Preaching Connection: Providence

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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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Babette’s Feast (1987) – 3

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% Babette’s Feast is a film of many wonders—social, aesthetic (cuisine), narrative, cinematic, and…

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Reading for Preaching

“Coincidence,” in Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’S of Faith

“I think of a person I haven’t seen or thought of for years, and ten minutes later I see her crossing the street.  I turn on the radio to hear a voice reading the biblical story of Jael, which is the story I have spent the morning writing about.  A car passes me on the...
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Mystery and Manners

“We have plenty of examples in this world of poor things being used for good purposes.  God can make any indifferent thing, as well as evil itself, an instrument for good; but I submit that to do this is the business of God and not of any human being.”
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Iron and Silk

Chinese story all kids learn: “An old man’s horse runs away one day. His friends all say they are sorry to hear about the horse, but the old man says, ‘I’m not worried about it. You never know what happens.’ Sure enough, a few days later the horse returns, leading a whole herd of wild...
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The Young Lions

“It all started when he reached up to the copy of Yeats’ The Herne’s Egg and Other Plays on the library shelf. If he had reached for another book he wouldn’t have bumped into Roger and he wouldn’t have lived here and he wouldn’t have met Hope and she would probably be lying in another...
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The Life of Samuel Johnson

Boswell quotes Johnson: “Providence has wisely ordered that the more numerous men are, the more difficult it is for them to agree in anything, and so they are governed. There is no doubt, that if the poor should reason, ‘We’ll be the poor no longer, we’ll make the rich take their turn,’ they could easily...
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The Sweet Hereafter

The negligence litigator Mitchell Stevens, esq., is permanently teed off and became a lawyer to license his anger and make it pay. But is there a righteous dimension to his work? Seems so: “I turn into a heat-seeking missile, homing in on a target that I know in my bones is going to turn out...
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Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find?

God gets blamed for a lot of things human beings do. When Princess Diana died, Philip was asked by a TV producer: “Can you appear on our show? We want you to explain how God could possibly allow such a terrible accident.” Philip: “Could it have had something to do with a drunk driver going...
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Additional content related to Providence

Psalm 23

Across the years I have written sermon commentaries on Psalm 23 so often that I am fairly certain I have little new or creative to say that has not been conveyed in one way, shape, or form before!  It also does not help that this may be the single most familiar psalm of them all. …

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Psalm 4

Psalm 4 isn’t necessarily the cheeriest Hebrew poem to consider during the otherwise joyful season of Eastertide.  Though it ends on an up-beat note, it is also a plea, a lament, a rebuke, and a challenge.  But maybe we need to encounter such realities in the midst of this Eastertide season just as much as…

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Psalm 114

The Lectionary assigned parts of Psalm 118 for both Palm/Passion Sunday and Easter and since the March 24 sermon commentary here on the CEP website was on Psalm 118, I will direct you to look that up in our Sermon Commentary Library.  But for this commentary we will take the psalm for Year B Easter…

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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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Psalm 19

A friend of mine is a professional physicist and astronomer and I have always enjoyed talking with her about astronomy as I have long been an amateur astronomy aficionado.  If we are blessed enough to experience it, there is nothing quite so breathtaking as being far away from any sources of light pollution so as…

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Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

A pastor friend of mine who is very dapper and proper in all things, including his attire, once observed another pastor show up for a summertime seminar dinner wearing a pair of shorts.  My friend saw this and I noticed the muscles in his jaw tighten slightly before he wryly said, “I believe it is…

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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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Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

It may be somewhat understandable that the Lectionary would have us stop short of this psalm’s sudden shift in tone starting in verse 19.  A poem that had been 100% a lyric reflection on the abiding presence of God somehow briefly morphs into a full-throated imprecation against the wicked.  This seems to come up like…

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Judges 4:1-7

While the Lectionary can’t include the full chapter because it would be a lengthy reading, it’s a shame to miss the high drama and irony of this narrative.  What we have in Judges 4 is an underdog story, layered into underdog story and folded into yet another underdog story. Underdog #1: Israel In the opening…

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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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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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Psalm 23

Psalm 23 bears a lot of resemblance to any number of poems in the Hebrew Psalter.  This is not the only sunny-side-up psalm that exudes confidence at every turn.  It is not the only psalm to use pastoral imagery or to invoke the specter of “enemies” in whose presence God will vindicate the psalmist.  Yet…

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Matthew 21:33-46

If we thought the last parable was a pointed commentary, this one is sure to make us a little squirmy. Continuing to publicly address the leaders of the temple, Jesus builds his case about the disobedience and rejection he sees from those who ought to know better. Then, he makes a biting prophecy about his…

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Exodus 14:19-31

Over and over again in the story, God refers to the people as His army or His battalion. But they couldn’t have been a very fearsome force. They’ve just spend the last 430 years in slavery. Maybe they got strong building bricks but they would have had a lot of disadvantages. Hard to think that…

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Genesis 45:1-15

After chapters and chapters of third person narration, reading Joseph’s story through someone else’s lens, we might come to this chapter eager to hear how Joseph makes sense of the unfolding events. At last, Joseph lets his brothers know who he is. He tells his own story. He could have told a story about a…

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Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Patterns of preference and favoritism and jealousy replay themselves with uncomfortable regularity through the history of God’s people. Abraham’s son Ishmael is nearly written out of the story by Sarah’s jealousy.  Isaac and Rebekah are #TeamEsau and #TeamJacob accordingly. Jacob shames Leah and honors Rachel.  No doubt the ten sons of Leah have noticed Jacob’s…

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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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Romans 8:26-39

Few biblical passages offer a greater wealth of preaching material than Romans 8:26-39. Several earlier commentaries on this site examined some of its most glittering treasures – in 2017, Scott Hoezee’s, and in 2020, mine. However, preachers whom the Spirit leads toward one of this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s other glorious themes might focus on verses…

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Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13

As I write this in July 2023, it feels at times like the world is on fire.  Canada certainly has been on fire for a good bit in 2023.  Canadian wildfires burning thousands of miles away have been blanketing with smoke cities as far away as Washington D.C. and also in the Midwest, giving us…

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Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Last week we looked at the exceedingly fraught and difficult story of the binding (and near sacrifice) of Isaac in Genesis 22.  We noted how maddeningly spare that narrative is.  The story cries out—nearly screams out—for more details.  Instead we get a crisp, bare-bones narrative that dispatches with the whole terrible story in a short…

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Matthew 10:24-39

We’re in the same narrative moment as last week’s lectionary passage, meaning we are still considering the nature of our calling to go out as disciple-apostles who proclaim the good news of God through doing Kingdom good. You’ll note that last week had the option of including the verses where Jesus describes the hardship that…

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Genesis 21:8-21

Whatever else a person may think about the Bible and about the Old Testament in particular, you have to say this: it’s honest.  The text does not generally shy away from presenting less-than-savory facts about even some of the most important characters in the biblical story.  It’s often the proverbial “warts and all” presentation.  The…

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Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18

The Revised Common Lectionary is usually a straightforward affair when it comes to selected texts.  But with semi-regularity you get a text chopped up the way Psalm 69 is divided in this lection.  First we jump onto the already moving train only at verse 7, then we grab 4 verses, put 5 more in parentheses…

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Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Science has long been fascinated with both the cosmic beginning and its ending.  Both involve a certain amount of speculation, though at least with the universe’s beginning there is real evidence to look at.  But since the end has not yet come, there is no data to examine, and so theory and speculation are all…

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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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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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Exodus 17:1-7

It’s the kind of thing that could become a family inside joke.  Perhaps years before, the family had taken a Spring Break trip somewhere.  Except that on this particular trip the weather was disastrously bad the whole week.  No outdoor activities were possible.  Instead the family got stuck inside a hotel room where arguments over…

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Psalm 121

For the second week in a row the Year A RCL has assigned a psalm that was also the Year C Psalm lection just a few months ago in October 2022.  So with modest modifications, here is a bit of a rerun on my recent thoughts on preaching this well-known—and very lovely—Hebrew poem. When I…

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Matthew 2:13-23

Comments, Questions, and Observations This story is the Magi’s quick appearance in Year A—they are the ones who have just left in verse 13.  Our little family is at the center of an evil maelstrom, plucked out by Joseph’s willingness to continue to be obedient to the Lord’s messenger angel. The journey the angel commands…

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Matthew 1:18-25

Comments, Questions, and Observations Oddly, we close out Advent this year with the birthing story. Matthew’s birth narrative doesn’t usually get much attention on Christmas day because it’s rather anti-climactic in comparison to the Luke’s—our tried and true Christmas story. As I discuss in the textual points section below, we don’t even get the actual…

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Psalm 121

When I was a little kid, I remember Psalm 121 being read in church or sometimes at our dinner table.  Back then various versions of the Bible translated that first line, “I lift up mine eyes to the hills, whence cometh my help.”  The sentence is in the indicative mood.  Read this way, it is…

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Jeremiah 31:27-34

I am not sure why the Revised Common Lectionary’s series of passages from Jeremiah skips around the way it does (one week Jeremiah 32 but then next time around it’s back to chapter 29 and now we leap to chapter 31) but I think I can understand why the Lectionary saved this passage from the…

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Psalm 146

In contemporary music there are few crescendos quite as dramatic and raucous as the one that concludes the Beatles song “A Day in the Life.”  A somewhat wild cacophony of strings, brass, and percussion all come together to end this remarkable song with a bang followed by a very long sustain on a piano that…

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Psalm 103:1-8

There are some pieces of music, certain poems, some scenes in movies that are so lyric, so moving, so flat out beautiful that it doesn’t matter how often you hear it, read it, or see it: it gets you every time.  Psalm 103 is like that.  I usually balk a bit when the Lectionary slices…

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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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Luke 11:1-13

Coming straight on the heels of Jesus telling Martha that her sister Mary will not be deprived of sitting in the presence of God, Luke depicts Jesus as doing the same. The stories are less chronologically connected (i.e., there is no indication that this scene immediately played out after his night as a guest at…

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2 Kings 5:1-14

Martin Luther King, Jr., once preached a sermon on this text from 2 Kings 5, and I’m grateful to Richard Lischer for calling attention to it in a lecture he gave while working on his book The Preacher King.  In the classic style of preaching that Dr. King so well embodied, he picked up on…

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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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John 10:22-30

This passage follows very closely Jesus’ “I am the good shepherd” speech. People were already suspicious of Jesus and how he described himself, thinking he had a demon or was out of his mind. There were some, though, who thought there might be more to Jesus than madness or possession (verse 20). Some scholars see…

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Psalm 23

Presidential funerals always draw a huge television audience.  We have seen it for Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and most recently for George H.W. Bush.  But when you watch such services, you need not have the funeral program in your hands to guess that probably at some point some pastor is going to…

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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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Joshua 5:9-12

These four verses from Joshua 5 are rather innocuous looking.  There is a lot of high drama in Joshua—and not a little of that drama is the stuff of deeply troubling matters involving holy war and total war and violence perpetuated by God’s people.  But these verses appear to be mostly devoid of drama.  They…

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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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Genesis 45:3-11, 15

Easter in the Western Church can come as early as the third Sunday in March and as late as the last Sunday in April.  Falling as it does on April 17 this year, Easter’s late date means an extra-long season after Epiphany and that in turns means getting to some RCL texts we don’t see…

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Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40

Across the spectrum of poems in the Hebrew Psalter are prayers that fit most every occasion and season in life.  Laments, petitions, confessions, praise, thanksgiving; songs that fit happy days and songs that fit rotten days; lyric expressions of trust and bitter cries of abandonment and anger.  It’s all in there.  That’s an important thing…

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Psalm 138

The Lectionary likes Psalm 138 and slates it sometimes in Ordinary Time and sometimes in Epiphany.  I have several sermon commentaries on the CEP site on Psalm 138 but for this week I will riff on the last time I wrote about this in the Sundays after Epiphany. I have noted often in my sermon…

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Psalm 71:1-6

There is a part of the well-known story (and the popular Sunday School story) of “Jacob’s Ladder” that most people don’t know about or just ignore.  The outlines of the story are familiar and are also accurate enough to the biblical text in Genesis: Jacob is on the lam, fleeing the fury of his brother…

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Psalm 19

Almost 120 years ago an unknown patent clerk named Albert Einstein published a series of papers detailing what he called “special relativity.” At one fell swoop, Einstein shattered centuries’ worth of scientific theories about the fundamental nature of reality. The theories of Isaac Newton and his mechanical understanding of the universe’s functioning were swept away,…

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Isaiah 43:1-7

Scholars tell us that there may have been at least two, probably three (perhaps four) “Isaiahs” whose prophetic words make up the one Old Testament book we call Isaiah.  If so, then the version of Isaiah we get in this 43rd chapter is definitely the “Happy Isaiah” as compared to the doom-and-gloom Isaiah from earlier…

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Psalm 147:12-20

As we lurch into 2022 after another difficult year globally, we realize with a sense of startlement that we are technically now entering Year 3 of the COVID-19 pandemic.  A couple years ago not a few of us hoped the worst of it would not last 3 weeks.  Even 3 months seemed hard to fathom. …

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1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26

Two Temples. Two Boys. One boy is apparently lost.  The other boy is apparently given up by his parents. One boy is not at all lost but is at home in the Temple doing his real Father’s work.  The other boy is making his home in the Temple and slowly discovering what may well be…

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1 Samuel 1:4-20

It’s curious how often the purposes of God move forward not just despite familial dysfunction but sometimes even because of it.  We’ve got a load of dysfunction coming up in the Samuel story through the shenanigans of Hophni and Phineas—and Eli’s hand-wringing inability to do a blessed thing about it all.  But we’ve got nettlesome…

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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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Ruth 1:1-18

To my mind stopping the reading of Ruth 1 at verse 18 is the narrative equivalent of ending the movie Field of Dreams just before the moment when Ray encounters his long-dead and estranged father on his magical Iowa baseball diamond.  Why stop short of the scene that brings the whole thing together!? So trust…

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Job 42:1-6, 10-17

And they lived happily ever after . . .  Really?  Is it really possible that the Bible’s most troubled (and at times most torturous) book has the proverbial “happy ending”?  Did Disney take over this project at some point?!  At first glance you might think so. Job replies to God that in the wake of…

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Job 38:1-7, 34-41

Why did this happen?  Why didn’t God prevent this?  “Pastor, why did this happen?  “Pastor, where is God?” A child dies, a good person is killed, a freak accident takes the life of someone who was unspeakably precious to us, and we are left to wonder why. And if we’re honest as pastors, we just…

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Psalm 91:9-16

For some reason on this occasion the Lectionary would have us skip the first 8 verses of Psalm 91, which is too bad in that those verses contain one of the most lyric images of God’s providential care of us in the whole Bible.  We are the baby birds who find shelter under the wings…

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Genesis 45:1-15

You can’t beat the Bible when it comes to telling dramatic stories in a spellbinding way.  Our text for today is a perfect case in point.  I’m going to use Eugene Lowry to explain that.  In his classic preaching book, The Homiletical Plot, Lowry outlined the 5 movements of classic narrative using 5 interjections: Oops,…

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Psalm 103:1-8

There are some pieces of music, certain poems, some scenes in movies that are so lyric, so moving, so flat out beautiful that it doesn’t matter how often you hear it, read it, or see it: it gets you every time. Psalm 103 is like that. I usually balk a bit when the Lectionary slices…

Explore

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…

Explore

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…

Explore

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…

Explore