Sunday, 20 May 2018

Pentecost and the royal wedding sermon

Today is Pentecost. It's the day Christians remember among other things, that by his Spirit God works in believers what they cannot work in themselves. Coming to faith in Christ they are recreated to do good works (Eph 2v10) and made a new humanity (Eph 2v15) who can now live in true love (Eph 3v16-19) as a foreteaste of the perfect love and righteousness that Christ will bring about at his return, when he makes all things new (2 Pet 3v11-13). And so to yesterday's royal wedding sermon.

Facebook has been alive with enthusiasm. And I get that. I felt moved too. At one level I suspect this was because of the passionate talk about Jesus to offset the sleep inducing tones of the British clergy (someone please tell them how to smile and be personable). At another, I suspect it was because our expectation of these events is so low, and this guy spoke about the redemptive love of Christ! Finally, I think this enthusiasm reflects the fact that as Christians we heard what was said through Christian ears. So when we heard of the power of love, we thought of the love Christ works in those who trust him - the love of the Spirit given to all who've sought his forgiveness. But (and I really hate feeling the Eeyore) I'm certain the millions who listened in didn't hear it that way at all.

I've read the sermon online to be sure of what was said, and what it seems to proclaim is the gospel of try harder. It's hope, it's good news was that we, everyone, can bring about a new creation if only we will love one-another more powerfully. Just consider this paragraph: "Cause when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. When love is the way we know that God is the source of us all. And we are brother and sisters, children of God. Brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family." Think now on how the sermon ends: "Dr King was right: we must discover love – the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world."

What's heard then is quite simple: "Let's try harder." What's heard is that, whoever we are, whatever we believe, we are able to do for ourselves what in truth only Christ can do.

Now it's possible Curry may not have intended that. But he is the head of a liberal denomination and this is the gospel of liberal Christianity - the gospel of our secular age. Yet this is not the true gospel. The true gospel is about Christ's remedy for the fact that we can't change the world by trying harder. The true gospel addresses the fact that no matter how hard we think we are trying, strife and poverty and racism continue because we don't (and can't) love as we should love. The gospel is therefore honest about sin. And by being honest, by speaking about the unpalatable stuff, the gospel gives true hope - real, practical hope to Harry and Megan, and to all couples who find in marriage that they can't love as they have promised to love. It proclaims that Christ alone can and will change the world, that he is returning to make it new, and wonderfully, generously, graciously calls us to share in that. The gospel is about God the Son in love pacifying his Father's right outrage at how unloving we are, and then transforming those who come to him so they can start to love with his love as children of God. That's the gospel.

Michael Curry's sermon was great rhetoric. And because those of our age are drawn more by the medium than the message, God may well use it to draw people towards Christ. But to my mind his message was at best unclear on the gospel, and at worst intentionally so.