The following is the Sunday morning sermon during the 2022 Biennial Convention by President Paul Larson. You can also watch a video of the sermon at the end of this article.
If you watch the overhead video of the most recent Kentucky Derby race, you will marvel! “Rich Strike,” a surely also-ran horse, just entered into the race the day prior after a more worthy horse was scratched, starts from the farthest lane away from the rail—in last place. Then little by little, turn by turn, he threads a needle from the back of the pack, working his way forward. And then, down the stretch, he finds this extra gear that not even he knew he had, makes this stunning “run for the roses,” and wins!
I’m no horse-lover, but watching the run of Rich Strike, at the end I was choking back emotion. Perhaps tucked deep down inside, I wanted to believe that race and story could somehow be my story and the story of my Church.
I have been dwelling in Hebrews 10:32-39, a Scripture that speaks of a great contest, and partnership, and resolve.
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great contest full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
CLB Disciple-Making Church: We are Partners in Mission because of a Great Struggle, and Partners in Mission because of a Great Hope.
The writer of Hebrews reminds the Church of their history, their personal conversion, their persistence through hardship—and refers to it all as a “great contest.” Our challenges have been hard, but oh, they are nothing new!
I’ve learned that in horse racing the simple word “trip” refers to the course followed by a horse and rider during the running of a race, including the trouble encountered. A “good trip” means the horse does not encounter unusual difficulty. A “bad trip” might involve racing wide or being boxed in by other horses. Well, Church of the Lutheran Brethren, these past four years—this has been quite the “trip,” hasn’t it? I know it’s been a hard trip.
We are Partners in Mission because of a Great Struggle! We remember our own history as a Church movement, and our own personal history, when many others and we ourselves “received the light” of the gospel (v. 32): “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.”
We remember the historical challenges the CLB and your congregation have had! Many questions. Tensions. Struggles. Dreams and higher hopes often than leaders or resources we could see. Difficult decisions, sacrifices, casualties. Those who left the church, those who left the faith, those who gave their lives to extend the gospel.
Remember also your trials since receiving the light. Perhaps not least in the contest is that light seems sometimes more a flickering wick than the bright light you wish or remember—in your community, congregation, or in yourself.
“A great contest in the face of suffering.” The four years since our 2018 Convention seem more like a century of change and trial the Church has faced: pandemic and polarity, tensions and questions, mask and mandate, race and sexuality, authority and freedom, war and sanctity and safety, etc.
In verse 33, the Hebrews writer says, “Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution…” Those who identify with Christ may be shamed by the very people and society they are sent to with the Gospel. And why should we think that the world has so progressed and refined that all this will necessarily bypass us; that we might not also face what saints faced then, and in other parts of the world do today?
The writer goes on, “…and at other times you stood side by side with those so treated.” This is key! What was the resilience of these believers in their struggle? They did not face this great contest alone! They faced these challenges, questions, tensions, deficits, rejections, even shame—side by side, partners in the struggle!
It is the opportunity and great necessity of our time and our Church that we stand side by side in our mission; that greater partnerships among us be forged! Greater symbiotic partnerships of congregations, pastors, CLB departments, of congregations with denomination, of Regions and Regional leaders, of denomination with affiliate ministries, with our international sister Churches, and in collaboration with other like-minded Lutheran entities.
With courageous creative partnership in mission we must advance women serving together with men in the full scope of their giftings, gaining a fuller blessing of perspective and leadership, in roles that may be creative and new, yet in keeping with the complementary callings of God’s design in creation and his Church. And with that also, exciting and necessary, the partnership of younger and older. The voice, gifts, insight, energies of younger leaders welcomed to the table. May these partnerships, forged in struggle, flourish among the CLB, a disciple-making people!
We are Partners in Mission because of a Great Hope! The writer of Hebrews tells us in verses 34-37, the best is yet to come, to keep our joy and to persevere, because in “just a little while he is coming…”
Undoubtedly Rich Strike will be turned into an epic equestrian film. And like every great horse movie before, from Phar Lap to Flicka, Secretariat to Seabiscuit, Black Beauty to Black Stallion… we know how the movie ends, right?!?
And do we somehow know less how the story of the Church and our Partnership in God’s Mission ends?! What is it that quickens our pulse, inspires our mind, and steels our resolve?! While the story of a horse’s surge to the finish line may move us, surely not more than:
- the Proclamation of the gospel of Jesus’ cross,
- the Power of his resurrection,
- the Promise of heaven,
- and the eternal Predicament of our neighbor in desperate need of these.
No! What steels our resolve, inspires our minds, and quickens our hearts and hands is our partnership in this mission as a Disciple-Making Church!
In verse 38 we hear a sober interruption, a warning label of sorts paraphrased from Isaiah and Habakkuk: “But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But following comes God’s sure confidence in this contest—a “holy wager” of sorts by the Savior on the darkest horse, with the longest odds: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.”
The great race has already been won by Jesus; the results are posted and paid off. And in this certainty, we simply run. We Call ourselves and others by the Word to Follow. We Partner in Mission. We Unleash New Leaders, and Multiply New Disciples and New Congregations.
We know how the race and the movie ends. We are not of those who shrink back, but those who believe and are saved.
Rev. Paul Larson is President of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.