Preaching Connection: Discipleship

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Movies for Preaching

Star Wars: Episode VI–The Return of the Jedi (1983) – 1

Star Wars: Episode VI–The Return of the Jedi (1983).  Written by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas.  Directed by Richard Marquand.  Starring Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and James Earl Jones.  PG.  131 mins.  Rotten Tomatoes: 80%. If the self-sacrificial death and redemption of Darth Vader comes as a surprise in the last moments of…

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Reading for Preaching

Love Within Limits: A Realist’s View of 1 Corinthians 13

“Servant power is personal power used to increase the strength of a weaker person.  The best example is the power of a parent to nurture a child into an independent personality.  Children need a model of personal power.  They have to be confronted with the exercise of it.  From a parent who demonstrates such power...
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Grace Notes: Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim

“The founder of the L’Arche homes for the mentally disabled, Jean Vanier, says that people often look upon him as mad.  The brilliantly educated son of a governor general of Canada, he recruits skilled workers (Henri Nouwen was one) to serve and live among damaged people.  Vanier shrugs off those who would second-guess his choices...
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Mere Christianity, in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics

“Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those we regard as fiends.  Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with then psychological outfit, and...
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Gilead

The elderly John Ames muses over his many years in ministry.  “My reputation is largely the creature of the kindly imaginings of my flock, whom I chose not to disillusion, in part because the truth had the kind of pathos in it that would bring on sympathy in its least bearable forms. . . I’ve...
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Losing our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover its Moral Vision

(p. 11) Our evangelical Christian religion has become merely an indoor pleasure. It seems no longer possible to be thoroughly modern and also committed to the faith. We no longer think of virtue as composing character, and no longer assume that virtue has a public exhibition. Now all we have left is government rules plus...
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“On Self-Esteem vs. Self-Respect”

“One has only to go into a prison, or at least a prison of the kind in which I used to work, to see the most revoltingly high self-esteem among a group of people (the young thugs) who had brought nothing but misery to those around them, largely because they conceived of themselves as so...
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A Circle of Quiet

Children can display a wondrous self-forgetfulness: “The concentration of a small child at play is analogous to the concentration of the artist of any discipline. In real play, which is real concentration, the child is not only outside time, he is outside himself. He has thrown himself completely into whatever it is that he is...
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“Responses to Hate-Talk Can Vary”

“Dear Carolyn: Do you have any advice for how to handle situations in which people–whether it be relatives, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, service providers, whoever–make hateful comments or jokes that are anti-Semitic, anti-black, anti-gay, anti-Hispanic, you name it? I am way too old not to know how to handle these situations. I don’t encourage the remarks...
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The Screwtape Letters

“He will be silent when he ought to speak, and laugh when he ought to be silent. He will assume, at first only by his manner, but presently by his words, all sorts of cynical and skeptical attitudes which are not really his. All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to...
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Iron and Silk

Salzman is traveling in China and is on the Yangzee River: ” . . . we pulled our boat into their little cluster and shared breakfast. When everyone had eaten, they took turns dropping their trousers, leaning off the sides of the boats and using the river as a toilet. At the same time, old...
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Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy, and Fairy Tale

“We might say God is like the great physician with a cure for every ill. He is like the good president whose Oval Office is always open to even the humblest citizen. But Jesus says something quite different. He says God is like a man who, when his friend comes knocking at his door at...
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The Giving and Taking of Life

We learn virtue and vice by seeing them incarnated. We learn virtue from saints. It’s not as if we have an abstract idea of some virtue, note it in the life of a person, and then make them a saint. It’s rather that we see sanctity in a Stephen, learn sanctity there, and have our...
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A Circle of Quiet

“I do not think that it is naive to think that it is the tiny, particular acts of love and joy which are going to swing the balance[in forming a Christian life], rather than general, impersonal charities. These acts are spontaneous, unself-conscious, realized only late if at all. They may be as quiet as pulling...
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“Facing the Muzak—A Punishing Ordeal”

“There’s a modern-day ‘punishment room’ that many lawbreakers fear and hate—and some even say it violates the law forbidding cruel and unusual punishment. But the judge who sends people to this ersatz torture chamber says he’s only making the punishment fit the crime . . . . A few months ago Municipal Court Judge Paul...
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Blessings: An Autobiographical Fragment

After her second son with a disability was born, Mary Craig began to get letters: “No-one in their right mind could say that they were happy for us, but almost everyone I had ever known, even only slightly, felt compelled to write, to express deep feelings, or even to apologize for the fact that they...
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Character Above All: Ten presidents from FDR to George Bush

Gregory Peck tells of waiting at a harbor when he was a boy to catch a glimpse of the President. He had no idea of the extent of the President’s disability. “So when the young Gregory Peck stood on the dock that day and saw Roosevelt being carried off the boat like a child, he...
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Additional content related to Discipleship

Luke 17:5-10

We plop right into a conversation already in progress in verse 5, but as you may already be aware, reading the previous verses isn’t a guarantee that you’ll immediately understand our lectionary selection! If you wish to include the first four verses of chapter 17, it’s fine to do so, since they are seemingly what…

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Philemon 1:1-21

A colleague recently told me that he sometimes feels like members of his church think of him as a UPS package that’s all wrapped up and labelled. Ironically, however, those members don’t agree on what his label says. My colleague says they variously think of him as too liberal or conservative, lenient or intolerant, modern…

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Luke 14:25-33

If this scene seems familiar, it is because it is the second time this summer that we have encountered this scene: Jesus among a crowd on the road to Jerusalem, questioning people’s abilities and willingness to be truly committed to discipleship. In fact, throughout our lectionary passages, we have listened in as Jesus specifically tells…

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Psalm 33:12-22

Suppose you are a person who is leery of civil religion, of the possible idolatry that can come when people equate a given nation with God’s kingdom.  Well, in that case, Psalm 33:12a might give you pause, or it might flat out trouble you a bit.  “Blessed is the nation whose God is Yahweh.”  That…

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Luke 12:32-40

By pairing the parable about the Master and attentive servants and the commands to sell our possessions so that we might make treasures in heaven (i.e., be rich in the things of God), verse 32 becomes the major point of doctrine: We need not be afraid because it is God’s good pleasure to give us…

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Luke 12:13-21

Whether it’s Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, prompts for charitable donations on Giving Tuesday (after the two biggest shopping days of the year), or the persistent sound of the Salvation Army bells ringing at storefronts, Christmas seems to be the season when we think it…

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Luke 10:38-42

Whether it was sharing a bedroom with one of my siblings for most of my childhood, or having housemates as an adult, I can sure relate to Martha’s frustration with Mary. There always seems to be that one member who doesn’t pull their weight, plays the role of helpless, or gets so easily—and conveniently—focused on…

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Psalm 25:1-10

In his book years ago The Closing of the American Mind Allan Bloom lamented the decline of true education in this nation’s colleges and universities. Bloom decried the way many professors had dispensed with the traditional canons of literature in favor of whatever was trendy and vogue. He mourned the fact that critical thinking and…

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Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Our passage this week is one that we’ve often heard in isolation, such as on a Missionary Sunday, without a sense of its immediate context in the book of Luke. And, we often do as the lectionary does: skip over the difficult bits… I too won’t be addressing the Woes section directly, but I do…

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Luke 9:51-62

Most scholars agree that this passage is yet another instance of Jesus communicating the difficulty of discipleship. In fact, this passage is often included at the beginning of Lent, since it so clearly marks a transition point in the gospel of Luke as Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem. But here we are, in Ordinary…

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Psalm 97

A few years ago the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship produced a new hymnal based on the Psalms.  Its title is “Psalms for All Seasons.”  The title is apt because as most of us know, the Hebrew Psalter is a collection of varied prayers that matches life’s many and varied seasons.  As C.S. Lewis and…

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Psalm 67

It can be a little hard to know how to read Psalm 67.  On the face of it, this is a pretty simple Hebrew poem.  It’s short.  It is upbeat for the most part.  It aims squarely at the praise of the one true God of Israel. Yet there are some interesting angles one could…

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Acts 10:34-43

Comments, Observations, and Questions When you are a devout person who wants nothing more than to serve God, then there are few shocks to the system quite as great as spiritual shocks.  Just ask the apostle Peter.  He knows all about this kind of thing.  Because unlike some of our religious customs and taboos today—the…

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Psalm 31:9-16

Comments, Observations, and Questions It is Palm/Passion Sunday and so God’s people come to church.  We Christians come to church because we believe when we do, we come into the presence of God.  We believe in God and so we believe God is faithful to the promise that when we gather in God’s name, God…

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Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40

Across the spectrum of poems in the Hebrew Psalter are prayers that fit most every occasion and season in life.  Laments, petitions, confessions, praise, thanksgiving; songs that fit happy days and songs that fit rotten days; lyric expressions of trust and bitter cries of abandonment and anger.  It’s all in there.  That’s an important thing…

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Luke 6:27-38

Last week, I began the argument that Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount), is an invitation to understanding one’s identity as a disciple based on connection with Jesus. In verses 17-26, Jesus talks about being blessed when we are transformed—and thereby have our life situations transformed—by this connection,…

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Jeremiah 17:5-10

In the most straightforward sense, this snippet from Jeremiah 17 is all about trust.  Bad Trust.  Good Trust.  If you trust in mere human beings in all of life, you are on a slippery slope to ruin.  In fact such people can be considered cursed.  Nothing good will come their way.  But trust in God…

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Luke 6:17-26

You might be familiar with Henri Nouwen’s work. The Dutch Catholic Priest (1932-1996) wrote, taught, and served extensively on matters of spirituality, identity, pastoral ministry, and social justice. At the center of his life’s work was a desire for people to know their belovedness as children of God; in fact, much of his work revolves…

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Luke 5:1-11

Fear, as we all know, is a powerful motivator. History is full of proof of fear’s ability to keep awful people in power—and if we look deep enough, we also see how awful people are motivated by their own fears. But we also know from the biblical account that not all fear is a reaction…

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Psalm 25:1-10

When I read Psalm 25, I find myself drawn to its utter realism. If you enter into the rhythms and patterns of these verses, what you will find is probably something akin to your own life. If you are like most people, including most Christian people, then the pattern of your piety is probably something…

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Mark 12:28-34

The text’s message this week is simple. It’s the all-encompassing nature of the application that gets overwhelming. Did you know, for instance, that there are 613 commandments in the Pentateuch? Summarizing and prioritizing, as Jesus does here, was a normal practice among the rabbis and scribes of Judaism, not to mention that it’s a helpful…

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Mark 10:46-52

A couple of weeks ago, we witnessed the rich man come to terms with reality. This week, we see a bit of a contrast in the person of Bartimaeus. Both he and the rich man are earnest and sincere in their desire to encounter Jesus, but one walks away and the other follows our Lord….

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Mark 10:17-31

Though the text alerts us to a natural transition in verse 17, stating that Jesus set out on a journey, I see verses 13-16 as a really helpful opening to this week’s encounter and suggest you include them. (See the Textual Point below for some of the reasons.) By all accounts, the rich man’s searching…

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Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

“Be specific!”  “Show, Don’t Tell!”  “Appeal to all Five Senses!” Recently I completed a three-week mini course online on “The Nuts and Bolts of Preaching” and when I interacted with my students, lines like those above were my common go-to pieces of advice.  It is the same in regular seminary courses when I grade student…

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Mark 3:20-35

“You can’t see the forest for the trees.”  The idea behind this saying is that sometimes we become so wrapped up in one thing that we lose sight of the larger picture.  Sometimes this can be humorous.  So on a TV show you may see a man who is obsessed with getting his tie knotted…

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John 1:6-8, 19-28

“Among you stands one you do not know.” Those were John the Baptist’s words as recorded in John 1:26.  Of course, at that time it was literally true that a quiet carpenter’s son from the backwaters of the Roman Empire was rubbing shoulders with lots of people—including the crowds that jostled together at the banks…

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John 4:5-42

Across the centuries people always gather where beverages are available.  Even today we sometimes call a restaurant or lounge our favorite “watering hole” because it’s the place where we go after work to unwind with our friends over a glass of wine or something.  In fact, even the phrase “scuttlebutt” has similar origins from the…

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Luke 21:5-19

Talk about the end of the world and everybody gets interested.  The disciples were, too, when Jesus predicted some apocalyptic events.  “Well,” they asked with faces a shade paler than they had been moments before, “when will all that bad stuff happen?”  In answering them, Jesus gets even more vivid in predicting great and terrible…

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Psalm 33:12-22

Suppose you are a person who is very leery of civil religion, of the possible idolatry that can come when people equate a given nation with God’s kingdom.  Well, in that case, Psalm 33:12a might give you pause, or it might flat out trouble you a bit.  “Blessed is the nation whose God is Yahweh.” …

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Psalm 25:1-10

In his book years ago The Closing of the American Mind Allan Bloom lamented the decline of true education in this nation’s colleges and universities.  Bloom decried the way many professors had dispensed with the traditional canons of literature in favor of whatever was trendy and vogue.  He mourned the fact that critical thinking and…

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Acts 5:27-32

To my great surprise and delight, the RCL moves to the book of Acts on this Second Sunday of Eastertide and stays there until Pentecost.  Clearly the intent is to follow the trajectory of Easter.  What happened to the church and the world after Jesus rose from the dead?  Did that single historical act have…

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Psalm 25:1-10

When I read Psalm 25, I find myself drawn to its utter realism.  If you enter into the rhythms and patterns of these verses, what you will find is probably something akin to your own life.  If you are like most people, including most Christian people, then the pattern of your piety is probably something…

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Mark 10:46-52

Digging into the Text: Where are we? That’s always a good question to ask concerning a Gospel passage, and it’s particularly appropriate for this episode. The healing of Bar Timaeus comes as the climax to the entire first half of Mark, and at the completion of Jesus final trek to Jerusalem. The very next event…

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Mark 10:17-31

Digging into the Text: Let’s face it, according to Jesus, lots of our congregations are not fertile ground for the gospel. They are rich, at least by the world’s standards, probably middle to upper middle class, and immersed in a consumer culture that glorifies getting more. Here Jesus comes along this Sunday and urges us…

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Mark 10:46-52

Comments and Observations Bartimaeus.  Jericho.  Just names, right?  Well, not really.  Sometimes the Bible discloses some of its most vital points in the details we tend to just skip over en route to the “main” story or the “meat” of a given passage. But in the case of Mark 10, the two names mentioned above…

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Mark 10:17-31

Comments and Observations: Don’t forget, bracket out, or lose sight of verses 10-13!!  This Lectionary text may include only Mark 10:17-31 but trust me: the four verses prior are the kicker. Here’s why: Picture the scene:  Jesus has just lifted his hands off the heads of the little children he had been blessing.  His words…

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