Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivered the opening sermon July 9 to hundreds of Episcopalians gathered in Baltimore, Maryland, for “It’s All About Love,” a churchwide festival focused on worship, learning, community, and action.
Below is a video of Curry’s message and a lightly edited transcript of his remarks.
Transcript of Opening Sermon
Bless you. Bless you. Thank you, bless you, God love you. You’re very dear. Bless you.
Oh, God love you. But I’ve got to tell you, ya’ll going to have me come after those brothers? And after this gang? We’ve got some good music here. I thank God for you all. Thank God for you. Thank God for you. And I just want to thank everybody who’s made this week, this festival of the Jesus Movement, possible. Everybody from Stephanie and Jerusalem and their entire team and all of the local folk here in Baltimore, in the Diocese of Maryland. Oh yeah, yeah. Give them a shout-out. Yeah, give them a shout-out.
I want to thank President Julia Ayala Harris, who is with us. She’s here. There she is in the front row, president of the House of Deputies. She is with us. She told me before we came out that it was one year ago today that she was elected president of the House of Deputies in this very room, in this very room. And it is so wonderful to see so many friends, both old friends—in terms of from the past; I don’t mean your age—but to see both old friends and to make new ones. And I’m only with you for today, and I’ll go back and continue to make my contributions to the American Medical Association. I expect to be at their next gathering to win an award for meritorious contribution.
But I say all that to say thank you. I thank you for your prayers. You have no idea, well, maybe you do, what they mean and how they matter. Because prayer really does matter. It matters. And I can tell you in the mystery of God, I don’t know how it all works out, I just know that it does.
And I have felt prayed up and have actually sometimes felt your prayers going in and out of CAT scan machines … But I thank you for your prayers and for your continued witness to the love of God that we have known in Jesus Christ. And that matters, I’m here to tell you….
So I do want to just say a few words about why we’re here, why it matters, and what a difference it makes.
A friend of mine, Dr. Charles Marsh, who teaches at UVA, University of Virginia, who actually did some of his seminal writing here in Maryland—I think he was teaching at Loyola at the time. But one of his books, he wrote at the Episcopal cathedral here. And I got to know him back then. And I used to joke with him because he went to the cathedral, and I was the director over at St. James’. I said, now you go over to the cathedral because the cathedral is a good church. But if you want a revival, you want a revival, come on over to St. James’. Yes. But in one of his books, titled “The Beloved Community,” he’s telling the story of Fannie Lou Hamer, who was one of the most incredible people of the Civil Rights movement, the Mississippi Freedom Party.
Fannie Lou Hamer was a character. She was an incredible woman. And he was telling her story, and he then pivots and talks about Jesus because she talked about Jesus. And at one point he said, inspired by the witness of Fannie Lou Hamer, he says in his book, Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in human history. It was a movement of people whose lives were committed to the God who is unmerited, undeserved, unconditional love, and who were committed to following this Jesus of Nazareth into living that love in their lives. And for the sake of the world.
It is all about love. And when you listen to Jesus of Nazareth, he points us to God, who the Bible says is love. And at one point, he said in John 13, “A new commandment I give you”—Moses gave you 10; I’ve got one more—“A new commandment I give you that you love one another as I have loved you.” Love one another as God loves us. Love one another as Jesus loves all the little children of the world. Love one another as the Spirit, that sweet, sweet Spirit—sweet, sweet Spirit, who, when the Spirit shows up, we will leave this place and know we have been loved and can love—love one another as I have loved you. For by this, everyone will know that you are my disciples that you love one another, that you love the loveless, that you care for others, that you witness to God’s justice. That you try to help somebody along the way. That you help somebody and don’t hurt them. And if you hurt them, own it. Get up, ‘fess up. And then get up. Love one another.
Now, that was just introductory remarks, but I realize that some notable folk interpreted what Jesus was saying when he says, “A new commandment I give you that you love one another, for by this, everyone will know that you are my disciples.” It was this saying was attributed to Prime Minister Disraeli. It was also attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but I never met either one of them. I heard it at a concert from Jimi Hendrix. And I don’t know if Jimi was actually consciously doing a riff off Jesus, but the Spirit was moving. And he may not have even known it.
Because when Jimi, I think, heard Jesus say, “A new commandment I give you that you love one another”—and then after he says all of that, toward the end of these sayings, he says, “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” And Jimi heard that saying about the power of love. And he said this—like I said, I didn’t hear Gandhi say it, and I didn’t hear the prime minister say it, but I heard Jimi say it. I was a teenager, and I heard Jimi say it. This was before the internet.
Jimi said it this way: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power”—y’all with me now? “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then the world will know peace.” Oh, oh, then the world, then the world, then the world will know peace. Then there will be justice. Then truth will be told in public squares. Then we will learn how to lay down our swords and shield down by the riverside and study war no more.
“When the power of love”—repeat after me—“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then the world will know peace.” It is all about love. Oh, turn and tell your neighbor, it’s all about love. Go on, tell them. It’s all about love. All about love. All about love. It’s all about love.
Something dawned on me when I was getting ready for this, and I don’t think it was the medicines that I’m taking, but I hadn’t thought about it before. But it dawned on me that in that last week of Jesus’ earthly life, before the crucifixion, it dawned on me that Jesus was entering Jerusalem, which was a center of the Roman empire occupying Palestine. He was going to the heart of the beast in the Middle East. Did you like that? And he went there, it dawned on me, to confront an empire in love with power, with the power of love.
That’s why he went there. And when he went there, he deliberately provoked the empire that was in love with its power … Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, right? And he did it timing it with the entrance of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Rome. Pilate was coming in from the west side of the city, having been in his palace at Fortress Antonia. Jesus came in on the eastern side of the city, the Mount of Olives in that area.
This, this was Rosa Parks. That’s what’s going on here. This was a nonviolent demonstration of the power of love. That’s what’s going on. And I’ve got to tell you, it was a demonstration of the power of love at risk to himself. And during this week, when Jesus is in the midst of this confrontation—and it goes on all week; if you read the Gospels in Holy Week, Jesus, folk are fussing with him all the time. And at one point they send somebody to Jesus, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a lawyer. Any lawyers here? Come on, come on, raise your hand, I know you’re here, but we need lawyers. We need good ones.
But this lawyer comes to Jesus. You know this story. It’s in Matthew 22. Lawyer comes to Jesus and he says, “Jesus, what is the greatest law in the entire legal edifice of Moses?”
And Jesus says, he reaches back to the Hebrew scriptures, reaches back to Moses and Deuteronomy and Leviticus, reaches back to the Torah. He reaches back and he says, from the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God,” is what he said—“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is the first and great commandment.” Then he turns to Leviticus, “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
On these two—love of God, love of neighbor, and while you’re at it, love yourself. But on these, he says, depend all the law, hangs all the law and the prophets. Which is a way of saying, this is the supreme court. Well, the real one, the real one. Yes. This is God’s supreme court, right? This is the supreme law of God, if you will. Right? This is it. You shall love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. Love the Lord God who made you and created you and who is at the source of your life and in whom you live and move and have your being. Love your neighbor as yourself. You don’t have to like them. But love them, care for them. Seek their good, their wellbeing.
Let me tell you, it means—I’m going to get in trouble now; I blame the medicine—it means that if you’re a Democrat, you’ve got to find a way to love a Republican. All right? And if you’re Republican, you’ve got to find a way to love a Democrat. And if you’re an Independent, you can go either way you want, but love somebody. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. This, Jesus says this in Holy Week, two days after he entered on the donkey. And while you’re at it, love yourself. You have to love yourself. Because you are called to love who and what God loves. And God loves his children. All of them, all of us. So, love yourself.
Some of y’all have heard me say this before. I’m learning to love Michael Curry. I have a habit I get every morning that I get up. Even when I was in the hospital; I was in the hospital, they had me wired up and all sorts of stuff. And I had my wife, I mean, she came in at some point. I said, “You got a mirror in your purse?” And I’m wired up and got oxygen things in and all this stuff. And they take, you know, they had a vampire down there drinking up all the blood. But anyway, and so, you know, I wasn’t looking, you know, all that pretty. And she took out the mirror; she didn’t know what I was doing. I said, “Put it in front of my face.” And I said, “Wait, put it closer.” I said, “Wait a minute. Denzel Washington, is that you?”
Love yourself, even if it’s an illusion. Love yourself. Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. Jesus entered Jerusalem to confront the love of power with the power of love. And if you look at what he says—and I’m going to move on—but if you look at what he says later on, in the Gospel of John at the last Supper, he talks incessantly about love. I mean, he’s going to be killed in a little while. And he says, “By this,” the text says, “by this, everyone will know that you are my disciples. A new commandment I give you that you love one another. As the Father has loved me so have I loved you. Now abide in my love. Greater love has no one than this, but that they give up their life for their friends. And I have called you friends.”
Love, as Judas is slithering out the room. Love, as they will abandon him. Love, as he is arrested. Love, as he is tried and convicted for crimes he never committed. Love, as he is tortured. Love, as nails are hammered through hands … Love, as he bleeds to death on the cross. Love, as a mama is holding her baby, lifeless in her arms. Love, as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus put him in the tomb. Love on that Holy Saturday when nothing was happening. What a horrible time.
And then love went early in the morning. Folk felt the earth quake. Love. When the sisters got up and went to the tomb and asked, “Who will roll away the stone for us?” One of them said, “I don’t know, but we got to go.” Love when they got there and the stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty. Love. He was alive. Love. He had been raised from the dead. Love. This is all about love.
And then if you still didn’t get it, at the end of John’s Gospel in chapter 21, he has a conversation with Peter, and he says, “Peter, do you understand?” Peter says, “I don’t know what you mean.” He says, “Simon, son of John, do love me?” Three times he asked him. It’s all about love. Because when the power of love overcomes the love of power, then the world will know peace.
A few years ago, some of you may know, a few years ago, I was at a wedding. It was a small family affair. But anyway, and I can tell you this now, while I was there, you know, sitting in the chapel before getting up and preaching—and they asked me not to stray too far from the pulpit; I felt like a caged tiger; I couldn’t get out. But after the service was over, I got on the plane, the flight to come back. And I can’t tell you how many times it happened in those first couple of weeks when someone would say—I had preached on love—somebody had said over and over again, I didn’t know Christianity was about love.
I heard it over and over. I’m not exaggerating, over and over again. And I realized that Christianity needs a revival. Christianity itself needs a revival, a revival to the teachings of this Jesus for whom love was at the very center of those teachings. And it dawned on me that maybe, maybe this Episcopal Church—don’t you worry about the parochial statistics; don’t you worry about all the facts and figures. If we love God and love our neighbor and love ourselves, we will work our way even out of our misery. Don’t you worry about it now. That’s all about love, all about love. All about love.
I know, I know, somebody’s thinking, preacher, this sounds good—in church. It’s a tough world out there. And you know, it is tough. … I’ve been ordained over 40 years, been in the church since I was baptized as a baby. I’ve got a lot of experience in the church. I told a senator, I said, “Well, I know it’s tough here on Capitol Hill, but I invite you to come and hang out with some church folk.” Oh, yeah.
So anyway, I can imagine somebody’s thinking, OK, this love thing is nice, you know, in church, if you will; it’s nice, you know, in Bible study; it’s nice when we’re in prayer. And it is, it is. But can it work in the real world? Can it work in the world of power politics? Can it work in the world of economics? Can it work in a world often bent on self-service and lack of care or concern by anybody else? Don’t believe me—ask the climate scientist; can it work in this kind of world in which we live? I understand part of the problem is that we have cheapened love. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about cheap grace. I think we need to pay attention also to cheap love. Because that’s what’s got people confused.
During the pandemic, like you, I was at home. I actually did at one point ask myself a question—I said, what does a presiding bishop do at home? I’m so used to getting on airplanes, going places. I said, what do I do when I can’t go anywhere? I felt like a caged tiger. And so I finally developed a rhythm when I realized you can’t stay on Zoom for five hours or your brain will fry. I started taking off some time in the afternoon just to kind of rest and sleep actually, but rest and take a quick nap and then pick it up and work some more. At about 12, 12:30, somewhere thereabouts, I would go downstairs. Sharon, my wife Sharon, would be watching TV. And some of you may know, at 12:30, soap operas begin. And she’s watching “The Young and the Restless.” Yeah, channel 7. And then, “The Bold and the Beautiful.” And so I went down and actually started watching myself, and you do get addicted. And after a little while, if I missed one, I’d ask her, “Well, what was Sophie doing with Johnny?” But I realized something when I was watching these soap operas. I mean they really are funny. What I love about them is every year at Christmas, after they’ve been cutting each other down and stabbing each other in the back, they get around with the glittering bulbs on the Christmas tree and they sing, “Oh, come, all ye faithful.”
But listening to these soaps, these folk were talking about love all the time. At one point I sat down and counted the number of times they used “love” or were referencing love. They talk about it all the time. And it occurred to me, sometimes folk get confused when they hear that word “love” because in English, we’ve only got one word for it. In the Greek, biblical Greek, there are three, actually four, different words that talk about the nuances and different kinds of love, eros, philia, and agape. But in English, we’ve just got the word love. And so they’re just using love all over the soap opera. And I wonder if folk get confused when they hear, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son”—if they hear Jeremy on “The Bold and the Beautiful.” And that’s part of the problem.
But the truth is, love is God’s GPS, God’s global positioning satellite, to help us find a way to life as God intended. That’s what love is. I was reading an article, last week, the week before, it was on CNN online. It was about a Black family in Indianapolis. Husband, wife, and three children. The father is a minister. Their 25-year-old child came out as a transgender woman. And the family wrestled with, what do we do? And they finally realized, and they’re still wrestling with it, but they finally realized, this is our daughter.
This is what the father said: “This hasn’t been an easy transition as a father. I told Kiah, ‘There’s a difference between agreement and acceptance.’ For me, nope, I don’t agree. I do accept because that is my baby. I had to really dig deep to understand love. I thought I knew, but my baby has taught me to really reevaluate and reimagine love and what love is.” And then, and this really happened, “…the Lord spoke very audibly to me and said, ‘You’ve got to let love lead.’”
Let love lead, and love your child. Let love lead, and let her find the life abundant meant for each. Let love lead to help you heal old wounds. Let love lead, and you’ll find life as God intended because love is God’s GPS. It’s God’s global positioning satellite that will lead you to the heart of God, the heart of the world, the heart of yourself.
It’s all about love. I can tell you, I ain’t no spring chicken anymore, but I was rector here at St. James’. I was cute, I was thin, had no gray hair. Well, they gave me some gray hair. And I’ve been at this a long time, and I really am convinced that Jesus is the way. And that his way is the way of unselfish, sacrificial love. It can lift us up when the gravity of life pulls us down. It can help and heal when nothing else can. And it can lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There’s power in love, and we underestimated it, confusing the Bible with a soap opera.
My grandma—now I grew up Episcopalian; I know y’all don’t believe that, but it’s true—but my grandma, who may be the most profound spiritual influence on me, was a dyed-in-the-wool … North Carolina Baptist. They used to sing a song in grandma’s church. You know how it goes: “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the distant shore, very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more. But the master of the sea heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me—now safe am I.”
And then folk would sing, “Oh, love lifted me, love lifted me, when nothing else would help, love lifted me.” That’s what we’re talking about. Love is the power of God to lift up and liberate his children, to help and heal us when we don’t have the power to do it by ourselves.
Well, let me bring this to a conclusion, or somewhere near one. I decided a while back, a couple months ago actually, that I was going to create a metric for my job performance as presiding bishop. You know, for job performance, you have to have metrics so that you can assess and determine how did you meet the metrics. And I figured it probably makes sense for me to set one rather than having Executive Council or General Convention do it. Smart move, let me tell you. So I figured out, well, what metric could I use? And I finally came up with one.
Before I retire, I want to get every Episcopalian, or most of them, or a goodly number of them, or the few and the proud—anyway, get as many Episcopalians as I can to know at least one verse of Scripture. Just one. And “Jesus wept” does not count. Right? Just one. And so I came up with one. And here it is. It’s from first John, the epistle, first John chapter four, verses seven and eight. But I’m just going to give you one part of that. The text, it says, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God. And those who love are born of God and know God. Those who do not love do not know God”—and here it is—“because God is love.”
You hear what we just said? God is love. Not love is God. That’s a whole other … no, no. God is love. That is the most succinct, precise, clear theological statement of the nature and the being of God. It doesn’t get any better than that. God is love. And I’ve got to tell you, if God is love, it really is all about love. If God is love, you and I were made by the hand of love. If God is love, this world is made by the hands of love. And that means we were made to love and to be loved and to give love. And we will find our lives when we live in the love of God.
I’ve often told children this story, but allow me to just tell you quickly, one of the things I do, you know, when I’m not doing anything, is I watch “The Animal Planet” on TV. Yeah, it’s really great stuff. I mean it’s just, it’s fascinating. Because one thing is, if you want to learn about human beings, watch the animals. You can learn a whole lot about human psychology from the sociology of animals.
And on this one particular show, they were following a mother bear and her cubs. And I don’t know how they do this, but they actually get the cameras positioned so that they really can look at the animals. The animals don’t seem to care or don’t know. It’s a drone; the drone makes noise. I don’t know how they film these things. But anyway, they had this film. They were filming the mother bear and she was, you know, had her cubs; I assume they were in school and she was teaching them, you know, how to be bears and that kind of thing. And the truth is, all human beings, we all kind of learn by imitation.
So I guess they imitated mama bear. So they were in school, and then at one point it was like, she kind of gave them permission to play. We used to call it recess. And they all were just playing and wrestling with each other. And this one little cub decided to go off on his own. And so he was just hopping and playing and everything, and he kept wandering around and wandering off. And he really wasn’t paying attention until he realized he was lost. He was somewhere out in the forest, and he didn’t see mama, didn’t see sister and brother, and he looked perplexed; but then he said, ah, the heck with it, and he started playing again, and he was having a good old time.
And then all of a sudden you could see him stop with this look of horror, and the camera sort of panned back. And you could see that there was a wolf that had seen him, and the wolf was looking at him, kind of licking his chops. And little cub started backing up. And the wolf came forward; this really was going on. The wolf was coming forward. The little bear kept backing up. The wolf kept coming slowly. It was like the wolf was torturing him, kind of like seasoning your meat. The little bear was backing up, and the wolf kept coming forward, and the little bear backed into a tree. And he realized he was in trouble.
And he looked at the wolf, and the wolf stopped, paused. And you could almost see the cub trying to figure out, what do I do now? And you know how sometimes it’s helpful to figure out, what would Jesus do? Well, I assume the bear cub didn’t know Jesus. I mean, God loves him anyway, but he didn’t know Jesus. And I think he was thinking, what would mama do? What would mama bear do? And so he got up on his little paws, and raised his little hand. And he went, “Rawr,” and the wolf—I swear it looked like this; I may be reading into this—it looked like the wolf smiled.
I mean, it was as if the wolf smiled and said, “Oh, this is so cute; come on, do it again.” And he got up on his little haunches, raised his paw, and said, “Rawr,” and the wolf said, “Isn’t this something?” Then the wolf, you know, made the sign of the cross and said, “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food.” And the little cub knew he was really in trouble then. And he got up on his haunches and raised his paw and one last time went, “Rawr.”
And the wolf had this look of terror on his face, and he turned around and ran. And the little cub had this look like–y’all remember George Jefferson? You remember how George Jefferson would do something, and he’d pat himself on the back and say, “Good one, George. Good one, George.” It was like the little cub just said, wow, I’m something else. And kind of patted himself on the back until he turned around and looked behind the tree. And there was mama bear behind the tree.
Barbara Harris, the late Bishop Barbara Harris, used to say, “The power behind you is greater than any problem ahead of you.” If you live in the love of God and the God who is love, there is no wolf in this world that can defeat you.
Oh, let me conclude it just by saying that the truth is that in a living relationship with the God who the Bible says is love—when we live in relationship with that God following in the footsteps of that Jesus who teaches us the way—when we do that there is no power in heaven or earth or under the earth that can stop this movement.
Paul said it this way: “I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities, not things present, not things to come, not height, not depth, not anything else in all God’s grand and glorious creation shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.” Oh, it’s all about love. It’s all about love. Power. Power and love. Because love links us to the God who made us. That’s what Jesus was talking about.
But with this, I will sit down. Archbishop Tutu used to say often—I don’t know whether he made it up or stole it from somebody—but he used to say often, of how God works in the world, he would say, by himself, God won’t. By ourselves, we can’t. But together with God, we can. The God who the Bible says is love.
Together with the God who is the source of love and life, together with God we can; we can make poverty history together in partnership with God. We can do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God. Together with God we can clean up this environment so that there is plenty good room for all of God’s children. Together with God we can create societies and a world where everybody is treated as God’s somebody. Together with God we can create a world where justice really does roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Together with God, we can learn how to lay our swords and shields down by the riverside, to study war no more. When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then the world will know peace.
God love you. God bless you. And may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love. Amen.