And now in the name of our loving, liberating, and life giving God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am indeed profoundly grateful to all who have gathered here with this time of liturgy for a climate in crisis, for all who have worked behind the scenes to bring us together, and for all who are part of the COP delegation of the Episcopal Church. At this important time, I thank you, and thank god for you, and thank God for all who advocate for our Mother Earth.
While I happened to be in New York to preach tomorrow, I live on the land of the Tuscarora nation and the Lumbee in North Carolina. A friend of mine, Charles Marsh, who teaches at the University of Virginia, some years ago wrote a book on spirituality and civil rights entitled “Beloved Community, Spirituality, and Social Justice from the Civil Rights Movement until Today.” In that book, at one point in a chapter where he was talking about Fannie Lou Hamer and her impact both on the Mississippi Freedom Party and on human rights and dignity, he said this and I quote, “Through Fannie Lou Hamer, Jesus had founded the most revolutionary movement in human history. A movement built on the unconditional love of God for the world and the mandate to a community to live that love.”
I believe that's true. Jesus did not found an institution for the sake of an institution, though institutions can serve Him. He did not found a religious organization for the sake of religious organizations, though religious organizations can serve Him. Jesus founded a movement, a movement of people committed to following His way, which is the way of the love of God. And they dare to live that mandate in the world: that God loves.
From John chapter 3, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
For God so loved the world.
I'm not sure if it's because I've got more gray hair on my head, or I'm just slow to learn, but it's only been in the last few years that I've realized just a little bit the enormity of the conversation that happened in the third chapter of John's Gospel between Nicodemus, the Pharisee, and Jesus the Messiah. Nicodemus comes up to Jesus, and he's curious. He wants to know from Jesus, what's it going to take to make life livable? What is the core of your teaching? And Jesus says, “You must be born again.” Nicodemus says, “Well, that's not possible, I'm an old man. You said you must be born of the spirit that which is born of the flesh is flesh that was born of the spirit is spirit.” And then Jesus launches into the power that makes this new birth, that makes this new creation, that makes this new heaven and earth possible. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man. So what I'm telling you, Nicodemus, so what I've been trying to teach you all. Be lifted up. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son. He gave Himself. God so loved the world.
It's taken me this long to figure out the enormity of what's going on here. That Jesus was telling old Nicodemus that that God loves this world, that's why I'm here. He was telling Nicodemus that this love of God for the whole world is the way to heal this world. It's the power that will heal this creation, that will redeem God's lost creation. God so loved the world.
I began to realize how large this was a few years ago when I was in conversation with Bishop Andrus. I don't even remember where we were, probably at a house bishops meeting. And I remember saying to him, I was playing with this text and wrestling with it. I've been listening to John 3:16 my whole life. In the 1928 prayer book, remember, it was in the comfortable words, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son and all that believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” It was in the comfortable words, now in rite one in the liturgy, and if you hadn't noticed that in the 1928 prayer book, and didn't see it in the 1979 in rite one, watch the NFL football games and somebody's going to have a sign that says John 3:16.
But it never occurred to me, how enormous what Jesus was telling Nicodemus that day. Until bishop Marc said, “You know what the Greek word used for the word ‘world’ is?” And I said, “Brother Marc, I've been out of seminary a long time, and my Greek is old and rusty.” And he said, “It's the word cosmos.” And I said, “Lord, have mercy.” It’s the word cosmos! Not just a little bit here. No, no, no, no, no, no. Not not just you and me. No, no, no. Not just the human family. No, no, no. Francis of Assisi figured this out a long time ago. It's not just us. It's not just the Earth. It's everything that exists. The cosmos! God so loved the world! All things! Like the Nicene Creed said: visible and invisible. God so loved the world that He gave His only son.
That's extraordinary. But there's more.
Roberta Bondi, who I believe is retired, used to teach at Emory at the School of Theology there, is a scholar, historian, theologian of the early church, and one of her books that she wrote a number of years ago that I still pick up and reread is a book entitled “To Love as God Loves.” And she says that when you look at the early church, the early Jesus movement, when you look at the early church carefully, you will see that the early Christians believed that their vocation to follow Jesus was to learn to love as Jesus loves. To love as God loves, because they remembered that Jesus said at The Last Supper in John's gospel, “A new commandment I give you that you love one another as I have loved you.” Their vocation: baptized. Their vocation: discipleship. Their vocation as a follower of Jesus is to love as Jesus loves, to love as God loves, to give as God gives, to forgive as God forgives, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God!
That is the vocation of a Christian. To love as God loves. God so loved the world.
Hear me Christians, that He gave His only son. Notice the text. He gave, He didn't take. He gave, He didn't exploit. He gave, He didn't misuse. He gave to care for. He gave to love. God so loved the world. I didn't realize how big this text was.
And then there's more! I'm not finished yet. I'm going to stop because I know, I know, you all got other things to do, but this is a remarkable text. Notice that Jesus says, “God so loved the world” after He says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up.” If you go back in the Hebrew scriptures, the story of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness is a healing story. Folk can be bitten by poisonous snakes. Stay with me now. The creation had turned against them, and they were harmed, and Moses takes this bronze snake — I don't know what all that means — all I know is Moses takes this bronze snake, and when folk look at the bronze snake, if you will, folk get healed! I think Jesus was telling old Nicodemus: “You want to heal the world. You want to heal the creation. You want to heal the nations. You want to heal our relationships. Do love as God loves. God so loved the world.”
The power of that love, the power of our advocacy in the name of that love not only can fix the crisis, but can heal the deeper crisis that is behind it.
I have started to realize, I know folk talk about intersectionality. Again, I'm a slow learner. I started to realize some things are related. It is not an accident that the rise of mercantile capitalism in the West and the conquest of lands, right, stay with me, go back to your history now, and the conquest of lands is directly linked to the enslavement of African folk and the forced removal and genocide of indigenous folk. It's not an accident that exploitation of the creation leads to not only exploitation of the earth, but the exploitation of people. That's why god so loved the world. The whole thing. All of us.
This text is big.
And lastly, because this text points toward the healing power of love, of a love really lived as God lived. It points to our vocation as followers of Jesus in such a time as this. I was reading one of the ENS articles about the sister, the Lutheran pastor from Finland, who is part of the Arctic indigenous community. And she said this: “While we are hopeful about transitioning to cleaner energy and more sustainable solutions, we are also concerned about green colonialism, including the plans to build a wind farm on our homeland. And this is the point: We still live there. We're still living there, practicing our traditional livelihoods: fishing, reindeer herding. And our land is sacred to us. It gives us life and shelter. It is our home. It is our church.” It is our home. This is our home. This is our church. And we must cultivate a new spirituality. No, no. An old and ancient spirituality that is born of the wisdom of our indigenous brothers and sisters. And born of the wisdom of our brother Jesus and the scriptures.
And therein may be the spiritual key to the sacramental work of fixing the climate, the outward and visible sign, but also repairing the inward and spiritual reality which unless repaired, will continue to corrupt the outward reality.
Maybe the old song of some old slave somewhere sums up our prayers best this way: “He's got the whole world / in His hands / He’s got the whole world / in His hands / He's got the whole world / in His hands / God's got the whole world in his hands.”
Shared with with permission by the Office of the Right Reverend Michael B. Curry, The Episcopal Church, in its entirety. For more on Episcopal Church climate advocacy at the United Nations, visit iam.ec/COP26. The Most Rev. Michael Curry is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and the author of the book "Love Is the Way: Holding On to Hope in Troubling Times"
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