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

Romans 4:13-25

It sometimes feels as if alienation, hostility and division flourish nearly everywhere we look. Hostilities that have turned violent between Ukrainians and Russians, as well as Israelis and Palestinians. Alienation between American Democrats and Republicans, as well as advocates for traditional and non-traditional understandings of human sexuality. Churches and denominations dividing over race relations, climate…

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Mark 8:31-38

Though it is not included in the lectionary selection, it is worth looking at the verses prior to our text. Seeing Peter go from acknowledging the truth about Jesus, the Christ, to doing what he does here, well, it’s quite the lenten journey. Clearly, Peter does and doesn’t get it. His mental model of what…

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Psalm 62:5-12

As usual when we encounter this phenomenon in the Revised Common Lectionary, it is unclear why this lection sheers off the first 4 verses.  Certainly one can preach on Psalm 62 starting with verse 5 and the psalm is not particularly diminished.  But why not let a sermon on this encompass the whole thing? In…

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1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

In the northern hemisphere the days are becoming noticeably shorter. If the Lord tarries, where I live, for example, there will be nearly 13 minutes less daylight on this coming Sunday than there were just last Sunday. That contributes to the sense that this is a dark time of the year. That darkness, however, helps…

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Psalm 43

Most scholars seem pretty certain that Psalms 42 and 43 were either originally just one psalm or that they are such tight companion psalms that you are not really supposed to read either of them in isolation from the other.   But here we are being asked to look at only Psalm 43.  A glance back…

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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 15:(10-20), 21-28

By going to the region of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus enters a borderland—where the people of Israel give way to a more Canaanite population. Considering closely what the woman says throughout this pericope, it’s clear that she knows some things about Judaism, and she’s come to believe some things about Jesus. This borderland, this place…

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Romans 10:5-15

Few passages of Scripture hit me harder and closer to home than this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson. In fact, its verses 14-15a leave me figuratively squirming as I try to open myself to the Spirit’s prompting toward writing something meaningful about them. Eugene Peterson’s The Message’s paraphrases verse 13 as Paul’s profession that “Everyone who calls,…

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Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus’s literal declaration, “I am” (translated as “it is I”) is the very center of this story. Literally: in his commentary on the miracles of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, Birger Gerhardsson counted the Greek words and noted that these two, egō eimi, are the exact middle of this story. Because Jesus is the…

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Romans 9:1-5

It’s sometimes easy to forget that the Spirit did not inspire the Scriptures’ authors like Paul to insert periods, commas, semi-colons, paragraph breaks or chapter headings into what they wrote. Biblical punctuation is the product of the work of editors, not the Holy Spirit. Just before this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson opens, the apostle makes a…

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Genesis 32:22-31

If you are searching Hebrew Scripture for parenting advice, healthy examples of marital bliss … well, you probably shouldn’t. The Bible is not a book about functional families. The Bible, chock full of dysfunctional people, is always the story of a functional God. Jacob’s whole life has been clouded by competition with the twin brother…

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Psalm 119:129-136

A Bible reader could plunk down most anywhere in the Bible’s longest psalm and read pretty much the same kind of thing.  For this week the Lectionary has chosen the 17th of Psalm 119’s 22 sections.  Maybe as a nod toward the sheer length of this ode to God’s Law, each section corresponds to a…

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Psalm 86:11-17

In one of her novels Anne Tyler shows a woman named Maggie attending a funeral.  In the course of the service the pastor reads a psalm, and Maggie found it to be a lovely poem full of warmth and hope.  This was a relief to her since ordinarily she thought of the psalms as often…

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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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Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)

Recently I made a multi-course gourmet dinner for my parents on the occasion of their 64th wedding anniversary.  The first step was figuring out a menu and then making a plan to secure the ingredients.  I ordered some venison online and picked up other ingredients in at least three other stores for this and that. …

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Acts 2:1-21

It was an annual holiday and so people knew what to expect.  That’s how it goes with regularly occurring events.  Yes, there can be minor variations but when it’s Christmastime, we all have our typical ways of celebrating the occasion and the same goes for Easter or Thanksgiving or even the Fourth of July.  We…

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John 14:15-21

Separating this part of Jesus’s conversation with the disciples from last week’s helps us focus on the bonded (in the sense of stuck to/with) nature of God-with-us, no matter which particular person of the Trinity it is who is with us. The ties that bind us, of course, is the love of God. If we…

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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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John 14:1-14

Comments, Questions, and Observations “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” These words can apply to so many different situations, but in this particular text, they immediately follow Jesus’s prophetic promise that he is about to be betrayed by one them, will be leaving them, and will be denied by one of the most loyal…

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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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1 Peter 1:3-9

Suffering may seem like a theme that’s incongruous with the season of Easter. Last Sunday, after all, all but the Orthodox part of Christ’s Church celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Some Christians are, what’s more, leery about talking about Jesus and Christians’ suffering at any time of the year. In the Easter season, some…

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John 20:19-31

What does it take to believe? Just that morning, Mary herself had told them that Jesus was resurrected, and the beloved disciple, having seen the folded-up graveclothes, believed something (though we aren’t sure what). Now, many of them are huddled together in fear, locked away from those who they believe want to do them harm….

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Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Few things seem more deeply lodged within the human heart than the longing to belong to something bigger than ourselves. Few people articulated that longing more poignantly than the Irish poet John O’Donohue. In his book Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong (Harper Perennial, 2000) he wrote, “The hunger to belong is…

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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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Psalm 27:1, 4-9

C.S. Lewis said somewhere that when you add it all up and consider it all together, in the end we would find that our prayer life is also our autobiography. Who we are, where we’ve been, the situations we’ve faced, the fears that nag us, and not a few of the core characteristics of who…

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Matthew 11:2-11

Comments, Questions and Observations We are a far cry from last week’s gospel lectionary text. Then, John was fire and brimstone, calling out the people of God, baptizing and supporting people’s repentance work. Now, months later in the gospel timeline, John is in a prison-cave cell at Herod Antipas’ Machaerus fortress—itself in the wilderness land…

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

As most every Bible commentary would tell you, the way Paul uses Habakkuk 2:4b (“the righteous will live by faith”) in Romans and Galatians may be a bit different from how the text “sounds” and seems to function in the original context of Habakkuk 2.  Habakkuk has spent most of his prophecy up to this…

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Luke 18:1-8

The “unjust judge” is the key comparison in this parable: it is the judge from whom we are meant learn something about God. This is made clear by the fact that this is a parable of comparison. If this judge, who is at the other end of the spectrum of what we know God’s character…

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2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Our lectionary reading for this 22nd Sunday of The Growing Season (more commonly known as Ordinary Time) reminds us of one of the deepest darkest secrets of spiritual growth.  As we’ve followed the readings for Year C, we’ve been reminded of the importance of getting the basic gospel straight (Galatians), of staying Christ centered (Colossians),…

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Luke 17:11-19

From standing at a distance asking for mercy to coming right up to his feet and lying prostrate with praise, our healed leper goes on quite the journey. The other lepers who are healed do too, of course, but they take a different direction upon the revelation that they are healed. I don’t want to…

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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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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 32:1-3a, 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 11:29-12:2

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17

When I hear James tell his brothers and sisters in Christ in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson not to “show favoritism” (1), I’m tempted to respond, “That’s easier said than done.” Favoritism isn’t, after all, both common and dangerous. It’s also terribly difficult to eradicate. Favoritism is an at least perceived fact of daily life. Almost…

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John 6:56-69

We are now at the end of our long jaunt through John 6. Rather climactically, the final question of why we find it difficult to simply believe culminates with Jesus asking a very non-hypothetical question of his own, forcing us to consider ourselves in the process. Can we accept God’s work and ways? There are…

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John 6:35, 41-51

The lectionary started us in John 6 a with the feeding of 5,000+ miracle, then Jesus began to share about his relationship with the world as the bread of life. As the bread of life, Jesus offers to spiritually nourish all who come to him for eternity; a seat at the never-ending table simply requires…

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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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Acts 10:44-48

We are swiftly coming to the end of the Lectionary’s celebration of the mighty acts of God in Christ.  Ordinary Time is nearly upon us.  But first we commemorate Christ’s Ascension next Sunday and Pentecost the Sunday after that.  Today our focus is on what many scholars call “The Gentile Pentecost.” Our text is one…

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