Sermon illustrations


An Astronaut Enters Jerusalem

Neil Armstrong, the great astronaut, once took a trip to the Old City of Jerusalem. He went to the Hulda Gate, which opens to the Temple Mount. Armstrong asked a guide whether Jesus had in fact walked that same path, and when told that Christ had, he humbly replied: “I have to tell you, I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon.”

From Joshua DuBois, The President’s Devotional, Harper One.

Being Born Again

This being born again is no longer the active transfer of our will from the realm of inclination into that of obedience. It is, in the sense of the third chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, the conquest of the resistance of the natural man, to…overcome the natural aversion, indeed the horror, against that ‘entirely other’ to which after all he is called.

Rudolph Otto

The Big and Little Choices

The pioneering work of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky has been popularized in recent years by the gamut of notable thinkers, including Malcolm Gladwell (Blink) and, in this case, Michael Lewis. Their life’s work focused on the nature of human decision-making. In this short excerpt, Amos Tversky describes the difference between how the mind makes big and little decisions, and how those decisions shape an entire life:

It’s hard to know how people select a course in life…the big choices we make are practically random. The big choices we make are practically random. The small choices probably tell us more about who we are.

Which field we go into may depend on which high school teacher we happen to meet. Who we marry may depend on who happens to be around at the right time of life. On the other hand, the small decisions are very systematic. That I became a psychologist is probably not very revealing. What kind of psychologist I am may reflect deep traits.

Quoted in Michael Lewis, The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, W.W. Norton & Co, 2016.

Faith Like a Journey

While global flights and online booking have made travel easier in many ways, other aspects, often related to safety and security, still create challenges. As often as I fly, I could tell you plenty of stories about missed connections, canceled flights, wayward baggage, and unexpected layovers. No matter how advanced our technology, we still face challenges from changing weather patterns, new government policies, and human errors anytime we attempt to travel from point A to point B. The same is true in our spiritual lives.

The metaphor of our faith being like a journey may seem like a cliché, but it nonetheless inspires us with new insight as we seek to follow Jesus in our daily lives. No one lived out a journey of faith that was both literal and symbolic quite like the apostle Paul. Called by God to share the good news to all people, not just the Jewish nation, Paul traveled on foot, on donkey, on horseback, and by ship.

And as recorded in the New Testament, he faced about every obstacle imaginable—and some beyond what anyone could imagine! Paul overcame storms, shipwrecks, snakebites, jail cells, angry mobs, and Roman trials, and his example continues to encourage each of us to persevere wherever we may be in our journey of faith or whatever we may be facing. And it’s a given that we will encounter obstacles, conflicts, problems, and storms along the way. In fact, most of us at one time or another will lose our way and will discover, only by the grace of God, the courage to blaze new paths and reach the divine destinations for which he created us.

Samuel Rodriguez, Shake Free: How to Deal with the Storms, Shipwrecks, and Snakes in Your Life, Waterbrook, 2018.

The Greatness of Roads

One could spend long hours making a list of great human achievements-from the wheel to the great cathedrals to the discovery of DNA and the development of computers-and Ivet leave out one of the most important attainments because it is too obvious, too ordinary, and too ancient: the road.

Roads are the circulatory system of the human race and the original information highway. From times long before the written word, roads have linked house to house, town to town, and city to city. Without roads there are no communities. Roads not only connect towns but give birth to them. They pass through all borders, checkpoints, and barriers, connecting not only friend to friend but foe to foe. Far older than passports, the road is an invitation to cross frontiers, to start a dialogue, to end enmity. Each road gives witness to the need we have to be in touch with one another.

…Supreme collective endeavor that they are, roads reveal the cultures that made them. Roman roads tend to run straight as Roman laws, but in many cultures roads take many straight as Roman laws, but in many cultures roads take many turns as they search out fords, avoid marshes, find higher ground, touch wells and pubs, and seek holy places.

Roads are life giving. They provide the primary infrastructure of social life. Without them, there is no commerce. Without roads and the delivery systems they support, we would starve. Even more important than safeguarding weights and measures and punishing those who watered down the beer, it was the primary task of kings and queens to maintain and keep safe the highways.

…Human history is the history of roads. Empires have been ranked according to the quality of their highways. Roman highways were so well built that even today, two millennia later, portions of them not only survive but remain in use.

Roads mark the way to safety. Paths tells the traveler how to get round a chasm or find a ford to cross the river. They point the way through marshes and around quicksand.

…Roads not only take us toward each other but, when we need to be rescued from society, they lead us to solitude.

The same road that leads to Rome is, in reverse and at its furthest reaches, a route to the desert. Roads have a sacramental aspect: a road is a visible sign of a hidden unity. Roads are a map of human connectedness.

The road is a primary metaphor. In the gospel Christ speaks of choosing the narrow path rather than the broad highway- Early Christians called themselves followers of the Way.

The road has often been a place of religious breakthroughs. Two disciples walked with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, unaware of who he was. Later they took the same road back to Jerusalem, where they related how Christ had revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread.

Jim Forest, The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life, Orbis, 2007.

The High-way and the Wall

Now I could see in my dream that the High-way Christian was to travel on was protection on either side by a Wall, and the Wall was called Salvation. Burdened Christian began to run up the High-way, but not without great difficulty because of the load he was carrying on his back.

He ran this way until he came to a place on somewhat higher ground where there stood a Cross. A little way down from there was an open Grace. And I saw in my dream that just as Christian approached the Cross, his Burden came loose from his shoulders, fell from his back, and began to roll downward until it tumbled into the open Grave to be seen no more.

John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress.

How Did I Get Here?

In John Perkins’ memoir, Dream with Me, the civil rights leader describes how a life lived with God can change very suddenly, and what was seemingly impossible can become possible:

How in the world did I get here? The only answer I know to give is that these things can happen when you walk with God. It’s easy to look at a person—to see where he started and how far he has come—and think you know how the story will end. But I’ve learned what Saul learned on the road to Damascus: when God’s involved, everything can change in an instant.

You may think you know where you’re headed, but often God has a different plan—something “exceedingly abundantly above all that [you] ask or think” (Eph. 3:20 NKJV). Sometimes a light drizzle becomes a deluge. Other times you open your eyes to find yourself by still waters. Sometimes you hear thunder clapping along with the rain. Other times the clouds disappear so you can see a billion stars in the sky.

John M.Perkins, Dream with Me, Baker Publishing Group.

Journeying: Finding the True Value of Life

“Follow the yellow brick road.” In L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (later made famous by the 1939 film adaptation, The Wizard of Oz ), these words provide the directions given to Dorothy for how to find the Emerald City and the Wizard who can help her (and her little dog) get home to Kansas.

As one who grew up seeing versions of this novel in movies, plays, and musicals, I remember that these words mark the beginning of a journey that Dorothy takes with various companions she meets along the way. I also remember that the story itself is really more about the journey than the destination. The road is filled with trials, hardships, and obstacles. The Wizard of Oz portrays the most dangerous parts of the path as a wilderness— a haunted forest complete with animated trees and evil flying monkeys.

But perhaps the biggest thing I recall about this story is that it was this journey— with all of its danger and distress— that made Dorothy and her friends into who they really needed to be. Through this journey, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion all became the very things they thought they weren’t (smart, compassionate, and courageous), and Dorothy realized the true value of the life she had at home.

Brad E. Kelle, Telling the Old Testament Story : God’s Mission and God’s People, Abingdon Press, 2017. 

Leaving Late and Arriving Early: The Power of a Good Detour

Not long ago I came upon a wreck on a road that leads from our national office to our local church. It appeared that the wreck had happened only minutes before I arrived. A car was completely overturned in the middle of a lane, and another one had skidded off to the side. An ambulance had arrived, and police cars, lights blazing, circled the disaster zone. I and the other cars barely moved at all. We came to a halt and then crawled, at best. We scooted instead of driving.

When a police officer would wave his hand up ahead, it seemed like he gave us only inches to move at a time. I sat there for what felt like forever, only eventually making it past the accident and through the line of cars. I had left someone else at the office earlier who had also planned to make the trip over for another meeting. He had been tied up at the time and said he would arrive a little late. However when I finally did get to the church, he had pulled into the parking lot ahead of me. I asked him how he got there so soon. Didn’t he come upon the same wreck that I had? Actually, he had. But seeing the cars stalled ahead, he had taken his own detour and, as a result, beat me to the church. He left later and arrived earlier, all because he chose a detour. 

Tony Evans, Detours, B&H Publishing Group.

The Path We Tread

From valley to valley out over the hilltops, From sunshine to fog like the darkest of night; So we follow the Lord down life’s winding pathway, And walk much by faith and little by sight.

It would be easy to see were His presence like lightning, And easy to hear if like thunder His voice; But He leads in the quiet by the voice of the Spirit, And we follow in love for we’ve made Him our choice.

The path that we tread by the cross is o’er shadowed, And the glory at times by pain is made dim; Temptations assail and the spirit grows weary, Yet we’re ever sustained by the vision of Him.

The years of our lives be they few or be many, will soon pass away as dreams of the night; Then we’ll step through the portals on eternity’s morning, And greet Him in glory as faith turns to sight.

Richard L. Baxter

Peregrinatio Pro Amore Dei

Here’s a true story, from the year 891, of those who cast off in an embodied journey to live “in a state of pilgrimage, for the love of God.” Three Irish pilgrims, Dubslane, Macbeth, and Maelinmun, made the dramatic decision to set out into the ocean from their homeland in a boat purposely “without oars.” Their destination was in God’s hands, or, more precisely, in God’s breath.

In Hebrew, wind, breath, and Spirit are all the same word. Their boat was made of two and a half hides, and they took provisions for seven days. On the seventh night they landed in Cornwall, in what today is the southwestern tip of England, convinced that they were precisely where they were meant to be. There’s a Latin term that captures both their purpose and experience and that of hundreds like them: “peregrinatio pro amore Dei,” or “wandering for the love of God.”

Many pilgrims from Ireland had gone before, departing without external destinations, but guided by interior journeys. Trying to explain their motivation, one author says they were “seeking the place of one’s resurrection.” Such pilgrims felt compelled to do so, often against all odds.

Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage, Broadleaf Books, 2020.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

In his excellent study of the famous Biblical passage on shepherds, (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament), scholar Ken Bailey provides context to the 23rd psalm, specifically the phrase “the valley of the shadow of death” v.4:

The former shepherd Krikorian describes such a valley that is just south of the Jerusalem-Jericho road. He writes, There is an actual valley of the shadow of death in Palestine, and every shepherd knows of it. . . . I had the good fortune of having at least a passing view of this valley. . . .

It is a very narrow defile through a mountain range where the water often foams and roars, torn by jagged rocks. . . . The path plunges downward . . . into a deep and narrow gorge of sheer precipices overhung by frowning Sphinx-like battlements of rocks, which almost touch overhead. Its side walls rise like the stone walls of a great cathedral. . . . The valley is about five miles long, yet it is not more than twelve feet at the widest section of the base. . . . The actual path, on the solid rock, is so narrow that in places the sheep can hardly turn around in case of danger. . . . In places gullies seven and eight feet have been washed

 Lamsa notes,

 Valleys of the shadow of death are paths which wind in between mountains where there are dark shadows and deep gorges. Travelers march slowly and silently in order to avoid being seen or heard by bandits. The fear of death is constantly in their minds. They tremble, they expect trouble or death at any time while they are passing through.

Taken from The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament by Kenneth E. Bailey, Copyright (c) 2014, pp.47-48, by Kenneth E. Bailey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


“Why? Because it is There”

The British mountaineer George Leigh Mallory became famous after multiple expeditions on Mount Everest. On a book tour in the U.S. in 1923, people would regularly ask him the question, “why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” His answer was the same each time: “Because it is there.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

You Have Been Chosen

“I am not made for perilous quests,” cried Frodo. “I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?” “Such questions cannot be answered,” said Gandalf. “You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess; not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.”

J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

See Also AdventureCouragePilgrimage, Risk, Travel

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Consider checking out our quotes page on a Journey. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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