Sermon illustrations


All the Land He could Walk

Leo Tolstoy once wrote a story about a successful peasant farmer who was not satisfied with his lot. He wanted more of everything. One day he received a novel offer. For 1000 rubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day. The only catch in the deal was that he had to be back at his starting point by sundown. Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace.

By midday he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground. Well into the afternoon he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point. He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run, knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost. As the sun began to sink below the horizon he came within sight of the finish line.

Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared. He immediately collapsed, blood streaming from his mouth. In a few minutes he was dead. Afterwards, his servants dug a grave. It was not much over six feet long and three feet wide. The title of Tolstoy’s story was: How Much Land Does a Man Need?

Bits and Pieces, November, 1991.

Companies and Worship

Martin Lindstrom observes: When people viewed images associated with the strong brands-the iPods, the Harley-Davidson, the Ferrari, and others-their brains registered the exact same patterns of activity as they did when they viewed the religious images. Bottom line, there was no discernible difference between the way the subjects’  brains reacted to powerful brands and the way they reacted acted to religious icons and figures.

James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ, InterVarsity Press.

Living In Excess Comes in Different Sizes

For many of us, living in excess doesn’t express itself in extremities. It doesn’t translate to tying $4,000 to balloons and releasing it into the air. It doesn’t have to amount to owning six houses (two of which we never use) and four Rolls-Royces. Excess comes in petite sizes, too.

Maybe we need a comfortable pair of sneakers because we’re on our feet all day at work. Instead of just getting a pair from a trusted brand, we walk out of the mall with three pairs of Air Jordans. Lavishness is unique to each of us in our own position and means of living. Lavishness is not a type of owning—that is, it’s not a true representation of owning—but a malformed way to own.

Kyle David Bennett, Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World, Baker Publishing Group, 2017, p.44.

Materialism: An Awe Problem

… I am deeply persuaded that materialism is not first a “thing” problem but an awe problem. We cannot control our lust for things because our capacity for awe has been kidnapped. We find it nearly impossible to be content because the vertical awe that produces contentment is not functioning in our hearts the way God intended it to. Only when awe of God is in its rightful place in our hearts will the physical things around us be in their appropriate places in our lives.

Taken from Awe: Why it Matters to Everything We Think, Say, and Do by Paul David Tripp, © 2015, pp.107-109. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems

At the airport, Hugh Maclellan Jr. saw an acquaintance who looked troubled. “What’s the matter?” Hugh asked. The man sighed. “I thought I was finally going to have a weekend to myself. But now I have to go supervise repairs on my house in Florida.” Dejected, he sat waiting to take off in his private jet.

Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah, 2001), p.51.

Pardon Me…

Many years ago, one mustard dominated the supermarket shelves: French’s…It was a yellow mustard, made from ground white mustard seed with turmeric and vinegar, which gave it a mild, slightly metallic taste…In the early seventies, Grey Poupon was no more than a hundred-thousand-dollar-a-year business. Then one day the Heublein Company, which owned Grey Poupon, discovered something remarkable: if you gave people a mustard taste test, a significant number had only to try Grey Poupon once to switch from yellow mustard. In the food world that almost never happens…Grey Poupon was magic.

So Heublein put Grey Poupon in a bigger glass jar, with…enough of a whiff of Frenchness to make it seem as if it were still being made in Europe (it was made in Hartford, Connecticut, from Canadian mustard seed and white wine)…Then they hired the Manhattan ad agency Lowe Marschalk to do something, on a modest budget, for television.

The agency came back with an idea: A Rolls-Royce is driving down a country road. There’s a man in the back seat in a suit with a plate of beef on a silver tray. He nods to the chauffeur, who opens the glove compartment…The chauffeur hands back a jar of Grey Poupon. Another Rolls-Royce pulls up alongside. A man leans his head out the window. “Pardon me. Would you have any Grey Poupon?” In the cities where the ads ran, sales of Grey Poupon leaped forty to fifty per cent, and whenever Heublein bought airtime in new cities sales jumped by forty to fifty per cent again…

Malcom Gladwell, The Ketchup Conundrum, The New Yorker Magazine

Rising GNP and Lowering GNH

There has been a paradigm shift going on in neighborhoods in the United States since the end of WWII. For decades before the 1940s, neighborhoods were places where people were known and were active. Whether a rural community, a suburban street, an urban block, or an apartment complex, neighbors commonly saw themselves as having a shared life in their neighborhood that naturally involved celebrating together, helping each other, and looking after the neighborhood.

But that’s been changing. The evidence suggests that “America’s dramatic economic growth during the post-WWII era has been accompanied by substantial increases in individualism and materialism.” We may be experiencing unprecedented levels of prosperity, but our social fabric is falling apart.

While our GNP (Gross National Product) has been doing quite well, our GNH (Gross National Happiness) has not. The GNH is an index of seventy-two indicators that seek to measure well-being and flourishing, and our country’s GNH has been dropping steadily.

Research shows we have lower self-reported happiness, poorer interpersonal relationships, higher levels of anxiety and depression, and greater antisocial behavior. As we focus more on material things and less on relationship, chronic loneliness has become more common in our neighborhoods. And because we are more isolated from our neighbors, we have turned to purchasing the care we once received from neighbors. The net result: neighborhoods are no longer places where we are known and active.

Taken from The Hopeful Neighborhood: What Happens When Christians Pursue the Common Good by Don Everts Copyright (c) 2020 by Don Everts. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


So Many Things

The story is told of Socrates walking through the market in Athens, with its groaning abundance of options, and saying to himself, “Who would have thought that there could be so many things that I can do without?”

Taken from A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future by Os Guinness Copyright (c) 2013 by Os Guinness. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

10 Principles to Live By

In his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster shares 10 principles that can help you cultivate an attitude of simplicity over materialism:

  1. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
  2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
  3. Develop a habit of giving things away.  De-accumulate.
  4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.
  5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.  Enjoy public parks and libraries.
  6. Develop a deeper appreciation for creation.
  7. Look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes.
  8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech.
  9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
  10. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.

Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 3rd ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1998, pp.90-95).

See Also Illustrations on Appearances, Money, Possessions, Self-CenteredSelf-Image, Wealth

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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