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

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 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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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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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 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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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 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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Job 23:1-9; 16-17

When we left Job last week, he was sitting in the ash heap, covered with nasty open sores, surrounded by three compassionately silent friends, quietly accepting the trouble the Lord had presumably sent into Job’s life.  Here, twenty chapters later, not much has changed in one sense.  Job is still in utter misery.  But in…

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Psalm 31:9-16

The Revised Common Lectionary has two suggested readings from the Psalms for this Sixth Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday.  The first, Psalm 118, emphasizes the positive side of this day with lots of verses that anticipate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  The second, Psalm 31:9-16, zeros in on the tragedy of Palm Sunday, the gathering…

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Exodus 16:2-15

Human memory can be remarkably pliable.  It isn’t just illness or advancing age that can bend and twist it.  Trauma too can do remarkable things to memory. Exodus 15 describes how God responds to God’s Israelite children’s grumbling about their lack of something to drink.  At Marah and Elim God gives them refreshing water to…

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Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Almost all people walk the wide roads that are dreams for their children, work, future, and themselves.  And while some of those dreams don’t come true, as long as they don’t disrupt current arrangements, they’re pretty harmless. However, where dreams about the future conflict with current realities, they can be very disruptive.  In fact, they…

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Genesis 32:22-31

God graciously meets and accepts God’s adopted sons and daughters wherever and whoever we are.  But God never just leaves us where we are. That’s no less true of God’s 21st century adopted daughters and sons than it is of Jacob.  The first time God meets Jacob, he’s fleeing both his homeland and his twin’s…

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Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

I suspect that were Jeremiah 4 not on the Lectionary schedule, few preachers and teachers would be willing to tackle it. After all, among other reasons, relatively few of us like to talk about the kind of divine judgment it so graphically describes. What’s more, its grim apocalyptic imagery resists easy understanding and application. Of…

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Isaiah 50:4-9a

Those who try to say something authoritative about the Lord had better have a really good reason for doing so. After all, few tasks are, more intimidating than trying to faithfully proclaim God’s Word. In fact, most preachers and teachers know the fear that sometimes chases them right up to the pulpit or lectern. Scholars…

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Luke 13:1-9

Someday I’d like it explained to me why the Lectionary would assign the final verses of a chapter for the week prior to looking at its first 9 verses.   Nobody reads the Bible backwards like that so it’s not the least bit clear to me why preaching it this way makes any sense, either.  In…

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1 Peter 4:1-11

Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider: Both new Christians and suffering Christians wonder “what kind of life have I gotten into?” In the first half of chapter 4 (our text), Peter addresses the worldview issues of the new believer; in the second half, the worry issues of the suffering one. These former pagans learn this…

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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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Job 42:1-6, 10-17

Comments, Observations, and Questions 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…

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Hebrews 7:23-28

Comments and Observations The Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, and the recent sex scandals in the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church will make this text (and much of Hebrews) a real challenge to preach.  With its emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, the Reformation made the intercession of human priests unnecessary.  All believers…

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Job 23:1-9; 16-17

Comments and Observations: 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…

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Psalm 9:9-20

Psalm 9:9-20 (for help with the other psalm appointed for the day, Psalm 133, please consult the April 6, 2015 commentary) It’s regrettable that the Lectionary appoints only the verses 9-20 of Psalm 9 for this particular Sunday.  It’s not just, after all, that it offers only part of Psalm 9 for our consideration.  It’s…

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Psalm 31:9-16

Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider Psalm 31 is the prayer of a servant of God for God’s protection and deliverance from his enemies.  It’s a prayer that Christians can hardly hear without thinking of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death on the cross.  After all, it’s not just that the Revised Common Lectionary uses it…

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