Sermon for August 19 (Hebrews 11 and Luke 12)
2007-08-17 by David von Schlichten



Unfulfillment . . . But We're Running

(word count: 802)


Elvis won three Grammys, each one for Gospel music. He was raised as a Christian and loved God, but he led an unfulfilling life as a Christian. He was talented and good-looking, and he has become mythic. At the same time, he suffered from years of prescription drug-abuse and destructive eating habits. Thirty years ago, on August 16, at age 42, he died of a heart attack. What happened? He was raised a Christian, but, in a sense, he died unfulfilled.

Somehow Elvis wandered from the Christian path and ended up staggering in a self-made fog until he plummeted into sad death. By Kingdom of God standards, he is a tragic case of unfulfillment. To be fulfilled is to be made full. The talented King of Rock n' Roll was far from full, and he fell.

The Church has many similar stories. For two millennia, by the Spirit's power, we the baptized have struggled to live according to God's commandments. Christ died and rose so we could enter heaven without paying admission. Christ won that race for us. Now, as the Father's baptized family members, Spirit-powered, we run, not to earn salvation, but to fulfill God's will for the world.

So we're running, but the unfulfillments keep knocking us into the mud. Jesus speaks of such unfulfillments in our reading from Luke 12. He warns that family members will turn against each other. It may sound like Jesus is anti-family, but we know from other passages that he supports the family. Rather, he is saying that, in response to the Good News, even family members will turn against each other. Jesus wants us to love God and one another as he has loved us. Instead, families split. Unfulfillment.

Jesus also complains that people can predict the weather but they cannot see what is right in front of them. Many cannot see that God has arrived with the Good News. We fumble in the fog, biting and scratching each other, cursing the rain, empty.

We hear about unfulfillment in our reading from Hebrews, as well. Listen again to verse 39 of Hebrews 11. It is astonishing. Chapter eleven talks about the great cloud of witnesses, this parade of extraordinary people who came before us and who, by the Spirit's power, were able to live faithfully. We hear about Abraham, Rahab, David, Sarah, on and on. Just an amazing procession of role models of faithful living, but then we come to verse 39. Verse 39 says, “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”

In other words, none of these faithful followers of God – nobody from the great cloud of witnesses – will receive what was promised without our help. It's a relay race. They have passed the baton to us. It's our turn. The great cloud of witnesses will remain unfulfilled if we do not do our part.

What is our part? We are to run the race, Hebrews says. Why do we run the race, to earn a place in heaven? No, Christ has earned that place for us. We run the race because doing so helps to bring about the final fulfillment that God has in store for all of us. The cloud of witnesses is watching in the stands, cheering us on, serving as role models for us. Abraham shouts, “Come on, run. You can do it.” Rahab waves a red scarf and cheers, “Don't give up. We're counting on you.” King David leads everyone in victory songs. “Don't let us down!” he bellows, dancing like a nut.

So we keep running. As we run, we look to Jesus, standing at the Finish Line, our pioneer, our leader, and the one who will perfect us, the one who will fill us. Jesus keeps saying, “Get rid of whatever slows you down. Drugs, overeating, music, your house, your desire for attention, your insecurities, your fear of being forgotten. Whatever clings to you to slow you down, throw it aside. Run to me. Keep running. David and Rahab and the entire cloud of witnesses are cheering you on. They are counting on you. Do not give up.”

And as we run, God forgives us, coaches us, and pep-talks us. The Spirit pushes us with holy wind. God strengthens us through Scripture, Holy Communion, prayer, each other.

We struggle with emptiness, our souls growling, but we keep running. We are not caught in a trap; God loves us too much. We can go on together. The King of kings promises us fulfillment. We will make it to the Finish Line. The cloud thunders with cheering fans. We race in the Land of Grace.

David von Schlichten, poedifier

Sermon Outline (Aug. 19) and the King
2007-08-16 by David von Schlichten

I think I saw Elvis this morning at Wal-Mart. He was buying peanut butter and bananas. Just kidding, of course. He was actually buying socks.

Unfulfillment: Rick Brand has an insightful blog below on unfulfillment. His thoughts, in addition to my time with my Wednesday Bible study yesterday, have led me to the following sermon outline, thanks be to the Holy Spirit.


main point: Although the Church encounters much frustrating unfulfillment, God is still in charge; therefore, we keep running the race, trusting that fulfillment will come because of God.

texts: Hebrews mainly, but also Gospel

A. Elvis: Loved Gospel music; won three Grammys, all for Gospel music; loved God;

     1. Tragically, his own fame led him into sin and confusion 

     2. Died a legend, but there is also a sense of unfulfillment in that his fame led him away from living properly for God

B. Our lessons speak of unfulfillment, as well

     1. Jesus in the Gospel: the Good News divides families, and people can predict the weather but they can't see God working right in front of them

     2. Hebrews: the great cloud of witnesses remains unfulfilled if we do not persist; they need us to run the race

C. Unfulfillment can be discouraging: the Church falls short, the world falls short, so much division, even within families, false prophets mislead us

D. But God is still supreme: God has made us, saved us, sanctified us, baptized us into the larger family called the cloud, feeds us, teaches us

E. Therefore we can run the race, with Jesus as our past, pioneer, and perfecter

F. Through God will come fulfillment, so we keep running, powered by God, living in the Land of Grace

 David von Schlichten, poedifier

Unfulfillment and Dog Days
2007-08-15 by David von Schlichten

I will post my additional exegetical reflections and my sermon outline tomorrow (Thursday).  

But first, I find valuable Rick Brand pointing out that the theme of unfulfillment recurs in the lessons. His observation reminds me of a poem I wrote two or three years ago. Maybe someone will find it germane and helpful for proclamation.


The few of us who persist

Are sweltering, not just outside,

But inside, too, a fire in our bones,

All throughout these long, drawn days of summer.


Many Sundays the worship house is almost empty,

Dull echoes against stone and wood,

Animals nearby silent in the humidity.


Just weeks ago, on Pentecost,

The words, the language, floated out of me,

Shaped my mouth in foreign ways,

A language I had never studied but now could speak.

Dozens of us, in different languages, spoke the Gospel as one,

The Spirit's howl fresh in our ears,

Her fire scarlet over our heads.

Then 3,000 jumped into the river,

Thirsty for baptism, the miracle of tongues and

Peter's sermon still burning within them.


That night, we slapped each others' backs, drank wine,

Sang to God, dreamed of the world entire

Knowing the name of Jesus.


I still can speak that strange language,

Feel my tongue moving and trilling in odd ways,

Still feel the holy fire burning inside me,

Even as, on any given Sunday, 3,000 is sometimes

As low as thirty.

We who have as our center

The burial cave God shook open

And the power to tell this to anyone in any language

Refuse to let a little summer apathy conquer us.


David von Schlichten, poedifier

2007-08-15 by Rick Brand

There seems to be a common theme in the texts this week. Nobody is happy. Nothing is going the way it should, and they did not get all that they wanted.

God is not happy with the results. Jesus is restless because he is not yet creating the kind of response he came for and the saints all finished. They did not receive what they had been promised.

Not a Sunday for the "blue bonnet" theology. (Every thing is better with Jesus on it.)  But perhaps a good week for the congregation trying to get through the dog days of summer and nothing seems to be going right.

Hebrews, Craddock, and Apathy
2007-08-14 by David von Schlichten

Fred Craddock has a marvelous sermon based on these verses for Sunday. In the sermon he explains that the congregation for whom Hebrews was written has "lost its Amen." Craddock notes that many congregations lose their Amen, their zeal and passion, but this congregation is not "down on its all-fours looking for it. It doesn't care." The congregation has become apathetic.

The writer of Hebrews, Craddock proclaims, is a pastor trying to revive this congregation that has lost its Amen, has ceased to care.

Part of Craddock's focus in the sermon, then, is on apathy and on showing that sometimes Christians are afflicted with apathy but that, at the same time, there are many Christians who care.

Along these lines, Craddock tells the story of a woman who wants to leave the Church because she thinks no one cares about her. Craddock tries to convince her that people do care. Finally, she says, "Name some people who care about me." Craddock then says to the congregation, "May I give her your name?" and ends the sermon.

Craddock tells another story, which I will put on the "Share It!" site. It's fantastic.

More later.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, poedifier

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