Bishop Michael Curry preached at a wedding last May. It was at Harry and Meghan’s televised wedding watched by millions. Just to clarify, Bishop Curry is not the royal family’s chaplain, and he’s not an itinerant bishop from New York. He is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, a part of the World Wide Anglican Communion. His stirring words on love captured the attention of a global audience that day. They were strong words, challenging words, words that described love in terms of courage, determination, and life long discipline. They were not the romantically gooey words so often associated with romantic love, nor were they words of those who believe advocates of loving one another are naive wimpy losers.
Bishop Curry grabbed the attention of the world for a moment. But words of love are easily forgotten in a world of daily crises that make the future frighteningly uncertain. Love may be a wonderful sentiment, but how practical is it in the face of real threats and problems? For that matter, what is love, and how do you do it?
It was a question raised by early Christians in Corinth, and this coming Sunday many will hear read during worship services the familiar verses of the 13th chapter from Paul’s first letter to them. It’s often read at weddings, sometimes at funerals, and generally pops up whenever love is celebrated one way or another. It’s a helpful start, but leaves lots of loopholes and too much unexplained. Paul described love as: rejoicing in truth; patient; kind; and bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring all things. It conjures up an image of an innocent, gullible, very kind nebbish.
On the other hand, Paul says there are things love is not. It’s not: envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, or resentful. It doesn’t insist on its own way, nor rejoice in wrong doing. That adds a little meat to it, but regretfully includes most of the behaviors we’re good at and loath to give up. It adds up to this, he says, you can have many gifts, skills, and strengths, but without love they count for nothing, you have nothing. It’s powerful advice, perhaps divinely inspired advice, but in the end it still leaves questions about what love is, and how to live in love.
Jesus answered by commanding, not suggesting but commanding, that we love one another as he has loved us. So to learn what love is and how to do it, we need to turn to an examination of Jesus’ life as recorded in scripture. It’s not good biography. Don’t get hung up on that. The four accounts don’t agree with each other about too many things. They need to be examined for revelation about the meaning of love by exploring what Jesus did and said. For Christians, what Jesus said and did is not simply a good example, it is a demonstration of what love is given by God in person. That’s what Curry’s famous but quickly forgotten sermon was all about. Since then, the Episcopal Church has taken on “The Way of Love” preached by Bishop Curry as a work of discipleship to help bring Christ’s commandment to love one another into real everyday lives as real ordinary people live it.
It’s divided into seven parts that form a whole, making it convenient for a different focus on each day of the week: Learn, Pray, Turn, Go, Bless, Rest, Worship.
- Learn: study scripture to see what it reveals about the way Jesus showed love.
- Pray: be in conversation with God about all the things Paul says love is and isn’t. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and argue.
- Turn: pause, listen, and recommit to following Jesus (which is not the same as accepting/believing in Jesus).
- Go: get out there, cross boundaries, engage with others, listen, and try to do it the way Jesus did.
- Bless: a prayer of blessing for another is not a request for God to do something. It’s the very conduit through which God’s blessings flow into the other’s life. Be the blessing someone else needs. You don’t have to be wise with words. The two most powerful ways to be a blessing are to be present and listen.
- Rest: receive the blessings others bring to you. Remember the Sabbath and rest. Lay your ego aside. Open yourself to allow God’s love to restore your soul.
- Worship: it’s not a solo act. We need each other in too many ways. Gather with others to hear and reflect on God’s word, to offer up prayers in community, and to be fed with holy food and drink for the journey ahead.
The Episcopal Church has put out study guides on “The Way of Love” to help lead congregations. For those who are unlikely to pick one up, this short column is intended to be a helpful guide to the possibility of doing better living in the way of love without being sappy about it. I hope it does.