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

Ephesians 2:1-10

Perhaps few texts, particularly among the New Testament’s epistles, are more familiar or frequently preached than this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s. As a result, preachers may wonder what the Spirit would have them “do” with Ephesians 2:1-10. In our questioning we may even hunt for a novel approach to this gospel proclamation. Such a “safari” may,…

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Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Psalm 107:2 invites people to tell their stories.  Ironically no sooner does that begin to happen in this poem and the Lectionary has us stop reading to jump over a lot of the stories that get told!  Truth is, Psalm 107 is semi-repetitive but it is structured that way to make a point about the…

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Luke 1:26-38

The last Sunday of Advent finally brings us to the Incarnate one himself. Well, sort of. Because this is also a calling story for Mary, the servant of God. Mary is a compelling character in the Scripture narrative. Her calling is like that of the prophets before her: a messenger from the Lord comes to…

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Luke 1:46b-55

The Year B Lectionary makes Mary’s song, “The Magnificat,” an alternative Psalm lection for both the Third and Fourth Sundays in Advent.   For Advent 4B the main Psalm lection is from Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26.  This commentary will be on Luke 1 and Mary’s song but if you want to read a prior Advent sermon commentary…

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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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Psalm 90:1-8 (9-11), 12

Psalm 90 is pegged in the superscription to be a psalm of Moses and though Moses’ having written this whole poem may be unlikely, there can be little doubt why this psalm has long been associated with Moses.  Like Moses himself and the people he led for 40+ years, this psalm is a little bit…

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Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus’s questions, on the lips of the vineyard owner, hit like bricks: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” That second question’s literal translation is, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” Though the “evil eye” image is unfamiliar…

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Psalm 103: (1-7), 8-13

In past sermon commentaries here on the CEP website I have relayed the anecdote involving the author John Donne.  A friend of mine who taught English once lent an acquaintance a book of collected writings by John Donne.  When the person returned the book, my friend asked him what he thought of Donne’s work.  “He’s…

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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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Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

The RCL had us in the heart of Psalm 145 a scant month ago for its July 9, 2023, psalm lection.  Why we are looping back to some of these same verses so soon is not clear.  In any event, I refer you to that sermon commentary and will not here repeat everything I said…

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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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Genesis 28:10-19a

It’s a shame the RCL cuts off this story in Genesis 28 before getting to the final 3 verses.  Perhaps it would be a stretch to say those verses are the kicker but for certain they tell us a great deal about this rascal Jacob who is the focus of this middle part of Genesis. …

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Genesis 25:19-34

Since the fulfilling of God’s covenant with Abraham hinged hugely on Abraham’s having descendants, you would think that in the childbearing department things would have gone more easily.  And yet in story after story we deal with some level of infertility that becomes a deep source of concern and that God eventually is said to…

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Psalm 145:8-14

The Lectionary carves out for us the middle third of this psalm and so although there are multiple (albeit overall related) themes in this poem, we will focus on verse 8 and how it sets the tone for the verses before us.  “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” …

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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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Psalm 100

It will never happen of course but sometimes one could wish that for certain absolutely key vocabulary words in Hebrew or Greek, all Bible translations in English (or in any language) could agree on one translation of that word that would get used consistently every time it occurs.  That way readers of the translation would…

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Romans 5:1-8

In the space of just two verses (2b, 3a) Paul twice says that Christians “rejoice” (kauchometha). Few Christians are likely surprised by the first cause of our rejoicing that the apostle identifies in this text. Many of Jesus’ friends, however, may be startled by our rejoicing’s second cause. So those who proclaim not just this…

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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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2 Corinthians 13:11-13

The Revised Common Lectionary invites those who follow it to observe the first Sunday after Pentecost as Trinity Sunday. So we’re not surprised that the RCL chooses part of 2 Corinthians 13 as its Epistolary Lesson. Paul’s second letter to Corinth’s Christians ends, after all, with what we sometimes call a “Trinitarian Formula.” However, there…

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Acts 2:14a, 22-32

“And for all who are far off . . .” I guess that’s us. I guess that’s everybody. It was even, at least for a time, Peter and company.  After all, the crucifixion accounts make it clear that the disciples watched Jesus die from a distance.  It’s the same word as in Acts 2: makran,…

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Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

Across these past few highly unsettled and unsettling years around the world, Psalm 116 has provided thoughts that are at once inspirational and aspirational.  It is inspirational in its witness to God’s faithfulness in hearing our cries of distress from places of disorientation and even death.  It is aspirational in that—as in all times of…

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Acts 10:34-43

“He was not seen by all the people.” I’ll say. This is what Peter tells Cornelius in Acts 10 as he sums up the story arc of Jesus’ life, including the world-altering fact of his having been raised from the dead.   Jesus was raised again!  He arose!!   But . . . by way of a…

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Isaiah 50:4-9a

Although one would think the Old Testament offers up lots of compelling possible Lectionary texts for Palm/Passion Sunday, the RCL likes Isaiah 50 for this particular day and so assigns it in Years A, B, and C.  It is definitely a text that tilts away from all things “Triumphal Entry” and more definitively in the…

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1 Samuel 16:1-13

“Then the Lord regretted he had made Saul king.”  That’s the last line in 1 Samuel 15.  Apparently, however, God got over his regret sooner than did Samuel.  Because as chapter 16 opens, Samuel appears to still be moping around in grief whereas God comes to him and says, “Chin up!  Let’s get past this…

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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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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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1 Timothy 1:12-17

21st century culture is not, by and large, a patient one. It easily becomes impatient with the slowness of its electronic devices. Its citizens avoid friends who take too long to warm up, and politicians who take too long to enact legislation. It’s not just the 21st century’s oatmeal that we want to be “instant.”…

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Hosea 11:1-11

When trying to teach seminary students some techniques for effective Bible reading, Hosea 11 is a chapter I often assign.  I ask students to ponder the text and to then make a recording for me of what they would deem to be an effective interpretive reading.  I am often floored by how bloodless some such…

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Psalm 138

Psalm 138 has features shared by many psalms of praise.  There are vows to praise God.  There are references to the poet’s motivations for praising God.  There is the ardent hope that eventually all the earth and all the kings and peoples of the earth will learn to praise Israel’s God as well.  Like most…

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

Relatively few avid readers that I know enjoy surprise endings, especially to books they’ve come to savor. After all, life seems to end all too often in tragedy. Perhaps partly as a result, most readers prefer our literature to end at least hopefully, if not happily. Sometimes, however, books end not surprisingly or hopefully, but…

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Acts 16:16-34

It was certainly an interesting day! In this story we get a little occult, an exorcism, some political intrigue, an earthquake, and in the end the exuberant joy of the gospel! Your average Lord’s day it was not. As Luke narrates it for us in Acts 16, Paul and Silas’ experiences in the city of…

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Acts 11:1-18

Luke is hands-down one of the best writers ever used by the Holy Spirit to compose a portion of Scripture.  His narratives in the first two chapters of his Gospel alone prove as much.  Other examples of narrative wizardry abound in Luke and Acts.  So it is a bit odd in Acts 11 to encounter…

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Acts 9:1-6 (7-20)

Acts 9 is one of those stories that has proven to have a pretty wide reach.  Mention the phrases “Damascus road experience” or “scales falling from your eyes” to most anyone—even to people who are not regular churchgoers—and they’ll know what you mean for the most part.  And to the minds of some of those…

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Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Comments, Observations, and Questions Call it the little Psalm that could.  Call it the Psalm of stealth and surprise.  Call it the Psalm that fits the Gospel bill. Why?  Because out of all the 150 psalms in the Hebrew Psalter, many people have their favorites but those favorites—most anybody’s “Top 10 Greatest Hits of the…

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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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Isaiah 50:4-9a

Years ago when my son was in the 8th Grade, his Christian school teacher was preparing the students to watch the whipping scene from the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ, which at the time had come out quite recently.  Long before they got to viewing the actual video clip—in fact, they never…

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Philippians 3:4b-13

Good gospel preaching, like faithful Christian living, always leans forward rather than backwards. While some Christians long for “the good old days,” this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson expresses the Apostle Paul’s longing for the good coming days. Of course, Philippians 3 says quite a bit about that on what Paul can look back. But the apostle…

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1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Comments, Observations, and Questions Gospel proclaimers who don’t have a strong working knowledge of the Scriptures’ original languages benefit from access to a good Greek and Hebrew-English Interlinear Bible. After all, English translations of the Scriptures sometimes obscure important points that the Holy Spirit makes through their original languages. This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson provides (at…

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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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1 Corinthians 15:1-11

I am a child of the North American 60’s who grew up watching some Saturday morning cartoons. So I can hardly hear 1 Corinthians 15:10a without hearing Popeye’s, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam. I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.” That might seem like a rather strange onramp to a consideration…

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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 15

Well, I guess you had best count me out.  At least in terms of dwelling in God’s “sacred tent.”  Because if the list of entry requirements in Psalm 15 are accurate, rare would be the day I could check every box.  I might be able to check certain boxes on certain days and different ones…

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2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

I have this theory that although the actors who win the Academy Award earn the award for the entirety of their performances in the movies in question, there is often (maybe always) one key moment in those films that really cinches things.  So in Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks is impressive throughout but it’s that moment…

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John 6:24-35

We’re in week two of our long stretch in John 6 as Jesus introduces himself as the bread of life. This week’s Scripture passage begins in an odd spot. The lectionary skips a couple of verses that talk about how some people noticed that Jesus didn’t travel with the disciples and picks up the story…

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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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Psalm 123

If the entirety of this short psalm were embedded inside a larger psalm, then at least verse 2 is the kind of verse I would expect the Lectionary to leapfrog over.  As I have noted often in these sermon commentaries here on the Center for Excellence in Preaching, the Lectionary likes to skip over words…

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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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Mark 5:21-43

Jesus was someone people wanted to touch and be touched by.  But in the case of Jesus, such touches were about far more than the people’s desire to make contact with somebody famous.  Jesus’ touch was said to have healing powers.  As we can see in this story, some had concluded that Jesus was a…

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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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1 John 3:1-7

It keeps coming up like a bad burp.  So much of 1 John is lyric.  Few passages talk better about the meaning of love than ones you can find in John’s first epistle.  The opening verses of this third chapter likewise are simply gorgeous, waxing eloquent on the love lavished on us by God our…

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Hebrews 5:5-10

This week’s Epistolary Lesson assumes that for a relationship to exist between God and God’s people, as well as among groups and between individuals, things must be repaired and restored. However, Hebrews 5 insists that the only way that can happen is if God does it. We’re sometimes angered to hear our various leaders reveal…

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