Preaching Connection: Grace

Movies for Preaching

Awakenings (1990)

Awakenings (1990).  Written by Oliver Sacks (book) and Steven Zaillian (screenplay). Directed by Penny Marshall.  Starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.  Rating: PG-13. 121 minutes.  Rotten Tomatoes: 88%; Metacritic 74%. So there is Leonard L. (Robert De Niro), virtually a lifelong victim of a baffling disease, later understood as a form of Parkinsonianism, apparently…

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Reading for Preaching

The Seven Perennial Sins and Their Offspring

Quoting “The Capital of the World” By Ernest Hemingway: Hemingway “mentions a joke circulating in Madrid.  It seems that a remorseful father placed a personal ad in the newspaper El Liberal, which read: ‘PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY ALL IS FORGIVEN PAPA’”  What the father had forgotten is that Paco (short for...
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The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God

Willard advocates for people who need the grace of Christ in some obvious way: “The flunk-outs and drop-outs and burned-outs.  The broke and the broken.  The drug heads and the divorced.  The HIV-positive and the herpes-ridden.  The brain-damaged, the incurably ill.  The barren and the pregnant too many times or at the wrong time.  The...
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A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

Norman’s father, a Presbyterian minister, “was not a great fly caster, but he was accurate and stylish and wore a glove on his casting hand.  As he buttoned his glove in preparation to giving us a lesson, he would say, ‘It is an art that is performed on a four-count rhythm between ten and two...
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The Cost of Discipleship

“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the church’s inexhaustible treasure, from which showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost!...
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Philemon’s Problem: The Daily Dilemma of the Christian

“Jesus was curiously unpreoccupied about the future of those who believed through him. His attention went rather to those who were deprived: to the running sores of the leper; to the milky, sightless eye; to the dragging, withered leg; to the slack-mouthed village idiot; to the shrunken belly; even to the dead man in the...
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Between Noon and Three: A Parable of Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace

In Jesus’ story of the prodigal son, “the fatted calf is the supreme sacrament. Grace is in order to the celebration of life: ‘Let us eat and by merry, for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ Indeed, grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all...
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God’s Spy: Malcolm Muggeridge, 1903-1990

“Walks with Malcolm, and he loved to walk, around London, around the East Sussex countryside near his home, were always a feast of wit and laughter. I have never met a better, or a wiser, talker. His sense of the absurd was sharp, intense, and immediate, carried on a conversational wave of hilarious exuberance. Yet...
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“When Grace Arrives Unannounced”

“She went out for cigarettes. That’s my favorite detail of the story told by Ashley Smith. It was not a noble calling; it wasn’t even a noble errand. But the craving for nicotine at 2 o’clock in the morning apparently led Smith into the loaded gun of one Brian Nichols, a man who was wanted...
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Into that Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder

Franz Stangl, if you believe him and his wife, drifted into being commandant of Treblinka. He was assigned to this post by powerful Nazis whom he feared. Cowardice prevented him from abandoning his awful work. Nowhere to flee. He would be killed or, at least, imprisoned if he resisted the Nazi program. Finally his wife...
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“A Kinder, Gentler Calvinism”

Many Calvinists sees the non-salvific divine favor exhibited in 1) natural gifts like rain, 2) restraining of evil, 3) positive acts of civil righteousness. But surely there are others: marriage reconciliation between unbelievers, accompanied by repentance and healing. There are lots of ways in which non-salvific grace appears to work. Relational sensitivities on the job,...
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“You are Accepted,” in A Chorus of Witnesses

Tillich states eloquently the nature of grace, even though, as is often the case with him, he generalizes up from a Christian particularity to an existential generality. So, at the key point where we would expect to read the name of God, we get instead “that which is greater than you.” So Christian preachers will...
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Body and Soul

Claude Rawlings, a young composer, discovers every so often that a snippet of a melodic phrase would pop right into his head–seemingly from nowhere. He talks with his teacher Weisfeld, another secularist, about this phenomenon—“the sensation of being a receiver, of the stuff arriving as if by cosmic special delivery. It was both tremendously exciting...
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Additional content related to Grace

John 1:(1-9) 10-18

There is overwhelming emphasis in this passage on how things “from above” are received here on earth. In the advent season, we remembered that we are actively waiting to receive the gift of the Word in full, and that God is actively at work to bring about his Kingdom on earth. In John’s prologue, it’s…

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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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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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Psalm 19:7-14

Admittedly Psalm 19 all-but begs to get split into two parts.  That does not mean, however, that the Lectionary was correct to cave into doing just that.  Whoever wrote this poem saw unity in it even if the rest of us ever since have had to work a bit to connect the first 6 verses…

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James 5:13-20

Were “community” in the deepest sense of the word a commodity that’s traded on some kind of stock exchange, it would be soaring in value. That’s partly because of the law of supply and demand. Genuine community the word is in such short supply that the demand sometimes exceeds the supply. So many things isolated…

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Psalm 78:23-29

Suppose you heard a story that went something like this: And so that evening the father of these four children decided that he would respond to their hunger and their requests for something yummy to eat by going to Burger King.  When the father returned home, he had all their favorites: milkshakes, loads of crispy…

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Ephesians 4:1-16

E Pluribus Unum (“out of many, one”) is one of the United States’ oldest mottoes. It originally reflected the diverse American colonies and colonists’ desire to unite into one nation. However, Ephesians 4 implies that E Pluribus Unum might also be one of the Christian church’s mottoes. After all, it reminds its readers that a…

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2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord. Talk about dramatic understatement! The presence of the Lord had been absent throughout the whole chapter of 2 Samuel 11 until the very end.  But that’s only on the surface.  Most everything David did here was “while no one else was looking,” but we know…

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2 Samuel 11:1-15

A sermon on this text might be entitled, “The Dream Ends, The Nightmare Begins.”  This text is the Continental Divide of David’s life and of the history of the monarchy in Israel.  Up to this story, everything gets better and better for David, as he climbs (or, more accurately, is lifted by God’s grace) from…

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Ephesians 1:3-14

Christians know that God didn’t create us to “eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we die.” Yet that popular philosophy raises a number of interesting questions. It makes us wonder how God’s people should evaluate the purpose of our lives. How do we think about why God has put us here? Something in a…

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2 Corinthians 12:2-10

[God’s] power is made perfect in weakness might be one of the most appropriate and hopeful things the inspired Paul could say to his 2021 hearers. After all, in the past 18 months we’ve surely learned if not been reminded that we are weak. Among the countless reasons why the COVID-19 pandemic may have proven…

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2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

This is a little text, but it is the exclamation point of the whole David story.  He gets everything God promised him, and then some.  The boy whom we first met when he was shepherding his father’s flock becomes the King of Israel, the shepherd of God’s flock.  And he establishes Jerusalem as the capital…

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2 Corinthians 8:7-15

This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s proclaimers come, in a sense, with hands outstretched as we speak on giving. Yet if we’re going to do so, we’d better come up with some good reasons. So why should we preach or teach on what Paul calls “the grace of giving” (7b)? “What’s the matter?” some of our hearers…

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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:(1-9), 10-18

As we come to the first Sunday of 2021, most of us are only too glad to have left 2020 behind.  If on New Year’s Eve a year ago we toasted the happy arrival of a new year, this past week we probably did less of a toast to welcome 2021 and offered up instead…

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Romans 16:25-27

I suspect that were Romans 16’s proclaimers to ask our hearers which of the Bible’s books are the most “theological,” at least some of them would answer “Romans.” Its themes of human sinfulness, righteousness from God and the need for appropriate responses to God’s grace run throughout this letter. Romans is also Paul’s letter that…

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Luke 1:26-38

Biblical scholars call passages like Luke 1 “type scenes.”  A modern kind of “type scene” might be something like this: one evening while channel-surfing, you run across a movie already in progress.  It’s obviously a Western with two cowboys standing about thirty yards apart in the middle of a dusty street.  Each man is glaring…

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Ephesians 1:3-14

Christians know that God didn’t create us to “eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we die.”  Yet that popular philosophy raises a number of interesting questions.  It makes us wonder how God’s people should evaluate the purpose of our lives.  How do we think about why God has put us here? Something in a…

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John 1:(1-9), 10-18

The Lectionary may get the last laugh here, and savvy preachers can curl up the corners of their mouths to join the mirth.  Because here it is the first Sunday of a new year and really the first Sunday in the 2019-2020 holiday season after Christmas is officially finished.  For weeks now, starting well before…

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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 35:1-10

Advent in Year A of the Lectionary’s cycle of readings is a poetry lover’s delight.  From the images of mountains and military in Isaiah 2 to the plants and animals and a little child in Isaiah 11, we now come to the images of a trackless desert transformed into a verdant paradise with a superhighway…

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Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Jimmy Carter is now not only the oldest currently living former President of the United States but he has now lived to become the oldest former President ever.  Strikingly, he has also been a former President for nearly 39 years.  During those almost four decades of time, Carter’s reputation has soared but, of course, he…

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Jeremiah 23:1-6

All over the world the church celebrates the reign of Christ the King today.  For many of us, that is very good news because we live in places where there is huge controversy over the leadership of our countries.  Whether it’s Hong Kong where protestors clash with police over increasing communist control, or it’s Canada…

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Psalm 32:1-7

Most of his friends had been hanged.  But despite his central role in helping to construct Adolf Hitler’s Nazi nightmare, Albert Speer somehow managed to receive from the Nuremberg trials only a 20-year sentence at the Spandau Prison in Berlin.  Not long after arriving in Spandau, Speer met with the prison chaplain.  To the chaplain’s…

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2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

I think that a really helpful way to frame a sermon on the lectionary text for today, including if you choose to cover the verses that the lection skips over, is our covenant relationship with God. A covenant is an agreement between two parties where each makes promises about how they will be to and…

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Luke 18:9-14

“I am so glad that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me, Jesus loves ME!” “How vast the benefits divine which WE in Christ possess!” “Blessed assurance, Jesus is MINE!” We sing such sentiments in church all the time.  So before we get all squinty-eyed in regarding the Pharisee in Luke 18 as the quintessential spiritual…

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2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

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

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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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Isaiah 43:16-21

All four of the Lectionary readings for this Fifth Sunday of Lent share a “past and future” theme.  Psalm 126 talks about the restoration of Israel’s fortune in the past and calls on God to restore Israel’s fortunes in the future, so that those who “sow in tears can reap with shouts of joy.”  In…

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Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Go ahead, try to be creative.  Mess with this story if you must.  Others have.  Texts that are super-familiar to many people always tempt one to do something different.  “Goodness, people have heard this story SOOOO many times” we think. Thus when it comes to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, folks have tried to…

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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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Psalm 63:1-8

When a psalm is as relatively brief as Psalm 63 and yet you notice that the Lectionary would have you stop reading—and presumably stop preaching—three verses shy of the actual conclusion of the poem, one might be justified in wondering what’s up.  What is in those last few verses?  Why the full stop before this…

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1 Corinthians 10:1-14

It’s likely that nearly all of us have heard Christians say something like, “God never gives us more than we can handle.”  Because the people who say this generally have a lot to “handle,” I’m reluctant to confront them on it.  But I’m always tempted to ask them, “Where exactly does God make that promise?”…

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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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Luke 4:1-13

“He ate nothing during those days and at the end of them, he was hungry.”  Luke 4:2 I’ll say. This curious line in verse 2 is easy to glide past en route to the real drama to come once the devil shows up to woo Jesus to his side.  At best we see this as…

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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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John 1:(1-9), 10-18

The Lectionary may get the last laugh here, and savvy preachers can curl up the corners of their mouths to join the mirth. Because here it is the first Sunday of a new year with Christmas now officially past us by about a week-and-a-half. For weeks now, starting well before American Thanksgiving even, it’s been…

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