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Preparing to Hear the Word This Week at Worship

A short prayer and reflection for preparing to hear the word in weekly worship.

Startle us, O God, with your truth
and open our hearts and our minds to your wondrous love.
Speak your word to us;
silence in us any voice but your own
and be with us now as we turn our attention,
our minds and our hearts, to you,
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is the weekly Prayer for Illumination by the Rev. John Buchanan at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. In a recent sermon, he explained:

For many years I have begun my sermons with a little prayer: "Startle us, O God." Some of you like that prayer and tell me you miss it when I change it. Some have told me that they've been startled quite enough all week long, thank you very much, and the last thing they need on Sunday morning is to be startled again. I use that prayer for myself, if truth were told, because it is my experience that the capacity to be startled, surprised, astonished, can and does become diminished in us. We are so preoccupied, so focused on our goals, on our list of things to accomplish, people to see, calls to make, that we shut down whatever capacity we have for wonder and astonishment because it is a distraction from what we think is important.

In any event, "Startle us, O God" seems like a good way to begin, because God, in the Bible at least, is astonishing, and when God acts, people are startled. ... "They were astonished," the Fourth Gospel says about Jesus' friends one day. ... John wants to make sure we understand that Jesus' disciples are astonished at his behavior, and the implication is that if you read this story correctly and understand what is transpiring, you will be astonished, too.

Our ministry partner, the Center for Excellence in Preaching, offers weekly notes for studying the upcoming sermon text from the lectionary, and other resources for encountering the Word. We trust these will be meaningful to worshipers as well as preachers, as we all prepare to be "startled" by God's truth as the Word is revealed to us this week.