North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry preaches at Convention Eucharist

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] The following sermon was presented today at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Indianapolis IN through July 12.

A Sermon Preached at the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church

The Commemoration of Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

We Need Some Crazy Christians

by the Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry

Diocese of North Carolina

This day we are commemorating the witness of Harriet Beecher Stowe, a woman who used her words to set the captive free.  I’ll say more about her later, but right now I want to note that in 1944 her witness was celebrated in a Broadway play titled Harriet. It was Helen Hayes who played the part of Harriet Beecher Stowe. At the end of the play Beecher Stowe’s family stands around Harriet and sings the words of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” affirming the Christian witness of this brave and bold woman.  Part of the hymn goes like this:[1]

In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom, that transfigured you and me:
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men freeWhile God is marching on.
Glory, glory hallelujah,
Glory, glory hallelujah,
Glory, glory hallelujah,
God’s truth is marching on.

[2]

For a text today, I offer these words from Mark 3:19-2: “Then [Jesus] went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’”

The King James Version of the Bible translates the concern of Jesus’ family for him in these words: “He is beside himself.” The old J.B. Phillips New Testament translates it, “People were saying, ‘He must be mad!’” But my favorite is from the 1995 Contemporary English Version which says, “When Jesus’ family heard what he was doing, they thought he was crazy and went to get him under control.”

So, forgive me for saying it this way, but Jesus was, and is, crazy! And those who would follow him, those who would be his disciples, those who would live as and be the people of the Way, are called and summoned and challenged to be just as crazy as Jesus. So I want to speak on the subject, “We Need Some Crazy Christians.”

I don’t want to be too quick to judge Jesus’ mother and the whole family. They had good reason to be concerned.  We just read from 1 Peter a teaching that reflects what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing” (1Peter 3:9). That’s crazy.  In the Gospel reading from Matthew, read just a few moments ago, Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Mt. 23:11). That’s crazy.

What the world calls wretched Jesus calls blessed. Blessed are the poor and the poor in spirit. Blessed are the merciful, the compassionate. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst that God’s righteous justice might prevail. Blessed are those who work for peace. Blessed are you when you are persecuted just for trying to love and do what is good. Jesus was crazy. He said, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who despitefully use you. He was crazy. He prayed while folk were killing him, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” Now that’s crazy.

North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry preaching during the July 7 General Convention Eucharist. ENS Photo/Lynette Wilson

We need some Christians who are as crazy as the Lord. Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God — like Jesus.  Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it.  And for those who would follow him, those who would be his disciples, those who would live as and be the people of the Way?  It might come as a shock, but they are called to craziness.

Let me suggest one example of such a call from the New Testament: Mary of Magdala, Mary Magdalene.  For whatever reason, Mary often gets a bum rap.

Think back to the crucifixion of Jesus. Crucifixion was execution by the Empire for crimes against the state. It was public torture.  It was an intentionally brutal means of capital punishment, an execution designed to send a message that revolution and revolutionaries would not be tolerated. If you were a supporter or follower of the person being crucified, it was dangerous to stand too close by during the execution. The rational and sensible thing to do was to go into hiding or exile.

Having said that, let’s call the roll of those Jesus called to follow him, let’s take the attendance of the apostles at the crucifixion of their Lord. Simon Peter? Absent. James? Absent. Andrew? Absent. Bartholomew? Absent. Thomas? Absent. Judas? Definitely absent. Mary Magdalene? Present and accounted for! That’s a disciple! When the old slaves sang, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” there was a woman named Mary who could answer, “I was there!” Now that’s crazy!

Now it may not be obvious at first, but we actually have a day to remember crazy Christians. I think we call it All Saints’ Day. It’s not called “All the Same Day,” it’s All Saints’ Day, because, though they were fallible and mortal, and sinners like the rest of us, when push came to shove the people we honor as saints marched to the beat of a different drummer.  In their lifetimes, they made a difference for the Kingdom of God. As you know, we are even working on a book to help us commemorate them. We are calling it Holy Women, Holy Men.  But we might as well call it The Chronicles of Crazy Christians.

One of the people we celebrate in the book is Harriet Beecher Stowe, a descendant of Mary Magdalene.   She was born in 1811 into a devout family committed to the Gospel of Jesus and to helping transform the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream God intends. She is best known for a fictional work titled Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  In this fiction, she told the truth. She told the story of how chattel slavery afflicted a family, afflicted real people. She told the truth of the brutality, the injustice, the inhumanity of the institution of chattel slavery. Her book did what YouTube videos of injustices and brutalities do today.  It went 19th-century viral.  It rallied abolitionists and enraged vested interests. The influence of that book was so powerful that Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have said, upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe for the first time, “So this is the little lady who started this great war!”[3]

A woman of her era was supposed to write nice stories, not stories that would disturb the conscience of a nation.  She was supposed to marry well, raise well-bred children, participate in a few charitable activities, and be fondly remembered by all who knew her. That was the life she was supposed to have.  But she had been raised in a family that believed that following Jesus means changing the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. And sometimes that means marching to the beat of a different drummer. Sometimes that means caring when it is tempting to care less, or standing up when others sit down. Sometimes it means speaking up when others shut up. Sometimes it means being different – even being crazy.

When Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple Inc., died last year, an old Apple commercial from the 90’s went viral on YouTube. It was a commercial that aired in 1997 and that attempted to rebrand Apple products. The tag line for the commercial and the company was, Think different, a phrase that is grammatically incorrect, which is part of the point.

In the commercial they showed a collage of photographs and film footage of people who have invented and inspired, created and sacrificed to improve the world, to make a difference. They showed  Bob Dylan, Amelia Earhart, Frank Lloyd Wright, Maria Callas, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King, Jim Henson, Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein, Pablo Casals, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, and on and on and on. As the images rolled by, a voice read this poem:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels.
The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore.
They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.
Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think
they can change the world,
are the ones who do.

[4]

We need some crazy Christians. Sane, sanitized Christianity is killing us.  That may have worked once upon a time, but it won’t carry the Gospel anymore. We need some crazy Christians like Mary Magdalene and Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Christians crazy enough to believe that God is real and that Jesus lives. Crazy enough to follow the radical way of the Gospel. Crazy enough to believe that the love of God is greater than all the powers of evil and death. Crazy enough to believe, as Dr. King often said, that though “the moral arc of the universe is long, it bends toward justice.” We need some Christians crazy enough to believe that children don’t have to go to bed hungry; that the world doesn’t have to be the way it often seems to be; that there is a way to lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside; that as the slaves used to sing, “There’s plenty good room in my Father’s kingdom,” because every human being has been created in the image of God, and we are all equally children of God and meant to be treated as such.

In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom, that transfigured you and me:
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Glory, glory hallelujah,
God’s truth is marching on.

[1] Susan Belasco, “Harriet Beecher Stowe in Our Time,” www.nationalera.wordpress.com

[2] Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910)

[3] Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (New York: Church Publishing, 2010), p. 448

[4] Apple’s “Think Different” commercial, 1997

Comments

  1. Rita Walpole Ague says:

    Thanks so much to Rt. Rev. M. B. Curry. I confess, I’m a Cathepis (Catholic turned Episcopal). And the main reasons for my moving from one ‘catholic church to another (in my mind and heart, same lodge different local, a la Vatican 2) has to do with the Episcopal’s support for women priests, allowing priests to marry (far, far fewer sex abuse scandals resulting), allowing gay priests to ‘come out of the closet’ and even with same sex spouses in tow, be ordained bishops, thereby firmly saying no to hatred and abuse and bullying of LGBT adults and kids (too often resulting in suicides), and no condemnation of birth control and abortion if and when needed, allowing people, especially women, to follow their consciences in such matters, and supporting, both nationally and internationally, justice and peace movements (i.e. Occupy Wall Streeters).

    And, for the national General Convention Eucharist to feature such a justice and peace promoting priest is a real ray of hope. Pres. Oh Bomb Ah and wannabe Pres. Raw money, please take note.

  2. Crazy christians don’t fly good in the Episcopal Church. Only nice little pigeons who talk sweet and do sweet avoid having their wings clipped.

    • Larry Jelf says:

      I agree with Jane Wolfe. It is difficult to be different, even if for the benefit of the church. In one instance I found outright mistrust, but these are people and I will not leave the church. The incident was somewhat like the Virgins at the marriage gate. Something once refused, is gone. Not with Jesus, however.
      Re: the above sermon. Great. We can turn no one away. We were forgiven for doing it once, let’s not push the envelope.

      As Bishop Curry says we need crazy people. They are the ones who believe that it CAN be done and then DO it. A crazy 88 year old who has done many crazy things, within and for the Episcopal Church. Bless all of the crazies within our church.

    • liz dodge says:

      I agree with Jane also. Crazy Christians are so often led to the slaughter by vestries, congregations opposed to change, the “we’ve always done it this way” folks. It’s hard but challenging to be Jesus crazy, but to follow Him, we do not take on an option.

  3. Josefina Beecher says:

    Crazy Christians the whole family were! Thank you for your inspiring words about my great aunt Hattie.

  4. Josefina Beecher says:

    BTW, Harriet’s mother was an Episcopalian and Harriet was instrumental in founding an Episcopal mission in Florida for freed slaves in her later years. She became an Episcopalian after writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin and after enduring her father’s and brother’s fire and brimstone preaching growing up. Brother Henry also sought a Gospel based in love and not in damnation in his own brand of Congregationalism.

  5. martha knight says:

    Thank you Bishop Curry. Crazy Christians are in our midst; Altar Guild, ECW, and the tireless greeter who week after week welcomes the newcomer. These are all disciples of Jesus willing to stand at the foot of the Cross, and they are all in my parish.

  6. John D. Andrews says:

    I want to see multiple civil wars all over this nation and in the world with Episcopalians intimately involved!

  7. James Handsfield says:

    We need this craziness in our parishes; more important, we need this craziness in the 116 waking hours a week we are not in the parish. We need it in our work places; we need it in schools; we need it where we play; we need it in our families; we need it driving down the interstate. If we will be truly Christian during the week, imagine what Sunday worship will be like.

  8. Norm Morford+ says:

    Thank you, Bishop Curry! Just at the moment one wonders how to call a congregation to action, to new life and new impact on their community, there you were to lead us on.

    Might we not expect within ten years to have grown, instead of shrunk some more?

  9. Robert S. Hayden+ says:

    If nothing else comes out of
    If nothing else comes from G.C. this message should be it!!! I know this is wishfull thinking but lets hope Jesus will win !!!!!

  10. Elizabeth L. Phillips says:

    Whenever Bishop Curry speaks, we know we will be set on fire to do the work we are commended to do as we leave our churches each Sunday. As I read his words on my computer, in Lockport, New York, I’m as inspired as if i would have had the privilege of being at the Celebration with all you lucky delegates.

    • Charles Rountree says:

      I received a youtube copy of his sermon this morning. Perhaps you can open the below site and enjoy Bishop Curry’s delivery at Convention. “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abJMKeyCWoQ”

  11. Rev Dan Lediard - Diocese of Eastern Oregon says:

    We clip our own wings and hide in our cages when we deny the joy, honor and profound responsibilities of living out our baptismal vows. The vow which has grabbed at me for decades is “will you respect the dignity of every human being?” Crazy Episcopalians are often the only ones who are nutty enough to believe they can soar with the majestic eagles. In time they will discover they can indeed soar with the eagles, instead of flopping around in their cages with clipped wings and hoping for a hug. It does require crazy courage to say enough is enough. Mature eagles leave their nests and bring nourishment back to the young. Within this nourishment is the courage to grow, to mature, to think, to love and to make good decisions. This nourishment also provides encouragement to let go of our fears and actually jump away from our theoretical sources of security; those being our cradles and nests where we can pretend to honor our lack of love and compassion for other eagles whom we have not yet met.

    This nourishment is of God.

    We are called by God to help free others from rejection and exclusion due to the ways in which they have been created. Freedom from suppression, bigotry, racism, homophobia and all sorts of other very ugly stuff must be “allowed” by you and me. I finally refuse anyone to clip my wings; and I challenge you to do the same. I am not yet soaring with the Bald Eagles who can see things more clearly, but with God’s help I will continue to try. Yes, we must have a great abundance of Crazy Episcopalians. Those who dare to be crazy are often the ones who truly thrive; as they do all in their power to help release their brothers and sisters in Christ from the sins of suppression and rejection.

  12. Cynthia Astle says:

    Bishop Curry, this is one of the most inspiring sermons I’ve read from any Christian hierarch in a long time. I’m not Episcopalian, I’m a United Methodist lay preacher, but you can rest assured I’m saving your sermon to use as a resource for future messages (with proper attribution, of course). God bless you, sir, and may the Gospel seeds you sowed through this sermon take root and bear fruit throughout all of Christianity.

  13. Mary Lee Harris says:

    You are absolutely wonderful! I loved your sermon.

    At the ripe old age of 85, I can finally identify with who I am – a crazy Christian!

    Blessings+
    Mary Lee Harris
    Galilee Church,
    Virginia Beach, Virginia

  14. Susan Mocsny Thomas says:

    Dear Bishop Michael,
    I am also a former Roman, now Episcopalian Catholic. Raised in the “one, true Church” I found it hard to make the move in one respect, but easy in another. I believe that Rome has strayed from the path of the Spirit.
    My husband and I are planning a move to North Carolina. We have already purchased a home and had considered South Carolina at one point, only to be led to NC by the welcoming spirit of its people and its church. Your charismatic leadership is part of how the Spirit directed us.
    I am proud of our church and proud of your ministry.
    In His peace and love,
    Susan Mocsny Thomas

  15. Gary L. Grueneberg says:

    This was a very inspiring sermon…BUT…Please redub the recording and raise the level of the audio. We had a very hard time hearing parts of the recording.

    Thank you,
    Gary Grueneberg
    Jerome, Mi

  16. I had the privilege of sitting in the “pews” of the JW Marriott as Bishop Curry preached this amazing sermon. It gave me goose bumps then, and again, as I re-listened to it. Thank you for making it available in both its written and, particularly, its amazing oral version – to tap whenever we need an injection of “craziness.”

  17. Stacy James says:

    What an inspiring message. Rest assured, even though us Presbyterians have a “rep” as being the “frozen chosen”, many of us are NOT frozen!! It is a blessing to be a crazy christian! How else will we be noticed if we are afraid to step out of our comfort zone, and stand up for Jesus Christ? Stand up for what the Word teaches us is right. Stand up for the least of those. Our Bible is our road map if we ever get confused. STAND UP AND BE THE CRAZY CHRISTIAN GOD CALLS YOU TO BE!! The joy you will see, and feelas you step out in faith, AND, thanks to technology we can come back to read/listen to Bishop Curry sermon over & over again! Thank you Bishop Curry for delivering the word to us, God bless you Sir, A crazy christian from Georgia!

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