The Holy Spirit Comes Out

Today is Pentecost, the moment in the life of the Church when we remember the gift of the Holy Spirit to the first Apostles, who suddenly (and without the preparation they thought they needed) were able to speak the truth of God in ways both unexpected and unimagined. They were given the gift to tell those who needed to hear God’s Word whatever it was they needed to hear and in exactly the way they needed to hear it. The Apostles were gifted with the capacity to reach out, not only to fellow God-fearing Jews, but also to travelers from far-off lands, and to Gentiles, and to strangers, and even to Roman soldiers – to the powerful who occupied Jerusalem – and to the disenfranchised, huddled masses who were brought to toil there as slaves. The Holy Spirit freed the Apostles to say what needed to be said, to whoever needed to hear it, in whatever way they needed the message to be proclaimed.

The Holy Spirit frees you and me for the same.

And the Holy Spirit comes out in unexpected ways.

Today is Pentecost. Yesterday was the date of the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. I don’t know if you saw it, but as a naturalized, first-generation immigrant from the United Kingdom, I was very interested to see the “pomp and extravagance”[1] of the wedding, to note the celebrities in attendance, and to take in the dignity and tradition of the Royal Family, as they welcomed someone new into the fold.

And in typical English fashion, everything was planned and executed according to a vision established well in advance. The words were spoken calmly, slowly, and eloquently by experienced and thoughtful clergy. The pageantry hinted at traditions observed for centuries, and the hymns quietly welcomed new currents and cultures which are already flowing freely in modern society. Everything was planned to balance the tension between how things were and how things may be, how things are and how things should be.

Everything was planned, including the sermon by the Most Rev. Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. When you agree to preach for a congregation, it’s good practice to plan what you will say in advance. When you expect a large crowd to listen, it’s ideal to prepare, edit, solicit feedback, and edit again what you will say, well ahead of the occasion. When you know that almost 2 billion people[2] will listen to what you have to say, you make sure that every reference you make is an intentional selection; every word you repeat for emphasis is a word that is meaningful for you and your institution; every intonation and cadence you rest in is for the service of the Word of Truth you are about to speak.

And you have a team to help repeat and proclaim the message when it comes out. For instance, a manuscript of the homily was provided to news outlets, ready for publication only moments after the delivery of the address. And for the most part, it does. But there’s a section where the preacher veers from the written and previewed manuscript, a passage where he seems led, by who-knows-what, to say something else, something additional, something new, and I can’t get it out of my head. He said, to the powerful people in front of him:[3]

There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved. There’s power, power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense, in which when you are loved and you know it, when someone cares for you and you know it, when you love and you show it, it actually feels right. There’s something right about it. And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love. Our lives are meant to be lived in that love—that’s why we are here. Ultimately, the source of love is God himself—the source of all of our lives…

I am talking about some power. Real power. Power to change the world. If you don’t believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America’s Antebellum South who explained the dynamic power of love, and why it has the power to transform. They explained it this way. They sang a spiritual, even in the midst of their captivity. It’s the one that says there is a balm in Gilead—a healing balm.

‘There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.’ One of the stanzas actually explains why: ‘if you cannot preach like Peter, and you cannot pray like Paul, you just tell the love of Jesus, how he died to save us all.’ That’s the balm of Gilead.

This way of love, it is the way of life. They got it; he died to save us all. He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it…

Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial and, in so doing, become redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives. And it can change this world. If you don’t believe me, just stop, think, and imagine.

That’s an awful lot of unscripted preaching. He even, as if to apologize to the happy couple, reassured them in the middle of his sermon that he would end soon, saying: “We gotta get ya’ll married.” This wise and experienced man, this leader of a national institution, this participant in national planning committees and vision-setting meetings, this responsible and thoughtful Bishop of the Church, found himself suddenly caught up in the Holy Spirit. The Word of God came out of him.

And it spoke of a love from God that we do not expect in the world but should. May we all find time just to stop, think, and imagine, what things would look like if we did.

Amen.

[1] Ruth Graham, “Bishop Michael Curry’s Sermon at the Royal Wedding Was a Subtly Radical Piece of Theology,” in Slate, May 19, 2018, https://slate.com/human-interest/2018/05/royal-wedding-sermon-bishop-michael-currys-radical-theology.html.

[2] Danny Boyle and Gareth Davies, “Royal wedding live: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle marry and delight huge Windsor crowds,” in The Telegraph, May 19, 2018, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/19/royal-wedding-2018-live-meghan-markle-prince-harry-marry-windsor/.

[3] Katey Rich, “Royal Wedding: Read the Stirring Sermon by Most Rev. Michael Curry,” in Vanity Fair, May 19, 2018, https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2018/05/royal-wedding-sermon-text.