I have the privilege of officiating at a wedding at the end of this week. It got me thinking about my favorite wedding stories. I’ve got a bunch of them. (A collection will be published upon my retirement.) Here’s one, a kind of a parable:
Before the wedding, I had a long conversation with the photographer, occasional nemesis of officiating clergy. Let’s just say that their mission often differs from the mission of the officiant. We agreed that the photographer would stand in the side aisle, near the back of the sacred space, not move around, not distract from the liturgy.
The procession occurred, a gathering of handsome young people making their way to the chancel steps. I delivered the opening words of the liturgy, several paragraphs about the meaning of marriage. As I delivered them with compelling sincerity, I became aware of a presence looming over my left shoulder. I heard the rapid-fire, digital clicking of a camera. The photographer had moved to stand right behind me, inches away to catch the faces of the couple close up. With him in my personal space, the liturgy continued.
As I invited the congregation to be seated for the readings, I beckoned the photographer to meet me “off stage” in the ambulatory where I proceeded to lose it, expletives included. I was mad. He agreed that he would abide by our agreement for the rest of the service.
I took deep breaths after my tirade, listened for the conclusion of the readings and reached into my pocket to turn my mike back on. Wait a minute. Had it been on throughout my tirade? I wasn’t sure. Had the congregation heard me holler at this guy? How would I know? I couldn’t really ask the congregation, now, could I? What were my options? I could leave. No. that won’t work. I decided that when I returned to the worship space, I would make eye contact with the mother of the bride. If she was smiling, I was okay. If not, I knew Starbucks was hiring.
Turns out I had indeed turned off the mike. The congregation had not heard me cuss. I proceeded to offer my sweet homily about the power of love in human relationships. In my mind, I was still fuming.
This story took place a while ago. But it comes back to me often, a parable with numerous spiritual lessons. I reflect on it, mindful of how close I came to a career ending moment, one that these days would go viral. On one level, there were no winners in my showdown with the photographer. He remains in my mind a jerk, though I’ve forgotten his name. More memorable is the awareness of my own hypocrisy. I almost expected to be struck by lightning as in my homily I rambled on about God’s love.
The story continues to teach me. Here’s one lesson: When people talk to me about the failures of the church, they often say that they can’t be part of church because it’s filled with hypocrites. All I can say (based on this wedding story, and others) is: Guilty as charged. Yet the work of the church goes on. The homily I preached about God’s love got preached, even though the preacher didn’t know enough about that love and was limited in ability to show that love. Maybe in some ironic way, the fraudulence of the preacher underscored the depth of God’s love and mercy and forbearance and grace. Let’s call it accidental preaching.
As I’ve noted before, a church leader I admire has said that he never met a motive that wasn’t mixed. Your spiritual journey and mine, both are marked by mixed motive. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if in each one of us there could be found some measure of hypocrisy.
But we can still proclaim love. On this very Monday. And we should do so in word and action. And we should not be so ego-driven and self-absorbed to allow our own lapses to stop us from doing that. After all, the good news is about God’s faithfulness, not our own.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.-Ephesians 2:8-10
Hypocrites in the Church? Yes, and in the lodge and at the home. Don’t hunt through the Church for a hypocrite. Go home and look in the mirror. Hypocrites? Yes. See that you make the number one less.-Billy Sunday
Not going to church because of hypocrites is like not going to the gym because of out of shape people.-found on Facebook
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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