9 Assorted Thoughts on That Wedding Sermon

Wow, fancy that. The big talking point from Saturday’s Royal Wedding seems to have been the sermon. Yup, double-take right there: the sermon. When was the last time you heard a ‘preach’ – or perhaps a preacher – make international headlines?! But it’s a sermon that has also divided. Some were quick to pour praise on Bishop Michael Curry’s thirteen-minute address: engaging, refreshing, attractive. Others not so much: either too long (8 minutes longer than the 5-minute brief apparently!), or too-showy, or more significantly, offering a “Christianity-lite”. I’ve been preaching fairly regularly for about eight years – not too long in the grand scheme of things, but long enough to care about preaching. Ok, it’s all too easy to have Roast Preacher for lunch every Sunday, but given I’ve never heard a sermon so widely discussed in the UK, and given it’s been a big talking point amongst friends, both online and at church, here are 9 observations as part of the conversation: 1. First off, to preach to 1.9 billion people (and how many more afterwards) – and then to have your words and manner analysed worldwide… Well, yikes. So my first thought is: Rather someone else than me. There’s a sense in which whoever was tasked with the job should get a bit of respect from the rest of us – and a bit of slack, perhaps. You’re never gonna please everyone. 2. But, that said: to be a preacher of the gospel is a high calling, one that brings with it responsibilities. You are not simply an orator or an entertainer; you are nothing less than a herald of Christ. So, whilst as sermon-listeners we should never duck what God’s word might be saying to us, that doesn’t mean we don’t also hold our preachers to account and seek to weigh up their words. 1.9 billion people is a tough gig, but it’s also 1.9 billion people hearing words from a Christian pulpit, in the context of opening up the Bible. Just like me last Sunday, just like every Christian preacher across the land, it matters how Curry preached. We want to hear God’s word to us, but it’s ok to consider, critique and discuss too. I remember an old pastor telling us to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:10-12, who, after hearing the apostle Paul, “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what he said was true.” 3. The passion. Ah yes, the passion. Probably the most-used word in describing Saturday’s sermon. Oh, to have sermons preached with passion. As one self-confessed atheist – and former leader of the Labour Party – tweeted: The sad thing here is how surprising this was for so many people. (Ok, yes, it was also pretty funny seeing some of the Royal faces not quite knowing how to handle it). As ABC Australia put it, “From the outset, it was clear that this was not going to be a standard Church of England sermon, which tradition dictates should be delivered in the tone of a very shy person asking the way to the train station.“ Ouch. If I’m honest, all I can remember about William & Kate’s wedding sermon in 2011 is that it was a non-event. And by the way, I’m sure the same could be said about many of my own sermons. If only all ministers/pastors/vicars – and bishops – showed such passion! And it wasn’t simply enthusiasm. This was a passionate persuasion. Curry engaged people: the eye-contact, the pauses, the connection – did you see the smile he got from David Beckham?! He knew his material and where he was going. He had crafted his words and rhetoric carefully (Ian Paul details some of this helpfully). So preachers, what have we been doing that people are so surprised by passion? 4. This was a preacher who had found his own voice. One of the things we’re often told at ‘preaching class’ is to be yourself. Don’t try and be someone else. So for starters, that means the rest of us shouldn’t all try and preach exactly like Michael Curry next Sunday. Ok, yes, maybe we’d do well to take a leaf out of his passion book. But we’re all different, and so, for example, passion won’t look the same in everyone. But as Michael Sadgrove pointed out, I think it was clear that this guy was comfortable in his own skin. As a preacher, there’s something I envy about that. 5. To quote my friend Hugh Bourne, “it vindicated preaching as a highly effective means of communication.” So often we’re told that preaching is old hat: people just can’t concentrate anymore. They want conversation, not one-way monologues. “To reach x, you need to quit preaching (x of course can be substituted for just about anyone: millennials/the working class/men, etc).” I think those 13 minutes have blown that out of the water. If people do decide they might just set foot in a church in the hope of hearing an engaging sermon, then let’s give thanks to God in his sovereignty for that. And God forbid that we stop working on our sermons. 6. Love is glorious. Curry was big on love. The Times‘ even quoted Curry for their front-page wedding headline the next day: “There is power in love”. Ok, so maybe we kind of expect that at a wedding. Indeed, a few people have pointed out that Curry hasn’t said anything “unusual” in that regard. But to give his words credit, it was more than just saying “love matters”. It painted a beautiful and compelling vision of human life shaped by love. There is a lack of love across a world – in our commerce, our institutions, our families – we know that and feel that, and so we connect with Curry’s desire for something more. As someone said, “It captured doubters with a vision of hope. It gave a glimpse of the world we long for.” 7. But did Curry’s vision of love really showcase the glorious love of the gospel? Now, here’s where someone starts to say, “Yeah, but you can’t expect him to say absolutely everything in just 13 minutes.” Sure, but I wonder if that’s ducking the question. Shouldn’t preachers be masters at deciding what to include … Continue reading 9 Assorted Thoughts on That Wedding Sermon