I remember reaching a tipping point at a wedding where I was the officiant, held at in the Chateau Laurier. After more than 150 weddings I could no longer ignore the lavish display of wealth and pure sentimentalism. It was then that I decided to read Luke 14:15-24, to preach about Jesus’ creed that when one held a banquet and some refused to come to “go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame…and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.”
I asked the couple “so how many invited guests today are no-shows?” There was nervous laughter. And I continued “so I guess we ought to follow Jesus out into the streets, after all there are two homeless shelters not far from here.”
After 13 years of hearing the Song of Solomon and Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians chapter 13 I decided to add Luke 14, and have continued to do so at every wedding since.
I say this because I believe that marriage is not only about the love the couple have for each other, for their families or even for their friends. The scriptures are pretty clear that finding God’s love is as difficult and as easy as finding one’s neighbour. And thus I encourage the couple to seek out their neighbours, especially those on the margins.
I know there are those in our mainline church who would strongly disagree with my approach on the grounds that I am being needlessly offensive or imposing my own agenda on a sacred ceremony. But let’s be honest, who is imposing whose agenda on whom? When a Christian covenant is hi-jacked by materialism, sentimentalism, and narcissism how can a strong dose of Matthew 22:34-40 be all that bad? If the greatest law is really “love your neighbour as you love yourself” how is it anything but faithful to add some saltiness to our otherwise bland diet of spiritual rites of passage?
Further, contrary to what you might expect I frequently get asked by guests to preside at their weddings. People are intrigued that the preacher at a wedding actually has something interesting to say. In polite society the church’s sensitivity can often be confused for tacit approval of the status quo. Preachers would do well to realize that there is a deep spiritual hunger out there, to live for something “greater than our self-interest”.
I spend quality time with the couple, get to know them, and name their gifts in the context of covenant. And in a short wedding sermon, I reflect on how these gifts, combined with God’s spirit of covenant love, can find expression in shared values of volunteerism, activism, and the pursuit of social justice.
It’s amazing how a rite, often performed amongst the most secular of audiences and expectations, can yield such a powerful Gospel witness to the couple, to their families and to their friends.