Sermon illustrations


Awakening into the House and Gate of Heaven

This prayer, written by the great British pastor and poet John Donne, anticipates the new heaven and new earth that we will one day experience with our Lord:

Bring us, O Lord, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginning, but one equal eternity; in the habitation of thy glory and dominion, world without end.

Quoted in John Polkinghorne, The God of Hope and the End of the World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), 98.

Effective Commodities

Salt and light are both effective commodities.  They change the environment into which they are introduced. … It may be argued that salt and light have complementary effects.  The influence of salt is negative; it hinders bacterial decay.

The influence of light is positive; it illumines the darkness.  Just so, the influence of Christians on society is intended by Jesus to be both negative (checking the spread of evil) and positive (promoting the spread of truth and goodness, and especially of the gospel).

Taken from The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor by John R. W. Stott Copyright (c) 2007 by John R. W. Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Experiencing the Inner Radiance of a Fellow Believer

When I was in college, I lived abroad for a year in Germany. We always had Fridays off so that we could travel around Europe on the Eurail pass. One weekend we were in the popular backpacker city of Interlaken, Switzerland, and having just checked in to our hostel, happened to meet some fellow college students/travelers from Wisconsin. There was a woman in the group with whom we began a conversation. It became clear to me that there was something special about her. 

Not her looks or her intellect, but rather, something like an inner radiance. But what was fascinating was, after returning to our room, I was chatting with one of the friends who had  also met the young woman and somehow, this woman came up in our conversation, and we both had the same impression. There was something about her, she was our age, a peer, who made us feel a sense of comfort in her presence. Somehow later we discovered she was, as we suspected, a faithful Christian. Looking back, I would say it was the Holy Spirit emanating from her, showing us an inner light that was so impressionable I remember it to this day, some twenty years later.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Light and Dark and the Enduring Metaphor

In 1998, Nick Cave, an Australian rock/pop artist, was asked by the Vienna Poetry Academy to give a series of talks on the nature of song-writing. A year later he gave a slightly revised version of the same speech at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic and the joy of love, for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil – the enduring metaphor of Christ crucified between two criminals comes to mind here – so within the fabric of the Love Song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering.

*Editor’s note: Nick Cave has at times self-identified as a Christian and at others not, regardless, the argument is an interesting one.

Nick Cave, Speech: “The Secret Life of the Love Song”, London, March 30, 1999.

Meditation in the Toolshed

I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place.

Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.

C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock.

Per Crucem Ad Lucem

There’s an aphorism repeated often in the writings of the medieval church: per crucem ad lucem, through the cross to the light. God loves us passionately and wants to bring us joy and flourishing, but this doesn’t preclude a cross. God’s love is refracted through the cross, which often makes it hard to see or recognize. But if we are to learn to trust—to place the weight of our lives on the love of God—we can only learn this through the cross.

Taken from Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren Copyright (c) 2021 by Tish Harrison Warren. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Punching Holes in the Darkness

I’ve always loved the story about Robert Louis Stevenson growing up in Scotland. In those days, streetlamps didn’t just come on automatically; people were hired to light each one individually. One evening, as the lamplighters did their work, climbing their ladders, lifting the glass lid, lighting the torch, shutting the lid, climbing down, and moving on to the next lamp, young Stevenson was enthralled. As dusk settled into night, one light would be kindled, then another, and another. He turned to his parents and said: “Look, they’re punching holes in the darkness!”

Skip Heitzig, Article: Punching Holes in the Darkness, Billy Graham.Ca

Secure in Her Presence

Sigmund Freud tells the story of a three-year-old boy crying in a dark room of a home he was visiting one evening. “Auntie,” the boy cried, “talk to me! I’m frightened because it is so dark.” His aunt answered him from another room: “What good would that do? You can’t see me.” “That doesn’t matter,” replied the child. “When you talk, it gets light.”

This child was not afraid of the dark but of the absence of someone he loved. What he needed to feel secure was presence. We all need the same; knowing presence is the ground of this basic sense of safety for all of us.

David G. Benner, Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life, Brazos Press, 2014.

Surrounded by Beauty

I am abashed, solitary, helpless, surrounded by a beauty that can never belong to me. But this sadness generates within me an unspeakable reverence for the holiness of created things, for they are pure and perfect and they belong to God and they are mirrors of his beauty. He is mirrored in all things like sunlight in a clean water: But if I try to drink the light that is in the water I only shatter the reflection.

A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations From His Journals.

What is the Meaning of Life?

The writer Robert Fulgham tells the story of one of his professors, a man named Alexander Papaderos,  who once taught Fulgham a two-week course on Greek culture. Towards the end of the last session, his teacher opened the floor for questions. Fulgham boldly asked “Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life. After a few moments Papaderos pulled his wallet from his pocket, removed a tiny, quarter-sized mirror, and replied:

When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken piece of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place. 

I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine-in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. But light-truth, understanding, knowledge-is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it. 

Introduction by Stuart Strachan, taken from Robert Fulgham, It was on Fire when I Lay it Down.

See also Illustrations on Darkness, Direction, Evangelism, Joy

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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