She looked like a veteran teacher--no-nonsense eyes, graying hair pulled into an unpretentious bun, tiny age lines between a thin nose and thinner lips. But I learned that she lacked enough confidence to teach a Sabbath school class. She had dropped out of college in her 20s; a marriage had ended in divorce. In a moment of candor she told me: "As a child I could never do anything right. My mother never com mended anything I did. Intellectually I know what happened to me, but emotionally I'm a casualty."
He was slim, tall, professional appearing. I overheard him speaking to a friend as he left the Sabbath service at a suburban church. "I keep wondering why I come back. It's the guilt. I leave the church with more than I brought."
Look over your congregation and you'll see them in every pew: Worthless and Guilt sitting self-effacingly, seeming to disappear into the woodwork when witness is called for. When they disappear from the congregation, they're hardly missed. Few needs mount a greater challenge to the pulpit ministry. How should we respond?
I found the answer in what I call fulfillment preaching--meeting parishioners' needs in such a way that they can achieve their potential in Christ. If you'll find a pew, I'll show you. And if you'll meet me in the foyer afterward, I'll let you listen to the testimonials of the "walking wounded."
First, however, let's look at key elements in Christ's approach to broken victims of sin. What needs does He address? With what results?
Christ's mission: to make humanity whole
In His inaugural address at the Nazareth synagogue, Jesus said His mission included healing the brokenhearted and preaching deliverance to the captives. Their regret, their mourning, and their disheartened spirit were to be met and overcome by "good tidings" (Isa. 52:7, KJV). The result: praise and gladness. All this that God might be glorified.
Remember the parable of the good Samaritan? Christ affirmed in that story that our ministry must meet the needs of the bruised and the wounded in our midst. Christian ministry cannot pass by on the other side, rushing to serve the routines of a theoretic religion. It must put on, as did the Samaritan, flesh and blood, ad dress human distress, and bring about a total healing.
In addressing human needs, in pointing fellow sinners to completeness in Christ, 1 I am following the prescription of the Great Physician.
Psychologists speak of human needs that must be met if we are to be whole. In addition to food, water, clothing, and housing, these needs include love, companionship, a meaningful philosophy of life, security, serenity (peace of heart), recognition as a person (self-esteem, self-respect), and freedom.2 When constructing a sermon, I visualize these needs incarnate sitting before me in church. And in the name of Christ I extend His invitation: "Wilt thou be made whole?" (John 5:6, KJV).
Two incidents, involving a paralytic and the Samaritan woman, illustrate key aspects of Christ's fulfillment ministry to broken victims:
1. The therapy of sonship. Before healing the man suffering from palsy, Jesus removed his guilt and consequent self-loathing. "Son [explore the dimensions of status implicit in that word , be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you" (Matt. 9:2).* Similarly, He elevated the status of the Samaritan woman by speaking to her in defiance of social convention.
Also, in His conversation with her, Jesus emphasized
2. The primacy of relationship. When Jesus revealed His knowledge of her sordid past, she sought to divert His probing by introducing a doctrinal controversy where one should worship, at Mount Gerizim or in Jerusalem. Doctrine is important: it gives us insights into God's character. But it is not more important than relationship. In ministering compassion to the woman, Jesus said, in effect, "Woman, the sinful life you have lived without Me is not so important as the fulfilled life you may live in Me."
Her lifestyle also revealed
3. The inadequacy of sin. The Samaritan woman had sought to fill her needs for love, belonging, self-esteem through sin (a counterfeit satisfaction). Sin seeks to satisfy legitimate needs, needs God Himself put in us, in an illegitimate way that is, in a way contrary to the laws that govern our well-being. Sin, short-term, may meet a physical need; in some cases, a mental need. But it falls short of meeting the needs of a physical-mental-spiritual being. In fact, one definition of sin (Old Testament, chata, New Testament, hamartia) is "miss the mark"--as when an arrow falls short of the target.
Jesus, to the contrary, emphasizes the full life--one in which our needs are met on every level. Because we are not just bodies, stocks and bonds can't satisfy our need for spiritual security. So He assures us that nothing can pluck us from His hand. "Do not fear," He says to the insecure, "for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). The respect Christ showed the Samaritan woman, combined with His acceptance of her despite her past, had an interesting result: she rushed into town saying, "Come, see a Man who revealed my past! He must be the Messiah!" (See John 4:29.) As in other in stances, fulfillment resulted in witness--a consequence that would enliven many congregations.
The therapy of sonship, the primacy of relationship, the inadequacy of sin (which translates into a testimonial for the fulfilled life)--each is worth many a sermon. And, I should add, many a doctrinal sermon. If, however, you remain skeptical of fulfillment preaching, let me pause here for station identification: Sonship begins at Calvary; relationship starts with the new birth, and provides a powerful corrective for legalism; and the realization that sin cannot meet our needs opens our heart to the multidimensional ministry of Him who offers to make us whole.
Now, let me invite you to slip into a back pew if you're at least willing to be convinced, and to sit up front if you just want to rejoice in what you've already found convincing. My sermon title, "What's in a Name?" is listed in the bulletin. What doctrine will it communicate? Not the state of the dead, not the Sabbath, nor baptism, nor stewardship. Perhaps not what some of you consider doctrine. But doctrine nevertheless. In the book Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . . , you'll find my subject under three headings: "The Doctrine of God," "The Doctrine of Man," and "The Doctrine of Salvation." I shall not, of course, exhaust these subjects in one sermon.
All doctrines reveal how God wishes to be perceived. Says the book: They reveal "what we believe about His love, kindness, mercy, grace, justice, benevolence, purity, righteousness, and peace. . . . Every doctrine, every belief, must reveal the love of our Lord. ... Christ-centered doctrine performs three obvious functions: first, it edifies the church; second, it preserves the truth; and third, it communicates the gospel in all its richness. True doctrine calls for far more than mere belief--it calls for action." 3 I invite you to look for these elements, these functions, and these calls in my sermon, "What's in a Name?"
I step to the pulpit, open my Bible to Revelation 2:17, and read: '"I will give him [who overcomes] a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.'"
[With fulfillment objectives in mind, I'll touch context (Revelation as apocalyptic literature) only in the introduction. Brackets encompass explanations or condensed material. Watch for elements that evoke felt needs and awareness of accepting counterfeit satisfactions. I'll begin by projecting my needy listeners into a victory scenario.]
"Use your imagination to step with me onto the sea of glass. See yourself standing there with other overcomers. The real you. No mask anymore. And in that transcendent glory you find it hard even to remember the defeats, the humiliations, the loneliness of sometimes being you.
"And then Jesus steps forward, and you see mirrored in His eyes all the love of the universe, time without end, pouring over you. And in those nail-scarred hands is a white stone with a new name written.
"There may not really be a white stone. The book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature. But there will be a new name, as many verses document. A name that represents the real you. The unique you. (Fingerprints, signatures, and DNA prove there is no one just like you in all the world.)
"Ever since our first parents put on fig leaves, we've all been wearing masks, hiding. But God wants to restore us to our authentic self. And someday He'll have a new name for us. What will it mean, that new name? What's in a name?
"Let's think deep thoughts about names. About yours and mine. We'll explore (I) the importance of your name, and (II) the character, (III) identity, and (IV) potential involved in it.
I. Names are important to God
[In this section I'll establish God's benevolent involvement in the life of every person. And I'll step into the sermon an important element in any sermon and even more so in fulfillment preaching, which must be relational.]
"Some Eastern religions teach that the individual means nothing. That our destiny is to attain nothingness by merging into the great cosmic all. Happiness will be attained, we are assured, when [use names from the congregation] are no more. When all that's left is a great homogenized lump of nothingness.
"But that's not the scenario God projects. Every person, however little known, is important to Him. Most everyone's favorite verse is John 3:16: 'God so loved the world that He gave . . .' But I'm even more thrilled by the idea that He loves even Roland R. Hegstad. [Here I speak of my own child hood in a home so humble it didn't even have a number--all it had was a location.] God knew me before I uttered my first squalling demand for attention. I surprised Mother by coming two months early--but I didn't surprise God.
[I quote Jeremiah 1:5; Isaiah 45:1- 4; and Genesis 17:19, 21 all to show that even before the cradle, God knows us.]
"He knew me before I was born. And when the doctor laid me in a shoe box on the newspaper-covered kitchen table, when he told my folks not to expect me to live, that I was too small--under three pounds--God knew that, too. In fact, He didn't see only a baby whose survival seemed in doubt. He saw me here today. And you, too--every one of you. And He saw us on the sea of glass with a new name written, a name with a meaning that penetrates the secret coding of our DNA, that reflects our victories over hereditary tendencies and habits. And someday God will call us by that new name, and we'll walk through the fields together. We'll walk and talk as good friends should and do. We'll clasp our hands; our voices will ring with laughter. All because names are important to God.
II. Names are indicative of character
[My argument--incorporating a facet of the doctrine of God is this: God's name Yahweh stands for integrity. It assures us that we can count on Him. What does your name stand for? If you've taken the name of Christ, your traits may be identified as His.]
"A name tells us something about a person. The name is the person, and the person is the name.
"The Hebrew word for 'name,' shem, can be translated 'person.' To a Hebrew a name indicates (1) the character of the person named, (2) the thoughts or emotions of the one giving the name, or (3) circumstances at the time the name was given.
"When a person passed a significant test of character, his name might be changed. Thus Jacob, a crook who cheated his brother, became Israel, overcomer or prevailer.
"Aspects of God's character are conveyed through His names. He is called El Shaddai, most often translated 'God Almighty.' But the best translation may be 'Bountiful Giver,' for whenever this name is used, the verse speaks of God pouring out blessings. God chose to re veal a new dimension of His name Yahweh in connection with bringing His people out of their Egyptian slavery. I am Yahweh,' He said. 'I made my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan.... Say this, then, to the sons of Israel, "I am Yahweh. I will free you of the burdens which the Egyptians lay on you. I will release you ... with my arm outstretched. . . . And I will be your God" ' (Ex. 6:2-7, Jerusalem).
"God's very name, then, stands for never-changing purpose, for integrity. To know God is to know the reality of His promises. It shall be. It cannot be otherwise. It is as sure as His name.
"And what about your name? What does it stand for?
[I examine some names: Hildegarde, Elizabeth, Wendy--and a selection from the congregation. I refer to people who have given their name to a trait of character: Rodomont a--braggart or boaster; Pollyanna--perpetual optimist; Maverick--a nonconformist (the name of a rancher who refused to brand his cattle); Quisling . . .]
"Could it be that your name too may become synonymous with your character? No, you may never make the dictionary, but the neighborhood may think of you when someone mentions--what? Happiness? Kindness? Gossip? Complaining?
"If you've taken the name Christian, your traits of character may be linked with God's name. His objective for us is that we give Him glory, that is, demonstrate His genuine goodness to the world He came to save.
"Names are indicative of character. And so also will be that new name' which no one knows except him who receives it.'
III. Names help us realize who we are
[Here I have several objectives. One is to penetrate facades. Another, to suggest that we lose identity by letting others define us. Another, to probe self-images. I have prepared my listeners to believe God's promises are as sure as His name. Now I want to bring them assurance of His unconditional love and grace while they are yet sinners. And finally, I shall ask: If, with all your blemishes, the Father counted your life of more value than that of His Son, can you not then accept yourself?]
"We don't always know who we are. We wear masks. We put on masks to escape the responsibility of being us. Or to gain acceptance through an image that we think others will like better than the real us.
"So we wear masks like Diligent Student, Faithful Wife, Pious Parson, Erudite Editor, Respectable Teacher, Committed Christian.
"What's wrong with wearing such benevolent masks? "Edgar Allan Poe tells the story of the parson who wore a mask that he refused to take off. When he died, his curious friends slipped it off, only to find that the parson was faceless.
"Wear a mask too long, and you may forget what you're really like and be come faceless. Or you may set up such a conflict between what you are and the mask you wear that your personality may split [example: Three Faces of Eve].
"We play games until we delude ourselves. We lose identity by letting people define us. By running with the crowd. That's what they were doing in Pergamos [Here I give a textual exposition that shows why God's warning is warranted.]. In the book Roots the significance of Kunta Kinte's being made to call himself Toby may be missed. It is this: While he was able to define himself he couldn't be anyone's slave.
"Have you faced up to the problems that motivate masquerades? Ask your self: Have I accepted myself fully? Have I accepted my gifts? my limitations? Have I accepted my lot in life? my sex? my age? Have I accepted my status as a single? my financial situation? my health? the way I look? In short, do I accept what I am?
"A young man heard his folks arguing. They were dredging up old issues. They were blaming each other for his birth. Mother had forgotten to take the pill. He was an accident. Unwanted. So he tried suicide.
"What was the meaning of his life when he was not supposed to be born? If his parents didn't want him, who did?
"Jesus did. He knew what it meant to be unwanted, unaccepted. After all, who really believed the story about God being His Father! It took the intervention of an angel to get Joseph to go through with the wedding after Mary told him she was pregnant. And at the end those to whom He had come tried to rid Him out of this world, on a cross!
"What a heart He must have for the unwanted. The unwanted child. The unloved wife. The rejected suitor or husband. The lonely. How acutely He feels our rejection, our loneliness, our pain.
"Thank God that Jesus came down to show us what it means to be wanted! To be loved! To be accepted as part of His great universal family! At Bethlehem, Love came down and walked among us, Love with a name above all names--Jesus.
"He came when we were no-names in the universe, the victims of child abuse from our father the devil. And He adopted us into His family! Gave us the legal right to be called His sons and daughters His heirs! And, thank God, He gave us the power to live up to the family name. [Jesus says of Pergamos: "You holdfast to My name."]
"Why shouldn't I accept myself when Jesus accepts me? How do I know that Jesus loves me? The cross. How do I know that the Father accepts me? The cross. How do I know my real worth? The cross.
"That beautiful book on the life of Christ, The Desire of Ages, emphasizes our value: 'The Lord is disappointed when His people place a low estimate upon themselves. He desires His chosen heritage to value themselves according to the price He has placed upon them. God wanted them, else He would not have sent His Son on such an expensive errand to redeem them. He has a use for them, and He is well pleased when they make the very highest demands upon Him, that they may glorify His name.'4
"It is this understanding of our value in Christ that enables us to accept our selves. And only then can we accept and love others. So it was with Jesus. Jesus knew Himself. He knew He was God's Son. So can we be God's children. The virtue does not lie in us, but in Him. Our salvation does not depend on us but on the righteousness of our Saviour. The Father counted our sins to be His; then He poured (the Greek meaning) His righteousness into us (2 Cor. 5:21). And when the Father looks down on us, He does not see the vileness of the sinner, but rather the likeness of His beloved Son!
"So with John, 'consider the incredible love that the Father has shown us in allowing us to be called "children of God" and that is not just what we are called, but what we are. . . . Here and now, my dear friends, we are God's children' (1 John 3:1, 2, Phillips).
"As God's children, we must not let others define us. Our Father is King of kings and Lord of lords. And He's coming back for us soon. His very name assures us of that. And we have a heritage beyond the stars and an appointment on the sea of glass, and a new name written.
IV. The potential in your name
"Our text hints at the potential, for it suggests that your true identity is a great treasure, to be fully realized only at the last day when all things are to be made whole. And that is what God wants to do for you--to make you at last fully and finally yourself.
"But even in the here and now God sees in you a potential that He can use to bring glory to His name.
[I point out that few of us achieve our potential. I recite names copied from the World War I Memorial in Ypres, Belgium. Then I ask: "Was there a Jonas Salk among the 250,000 young men who died in the Ypres salient between 1914 and 1918? Someone who would have conquered cancer? A Martin Luther King, Jr.? A political leader? A great evangelist? What was the potential in their names? What is the potential in yours?" I step back into the sermon to tell of my resisting God's call to service. I emphasize the fear I had of public speaking, my inability to see how I could be of use to God. "But God saw some thing in me that I didn't. And who are we, the creatures of His hand, to argue with God? The God who made me, who knew me before my members were formed, who took me off the kitchen table of that little shack in Oregon, blew life into my lungs, and invited me to take His name."]
"No, we may not change the world. But what of our home? Our school? Our neighborhood? Is there someone walking its sidewalks a little less lonely be cause of you? What of your church? What is your response, you who are called by His name?
"To take His name means more than we sometimes realize. [What were the consequences of holding fast God's name in Pergamos?] It means we are to accept all that name stands for of character, integrity, spirit, audacity, sacrifice, love, service, obedience.
"Maybe, just maybe, you've thought you could just opt out of this great cosmic controversy between Christ and Satan. Maybe you've thought that one person more or less doesn't matter. But war isn't just masses of planes, cannon, thundering, armies marching. War is a foxhole. Your own little piece of shell-pocked real estate. Dirt in your hair, smoke in your eyes, the sword of the Spirit in your hand. Little do we know the impact one well-fought foxhole may have in the cosmic conflict raging about us.
"Consider Mr. lob. Beings from other worlds had discussed his faithfulness. Satan had charged that Job would curse God if things went bad for him. What if Job had opted out? He didn't know that the theater of the universe was filled to watch his performance. Standing room only up there. A review being written that would thrill audiences for 30 centuries and more.
"All he knew were boils and pain and financial disaster and personal tragedy, not to mention insensitive friends who thought he was being punished for being a hypocrite. He never heard the cheers and shouts from a million worlds as the production he starred in moved toward its climax: "
'You can do it, Job! Hang in there!'
"He never heard the intake of breath across the galaxies as they waited to see whether he would curse God. And when his words came at last--'Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him'--the universe erupted! Hundreds of worlds wobbled in orbit at the shock wave of cheers for him! His name on a billion lips: 'Job! Job! You did it! You brought glory to God's name!' The name Job means 'one persecuted.' But I wonder whether, on that white stone, his new name will mean 'one vindicated.'
"God too seeks vindication through the rest of those who are called by His name. The Revelator's appeal to give God glory (Rev. 14:7) translates into permitting Him to give free expression to His genuine goodness through our witness. Yes, you too are part of some thing big. The universe out there knows you. Shed a tear and far-off worlds weep with you.
"They're all counting on you, you see. Counting on you to do your part. To live up to your name. To live up to God's name. And it may seem so little--a kind word, a helping hand, words wisely spoken, a quiet No under temptation, a church position well filled, a willing spirit. It may seem so little, so very little . . .
"But wars are not won on big maps. Wars are won on little beachheads. In personal foxholes. And a record is being kept of the fierce encounters; and some where the victories--your victories--are being inscribed on a white stone by a laser beam of holy light.
"And there awaits you a new name written, a name that stands for victory over synthetic self, a name that shall witness eternally to the loveliness of the real you the you who dared to say, 'Yes, Jesus, I'll take Your name.'"
[We sing "If Any Little Word of Mine," and I ask whether I may pray especially for one who wishes to make a commitment to take Christ's name, and then for those who wish to recommit themselves to the values for which it stands. Many respond, and after prayer I invite all to walk out as befits sons and daughters of the King. You and I meet in the foyer just as Sister Worthless and Brother Guilty come by.]
"You know," Brother Guilty says introspectively, "week after week I've walked out of here with a load of guilt. Today I'm walking out standing tall. I'm a child of the King! There's royal blood in my veins. The universe knows me, and God loves me!"
Sister Worthless tells us she's always loved God but could never really believe He loves her. "I can't tell you what God has done for me this morning," she says. "Suddenly all the years my parents told me I was worthless have faded away. For the first time I know my heavenly Parent loves me without reserve."
There's more: Two weeks later she stops to tell me that she has purchased four tapes of "What's in a Name?" She' s listened to the sermon a half dozen times and shared the other tapes with friends. As I said, witness follows worth. When we know who we are, we are freed to love. And that's fulfillment.
* Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations
in this article are from The New King James
1 See Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain
View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1952), p.
2 See Silvano Arieti, The Will to Be Human
(New York: Quadrangle Books, 1972).
3 Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . .
(Washington, D.C.: Ministerial Association, General
Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1988), pp.
4 White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View,
Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), p. 668.