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Sermon illustrations

Wonder

Back in Flatland

In this short excerpt, pastor and author Austin Fischer describes the late 19th century book Flatland as an analogy for the often-one-dimensional faith that exists our time:

In 1884, an English schoolmaster named Edwin Abbott wrote a story about a two-dimensional world called Flatland, inhabited by various shapes (circles, squares, etc.). In Flatland, there is height and width but no depth—the shapes are stuck in two dimensions. But one fateful night, the main character, a Square, is visited by a Sphere from the three-dimensional world of Spaceland.

The Square is dazzled and dumbfounded, and when he tries to tell his fellow Flatlanders about Spaceland and a third dimension, he is locked up.

Over the last few hundred years, what seems to have happened to a great many of us is the exact opposite. Whereas we once understood we lived and moved and had our being in an enchanted three-dimensional world of limitless mystery and wonder, we’ve been duped into devolving back into Flatland. We’ve willingly locked ourselves up in a flat world under the pretenses that doing so would provide us control, comfort, and certainty. Science does it by rejecting all reality that cannot be measured in a beaker. Christianity does it by rigid biblical literalism. 

Taken from Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer. Copyright (c) 2018 by Austin Fischer pp.1-2. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Do Something Useful

How much curious and loving attention was expended by the first man who looked hard enough at the insides of trees, the entrails of cats, the hind ends of horses, and the juice of pine trees to realize he could turn them all into the first fiddle. No doubt his wife urged him to get up and do something useful…

Man’s real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God’s image for nothing. The fruits of his attention can be seen in all the arts, crafts, and sciences. It can cost him time and effort, but it pays handsomely. If an hour can be spent on one onion, think how much regarding it took on the part of that old Russian who looked at onions and church spires long enough to come up with St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection (New York: Modern Library, 2002), 19.

In the Beginning God…

On Christmas Day 1968, the three astronauts of Apollo 8 circled the dark side of the moon and headed for home. Suddenly, over the horizon of the moon rose the blue and white Earth garlanded by the glistening light of the sun against the black void of space. Those sophisticated men, trained in science and technology, did not utter Einstein’s name. They did not even go to the poets, the lyricists, or the dramatists.

Only one thing could capture the awe-inspiring thrill of this magnificent observation. Billions heard the voice from outer space as the astronaut read it: “In the beginning God”–the only concept worthy enough to describe that unspeakable awe, unutterable in any other way. “In the beginning God created”–the invasive, the inescapable sense of the infinite and the eternal.

Ravi Zacharias, “If the Foundations Be Destroyed,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 142.

Isn’t This Amazing?

In 1997, Reeve Lindbergh, daughter of aviator Charles Lindbergh, was invited to give the annual Lindbergh Address at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum to commemorate the 70th anniversary of her father’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic. On the day of the speech, museum officials invited her to come early, before the facility opened, so that she could have a closeup look at The Spirit of St. Louis, the little plane suspended from the museum ceiling that her father had piloted from New York to Paris in 1927.

That morning in the museum, Reeve and her young son, Ben, eagerly climbed into the bucket of a cherry-picker, a long-armed crane that carried them upward until the plane was at eye level and within their reach. Seeing the machine that her father had so bravely flown across the sea was an unforgettable experience for Reeve. She had never touched the plane before, and that morning, 20 feet above the floor of the museum, She tenderly reached out to run her fingers along the door handle, which she knew her father must have grasped many times with his own hand.

Tears welled up in her eyes at the thought of what she was doing. “Oh? Ben,” she whispered, her voice trembling, “isn’t this amazing?’“

Yeaaaaaahi” Ben replied, equally impressed. “I’ve never been in a cherry-flicker before!

Bonnie Steffen, Ed. Christian Reader, Source: Barbara Johnson, He’s Gonna Toot and I’m Gonna Scoot: Waiting for Gabriel’s Horn, Word.

A Modern Worldview

Now we are no longer primitive. Now the whole world seems not holy….We as a people have moved from pantheism to pan-atheism...It is difficult to undo our own damage and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it. We are lighting matches in vain under every green tree.

Did the wind used to cry and the hills shout forth praise? Now speech has perished from among the lifeless things of the earth, and living things say very little to very few…. And yet it could be that wherever there is motion there is noise, as when a whale breaches and smacks the water, and wherever there is stillness there is the small, still voice, God’s speaking from the whirlwind, nature’s old song and dance, the show we drove from town….

What have we been doing all these centuries but trying to call God back to the mountain, or, failing that, raise a peep out of anything that isn’t us? What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are they not both saying: Hello?

Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions & Encounters, Harper-Perennial.

“No…You’re Boring”

In her excellent book Liturgy of the Ordinary, pastor and author Tish Harrison Warren describes an encoutner her husband experienced while working on his PhD.

While my husband, Jonathan, was getting his PhD, he got to know a former Jesuit priest turned married professor—a holy man, a provocateur, and a favorite among his students. Once a student met with him to complain about having to read Augustine’s Confessions. “It’s boring,” the student whined. “No, it’s not boring,” the professor responded. “You’re boring.”

What Jonathan’s professor meant is that when we gaze at the richness of the gospel and the church and find them dull and uninteresting, it’s actually we who have been hollowed out. We have lost our capacity to see wonders where true wonders lie. We must be formed as people who are capable of appreciating goodness, truth, and beauty.

The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary. I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. But it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith—the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small—that God’s transformation takes root and grows.

Taken Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. Copyright (c) 2016 by Tish Harrison Warren, pp.35-36. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Rediscovering Wonder

In Susanna Clarke’s wonderful fairytale Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, she tells a story about the rediscovery of magic in England in the nineteenth century. In the beginning of the tale, magic has vanished from England. It remains part of English folklore, like the story of King Arthur, but no one has actually practiced it in many years. Nonetheless, there were men who called themselves magicians.

They did so in spite of the fact that “not one of these magicians had ever cast the smallest spell, nor by magic caused one leaf to tremble upon a tree, made one mote of dust to alter its course or changed a single hair upon any one’s head. But with this one minor reservation, they enjoyed a reputation as some of the wisest and most magical gentlemen in Yorkshire.”

These magicians spent their days in lengthy arguments about theoretical magic, debating the use of this spell over that, nitpicking the details of magic’s history in England, meeting once a month and reading “long, dull papers” to one another. The idea of actually practicing magic was vulgar.

Then Mr. Norrell showed up. He cast a spell that made all of the statues in Yorkshire’s cathedral come to life: shouting, singing, and telling stories about the deaths of the men and women whose images they bore. The magicians of Yorkshire were speechless. The world was far different than they’d believed.

I couldn’t help but feel a certain sadness reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I found myself identifying with the magicians of Yorkshire. My life as a Christian had left me with a certain amount of fluency with faith: I could keep up in conversations about theology, the history of the Bible, the world of the first century, and the history of the church. I could talk a bit about apologetics and worldview.

And I could talk a good bit about worship and liturgy in the church. But as I read Clarke’s book, I couldn’t help but feel the gap between knowing and know-how, between what I knew I could say about my faith and what I could do with it. At times, my faith felt like a boxed-in corner of my life, separate and distinct from the rest of it.

Taken from Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World by Mike Cosper. Copyright (c) 2017, pp.2-3. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

 

Sherlock Holmes and Watson Go Camping

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are going camping. They pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep. In the middle of the night Holmes wakes Watson up: “Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you deduce.”

Watson: “I see millions of stars and even if a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like Earth, and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life.”

Holmes: “Watson, you idiot, somebody’s stolen our tent!”

Geoff Anandappa

See also Illustrations on CreationGlory

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