The Wedding Sermon
Much has now been written about the sermon preached at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex by Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, USA. I don’t intend to add to this: David Robertson, Stephen Watkinson, Mark Burkill and David Ould have already explained first of all why Michael Curry should never have been invited to preach, and second why his message was a false gospel. I would recommend people to read what they have written:
Instead, I want to do something a little different; I want to show what could have been said at a wedding. I spent eight years in parish ministry in small villages in a rural area of England. During that time, I conducted around one hundred weddings. So I have preached a lot of wedding sermons. Naturally, I re-used a small number of sermons again and again. Usually, I only spoke for five or six minutes, unless the couple were Christians and wanted me to preach for longer. With most couples, I did some marriage preparation using the excellent course Preparing for Marriage by Pete Jackson (from which I pinched a couple of bits in the sermons).
So below are two of my wedding sermons, with the names of the bride and groom changed. I preach from bullet points, not a full text, so this isn’t exactly what I said on any occasion, but it gives a fair idea. I haven’t given the “funny story”, because I don’t always use it, and because might want to use it again and don’t want to spoil the punch line!
The first sermon is on Song of Solomon 8:6-7, the passage Michael Curry quoted at the beginning of his sermon, (and yes, I do have three points all beginning with the same letter). The Song of Solomon is a series of beautiful love poems between a man and woman. The Christian church has generally interpreted them not only as a celebration of human love, as Curry did, but also as a picture of the love between Christ and his bride the church. The second sermon is on 1 Corinthians 13, a very popular passage at weddings. Among others, it was preached at a wedding between an actress and a British Army officer who had served in Afghanistan! The ending is pinched from John Piper’s book This Momentary Marriage.
These are not perfect sermons; reading them, I can see that they might be open to some of the same criticisms made of Curry’s sermon, (for instance, I say too little about repentance). But they may be a bit clearer on God’s love.
Song of Solomon 8:6-7
Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.
John, Jane, congratulations. Well done. You made it! And thank you for letting us be here and share your special day with you. It is wonderful and beautiful to see how you love each other. Love is a wonderful thing.
[Funny story follows]
But God thinks that love between a man and a woman is a wonderful thing. It is his idea, he invented it, and so he put a love poem in the Bible- we’ve just heard part of it read. They are the words of a woman who is longing for her lover, and longing for her lover to be her husband. She wants the security of belonging to him. Those words tell us words tells us three reasons why love is such a wonderful thing.
First, love is possessive (in a good way). Verse 6 says: Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
This woman wants to belong to her man forever. In those days, people carried seals, small stamps that could be pressed into wax to sign legal documents. Your seal was unique to you, no-one else was allowed to touch it, and you would have guarded it like you now guard your credit card.
So this woman is saying to her lover: “I want to be yours alone, I want to belong to you and no-one else, I want to be your most treasured possession. I want to be as close to you as possible- I want to be next to your heart. And I want everyone to know that I am yours- I want to be on your arm, I want this to be a public relationship”.
And the woman wants the man to be jealous of her, she wants him to want her. She wants him to hold on to her, and not let go, like death. She wants to give up her independence. Which is what both of you have just promised to do: you vowed to give up your independence and belong to one another.
And that’s how God loves us. God wants us to belong to him, and to no-one else. He wants us to be close to him, and for it to be an exclusive, public relationship. And when you know how much God loves you, it is a magnificent, joyful thing to give up your independence, and entrust yourselves entirely to him.
Second, love is permanent. V7 says Love burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.
True love, real love is like a fire that can’t be put out. However much water, whatever troubles, and heartaches, and disappointments you pour onto it, it keeps on burning. That’s why, when you made your promises just now, I didn’t ask you “Do you love each other?” There’s no need- we can all see that you do! I asked you “Will you love each other?” It’s a question that points to the future. You’ve promised to love each other even when it’s difficult, when you are angry or annoyed, or when the other one can’t give you what you want, or be what you want them to be. You’ve just promised to love each other even when you are not loveable.
Because that’s how God loves us. His love is permanent. The Bible says that nothing can put out his love or make him break his promises. It says that he loved us first, before we loved him, that he loved us when we were not loveable. He loved us so much that he sent his Son to die when we were unlovely, to make us lovely. And so nothing can stop him loving us.
Third, love is priceless. V7 says If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.
You can’t buy love- it is beyond price. If a man sold everything he had, he wouldn’t be able to buy love. We would think that he was a fool to have tried, that he had insulted love. You can’t buy love- you can’t make someone love you. But you can give love away. And Jane and John, that’s what you have just done- you have given your love away to each other as a free gift.
And that’s what God’s love for us is like. God’s love is far beyond price- it is more precious than the whole universe. His love cannot be bought- nothing that we do can make God love us. And so God gives his love away, as a free gift to anyone who will take it, a gift given in and through his Son Jesus Christ. Jane, John today he offers you that gift, as he offers it to each person here.
Jane and John, your love for each other is a wonderful and beautiful thing. My prayer is that you will discover for yourselves how even more wonderful and beautiful God’s love for you is.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 Corinthians 13
Charles and Charlotte: congratulations, well done, you made it. And thank you for letting us share what I’m sure will be one of the happiest days of your life. But it is just one day. And when it is over, you have the rest of your lives ahead of you. What foundation will you build them on? Well you’ve chosen a marvellous passage from the Bible to base your lives on. It’s a passage all about how important love is.
[Funny story follows]
The Bible says that love is more important than anything else. It says: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Charles, Charlotte, you may want many things out of life. All of us do- money, success, admiration, fulfilment. But without love, none of it is worth anything.
So love is God’s gift to you- if you will take it.
I don’t know if you realise how much God loves you. Later on, I’m sure you will enjoy opening your presents; and if I could give you one present it would be this: to make you realise how much God loves you. This is the sort of love God has for you:
God’s love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. God’s love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God’s love never fails.
Now you might ask: how do I know that God loves me? After all, you can’t see his love like you can see your wedding presents. This is the Bible’s answer: God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8). You see, Jesus didn’t die for people who were nice, beautiful, and full of love. He didn’t die for people who had something to offer him, or could pay him back. He died for horrible, dirty, hateful people, he died for people who didn’t love him. So that we could be forgiven for all the times we haven’t love God or others.
Because God loves the unlovely. We love those we find lovely: those who are good, and kind, and attractive, who have something that we want. I know that you love each other like that, and it’s a good and beautiful thing to see. But God goes a step further; he loves the unlovely, those who have nothing to offer him and nothing to attract him. He loved us long before we loved him, in fact, he loved us when we hated him.
So God’s love is a free gift, a present. He offers it to Charles and Charlotte today, as he offers it to each and every person here. All we have to do is open our hand and take it.
So I hope that love will also be your gift to each other.
It’s God’s gift of love to us that makes it possible for us to love each other like this. To be patient and kind. To not envy, not boast, not be proud, not be rude, not be self-seeking, not be easily angered, and to keep no record of wrongs. To not delight in evil but rejoice in the truth. To always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere. To love without failing.
You see, loving someone else like this is very difficult. There will be times when the other one doesn’t seem lovely, or you don’t feel in love. And when you love someone like this, you make yourself vulnerable, you give them the power to hurt you. Charlotte, you know what it is like to be vulnerable on stage, and Charles you know what it is to risk your life on in battle. But nothing will make you as vulnerable as loving each other like this.
This is a frightening passage; at least I find it frightening. Because I know I can’t do this, I know that I’m not like that. Love like this beyond all of us, none of us are capable of it.
But God’s love for us when we are not lovely makes it possible for us to love another person when they are not lovely. It is God’s love for you that will give you the peace and security to be vulnerable with each other, to give your selves away to each other, to keep on loving each other even when it’s hard. It’s God’s love for you that will make it possible for you to forgive each other when you hurt each other, as you will. Because being loved by God changes you. Being loved by God makes you lovely.
Charles, Charlotte, you have done a wonderful thing today. You have acted like God: you have given your love to each other as a free gift. And my prayer is that you will grow more and more like him as you learn how much he already loves you. That one day, in 60 years time, you will be sitting at the table, Zimmer frames by your side, and Charles you will reach across and take Charlotte’s wrinkled hand in yours, and say “we made it”.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.