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Reflections on “that sermon” 

Bishop Michael Curry's sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had everyone talking. What can preachers learn from it? By Andy Goodliff


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When was the last time a sermon was such a talking point? I can't think of one. There's some reporting on the Christmas sermons of the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope, but none of them generate much response.

Lots more could be said about *that sermon* by Bishop Michael at Saturday’s royal wedding, but here a few thoughts from me.

For those of us who preach, I think it demonstrated that preaching still matters. There is occasionally the voice of those who say preaching is passé, an outdated format, but done well, it remains something powerful.

For those of us who preach, I think it demonstrated that we should take our opportunities when they come. Bishop Michael certainly did that. Wedding sermons can often either resort to some light-hearted reflections or repeat a list of clichés. This was a wedding sermon and it was more. There was a real sense that the congregation (both present and watching) we’re not expecting that. As Walter Brueggemann says about the prophet Jeremiah, the prophet is a poet who ‘redescribes the world, reconfigures public perception, and causes people to re-experience their experience.’

For those of us who preach, I think it demonstrated that preaching should always go big. Preachers are called to help congregations imagine a new world, a new kingdom. I sometimes wonder if too often we make the gospel too small, too individual, and instead need to paint with a bigger canvas and a wider horizon.

For those of us who preach, I think it demonstrated that there is a tradition of preaching that comes from African-American church we should give more attention to, with its rhythms and cadences, its poetry and passion. I’m not suggesting we should seek to simply imitate it - most of would fail spectacularly - but most of our preaching and our learning of homiletics comes from a white Western model. I’m haunted by the words of Stanley Hauerwas who has said, 'God has given us the best story in the world and we’re made it as boring as hell.'

For those of us who preach, I think it demonstrated that preaching is public, it is political and it is spiritual. I wonder if too often we focus on the spiritual, but without recognising the political. Our politics is Jesus. To preach Jesus, is to preach his politics. In this way all preaching should be apocalyptic: seeing the world through the revelation of God made known in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our preaching should regularly, starting with Christ, be engaging the world, addressing what it is to be human and confronting questions of mortality.

For those who us who preach, I think it demonstrated that preparation matters. Bishop Michael’s sermon was well-prepared. Now of course it had to be, it was for a royal audience and world-wide one. It would have been seen by a number of people before it was delivered. But perhaps we should always approach preaching as those before a royal audience. Perhaps it’s no bad thing, if our sermon is seen by others, before it is delivered – I have found it to be a useful practice. And while of course the sermon was well-prepared, Bishop Michael was also not constrained by his script, he didn’t stick to it word by word. He had lived with it long enough, he knew it well enough, to allow him to let it sing and ring out.

For those who us who listen, I think it demonstrated that preaching is there to produce a response, whether it is ‘wow!’ (as with Prince Harry) or a ‘quick someone find a Bible, I want to see if she (or he) has got this right.’ The preacher is trying to get out the way so that God can speak.

Where I preach we’ve just spent the weeks of Easter in the Book of Acts with Paul in Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus, and some of us are just beginning a series in the book of Jeremiah. The word that Paul and Jeremiah gave, the message they preached, definitely generated a response. To borrow some words from a fellow Baptist, Curtis Freeman, Paul and Jeremiah were voices of ‘undomesticated dissent’, which doesn’t mean they spoke only about what they were against, but also what they were for: a world being turned upside down by God. 

The Revd Andy Goodliff is minister of Belle Vue Baptist Church, Southend-on-Sea

"The Power of Love" - Bishop Michael Curry's sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle 

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Baptist Times, 21/05/2018
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