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what happens before/after the sermon? – andrea mcdougall

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“Lord, our God, you know who we are:
People with good and bad consciences;
satisfied and dissatisfied, sure and unsure people;
Christians out of convictions and Christians out of habit;
believers, half-believers, and unbelievers.
You know where we come from,
from our circle of relatives, friends and acquaintances,
or from great loneliness…

But now we all stand before you:
in all our inequality equal in this,
that we are all in the wrong before you and among each other …
that we would all be lost without your grace,
but also in that your grace is promised to and turned toward all of us
through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ 
(p. 1, Karl Barth Fifty prayers).

Concerned by the disjunction between the thoughts and language of his sermon and the surrounding prayers given in the liturgy, Karl Barth began composing prayers in keeping with the sermon.  Initially these prayers consisted of a free combination of passages from the Psalms, and then Barth began writing prayers related to the topic for the sermon.

Regarding these prayers as essential to the sermons, Barth did not allow his sermons to be published in a book unless the prayers that he wrote for before and after each of the sermons were also included.  At approximately 250 words each, these prayers are far more substantial than the brief prayers that I tend to pray at the beginning/end of my sermon.

Yet, reading the prayers that Barth wrote, there seems enormous value in spending time preparing prayers to pray alongside the sermon.  I know that even composing short prayers has sometimes resulted in a re-shaped sermon.

As a full-time student I am not doing as much preaching these days – but the next invitation to preach that I receive I intend to devote more time to writing prayers to go alongside my sermon.  I would be interested to know what your experience is of composing prayers to accompany the preached word.  Have you found writing prayers for before/ after the sermon influences the formation of the sermon?  What has your experience been of using these prayers in the worship service?

It’s usually easy to find a copy of Barth’s sermons + prayers in a theological library/ secondhand Christian bookshop – or a copy of his book of prayers – I encourage you to take time to grab a copy and read and pray through these prayers.  As Karl Barth says: “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

2 Comments

  1. Lynne Baab says:

    Andrea, what a fantastic idea. Thanks so much for bringing this practice to our attention. Next time I’m invited to preach, I’ll write some prayers, too.

  2. Emily says:

    As I’m a student so I am never the regular preacher. I don’t think I’ve ever used the standard … “may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart etc etc” prayer before any sermon.

    At my old home church (where everyone knew me VERY well) I even added to my prayer that I hoped everyone would stay awake. It was a genuine prayer! And it was answered 🙂

    I think writing specific prayers for each sermon is a fantastic idea. I think we can get a bit lazy or a bit stuck in routine and forget how important prayer is to the whole process.

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