Just one thing (when I preach)

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Here’s the disclaimer I wish I could shout out every time I enter the pulpit:

“I’ve studied the text all week, I promise! I saw a thousand different directions in which I could go. A hundred rabbit trails tempted to take me off my path. Ten times at least I rewrote another draft! But in the end, I had to choose one thing. One most important thing gleaned through prayer and wrestling and (thorough) exegetical work. Just. One. Thing.”

I’m a people-pleaser who is part of a profession in which women are not generally welcome or treated as equal. I am very welcome and treated fairly in my church, thank God! Even so, it isn’t able to prevent some of the paranoid fears and insecurities that cloud over me as I begin to prepare for and write a sermon.

During this time, I feel an obsessive need to cover all grounds; to give 110%; to prove that I’m competent; to show that I didn’t miss a thing. I feel terrified that someone might think I didn’t stick to the text closely enough or that I was lazy and didn’t notice many of the truths presenting themselves. So every time I preach, I wish I could shout out a disclaimer at the start of my sermon:

“I’ve studied the text all week, I promise! I saw a thousand different directions in which I could go. A hundred rabbit trails tempted to take me off my path. Ten times at least I rewrote another draft! But in the end, I had to choose one thing. One most important thing gleaned through prayer and wrestling and (thorough) exegetical work. Just. One. Thing.”

No matter how heavily my insecurities and fears overwhelm my sermon-writing process, I ultimately have to surrender to what I have found to be true for me as a preacher.

The truth is that I have to choose just one thing to focus on. This means being okay with throwing out some really good ideas; this means being willing to leave out some really clever thoughts. This means fighting off the inclination to go on unhelpful tangents. I have to trust that the sermon will be more powerful, more clear, and more likely to be remembered in a week’s time if I hone in on just one thing.

So for me, I steer clear of the pressure to always have to present three points or even three sub-points. I use discernment to decide if a text calls for it, and sometimes it does. But often for me, it just doesn’t. Maybe it’s just “my style”, but I like the idea of giving just one thought, as powerfully concise as possible. Meanwhile, I’m truly hoping that I’m making it easier for the congregation to remember what the sermon was about for a longer period of time. I’m hoping that the ease of recalling the sermon will ultimately have a more powerful impact. I’m hoping that the simplicity of it will illicit even more lingering thoughts and questions throughout the week than it might have otherwise.

So, when I preach I search for just one thing, and my search often involves A LOT of wrestling, with self and with God. Still, even with all this wrestling, I am grateful because each sermon is another opportunity for me to surrender to God. Each sermon is another opportunity to trust that God will use me so that GOD is known and encountered. And it really doesn’t matter if I “get it right”. It doesn’t matter if I were to give a disclaimer before every sermon or not. It doesn’t even matter if people think I’ve done a sufficient job.

All that really matters is surrender. I know that if I surrender; if I trust; if I let go of control, then God will be known. For me, that has to be enough. And really, that in and of itself is a job well done.

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Oh Divine Shepherd, How? (a reflection on Psalm 23)

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Divine Shepherd
how am i to rest in you
when i can’t see you
when i don’t feel you?

how am i to follow you,
when from this valley
i don’t see or feel
much of of anything?

how can i know
your way of peace
your way of rest
your way of life?

how can i let go of fear
and drop these bags
of burdens i bear,
knowing comfort
isn’t always hopeful
nor is hope
guaranteed a comfort?

how do i make
this singed grass sing
notes both
soft and green?

how do these choppy waters
turn quiet and still,
a calming balm
to my soul?

how do i know which of these
grown-up-and-over paths
is right, for goodness sake
or as the verse says
for your name’s sake?
how?

Oh Divine Shepherd
like the lost lamb I am –
carry me.

Let it fall.

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Let it fall. This is the Litany Kyndall and I chanted together as we hiked to 6 of the 10 waterfalls found at Silver Falls State Park. As we stopped to gaze at each fall, we considered the various metaphors offered for our lives and for life in general. When we had finished, we would share the words “Let if Fall” before moving on to the next waterfall. 

Let it fall. This is the Litany I recited as I walked the Labyrinth at the Benedictine sisters’ monastery in Mt. Angel, Oregon. My bare feet cool against the soft, green, meandering trail, I was reminded of the different seasons and milestones of my journey. Every time a worry or fear or sense of responsibility would rise up, threatening to distract me from the experience at hand, I would chant the words “Let if fall. Just let them fall”.

Let it fall. This is the litany I find myself repeating now that I am home. I am still riding the wave of inspiration from having been away, rested and renewed. Still, I sense the hustle gearing up; I am finding the bustle harder to keep at bay. So, I straighten my posture, broaden my shoulders and declare “Let it fall”!

I carry this Litany with me today, and I pray I can let go of the habits and tendencies also carried within me – the ones that shut down transformation and livelihood and inspiration (and fun). I pray “Let it Fall” in hopes that those barriers will simply fall to the wayside, that I may listen and know the center, my center, my God, once more.

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A litany for our world

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My sister-in-law wrote this Litany for her church’s worship service recently. We also used it at my church last Sunday. Sometimes it seems like there’s nothing to be done when it comes to all the injustice and oppression in the world. It is all too much, and I feel like there is nothing I can do. So I do nothing. This is obviously not true. I can give money to organizations working for good; I can volunteer my time to worthy causes; I can sign petitions; I can write my political leaders; I can challenge my local church to be a part of similar things; I can show grace and kindness and mercy to the people in my everyday life, and in this case, I can pray. I’ve been praying this litany each day as one small way to make a big difference in the world. It is my hope that my prayers will not only be heard, but that they will also be daily reminders that spur me to action. Dear friend, may it be the same for you. 

We lift our eyes up to the mountains; where does our help come from?
Our help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
We pray now for our world, in all its beauty and conflict:
Your kingdom come; Your will be done.
For those in Gaza, Israel, and Palestine…
Lord, have mercy.
For those in Ukraine and the surrounding areas…
Lord, have mercy.
For those in Iraq and Syria…
Lord, have mercy.
For all our sisters and brothers in Christ who are being oppressed and persecuted…
Lord, have mercy.
For those afflicted by Ebola in Africa…
Lord, have mercy.
For children who are victims of violence and political unrest…
Lord, have mercy.
For all those in pain, hungry, and destitute, both abroad and at home…
Lord, have mercy.
May we, Your people, carry Your Presence, Peace, and Love into a broken world.  We look to Jesus Christ as our Light, and to His cross and empty tomb as our Hope; and together we pray:
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Commercial-land

more. more. more.

more.

where is contentedness?

Is she hiding

or am I eluded by the shine

of the ideal life?

 

I see her in commercials

french doors, white walls

soft breeze leading out to

mountains and beach homes

where everyone wears

freshly washed, crisp linen

and somehow this translates to me as

perfection.

 

and I want her desperately.

and desperately I chase her

under the assumption I can afford it

under the understanding that this

is our – the western world’s – normal

under the guise of cool and calm

I seek her out.

 

a new dishtowel here

a cozy sweater there

the good soap

the all-natural detergent

the European butter

the fine wine

the expensive cheese

only organic vegetables and

farmers market fruit.

 

I strut about in my

metaphorical linen

my canvas tote holds my treasures

and I realize vaguely

this linen is itchy

this bag a burden

actually

I don’t like it all that much.

 

Is this perfection really?

can it be?

and if it is

why I am in turmoil within myself

more than ever?

why do I long for contentedness

more than ever?

 

more. more. more.

more.

I know it’s a lie and

yet I trudge on through this

commercial-land

anyway.