Vicious Cycles & Virtuous Circles

It’s not every day these days that a sermon gets a lot of attention. Did you see that sermon during the royal wedding? It was the work of the presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church in the U.S., the Most Rev. Michael Curry (As an aside, the Episcopal church is much more into hierarchy than our United Church of Christ. There are Reverends and Very Reverends and Most Reverends – that’s as reverend as you can get, short of Jesus). I won’t reveal who but someone in this congregation now refers to me as Mostly Reverend. That’s a good Congregationalist … in the UCC we don’t want our ministers to get too elevated above the fact that all believes have ministries according to their gifts and calling. But don’t get me wrong, this Most Rev. Michael Curry is certainly worthy of the utmost respect.) At any rate, on this global stage at this Most Fanciest of all Weddings in the Land Bishop Curry offered an outstanding message about the power of Christian love – the kind of love that Jesus showed: unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love. Now, I’m going to quote from Bishop Curry’s homily, but I want to make it clear I do this because it’s great preaching, not because I in any way condone the institution of the British Monarchy. (Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think the American Bishop was being a little sly here in delivering this kind of message to a bunch of royals perched on their heaps of unjust spoil.) Anyhow, here’s the point: Bishop Curry delivered a prophetic challenge. The challenge to really live into the promise of the Gospel. Just dare to image the world where love is the way, Bishop Curry preaches:

“Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine our neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine our governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way. Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive. When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well … like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.”

Can we do it? Can we imagine such a world, where love is the way? And not just imagine in a dreamy, naïve, kind of way, but really, truly, considering all the different human needs and pains and problems, considering all our all-too-human habits and inclinations, anger and violence and viciousness and greed and neglect, do we believe it is possible to live in a world where love is the way? Not just believe but have a deep faith, a conviction that such a world is alive in the mind of our creator? Do we know that it is a promise, that it is even a pre-existent Realm, the Realm of Heaven, the Realm in which we truly all live and move and have our being, the Realm that is so powerful that when we deny it, it’s like denying oxygen, we deny life and become caught in the vicious cycles of death? This Realm of Heaven is so powerful that when we see it and know it and feel it and say “Yes” to it, we say Yes to the free movement of live giving spirit, we are rescued from vicious cycles and pulling to great virtuous circles.

Do we believe it? Do we know it? Do we want it? Do we desire it? Do we yearn for it? Is it our conviction? Our faith?

Do we grieve the ways that people deny the holiness of God and the sacredness of life? Do we resist the temptation for our anger and pain to draw us into those vicious cycles? Seductive from the outside, but torture on the inside? Do we resist the temptation to simply stand, stunned, even enthralled by some unfolding horror?

Do we know that violence, ultimately, is pathetic? A pathetic, vicious cycle that’s just degrading in the end.

It takes a bigger view to see. That’s why we need a glimpse of God’s view of things, that’s why we need the hard-won wisdom of the prophets of old, or the hard-won wisdom of old soldiers who have grown weary of the way of the sword. To quote Sen. John McCain: “War is wretched beyond description and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality.”

And yet, if we just listen to what our society teaches us, we’d think that violence is a great tool, and that the tools of violence are great ways to get power and seize attention and win bragging rights. Rather than convey the old wisdom that violence should be an option of last resort, chosen, if ever, in this fallen world, with sadness and reluctance. There are plenty of people who bear that wisdom, in all corners of society – and I’ve lived in cities and I’ve lived in rural areas, I’ve lived with folks with different politics and different skin colors and nationalities, and I’ve found that the wise people of where-ever you’re at have got very similar things to teach. But the problem is, it doesn’t really draw crowds.

No, the big spectacles of our society do indeed glorify violence, and so many voices and entire industries teach a morality (a twisted morality) that justifies violence as a good way to express any kind of grievance. You can assert your will and your power over others, even unto death – the consequences be damned. But the truth about violence is not triumphant or sentimental, but much more sobering. This is what the wise folks say: “The ultimate weakness of violence,” as Dr. King put it in 1967, “is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”


So let’s claim those forces of love. Let’s make it our conviction, that a world where love is the way is real and it is possible and goes deep into the heart of our Creator. Let us enjoy the ways that love is the way. That’s a great place to start and to end. Just letting ourselves enjoy the cycles of love and life. Let ourselves we drawn to it, and share and be freed by it. It’s just good honest fun. There are holy moments all around just waiting to be enjoyed. This kind of love, this way of love, is the Way of Jesus. As I’ve said before about this Way of Jesus, it’s a commitment to a kind of love that is not sentimental. It’s wondrous and wonderful and liberating and healing and holy and just joyous… but this kind of love is also often a tough kind of love. It challenges us, it convicts us. It seizes us and changes us. When necessary, it does pass through the crosses of this world. It does stand in the way of the cycles of violence – when necessary. But it is the power of love that is necessary to be truly free.

The Dr. King quote I used is from his 1967 book, “Where do we go from here, Chaos or Community?” At the end of the book he wrote: “We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation.” That question, that choice still hits home, 50 years after the assassination of this fellow follower of the Way of Jesus. “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now,” King wrote.

In closing, let me return to Bishop Curry: “When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are siblings, children of God. My siblings, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.” So I invite us to say “Yes” and to keep saying “Yes” and to enjoy and share the virtuous circles that come with following this Way of Jesus.

#MartinLutherKingJr #MostRevMichaelCurry #PeaceandViolence #TheCross #TheWayofJesus

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