Preaching Connection: Life

Movies for Preaching

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).  Written and directed by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Frank Capra.  Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, and Henry Travers.  130 mins.  Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. It’s a film that supposedly everybody knows, and loves, hauled out each Christmas ad infintum in ever-so-boring bleached out copies.  It’s an…

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Decalogue 1 (1989)

Decalogue I (1989).  Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz.  Directed by Kryszstof Kieslowski.  Cinematography by Wieslaw Zdort.  Music by Zbigniew Preisner.  Starring Henryk Baranowski , Maja Komorowska, and Wojciech Klata.  Facets Edition.  Rating:  G, 56 mins.  Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. How to know God, if there is a God? This is the question that in…

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The Thin Red Line (1998) – 2

The Thin Red Line (1998).  Written and directed Terrence Malick.  Starring James Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, and Elias Koteas.  170 mins; rated R.  Metacritic: 78%; Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. The main character here is Witt (James Caviezel), a seasoned WWII foot soldier who finds himself on the island of Guadalcanal amid “clean up” operations after…

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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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A Man Called Ove (2015) – 1

Written and Directed by Hannes Holm (based on novel by Fredrik Bachman).  Starring Rolf Lassgård, Filip Berg, Bahar Paris, and Ida Engvoll. 116 minutes. Rated PG-13. Ove is an ornery, rather embittered old so-and-so, or so it seems.  Recently widowed, he lives alone in a small Swedish condo complex over which, as its one-time association…

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American Beauty (1999) – 1

Written by Alan Ball. Starring Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, and Chris Cooper. 122 mins. Rated R (graphic language and sexual situations). So mid-life Lester (Kevin Spacey) has got himself into a horrible, very bad fix. Though a husband and father, he has fallen, as through a trap-door, into a state of…

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Reading for Preaching

How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life

“Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it.  People can be so foolish and inconsistent.”
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“A Literary Education”

Citing Milan Kundera, Epstein reminds us that good literature always complicates.  “The novelist says to the reader: things are not as simple as you think. . . life is more surprising, bizarre, fascinating, complex, and rich than any shibboleth, concept, or theory used to explain it.”  In reading good writers we get “a strong taste...
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Mere Christianity

“Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is his) will not come as long as you are looking for it.  It will come when you are looking for him.  Does that sound strange?  The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters.  Even in social life...
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The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Unbelief

Marsden comments on the subtitle of his book.  “Persons concerned about the place of religion in American life might be particularly concerned that the largely voluntary and commendable disestablishment of religion [on campus] has led to the virtual establishment of nonbelief, or the near exclusion of religious perspectives from dominant academic life.  While American universities...
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Gilead

John Ames reflects on the advantage of providing pastoral care to people.  Each person is a unique divine thought.  Each is a deeply valuable life.  “When people come to me, whatever they say, I am struck by a kind of incandescence in them, the ‘I’ whose predicate can be ‘love’ or ‘fear’ or ‘want,’ and...
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The Mill on the Floss

“Ugly people have great need of unusual virtues, because they are likely to be extremely uncomfortable without them. But the theory that unusual virtues spring by a direct consequence out of personal disadvantages, as animals get thicker wool in severe climates, is perhaps a little overstrained. For there are temptations of hunger just as well...
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Alistair Cooke’s America

“In a motion picture of the 1930’s, the hero was a young American from the prairie arriving in England to take up a Rhodes scholarship. He settled for his first trip to Oxford into the smugness of an English ‘railway carriage’ and found himself sitting opposite an English parson buried in his newspaper. As the...
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Craddock on the Craft of Preaching

Craddock lived quite a while, and noticed seemingly everything interesting about human life. One thing he noticed is that, again and again, when the overlay of local customs has been peeled back human life takes certain familiar forms or patterns. [People who hear stories of certain happenings say, “That happened to my sister, too.” Or,...
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“Before He Became a Saint,” a review of David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln

October, 1995: there are 7,000 books about Lincoln. The authors of most of them “began by assuming that he was a Great Man, then dutifully worked their way back through his life in search of clues as to how he got that way.” Lincoln’s real life was a sequence of twists and turns that could...
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In the Beauty of the Lilies

”’Everything passes,’ his father said huskily. ‘This too shall pass away’ are words more comforting than any I ever found in the Bible. Abraham Lincoln said them, in a speech before the war between the states. He was referring to a story about an Eastern potentate who asked wise men for a sentence that would...
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Stranger in Two Worlds

“Russia is the other side of the world: its flowers must be different. But they aren’t, and in the weeks that followed, as I travelled over that broad country, I saw them all again and again, zinnias, petunias, begonias, calendulas, asters, and all the other familiar flowers that grew in my garden at home. When...
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How to Read a Book

“If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it? Good God, we would also be happy if we had no books, and such books as make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. But what we must have...
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The Song of the Lark

Thea Kromberg reflects on her little attic bedroom to which she had always escaped: ‘This would be her last summer in that room. Its services were over. Its time was done . . . She was not ready to leave her little shell . . . . She would never be able to think anywhere...
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Band of Brothers

“’There is no such thing as getting used to combat,’ the Army psychiatrists stated in an official report on Combat Exhaustion. Each moment of combat imposes a strain so great that men will break down in direct relation to the intensity and duration of their exposure . . .psychiatric casualties are as inevitable as gunshot...
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Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

The traffic sounds–horns and bells and rags of music–flowed around the voices in her room . . . . She remembered the feel of wind on summer nights–how it billows through the house and wafts the curtains and smells of tar and roses. How a sleeping baby weighs so heavily on your shoulder, like ripe...
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Acceptable Losses

“I was shy and she was meek . . . . she died, I think, of embarrassment, embarrassment at being alive and taking up space on the planet. There wasn’t a flicker of real life in her from the day she was born; she had the spirit of a slave.”
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The Liberty Campaign

The aging advertising executive Gene Trowbridge speaks: “There is a long period that precedes death, in which you are already not entirely of the world. Nothing makes sense to you anymore because it does not try or even think to relate itself to you in any way. It is as if the earth, without warning,...
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“What He Was Like” in All the Days and Night

“He himself got older. His wife got older. They advanced deeper into their seventies without any sense of large changes but only of one day’s following another, and of the days being full, and pleasant, and worth recording. So he went on doing it. They all got put down in his diary, along with his...
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What’s So Good About Getting Old

In the editor’s own essay (“Graying Gracefully: Preaching to Older Adults”) we find this: “You have aged when 40 or 50 sounds young; almost everything hurts, and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work either; you’re not more moral than you used to be, but you do choose your sins more wisely; at 90 peer pressure thins...
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The Undertaking: Live Studies from the Dismal Trade

We age with the grace (in Cummings’ careful metaphor) of polar bears on roller skates.
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Sighing for Eden: Sin, Evil, and the Christian Faith

Spring is depressing, especially you see “young lovers stroll among apple blossoms.” You feel yourself getting older. “You have more yesterdays on your account than tomorrows. . . . there are more doors closing behind you than opening in front of you . . . .” It was in just this frame of mind that...
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Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet

Fosdick, age 90: ‘I recall a friend of mine who, 104 years old, said: ‘When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is to get the newspaper and read the obituary notices. If I am not there, I have breakfast.’
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Dad

(book jacket): This is a book ‘that makes us know what it is to lose the generations on either side of us, one to adulthood and the other to death–even as it celebrates the universe of possibilities within each individual life.  p. 6: Old people’s home have the smell of corruption—”it’s the combination of smells...
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War and Remembrance

A character named Pug Henry reflects on aging: “A poignant sense engulfed him of the one-way flow of time, of the offhand decisions, the slight impulsive mistakes, that could swell and become a man’s fate.” Now expectations had to be reduced, desires blunted, hopes deferred, chances lost, defeats conceded.
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A Married Man

A character named Eustace Lough on Jung: “His theory is that a man, from when he’s born until the age of thirty-five or forty, is as it were on a voyage of exploration; he is discovering and conquering the world. Anything’s possible. But there comes a point in middle age when he reaches the horizon...
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The Life of Samuel Johnson

Johnson turned 28 on 9/7/1736, and recorded this prayer in his diary: “Mayest thou, O God, enable me for Jesus Christ’s sake, to spend this day in such a manner that I may receive comfort from it at the hour of death, and in the day of judgment. Amen.”
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Additional content related to Life

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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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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John 7:37-39

For Pentecost this year, our lectionary text places right smack dab in the middle of it all, in Jerusalem at the Festival of Booths (better known to some as Sukkot or the Festival of Tabernacles). It’s important to have a few things in mind about this particular festival. First, it’s the festival. It’s the weeklong…

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Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

The singer Sting says he’ll be watching “every breath you take.”  The pop group Berlin gave the original Top Gun movie its romantic lead theme music with its song “Take My Breath Away.”  Taylor Swift has a whole album titled “Breathe” and its lead song says that after her love went away, she just cannot…

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John 10:1-10

Each year on the fourth Sunday after Easter, the lectionary brings us to a passage that relates to the Good Shepherd narrative. Notice, though, that in our passage this week, the I AM statement that Jesus focuses on in verses 7-10 are about being the door, or gate, depending on your translation. (I’ll be using…

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Psalm 31:9-16

Psalm 31:11 says “I am an object of dread to my neighbors; those who see me on the street flee from me.”  I suppose we all have our days when we feel like this but mostly we chalk it up to paranoia.  “I am just imagining that everyone I meet is averting their eyes.”  “It’s…

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

Sample sermon:  It is a sad statement on the last 100 years that we can rather easily imagine the scene Ezekiel describes in his famous 37th chapter. Whether or not the people in Ezekiel’s original audience had ever seen such a valley full of bones, we have. We’ve seen the mass graves of Auschwitz and…

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Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is hands-down the most famous of the 150 psalms in the Psalter.  In terms of recognizability, Psalm 23 is probably right up there with popular ditties like “Roses are red, violets are blue,” with Shakespearean sonnets like “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” and well-known song lyrics like “Happy birthday to…

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Psalm 112:1-9 (10)

About all I can say after reading Psalm 112 is that it’s one thing to wear rose-colored glasses but quite another to fuse those glasses to your head so you can never take them off!  Psalm 112 is by no means the only poem in the Hebrew Psalter to paint a glowing portrait of what…

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Lent 5A: Neither Bang Nor Whimper

As Time magazine recently pointed out, two famous twentieth century poets both weighed in on the subject of the universe’s end. Robert Frost wrote, “Some say the world will end in fire / Some say in ice. / I hold with those who favor fire.” On the other side T.S. Eliot wrote, “This is the…

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Psalm 17:1-9

Those of you who read the Psalm sermon commentaries here on CEP know that I frequently observe that different psalms fit different seasons of life.  And so we always have to nuance upbeat songs of praise with the downbeat psalms of lament such that no one in the church gets the impression that true believers…

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Psalm 37:1-9

The Book of Psalms—and sometimes individual poems within it—can be pretty good at the proverbial “talking out of both sides of one’s mouth at the same time.”  Taken individually, some psalms paint a very pretty picture of how the righteous always prosper and how the wicked always fail miserably.  Then again, other psalms admit that…

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Luke 14:25-33

If this scene seems familiar, it is because it is the second time this summer that we have encountered this scene: Jesus among a crowd on the road to Jerusalem, questioning people’s abilities and willingness to be truly committed to discipleship. In fact, throughout our lectionary passages, we have listened in as Jesus specifically tells…

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Psalm 16

Psalm 16 presents the words of a person whose life appears to be going swimmingly. Everything is working for this poet. These look to be the words of a winner, of a person who was born sunny-side up as a confirmed optimist. And I suspect we’ve all met people like this. I also suspect that…

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Acts 16:9-15

How did the Holy Spirit prevent Paul and company from entering into the regions of Asia, as Acts 16 narrates this for us?  Yes, Luke (our narrator) makes clear that the Spirit “prevented” them from going in the direction they were minded to go, but I wonder just how that all worked out.  Should we…

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Acts 9:36-43

Call her “Tabitha” or call her “Dorcas” the meaning in both Aramaic and Greek was the same: “Gazelle.”  Was it her given name or a nickname that matched her lifestyle?  We don’t know but by all appearances the woman best known as Dorcas was gazelle-like indeed.  She was lightning fast at helping the poor and…

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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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Luke 6:17-26

You might be familiar with Henri Nouwen’s work. The Dutch Catholic Priest (1932-1996) wrote, taught, and served extensively on matters of spirituality, identity, pastoral ministry, and social justice. At the center of his life’s work was a desire for people to know their belovedness as children of God; in fact, much of his work revolves…

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Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17

The Lectionary has us skip the drama of Ruth 2 and then dips in briefly to Ruth 3 for the connection with Boaz and then zooms ahead to the very end of Ruth 4 for the “happy ending” of the tale and how it all points forward to King David.  As preachers, we are either…

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Mark 8:27-38

This is a story of being on the way but not there yet. The lectionary skipped over the story of the blind man in Bethsaida having his sight restored in stages, but we have a symbolic outworking of it here in our personal stand-in, Peter. As Jesus and his disciples head to Caesarea, Jesus strikes…

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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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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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John 3:1-17

I wonder what Nicodemus was thinking about when he walked home that night. My guess is that it wasn’t the Doctrine of the Trinity!  Yet this is the Year B passage assigned for Trinity Sunday.  So what did he ponder?  No clue.  John doesn’t tell us.  That’s ironic seeing as, according to John’s reportage at…

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Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

You have to look pretty close to figure out what brings the latter portion of Psalm 104 to the fore on Pentecost Sunday.  But then you read verse 30 and perhaps you are reading a translation that capitalizes the word “Spirit” there, and then you connect the Lectionary dots.  That capital “S” signals that the…

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Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

You wouldn’t know it to look at it.  Yet it’s true: a portion of Psalm 118—specifically verses 22-23—is the single most-oft quoted Old Testament text in the New Testament.  Not Psalm 23.  Not Psalm 100.  Not some well-known story like Abraham sacrificing Isaac or David and Goliath.  Nope.  It’s little old Psalm 118. That has…

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Psalm 111

Psalm 111 is a shook-up bottle of champagne when the cork flies off: it is effervescent, effusive, and thus it is delightfully over the top in most every way.  It’s one of those poems that tempts one to plant tongue firmly in cheek to ask the psalmist, “Don’t hold back: tell us what you really…

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Mark 1:14-20

If Mark were a Broadway play, then the first 13 verses are like the overture.  As we come to verse 14, the curtain is about to go up on the drama and when it does we see . . . Galilee.  We’re not in a bigger city like Jerusalem or Sepphoris or Rome.  Nope, little…

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Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

“The Lord make his face to shine upon you . . .”  That’s a line from the great Aaronic Benediction originally given to Israel in Numbers 6 and it is a line with which many Christians are exceedingly familiar on account of having heard it at the end of a church service so many times. …

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Psalm 80:7-15

“The Lord make his face to shine upon you . . .”  That’s a line from the great Aaronic Benediction originally given to Israel in Numbers 6 and it is a line with which many Christians are exceedingly familiar on account of having heard it at the end of a church service so many times. …

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Romans 8:12-25

Parents take better care of their attractive children than they do their less attractive ones. At least that’s what an article in the 2008 edition of The New York Times reported Canadian researchers discovered. Researchers at the University of Alberta observed more than 400 parents’ treatment of their children during 14 different trips to supermarkets….

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John 11:1-45

Sample Sermon: “Just about Everywhere” : In one of her short stories the writer Annie Dillard has a scene in which a family is sadly gathered at a grave to commit a loved one’s body to the earth. At one point the minister intones the familiar words from I Corinthians 15, “Where, O Death, is…

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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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John 4:5-42

Across the centuries people always gather where beverages are available.  Even today we sometimes call a restaurant or lounge our favorite “watering hole” because it’s the place where we go after work to unwind with our friends over a glass of wine or something.  In fact, even the phrase “scuttlebutt” has similar origins from the…

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20

This is one hard text to preach.  On the one hand, it seems so simple that it doesn’t even need a sermon.  I mean, what more can we say about a text that is this straightforward.  On the other hand, its simple straightforward message is so demanding and absolute that it will be unpalatable for…

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Matthew 1:18-25

Suppose that one day you were reading a story in which an elderly woman is talking to her pregnant granddaughter.  “Now listen, my dear,” the old woman says, “I would ask that you name this child after your grandfather and so give him the name Nelson.”  Suppose the young woman agrees. “OK, Grandma, his name…

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Psalm 37:1-9

The Book of Psalms—and sometimes individual poems within it—can be pretty good at the proverbial “talking out of both sides of one’s mouth at the same time.”  Taken individually, some psalms paint a very pretty picture of how the righteous always prosper and how the wicked always fail miserably.  Then again, other psalms admit that…

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1 Timothy 6:6-19

“Take hold of the life that really is life.” What a catching phrase. It’s one of those that you can feel the truth of deep in your bones, but whose truth you can’t simply explain in a few words. What is “the life that really is life?” We’re at the close of Paul’s first letter…

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Psalm 16

Psalm 16 presents the words of a person whose life appears to be going swimmingly.  Everything is working for this poet.  These look to be the words of a winner, of a person who was born sunny-side up as a confirmed optimist.  And I suspect we’ve all met people like this.  I also suspect that…

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Romans 8:14-17

Parents take better care of their attractive children than they do their ugly ones.  At least that’s what an article in a 2006 edition of The New York Times reported Canadian researchers concluded after observing more than 400 parents’ treatment of their children during 14 different trips to supermarkets.  They deduced that physical attractiveness makes…

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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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John 6:35, 41-51

“Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert yet they died.” That’s what Jesus said and it’s a pretty easy verse to cruise past and not much ponder.  I mean, of course those people died—in fact, they had died about 1,000 years ago!!  And since no one even a millennium earlier had ever said manna…

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John 6:24-35

(Note: Since the Lectionary is having us pastors camp out in John 6 for five whole weeks, this week I offer something a bit different than the usual sermon commentary: A sample sermon titled “Never Go Hungry” derived from the middle of John 6.  I hope it sparks ideas for my fellow preachers!) In the…

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20

I’m not sure God cares much whether we choose, for example, to eat oatmeal or fresh fruit for breakfast.  However, God does very deeply care, in some cases even more than we naturally do, about some of our choices. This might provide Deuteronomy 30’s preachers and teachers an opportunity to explore with worshipers and students…

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Psalm 112:1-9 (10)

Well, they did it again.  I mean the compilers of the lectionary.  For the second week in a row, the lectionary returns to a Psalm that we studied less than half a year ago.  I know, I’m beginning to sound like one of those “grumpy old men” who complain about everything. But, really, with 150…

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1 Kings 17:8-24

We live a world that death and violence seem to have in their iron-like stranglehold. All too often they appear to have both the dominant and final word in our world. In the midst of this culture of violence and death, however, God is in the business of constantly giving life. Death stubbornly looms over…

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Luke 7:11-17

The incident in Nain recorded in Luke 7:11-17 is like one of many gospel snapshots we find in the four gospels. At the end of the fourth gospel, the Evangelist John flatly stated that Jesus did far more than anyone had ever written down. It seems that sometimes the evangelists threw in this or that…

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Romans 8:14-17

“She’s a free spirit” we sometimes say of a certain person. “He exudes a spirit of kindness” we might say of someone else. Or “She has a fiercely independent spirit about her.” And what we mean in every situation is that most people “breathe” or exude a certain ambiance, a certain energy or vibe or…

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Acts 9:36-43

The text the Lectionary appoints for the fourth Sunday in Easter is a happy, hopeful one of healing in the face of chronic illness and life in the face of death. Yet it sticks out like a sore thumb in its Scriptural context. Its story of healing and raising to life just doesn’t seem to…

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Exodus 15:22-27

Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider Three days is a long time to go without finding water, especially if you have little ones under four. Nursing mothers are beginning to get desperate. When water is sighted, the kids run to it, laughing, whooping, but just a taste leaves them gagging, spluttering, wiping their tongues on…

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