Sermon illustrations


I Know the Way Out

I can’t help but recall here a scene from The West Wing. White House chief of staff Leo McGarry reaches out to his deputy, Josh Lyman, who is struggling with PTSD. Leo tells him a parable:

This guy’s walking down the street when he falls down a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey, you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts, “Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?” 

The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey, Joe, it’s me! Can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

James K.A. Smith, The Christian Century, “I’m a Philosopher. We Can’t Think Our Way Out Of This Mess”, February 25, 2021.

“I’m With You”

When I was in high school, I met a guy named Randy. Randy had three things I didn’t have: a Triumph motorcycle, a beard, and a girlfriend…I wanted all three in ascending order…Later I heard that Randy was a Christian and worked with an outfit called Young Life…Randy never offered me a ride on his motorcycle, but he tried to engage me in discussions about Jesus. I kept him at arm’s length, but that didn’t seem to chill his interest in finding out who I was and what I was about…I was a lousy student…My plan was to move to Yosemite and spend my days climbing the massive granite cliffs.

At the beginning of my junior year, I decided it was time to leave high school and make the move to Yosemite. I had a down vest, two red bandanas, a pair of rock climbing shoes, seventy-five dollars, and a VW Bug…More out of courtesy than anything, I swung by Randy’s house first thing on a Sunday morning to say good-bye. I knocked on the door and after a long couple of minutes Randy answered. I gave him the rundown on what I was doing…“You’re leaving soon?” he asked when I had finished. “Yeah, right now actually.”… Randy kept his earnest and concerned face, but he didn’t say a word … “Hey Bob, would you wait here for a second while I check something out?”

“No sweat, Randy.”

Randy disappeared for a few minutes into the house…When he came back to the door, he had a tattered backpack hanging over his shoulder…and a sleeping bag under his other arm. He was focused and direct. All he said was this: “Bob, I’m with you.”

Bob Goff, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World, Thomas Nelson, 2012.

“It’s All Done”

I went to the IRS office in Oakland. I waited. And I waited. Eventually I was escorted through a warren of cubicles to the one where I was to meet the agent who would assist me. Alone in the bowels of a large IRS office—without hope. Yes, I think that captures it. The agent there listened to my case, took all the relevant paperwork and excused herself to consult with someone else. I waited ten minutes. Then fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty . . . forty . . . forty-five minutes.

No one checked in. As far as I could tell, the agent had disappeared. No apparent sign of life—just a cubicle in the void. Suddenly, the agent was back. She handed me a sheet and said simply, “There, it’s all done. It’s settled.” I honestly did not know what she meant. I assumed she was saying that she had taken the first step. What she meant was that the whole process was settled. She turned the paper over and revealed the nine signatures she had acquired all the way up the IRS ladder so the case was now closed, and closed in my favor.

There, in the midst of a warren of bureaucratic anonymity and powerlessness, I encountered a person who became my advocate, who heard my appeal and who took the initiative to do on my behalf what I could never have done for myself. She met me at a moment of isolation and fear and sent me out with resolution when I had anticipated nothing but delay. For me, this has been a parable of what the body of Christ can be in the world. We are to be those who, in the vastness of the universe and in a context of human powerlessness, show up as advocates who represent and incarnate the presence of God, who is the hope of the world.

Mark Labberton, Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today, InterVarsity Press.

The Soldier and the Young Boy

There was a soldier in the Union army, a young man who had lost his older brother and his father in the war. He went to Washington, D.C., to see President Lincoln to ask for an exemption from military service so he could go back and help his sister and mother with the spring planting on the farm. When he arrived in Washington, after having received a furlough from the military to go and plead his case, he went to the White House, approached the doors, and asked to see the president.

However, he was told, ‘You can’t see the president! Don’t you know there’s a war on? The president’s a very busy man. Now go away, son! Get back out there and fight the Rebs like you’re supposed to.’ So he left, very disheartened, and was sitting on a little park bench not far from the White House when a little boy came up to him.

The lad said, ‘Soldier, you look unhappy. What’s wrong?’ The soldier looked at this young boy and began to spill his heart out to this young lad about his situation, about his father and his brother having died in the war, and how he was the only male left in the family and was needed desperately back at the farm for the Spring planting.

The little boy took the soldier by the hand and led him around to the back of the White House. They went through the back door, past the guards, past all the generals and the high-ranking government officials until they got to the president’s office itself. The little boy didn’t even knock on the door but just opened it and walked in. There was President Lincoln with his secretary of state, looking over battle plans on the desk. President Lincoln looked up and said, ‘What can I do for you, Todd?’   And Todd said, ‘Daddy, this soldier needs to talk to you.’ And right then and there the soldier had a chance to plead his case to President Lincoln, and he was exempted from military service due to the hardship he was under.

James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited, pp. 72-73

A Killer Embraced Like a Brother

In their excellent book on reconciliation, Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice share the true story of Billy Neal Moore, who would both find Jesus in prison and ultimately find his victim’s parents to be his greatest advocate:

When Billy Neal Moore was in jail, awaiting the trial in which he would be sentenced to death, a minister shared with him the good news that Jesus loved him and wanted to forgive his sins. Moore learned that no one is beyond redemption. From prison, he wrote to his victim’s family and asked their forgiveness.

Astoundingly, they immediately wrote back to say that they also were Christians and that they forgave him. Then the family decided to petition the Georgia parole board to commute Moore’s death sentence. In 1991, Moore was paroled from prison, transformed by the grace of God and his victim’s family members. “When I was released, they embraced me like a brother,” Moore said of Stapleton’s family. He has been preaching the gospel of forgiveness to schoolchildren and church groups ever since.

Taken from Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice Copyright (c) 2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

See also Blessing, Friendship, Guidance, Responsibility