Sermon Illustrations on Truth
Let Us Not Turn the Cross Into a Metaphor
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous.
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour,
we are embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” Telephone Poles and Other Poems, Knopf Publishing.
Saints of Darkness?
There are many ways to be a saint, and at times our fidelity may look like betrayal. We may have to become “saints of darkness.” We may have to be saints whose light seems to go out as we wander in the shadows, saints who tell the truth even when the truth seems blasphemous. Satan is the father of lies, so lying about our doubt and pain, even in the name of piety and reverence, is Satanic. Conversely, the truth, even when impious and irreverent, can free us. Saint Job is proof, and at the end of his story he gets what he asked for: a showdown with the divine.
Taken from Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer. Copyright (c) 2018 by Austin Fischer. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
So Much Straw
Thomas Aquinas, the famous medieval theologian, created one of the greatest intellectual achievements of Western civilization in his Summa Theologica. It’s a massive work: thirty-eight treatises, three thousand articles, ten thousand objections.
Thomas tried to gather into once coherent whole all of truth. What an undertaking: anthropology, science, ethics, psychology, political theory, and theology, all under God.
On December 6, 1273, Thomas abruptly stopped his work.
While celebrating Mass in the Chapel of St. Thomas, he caught a glimpse of eternity, and suddenly he knew that all his efforts to describe God fell so far short that he decided never to write again.When his secretary, Reginald tried to encourage him to do more writing, he said, “Reginald, I can do no more. Such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems as so much straw.”
Don McCullough in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching, p 91.
The Sun or a Planet?
An important representative of the pluralist position has been the British Protestant theologian John Hick, an unusually prolific and articulate writer. Hick has hit on a very graphic metaphor: He calls for a “Copernican revolution” in our thinking about religion. Christians have traditionally thought of their faiths the center around which everything else in the world is circling.
They now should think of their faith, advises Hick, as one of many planets circling around the sun of absolute truth—a truth that remains inaccessible to us in its fullness, which we can grasp only partially from the perspective of the one planet on which we happen to be sitting. While this is an attractive metaphor, Hick seems to exclude the possibility that some “planets” may not face the sun at all—in other words, he seems to imply that all “planetary” perspectives are equally valid—which is a hard argument to make, given the sharp contradictions between some of the perspectives.
Peter Berger & Anton Zijderveld, In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic.
The Truth Will Set You Free
Dallas Willard gave a series of lectures on the kingdom of God. In one, he discussed the popularity of the phrase, “The truth will set you free” by putting it in its proper kingdom context:
The whole passage from John 8 is this, “When Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” It’s amazing how people will just start at the end and come back and chop off what they want.
We have an elevator at USC [where I teach philosophy] in the humanities building that just says “The truth will make you free.” Apparently you don’t even have to know [the truth]. It just works, right? Jesus really said, “If you continue in my word.” That means “If you put in practice what I do, if you walk in it.”
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral
One of the gifts John Wesley left the church is the Quadrilateral. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral refers to the four ways we come to know something as true: Scripture (what the Bible teaches), tradition (the teaching of the church through the centuries), reason (our rational capacity), and experience (the knowledge we have of something experientially). Just as I have proposed that if something is true it’s usually beautiful and good, Wesley proposed that if something is true, it must also be biblically grounded, be in sync with church teaching, make sense to us rationally, and make sense in our own lives.
This is a good way to examine what we believe. To be certain, Wesley put the greatest weight on Scripture, less weight on tradition, and even less weight on reason and experience, because we are all capable of deception (as history and our own lives have shown).
It is my intention to use the Quadrilateral when answering the question, is it true?… This is a good way to examine what we believe. To be certain, Wesley put the greatest weight on Scripture, less weight on tradition, and even less weight on reason and experience, because we are all capable of deception (as history and our own lives have shown).
Taken from The Magnificent Story by James Bryan Smith. Copyright (c) 2018 by James Bryan Smith. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
What is the Meaning of Life?
Recently I was watching a children’s television show on YouTube with my kids, when the host asked, “What is the meaning of Life?” His response was typical: “I don’t know,” but what he said next made me laugh: “I don’t know, but I could really go for a smoothie right now!” It’s funny to think about, but isn’t that how many of us respond to the big questions of life?
I don’t have the answer but a smoothie sure sounds good right about now! We end up numbing ourselves with immediate pleasures when we really need to do is search for the truth.
We mask our deep longings for meaning in different ways, sometimes with the classic drugs of our society, alcohol, opiates, food, prescription pain killers, or we do it with “good things” that become ends in themselves: our careers, our families, our busyness. As Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”…So when the deep, foundational questions of our existence bubble up to the surface, may we look first to Christ, not a smoothie.
Stuart Strachan Jr
What Kind of Inquiry does this Ordering Policy Recommend?
When the movie The Da Vinci Code hit the theaters and the swirl of related controversy began to pick up speed, I decided finally to read the book so that I wouldn’t be found ignorant dinner parties. I went to the bookstore on campus at a prominent conservative Christian university in my area.
I quickly located five different books by Christian authors criticizing Dan Brown’s work.
But I searched in vain for the book itself. Finally. I went to the sales desk for help. I was politely informed by the nineteen year-old student worker behind the counter that there were no copies in stock. I asked if they were temporarily sold out.
Could I place one on orders? “No”, he said with a slightly holier-than-thou tone, “we don’t carry that book”. I asked. “Yep. “You don’t find that odd?” “Nope.” “What kind of inquiry do you suppose this ordering policy recommends?” “We stared blankly at each other – or maybe past each other—for a second or two, and then he turned his attention to the next customer in line.
Gregg A. Ten Elshof, I told me so: Self Deception and the Christian Life, Eerdmans, 2009.
The Discipline of Not Having the Last Word
In his book, Soul Keeping, pastor John Ortberg describes his mentorship by Dallas Willard early in his ministry. The following vignette occurred while Willard was teaching a philosphy course at the University of Southern California, which demonstrates some of Willard’s character:
Toward the end of one of his philosophy classes a student raised an objection that was both insulting toward Dallas and clearly wrong. Instead of correcting him, Dallas gently said that this would be a good place to end the class for the day. Afterward, a friend approached Dallas: “Why did you let him get away with that? Why didn’t you demolish him?” Dallas replied, “I was practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word.”
So, “Yes,” Dallas said in response to my confession. “Being right is actually a very hard burden to be able to carry gracefully and humbly. That’s why nobody likes to sit next to the kid in class who’s right all the time. One of the hardest things in the world is to be right and not hurt other people with it.”
An Expert in Biblical Trivia
The prince of Grenada, an heir to the Spanish crown, was sentenced to life in solitary confinement in Madrid’s ancient prison. The dreadful, dirty, and dreary nature of the place earned it the name, “The Place of the Skull.” Everyone knew that once you were in, you would never come out alive. The prince was given one book to read the entire time: the Bible.
With only one book to read, he read it hundreds and hundreds of times. The book became his constant companion. After 33 years of imprisonment, he died. When they came to clean out his cell, they found some notes he had written using nails to mark the soft stone of the prison walls.
The notations were of this sort: Psalm 118:8 is the middle verse of the Bible; Ezra 7:21 contains all the letters of the alphabet except the letter J; the ninth verse of the eighth chapter of Esther is the longest verse in the Bible; no word or name more than six syllables can be found in the Bible.
This individual spent 33 years of his life studying what some have described as the greatest book of all time. Yet he could only glean trivia. From all we know, he never made any religious or spiritual commitment to Christ. He simply became an expert at Bible trivia.
Leonard Sweet, AquaChurch: Your Church in Today’s Fluid Culture, p. 59.
Pursuing Truth Over Revenge
I would like to share with you a true story that took place during the Revolutionary War. During that time there was a pastor named Peter Miller, and all through his ministry in a small town in Lancaster County, he had a neighbor who took great pleasure in mocking and ridiculing Miller and his followers. And as it happens, during the war, that neighbor fell on hard times and was both accused and convicted of treason. And while of course, he was an unpleasant person, Miller was convinced that he was not in fact, a traitor. And so Peter Miller decided to travel 70 miles on foot to see George Washington, who he believed could commute the sentence, and free him of the charges against him.
When Miller approached the great general, Washington told him he was sorry but there was nothing he could do to save his friend. “My Friend?” Miller gasped, he isn’t my friend! In fact he is the greatest enemy I’ve ever had” Washington needless to say, was surprised:
“What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That in my judgment puts the matter in different light. I’ll grant your pardon.”
And so, the story goes, Miller returned home just as his neighbor was being led to the scaffold. The Neighbor cried out to the crowd… “Old Peter Miller has coming to get his revenge and watch me hang from the scaffold”. Miller said “not at all” and he handed him the paper with his pardon.
Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Stephen Olford, The Grace of Giving.
Sculpting Potatoes: Searching for Something
The following story is a great analogy to what life is like before we find we experience the eternal truth of the gospel.
In Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Richard Dreyfuss’s character, throughout the movie, is searching for something, and he cannot rest until he finds it. He can’t put his finger on what it is, but he manically tears up his yard and frantically sculpts the shape of a mysterious mountain out of a pile of mashed potatoes on a plate while his wife (played by the amazing Teri Garr) and children look on in horror and bewilderment. He doesn’t know what he is looking for or what he wants, but he is not going to find any peace until he figures it out.
Jeannie Gaffigan in Jennifer Fulwiler, Your Blue Flame: Drop the Guilt and Do What Makes You Come Alive, Zondervan, 2020.
The Truth Is Out There
We are a couple of decades past the vastly popular initial run of the TV show The X-Files, but its themes continue to resonate. In the show, two FBI agents, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, investigate paranormal claims that somehow all trace back to an interconnected web of conspiracies involving extraterrestrials and clandestine branches of the United States government.
Mulder and Scully represented two facets of our psyche: he the “true believer” and she the skeptic. “I want to believe” read a poster featuring a UFO on Mulder’s office wall. “Show me the facts,” Scully said in so many words on each investigation. The deeper they went, the more complex the conspiracy seemed to get—and the more convoluted for viewers like me.
But still they soldiered on, wide-eyed interest and narrow-minded scrutiny working side by side to finally get to the bottom of the truth. By the end of the program and throughout a couple of theatrical movies and TV miniseries revivals, Mulder and Scully had switched places. The true believer had become hardened, grizzled, much more of a skeptic.
He was tired of the search. The skeptic, on the other hand, had had her mind more and more opened by things she’d seen. She became more open, more “religious.” This dynamic plays out today, I’m convinced, in the current fascination with the true crime genre. In streaming documentaries, investigative news shows, and journalistic podcasts, we are exploring “cold cases” and perplexing disappearances with an increasing amount of obsessiveness.
There is something about the mystery that drives us. Somebody has to know something. The facts have to add up to something. I confess that almost every day I check key word searches on three unsolved crimes that have particularly affected me. It has become routine to search for any news or developments in two murder cases and one disappearance.
You may not be so compelled, but you’ve probably watched Making a Murderer or The Staircase on Netflix. Or you’ve clicked on yet another link about the murder of JonBenet Ramsey or the mysteries of the Zodiac Killer or D. B. Cooper. There’s something about the search that is itself satisfying. Why? Because we know the truth is out there and we believe, despite the daily deception we accept as part of living in the modern world, that finding it is worth it. Justice is at stake.
Jared C. Wilson, The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies about God that Sound Like the Truth, Nelson Books, 2020.
Charlie Chaplin Loses His Own Contest
In 1975, several years before his death, Chaplin entered a look-alike contest of himself in France. He probably thought he was a shoo-in for the prize and everyone would have a hearty laugh at the end. But then he came in third.
A Leg is a Leg…
Abraham Lincoln once asked a deputation, “How many legs would a sheep have if it called his tail a leg?” The deputation promptly answered, “five.” “No,” said Lincoln, “it would not. It would have only four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.”
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