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79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church - Opening remarks by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

Thank you, thank you.  God love ya, thank you!

It sounds like the rumble of kneelers in church.

Thank you, Canon Barlowe, and thank you for being here, for your willingness to serve in this way.  To serve the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Episcopal Church. Better yet, as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. 

It is a real privilege and a real blessing to be able to serve as your Presiding Bishop.  It is a privilege and blessing to serve with fellow servants of Jesus who are just remarkable people.  President Gay Clark Jennings, president of our House of Deputies.  Canon Michael Barlowe, I always refer to him as Mr. Secretary.  And it is a privilege to serve with them.  And I’ve said in several Provincial Meetings that I spend so much time with them I feel like John Boy on the Waltons.  You know how they used to go to bed at night and say, “Goodnight Ma, goodnight Pa, goodnight John Boy,” and I just at night say, “Goodnight Michael, goodnight Gay.”  It is a blessing and a privilege to serve with them and the incredible staff of the Episcopal Church and I do not say that as simple rhetoric.  We have incredible people who are the staff of the Episcopal Church.  They are absolute – and look, a dove is flying up already to prove it.  And so, it’s good to be – I hope you all are glad to be here! 

Allow me just to share some thoughts as we begin, and this is not a sermon – it’s a little early for y’all to start this – but I did happen to find a text – it comes from First Corinthians, Chapter 2.  The Apostle Paul wrote, and I quote,

          When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Julia Ward Howe expressed a similar sentiment when she wrote

           In the beauty of the lilies

          Christ was born across the sea,

          With a glory in his bosom

          that transfigures you and me,

          As He died to make folk holy

          let us live to set all free,

          While God, while God is marching on

          Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! God’s truth is marching on

We really are not simply the Episcopal Church.

Though we are that.

We really are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.

A movement that began long ago.  A movement whose roots are deep in the soil of Judaism.  A movement deep in the heart of God. 

That’s who we are.  And the more we are who we are, the more will become possible beyond what we could even ask or imagine. 

I realized this not long ago.  It was in Seattle, Washington, [on a] visit to the wonderful Diocese of Olympia there.  And, some of you may know that Seattle is the home of Starbucks. And the original Starbucks store, the original one – y’all know about Starbucks?  The original Starbucks is still there, and you can go to it.  And so, I thought I should make a pilgrimage.  I had been to the Cathedral, so I figured I ought to go to the cathedral of the world and went to Starbucks. The original Starbucks.  I’ve only been to Starbucks stores all around the country.  I hadn’t been to the original Starbucks.  I went in and ordered my grande bold, which is my usual drink, and I said, “And I’ll have a scone.”  The server very politely said, “We don’t serve food here. We serve coffee and fine drinks.”  I said, “Oh, this is the real Starbucks.”  And then I remembered having read Howard Schultz’s book Onward.  In his biographical work he talks about a time when Starbucks had been expanding profoundly throughout the country and throughout the world and not only had they expanded the number of stores that they had, but they actually expanded the menu to the point that the menu multiplied and developed and grew. And he said it was going well and then all of a sudden, their market shares seemed to begin to decline as they were expanding.  All of a sudden, their profits seemed to be going down, or not going up as fast as they should be, and they became concerned that something had gone wrong even in their growth and their expansion, and Schultz says in his book Onward, he went in a Starbucks store, and when he went in the store he could smell the smell of burning cheese more prominent than the smell of coffee.  And he realized that Starbucks had lost its way, it had grown away from its roots, away from its source, away from its original mission, away from the core that gave it birth and life in the first place.  And he said when you go into a Starbucks, and first thing you smell is burning cheese, something is wrong! We’re in the coffee business! And you know what they did? They closed down – this is in 2008 – they closed down all the Starbucks stores.  They closed them all down.  And they sent the baristas back for retraining in how to make fine coffee and produce a context for fine human conversation. 

My brothers and sisters, we are not in the baking cheese business.  We’re in the coffee business. And the name of that coffee is Jesus of Nazareth! That’s our business!

And the closer we are to our roots, to the source, to the source of our very life, the source of our identity, the reason we are here, the closer we are to that, we will find strength to meet the days ahead.  We will find the wisdom and the courage and the creativity necessary to engage the present historical moment.

I say that to say that the Jesus Movement is not an invention of Michael Curry. This Jesus Movement goes way back.  Biblical scholars have long described the earliest days of Christianity.  Its earliest origins as a Jesus Movement.  As people who gathered around Jesus of Nazareth, who listened to his teachings.  Now this isn’t a sermon, this is a presentation – but who listened to his teachings, who looked at his life, who imbibed his spirit, and his spirit began to become their spirit – that’s what we call Pentecost. 

His spirit became their spirit.  They found themselves loving the way Jesus loves, giving the way Jesus gives, forgiving the way Jesus forgives, doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with God just like Jesus! And folk watched them and saw them and said, “Y’all look like little Christs.” And they nicknamed them Christians.

My brothers and sisters, we are not just the Episcopal Church. We are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.  That’s who we are.  And that’s what the world is pleading and hungering for us to be. 

But, I’m gonna keep this short. 

Yes, President Jennings, you got anything to say?  Yes, I’m going to keep it short! I promise!

Julia Ward Howe is one of my favorite people.  And you may recall that she composed her poem that later became the Battle Hymn of the Republic in the midst of a national nightmare.  In the very midst of the Civil War.  As this nation was tearing itself apart and tearing it asunder.  As this nation was struggling to find its own soul by setting the captive free.  It was in the context of profound dis-equilibrium.  Of hard times.  Of times when the very virtues and values of the country were at stake, a time not dissimilar from our own!  A time when a nation, a time when a world must find its soul again.  And it was then that she wrote the words that have become the Battle Hymn.  But she wrote a verse, often overlooked, in that hymn, that speaks, of the coming of the Lord.  And in that verse, she wrote, and I quote:

          I have seen Him

          I have seen Him

          I have seen the Lord, I have seen Him in the watch-fires

          of a hundred circling camps;

          I can read his righteous sentence

          By the evening dews and damps;

          His truth, is already marching on.

Now I’ve got some good news for ya.  No matter what the troubles of this world may be, and there are troubles.  No matter what the hardships of this world may be, and there are hardships.  I’ve seen Him in the watchfires.  I’ve seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps.  I’ve seen the movement of Jesus among us in this church.  I saw it!

When dioceses ravaged by hurricanes and wind and rain storms, Episcopalians losing their homes, rallied themselves, organized their churches, redeployed resources, turned sanctuaries into sacristies with food for people.  I saw it in Puerto Rico.  I saw it in the Virgin Islands.  I saw it in Florida. I saw it in Texas.  I saw it in West Texas.  I saw Episcopalians hitting the streets, leading prayer groups – y’all hear me? Prayer groups, Bible study, advocating with government agencies, I saw it!

I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps.

God’s truth, this Movement, is marching on.

But not only there. 

I’ve seen, I’ve seen Him in the prayer groups that are knitting prayer shawls.  You wouldn’t believe how many prayer shawls I now have! And keep ‘em coming, ‘cause Lord knows, I need ‘em!

I’ve seen Him in Anglican prayer beads and prayer beads, I’ve seen them when folk from Navajoland gave me prayer beads, protection beads, which I wear everywhere I go.  I’ve seen it in normal Episcopal churches sometimes of fifteen and twenty folk who worship the Lord on Sunday.  Who follow Jesus Christ and who sometimes get up and do what others would not do.  I’ve seen Episcopalians stand with others no one else would stand with.  I’ve seen Episcopalians stand with immigrants.  I’ve seen us stand with refugees. I’ve seen us stand up for justice.  Not in the name of secular values, but in the name of Jesus Christ. In the name of love.  I’ve seen it!

I saw it in Charlottesville.  Bishop Shannon Johnston and the clergy of that diocese, stood up to make a protest – no, to make a witness for the way of love, even as Nazis, and neo-Klansmen shrieked hatred.  I saw Episcopalians join with other Christians and people of other faiths and good will, I saw them stand up for the name of love.  That is the way of Jesus of Nazareth.

We must in our time, we must reclaim a Christianity that actually looks something like Jesus of Nazareth.  A Christianity that believes in the Jesus who said blessed are the poor, and the poor in spirit.  A Jesus of Nazareth who said blessed are the peacemakers.  A Jesus of Nazareth who says blessed are those who hunger and thirst that God’s righteous justice may prevail in all the world.  A Jesus who says from the cross, Father!  Forgive them, they know not what they do.  The Jesus who says, by this everyone will know that you are my disciples.  That you love one another.  That’s Jesus.  That’s Christianity.  It is the Way of the Cross.  It is the way of God’s unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial love.  And that is the way that will save us all.

I’ve seen Him.

I saw Him, and with this, I really will sit down.  I saw Him profoundly when just a few years ago, Episcopalians at Standing Rock Sioux Nation, Episcopalians on the reservation, stood up for Jesus in the name of love.  Father John Floberg and the good people of his congregation and the other congregations nearby, stood up and with the support of Episcopalians and people of good will around the country, made sure that the water protectors who were working to protect sacred burial lands, to protect the water so that water would be pure and clean for children, for the people of God – this is not a radical proposition we’re talking about – so that there would be clean water, respectful of ancient heritages and traditions.  I saw them support the water protectors who were trying to change – I saw them provide pastoral care, spiritual nurture.  I saw them trying to be mediators sometimes between various contending parties.  I saw them do the work of racial reconciliation.  I saw it! I saw them care for God’s creation, I saw it! And I saw them make an Evangelical witness in the best sense of that word representing a way of being Christian that actually looks like Jesus.  I saw it!

But I saw it almost to the point of tears, when on the campground of the water protectors, on the Sioux Nation, on the reservation itself, where we were received so graciously.  I saw it when there were flags, flags of all of the tribes in North America, the U.S. and Canada, tribes from South America.  People of good will, different religious traditions, I saw it, the flags, you should have seen it, it was incredible! They were in the wind!  Of all the nations and peoples who were trying to stand with the people at Standing Rock, I saw it, and then Father Floberg pointed one flag out.  It was red, white, and a light color blue.  Just want to be clear.  I saw it and it was blowing in the wind.  It was the flag of the Episcopal Church.  But let me tell you about that flag.  It’s in the Archives now.  It was an old, tattered flag, it was new when they put it up, but that Dakota wind was tearing its threads to shreds.  It was tattered.  It was worn.  But it was flying.  And the cross at the center of it was there and no one would miss it!  It was like that old rugged cross!  I saw it! It was the Episcopal Church!  No! It was the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement! And the wind could not stop it. The rain could not stop it. Storms could not stop it. Hard times could not stop it. ‘Cause nothing! Nothing can stop the movement of Jesus of Nazareth! If you don’t believe me, ask Pontius Pilate!  He tried! And it didn’t work!

The beauty of the lilies. 

Christ really was born across the sea. 

With the glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me. 

As he died to make folk holy

Let us live to set all free

While God is marching on

Glory, glory hallelujah

God’s truth is marching on

God love you, God bless you.

Let’s have a great convention!