I'm going to stick my head above the parapet and offer some reflections on Michael Curry's sermon at Harry and Meghan's wedding on Saturday. (You can watch it and/or read it here.)
Firstly, I think it is great that Bishop Michael has got people talking. The words 'sermon' and 'preaching' have quite negative connotations in popular thinking, but he showed a worldwide audience that preaching can be engaging, passionate and exciting. If that does something to alter people's perceptions of preaching specifically and church generally, then we owe Bishop Michael a debt of gratitude.
Secondly, the sermon was a masterclass in effective communication. I have a suspicion that it was a lot more carefully scripted than he made it look - but that in itself takes a great deal of skill. For example, consider the sentence 'There's a certain sense in which when you are loved, and you know it, when someone cares for you, and you know it, when you love and you show it - it actually feels right'. It's one of several places where he used the ancient rhetorical device of a triplet, but he also varied the third point (know it ... know it ... show it) and, to cap it all, the words rhyme.
And of course he also made very effective use of eye contact and non-verbal communication. In fact, if you just read the sermon it can sound a bit flat and repetitive, but when you watch it, then it really comes alive.
To be honest, I think he did go on slightly too long, and possibly started to lose people towards the end in the bit about 'fire'. Which brings me to my third point (you see, I can do it too!): content.
This is where opinion has been more divided among Christians - was Bishop Michael preaching the Gospel, or wasn't he? I would say that, within the limitations of the occasion, he made a pretty good job of proclaiming God's good news. He preached that God is love and that you can't have love without God. And he told us that the ultimate expression of love was when Jesus "died to save us all".
Yes, there are some important things which he didn't say - but rather than arguing over whether or not he should have included them, let's make sure that when we have opportunities to talk to people about 'that sermon', we are ready to bring those things into the conversation.
- What do we do when we fail to live up to the standard of love which Bishop Michael so inspirationally described? We all know that, while love is a noble goal, it's something that as humans we seem unable to attain. The truly good news is that in Jesus Christ we not only find an example of love, but forgiveness for all those times when we fail to love as we know we should.
- How do we become more loving people? Not ultimately through listening to stirring sermons or through resolving to do better, but through the work of God the Holy Spirit within us, who empowers God's children to love more like Jesus did.
On Sunday, the worldwide church remembered Pentecost, the occasion when an unknown preacher gave an extraordinary sermon and 3,000 people became followers of Jesus on the spot. When the crowd heard Peter's words and asked him how they should respond, this is what he said:
Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Understandably, Bishop Michael did not go that far on Saturday - but let's pick up his baton and talk to people about Jesus with renewed clarity and passion.