At my church on Sunday afternoons, I lead a youth group which mainly consists of children whose families don’t go to church.
Most of them are boys aged between 12-14 and many know me from a football club that I have run for many years.
Types of love
This Sunday our theme was love. After a game and a quiz about songs with ‘love’ in their title, we talked about the things we love. Answers included ice cream, playing Fortnite and our Mums. We talked about how one word covers many different types of love.
Then we looked at some famous Bible passages about love. Using a flipchart, I sketched out the four different Greek words for love in the New Testament – Eros, Storge, Philia and Agape. It seemed to make sense to them (but then you can never be sure with 13 year olds).
The source of love
To end the session, I used a clip from opening section of Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the Royal Wedding:
Oh there’s power – power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love…And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love, and our lives were meant – and 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.
Most of them were aware of the sermon but none of them had actually watched it. But the charismatic preacher held the attention of this group of teenage boys – just as he held the attention of the world the day before.
The sermon has enjoyed a profile which is probably unique in all history. But despite the widespread praise in the mainstream media, in the Christian world there has been a very mixed reaction. Many Christian commentators have been scathing in their criticism.
Tragically, the church is deeply tribal and has an enormous appetite for in-fighting. Like a dysfunctional political party, it spends an inordinate amount of time and energy criticising other parts of itself (for more see When Two Tribes Go to War). The positive popular reception of Bishop Curry’s sermon has super-charged these tribal tendencies.
I am weary of the kind of the kind of debating that I have seen going on within the Church. Our time could be spent so much better elsewhere.
Joy and freedom
On Saturday, Rev Curry spoke with brio and confidence to a global audience. Sure – he was a bit marmite. Some of my mates did not like him at all but many others loved his energy and passion. One of my friends who doesn’t regularly go to church wrote to me:
“I loved the sermon. I love the energy, happiness and celebration of life. Serious underlying messages but delivered with joy and a freedom you rarely feel in churches here. It makes such a difference.”
Just as I care deeply that the boys in my youth group come to know and follow Jesus, I have the same desire for my friends, most of whom don’t go to church. Seeing close friends become Christians has been one of the biggest joys in my life in recent years.
It has been said that the worst sin of the Church is to make God boring. No one could accuse Rev. Curry of that. Perhaps we should be more concerned about the staid and dreary way that the Dean of Windsor introduced the service. But this is easily overlooked because so many people are used to hearing clergy speak like that.
Much of the internal Christian critique and endless debating misses the wood for the trees. Even if you believe he got the emphasis wrong or missed out key things, he shared a powerful message about God, Jesus and love. And the world listened.
Whatever your shade of Christian belief, this sermon gives the Church a huge opportunity.
Every Christian can speak to people they know about what they thought of the sermon. They can talk about it with mates in the pub, with their neighbours, with colleagues at work or with their hairdresser. Never before have we had an opportunity quite like this.
The really interesting views on Rev Michael Curry’s sermon come not from other preachers, theologians or even regular church goers (like me).
The interesting views are those who are outside the church. Let’s listen to them and engage them. We can learn from what they say and take hold of the opportunity that this remarkable sermon has given us.