Dead Man Walking: A Sermon Series for the Burned-Out

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One of my favorite cartoons depicts a burned-out, middle-age businessman. It begins with him saying, “At age eighteen I was married. As my bride walked down the aisle, I remember crying out to myself, “But I’m not ready!” When I was twenty the government drafted me into the army. I remember screaming out, “But I’m not ready!” At age twenty-four I had my first child, and I remember saying, “But I’m not ready!” At age twenty-six and age twenty-nine two more children came along, and I screamed out, “But I’m not ready!” At age thirty-five I became vice president of my company. I was not ready. At age forty-five I became president, and I said, “But I’m not ready!”

Finally, in the last frame of the cartoon, you see this man hiding in an underground cave. His children, his wife, and his business associates are all looking for him and calling out his name. He said, “At age fifty I ran away from home and work and came to this cave, and I’m not coming out until I’m ready!”

This fellow reminds me of a prophet named Elijah. Like the cartoon character, Elijah was stressed out and burned out. Like the cartoon character, Elijah ran away to a cave. And like the cartoon character, Elijah didn’t come out until he was ready.

Last January and February I preached a sermon series on Elijah called “Dead Man Walking: How a Burned-Out Prophet Came Back to Life.” (January is a crucial time for messages on real life issues, giving Christmas visitors a reason to return.) A quick overview of the series follows.

The “Dead Man Walking” series, based on the Elijah story in 1 Kings 19, connects with the struggles so many people are feeling these days as they feel the economic pinch and possibly even the crisis of unemployment. People can relate to the story of Elijah’s sitting in the wilderness, stressed out and burned out, ready to throw in the towel. Thankfully, Elijah recovered. If you follow the 1 Kings 19 story carefully, you see at least six steps in Elijah’s journey toward wholeness:

  • Elijah took some time off (1 Kings 19:3-4, 8).
  • Elijah took care of his body (1 Kings 19:5-8).
  • Elijah found strength in God (1 Kings 19:9, 11).
  • Elijah got help from others (1 Kings 19:16, 21).
  • Elijah adjusted his attitude (1 Kings 19:14, 18).
  • Elijah returned to service (1 Kings 19:15, 19).

For seven weeks (the six sermons listed above plus an introductory sermon), our church explored Elijah’s engaging story of renewal. Attendance significantly spiked, our congregation was encouraged, many new guests visited, and several joined.

To read the opening sermon from the Dead Man Walking series at no cost, or to order the entire series, visit my website, www.GettingReadyForSunday.com.

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Martin Thielen serves as senior pastor of Brentwood United Methodist Church, Brentwood, Tennessee. His preaching and worship website, including sermons and series, is www.GettingReadyForSunday.com. Martin’s most recent book is “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” A Guide to What Matters Most. Complete information about the book, including a free Leader’s Guide for leading a seven-week congregation-wide initiative based on the book, can be found at thielen.wjkbooks.com.

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