I have an unusually heavy schedule of weddings to perform this year—three in the next 10 months. Which doesn’t sound heavy until you consider that’s just within my own immediate family!
There are eight and a half years between these kids. What are the odds that we would experience a sudden stampede to the altar? It’s almost as if there was a conspiracy going on here.
As you would expect, the subject of wedding sermons has been heavy on my mind lately. Preaching at weddings has always presented special challenges. For example, how does a pastor preach a hundred different homilies on the same subject, about half of which use the same 1 Corinthians 13 text?
There is no way around it—there is, of necessity, a great deal of overlap in wedding homilies. The challenge is to make the wedding couple feel that the homily is not just a canned one, pulled out of the file and dusted off for the 35th time, but that it is for them. The same is true for members of the congregation who have attended multiple weddings at our church.
In cases where I don’t really know the couple or their families, an increasing phenomenon for pastors, it can be difficult to tailor a wedding homily to them. In many cases, the best one can do is tailor a portion of the homily to them.
The greater and more exciting challenge in wedding sermons is the demographic. Weddings are about the only time we experience the pleasantly disorienting sight of church pews filled with more young people than old.
Increasingly, many of these younger folks have no dealings with a church or how it works. I officiated at a very beautiful wedding, for example, where the ushers did not know that they were to hand out the programs. An understanding of, or love for, the Christian message is often lacking as well.
These are the very people who need to hear the Gospel; this is one of the few opportunities we have to share it with them. The last thing they need to hear is what they expect to hear—pious moralizing, sappy generalities, credulous witness or Christian boilerplate. They need to hear a message they may never have heard before, a message of new life, hope for the future and the true grace of God. In order to cut through the overwhelming pageantry and all the noise of the celebration and to get past their preconceptions, they need to hear this message in the clearest, freshest, most dynamic, most innovative form possible.
I owe it to my kids to try very hard to preach a wedding homily at their ceremony that speaks the Christian experience of love to them. I also want it to be a message that will not embarrass them, will not cause their unchurched friends and coworkers to, at best, glaze over and, at worst, roll their eyes. I desperately want this rare experience with organized religion to be one that presents the Gospel to them in a way that invites and heals and inspires.
Don’t we owe that to everyone for whom we perform a church wedding?