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Sermon illustrations

Commitment

Cohabitation and the Definitely Maybe Relationship

The tension between autonomy and intimacy is most clearly evidenced in the trend toward cohabitation. Today, between 50 and 70 percent of American couples are cohabiting before or instead of marrying. Living together is now seen as the only mature way to begin an intimate relationship while preserving one’s personal integrity. This is the “definitely maybe” approach, whereby covenant is replaced with “wait and see” and “try before you buy.”

If intimate relationships were mortgages, we might call these sub-prime commitments. They are high-risk projects with little or no collateral security. Unfortunately, just like sub-prime mortgages, these relationships are designed to fail.

What is most startling about the trend of living together outside of marriage is that it is becoming increasingly popular, even though research shows overwhelmingly that cohabiting ultimately undermines relationships. Indeed, the evidence completely contradicts the popular belief that “testing” a relationship first is the best way to secure its future.

As a path to marriage, cohabitation is extremely unreliable, with only one in five cohabiting relationships ending in marriage, and these figures are getting worse over time. Even in those cases where living together does subsequently lead to marriage, cohabiting significantly increases the likelihood of an eventual divorce. Not surprisingly, serial cohabiters show radically higher rates of divorce in their subsequent marriages; women who cohabit multiple times before marrying divorce more than twice as frequently as those who live only with their future husband.

Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age, 2015, Brazos Press.

“Divorce? Never, But Murder, Often”

The British actress Sybil Thorndike was married to Sir Lewis Casson, another prolific actor. Their marriage was rather tumultuous at times, and after his death, she was once asked, “Did you ever think of divorce?” “Divorce? Never. But murder often!”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Play the Man

Like a scene straight out of Gladiator, Polycarp was dragged into the Roman Colosseum. Discipled by the apostle John himself, the aged bishop faithfully and selflessly led the church at Smyrna through the persecution prophesied by his spiritual father. “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer,” writes John in Revelation 2:10. “Be faithful, even to the point of death.”

John had died a half century before, but his voice still echoed in Polycarp’s ears as the Colosseum crowd chanted, “Let loose the lion!” That’s when Polycarp heard a voice from heaven that was audible above the crowd: strong, Polycarp. Play the man”.

Days before, Roman bounty hunters had tracked him down. Instead of fleeing, Polycarp fed them a meal. Perhaps that’s why they granted his last request—an hour of prayer. Two hours later, many of those who heard the way Polycarp prayed actually repented of their sin on the spot. They did not, however, relent of their mission.

Like Jesus entering Jerusalem, Polycarp was led into the city of Smyrna on a donkey. The Roman proconsul implored Polycarp to recant. “Swear by the genius of Caesar!” Polycarp held his tongue, held his ground. The proconsul prodded. “Swear, and I will release thee; revile the Christ!”

“Eighty and six years have I served Him,” said Polycarp. “And He has done me no wrong! How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

The die was cast.

Polycarp was led to the center of the Colosseum where three times the proconsul announced, “Polycarp has confessed himself to be a Christian.” The bloodthirsty crowd chanted for death by beast, but the proconsul opted for fire.

As his executioners seized his wrists to nail him to the stake, Polycarp stopped them. “He who gives me strength to endure the fire will enable me to do so without the help of your nails.”

As the pyre was lit on fire, Polycarp prayed one last prayer: “I bless you because you have thought me worthy of this day and this hour to be numbered among your martyrs in the cup of your Christ.”

Soon the flames engulfed him, but strangely they did not consume him. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego before him. Polycarp was fireproof. Instead of the stench of burning flesh, the scent of frankincense wafted through the Colosseum.

Using a spear, the executioner stabbed Polycarp through the flames. Polycarp bled out, but not before the twelfth martyr of Smyrna had lived out John’s exhortation: be faithful even to the “point of death. Polycarp died fearlessly and faithfully. And the way he died forever changed the way those eyewitnesses lived. He did what the voice from heaven had commanded. Polycarp played the man.

Mark Batterson, Play the Man: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be, Baker Books, 2017.

The Pressures of Modern Life (Written Almost a Century Ago!)

The problem we face today needs very little time for its statement. Our lives in a modern city grow too complex and overcrowded. Even the necessary obligations which we feel we must meet grow overnight, like Jack’s beanstalk, and before we know it we are bowed down with burdens, crushed under committees, strained, breathless, and hurried, panting through never-ending program of appointments. We are too busy to be good wives to our husbands, good homemakers, good companions of our children, good friends to our friends, and with no time at all to be friends to the friendless.

But if we withdraw from public engagements and interests, in order to spend quiet hours with the family, the guilty calls of citizenship whisper disquieting claims in our ears. Our children’s schools should receive our interest, the civic problems of our community need our attention, the wirier issues of the nation and of the world are heavy upon us.

Our professional status, our social obligations, our membership in this or that very important organization, put claims upon us. And in frantic fidelity we try to meet at least the necessary minimum of calls upon us.

But were weary and breathless. And we know and regret that our life is slipping away, with our having tasted so little of the peace and joy and serenity we are persuaded it should yield to a soul of wide caliber. The times for the deeps of the silences of the heart seem so few. And in guilty regret we must postpone till next week that deeper life of unshaken composure in the holy Presence, where we sincerely know our true home is, for this week is much too full.

Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, Harper & Bros., 1941.

What I Can Do

Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909), an American Unitarian minister and writer, who lived and worked in Boston, Massachusetts, and inspired many by his story Ten Times One Is Ten:

I’m only one,

but I am one.

I can’t do everything,

but I can do something.

What I can do,

I ought to do.

And what I ought to do,

by the grace of God

I will do.

Taken from The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor by John R. W. Stott Copyright (c) 2007 by John R. W. Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com