

There is a Balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.

And then at some point she answered my question, why are you rubbing his legs? I knew why she was singing. She said, “did you ever notice that your daddy walked with a limp?” I remember saying, “yeah, I remember that. He used to jokingly sometimes call himself Hopalong Cassidy.” And she said, “well, when your daddy was a little boy, he had polio. Every night, mama would come in, would rub his legs and wrap them and while she was doing that she would sing those songs.” He actually did open his eyes at some point while she was singing, and I suspect some deep memories got conjured up. Aunt Carrie sounded like their mother and it woke him up. One of the songs she sang that day, was this,

[Bishop Curry sings]

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong. They are weak, but he is strong.
Yes, yes. Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me, for the Bible tells me so.

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

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Nancy Cox Davidge
Public Affairs Officer