Sermon Illustrations on Anonymity


Hanging out in the Dark

A few years ago, a journalist named Joseph Blackman wrote an Op Ed on an interesting subject, “Why Clubs are Dark.” That is, why is it when you walk into a nightclub or a bar, the lights are off, or at a minimum, very low? It’s probably something you’ve noticed before, but did you ever take the time to wonder why? This journalist, who acknowledges spending a lot of time in clubs and bars did, and his reasons are quite interesting.

He said, “The more we know that we are concealed by darkness, the less self-conscious we are…Darkness hides things. One is more inclined to approach a woman at night in a jam-packed room with loud music than in broad daylight in a quiet coffee shop.” You combine this with alcohol and the results are rather obvious: anonymous hookups. 

Darkness, “Blackman” goes on, “heightens anonymity. The “mask” of darkness allows one to act other than themselves.

A part of the stain of sin is that we do those things we are ashamed of in the dark, not allowing the light of Christ to break through. And while you can inhibit your self-consciousness for a season, at some point you have to face yourself in the mirror. Eventually the booze and the music and the drugs will wear off.

Stuart Strachan Jr, Source Material from Joseph Blackman, Article: “Why Clubs are Dark”, Medium, February 17, 2018.


Is There Anybody Out There?

One of the universal experiences of life is questioning whether God really exists or if we are ultimately, alone in the universe. The great British theologian (this isn’t meant to be taken seriously) Roger Waters, of the rock band Pink Floyd, asks the question in the strangely named song “Comfortably Numb”:

Hello? Hello? Hello?

Is there anybody [out] there?

Just nod if you can hear me.

Roger Waters, “Comfortably Numb” (1980).

The Stalker

Editor’s Note: This story is often told as a true story, when in fact it is probably fictitious. Nevertheless, there is a significant illustrative point: sometimes the things we fear most may in fact be the most likely to save us.

One night a woman was driving home on the interstate when she noticed some strange behavior behind her. It seemed as though a semi-truck was following her. Every time she changed lanes, the truck-driver followed after her. She tried to speed up to lose him, but the man in the truck just kept up and followed after her.

Hoping this was all in her imagination, she began nervously checking her rear-view mirror. Each time he was there, determined it seemed to follow her wherever she went.

The lady began to panic, but having left her phone at work, she was unable to call the police. Eventually she decided to pull off the highway to try and find shelter at a well-lit gas station. Again, the truck seemed to be stalking her as she began hunting for a place to stop and get help.

Eventually she found a station, parked, got out of the car and began screaming for dear life. Just then she noticed the man getting out of the truck and charging full-steam towards her.

She prepared for the worst.

But just before he reached her, he darted for the back door of her car. The man flung open the door and pulled a man out of the back seat. It turned out, the man had snuck into her car earlier in the day with malicious intentions. The truck driver had somehow spotted the man as he casually glanced in front of him on his evening route.

Sometimes, the person trying to help us looks like the person most wanting to hurt us. The story begs a question: who is trying to hurt us and who is trying to help us? And do we sometimes confuse them?

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Up for Sale?

One of the early hits of the internet had to be eBay. Suddenly getting rid of your old junk, or otherwise unnecessary “stuff,” could be sold, not just to your neighbors in a yard sale, but to anyone with an internet connection and an eBay account. And because human beings are, well, human (aka odd), there is a never-ending supply of strange things that have been auctioned off on the site. For instance, a haunted rubber duck, which the seller purported to have the ability to possess children.

Who wouldn’t want a haunted rubber ducky? Well, apparently enough people to drive the price to 107,000! What about a grilled cheese sandwich? Not interested? Well what if said sandwich came with the face of Mary, yes that Mary, the mother of Jesus? That sandwich sold for $28,000. If you are starting to think some people have too much money (and time) on their hands, you are not alone. One of the strangest items to go up for bid, however, ended up breaking the eBay terms of service.

One 10-year old girl from England tried selling her grandmother. I’m not exactly sure why she was ready to cart off her poor grandmother, but maybe she was desperate for something–a doll perhaps?

Perhaps the strangest item to be put up for sale was a man’s own life. This is what the ad said:

My name is Ian Usher and I’ve had enough of my life. I don’t want it anymore. You can have it if you like. Whatever it is, it’s all going up for sale in one big auction, everything I have and everything I am. On the day that it’s sold and settled, I intend to walk out the front door with my wallet in one pocket and my passport in the other, nothing else. And then get on the train with no idea where I am going or what the future holds for me.”

Ultimately, Ian sold for $305,000 and with that money, the man moved to Australia. It turns out his wife had left him after six years of marriage and he was so dejected, so rejected that felt his life no longer had any purpose.

Ian clearly needed a reset, but was selling his life the solution to his problem?

Stuart Strachan Jr.


Pay it Forward Coffee

There’s a coffee shop in Bluffton, SC named The Corner Perk. Bluffton is near Charleston. In 2012, a woman who wished to remain anonymous handed the owner a hundred-dollar bill and said she wanted to pay for everyone’s coffee until the money ran out. And the woman returned six or seven times, plunking down more money to pay for people’s coffee and scones.

“People will come in and say, ‘What do you mean? I don’t understand.  Are you trying to buy me a coffee today?’ said the shop’s owner Josh Cooke.  “And I say, ‘No, somebody came in…and left money to pay for drinks until it runs out.’”            

It took a while, but word spread around Bluffton about what this woman was doing. Now if you have a jaundiced view of human nature, you would think that people would stampede into the Corner Perk to score some free coffee. But what’s happened is that more and more customers have been leaving money to pay for other people’s drinks. What began as an anonymous act of creative generosity, has become contagious. And 11 years after this first woman’s generosity, it’s still going on – people are still plunking down money and paying for other peoples’ coffee. So if you’re in Charleston, you could take a side trip to Bluffton and stop by The Corner Perk. Maybe you’ll get a free cup of coffee, and maybe you’ll want to be generous and pay for someone else’s drink.

Scott Bowerman, Source Material from Cord Jefferson, “People Are Awesome: The Coffee Shop Where Everyone Pays for Everyone Else’s Drinks,” in, Jan. 10, 2012.

To Be One of the Great Ones Is Not What It Seems

For those of us who live in the shadow of self-doubt, who may wonder what meaning a life of relative anonymity may have in a society filled with the cult of celebrity in which likes, reposts, and digital followers are signs of significance, there is a beautiful description of a woman named Sarah Smith of Golders Green, 

First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers…Then, on the left and the right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done… ‘Is it?…is it?’ I whispered to my guide. ‘Not at all,’ said he. ‘It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.’ ‘She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?’ ‘Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two different things.’ ‘And who are these gigantic people…look! They’re like emeralds..who are dancing and throwing flowers before her?’ ‘Haven’t ye read your Milton? A thousand livery angels lackey her.’ ‘And who are all these young men and women on each side?’ ‘They are her sons and daughters.’ ‘She must have had a very large family, Sir.’ ‘Every young man or boy that met her became her son–even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.’ ‘Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?’ ‘No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.

Taken from pp. 108-110 in The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, MacMillan Publishing Co., 1974.


The Office Sign

Sometimes we become so lonely, we’ll do whatever we can to have some social interaction. Vulgar and with a quick wit, Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) was a significant short-story writer and social critic. At one point in her career, Parker had a cramped, dingy office in the Metropolitan Opera House (in New York City), and unsurprisingly, few people would come and visit her. She became lonely and depressed until she worked up the courage to do something about it. When it was time for the sign writer to paint her name on the office door, she had him write “GENTLEMEN” instead.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

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