The Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry
And now in the name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, good morning, National Cathedral. This is a great getting up morning and a joyful one to be able to gather together and assemble, physically and virtually, by whatever means is possible, to worship our God, to give God thanks and to be together in the community of faith. I want to thank Bishop Budde, Dean Hollerith, and all of the folk who have made this possible. To see this great Cathedral continue its witness for generations yet to come. This is a cathedral for the future and it matters. I’m so glad to be here this morning. I’m so glad to be here this morning, and I hope I’m not the only person who’s glad to be here this morning. If you’re glad to be here, just clap. Thank God Almighty. Thank God Almighty. Thank God Almighty. Well, it’s good to be here, but because we are here, we don’t have to stay here all day. Let me hasten to the sermon.
From Mark’s gospel, a parallel account to what was the Dean just read, Jesus cleansing the temple. Casting out the money changers, compelling those in the temple to remember why the temple exists in the first place, an appropriate reading for this morning. But Mark’s has a little twist. You may have noticed that when Jesus cast out the money changers in Matthew’s version, he says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves or robbers.” But in Mark, this is what Jesus says, casting out the money changers, reordering the temple so that it will live for the purpose for which God intends it. And Jesus says, “Is it not written ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people?’ ”
That is God’s dream. That is God’s intention. It was God’s intention for the temple of Jerusalem in the first century, and it is God’s intention for this National Cathedral in the 21st century. A house of prayer for all people. Dr. King, in the last few years of his life, while this our country was being torn asunder by profound divisions and fissions that were tearing it apart. Our legacy and history of race and slavery, our history of wars and rumors of wars, our histories of inequalities and injustices. The cities of our nation burned, including this one, the streets of our nation were filled with protest. The thread of nuclear holocaust continued to loom as superpowers would square off. And people were frightened and fearful for what was coming upon the earth.
Dr. King was no longer popular when he stood in this very pulpit. His poll numbers were down, and the poll numbers of nonviolence as a way of life and change, down. Violence was the order of the day. And with that sense of almost, as Walter Brueggemann might say, almost prophetic despair at the reality of the world, simultaneously filled with incredible hope for what might come upon the world. King asked over and over again and said, “We will either learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we will perish together as fools.” The choice is ours, chaos or community. Can we learn to live together? Will we make the sublime choice between chaos or community? Can we learn to lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside, to study war no more? Can we learn to live with our differences and the variety and the diversity that is inherent in humanity? Is, as we might ask, even in this wonderful nation that we love is E Pluribus Unum possible, or was it a pipe dream? Will we learn? Can we learn how to live together as brothers and sisters or, as the prophet Isaiah said, “Will the sheep lay down with the wolf?” Or the donkey with the elephant? Y’all didn’t catch that one.
You with me now? Did you catch it? Make sure everybody got that one. That the church say amen. All right, amen. You see, see where I’m going? The truth is, can we, will we, not just for ourselves, but for the sake of children, for the sake of children yet unborn, for the sake of innocent people, for the sake of the planet, will we choose chaos or community?
I’m a follower of Jesus. I’m not the best one. I’m not, trust me. But in spite of myself, I’m a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, because I really do believe that his way of love and life is the way of life for the world. He has shown us. He’s shown us the way, the way that is God’s way. The way that that as Archbishop Tutu would say, “The way that God dreamed and intended when God first said, ‘Let there be anything else beside me’ ”. He has shown us as, as the prophet, Micah, said, Bishop, “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with your God.” He has shown us. I’m a Christian. I’m a follower of Jesus, cuz I’m telling you, Jesus has shown us the way. He has shown us the way to live by a love that can teach us the way of justice. That is not revenge. He has shown us a way of love. That can show us the way of kindness. That is not saccharin. He, he can show us. Oh, let me say it this way. He can show us how E Pluribus Unum, from many one, can be possible in the political sphere. And he has shown us how we can live together as brothers, sisters, siblings, as the human family of God in the global sphere. Oh, I’m into Jesus. I don’t know about you. And, and I really believe that we can learn, we’re educable. God has not given up on us. And if God has not given up on us, how dare we give up on ourselves?
My house will be called a house of prayer for all people. I looked this passage up in a Jewish commentary on the new Testament, always a good thing to do. I check in with the Rabbis regularly. And, and, and this particular commentary made this comment specifically about this Markan passage, a house of prayer for all people. And I quote, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations or all peoples, means that all nations as the prophet Isaiah foretold, all nations for Jesus, meant the end of exclusion.” Y’all with me on that one? The end of the exclusion of Gentiles, which was everybody else in the world. It meant the end of exclusion.
Now you can look at me. And I haven’t done the ancestry.com thing yet. And my wife’s into the genealogical work. And I keep telling her, don’t go too high up my family tree. Cause I know some of them critters lower on the tree and God only knows what’s up when you go too far. But, but while I, don’t know that I have that much Jewish in me, if any, which means I’m probably a Gentile. But it’s because Jesus knew what the Hebrew prophets were saying. My house should be called a house of prayer for all people. And Isaiah said, that includes the foreigner. Jesus took that and said, this is what God intends for God’s people, whoever they are. This is what God intends for God’s world that this is God’s house. Not just this church, but this world, this is my father’s house. And this is a house of prayer for all people.
Oh, and, and you know, your slaves, African slaves, got this. They grasped it. Cause I think when they heard Jesus say, “My house should be called a house of prayer for all people”, somebody looked at somebody else and said, “You know what? That must mean us too”. And then they heard John’s gospel. And Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.” And then he says, “In my father’s house there are many mansions.” And they sang an old song that said, “oh, there’s plenty good room. Plenty good room, plenty good room in my father’s kingdom. Plenty good room. Plenty good room. Plenty good room for all God’s children.”
Oh Are y’all as excited about this as I am? Let me tell this is, oh, this is hope. This is God’s dream. As Archbishop Tutu said over and over again, “This is God’s vision for the world, for the church, for people of faith, whoever they may be.”
And this cathedral has been dedicated to be a house of prayer for all people. But not simply within the sacred precincts of this wonderful building. No, no, no. It has been dedicated to help this nation rediscover what E Pluribus Unum means and can mean. To help this world rediscover what it means to become God’s Beloved Community. To help us realize as the prophet Malachi said, “Have we not all one father? Did not the one God create us?” Last time I checked, we got the same parent. We say in the south, I mean, we kin folk, which is to say, I’m your brother and you my sister and my brother and my sibling. That, you know what, what that means is we are already family. We can say, we are family, dysfunctional though we be, we are family. I mean, and that’s the reality.
And this Cathedral. Its primal vocation may be to remind us what Jesus taught us. My house shall be a house of prayer for all people. And I realize that when I fly here. I often fly here, coming from somewhere else. Got here late last night from Sarasota, Florida, where we consecrated a brand new Bishop. We just going around making bishops and bishops. Eventually we gonna baptize a number of folk equal to number of bishops. And that’s how you grow the Episcopal church. But that’s a whole ‘nother thing. They got to fly around.
Always fly into Reagan National and get a cab or an Uber or a car and ride into the city. And I don’t know the District that well, so I couldn’t navigate it myself, but I, I know when you cross the river, I can look out the left side of the car and I lift up mine eyes unto the hill from whence cometh my help, my help cometh from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Y’all know that song. I know you’re Episcopalians. Please tell me you know that song. And I can see this building on a hilltop. And even though I don’t know the District, I can orient myself by this building. The vocation, stay with me, the vocation of this Cathedral is to help this city, this country, this world, to reorient itself from the nightmare our selfishness sometimes make, into the dream that God intends for all of us.
Oh, I’m gonna conclude this, but I really believe that. And you do. We do. And there are many others of us like it, but it takes faith to believe it’s true. And “Faith” as Dr. King once said, “is stepping out on the staircase when you can’t actually see the stairs”. Or as Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, former president of Morehouse said, “Faith is given, taking your best step and leaving the rest to God”. And I know faith is not easy, but maybe it’s easier than you think. Like many of you, I, I live on airplanes. I know the official residence of, the official residence of the Presiding Bishop, not for tax purposes, is in New York City. I live in Raleigh, North Carolina, where the taxes are a lot better.
But I spend time on planes like you. And I pretty much, I know all of the flight attendants and the crews from Raleigh to New York. And I’ve learned over the years, flying around on Delta airlines – that’s the airline of choice in the south – that I know the routine and usually to go most places from Raleigh, I’m gonna go through Atlanta. And the general saying is in the south, you may be going to heaven and you may be going to hell, but if you going on Delta airlines, you are going through Atlanta. And so I spend time, you know, going through Atlanta, going around the Episcopal church and going around the world and, and doing all of that. And I’ve kind of learned about, I pretty much know the routines. You know. You get on and I always speak to the flight attendants, even when I have my mask on and, and smile at them. Cause I want ’em to know I’m one of the good passengers who won’t give you any problems.
Anyway, so I, I take my seat and, you know, get everything all, you know, adjusted. And I take out my iPad cuz I have my Bible on the iPad. Um, I like to keep the scriptures close. And , you know, I sit down and, and usually take out my pad and do my work. And then once everybody has gotten seated and everybody’s putting their, you know, their stuff in the overhead compartments, they, the flight attendants, usually say, “Now, if everyone, if you would please take your seats, please lock your seatbelt, make sure that your trays are in their upward and locked position. In the unlikely event that there should be an in-air emergency, oxygen mask will descend from the air.” Sounds like the Lord coming from heaven. Oxygen mask will descend. Remember to put yours on first and then assist your neighbor.
And then they say, “We’d like to welcome you aboard Delta Airlines and, look forward to a pleasant trip to your destination.” Then the pilots come on. And have you ever noticed that they had that pilot voice? They’re so cool. “Hello folk. We’d like to welcome you on Delta Airlines. We may run into a little chop on the climb out, but we’re gonna try to get you a good, safe flight. And we’ll be cruising at altitude of about 35,000 feet. And, once again, welcome aboard Delta Airlines and we’ll see you wherever it is you’re going.” And then you sit down and then, you know, and you know, everything’s fine. And I have a little prayer. I say the Lord’s Prayer, just to let the Lord know that I’m, like, I hope we’re okay. I mean, I love you, Lord. Don’t wanna see you right now, but, but I love you.
And so, the plane starts, you know, they close the cabin doors, the seat belts are on. Then the plane starts moving around. It kind of taxis onto the runway. And then it slowly, and you hear the engines and all that noise that starts up and the plane starts, and it starts making this noise and it begins to take its roll, run, running up, down the runway and then it starts to move and it’s like, you can feel it moving and it’s going faster and faster. And the flaps are down in their position and you can hear it. It’s getting louder and louder and picking up speed. And then they, and then you start taking off and you start, and you can feel Sir Isaac Newton biting the dust. It’s just going up and up and just keeps on going. And, and, and it’s bouncing sometimes. And then sometimes you can break through the clouds eventually and you can see the sun shining and it’s just wonderful. And there you are eventually at 35,000 feet in the air.
It occurred to me. I don’t know who’s flying this plane. I have never, I don’t know the pilot. In fact, I don’t even think I saw the pilot. I don’t know the mechanics who were supposed to work on it to make sure it’s up to snuff. I never met ’em, don’t know ’em from Adam. I haven’t met ’em. I don’t know the executives in Delta Airline to make sure they’re in compliance with all FAA regulations. Cause I really wanna, now that’s where I’m a strict constructionist. Let’s get this literally right from FAA. I haven’t checked anything. I don’t know who’s flying the plane. I don’t know who fixed the plane. I don’t know if they know how to fly. I don’t know any of that. And yet I have entrusted my life to Delta Airlines. Brothers and sisters, if we can entrust our lives to Delta and United and Spirit and whoever else you fly, we can entrust our lives and the destiny of this world to the Lord God Almighty.
I believe there’s hope because I believe in God and I believe in the way of Jesus and his love as the way to life. And this great cathedral is a lighthouse, a signpost, a GPS marker that can help to orient us, all the children of God, to God’s dream for God’s house, where there’s plenty good room. Plenty good room, plenty good room for all God’s children. God love you. God bless you. May God hold us all in those almighty hands of love. Amen.