Preaching Connection: Death

Movies for Preaching

The Thin Red Line (1998) – 5

The Thin Red Line (1998).  Written and directed Terrence Malick.  Starring James Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, and Elias Koteas.  170 mins; rated R.  Metacritic: 78%; Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. Films have not historically done much with death.  By this, I mean real actual dying.  In general movies have greatly prettified the usually stark and often…

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The Thin Red Line (1998) – 1

The Thin Red Line (1998).  Written and directed Terrence Malick.  Starring James Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, and Elias Koteas.  170 mins; rated R.  Metacritic: 78%; Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. The big question, crisply and resonantly put, comes late in the film, though throughout it has echoed and ramified through people and events.  It comes in…

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Reading for Preaching

The Seven Perennial Sins and Their Offspring

“For centuries philosophers have recommended an exercise to lend more gravity to our lives, that is, contemplating our mortality.  A common epitaph one comes across on old tombstones is memento mori, ‘remember, you must die.’  Death is a lonely road and you travel it but once.  So people postpone writing wills, make excuses for not...
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Band of Brothers

War is hell, but there are dimensions of battle that become “secret attractions,” as Glenn Gray (a member of E Company) writes. For one thing combat is a spectacle. Its sights and sounds are dramatic—fireworks displays of bursting shells, antiaircraft searchlights bouncing beams off clouds to illuminate the battlefield below, and also flares and tracers....
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Treblinka

On rifle shooting of Jewish victims at close range in Poland. “The inadequacies of the system, which were of two kinds, technical and psychological, had to do with the method of execution, namely, shooting. In the first place, shooting produced a low output, and in the second place, it created a relationship between the executioner...
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“That the Taste of Good and Evil Depends in Large Part on the Opinion that We Have of Them”

The stoic Montaigne: “O. Maximus buried his son, a consul; M. Cato his, a praetor-elect; and L. Paulus both of his, within a few days, with a calm face that bore no sign of grief.” One guy had three grownup children die violently in one day. “He all but took it as a favor. And...
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The Year of Magical Thinking

People in grief “think a great deal about self-pity. We worry it, dread it, scourge our thinking for signs of it. We fear that our actions will reveal the condition tellingly described as ‘dwelling on it.’ We understand the aversion most of us have to ‘dwelling on it.’ Visible mourning reminds us of death, which...
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Eyes of Prey

A physician speaks: “When you know somebody’s about to die, well, there are things that have to be done with the body and the room. You have to clean up the room, you have to prepare to move the body down to Pathology. Some patients are quite clearheaded when they’re dying. So how must it...
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Self-Consciousness: Memoirs

Hemingway, 1947, wrote of recovering from World War I wounds: “I was very ignorant at nineteen and had read little and I remember the sudden happiness and the feeling of having a permanent protecting talisman when a young British officer I met in the hospital first wrote out for me, so that I could remember...
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From Beirut to Jerusalem

Friedman describes what street life was like during Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s: “The frightening thing about Beirut is the prospect of dying a random death there. Long distance sniping and shelling make it difficult or impossible to say where bullets or shells will land, and their launchers don’t care. You never know whether...
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The Sacred Journey

Buechner’s father committed suicide one Saturday morning in 1936. Buechner writes, “When somebody you love dies, Mark Twain said, it is like when your house burns down; it isn’t for years that you realize the full extent of your loss.”
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The Pilgrim’s Progress

When Mr. Valiant-for-Truth understood that his time to die had come, he said to his friends “’I am going to my fathers, and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give...
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To a God Unknown

(Joseph’s wife, Elizabeth, has just died in a fall at the strange rock in the glade where the two of them felt the mysterious Life-Force moving). “He went to his own dark home and lighted the lamps and set fire in the stove. The clock wound by Elizabeth still ticked, storing in its spring the...
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East of Eden

“I have wondered why it is that some people are less affected and torn by the verities of life and death than others. Una’s death cut the earth from under Samuel’s feet and opened his defended keep and let in old age. On the other hand Liza, who surely loved her family as deeply as...
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The Life of Samuel Johnson

In Johnson’s play Irene, Demetrius speaks to Aspasia, a dead woman he had loved: “From those bright regions of eternal day, Where now thou shinest amongst thy fellow saints, Array’d in purer light, look down on me! In pleasing visions and delusive dreams, O! soothe my soul, and teach me how to lose thee.” That...
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Additional content related to Death

John 12:20-33

Comments, Questions, and Observations There are many familiar themes in this week’s passage: losing one’s life in order to gain it, following Jesus, Jesus speaking about his impending death, and the way that his salvation work expands to all the nations. At the start of Lent, we heard the Father boom down with a message…

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2 Kings 2:1-12

On grief and staying the course From the outset of this story, the reader knows what is about to transpire. This is a story about, among other things, the valley of the shadow of death. It’s right there in the first clause of the first verse: “When the Lord was about to take Elijah up…

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Psalm 90:1-8 (9-11), 12

Psalm 90 is pegged in the superscription to be a psalm of Moses and though Moses’ having written this whole poem may be unlikely, there can be little doubt why this psalm has long been associated with Moses.  Like Moses himself and the people he led for 40+ years, this psalm is a little bit…

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Joshua 3:7-17

Preamble: Although this text comes to us through the ordinary 3 year lectionary cycle, it also lands with particularly distressing and uncomfortable timing. As war rages over the lands once given to Joshua and the Israelites, I urge pastors to tred lightly, as I have attempted to do here. First, we acknowledge that the modern…

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Philippians 1:21-30

John Wooden was the hugely successful coach of America’s UCLA’s men’s basketball team. He also sought to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. Wooden once famously said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s Paul would probably have agreed. After all,…

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Genesis 22:1-14

A mere 21 chapters into the Bible, the Holy Spirit was brave when it inspired the authors and redactors of Genesis to include a scandalous story such as the one we get in Genesis 22.  As some have noted across the ages, here is a narrative with so many fraught elements—not the least being things…

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Romans 6:1b-11

“The baptized Christian has, in an important sense, already died.  The baptized Christian has already made her ‘final exit’ and has come through on the other side.” Fleming Rutledge makes that perhaps startling profession in her lovely sermon, “The Final Exit of the Baptized” (Not Ashamed of the Gospel, Eerdmans, 2007). The Spirit could use…

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Acts 17:22-31

Well, you win some and you lose some. Paul had some experience with the truth of that old adage, and some of the relevant experiences can be seen in Acts 17 and Paul’s famous conversation with the Athenians at the Areopagus. The day was not without its spiritual victories.  The chapter concludes by telling us…

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Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

Sometimes the Revised Common Lectionary gives us the same Psalm somewhat frequently but each time it is chopped up in different ways.  As it is, selecting some verses, skipping over others, and then including a few more is not always a great way to preach on a given Hebrew poem in that they were written…

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Acts 7:55-60

On the face of it, a six-verse Bible passage that centers on the brutal murder of an innocent man does not appear to be an edifying preaching text.  Perhaps that seems all the more to be the case when we realize this passage is assigned in the Year A Lectionary for the Season of Eastertide…

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Psalm 23

It’s not quite true but sometimes it feels like Psalm 23 pops up in the Lectionary every couple weeks.  In fact, this psalm really was assigned just a few weeks ago during Lent.  Psalm 23 pops up at least once—and usually twice—inside any given calendar across Years A, B, and C of the Lectionary.  And…

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Psalm 16

Probably we misread Psalm 16, or at least its most famous verses about how our bodies will rest secure.  We have all been to our share of funerals that lift out verses 9-11 and put a resurrection spin on them.  And maybe as Christians exegeting the Old Testament there is something right about that.  All…

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Psalm 31:9-16

Psalm 31:11 says “I am an object of dread to my neighbors; those who see me on the street flee from me.”  I suppose we all have our days when we feel like this but mostly we chalk it up to paranoia.  “I am just imagining that everyone I meet is averting their eyes.”  “It’s…

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

Sample sermon:  It is a sad statement on the last 100 years that we can rather easily imagine the scene Ezekiel describes in his famous 37th chapter. Whether or not the people in Ezekiel’s original audience had ever seen such a valley full of bones, we have. We’ve seen the mass graves of Auschwitz and…

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Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is hands-down the most famous of the 150 psalms in the Psalter.  In terms of recognizability, Psalm 23 is probably right up there with popular ditties like “Roses are red, violets are blue,” with Shakespearean sonnets like “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” and well-known song lyrics like “Happy birthday to…

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Easter: Enough

Dan Brown’s suspense novel, The DaVinci Code, was a New York Times #1 bestseller for over a year, selling in the end millions of copies.  As some of you may recall from The DaVinci Code, Mary Magdalene occupies a central place in the narrative.  Yes, the same Mary who figures in so importantly in the…

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Lent 5A: Neither Bang Nor Whimper

As Time magazine recently pointed out, two famous twentieth century poets both weighed in on the subject of the universe’s end. Robert Frost wrote, “Some say the world will end in fire / Some say in ice. / I hold with those who favor fire.” On the other side T.S. Eliot wrote, “This is the…

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Isaiah 9:1-4

The Common Lectionary’s choice to cut off this reading at verse 4 feels artificial.  It’s like asking someone to break off singing midway through verse 2 of “Joy to the World.”  It doesn’t work.  You both want to finish the song and anyway you hear the song finish up in your head even if you…

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2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

It’s hard to read this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson without getting a lump in one’s throat. After all, it’s not just that it contains what are perhaps among the imprisoned Paul’s last recorded words. It’s also that it suggests that the apostle who has befriended to so many seems about to die virtually all alone. Acts…

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Psalm 23

Presidential funerals always draw a huge television audience.  We have seen it for Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and most recently for George H.W. Bush.  But when you watch such services, you need not have the funeral program in your hands to guess that probably at some point some pastor is going to…

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Psalm 30

A friend of mine who passed away last year on Easter used to respond to life’s oft-difficult circumstances by saying, “Ah well, joy cometh in the morning.”  Or at least joy may come in the morning but most of us know altogether too well that sometimes it doesn’t.  Or the “morning” in question ends up…

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1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Comments, Observations, and Questions Death stinks – both literally and figuratively. While such a reminder may not seem like a particularly popular (or common) way to begin an Easter proclamation, it is the context within which we begin any and every proclamation of Easter’s great news. Even after Jesus rose from the dead, death still…

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John 12:1-8

Comments, Questions, and Observations Jesus is anointed around the time of Holy Week in each of the gospels, but the details of each account are markedly different. Here in the Gospel of John, it occurs earlier in the timeline, before Jesus enters Jerusalem for Passover. In fact, John’s telling of the event is directly connected…

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Luke 13:31-35

Jesus is a man on a mission. He is in the region of the Galilee, not yet in Jerusalem for the events of holy week, and we continue our lenten journey by following him towards his suffering death. We don’t really know the motives of the Pharisees as they warn Jesus to get out of…

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1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

One of the central questions some Christians have about the resurrection is, “Will we recognize each other’s resurrected persons in the new creation?” It echoes this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’ verse 35 where Paul quotes some people as asking, “With what kind of body will [the dead] come [to life]?” Both questions suggest that Christians sometimes…

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Psalm 16

Probably we misread Psalm 16, or at least its most famous verses about how our bodies will rest secure.  We have all been to our share of funerals that lift out verses 9-11 and put a resurrection spin on them.  And maybe as Christians exegeting the Old Testament there is something right about that.  All…

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Mark 6:14-29

How sordid.  How tawdry.  How stupid.  How tragic.  It’s all here in Mark 6 where we learn to our shock and sadness that the last great Old Testament prophet and the first great New Testament gospel herald, John the Baptist himself, was done in because of a boozy promise made by an oversexed older man…

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John 3:1-17

I wonder what Nicodemus was thinking about when he walked home that night. My guess is that it wasn’t the Doctrine of the Trinity!  Yet this is the Year B passage assigned for Trinity Sunday.  So what did he ponder?  No clue.  John doesn’t tell us.  That’s ironic seeing as, according to John’s reportage at…

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Isaiah 25:6-9

What a delightful, even delicious alternative reading for Easter Sunday!  The regular (Old Testament?) reading is from Acts 10:34-43, Peter’s proclamation of the Easter message to the Roman centurion, Cornelius.  I wrote on that text last Easter, so I thought I’d give you an alternative way to proclaim the familiar message of Christ’s resurrection—not a…

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Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

The Lectionary is giving us but a small sampling of Psalm 107 by carving out the first three verses and then a half-dozen from the center of the larger poem.  If you read the entire psalm, you will discover it is a curious historical retrospective on various experiences that various unnamed people have had at…

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Philippians 1:21-30

One of the most lyrical expressions of Christian hope is embedded in the first Question and Answer of the Heidelberg Catechism. There Reformed Christians answer the question, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” with the lovely, “That I am not my own, but belong in body and soul, in life and…

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Romans 6:12-23

Among the first times our text’s “The wages of sin is death” grabbed my attention was via a billboard. At that its grammar captivated me. I even remember asking my grammarian dad why Paul used a plural noun like “wages” with a singular verb like “is.” Now when I drive past that same billboard, however,…

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Romans 5:1-8

Is there any phrase in the English lexicon that’s stranger than “to die for”? After all, when we claim something is “to die for,” we’re not describing something that’s as tragic as death itself. I’ve never heard anyone say, for instance, that racial injustice or a global pandemic was “to die for” – even though…

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Psalm 16

Probably we misread Psalm 16, or at least its most famous verses about how our bodies will rest secure.  We have all been to our share of funerals that lift out verses 9-11 and put a resurrection spin on them.  And maybe as Christians exegeting the Old Testament there is something right about that.  All…

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John 11:1-45

Sample Sermon: “Just about Everywhere” : In one of her short stories the writer Annie Dillard has a scene in which a family is sadly gathered at a grave to commit a loved one’s body to the earth. At one point the minister intones the familiar words from I Corinthians 15, “Where, O Death, is…

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John 3:1-17

In John 3 Jesus does something quite unexpected: he reaches back to Numbers 21 from the Old Testament and evokes the image of that bronze serpent Moses lifted over the people as a cure for snakebites.  The Israelites had to look at an image of the very thing that was afflicting them, and somehow doing…

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Romans 5:12-19

It’s always humbling for my wife and me to have a problem with our computer or cell phones.  After all, we, on whom our sons depended for so many years, must now largely depend on them to help us.  I’ll never be as technologically savvy as our thirty-something sons. Fleming Rutledge, who lent me some…

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2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

So here we are at the most intimate, and soul laid bare, part of Paul’s letters to Timothy. In these sermon commentaries, we’ve hinted all along about what Paul reveals in these verses—that he’s at the end of his earthly life, abandoned by fellow ministry partners, waiting on his imminent death. The lectionary selection leaves…

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Romans 8:14-17

Parents take better care of their attractive children than they do their ugly ones.  At least that’s what an article in a 2006 edition of The New York Times reported Canadian researchers concluded after observing more than 400 parents’ treatment of their children during 14 different trips to supermarkets.  They deduced that physical attractiveness makes…

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Revelation 21:1-6

Christ’s revelation to the apostle John includes what sometimes seems like an endless series of chilling images.  Nearly all of them portray intense persecution, bloody battles and immense suffering.  It’s a revelation that, if we didn’t know its “happy ending,” we might quit reading after about six or seven chapters. Some modern Christians assume that…

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Psalm 30

A friend of mine, when noting life’s oft-difficult circumstances, likes to sound a hopeful note by saying, “Ah well, joy cometh in the morning.”  Or at least joy may come in the morning but most of us know altogether too well that sometimes it doesn’t.  Or the “morning” in question ends up being pretty far…

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John 20:1-18

A friend of mine who is a true believer in the Gospel once confessed to me that Easter services can be a little hard on him.  There’s just something about all that exuberance, all that blaring brass, all those bright lights and white lilies that combine to go sufficiently over the top in ways he…

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1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Some biblical texts deal with rather ordinary things such stealing, eating and even caring for animals.  Other texts, however, open readers’ eyes to far bigger issues.  While Paul talks much about daily concerns early in his first letter to the Corinthians, he closes it by talking about bigger concerns.  As Daniel J. Price to whose…

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John 12:1-8

In Tennessee Williams’ play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, one of the characters keeps saying over and over to the character of Big Daddy that you can just smell “the mendacity in the air.”  This was a play with many layers of deception and lying and it became so very nearly palpable to some…

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1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50

It may be a good thing that the Epistolary Lesson the Lectionary appoints for this Sunday comes up only about “once in a blue moon.”  Its sections of 1 Corinthians 15 contain, after all, what N.T. Wright, to whose book, Paul for Everyone: I Corinthians, (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003) I owe great deal…

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John 6:35, 41-51

“Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert yet they died.” That’s what Jesus said and it’s a pretty easy verse to cruise past and not much ponder.  I mean, of course those people died—in fact, they had died about 1,000 years ago!!  And since no one even a millennium earlier had ever said manna…

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2 Corinthians 4:5-12

In her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion recounts what she thought about during the year following her husband’s sudden death.  Near the end of December 2003, Didion and her husband were sitting down for dinner, having just come back from visiting their gravely ill daughter in the hospital.  Her husband John was…

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1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

It started out as words of comfort.  Paul’s intention was to soothe anxieties, tamp down sorrows, answer some hard questions that the Thessalonians were asking.  That’s how it started.  Over time, though, these words in 1 Thessalonians 4—coupled with some further talk on similar themes in the next chapter—have become a source of unending speculation,…

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Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

Psalm 90 is a classic text for funerals, for ecclesiastical observances of New Year’s Eve, and for any other time we mark the passing of time and lament our tenuous place in it.  So it is a fitting choice for this last Sunday of October just a month away from the end of Ordinary Time….

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Psalm 23

On this Fourth Sunday after Easter, all three years of the lectionary cycle have us reading Psalm 23.  No wonder some parts of the worldwide church call this Good Shepherd Sunday.  It is always good to revisit this beloved piece of pastoral poetry, but it does challenge the preacher and this writer, who wrote on…

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Matthew 26:14-27:66

Some years back I heard what was reported to have been among the final gasping words of the famous singer Frank Sinatra. Sinatra’s signature song was “My Way” in which he crooned that when looking back on his life, although he had a few regrets, in the end “I did it my way.” But at…

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John 11:1-45

Sample Sermons For this Fifth Sunday in Lent Sermon commentary, I again present a sample sermon of mine that I wrote in connection with doing a seminar with Frederick Dale Bruner as he completed his Commentary on John (Eerdmans 2012).  “Just about Everywhere” In one of her short stories the writer Annie Dillard has a…

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John 3:1-17

In John 3 Jesus does something quite unexpected: he reaches back to Numbers 21 from the Old Testament and evokes the image of that bronze serpent Moses lifted over the people as a cure for snakebites. The Israelites had to look at an image of the very thing that was afflicting them, and somehow doing…

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20

I’m not sure God cares much whether we choose, for example, to eat oatmeal or fresh fruit for breakfast.  However, God does very deeply care, in some cases even more than we naturally do, about some of our choices. This might provide Deuteronomy 30’s preachers and teachers an opportunity to explore with worshipers and students…

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Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

Does anyone know what time it is?  The rock group Chicago sang a song entitled, “Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?”  It’s about people who have watches but don’t really know what time it is: “People running around everywhere, Don’t know what way to go … Don’t know where I am.  Have no time…

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Psalm 49:1-12

The opportunity to preach on Psalm 49 comes at a particularly appropriate time in American history. The whole issue of income inequality has troubled our society for quite a while now, but it has become a hot button topic in the campaign for President. One of the candidates is a non-political figure who claimed very…

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Psalm 30

Easter and Eastertide have now passed this calendar year and yet in the Sundays after Pentecost the Lectionary provides us with some wonderful poetry to help us continue living into and celebrating Easter. With its imagery of death and resurrection, Psalm 30 is a perfect post-Easter Psalm. Its purpose is to keep the memory of…

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1 Kings 17:8-24

We live a world that death and violence seem to have in their iron-like stranglehold. All too often they appear to have both the dominant and final word in our world. In the midst of this culture of violence and death, however, God is in the business of constantly giving life. Death stubbornly looms over…

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1 Corinthians 15:19-26

One of the most difficult sermons of the year to write is the one to be delivered on Easter morning. The homiletical challenge we preachers face is obvious: the resurrection of Jesus is like the sky above: it really covers everything in the Christian faith. As a result there is a sense in which every…

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John 20:1-18

A friend of mine who is a true believer in the Gospel once confessed to me that Easter services can be a little hard on him. There’s just something about all that exuberance, all that blaring brass, all those bright lights and white lilies that combine to go sufficiently over the top in ways he…

Explore

John 12:1-8

In Tennessee Williams’ play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, one of the characters keeps saying over and over to the character of Big Daddy that you can just smell “the mendacity in the air.” This was a play with many layers of deception and lying and it became so very nearly palpable to some…

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Luke 13:31-35

Luke knew how to spin a tale! Today he’d likely be a best-selling writer no matter what his genre: novels, biographies, essays. Luke had style, narrative panache. Dip into any of his stories in The Gospel that bears his name or in The Book of Acts (that he also authored) and you see this readily….

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2 Samuel 1:1,17-27

You can see why the Revised Common Lectionary wants you to jump from verse 1 to verse 17!   There is an act of violence here in the skipped-over portion that tempts a Scripture reader to end the line “This is the Word of the Lord” in something of an interrogative mood: “The Word of the…

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