I have a practice of beginning most of my sermons with a simple prayer: May only God’s word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Sometimes I modify it with a few more words and every once in a while, I do something completely different, but that is the standard and most frequent version of my pre-sermon prayer.
This prayer was inspired by Mr. Rogers, you know of the children’s TV show fame. He was a Presbyterian pastor, though his church was the relatively new medium of television and his mission field was children: not to teach them the doctrines of the Christian faith, but to teach the essence of our faith to love your neighbor as yourself. Like most pastors, Fred Rogers went to seminary. One semester, having just finished homiletics - a class in which he had learned the do’s and don’ts of preaching - he returned home and went to his home church. During the sermon, he was ticking off the things that the preacher was doing wrong, all of the ways the pastor was violating that do and don’t list. And at the end of the sermon, he noticed that another congregant was crying. He realized in that moment that even if the sermon might not have been “right” as he was taught, it was exactly what that woman needed to hear. He learned that God was still working in that sermon with all of the “wrong” words. I read this story when I first started preaching. At that time, saying something wrong in my sermon deeply worried me. After reading the story, I thought, prayed, pleaded even, something along the lines of “Well God, do that, please. If I screw something up, please fix it before it gets to the listeners so that they at least get something out of it.” It calmed me down knowing that I was not carrying the burden of preaching all by myself. For my very next sermon that initial thought turned into my opening prayer that I still use.
This little practice of saying this prayer centered me and still does. We’re not all preachers with that particular concern, but what in your life makes you anxious? Is there a little practice you could adopt to center yourself and recognize that you don’t have to carry all of the burdens of your worries alone? Can you put your trust in God to work with whatever you are able to offer?