Saturday, December 04, 2010

RevGal Friday Five: December Survival Edition

Whether a RevGal or a Pal most of us in this cyber community have enhanced responsibilities during this time of year. We also have traditions - religious and secular - that mark the season for us in a more personal way.

For this Friday Five please let us know five of the things that mark the season for you.

And the bonus? Tell us one thing that does absolutely nothing for you.

1) I don't appreciate "The Griswold" effect, but I LOVE Christmas lights. I suppose growing up in Kansas City with the Plaza Lights has been cause for this. I love single string lights that highlight the edges of buildings and outline structures. I REALLY love this one particular house near my parents'. They outline every line they can on their house in multi-colored lights. It looks like a gingerbread house.

2) Advent carols. I truly do wait until Advent to listen to any holiday music - and even then I stay away from the radio stations that have been playing it since Halloween. Advent carols are some of my favorites, especially since they are rarely played.

3) Cinnamon candles. I know I could burn these scented candles at other times of the year, but I only burn cinnamon candles during the Advent/Christmas season and I love the way they make my house smell.

4)Luminaries. My parents neighborhood lines their streets and driveways with luminaries on Christmas Eve, and the church in which I grew up lines the sidewalk on that same night. I love it even more when there is snow to surround the luminaries. I feel like they are lighting the way to the wonder that is to come.

5) Decorations in the sanctuary. Every sanctuary takes on a new feel when we decorate for Advent.

Bonus: The consumerism that has become Christmas is not only my "doesn't do it for me," choice but it also makes it TERRIBLY hard for me to enjoy Advent/Christmas. It makes me ill.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Psalm 19

Does your pastor ever start out the sermon with “Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you,” or something along those lines? Maybe not a sermon starter, but have you heard Psalm 19:14 used before?

I’ve heard many preachers use this as a prayer to start their sermons, including myself. While I think we all genuinely hope that what we are saying is pleasing to the Lord, I wonder how much thought we all put into that before we spout off this well known Psalm. Don’t hear me wrong, I’m not putting myself above others, because I certainly use this prayer as well, I’m not saying others shouldn’t use it. They may have already worked out their understanding of this Psalm, but the last time I heard this Psalm, actually in song form, I started wondering.

I couldn’t help but wonder, when I heard this Psalm last, what is it that we are actually asking the Lord? Are we asking the Lord to grant what we’ve already prepared to say, what we’ve already written down, or jotted down in our heads, to make it as something pleasing to God? Are we asking God to listen to what we say, let’s say in sermon form, and to grant it to us as, “Oh, yes, that is pleasing,” even though we’ve already put all these thoughts and sentences down without that consideration? As ministers preparing to offer a sermon, at this point haven’t we already decided what our opinion is? At this point haven’t we already written a sermon with a “thesis statement,” with an opinion we want the congregation to hear? At this point, aren’t our minds already made up as to what we want others, including God, to hear?

Even those of us that preach from memory or from an index card of notes have engaged in some sort of preparation. (At least I hope we have!) All the reading and studying that has happened the week (or two) beforehand has formed inside of us some sort of opinion or “thesis statement” that we want the congregation to hear. Granted, many of us try to be careful that it is not our own opinion that others are hearing, rather something we think the congregation needs to hear from God, but regardless, to pray this prayer at the last minute before a sermon seems a little counterintuitive.

It seems as if Psalm 19:14 would be a prayer we should pray each morning, that before we even remove the sleep from our eyes, before we turn the iPhone to silent, before we put our feet on a cold floor we should pray this prayer.

God, guide me this day. Open my ears and my heart to listen to you today. I want all the words that I speak, to you, or to anyone else, and all the thoughts in my head and my heart to be something you would be proud of. Guide me. Direct me. Show me the ways that I can make my life something you would be proud of. Show me the ways that every little thing I do can be something by which you are honored. I pray this prayer to you, my rock and my redeemer.

But what about that prayer a minister offers before a sermon?

What I truly hope to get across in my prayers before a sermon is that I hope people will not hear me. I hope that they will hear God. I’m still not yet comfortable saying that what I say as a minister is as if I am speaking words of the Lord (yes I have authority issues), but I do hope that people will hear God. I hope that I will get out of the way enough that people can truly hear God speaking to them. As someone who has struggled to find a way to listen to God herself, someone who continues to try new forms of prayer in attempts to continue to listen to God in the clearest way I can hear, I just hope others can hear God.

God I pray that the words of my mouth are those that you have put there, and not the ones I put there thinking it was you. I pray that the thoughts I have in my heart and in my head are from you, and not from my own ego. I hope that the words I speak will be your words to others. I pray that whatever I say, people will truly hear your word. Because your Word is that rock and your Word is our redemption. May we all hear it… in whatever form we can.