Saturday, 26 May 2018

God's Love and the Royal Wedding

The preacher at the recent royal wedding stole the show in a way. True to his roots, he preached a style of sermon that was refreshing and complemented the straight-down-the-line approach of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Touched off with a marvellous rendition of  Stand By Me gospel style. And with perhaps 2 billion people watching Bishop Michael Curry took the opportunity to speak of the transforming power of God’s love and the possibility of our mutual love seen in a couple about to discover this love in a life lived together in holy matrimony. It was a good sermon for a world of limited Christian understanding and showcased the Christian emphasis on love.

The bishop said many things, but here is my very short summary:

If we love each other we will transform the world.

As someone said, it was classic Progressive Christianity. Of course, if we could love each other the world would be different. A new creation. But the world isn’t different, so presumably (the awkward, unspoken inference of the sermon) we don’t love each other well enough. So try harder. And here we meet the soft underbelly of Progressive Christianity. Generally speaking, while so-called progressives begin with a concern for the excluded and for peace and justice, Progressive Christianity ends wagging the finger as much as its arch-rival, the conservative evangelicalism. “If only we loved each other more …” We don’t, so try harder. I find progressive Christianity as law-driven and critical of those who don’t measure up as anything it allegedly opposes. Progressive Christianity is adept at the backhanded compliment.

The readings for Trinity Sunday (Year B) have as the Gospel reading a great chunk of John 3. It narrates, among other things, God’s action in Jesus to change people and the world.  It is not a call for us to try harder, even to try harder with a good measure of aid from God. The traditional gospel affirms our neediness and inability to save ourselves, to contribute to our salvation at all. Our contribution is elicited, enabled, sustained, and fulfilled by God. We can’t even claim a tiny, little sliver of unaided contribution that was topped up by God.  Of course, we can call each other to greater acts of love. But how to do this without the implied criticism? Better to be honest about the criticism and see where you end up.

The preacher at the royal wedding got away with it because his ancestors were slaves and here he was preaching to the Queen of England. A good dose of irony in that, irony that sits very comfortably with Christianity. But, generally speaking, progressive Christianity has as much trouble with criticism and exclusion of those who don’t measure up as do any of the conservatives.