The love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all. (St Paul – 2 Corinthians 5.14)
A month ago most people in this country – and most people worldwide – hadn’t heard of Michael Curry. And then he stood up to preach at a wedding. Bishop Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of our sister church the Episcopal Church of the United States of America in less than fifteen minutes became, as the Daily Telegraph put it, “the royal wedding preacher who stole the show.”
And what did he do that made such an impact around the world, as well as at the ceremony? Well, he simply talked about love. Just that – love!
He said: We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that we will be able to make of this old world a new world.
The power of love, the redemptive power of love. Supremely of course the redemptive power of the love of Jesus on the cross, a love that is there for all because Jesus died not just for some people but for all people. For absolutely everyone without exception.
‘The love of Christ urges us on,’ says Saint Paul, ‘because we are convinced that one has died for all.’ That has always been the Christian message, that Christ died on the cross out of love for every single person. Yet despite the reality that all are loved by God and all are loved equally by God society has so often demonstrated by its treatment of some sections of society that some are more equal than others, some are more loved and some are less loved. Why have people all too often been unable to reflect the all-embracing love of Jesus.
Way back in 1955, when the bus was crowded in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks was tired so she sat down. She sat down in the correct section of the bus but the whites only section was full, so the bus driver told her to get up and let a white person sit down. She refused. She was arrested. Where was love in that?
It was a small action by Rosa Parks, but in segregated America it was seen as a huge act of defiance. Yet from that small act flowed a big history of civil rights activity that led to huge changes in that society – and yet the process is still not finished. Our own country has not been free from such discrimination as the recent Windrush scandal has shown.
It’s not just, of course, in the area of race relations that people have experienced discrimination and rejection and downright hatred in the past.
The movement for gay and transgender rights has come at a price for many who in the past were criminalised and demonised or denied basic human rights. Where was love in that? Fortunately we have moved a long way forward, but there is still a way to go.
People with disabilities now have rights under the law, yet in the past so many were denied accessibility to so much of life that the rest of us took for granted. People just thought that it didn’t matter. Where was love in that?
I can still remember, as many of you will, a time when to be a single mother resulted in hostility and condemnation; or when to live with a partner to whom you weren’t married was shocking to many and criticised as sinful. Where was love in that? Fortunately we have moved forward.
Of course, people will have different views on what is right and what is wrong – in the end we are all sinners – but everyone is created in God’s image and everyone is a person for whom Jesus died and everyone is loved by God and should be treated accordingly.. And we have increasingly recognised the rights of all sections of our society to be treated equally, fairly, justly, and with dignity and respect. And bit by bit our society is changing for the better.
Bit by bit our world is changing. But for so many sections of society it has been, and continues to be, a struggle. There are too many places, too many countries, where love is supplanted by hatred, by prejudice, by discrimination. There are too many places where basic human rights are denied. The love of Jesus embraces all, the kingdom is there for all, yet too often it hasn’t felt like it.
So where does the Church and its message of love for all fit in to all this? Why am I talking about equality, about dignity for all, about all-embracing love for each other?
Well, bit by bit we have come back to the message of the Bible that God is love – and to recognise that all people are of equal value and that all are equally loved by Jesus, that all have a right to be treated with dignity, and that all have a place within the life of the church. Some people outside the Church today do not think that the Church actually believes and preaches this.
So just to show that this sermon is fully up to date – only yesterday, on Weekend Woman’s Hour (on BBC Radio 4), in response to one particular item a statement from the Church of England was read out that included the following: We want to make absolutely clear that everyone is made in the image of God, loved by God, and precious in God’s sight. No-one is a problem or an issue and nobody should be excluded from worship.
We are urged on, as Saint Paul puts it, by the love of Christ, and because we know that one – Jesus – has died for all so we know that all may live for him who died and was raised for them. The redemptive love of Jesus is for all. The redemptive love of Jesus is fully inclusive. The Church is fully inclusive. Our church is fully inclusive. All are welcome to come and worship and to experience God’s love for them. And to experience the love we show to each other.
And to pick up on the words of Bishop Michael Curry, as we discover the power of love we are able to make of this old world a new world.
In our gospel reading this morning Jesus tells the story of how the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds when it is sown. Yet, when it is sown, he says, it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. The kingdom grows and grows like the mustard seed until it provides a home for all within its branches.
Like many people we feed the birds in our garden. And it can be interesting watching the different breeds coming and all trying to get at the food. The wood pigeons and the collared doves have to cope with the jackdaws and the magpies. From time to time the blue-tits and great-tits manage to get a look in. Some people, apparently, try to stop the large birds feeding because they only want the smaller birds. And as for squirrels! The lengths some people will go to stop the squirrels eating! I couldn’t care less – they’re all God’s creatures and all entitled to eat at my bird table!
In the same way all are welcome to make their home in God’s kingdom – likened by Jesus to a great shrub where all the birds can come and make their nests..
Just 10 days ago the Church Army Mission Community, to which Mother Anne-Marie and I belong, published a new short ten-minute film about it’s work. In it one of our community members says of Church Army’s work:
We are unconditional, serving anyone regardless of their age, gender, race, sexuality, ability, status or circumstances. Because God loves everyone and everyone is significant in his eyes.
That, surely, should be true of us all, as we are urged on by the love of Christ, because we are convinced that Christ has died for all. Jesus calls us to serve as he did – and not to pick and choose whom we serve.
May each of us, working together, enable our church to grow like the mustard seed into a place where all can make their home and know that they are loved – by God, and by each other. And then, to use once more the words of Bishop Michael Curry: We will be able to make of this old world a new world.
For Christ came to make all things new!