Sermon illustrations


The Bar and the Church

The neighborhood bar is possible the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give his church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they don’t usually tell others or even want to.

The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.

With all my heart I believe that Christ wants his church to be unshockable, democratic, permissive- a fellowship where people can come in and say, “I’m sunk!” “I’m beat!” “I’ve had it!” Alcoholics Anonymous has this quality. Our churches often miss it.

Keith Miller and Bruce Larson, Edge of Adventure, Fleming H Revell Co, 1991.

Brené Brown Struggling to Belong

Belonging can be such a fickle and painful process in life. As the popular researcher and writer Brené Brown describes in her book, Braving the Wilderness, she struggled to fit in after moving to New Orleans in the late 60s. In Brown’s case, her name created quite a bit of controversy itself, as she tried to understand the largely segregated world of the south that she found herself in as a young child:

Experiences of not belonging are the time markers of my life, and they started early. I attended pre-K and kindergarten at Paul Habans Elementary on the west bank of New Orleans. It was 1969, and as wonderful as the city was and still is, it was a place suffocated by racism. Schools had only become officially desegregated the year I started.

I didn’t know or understand much about what was happening, I was too young; but I knew that my mom was outspoken and tenacious…We had moved there from Texas, and that had been hard for me…Homeroom lists were used to determine everything—from attendance records to birthday party invitations.

One day my mom’s room-mother partner waved the list in front of my mom’s face and said, “Look at all of the black kids on here! Look at these names! They’re all named Casandra!” Huh, my mom thought. Maybe this explained why I was being left out of so many of my white friends’ parties. My mom goes by her middle name, but her first name is Casandra. My full name on that homeroom list? Casandra Brené Brown. If you’re African American and reading this, you know exactly why white families weren’t inviting me over. It’s the same reason a group of African American graduate students gave me a card at the end of the semester that said, “OK. You really are Brené Brown.”

They had signed up for my course on women’s issues and almost fell out of their chairs when I walked to my desk at the front of the classroom on the first day of class. One student said, “You are not Casandra Brené Brown?” Yes, ma’am…The black families were welcoming to me—but their shock was noticeable when I walked through the door. One of my friends told me I was the first white person who had ever been inside their house.

Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, Random House Publishing Group, 2017.

A Curse Becomes a Benediction

In this short story by L’Arche (A home for severely disabled people) founder Jean Vanier, a woman’s life is transformed when she experiences rich belonging:

I was in Lithuania recently, giving a retreat to parents of people with disabilities. A mother gave the following witness: “When my daughter was born, I was so wounded, it seemed to me that we had been cursed. I asked why this had happened to us” She said that as her daughter grew up, they had to take public transportation, but the way people looked at her and at her daughter, with eyes of curiosity and rejection, made her want to kill herself.

One day she went into a church and found there a group of people praying, singing, dancing. She saw very quickly that many of them had disabilities, and she joined the little group, a Faith Light community- She said, “From that moment, the curse became a benediction.” Through love and solidarity, the malediction was transformed into a blessing!

Jean Vanier, We Need Each Other: Responding to God’s Call to Live Together, Paraclete Press, 2018, p.24.

Laughter as a Social Emotion

Laughter is definitely a social expression of emotion rather than a solitary activity. We may occasionally laugh on our own in front of an amusing comedy, but laughter is mostly a social affair. When the psychologist Robert Provine asked a group of students to keep a regular diary of their laughing during a whole week, the results were clear. The entries for their laughs revealed that they laughed thirty times more in the presence of others than in solitude. Laughing with others assumes all sorts of social meanings. We laugh to agree with others, to bond with them, to show them our trust and our love.

Giovanni Frazzetto, Joy, Guilt, Anger, Love, 2014, p.187, Penguin Publishing Group.

The Most Common Complaint

A therapist once told me that the most common complaint he heard from his patients was the feeling that they didn’t belong. The feeling of being an imposter, or of being outside things, of not fitting in. Of failing to connect easily with people.

I found this as reassuring as it was paradoxical. That one of the most common feelings among people was the feeling of not fitting in among people. The comfort, then, is the weird truth that in one sense we have most in common with others when we feel awkward and alone. Isolation is as universal as it gets.

Matt Haig, The Comfort Book, Penguin Life, 2021

Not Being Chosen

Verb two: God chose. “Just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph.1:4)

Everybody I have ever become acquainted with has a story, usually from childhood, of not being chosen: not chosen for the glee club, not chosen for the basketball team, the last chosen in a neighborhood sandlot softball team (which is worse than not being chosen at all), not chosen for a job, not chosen as a spouse. Not chosen carries the blunt message that I have no worth, that I am not useful, that I am good for nothing.

Eugene H. Peterson, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ, Eerdmans Publishing, 2013.

R.C. Sproul & The Social Pariah

The pastor R.C. Sproul was studying in the Netherlands in the last 1960s and randomly struck up a conversation with a Dutch woman. The conversation was a common, enjoyable interaction, but when it was over someone nearby came up to him and asked, why were you talking with that woman?

His response was something to the tune of, why wouldn’t I? And their response was quite telling. It was because she had collaborated with the Nazi’s some 30 years go. She had become a pariah, an exile of sorts, in her own city because of a decision she had made decades before. This was the kind of animosity that one could expect when you collaborated with a foreign power despised by the local population.

Now working for the Nazis is no small matter, and it was probably quite understandable for people to resent her decision to work with them. But does that also mean she should never be forgiven? 

Stuart Strachan Jr.

To Whom do I Belong?

At issue here is the question: ‘To whom do I belong?  To God or to the world?’  Many of my daily preoccupations suggest that I belong more to the world than to God.  A little criticism makes me angry, and a little rejection makes me depressed.  A little praise raises my spirits, and a little success excites me. … I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves. 

Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, Image Books, 1994, p.42.

Trust and Belonging

We were created to communicate, to speak truth fully to one another, so that we might be members of one another. To be members of one another means we must learn to trust one another. Trust, like truthfulness, is a gift that is essential to our lives if we are to live with one another. When the trust that truth makes possible is lost, our lives cannot help but be captured by forms of violence-violence often disguised as order and, for that reason, not recognized for the lie that is at its heart.

Stanley Hauerwas, The Character of Virtue: Letters to a Godson, Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2018, pp.52-53.

Why Starbucks is so Successful

Starbucks exploded by not just offering customers a cup of coffee but by giving them a comfortable, sophisticated environment in which to relax. Customers felt good about themselves when they walked into a Starbucks. Starbucks was delivering more value than just coffee; they were delivering a sense of sophistication and enthusiasm about life. They were also offering a place for people to meet in which they could experience affiliation and belonging. Starbucks changed American culture from hanging out in diners and bars to hanging out in a local, Italian-style coffee shop.

In understanding how their customers wanted to feel, Starbucks took a product that Americans were used to paying fifty cents for (or drinking for almost free at home or at work) and were able to charge three or four dollars per cup. Starbucks customers are willing to pay more for their coffee because they sense greater value with each cup.

Donald Miller. Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, HarperCollins Leadership, 2017.

See also Assimilation, Community, Friendship, Fellowship, Hospitality, Presence, Relationships

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

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