Sermon illustrations


Cutting Ourselves Off

I have a neighbor who is obsessively neat. He lives on ten forested acres, and every time he drove up his long, winding driveway, the disorderly dead branches on the Ponderosa pine trees bothered him. One day he called a tree-trimming service and learned it would cost him five thousand dollars to trim all those trees.

Appalled at the price, he rented a chain saw and spent several weekends perched precariously on a ladder cutting back all the branches he could reach. He called the service for a new estimate and got an unwelcome surprise. “Mr. Rodrigues, it will probably cost you twice as much. You see, we were planning to use those lower branches to reach the higher ones. Now we have to bring in an expensive truck and work from a bucket.”

In some ways, modern society reminds me of that story. We have sawed off the lower branches on which Western civilization was built, and the higher branches now seem dangerously out of reach. “We have drained the light from the boughs in the sacred grove and snuffed it in the high places and along the banks of sacred streams,” writes Annie Dillard.

Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World Zondervan, 2003, p.19.

The Invisible Gorilla

Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons conducted an experiment at Harvard University more than a decade ago that became infamous in psychology circles. Their book The Invisible Gorilla popularized it. And you may be one of the millions of viewers who made their Selective Attention Test one of YouTubes’s most-watched videos.

The two researchers filmed students passing basketballs while moving in a circular fashion. In the middle of the short film, a woman dressed in a gorilla suit walks into the frame, beats her chest, and walks out of the frame. The sequence takes nine seconds in the minute-long video. Viewers are given specific instructions.:

“Count the number of passes by players wearing white shirts.” Of course, the researchers were not interested in their pass-counting ability They wanted to see if the viewers would notice something they weren’t looking for, something as obvious as a gorilla. Amazingly, half of the test group did not.

How is this possible?

How do you miss the gorilla in the room?

Mark Batterson, The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible, Baker Books .

He Once Was Blind

For fifty-one years Bob Edens was blind. He couldn’t see a thing. His world was a black hall of sounds and smells. He felt his way through five decades of darkness. And then, he could see. A skilled surgeon performed a complicated operation and, for the first time, Bob Edens had sight. He found it overwhelming.

“I never would have dreamed that yellow is so . . . yellow,” he exclaimed. “I don’t have the words. I am amazed by yellow. But red is my favorite color. I just can’t believe red. “I can see the shape of the moon—and I like nothing better than seeing a jet plane flying across the sky leaving a vapor trail. And of course, sunrises and sunsets. And at night I look at the stars in the sky and the flashing light. You could never know how wonderful everything is.”

Max Lucado, God Came Near: God’s Perfect Gift. Thomas Nelson.

Holding on to the Extreme

Have you ever seen an episode of the A&E TV show Hoarders? It’s a show about perfectly normal-looking people who live in perfectly normal-looking houses who become overwhelmed by their possessions. Their problems start when what appears to be an innocent collection of baseball cards takes over the attic.

Meanwhile, a pile of magazines stashed in a closet forces its way into the hallway before claiming the living room. But that’s nothing compared to the sacks of bargains—beautiful new clothes with the price tags attached, shiny red blenders, and Star Wars figures still in their boxes, all of which conspire to push the car out of the garage and into the front yard. Add in a few bags of trash that can’t find their way to the curb for pickup, and the next thing anyone knows, the people residing in the house are trapped.

Most end up sleeping on top of a pile of dirty clothes because they can no longer find their beds. Of course the situation wouldn’t have gotten so bad if their army of non-neutered cats hadn’t continued to spawn new litters of kittens. Before the occupants knew what happened, their house became a mewing, mildewy, macabre mess, a mess you’d think they’d love to be rescued from, but no!

When a concerned family member tries to remove so much as a cobweb, the trapped inhabitant protests, “But that’s Sylvia, my favorite spider. I couldn’t possibly part with her. Her work has been hanging on my walls for years!”But by the end of the show, after a professional cleanup team sorts through the massive contents of the house, clears away the carcasses of a few expired pets, and hauls away the trash, a miracle happens. With their belongings no longer piled to the ceiling, the homeowners walk from room to room admiring the fact that, yes, their house does have a floor, and even a couch you can sit on!

One woman gushes, “I have so much space that I can now open my refrigerator door!” while a man admits, “With the hallways passable, I don’t have to use the outdoor toilet in the backyard.” Another amazed homeowner looks around at her now livable space and says, “I had no idea I’d let things get so bad.” Really? You didn’t notice the smell of your dead pets or that you had to climb over a mountain of clothes and newspapers to get to the kitchen? Somehow, I believe their admission of blindness because I’ve seen this same blindness at work in my own life.

Linda Evans Shepherd, How to Pray in Times of Stress, Baker Publishing Group, 2014, pp. 32-33.

The Love of God Wrapped About Him

The sense of Presence! I have spoken of it as stealing on one unawares. It is recorded of John Wilhelm Rowntree that as he left a great physician’s office, where he had just been told that his advancing blindness could not be stayed, he stood by some railings for a few moments to collect himself when he “suddenly felt the love of God wrap him about as though a visible presence enfolded him and a joy filled him such as he had never known before.”

An amazing timeliness of the Invading Love, as the Everlasting stole about him in his sorrow. I cannot report such a timeliness of visitation, but only unpredictable arrivals and fading-out. But without doubt it is given to many of richer experience to find the comfort of the Eternal is watchfully given at their crises in time.

Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, Harper & Bros., 1941.

Missing the Stars

Søren Kierkegaard told a parable about a rich man riding in a lighted carriage driven by a peasant who sat behind the horse in the cold and dark outside. Precisely because he sat near the artificial light inside, the rich man missed the panorama of stars outside, a view gloriously manifest to the peasant. In modern times, it seems, as science casts more light on the created world, its shadows further obscure the invisible world beyond.

Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World Zondervan, 2003, p.18.

Spiritual Blindness in The Magician’s Nephew

Jesus is clear that it is dangerous to close one’s ears, eyes, and heart to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. In The Magician’s Nephew, a novel from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, Narnia is created when Aslan—the lion who represents Jesus—sings it into being. The creation song reveals Aslan’s majesty and glory. It is a grand “call to worship!” But there is one, Uncle Andrew, who refuses to hear it, and the consequences are staggering:

When the great moment came and the beast spoke, he missed the whole point for a rather interesting reason. When the lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, he had realized that the noise was a song. And he had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel.

Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (“only a lion,” as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make himself believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing—only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world.

“Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing?” And the longer and more beautifully the lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring.

Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to. And when at last the lion spoke and said, “Narnia awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl. And when the beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, bayings, and howlings.”

C.S. Lewis, The Magicians Nephew, HarperCollins.

Walking by Faith, Not by Sight

Bill Irwin was not the first person ever to walk the Appalachian Trail. He was not the only individual to begin in Springer Mountain, Georgia, and conclude on Mount Katahdin, Maine. Other adventuresome souls have hiked the twenty-one hundred miles, endured the snow and heat and rain, slept on the ground, forded the streams, and shivered in the cold. Bill Irwin was not the first to accomplish this feat. But he was the first in this respect: he was blind when he did it.

He was fifty years old when, in 1990, he set out on the hike. A recovering alcoholic and committed Christian, he memorized 2 Corinthians 5:7 and made it his mantra: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

And that is what he did. He did not use maps, GPS, or a compass. It was just Irwin, his German shepherd, and the rugged terrain of the mountains. He estimated that he fell five thousand times, which translates into an average of twenty times a day for eight months. He battled hypothermia, cracked his ribs, and skinned his hands and knees more times than he could count. But he made it. He made the long walk by faith and not by sight. You are doing the same. Probably not on the trails of the Appalachians, but in the trials of life. …No, you are walking on a road even steeper and longer—the path between offered prayer and answered prayer. Between      

  • supplication and celebration        
  • bent knees and lifted hands        
  • tears of fear and tears of joy        
  • “Help me, Lord” and “Thank you, Lord”

Max Lucado, You Are Never Alone: Trust in the Miracle of God’s Presence and Power, Thomas Nelson, 2020.

See also Illustrations on Bias, Eyes, Sight, Vision

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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