Coincidently (God-incidently?) on the same day the wedding took place, MidMaine United Methodists launched our year of Proclaiming Excellence. Rev. Bobby McClain blessed us with a classically constructed and theologically powerful proclamation of Jesus’ instruction to baptize and make disciples in his name. Elsewhere in this e-news edition, you will find initial plans for cultivating, celebrating, and sharing excellence in our own preachers over the next 12 months. We’ll also pay attention to other forms of proclamation made possible by communication technology.
The conversation that Bishop Michael Curry, the wedding preacher and leader of the Episcopal Church in America, had with Today showviewers a day after the big event is a great illustration of what many of us experience. [After the sermon on Saturday] “I sat down, and I said to myself, ‘Well, I hope that was OK.’” If you’ve ever preached or shared a witness, can you relate to that?
Curry also admitted to having some nerves at the very beginning. “But then after that, it turned into a church, and I was speaking to a young couple who are in love,” he said. “They are so passionately in love with each other.”
Now, the sermon was not without its critics. (If you’ve ever preached or shared a witness, can you relate to that?) I heard three:
1. “It was too long.” It seems to me that this criticism a) sees the sermon as distraction and b) reflects our shortened attention spans. There are more important things before us. And we only have so much time and capacity for concentrated listening. I want to suggest that part of effective preaching is preparing our audience to learn to listen.
2. “He sure loves the sound of his own voice.” This criticism brought a smile to my face. If a person’s voice is the gift God has given them to develop and use in God’s service, shouldn’t that person love the gift they’re given? False humility and self-centered pride are not our only too options. We can take joy in using well what God has given us.
3. “He only preached ½ the gospel.” This critic wanted to hear an altar call that convicted listeners of their (and all humanity’s) sinful nature. In some traditions the sermon is incomplete without this. But it seems to me that, while Jesus’ own proclamation frequently addressed human sin, his own “sermons” didn’t all come with the modern version of an altar call. Not everything is said at the same time in the same place. Was Jesus’ message in Matthew 22: 34-40 incomplete? Neither does it stand alone without the rest of scripture’s context. The couple would have been kept waiting a very long time if Bishop Curry had tried to cover the entire bible.
Here are a few take-a-ways from the Today Show interview for those of us called to proclaim God’s message with excellence.
Know your audience “Curry’s sermon cited Martin Luther King and made reference to slavery — which some viewed as daring considering he spoke before an audience that included the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, as well as several of her heirs and other members of the royal family.”
Collaborate But Curry said he wasn’t worried since he already touched base with church officials and the couple about what he planned to say during the ceremony.
Search and offer the scripture. Bishop Curry’s proclamation was rich in scripture, not as supporting evidence but as the very source and ground of the message. It was obviously formed by his life’s immersion in God’s word.
Get Feedback:He'd also developed a way of learning whether his message was getting through to parishioners. “Episcopalians aren’t known for being loud and raucous in church, but I’ve learned to be able to hear an 'amen' by looking in their eyes,” he said. “And I was looking in the eyes of people who were there and they were doing quiet British amen.” Curry said he spoke briefly with the royal couple after the wedding at the reception and “they were very gracious."
You can hear and see more of Bishop Curry’s preaching here. And please send my names of other fine preachers you’ve heard. Maybe one of your favorites will become a “preacher of the month” for us learn from in our year of Proclaiming Excellence.