Texts for Preaching:
Julian of Norwich, “As truly as God is our father, so, just as truly, God is our mother…”
Who knew an Episcopal Presiding Bishop
could so quickly become an international media star?
His sermon on love
caught the attention of billions in a world
apparently thirsty for what seems like obvious wisdom
to those of us who have heard about Jesus.
Not only was his sermon all over the internet this week,
but he was on the morning talk shows
as if a superstar they couldn’t get enough of.
So, I am going to attempt to connect the dots between
Isaiah, Michael Curry, Harry Potter, Julian of Norwich,
and the Trinity.
The Harry Potter series
holds thirteen of the best sales records
in publishing history.
Across nearly two decades,
when the industry has been begging people to read
and selling a thousand copies is a best seller,
Harry Potter has sold four-hundred
and fifty million books.
That is staggering.
It has been translated into sixty-seven languages,
and the movie franchise has grossed seven billion dollars.
So while I do not reference books that often
for fear too few of us have read the same book,
I am going to risk venturing into Harry Potter.
I know that some of you have never read or seen
anything about Harry Potter,
but a synopsis of it is all we need
to get the connection between Harry and Michael Curry…
and maybe even the Trinity.
So Harry Potter is a story about a boy wizard
raised as an orphan
in a non-wizarding family in England.
In the legend’s vocabulary,
those of us who are not magical,
are called “muggles.”
The reason Harry is an orphan
is that the most feared Dark Wizard in all of history,
by the name of Lord Valdemort,
killed Harry’s mom and Dad
when Harry was an infant in the crib.
The legend goes like this:
Lord Valdemort was on the verge of conquering
the entire Wizarding world
with his minions of Dark Magic
when something inexplicable happened.
Harry’s Mom and Dad were on Valdemort’s hit list
because they were in the army of good wizards.
When Valdemort caught up to them
he destroyed Harry’s father first,
then killed Harry’s mother as the infant looked on.
Valdemort then took aim at the defenseless baby.
But instead of instant death to the child
from Valdemort’s infamous green lightning bolt,
there was a massive explosion.
When the dust and smoke cleared,
there in the chaos of burning homes
and scorched earth devastation,
wiggled the small baby Harry
in a charred bassinet.
Harry was all right though,
left with only a lightening bolt scar upon his forehead
to bear witness to the awful moment.
But Lord Valdemort was left in ruins.
He was diminished to a little glob of rotting flesh,
a nearly disembodied evil spirit
with only enough strength left
to flee in search of Unicorn blood
to keep himself alive
until he could find some way to recover.
And so begins the Harry Potter series.
All of that is prehistory
to the eight-volume legend,
much like Matthew’s story of Jesus, the Magi,
and an evil King Herod
sets up the rest of the Gospel.
So the mystery throughout the eight books
is how a small infant
with no magical powers of his own
defeated the Dark Lord,
and by doing so, freed the Wizarding world
for more than a decade of the evil Valdemort.
Then of course, Harry grows up
only to discover that he too is a wizard,
and Valdemort returns with a vengeance
to do battle with the teenage boy and his friends.
The question asked throughout the first book is,
“Why was Harry alive?”
This can hardly be a spoiler alert
because if you haven’t read these books
or seen these movies,
the plot and everything about it
is all over the culture.
The reason Harry is alive,
and its connection to the Presiding Bishop by the way,
unbeknownst to Valdemort,
had cast a protective spell around Harry
that was the pure,
unadulterated love of mother for child,
and this ever-so-powerful love
had the effect of boomeranging Valdemort’s curse
back upon himself.
So Harry Potter’s connection to the the Trinity, is this:
is like the love of a mother for her child,
so primal and fierce
that the love itself becomes a field of energy
that both of them live within.
Or it is the love of a father for his child
that is so intense
it creates a whole other presence.
It is the same image Michael Curry
was calling upon in the Royal Wedding,
when he said that the love between the bride and groom
was so passionate and intense
it gave birth to a whole new thing.
That whole new thingwas revealed, he said,
in the bringing together of people and traditions
across a vast array of cultures
in the celebration of love.
Michael Curry, Harry Potter, Julian of Norwich –
they are each pointing to the spawn of love,
the new thingcreated
when love is welcomed and freed.
The hard part about welcoming
and freeing love
is we have tochooseto do it.
It doesn’t just happen,
like falling in love with someone else
sometimes just happens.
To welcome and free love,
first we have to open the door of self-acceptance,
embracing all the things we just can’t stand
about our stupid way of saying or doing things
or the ugly way our body looks,
or some other ungainly
physical or psychological trait.
To welcome and free love
we have to open the gate and welcome
our whole self in.
That is what Isaiah is attempting to capture –
the painful moment of choosing love
in spite of his own deep sense of self-rejection,
maybe even a self-distain,
perhaps even warranted.
But whether generic or rooted in some
specific sin or particular gross imperfection,
Isaiah is confronted with the choice
(which is the same choice that confronts us).
Standing before a vision of the Cosmos
with God at its intensely solar center,
Isaiah sees winged creatures
enflamed but not consumed
hovering above God
and singing to each other of a love so intense
not a human word can capture it.
A voice comes from out of the center of the cosmos
and speaks directly to Isaiah,
calling him into service.
He is paralyzed with awe,
terrified by the complete othernessof God –
shaken by the absolute,
of the Creator who nonetheless
reaches out with a voice
to touch him in his stunted, feeble, nothingness.
Isaiah’s voice blurts out
what feels like a scream
but may have been a whisper,
like in a nightmare
when we cannot make a sound:
“Woe is me!
I am a man of unclean lips.”
“Please” he begs,
“I am nothing before you,
simply to be here will crush me.”
Then, one of the winged creatures
flies into his face,
flames furling in its wake,
and out comes a burning coal in its talon.
A symbol of justice and compassion,
the red-hot cinder cauterizes Isaiah’s woundedness
and suddenly he is free to stand
humble but not paralyzed,
aware of his incompleteness but not ashamed,
naked but pleased,
vulnerable but safe.
Now he can hear the words of the voice
when before he could only feel the vibrations
of its sound: “Whom shall I send?”
“Here am I” he says, “send me.”
It is a vision of self-loathing
breached by love
and the healing which ensues.
Julian of Norwich, another mystic in another time,
had a similar vision too,
with the result that her heart was cauterized also.
When we love,
and when we accept – truly embrace –
that we are loved,
a new thing is created.
A new presence,
something that did not exist before,
is born in the moment we love
and in the moment we accept
that we are loved.
This sounds trite, I know,
much too pedestrian
to be the deep spiritual wisdom that it is.
But it is also absolutely true:
in the moment we love,
and in the moment we accept
that we are loved,
something new is created
and shares life with us.
As Michael Curry told two billion people,
love is powerful, truly powerful,
and it changes us while creating a new presence.
Take just a moment,
here in this church
on this Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend,
and bring forward the memory of being loved.
Close your eyes if it helps,
take some nice, slow deep cleansing breaths even.
Bring forward memories of being loved,
and memories of loving.
Love is bigger than any single moment, of course,
but some moments are precious
and we remember how loved we felt
or how consumed with love for another we were.
Bring it forward
and hold it for a moment.
We know God loves us.
We know deep in our bones,
God loves even our unclean lips
and all of those things that make us feel less
than we want to be.
We know God love us.
We know love forothers, too.
We know in our heart of hearts, love
even for those people in our life
who have unclean lips
but who also help heal our anger
and stem our judgements
We know love forother.
We know love fromothers, also.
We know love that takes us by the hand,
and encircles our heart,
and speaks to us out of the chaos.
We know love fromothers.
God’s love. Love we hold for others. Love we have known from others.
Perhaps it is too simple for the complexity of our time,
or too sweet for the cynicism of our time.
Yet the way we can access the visions of Isaiah or Julian,
and so many others that have been bestowed upon us;
and the way we can glimpse
God at the center of the Cosmos;
and the ladder up
from all the humbling interference between us
and the self-acceptance we find so painful,
is through the gate of love.
It is only through the gate of love,
because only love is that powerful.
We will believe – truly believe – when we love.
The great twentieth century Jewish theologian,
Martin Buber, went so far as to say,
we believeby loving.
“Existence will remain meaningless for you,” he wrote,
“if you yourself do not penetrate into it
with active love
and if you do not in this way
discover its meaning for yourself.
Everything is waiting to be hallowed by you;
it is waiting for this meaning to be disclosed and
to be realized by you…
Meet the world with the fullness of yourbeing
and you shall meet God.
If you wish to believe, love!”(Martin Buber, I and Thou).
If you wish to believe, love!
It is the one simple thing we can do
that will actually have the effect of changing who we are, changing the world as we know it,
and creating the presence of something new.
One small love at a time:
one small love beyond our natural inclination to fear;
one small love across any social boundary;
one small love beyond our comfort;
one small love within the walls of our self-doubt;
one small love within the swirl of our inner chaos;
one small love upon the wound that won’t go away.
One small love
upon one small love
may well lead to an expansive love
of sudden and immense proportions.
If we wish to believe, love!
Even one small love at a time.
And when we do, a new presence
will be with us.