Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Transcript of Bishop Michael Curry's sermon

This is part 1 of the trancription, probably about two thirds of it. According to what it says on wav file I'm transcribing from, there must be over 6 minutes left. So, when Bishop Curry said, "I'm going to keep this brief", I'm not sure what he was using as a point of reference. But for transcribing purposes, it didn't seem all that brief. It was quite good though, and after I come back from the gym tonight, I'll be sure to finish up the rest of it.

By the way, I did bring a camera with me, but the lighting was funky, the place was packed, and I'm pretty inexperienced with that particular camera. So even though I snapped three pictures while Michael Curry was speaking, not *one* of them turned out. So here's the picture of him that is posted on the web site of St. Alban's Church in North Carolina.

Here's a picture I took of the congregation, that kinda sorta did turn out.

And here's part 1 of the sermon...

...It is good to be in God's house with God's people.

Let me offer some words from a Negro spritual, sung by slaves in the antebellum south. It's a very simple spiritual that basically says, "My soul is a witness for the Lord."


As the successive stanzas and verses of the song, beginning with "My soul is a witness for the Lord" recount different people from the Biblical stories. It begins, for example, with Methuselah (for y'all Episcopalians, Methuselah was old!) It begins with Methuselah and says "Methuselah was a witness for my Lord" and then it goes on and tells the story of other folks, Deborah the Prophet was a witness for my Lord, Queen Esther was a witness for my Lord, Daniel was a witness for my Lord, Mother Mary was a witness for my Lord, Martha was a witness for my Lord... And then, after going through the Biblical story, the singer comes to the last verse and says "Now *who* will be a witness for my Lord?" Moving from the Biblical past to a new Biblical present--who will be a witness for my Lord?

When I was a kid, I grew up Episcopalian. My swaddling clothes were an Episcopal flag! (laughter) So there were a few Episcopalians in my family, but the rest were Baptists. When you went to church with them, there was *action* on Sunday morning. And every once in a while, when the preacher would preach, there would be these moments in the homiletical experience (anticipatory laughter) when sometimes, when the preacher may have felt that the congregation wasn't as responsive as they could be--trying to get an "Amen!" out of them, and they wouldn't respond, sometimes he'd say Amen like, "Amen, wall"...and if he really got desperate, he might say, "Now can I get a witness?" (Yeah!)

And, "Can I get a witness?" was a rhetorical device to be sure, that was to suggest a critical moment in the service. But more than that, it was a *spritual* devide intended to project the hearer from where they were in church out into the world, where their discipleship was to be exercised. (Yeah!) When they said "Can I get a witness?" they weren't talking about in church, they were talking about *out there*. And that's what I'm going to talk about for a few moments tonight.

And for a text--you see all of that was just introduction! (Laughter) Let me offer these words from the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Moments before our Lord ascended into heaven, returning to the fullness and the mystery of God. Jesus, when his disciples wanted to know specifics about how the Kingdom was gonna come, said "Y'all can do your own strategic plans". He said "It's not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority, in other words, "There are some things that ain't y'all's business!" (Laughter).

And he goes on and says, "But you will receive power--you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And you will be my witnesses--in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. You will receive power! (Amen!) Power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You are *sealed* by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ's own forever. You will receive *power* when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, "Defend, O Lord, this thy Child, with thy heavenly grace, that she may continue yours forever and daily increase in your Holy Spirit." You will receive *power*!" (Cheers and applause)

You will receive power, not for your own sake, but you will receive power, and you will be *my* witnesses, in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Columbus, in Cincinnati, in Cleveland--and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. (Laughter and applause)

Not I'm not going to keep you long--I'm going to keep this brief so that we can get back to the music!

But I know there are probably some here thinking at this moment--you hear me talking about "Can I get a witness?" and there's some of you, hearing that word "witness", in a church environment, y'all must think, Saturday morning, somebody walking two by two down the street, selling Watchtower magazine. (Laughter).

And I believe in evangelism, because I believe we've got some *good news* to share. It's a bad news world, and we've got some *good news* in this bad news world!

I'm talking about a different kind of witness. I don't have any expectation that we're going to get Episcopalians going out on Saturday morning, two by two--giving out Episcopal Life. (Much laughter) I'm talking about a witness that is born of our discipleship. I'm talking about a witness that is born of our timid sometimes, halting sometimes, but our willingess to follow Jesus of Nazareth. To follow in the way of his teaching, to live in the way of his Spirit, to *dare* to emulate his light, until his light becomes our light, and the world begins to he his light through our lives.

And to help us, I think the text for Trinity Sunday is helpful. (Laughter). Because I am convinced, when you read the third chapter of John--go home and read John Chapter 3 again. Get those Bibles, get those Gideons out of the--(laughter). And when you read John Chapter 3 and listen to the story of Nicodemus, I am *convinced* that Nicodemus was the first Episcopalian! (Laughter)

Now think about it--*only* Episcopalians would try to come to Jesus, quietly, at night, when nobody was looking!" (Laughter and applause)

Now obviously Nicodemus came to Jesus quietly at night for good reason. You have to remember that though Jesus and Nicodemus were both Palestinian Jews of the first century, they came from very different worlds. Nicodemus, so far as we can tell, was a preacher of the city--Jesus of Nazareth was a preacher of the country. Nicodemus was well-learned and schooled in the great schools of the rabbis. Jesus was a country preacher! An itinerant rabbi. Nicodemus was part of the ruling power structure of first century Palestinian Judaism, a member of the Sanhedrin. Jesus came from the peasant class. Nicodemus was one of the privileged--help me somebody! (Amen!) Jesus came from folk who were poor--from folk who *struggled* to find a daily possibility of living. These two, though both first century Palestinian Jews, came from entirely different worlds. And yet, to Nicodemus' credit, Nicodemus, the great rabbi himself from Jerusalem, went to this itinerant rabbi.

That's--I'm gonna say it--that's like Archbishop Rowan Williams going to Oprah Winfrey for philosophy! (Extended laughter and applause).

Nicodemus had good reason for going at night, because he was crossing into a different world. And yet, thank God he did do it--he went anyway, as a disciple going to his rabbi. One rabbi went to another. He went, and something happened. *Something* happened, because, by the seventh chapter of John, we shift to the Sanhedrin, and when some of the folk who are out to get Jesus, are out to get him, it is Nicodemus who stands up for justice, and stands up for decency, and stands up for Jesus!

John doesn't give us the details, but *something* happened, because, by the end of the Gospel, after Jesus has been crucified, John's Gospel says that it was Joseph of Arimethea and good old Episcopalian Nicodemus who went and *begged* the body of Jesus from Pilate, and gave it a proper burial. And you know only an Episcopalian's gonna want to do things right! (Laughter).

I am convinced that in John's unfolding of the story of the Gospel and of Nicodemus, what you have here is someone who engages on some level of discipleship with this Jesus, and as he engages with this Jesus, he goes out, somehow different, and goes out and begins to make a difference in this world. Can I get a witness this night? (Yeah!)

I am *convinced* that we are Nicodemus. (Tell it!) And we have come by night to Jesus. To Christ. To the Christ in those who have not. The Christ in those who struggle, for a crust of bread. The Christ in children, hungry and bereft. The Christ in a creation crying out to be cared for. The Christ in women seeking human equality and dignity. The Christ in children who must never again go to bed hungry. (Amen!) I daresay we have come to the Christ that these Millenium Development Goals represent a moment and a possibility of transfiguring discipleship, in which we can make a witness in this world.

My friend and brother and colleague Bishop Steve Charleston, in a recent essay, said this--and let me just read it to you for a second.

He said, "as the Episcopal church, the most important question before us is not about schism or sexuality. It is about witness. What witness will we make? In my life I have known many seasons in the Episcopal Church. This is the season for our witness. This is the time for us to do something totally unexpected and wonderful, to confound those who say we have lost our vision. This is our moment to show the world that we can practice what we preach-- " (Amens and applause)

To be continued...

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