Preaching Connection: Faith

Movies for Preaching

Babette’s Feast (1987) – 1

Babette’s Feast (1987).  Written by Karen Blixen (short story) and Gabriel Axel (screenplay).  Directed by Gabriel Axel.  Starring Stéphane Audran, Bodil Kjer, Bergitte Federspiel, Jarl Kulle, and Jean-Philippe Lafont.  Music: Per Nørgaard.  Cinematography: Henning Kristiansen.  Rated G; 102 mins. Rotten Tomatoes 100%. It is a nameless place where nothing much happens, in part because it…

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Wide Awake (1998) – 2

Wide Awake (1998).  Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Starring Joseph Cross, Rosie O’Donnell, and Robert Loggia. Rated PG.  88 mins.  Rotten Tomatoes 67%. In big ways, Thomas the Doubtful had it right.  Show me the evidence, please, in all of its gory glory.  Enough already with other people’s hopeful delusions.  After all, empirical…

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Reading for Preaching

Mere Christianity, in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics

“God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers.  If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something that is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. But, fortunately, it works the other way around.  Anyone who is honestly trying to be...
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Mere Christianity, in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics

“When we have understood free will, we shall see how silly it is to ask, as somebody once asked me, ‘Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?’  The better stuff a creature is made of—the cleverer and stronger and freer it is—then the better it will be if...
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“Faith” in Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith

God tells Abraham, age 100, and Sarah, 90, that they will have a baby.  Both laugh.  God tells them to name their son “Isaac,” which in Hebrew means “laughter.” “Why did the two old crocks laugh?  They laughed because they knew only a fool would believe that a woman with one foot in the grave...
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“Doubt” in Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith

“Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep.  Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith.  They keep it awake and moving.”
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“Billions and Billions of Demons”

Atheist materialists often commit themselves to atheism.  They want the world to have no God and they want to live without having to worry about God.  Nobody is more transparent or candid about his commitment than Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin: “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to...
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Confessions

A middle-aged Augustine introduces himself to fellow Christian believers by letting them overhear his extended prayer to God.  His confessions are sometimes in the form of praise: he confesses God’s greatness and goodness.  And sometimes he confesses his sins: of self-deception, lust, conformity to the evil of peers.  Sometimes Augustine sounds anxious, as if his...
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Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

Mark 4:27 speaks eloquently of an ordinary miracle: “‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” So Norris imagines a wheat field and superimposed on it, a quote from...
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Our Knowledge of God

Do our doubts have a moral root? Are our “souls urged towards an irreligious life by a lack of self-control in the matter of pleasures and desires (Plato, Laws, 886a, b)?” Baillie’s comment: “Part of the reason why I could not find God was that there is that in God which I did not wish...
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Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

Virginia planters at the end of the 18th century were expected to live up to a code. They had to be skilled at riding, hiking, and dancing. They were expected to be adept at the small sword, cards, and fiddle-playing. (Thomas Jefferson was pretty adroit on his Amati violin.) They had long political discussions about...
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“Facing Reality,” in The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought

“My son came home from school once staggered by a discussion of Abraham Lincoln, whom he revered. None of the other students could be persuaded that Lincoln went into politics for anything but the money. The grandeur of his speeches merely proved the depth of his cynicism. In the same way we can refuse evidence...
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Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find?

“Monastics have a practice they call statio that means, simply, stopping one thing before beginning another. Rather than rushing from one task to the next, pause for a moment and recognize the time between times. Before dialing the phone, pause and think about the conversation and the person on the other end. After reading from...
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“Sermon 47”

When we are born, everything significant about us, whether good or evil, is uncertain; “death alone is certain. What is this that I say? A child is conceived; perhaps it will be born; perhaps it will be an untimely birth. So it is uncertain. Perhaps he will grow up; perhaps he will not grow up;...
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Wickedness: A Philosophical Essay

Midgley thinks Satan is a libertarian: he has exalted liberty over all else. He has what Elizabeth Anscombe calls the ‘intact liberty in the unsubmissiveness of my will.’ He wants (p. 137) “liberty to rule others, to have one’s own kingdom.” Relevant questions to him–which he himself sees–are “Is your dignity really more important than...
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“Staking All on Faith’s Object: the Art of Christian Assurance according to Martin Luther and Karl Barth”

Olmsted quotes an extraordinary exchange between Emil Brunner and Karl Barth, which opened their correspondence of many years. It shows that giants of theology may struggle with their faith just like non-giants: “Brunner’s first letter to Barth was written in July of 1916, and was in part a response to a sermon Barth had preached...
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Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). The old monks aren’t scandalized by your doubts. They think of doubt as the seed of faith, “a sign that faith is alive and ready to grow.” Do you have any inclination to worship? That’s a sign of faith. A key to gaining faith: repetition. Say the...
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Our Knowledge of God

Is there a clear, sharp line that divides believer and unbeliever? Black and white difference? Or righter and wronger shades of gray? Jesus did divide sheep from goats, but it was also really characteristic of him to “recognize the germ of saving faith in men and women who were as far as possible below the...
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Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

People think a mystic is someone ‘whose head is in the clouds and who can’t get places on time.’ Not necessarily. This is a person who experiences the presence of God–and sometimes through others, often through others. ‘A first-time mother or father, for example, engaged in giving their baby a bath, will suddenly realize that...
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Roger’s Version

Conversation between Roger (divinity prof, doubter) and Dale (science student, believer). Dale: “The Devil is doubt. He’s what makes us reject the gifts God gives us, makes us spurn the life we’ve been given. Did you know, suicide is the second cause of death among teenagers, second only to automobile accidents, which are often a...
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The Scarlet Ruse

“It made me remember the time I went to the performance of a Spanish dance troupe, hoping there was a ticket left at the box office. There was, way way down front. It was so close I could smell the dust they banged up out of the stage. I could see soiled places on the...
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Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

Norris struggles with the very idea of a creed and appears to find the very idea somehow off-putting. A creed is a barrier. It’s a standard of orthodoxy, and that’s a red flag. She would rather they were pieces of story-telling, accounts of the life of Jesus, etc., or of “My father was a wandering...
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Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet

Fosdick said there are “three sorts of folk. There are the utter disbelievers. They will have none of religion. It is to them superstition and credulity, and God is as much a myth as the devils of an African witch doctor. But there are not many such. There are the great believers, who have grown...
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Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration

Cousins talks at length of the placebo effect and its importance (especially for control in testing of new drugs). Self-confidence seems somehow to be “picked up by the body’s immunologic mechanisms and translated into anti-morbid effects.” Sometimes all a patient needs is a placebo prescription—”a little slip of paper with indecipherable but magic markings. To...
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Additional content related to Faith

Lamentations 1:1-6

Cheery this lection is not.  The New Testament sermon starter based on Luke 17 for this week is a bit of a challenging passage and so some preachers might be tempted to swap out this week’s Old Testament reading for the Gospel one but if so, then turning to this downbeat passage might make one…

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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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Jeremiah 32:1-3, 6-15

A real estate deal seldom had it so good.  All through the Bible you can find a recurrent theme related to real estate, to land, to who owns what.  It all began with a promise of land to Abram (who for some reason had to leave behind the land he already owned to set out…

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Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

We sometimes assume that we can recognize an alien when we see him (he’s green and has antennae) or at least see her citizenship papers (they say citizen of Canada, or Mexico, the United States, or some other country of origin). Yet when Hebrews’ author speaks of people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and others…

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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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Romans 5:1-5

A quick glance at the church year’s calendar may make gospel proclaimers’ pulses race. Trinity Sunday has, after all, come again. It may make proclaimers’ palms sweat not just because, as the New Testament scholar Beverly Gaventa to whose commentary I owe a great deal for this commentary, notes, “reference to the Trinity is itself…

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John 21:1-19

Perhaps like you, most of the times that I have preached this text I have honed in on Peter being re-rooted in Christ and commissioned for what will come in his life and ministry. So, this year I’m focusing on what happens to the group of disciples, Peter included. It helps that our text today…

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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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Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Genesis 15 is full of curiosities and oddments.  But right in the middle of this chapter is a verse that went on to exercise an enormous influence on the New Testament. “Abram believed Yahweh and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  In Romans and Galatians this one verse became a linch-pin in Paul’s argument…

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Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

It is an unhappy fact that with very little effort, we could update the language of Psalm 91 to fit our present age (and although the RCL only takes the first and last few verses, this Sermon Commentary will encompass the whole psalm).  Talk of a “fowler’s snare” sounds suspiciously like the kind of traps…

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Romans 10:8b-13

Comments, Observations, and Questions Some Christians at least imply that grace is what we might call a “Yesbut” phenomenon. “Yes,” they say, “We’re saved by grace alone through faith. But people also need to oppose gay marriage or voting restrictions in order to be truly saved.” Or “Yes, people who confess that Jesus is Lord…

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2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Some biblical texts hit so close to home that their proclaimers find them hard to proclaim. 2 Corinthians 3 and 4 is one of those texts. I can’t read this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson without seeing in my mind’s eye dear people like Bill and Carl, as well as Sharon, Ashley*, and countless others. I, honestly,…

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Psalm 99

All these millennia later it is easy to read the Psalms, especially one like Psalm 99, and forget how at once scandalous and vaguely ridiculous they might appear to be.  Or at least how they could appear to an outsider to Israel who was looking in.  After all, in poems like this one, the psalmist…

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Luke 2:41-52

We are still in the Christmas season on this Sunday, and for many of us, this is a low-key Sunday, a “coming down” from all of the hype that has been the season. There’s a bit of that feeling in the story as well. Year after year (a more literal translation of the opening of…

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Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

Though the power of Mary’s song always draws my heart’s cry for justice and hope, this year I’m particularly drawn to what we learn about the way of God in the support that Elizabeth offers to Mary. After Mary gives her big “YES” to God’s plan for the salvation of the world, past, present and…

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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

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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Hebrews 4:12-16

Even adults are, in some ways, masters of hiding. We generally no longer hide in closets or behind furniture as we did when we played “Hide and Seek” as children. Yet we still manage to keep a lot of things hidden from each other – and, sometimes, even ourselves. So those who proclaim Hebrews 4…

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Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

There is not much Esther in the Revised Common Lectionary, and few pastors have ever complained or requested more.  The Lectionary likewise does little with Song of Songs or Jude, and if you follow only the Lectionary, you would be unlikely to generate a long series of sermons on Nahum or Revelation, either. And it’s…

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Psalm 116:1-9

For many of us, we cannot read the opening verses of Psalm 116 without thinking of the lovely song based on it that has become popular in recent years.  What the song gets right is the lyric words of the first two verses because the psalmist swiftly moves from the grateful observation that God heard…

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1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49

As we continue to trace the development of the monarchy in Israel and use that history to reflect on the relationship between human leadership and divine sovereignty in our own lives, we come to this famous story of David and Goliath.  It is the second chapter in the story of David’s rise to power in…

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2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17

The end of Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson has taken on perhaps extra poignancy over the past fifteen months or so. That’s partly because, at least in the United States, the global pandemic, political partisanship and struggles for racial justice have added new chapters to the story of what its verse 16 calls “a worldly point of…

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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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Philippians 3:4b-14

“Are you becoming perfect?” is the perhaps strange way Carole Noren, to whom I owe many ideas for this Commentary, begins a sermon on Philippians 3.  It is, however, also an appropriate question, in light of the amount of attention the New Testament pays to the issue of perfection. While Christians may sense that the…

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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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Romans 4:1-5,13-17

When I was a teenager, we liked to sing a song that also had motions.  With arms and legs flailing, we’d sing something like: “Father Abraham/ Had many sons;/ Many sons had Father Abraham;/ And I am one of them,/ And so are you,/ So let’s all praise the Lord.” Now once you got past…

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1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Our text marks what may feel like a rather abrupt change in tone.  After all, in the Epistolary Lesson the RCL appoints for this week, Paul portrays the Corinthian Christians quite differently than he did at the beginning of his first letter to them. In chapter 1:4-9 the apostle refers to them as graced by…

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1 Corinthians 1:18-31

In a fine sermon commentary on this text (from which I drew numerous ideas for this commentary), Scott Hoezee suggests that there’s a danger in spending as much time in church and around Christians as some preachers and teachers do.  It’s that this whole Christianity business all starts to make too much sense to us….

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Romans 1:1-7

God saves God’s adopted children by grace alone that we can only receive with our faith in Jesus Christ.  However, God always calls those whom God loves to express that faith with our obedience. Someone once said, “Make a good beginning and you’re half the way to winning.”  Certainly, then, Paul seems halfway to winning…

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Isaiah 7:10-16

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, just 3 days away from Christmas, our reading from Isaiah 7 doesn’t seem very Christmasy.  Oh, it does if we focus only on verse 14 and the way our Gospel reading for today interprets it (Matthew 1:18-25). But if we read our text in its context, there’s no hint…

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James 5:7-10

This is a season of the year that we don’t generally link to patience.  Children are chomping at the bit to open their presents.  Some of us are impatient for holiday visits from family members and friends who live at a distance from us.  A few of us may even feel impatient to be done…

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Matthew 11:2-11

“The War on Christmas.”  We have heard about this a lot in recent years.  Some while back people assailed Starbucks for removing the word “Christmas” from their holiday coffee cups.  Some were upset some years ago that the White House wished a blanket “Happy Holidays” instead of specifically mentioning Christmas.  And some while back the…

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Isaiah 2:1-5

What a text for this first Sunday in Advent! What a text for this moment in history!  This promise of universal peace arouses hope in our war torn world.  Or it sounds like an impossible dream.  As I write this, President Trump has just removed all US troops from northern Syria and Turkish forces have…

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Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

This passage is part of an extended dialogue between the prophet Habakkuk and his God, whose ways with God’s own people are a mystery to the prophet.  In the first 4 verses, the prophet passionately voices his complaint to God.  In 1:5-11, God answers that complaint with a truth that Habakkuk finds unbelievable.  So in…

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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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Galatians 3:23-29

Too many white Americans including Christians have made a mess of race relations by endorsing the horrors of things like Native American displacement, slavery, Japanese-American internment camps and even real estate redlining.  In fact, whether it’s in connection with the abomination that is racial profiling or the controversy that surrounds affirmative action, we still manage…

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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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Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

How can we understand Christ’s promise to come “soon” that he makes not once but twice in just this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s seven verses?  After all, few of our definitions of “soon” would include the two thousand years that have elapsed since he made first it. In Revelation 22 John’s dazzling visions of that coming…

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Acts 9:36-43

Reading Dr. Luke’s account of the growth of the early church is a bit like watching a frog hop from lily pad to lily pad—from Jerusalem to the Gaza Strip to Samaria to Damascus to Joppa, from Peter and John to Philip to Stephen to Paul and now back to Peter.  OK, maybe the image…

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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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Psalm 31:9-16

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 is among us. Certainly…

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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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Psalm 126

For a Lenten selection, this psalm is pretty sunny-side up and cheerful.  Maybe as Lent is coming to a close, we are supposed to see in this poem the promise of restoration beyond the cross toward which we are journeying this season.  This is, after all, one of the “Songs of Ascent” in the Book…

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Isaiah 55:1-9

An old farmer once told me that there are two ways to break an egg—you can smash it with a hammer in a second or you can put it under a warm mother hen for a few days.  An old preacher once told me that there two ways to call a sinner to repentance and…

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Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

This is one of the great seminal passages of Scripture, on a par with Genesis 1, Psalm 23, and John 3:16 in importance for both Jews and Christians.  But what a mixture it is, filled with peculiar ancient inheritance customs (adopting a slave to become your heir), divine promises that still shape international politics today…

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Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

It is an unhappy fact that with very little effort, we could update the language of Psalm 91 to fit our present age (and although the RCL only takes the first and last few verses, this Sermon Commentary will encompass the whole psalm).  Talk of a “fowler’s snare” sounds suspiciously like the kind of traps…

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Romans 10:8b-13

This may seem like a rather peculiar text to proclaim at the beginning of the season of Lent.  After all, we generally think of Lent as a season of repentant preparation for our celebration of the two most important events of the Christian year, Good Friday and Easter. Romans 10, however, may seem like a…

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Luke 4:14-21

Suspense!  If you stop at verse 21 as the Lectionary would have you to do and hold off on what happens in verses 22 and following next week, then a sermon on this text ends in some suspense as we wait to see how the people will react to what Jesus has just said and…

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1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

This first Sunday in the season of Advent liturgically marks the beginning of a season of waiting.  Not just of waiting to celebrate Jesus’ first coming.  Advent is also the season in which God’s adopted sons and daughters at least try to concentrate on waiting for Jesus’ second coming. We’ve had 2,000 years of practice…

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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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Hebrews 4:12-16

At least some Christians generally think of corporate worship as relatively sedate.  I suspect that the worship services of most of us who write and read these sermon commentaries leave worshipers feeling pretty safe. However, the author Annie Dillard, in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk, writes about the dangers of meeting God in…

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Psalm 99

Psalm 99 is the last of the Enthronement Psalms that proclaim that Yahweh reigns not only over little Israel, but also over the entire world.  It is a particularly exquisite declaration of Yahweh’s reign because of its symbolic use of numbers, notably the numbers seven and three.  The former is the number of perfection throughout…

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Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

It’s fairly easy to trust God to keep God’s promises when things are going well. But when things don’t go well, even Jesus’ most faithful followers sometimes wonder how God will ever keep God’s promises. It’s at those difficult times that trust is a particularly precious gift. The Abram whom God told to leave his…

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Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Psalm 91 has what Karl Jacobson calls a “checkered” history. On the one hand, it has been a source of inspiration and comfort to millions of Christians. The great theologian Athanasius said to Marcellinus, “If you desire to stablish yourself and others in devotion, to know what confidence is to be reposed in God, and…

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Romans 10:8b-13

Romans 9-11 can make for tough reading. Paul is clearly tortured here where the question of the future of the Jewish people is concerned. In these three chapters it is almost as though Paul is thinking out loud, trying to write his way to a solution to a vexing theological question: now that God’s covenant…

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Psalm 99

On this Transfiguration Sunday, Psalm 99 provides us with a tantalizingly different way to preach on that brilliant Epiphany of Christ’s glory on the mountain. In our Transfiguration Day sermon we could do what the disciples wanted to do in Luke 9; we could build shelters/booths/museums to preserve the moment. We could keep retelling the…

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2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Setting aside Donald Trump’s recent exigetically disastrous and self-serving use of a verse in this week’s Epistle lection, most of us who preach would admit that this is not an easy text to get right. Paul’s second letter to Corinth contains wonderful pockets of now well-known words and images. But weaving in and around those…

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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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Hebrews 4:12-16

Comments and Observations As I reflected on this text, my mind went to Harriet, a member of one of my churches who, like the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, was slip-sliding away from the church.  No, Harriet wasn’t drifting back to her native Judaism, as they were.  A baby boomer of my vintage,…

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