Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s EcoJustice Sermon Transcript

Posted on July 5, 2017

May 19, 2017 at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. Hosted by The Diocese of California

Video available here


Good evening!  [Crowd: Good evening!]

It is a joy and a privilege, indeed a sacred honor to be with you this night and for this particular time of gathering.

To remind ourselves and the whole creation that, as the old song says, “God’s got the whole world in his hands.”

This is God’s world, and we are here to dare to declare and to seek to affirm and to encourage one another in the work of God’s work — of saving God’s creation.

I want to first say thank you. Thank you to this diocese. Thank you for your leadership.

In so many varied ways, your leadership in helping to support the Church in Haiti and the rebuilding and resurrection there.

Your leadership in calling on church and state alike to care for those who have no one to care for them. 

Your leadership in calls for being aware not only of the environment and the world about us, but your leadership in garnishing ways that can transform what could be a nightmare into something closer to God’s dream.

I thank you for your leadership and your presence at Standing Rock. You, together with your bishop, stood with our brothers and sisters. And though the struggle continues, though the night is long — just ask Mary Magdalene — ‘cause the morning’s gonna come! And so I thank you for that.

It is a joy to be with you. A joy to be with your bishop, my friend and brother. And a joy to know that you would welcome a Southerner here in California! [Laughter, applause]

Whenever I’m with Bishop Marc, I not only have a good time, but I always learn so much.

And it was Bishop Marc who convinced me to take up the violin. Now, I don’t say that I play the violin — I take lessons. And there is a profound difference. [laughter]

But I not only thank him for that, and for his friendship, but for his leadership together with you. 

So, I’m glad to be here tonight. I hope you’re glad to be here. [Applause] It’s good to be here! It’s good to be here. It is good to be here.

Allow me, if you will to offer a few texts. First one, from the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and Earth. Of all that is, seen and unseen.”

Another one, from Genesis, chapter one: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. The spirit of God was brooding over the face of the waters and God said, ‘Let there be light!’”

And then from Mark, chapter sixteen, Jesus is commissioned at the end of that gospel: “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to all the creation.’”

And then James Weldon Johnson in The Creation: “And God stepped out on space, and he looked around and said, ‘I’m lonely — I’ll make me a world.’”

And from Jesus in John, chapter three, verse sixteen: “God so loved the world…”

[Bishop Curry singing] “He’s got the whole world in his hands, he’s got the whole world in his hands. [Crowd joins in, singing, clapping] He’s got the whole world in his hands, he’s got the whole world in his hands.”

I am beginning to see that what God has had in mind from the very beginning unfolds sometimes gradually into our awareness and our consciousness.

I have long been convinced, and still am, that God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the way — to show us the way to stop living what is often a nightmare of our own human devising and to live something closer to God’s dream of God’s creation.

God came among us in the person of Jesus to show us how to move from being individualized collections of self-interest, and how to become more than simply a human race. How to become the human family of God.

But I’m also beginning to see that God had something bigger in mind, which is only beginning to dawn on us.

That not only was God showing us in the way of Jesus how to become more than simply the human race, how to become the human family of God — God in Jesus was showing us the way to become not just the human family, but the family of God.

And in that, my brothers and sisters, is our hope and our salvation. Oh, he got the whole world in his hands.

Let me unpack this a little bit. The truth is, Jesus really did show us how to become more than simply the human race. And I know it sounds strange to say that, but being a member — forgive me for saying it this way but — being a member of the human race is a good thing! [laughter]. I mean, I like it! [laughter]

I mean, I remember reading, I think it was Kafka, in The Metamorphosis where the brother went to sleep at night and he was human, and he woke up in the morning and he was a cockroach or something? [laughter] I would prefer to keep waking up a human being. I mean, I like being a member of the human race.  It’s a pretty good thing!

But the truth is, being a member of the human race is not the summum bono, it is not the high point, it is not the zenith of creative existence. I mean, it’s good, but it’s just basic biology.

And the truth is, the more you think about it, being a member of the human race is­ ­— now don’t get upset with me for what I’m about to say — but, being a member of the human race is not actually an accomplishment. [laughter] It’s really not! I mean, they don’t give honorary doctorates for being a member of the human race. [laughter]

And the truth is, it’s basic biology and that is necessary. That is part of who we are as material, creative creatures. I mean, we are biological creatures to be sure. We’re more than that, but biology — there are some young people, I can see that, in the choir you take — I don’t know what they call it —they used to call it “living things” when I was in school, but biology about life? I remember we were taught — now, this is some years ago, so there may be advances in knowledge since then…  [laughter]

But we were taught that, among living things, there’s the plant world and that then there’s the animal world and that we are part of the animal world. And that among the characteristics of the animal world are ­— how shall we say — consumption, respiration, and reproduction. We eat, we breathe, and we make more of our own kind.

That’s pretty much the bottom line of being part of the animal creation.

Now, my wife has two cats who can consume, respirate, and reproduce. Well, actually, they can do two out of the three. They have been to the veterinarian. [laughter] But the truth is, that’s just basic biology. And it’s a good point of departure, but it’s not the end game.

And the truth is, Jesus actually indicated this. Remember when he said, “Is not life more than food? The body more than clothing?”

Of course you need food, of course you need clothing. But life is about more than that.

It is about more than acquiring. It is about more than climbing ladders of success. It is about more than just getting and getting and getting more.

Jesus said, “Look at the lilies of the field, the birds of the air? Are you not of more value than even those precious creatures of God?”

Oh, Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life!” Not bargain basement life. No, not life you can barter for on EBay. No, I have come that you might have life to its fullness. Life as God dreamed. Life filled with integrity! Life of dignity! Life of vitality! Life saturated with eternity. Life that not even death can take away from you.”  [clapping]

Oh, no, God came among us in the person of Jesus to show us how to become more than simply the human race.

He came to show us that by the power of love that has its origin and source in the very heart and throne of God that in the way of unselfish, sacrificial, other-directed love is the key to life.

How did the old slaves say it? “If you cannot preach like Peter, and you cannot pray like Paul, you just tell of the love of Jesus how he died to save us all.”  That is the balm in Gilead, to heal the sin-sick soul.

Oh, my brothers and sisters. Jesus came to show us how to become more than simply the human race. But I’m beginning to realize that that was the start. Not the finish.

Y’all remember — at the Last Supper? I started to say, “You remember the Last Supper?” — of course you weren’t there! [laughter]

But in John’s gospel, in John’s version of the Last Supper. It’s found in chapters thirteen through seventeen in John’s gospel. Jesus at one point says to the disciples — he’s talking about love over and over again —

“Greater love hath no one than this, to give up his life for his friends”; “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another”; “Abide in me, as I abide in you”; “Love is the way”; “Abide in love and you will make it”; “Love is the way and the key to life that death cannot take away” —

But in the midst of this, at one point in that Last Supper conversation, Jesus — it’s almost something he probably — it sounds like he might have just said it off the cuff.

At one point he leans over to the disciples, and he says, “There are many things, many more things than I could tell you. But you cannot bear them now.” Which is a biblical way of saying, “Y’all can’t handle it yet.” [laughter]

And then he goes on, he says, “Many more things I could have told you, but you can’t handle this right now.” But then he says, “But the spirit of truth will come. My spirit. The spirit that made me me. The spirit of God that brooded over the face of the creation. The spirit of truth will come, and that spirit will lead you into the deep truths that I was talking about all along. “

Well, stay with me church I’m coming to a point. [laughter]

‘Cause, see, I have a feeling that God came among us in the person of Jesus to show us the way to become more than simply the human race. The way to become the human family of God.

But I am convinced that God came among us in Jesus to show us the way to become not just the human family, but how to become the family of God!

And that’s why we’re here.

We’re here because the environment — no, the creation — is part of the family of God.

Oh, stay with me now, I want to make sure that those who are worried about orthodoxy — [laughter]

Yeah, I’m learning now that I’m presiding bishop, my words get scrutinized, so, let me just be clear — [laughter]

Right? That’s why I started with the Nicene Creed. Right? Right? [laughter, clapping].

“We believe in one God, the father almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of ALL that is seen and unseen.”

Oh, brothers and sisters, how do they say it? “The great spirit, the great creator has creator has created all things. God’s family” ­­— oh, stay with me ­— “God’s family is the entire creative world and universe!” [clapping]

Oh, and let me tell you. And, see, I’m talking, this is — Tell our friends who may disagree with us that this is good Bible I’m talking, I mean, “We’re going right to the book!” Right?

And even Saint Paul — I know folks got issues with Saint Paul, but don’t worry about it — Paul’s alright. [laughter] You just gotta get him on a good day, that’s all! [laughter]

But, yeah, yeah, even Saint Paul, in the eighth chapter of Romans at one point perceived this in an almost mystical vision. He says that the whole creation groaned in travail, waiting for the revealing of the children of God.

Oh man, we are talking about a grand vision from God. The vision of God. The vision of God’s world. The vision of our lives. A vision that is not a nightmare, but that in fact, is God’s dream.

And therein is our hope and our salvation.

Some folks figured this out a long time ago. My grandma figured it out.

She used to like to sing the song — Grandma used to like to watch Billy Graham on TV. She would make us watch and we didn’t really pay attention, but she made us watch him. [laughter]

And we would sit there and do something else while she was watching Billy Graham, but whenever Billy Graham would have his crusades and his revivals, somebody would get up and sing, “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadow fall?”

And then they would sing, “I sing because I’m happy” — y’all know that song? — “I sing because I’m free. Oh, his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”

I’ve been hearing that song all my life. It never dawned on me to open up the Bible and see where the song actually came from.

But if you want to know where it comes from, take a look in the twelfth chapter of Luke’s gospel, and this is what Jesus says, and I quote:

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet, not one of them — not one of the sparrows­ — not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. And even the hairs of your heads are numbered. So do not be afraid, for you are of much more value than even the sparrows.”

Do not be afraid, just because we didn’t get the end result we were hoping for at Standing Rock. Don’t worry, the struggle continues, the work goes on until the dream is realized! Do not be afraid. [applause]

Oh, no, no, do not be afraid. No, we haven’t yet convinced everyone to understand that we’ve got to do some work to take care of this planet, that we’ve got to do the work together as the nations of the earth.

‘Cause Dr. King, who preached from this pulpit, Bishop Marc told me, in 1965 just after leaving Selma — the march in Selma — Dr. King taught us a long time ago, “We will either learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we will perish together as fools.” [applause]

Oh, no, no. Do not be afraid! His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.

Y’all see what I’m getting at now?

But if you don’t believe my grandma, let’s try — the prayer book. [laughter]

See, Episcopalians you know, it’s like, you quote the Bible they say, “The Bible’s nice, but if it isn’t in the prayer book, we ain’t got to deal with it” [laughter] Right?

So, I went to the prayer book and looked at Canticle Number One, the song, the Song of Creation, which is a canticle that goes back to the apocryphal sections of the book of Daniel, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace.

So, we’re going back in time. This isn’t anything new I’m quoting. But it’s right there in your prayer book: “O all ye works of the Lord, praise ye the Lord; praise him and magnify him — ”

Y’all didn’t know we praise the Lord in the Episcopal Church, did you? — [laughter]

“Praise him and magnify him forever.”

Then, listen to what it says. And this is in the prayer book:

“O ye waters that be above the firmament, praise ye the Lord; O ye sun and moon, bless ye the Lord; Stars of heaven, bless ye the Lord; Showers and dew, bless ye the Lord; Sun and moon, bless ye the Lord; Stars of heaven, bless ye the Lord; Winds of God; Fire and heat; Dew and frost; Frost and cold; Ice and snow, praise ye the Lord!” [clapping]  Whoo!

Oh, no, the whole creation sings to the Glory of God. For all of us together are the family of God.

But if you don’t believe the prayer book — [laughter]

How ‘bout the pope? [laughter]

Yeah this brother, yeah, yeah, yeah Francis — I like that brother. That’s my man. [laughter]

Anyway, Francis —you remember his encyclical on the environment and creation, you may have noticed that it is named after a canticle attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi.

And it is named after that. And the first sentence invokes Francis of Assisi, who is actually referencing the canticle that’s now in the Book of Common Prayer.

And Saint Francis put it this way:

“Oh, most high, all powerful and good Lord, all praise is yours. Praise be my Lord through all of your creatures. Especially through, my Lord, Brother Sun; be praised my Lord through Sister Moon and Sister Stars; be praised my Lord through Brother Wind and Brother Air; be praised my Lord through Sister Water; be praised my Lord through Brother Fire; be praised my Lord through Mother Earth.”

We must praise the Lord!

Oh, I think we might get some Southern Baptists to join us in this one. [laughter]

Praise the Lord by cleaning God’s world! Praise the Lord by cleaning our water, cleaning our air! Praise the Lord by saving God’s world.

This is not secular do-goodism we do. This is the Jesus Movement. [applause]

Oh, you knew I was going to get it in there!

Yeah, this is the Jesus Movement, because God came among us in the person of Jesus to show us how to move from just being the human race to becoming the human family of God.

But not just staying the human family of God.

Jesus came to show us how to become God’s family, and in that is our hope and our salvation.

We are the Jesus Movement, and we are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. And nothing on earth can stop that movement! [applause]

Nothing! Nothing! Nothing. [applause]

When I was at Lambeth in 2008, Bishop Marc was there. While we were there, the days when the bishops had gathered were separated for topical studies and conversations. Some, what, seven or eight hundred bishops and spouses were there from around the world, and we were there together.

God’s human family.

One of the days of study and conversation was entitled, “The Bishop and the Environment”. And were asked to sit in our small groups — they called them “indaba groups” — but small groups of about 40 bishops or so, and to share the stories of how changes in the climate have affected our lives.

Those of us from the West listened.

I remember the Bishop of Kilimanjaro describing how, when he was a little boy, the snow-capped peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro were great. The snow covered the mountain. But now — but now the snow barely covers the tip.

I remember another bishop from central Africa talking about the impact of the growing seasons having been changed, and now there is famine where there was not famine.

I remember my friend, the then-Bishop of Fiji, dear Bishop Api. I remember him telling us that his government and the government of New Zealand were in conversations about how to evacuate the islands and save the people as the waters rise.

And then I remember the then-Bishop of the Solomon Islands. A very small man who stood up and said to us, “Those of you who are Americans, we need your help. We are your neighbor, and Jesus said, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “

“We need your help to slow and stem the rising of the waters, because we helped you once. During the Second World War. Some of you may remember when John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who became your president, and his boat — the PT 109 — when it was sunk.”

He then said, “It was my people who saved John Kennedy so he that could become your president. Now we need you to come and save us. We have been your friends. We need you to be ours.”

The truth is, the work of saving God’s creation is nothing less than the work of God. The God who first said, “Let there be light.”

And Jesus came to show us the way, to inspire a movement, to help to change this world from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends.

And it may well be, even in the darkest nights of our hope, when think that hope is lost — that it may be salutary to remember that some before us thought all hope was lost. When the sky turned black, and the thunder rolled, and the lightening flashed, and Jesus cried, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

But early, early on Sunday morning — early, the earth started moving again. Early on Sunday morning, the movement of the earth rolled a stone back from before a tomb. Early on that Sunday morning, something happened, and he got up from the grave.

Not just the old Jesus! But a new creation!

And God said, “Let there be life!” And Jesus rose to life.

That is the Jesus movement!

And Pilate couldn’t stop it. Death couldn’t stop it. Jeering crowds couldn’t stop it. Dispirited folk couldn’t stop it. Lack of money couldn’t stop it. Defeats along the way couldn’t stop it.

On the third day he rose again, and following his way we will rise this planet back to life!

So walk together, children. Don’t you get weary! Because we’ve got a great camp meetin’ in the Promised Land!

[singing] He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got the whole world in his hands.

God love you, God bless you. And like the old slaves used to say, “Walk together children, and don’t you get weary ‘cause there’s a great camp meetin’ in the Promised Land.”

God bless ‘ya!

[clapping, standing ovation]