It seems that the world is a buzz with preaching fever. This weekend Bishop Michael Curry the Presiding Prelate and Primate of the Episcopal Church stood and captured the world’s attention for thirteen minutes as he delivered the Homily at the Royal Wedding. After the singing of the choir he did what centuries of preachers before him have done and boldly proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a waiting congregation. What made this occasion so captivating was not just the grandeur of royal customs nor the Bishop’s Black embodiment. What has the world completely enraptured was the power of the message and the courage of the messenger. The Bishop Curry dared to show up authentically and invoke the prophetic preaching tradition of the historic Black Church.
The Black Church, like the communities it represents, is not a monolith. Just as there are multiple ways of constructing Blackness, there are multiple ways of being the Black Church (Touré 2011). It is true that Bishop Curry presides over a church mostly made up of the dominant culture, however he has brought to his role the sensibilities connected to the Black preaching tradition. Preaching in itself is a liturgical act, a ritual the exercise of communal speech and Michael Curry brought the royal wedding the liberation speech of the community that gave him entrance into the world (Lathrup 1998). He showed up authentically. Black preaching belongs to a discursive formation of resistance. This resistance discourse denotes terms, phrases, figures of speech, concepts, poetry, and songs that are common to a group of subjugated persons, all of which calling them to resist in some way the oppression to which they are subjugated (Hendricks 2011). As he repeatedly lifted up the voice of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the lyrics of Spirituals right in the heart of Imperialist white supremacist heteropatriarchy Bishop Curry engaged both head and heart in an exercise of speaking truth to power.
Standing on the continent which gave us such theologians as Bultmann, Bart, and Bonhoeffer, Bishop Curry reminded us that Christian theology is language about God’s liberating activity in the world on behalf of the freedom of the oppressed. As James Cone taught us, any talk about God that fails to make God’s liberation of the oppressed it’s starting point is not Christian (Cone 1999). Curry maximized the platform that time and chance graced to him, because he was prepared to be an oracle of truth. That preparation was not solely academic, however that part of preparation bares a large portion of responsibility, but a spiritual preparation that resist the global urge toward commercializing and commodifying every moment. This is the preaching that comes from a pastoral heart of one who does not see them self as a CEO, rather a loving Shepard. In a time where religious cowardice is running rampant and preaching has been tainted by the tendency toward celebrity, Michael Curry delivered the heart of the Gospel with clarity and passion avoiding the obscene moral emptiness of modern preaching.
Prophetic preaching seeks to paint a new world with the toolkit of oral performance, imagination, and ken intellectual investigation so that the hearer is left with a picture of a preferable future (III 2015). European and American preaching alike have a complex history of failing miserably to speak to the moral bankruptcy built into the systems of empire, however there is also a tradition for which the call to repentance is a core element. The homily at the Royal Wedding finds the true task of preaching to insist upon both this worldly liberation and otherworldly salvation as the proper loci for Christianity. Bishop Curry shows in his message that he understands to prophesy is not to predict an outcome, but rather to identify concrete evils. To prophesy deliverance is not to call for some otherworldly paradise, but to generate enough faith, hope, and love to sustain the human possibility for more freedom (West 2002).
As we begin our preparation for our next preaching assignments may we take seriously the paradigm offered to us by the excellent preaching of Bishop Curry. May we be aware that preaching makes available to the hearer the old things of the text and ritual as images and words that speak the truth of our world, our lives, and our deaths, our alienation and our need, more deeply than had occurred to them before (Lathrup 1998). Let’s ask ourselves if we have called people out of the complicity with evil and into an active resistance? Have we shown up as our authentic selves knowing that what comes from the heart reaches the heart? Have we been faithful to our vocation as we engage the prognostication of the Gospel? In short is our preaching worth hearing?
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Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Cone, James H. 1999. Speaking The Truth: Ecumenism, Liberation, and Black Theology. Maryknoll: Orbis .
Hendricks, Obery. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.
III, Otis Moss. 2015. Blue Note Preaching in a post- Soul World. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Lathrup, Gordon W. 1998. Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Touré. 2011. Who’s Afraid of Post Blackness: What it Means to be Black Now. New York: Free press.
West, Cornel. 2002. Prophesy Deliverance: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity . Louiseville: John Knox Press.