Preaching Connection: Suffering

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Movies for Preaching

Decalogue 1 (1989) – 2

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%. In the late 1980s in Poland, two fellows put together what is generally recognized as…

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Three Colors: Blue (1993)

Three Colors: Blue (1993).  Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz.  Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski.  Music by Zbigniew Preisner.  Starring Juliette Binoche, Florence Pernel, and Charlotte Véry.  98 mins.  Rating: R. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%; Metacritic: 85%. Suddenly, she’s a widow and also childless.  Just about all the bad that can happen to someone falls upon…

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Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman (2017). Directed by Patty Jenkins.  Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, and Robin Wright.  141 mins.  Rated PG-13.   Wonder Who? The wonder of Wonder Woman is that, indeed, the film is a wonder, the best commix-inspired flick since the original Superman all the way back in 1978, some four decades later and countless…

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Reading for Preaching

Anatomy of a Murder

A veteran judge speaks: I am endlessly fascinated by the raw drama of a murder trial, of the defendant fighting so inarticulately for his freedom—his is the drama of understatement, of the opposing counsel—those masters of overstatement, flamboyantly fighting for victory, for reputation, for more clients, for political advancement, for God knows what, of then...
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Love Within Limits: A Realist’s View of 1 Corinthians 13

“What all suffering really comes down to is the experience of anything we want very much not to experience.  The key here is the phrase ‘very much.’  To qualify as sufferers, we must want to be rid of something with such passion that it hurts.  Suffering is having to endure what we very much want...
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Wickedness: A Philosophical Essay

The relation of madness to badness in our thought is subtle: “On the one hand, the idea that wickedness is a form of madness is very natural, because bad conduct is so readily seen as unintelligible. To say, ‘I simply don’t understand how they could act like that’ is a quite direct form of condemnation....
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The Sweet Hereafter

On people who receive cash settlements for the loss of loved ones in accidents where negligence has been shown: “. . .in the end a million-dollar settlement makes no real difference to them, . . .it probably only serves to sharpen their pain by constricting it with legal language and rewarding it with money, ....
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Blessings: An Autobiographical Fragment

“There is an old Arab proverb which says: ‘Too much sunshine makes a desert; and the human heart is very often a desert. But sorrow irrigates the desert . . . It is told of Elgar that he once sat and listened admiringly to a young singer with a beautiful voice and faultless techniques. She...
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Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale

Quotes Shakespeare’s King Lear: “Whereas the bad are transformed by their suffering into beasts at each other’s throats, the good, however briefly and precariously, are hallowed by it.”
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The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor reflects on the fact that the combination of her sickness and her success as an author has probably deepened her understanding of how life works. “I gave up thinking anything could be worked out on its surface. I have found it out, like everybody else, the hard way, and only in the last years...
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Bodies Electric

“The great German philosopher Schopenhauer wrote the following, which I read as a college student and have remembered ever since: ‘In early youth, as we contemplate our coming life, we are like children in a theater before the curtain is raised, sitting there in high spirits and eagerly waiting for the play to begin. It...
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Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945

As the Great Depression spread in the 1930s, the federal government responded by creating the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which set up local commissaries across the nation to dispense food and clothing. The people who did the dispensing often harbored barely disguised contempt for the needy, thinking they (p. 172) “were personally culpable for their...
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With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

E. B. Sledge had taken notes of his experience in the Pacific Theater in WWII and had kept them for decades inside a copy of the New Testament that went everywhere with him. His accounts of the conditions under which GIs had to fight on Peleliu and Okinawa is extremely vivid. His conviction, expressed in...
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And So It Goes: Adventures in Television

Franklin Pierce was a proslavery candidate from an abolitionist state (New Hampshire), an alcoholic, a man who carried bad luck with him like a back pack. He was his party’s choice on the 49th ballot, his vice-president died after one month in office, his son was killed on the way to his father’s inauguration, his...
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Fiorello H. La Guardia and the Making of Modern New York

Warren G. Harding, was President of the U.S. in the early 1920s. He wasn’t good at the job. Alice Roosevelt Longworth (Teddy’s daughter) would visit the White House and find Harding deep in poker games with his friends, surrounded by whiskey bottles (it was Prohibition, but the President wasn’t any more respectful of law than...
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Reagan’s America: Innocents at Home

Jimmy Carter was already a corpse, politically, in his last year as President. Inflation, Afghanistan, Iran, etc. beat him. Paul Volker of the Federal Reserve summed up the Carter Presidency as follows: “As Jerry Ford left the White House, he handed Jimmy Carter three envelopes, instructing him to open them one at a time as...
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Additional content related to Suffering

Mark 2:23-3:6

Comments, Questions, and Observations These two Sabbath stories are far from unique in the gospels; time and time again, Jesus upends the rules established for right observance. Each time he does so, he is embodying what he said in Matthew 5.17-20: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets;…

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Philippians 2:5-11

In his excellent commentary on the book of Hebrews (Hebrews, Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), the biblical scholar Tom Long refers to what he calls “the parabola of salvation.” It’s basically the trajectory that Hebrews and, I would suggest, this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson trace “from creation downward to the cross up the heavenly place of…

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Isaiah 50:4-9

A Turn Toward the Passion Interestingly, the Lectionary provides two sets of readings for this last Sunday in Lent: (1) a Psalm and Gospel that celebrate the procession with the Palms and (2) a full set of four readings that look ahead to all that stands between the false and frivolous praise of Palm Sunday…

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Hebrews 5:5-10

When Jesus’ friends think about his status and work, several things may quickly come to mind. Some Christians readily think of him as the Son of God, Savior and Lord. God’s dearly beloved people may also quickly think of Jesus as a healer, prophet, miracle worker and even a kind of Jewish religious iconoclast. This…

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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 70

At Calvin Seminary for the past two academic years we have been holding a once-weekly Public Reading of Scripture where we gather for 30 minutes to read aloud a couple chapters each of an Old Testament passage, a Gospel passage, and a Psalm.  Not long ago Psalm 70 was read by a student and you…

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Philippians 1:21-30

John Wooden was the hugely successful coach of America’s UCLA’s men’s basketball team. He also sought to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. Wooden once famously said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s Paul would probably have agreed. After all,…

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Genesis 32:22-31

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

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Psalm 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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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 66:8-20

For reasons unknown the RCL has us skip the first 7 verses of Psalm 66.  Mostly they are lovely sentiments of praise and thanksgiving.  But as we pick up the action in verse 8, we see a curious conjunction of things.  On the one hand there is one of those global statements you often find…

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1 Peter 2:19-25

God has graciously called God’s dearly beloved people out of spiritual darkness and into the light of God glorious salvation. God has also called God’s adopted children to be God’s elect, God’s chosen people and heirs of God’s riches blessings. However, in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson, Peter describes another high calling from God. God has…

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1 Peter 1:3-9

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

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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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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 80:1-7, 17-19

Comments, Observations, and Questions A week before Christmas this year, the Lectionary via Psalm 80 takes us out of any setting we might ordinarily associate with the holidays and settles us instead into a very bleak landscape.  There can be no missing in Psalm 80—despite the Lectionary’s attempted leap-frog over the starker verses in the…

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Isaiah 7:10-16

Comments, Observations, and Questions As an inspired apostle and evangelist, Matthew may make any biblical connection he wishes and no one else can call him or question him on it.  He can unearth any nugget he wants from anywhere across the Hebrew Scriptures and if, having dug it out, Matthew then claims this verse was…

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Psalm 46

It probably counts as something of an irony that for all its soaring comfort in proclaiming the sovereignty of God and God’s rule over all things, Psalm 46 is invoked most often precisely in those times when it is most difficult to believe that a good and loving God is providentially in charge of the…

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Luke 21:5-19

Luke likely wrote his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles around 80 AD. In other words, Luke already knew how the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and had already witnessed the persecution of the church and its leaders. Luke lived through and witnessed new followers of the Jesus Way be put to death for…

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2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

It’s hard to read this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson without getting a lump in one’s throat. After all, it’s not just that it contains what are perhaps among the imprisoned Paul’s last recorded words. It’s also that it suggests that the apostle who has befriended to so many seems about to die virtually all alone. Acts…

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2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

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

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2 Timothy 2:8-15

Paul speaks repeatedly about suffering for the sake of the gospel. He does so not just in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson but also throughout his letter to Timothy. Yet that kind of suffering may be largely unfamiliar to many of the preachers who read this commentary as well as 2 Timothy. Of course, some North…

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Luke 16:19-31

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” – Jesus (Luke 6.24) So goes the story of the rich man in Jesus’ story. He should have known better; he could have been (and done) better. He received good things, but built up treasures for himself instead of being rich towards…

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Psalm 112

Very often the Psalms are actually a form of beatitude.  Psalm 1 sets the tone: “Blessed is the one who does not walk with the wicked.”  Beatitudes—including the most famous ones of them all from Matthew 5—are very often blessings spoken over people whose lives the rest of the world may not deem to be…

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Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Hebrews’ author devotes most of chapter 11 to an exploration of what it means to live and die by faith. But he doesn’t call his readers to “fix their eyes” (12:2) on any of the people we sometimes “heroes and heroines of the faith.” Hebrews’ author only invites his readers to “keep our eyes” on…

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Luke 9:51-62

Most scholars agree that this passage is yet another instance of Jesus communicating the difficulty of discipleship. In fact, this passage is often included at the beginning of Lent, since it so clearly marks a transition point in the gospel of Luke as Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem. But here we are, in Ordinary…

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Romans 8:14-17

My last surviving parent’s death last year reminded me that inheritance can be complicated. My mom and dad, while never materially wealthy by North American standards, did what they could to ensure that their children as well as worthy causes would inherit something from them. But, of course, so many others also wanted a “piece”…

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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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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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Luke 13:1-9

Comments, Questions, and Observations Why did the bad thing happen? Did they deserve it? This is how the text starts. And just to get it out of the way, Jesus doesn’t answer the why question. When it comes to theodicy, Scripture rarely, if ever, does. Instead, God’s wisdom is to turn our hearts and eyes…

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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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Micah 5:2-5a

When the Lectionary dishes up just 3.5 verses, skipping the first verse of a chapter and stopping just halfway through the fifth verse, you just know it’s like putting blinders on us readers to keep us from seeing something on either side of the lection.  I don’t know why they made this choice but lyric…

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Jeremiah 33:14-16

Acoustics are so key.  How does a text sound?  Usually you need to pay attention to the context to figure that out.  But when you dive into the middle of a text like this lection, you can so easily miss or forget that wider context.  But remembering it can change the acoustics pretty significantly.  After…

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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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Hebrews 7:23-28

Few promises mean more to hurting people than, “I’m praying (or I’ll pray) for you.” We long to have someone “put in a good word for us” before God. In fact, I’ve even people whose faith is fragile or apparently non-existent seem to often appreciate the thought behind a promise of prayer, if not necessarily…

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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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Job 23:1-9, 16-17

If you read the John Grisham novel The Firm, you may recall the horrifying moment when a young lawyer and his wife discover that the house so “generously” provided to them by the young man’s law firm is bugged to the hilt.  Every conversation they had had, every lovemaking sigh, every TV show they had…

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Psalm 8

Comments, Observations, and Questions The Lectionary usually reserves Psalm 8 for Trinity Sunday as it is assigned for that day in both Year A and Year C of the RCL. Oddly, it is not a cinch to see how Psalm 8 fits a Trinitarian theme but since in Year B we are getting this psalm…

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Ephesians 6:10-20

The past approximately 17 months have taken a heavy toll on many of this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s proclaimers and hearers. The pandemic and efforts to mitigate its affects have caused great physical, mental and even spiritual suffering. They’ve left us exhausted. What’s more, just when we seemed to have turned a corner, COVID-19 seems to…

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Ephesians 5:15-20

Near the middle of this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson the apostle summons his readers to “understand what the Lord’s will is” (17b). In a letter that he soaks with grace, this may be among the biggest challenges he sets before God’s Ephesian adopted sons and daughters. Paul spends much of the first part of his letter…

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Psalm 30

Psalm 30 is almost singularly upbeat in its incessant exaltations of God.  But the discerning reader and preacher will notice that underneath all this praising there has been a history of pain.  References are made to having gone down to the depths, to sinking into the pit, to enemies eager to gloat over the psalmist’s…

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John 17:6-19

“You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child.” That is a saying of my former colleague Ron Nydam.  And he’s right.  Worse yet, we all know that you cannot insure the happiness of your children, either.  And that truth is married to another undeniable fact and that is this: the wider world in which we…

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Isaiah 50:4-9a

The choice of this text for the Sixth Sunday of Lent makes perfect sense if we remember that the RCL has been tracing the theme of covenant this year (Year B).  We have moved from God’s covenant with Noah and nature to God’s covenant with Abraham, from the giving of the covenant Law at Sinai…

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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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Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

The Lectionary is giving us but a small sampling of Psalm 107 by carving out the first three verses and then a half-dozen from the center of the larger poem.  If you read the entire psalm, you will discover it is a curious historical retrospective on various experiences that various unnamed people have had at…

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Isaiah 40:21-31

Sample sermon: “What Can You Reasonably Expect from God?”  I once preached this sermon, focusing particularly on the beloved verse 31. I received a phone call the other day from a modern-day daughter of Job, whom I will call Mary.  At one time Mary had been a pastor’s wife with 2 young children and a…

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Psalm 23

This is now at least the third time Psalm 23 has popped up in the Year A Lectionary and across also calendar 2020.  The first time was during Lent and the second time a couple weeks after Easter.  The first time was before we knew the world was going to get turned upside-down due to…

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Matthew 16:21-28

“In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time.”  That is a hymn lyric that many Christians know. But the notion of the cross towering over various temporal “wrecks” gained new poignancy when we saw on the news—and for those of us who went to Lower Manhattan in the months after…

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Romans 8:26-39

So many Christians cherish this passage that it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of its central meaning.  Paul talks in it about pivotal truths like providence, predestination and justification.  Yet all of those things are like signs along the road that point to one central truth: God’s love is as invincible as it is sometimes…

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Psalm 145:8-14

The Lectionary has carved out just seven verses from the middle of Psalm 145 but in truth, the whole Psalm sounds the same notes.  Coming as this poem does near the very end of the Hebrew Psalter, we are definitely in the final exultation of singular praise with which this collection concludes.  The Psalms have…

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Psalm 66:8-20

What is this COVID-19 season for us?  A source of lament?  A time of testing?  Ten years from now, how will we look back on this time?  As one of the worst seasons of our lives that we are so amazingly glad is well behind us, or as a time for which we manage to…

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1 Peter 2:19-25

Many members of the American civil rights movement embraced Peter’s commendation of Christians who put up with unjust suffering’s pain.  In fact, that movement produced a treasure trove of photos of people bearing up under such misery.  One could fill books with pictures of people kneeling in non-violent resistance to beatings and submitting to attacks…

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Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

In a time of global pandemic, of fear, worry, and sorrow, Psalm 116 is 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 we all can but hope that very soon we…

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Isaiah 50:4-9a

This is going to be a disappointing Palm Sunday for any church that follows the RCL, because there isn’t much joy and celebration in the readings.  Psalm 31 is filled with suffering and Philippians 2 traces the downward movement of Christ’s kenosis, while the Gospel reading from Matthew 26 and 27 is the whole passion…

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Isaiah 63:7-9

The Old Testament reading for this First Sunday after Christmas is a delightful little snippet of poetry commemorating what God has done to save his people.  It’s neat and clean and lovely and it fits this liturgical season perfectly. The only problem is that its context is anything but neat and clean and lovely.  This…

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

This passage is part of an extended dialogue between the prophet Habakkuk and his God, whose ways with God’s own people are a mystery to the prophet.  In the first 4 verses, the prophet passionately voices his complaint to God.  In 1:5-11, God answers that complaint with a truth that Habakkuk finds unbelievable.  So in…

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Psalm 112

Very often the Psalms are actually a form of beatitude.  Psalm 1 sets the tone: “Blessed is the one who does not walk with the wicked.”  Beatitudes—including the most famous ones of them all from Matthew 5—are very often blessings spoken over people whose lives the rest of the world may not deem to be…

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Isaiah 50:4-9b

Clearly, the composers of the Revised Common Lectionary thought this little snippet of Scripture was perfect for Palm Sunday because they have selected it for all three years of the preaching cycle.  I’m not sure your people will see it that way, because it is obviously more about Christ’s suffering than about his Triumphal Entry. …

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Hebrews 7:23-28

This may not seem like a particularly appropriate Sunday on which to preach about priests.  After all, Protestant Christians are preparing to celebrate the birth of the Reformation that the corruption of the Roman Catholic priesthood in part fueled. What’s more, the Reformation emphasized the priesthood of all believers.  Since Protestant Christians recognize that all…

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Job 42:1-6, 10-17

After surviving a blizzard of words (some from Job, many from his friends, and a few from God), we come to the end of the book of Job with this short chapter which reports on Job’s last words and last days.  It is a surprising and, for many readers, controversial ending to a surprising and…

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Hebrews 5:1-10

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 between us.  However, Hebrews 5 insists that the only way that can happen is if God does it. During this American political campaign season, both…

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