The Right Revd. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church, closed out the 78th General Convention with a powerful address on Friday. His sermon was effectively a call to return to the Great Commission. For those of us who want to see a renewal of discipleship and evangelism in the Episcopal Church, the choice of Michael Curry seems, well, inspired.
There are many, many reasons I’m excited about the election of Michael Curry, including the historical precedent it represents. Here are a few more…
1. He knows the biblical story.
In his sermon, PB-elect Curry read from Isaiah 40—a well-known passage that’s often quoted without reference to its context. Anyone can recite a few verses of Scripture. To use the text well, however, you have to know the story.
PB-elect Curry knows how to paint the biblical landscape. He knows how to tell the story behind passages like Isaiah 40. In his brief sermon, he seamlessly connected this text to Israel’s story—in particular, their painful exile in Babylon—and to its eventual culmination in Jesus.
He knows the songs Israel sang in exile.
His knowledge of Scripture runs far deeper than the ability to rattle off a few Bible verses. He knows the story.
This matters, because if we are to know where we should go—how we should live—we have to know where we’ve been. The biblical story cannot be an afterthought when discerning where God is leading. We need to be soaked in the narrative. We need prophetic voices like PB-elect Curry who know how to connect the ancient story to our world today.
2. He can speak to—and challenge—both progressives and conservatives.
Often, PB-elect Curry sounds like someone who’d be right be at home among evangelicals. He reads Max Lucado. He watched Son of God. (Well, the trailer, at least!) He even worked in a mild jab at Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah (which, incidentally, was better than most of the criticism it got from evangelicals, but that’s for another day).
At the same time, PB-elect Curry marches in the Moral Monday protests. He’s an advocate for justice and inclusion. He understands that reconciliation in Christ has profound social implications. He challenges us to be a prophetic alternative to the “nightmare of the world”—that is, the nightmare of injustice, oppression, and exclusion—because of the gospel of Jesus.
PB-elect Michael Curry defies evangelicals’ caricature of Episcopalians as Christians-in-Name-Only who say the Nicene Creed with their fingers crossed. His faith is robust, vibrant—it’s the fire in his bones.
At the same time, his full-throated gospel proclamation should challenge progressives to embrace—and share—a full-orbed good news. God’s justice cannot be separated from the salvation achieved by Christ, or vice versa.
3. He’s got a big gospel.
We need a big gospel. We need a gospel that can lift us out of the pit. We need a gospel that proclaims reconciliation with God and with each other. We need a gospel that is more than a “get out of hell free” card and more than a blueprint for social activism. We need a gospel that transforms individuals, communities, and whole societies—a gospel that liberates captives from spiritual and economic oppression, from alienation and exclusion.
This is the gospel PB-elect Curry proclaimed in his sermon:
God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the way to be reconciled with God… and reconciled with each other. He came to show us how to become more than simply the human race—that’s not good enough. He came to show us how to be more than a collection of individualized self-interests. He came to show us how to become the human family of God.
This is a gospel for everyone—liberal and conservative, traditionalist and progressive. This is the movement into which all of us were drafted at our baptism, and it is a movement that transcends every other divide:
I don’t care whether your label is traditionalist or progressive; if you’ve been baptized into the Triune God, you’re in the Jesus Movement. I don’t care who you are, how the Lord has made you, what the world has to say about you. If you’ve been baptized into Jesus you’re in the Jesus Movement and you are God’s.
This is the mission of the church. Bishop Curry’s election gives me hope that we will renew our commitment to this mission in the years ahead.