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Presiding bishop reminds Christians their faith is about love

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached in Spokane. Photo by Richard Chou - River Rock Images


One word sums up Christian faith and evangelism for the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, Michael Curry.

That word is "love."

He quoted the song, "They will know we are Christians by our love," and the scripture, "We are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves."

Bishop Curry spoke at the Friday Evensong, Saturday convocation and Sunday worship service April 29 to May 1 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane.

His presentations were a walk through the Bible.

"I am a follower of Jesus, a disciple. I believe Jesus of Nazareth shows us God's way of life, which is God's way of love," he said. "Not to know love is not to know God, because God is love. Love is key to life for all Christians."

In Luke 10, a lawyer, who asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life, knows about loving God and neighbor. Jesus says to do that.

"Eternal life is about life now and to eternity," the bishop said, about God's will being done on earth as in heaven.

Part of Michael's family is Pentecostal and part is Episcopal, but the same family preacher, who spoke at all funeral services, said people have little control over their birth or death dates, but need to consider what they do after they are born and before they die as part of having "a life of integrity, dignity and eternity."

When the lawyer in Luke asked Jesus to define "neighbor," Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan—an ethnic, religious enemy—finding a man beaten and taking him to be cared for. That was something unlikely for someone from a different world view, political party, race or religion to do, Bishop Michael said.

The Samaritan knew the man was a fellow human being, a child of God, created in the image of the God of love. 

The bishop said Jesus told the lawyer: "Do this and live."

"Love is not an emotion or sentiment. Love seeks the good, the welfare and wellbeing of others," the bishop said.

Just as the Episcopal Church helped Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust in 1938, it welcomes refugees today, he said,  telling of a poster of Mary riding a donkey holding Jesus. It says, "In the name of these refugees, help all refugees."

"Do this and you will live," he said, sharing the prophet Amos' words, "Let justice roll like a river and righteousness as a mighty stream," and adding Isaiah's call to "beat swords into plowshares."

Doing that, "people would not go to war any more, Russia would not invade Ukraine and the people of Ukraine would be free as God intends them to be," he said. "Do this: love God, neighbor and self, and you will find life abundant."

Eight years ago, Bishop Michael was asked to attend the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Burundi, where the CIA warned U.S. citizens not to travel. It was 10 years after the conflict of Tutsis, Hutus and Pygmies spilled over. A quarter of a million people were killed and half a million fled as refugees. He had seen Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, but had never seen "what the hand of human hatred, bigotry and injustice can do" until he landed in Burundi and was met "by deacons with machetes and machine guns."

Because the Anglican Church worked for peace and reconciliation in Burundi, the Archbishop of Canterbury wanted an Anglican representative to go. After his enthronement, the archbishop took Bishop Michael to tour the city.

"It was a heap of rubble. Children without parents walked by. People had dazed looks," Michael said. "He took us up a hill and sat down like Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Pointing to the city, the archbishop said, 'This is man's way. Jesus has shown us a better way. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. That is how we will rebuild our country.'"

A few years later in 2008 at the Lambeth Bishops Conference, the archbishop told Michael, "Peace has come to Burundi. We are rebuilding our country. Starbucks has come."

"I never thought Starbucks would be a sign of God," Bishop Michael said.

"Love is the way. It flows from God's love. Don't be afraid or ashamed of it. It's not easy, but it's the path to life abundant that is meant for all," he said.

He ended the sermon singing from old, familiar hymns.

"So if you cannot preach like Peter or pray like Paul, just tell the love of Jesus, who died to save us all." The congregation joined him, singing, "There is a Balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul."

In a Saturday lecture, which summarized much of the scriptures, Michael, who was bishop of North Carolina for 15 years before being elected Presiding Bishop, said the Episcopal Church is being reinvented.

Five years ago, he went on sabbatical for rest from his routine. He took violin lessons from a 90-year-old woman in Raleigh. The violin was an extension of her being, but "in a beginner's hands, it was torture," he said, noting his wife and cat disappeared when he practiced.

Along with learning to play violin, he decided to study the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: "Blessed are the poor, the compassionate, the peacemakers."

"It is a catechism of the church, telling us what it means to be Christian," he said, soon realizing he also needed to study Matthew 5 to 7, then the wider context in Matthew, the New Testament and Hebrew scriptures.

He studied the Bible for three months, noting that Matthew begins with Jesus' genealogy and ends with disciples being sent to all nations, all ethnicities and all kinds of people to make a family who would live by Jesus' teachings.

"The Gospel tells of God coming among us to show us the way to become more than individual collections of self-interest. Jesus came to show us the way to live in right relationship with each other and with God, and to show us the way to be God's human family, God's beloved community in the way of life, hope and true liberty," he said.

His studies extended to Hebrew scriptures and the poetry of Genesis 1 with God saying, "Let there be light" and then saying it's "good," and so on with each element God created. On the sixth day, God created human beings and on the seventh day saw all God made was "very good."

"Care of creation is to take care of God's creation," he continued.

The second story in Genesis is about the Garden of Eden, God realizing Adam is alone and creating another human as a companion.

"God made us as siblings with each other and all creation, to live in harmony in paradise, to be God's beloved community, to live as God's family," said Bishop Michael. "The Bible from beginning to end is about God trying to help us find our way to live as a beloved community with God, each other and all creation.

"God also gave humans freedom and, even after the relationship was broken and humans left paradise, God tried to show us the way by giving us prophets, kings, queens, judges and other leaders to call us back. People wanted to exclude folks, but God's house is a house of prayer for all people. All means all," he said.

Bishop Michael said Jesus built on Hebrew Scriptures, Jewish traditions.

"No one is outcast to God," he said, telling of Jesus recruiting disciples from fishermen and everyday people. They listened to Jesus and saw him healing people who struggled, standing up for what was just, feeding the hungry crowd, then being arrested by the empire and tortured. All fled but the women. The disciples eventually came back to Jesus, creating the community of the church, God's family that "stumbled into being a force for good and love."

Then, Bishop Michael said, they came to decide who to include and exclude—Jews only or Gentiles too. In Acts 15, the Apostle Paul "won the day" realizing "the love God poured into our hearts puts us in right relationship with God, humans and all creation."

In Matt. 22, a lawyer asks Jesus the greatest commandment.

"It's to love God, love neighbor as self. It's the key to healing society and the world, to becoming God's beloved community, to God's reign on earth as in heaven," Bishop Michael said.

Sunday he preached from John 20 and 21 about belief.

"Believe, just believe," he said. "Understanding does not produce belief, but belief produces understanding of the way Jesus loves us, the way God loves us. The only way I can follow Jesus is by his love for me and my fallible love for him.

"Believe," in Greek and Hebrew, means to "entrust ourselves to the other, not to a thought or creed, but to give my life to God who means love, to believe is to love," he said. "To believe is to give my life, to trust so much, to discover life in Jesus' name, to put my life in the hands of Jesus who loves me and will not let me go."

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2022