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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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

Psalm 1

As the Year B Lectionary brings Eastertide in for a landing, it returns us to the very head of the Hebrew Psalter.  As we conclude our celebration of the resurrection and anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Psalm 1 reminds us of what the righteousness we have in Christ looks like in…

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Acts 10:44-48

Sermon Introduction/Set-Up Consider: what are the activities, practices, traditions, theological convictions, sacred cows that make your congregation unique?  What gives your church its sense of identity? Now, before beginning the sermon, consider making an “announcement.” Effective immediately, the church will no longer be doing any of those things. No Sunday worship. No programming. No prayer….

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John 15:1-8

Do you prefer to translate Jesus’s oft-repeated menō as “remain” or “abide”? Remain surely carries the tone of a command, but Jesus also uses the word descriptively, relating a mutual being together. Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear Jesus say, “Remain in me…” I picture him simultaneously reaching out his arm and gently…

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Psalm 23

Across the years I have written sermon commentaries on Psalm 23 so often that I am fairly certain I have little new or creative to say that has not been conveyed in one way, shape, or form before!  It also does not help that this may be the single most familiar psalm of them all. …

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Psalm 25:1-10

If the Lectionary decided for whatever the reason to not recommend all of Psalm 25, they could have at least extended this to verse 11.  Since this is the reading for the First Sunday in Lent, you’d think the one verse of this psalm that is a straight up confession of sin would make the…

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Lent 2B: Quite Openly

It is a familiar story in the gospel of Mark. Jesus and the disciples at Caesarea Philippi. That question from Jesus; “who do you say that I am?” Peter’s confession; that’s what the tradition calls Peter’s response to Jesus. The always puzzling Messianic secret; Jesus sternly ordering the disciples not to tell who he was….

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Psalm 95:1-7a

This is another one of those lections that stops just short of the place in the psalm where there is a decisive—yet probably important—shift of tone and theme.  Yes, the first seven verses of Psalm 95 are a lovely doxological celebration and a call to worship this Creator and Redeemer God for all God is…

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Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25

Comments, Observations and Questions: A Choosing Place: Shechem was the site of Jacob putting away foreign gods (Gen 35) recitation of the law (Joshua 8) and the rape of Dinah, leading to decisions about the relationship between God’s people and the other people of the land. “The setting of this episode thus creates an atmosphere…

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Matthew 25:1-13

This parable is part of a series that looks at what’s to come when the King of Kings returns. Even though they are about the future, the point that each of the parables is focused squarely upon is the present lives of disciples—no matter when they find themselves living. As we close out Ordinary time,…

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Matthew 23:1-12

We might be tempted to view this text primarily as a stinging indictment of religious leadership. Though it is as much, it is also contrasting pictures of discipling communities. One builds up brothers and sisters (or students), whereas the other leaves them weighed down and stuck. One surrounds its members with a community of support,…

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Psalm 1

With only a few weeks left in the Lectionary’s Year A cycle before Advent and Year B arrives, suddenly we arrive at Psalm 1.  Along with Psalm 2, this poem is like the gateway into the Hebrew Psalter.  As we have noted often in our sermon commentaries here on CEP, the Book of Psalms is…

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Matthew 22:1-14

This is the third parable that Jesus tells to the temple leaders after they tried to trap him in a conversation about his authority. (Remember that Jesus had cleared the temple the previous day, and the temple leaders bandied together and confronted Jesus when he came back to the temple to teach the crowd.) The…

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Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

Textual Comments, Observations and Questions: Some commentators believe that these brief excurses (v. 5-6 and 10-11) signal a later addition to the original text, which could substantiate the lectionary compiler’s choice to excise them from the reading this week.  However, getting down to just 10 commands out of all the attitudes, postures, words and actions…

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Matthew 21:23-32

Comments, Questions, and Observations This is the day after Jesus has cleansed the temple. Now he has returned and the leaders have come out in force to challenge this man upsetting the system. They demand that Jesus tell them who he thinks he is: by what authority is he changing and teaching things, and who…

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Psalm 25:1-9

Psalm 25 has its share of ups and downs.  On the one hand there are some very sunny promises here.  The opening of the psalm assures us that those who trust in the Lord will never be put to shame.  Were we to peer at the dozen verses that round out Psalm 25 beyond the…

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Psalm 119:33-40

The Lectionary now and again plunks down into some seemingly random segment in the sprawling Hebrew acrostic that just is Psalm 119.  This week’s Year A lection lands us in the fifth section in which every Hebrew word in the first line of these 8 verses begins with the Hebrew letter ה or He, the…

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Exodus 3:1-15

From the banks of the Nile to a parched mountain (the literal translation of Horeb), we find Moses settled into the humble lifestyle of a nomadic shepherd just about as far from Pharaoh’s court as humanly possible. The King James tells us that, as the curtain rises on this scene, Moses is hanging out with…

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Matthew 16:21-28

How quickly being a “rock” can make you a stumbling block. Peter learns the very hard lesson that some of us also need to hear: just because someone tells you that you’re their rock doesn’t mean you get to tell them what to do with their life. Granted, last week Jesus didn’t mean that Peter…

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Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

What will Jesus call our generation? Do we run the same risk of refusing to join Jesus? Of rejecting the ways of God and God’s agents (like John the Baptist)? Does the Triune God look upon us and sigh, frustrated that we keep refusing to truly see and welcome wisdom, kindness, grace, and compassion for…

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Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)

Packed into this passage is a description of not only the calling we have as Jesus’s disciples to be people who proclaim the good news through our actions, it also gives us a real-time picture of how Jesus feels for us. We don’t have nearly as many live-action emotive moments from the Christ in the…

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Matthew 9:9-13,18-26

Each of the main characters that interact with Jesus in this story go through a significant transformation that rewrites their future. They share the fact that they are all in need (whether they know it or not). And, they all seem to act with a simple faith that who Jesus is and what he says,…

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Psalm 50:7-15

In an episode of the original Star Trek series titled “The Apple,” the crew of the USS Enterprise visits a planet that is ruled by a god by the name of Vaal.  One inhabitant of this planet named Akuta has what looks like a small antenna attached to his neck and it is through this…

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Matthew 28:16-20

As we begin Ordinary time with Trinity Sunday, we are reminded by Jesus’s closing words of God’s great promise and God’s great calling (or commission) for those who follow him. We know these words quite well; they have driven missions movements, been used in countless baptism liturgies, and closed many conferences, worship services and meetings….

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Acts 1:6-14

When it comes to what’s up and what’s down in this passage, there is a lot of back-and-forth when you think about it. First off, as we begin Acts, Jesus is where he has been for about the last six weeks: he is mostly here on this earth walking around with, eating dinner with, and…

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1 Peter 1:17-23

No one has, to my knowledge, ever produced a television series or movie entitled, “Strangers.” We prefer our shows to have titles like, “Friends.” So Peter’s first letter’s repeated references to “strangers” may seem to have no place in either our longings our culture. After all, few people want to be strangers. Most of us…

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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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Psalm 121

For the second week in a row the Year A RCL has assigned a psalm that was also the Year C Psalm lection just a few months ago in October 2022.  So with modest modifications, here is a bit of a rerun on my recent thoughts on preaching this well-known—and very lovely—Hebrew poem. When I…

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Genesis 12:1-4a

 “Go!” That is God’s first word to Abram.  And it sets up what will become a curious dynamic for the people of God forever after.  The people of God are a traveling people.  Wherever “home” might be for us, it is as often as not something still up ahead of us rather than something we…

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Matthew 5:21-37

This is our last week with the Sermon on the Mount, but it is important to remember that context. Jesus started this sermon with blessings for the struggling, encouragement for the blessed, and is describing the high calling of kingdom citizenship. We are still in that spirit. Living the way that Jesus is describing will…

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Psalm 119:1-8

In the world of secular music, I would guess you would be hard pressed to find many songs with titles like “I Just Love Rules!”  In fact the website Ranker provided their top list of songs with the word “law” in the title but songs of the variety “I’m Lovin’ the Law” don’t seem to…

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20

One could wish that this Lectionary passage began a few verses earlier because there is delicious imagery starting in verse 11 where Moses says (in essence) to the people of Israel, “Hey, folks, this stuff God is saying to you through me about life in the Promised Land ain’t rocket science.  You don’t have to…

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Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)

Over the years of writing articles and a few books, I’ve learned a lot about grammar from my editors and from a former professor turned friend who knows more about English grammar than anyone I can think of.  Thanks to folks like this I’ve finally figured out (most of the time!) the “that/which” distinction and…

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Matthew 5:13-20

When the water in the Dead Sea evaporates, it leaves behind both salt and a mineral that looks a like salt, gypsum. Obviously, gypsum doesn’t have any of the qualities of salt (like saltiness) and it has different uses than salt. But as the saying implies, if it walks like a duck, it isn’t odd…

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Micah 6:1-8

For some years I co-taught a Bible course on the prophets with one of my colleagues from the Old Testament division at Calvin Seminary.  My main task in that course was to talk about how to preach from the Prophets and then to grade a sermon the students write on a passage from Micah.  Somewhat…

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Psalm 15

In the Gospel sermon commentary for this Year A Sunday we are directed to think of who we are supposed to be as reflected in Jesus’s Beatitudes in Matthew 5.  As theologians and biblical commentators have noted for centuries, if we want to know who we are to be like in order to fit inside…

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Matthew 4:12-23

Depending on what you preached last week, these two weeks of Lectionary passages from different gospels may leave you with some explaining to do—particularly if you made a big deal about the calling narrative of Andrew and Peter last week! For here we are again, in a new geographical setting, hearing about them becoming disciples…

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Matthew 3:1-12

Comments, Questions, and Observations During Advent we follow God’s people to the wilderness and heed the prophetic wisdom of John the Baptist. What was true for waiting for the coming Messiah still holds for those waiting for the second and final advent of our King. Was it John’s eccentric ways that drew the crowds to…

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2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Paul spends relatively little time in his second letter to Thessalonica’s Christians talking about Christian ethics. He might have spent that addressing things like healthy relationships and the proper attitude toward those in authority, as he does in his other epistles. However, in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson the apostle talks, instead, about Christians’ work. Both…

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Luke 21:5-19

Luke likely wrote his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles around 80 AD. In other words, Luke already knew how the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and had already witnessed the persecution of the church and its leaders. Luke lived through and witnessed new followers of the Jesus Way be put to death for…

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2 Timothy 2:8-15

Paul speaks repeatedly about suffering for the sake of the gospel. He does so not just in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson but also throughout his letter to Timothy. Yet that kind of suffering may be largely unfamiliar to many of the preachers who read this commentary as well as 2 Timothy. Of course, some North…

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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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Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Hebrews’ author devotes most of chapter 11 to an exploration of what it means to live and die by faith. But he doesn’t call his readers to “fix their eyes” (12:2) on any of the people we sometimes “heroes and heroines of the faith.” Hebrews’ author only invites his readers to “keep our eyes” on…

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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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Philippians 3:17-4:1

In this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson Paul calls his Philippian audience to “join with others in following” his “example” (17). To 21st century ears, however, such an invitation sounds like nails scraping an old-fashioned chalkboard. Its apparent arrogance doesn’t just, after all, hurt our ears. Such a bold call to imitation also no longer fits into…

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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