Sermon illustrations


A Desire for Fame Rises in Millennials

In a survey given in 1976, participants were asked to list their life goals. Fame ranked fifteenth out of sixteen. In a recent survey, 51 percent of millenials listed being famous as “one of their top personal goals.”

Stuart Strachan Jr. Source information from “A Portrait of ‘Generation Next,’” Pew Research Center, January 9, 2007.

Famous Like God

I won’t be happy until I am famous like God.” Those are the words of the mega-superstar Madonna. They were not uttered at the beginning of her career or even as her fame was beginning to increase. They were spoken after she had accumulated about as much fame and adoration as is possible for a person. Madonna’s goal was fame, and she had achieved it so fully that she was quite possibly the most famous woman on the planet. Yet it was still not enough.

This perspective is far from rare among the famous. In fact, I think it is fair to call it the norm. Most who have achieved a large dose of the fame they are pursuing will tell you it is not all it is cracked up to be. They will tell you it is not enough and that it is not a source of joy in the end. If that is true, then why are we still so drawn to fame? If those who have it tell us it does not satisfy, why do we still want it?

Would it shock you if I told you we are drawn to fame because we were created for it? It is true. We were created for fame, but somewhere along the way—somewhere right near the beginning—we lost sight of true fame. We confused the fame we were created for with the fame that can be gathered unto ourselves. We confused the fame our souls long for with the one our human flesh craves. This human fame—rooted in a pursuit of “public estimation” or “popular acclaim”—is an idea that consumes many of us in one form or another. We are a society thoroughly absorbed in the idea of persona. Platforms, likes, and influence are accepted measures of success. We live for the sound of applause and the adoration of the crowd. We pursue many things, but dare I say nothing with as much vigor as the allure of personal fame. We hear the words of the famous telling us that this fame is not the answer, and yet it still draws us.

…You, too, were created for fame. You were created to be a partner in greatness and a mouthpiece for power. You were given a deep longing for things that transcend this world and for a title of royalty. Yes, you have been called to fame. But, like me, you are not called to this kind of fame by the world. It is not the fame that surrounds us. It is a fame with the power to right every wrong and heal every wound. It is a fame that causes the righteous to celebrate and the wicked to tremble.

It is a fame that neither you nor I can fully fathom. That is the fame for which we were created. But before we give our lives in pursuit of it, we must unlearn the fame we know—the fame that pursues us with dangerous intent. We must reject a pursuit of the fame that will not satisfy until we are like God and take up a pursuit of the fame that actually belongs to God. We were created for fame but not our own. We were created for so much more. We were created for the fame the prophet recalled. We were created for the fame of the almighty God.

Thann Bennett, My Fame, His Fame, Thomas Nelson, 2020, pp. 6-7.

Five Thousand Churches

Fred Allen (1984-1956) was a famous American comedian, writer, and radio star. When fellow comic Jack Parr first met Allen, he burst out, “You are my God!” Allen replied with the characteristic wit of an improvisor, ““There are five thousand churches in New York and you have to be an atheist.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source material from Clifton Fadiman, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes.

The Lost Ticket

Albert Einstein, the great physicist,  was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of every passenger. When he came to the famous professor, Einstein reached into his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached in his trouser pockets. It wasn’t there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn’t find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn’t find it.

The conductor said, ‘Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.’

Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket.

The conductor rushed back and said, ‘Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry, I know who you are. No problem. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.’

Einstein looked at him and said, ‘Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.’

Source Unknown, *this story may or may not be true.

Miserable Elvis

Like many others who find themselves in the spotlight, Elvis Presley struggled with his fame, as well as the many temptations that befell him during his time as an iconic musician. In 1958, following an Easter Service at the First Assembly of God, Elvis told Rev. James Hamill, “Pastor, I’m the most miserable young man you’ve ever seen. I’ve got all the money I’ll ever need to spend. I’ve got millions of fans. I’ve got friends. But I’m doing what you taught me not to do, and I’m not doing the things you taught me to do.”

Stuart Strachan Jr. Source Material from Godvine.com

Not the King

Most of us probably assumed Elvis Presley enjoyed his unofficial moniker of “the king.” As it turns out, Elvis had a rather complicated, if not tortured experience with fame and fortune. 

One day during a performance in Las Vegas, a woman approached the singer with a crown sitting on top of a pillow. 

“What is that?” he asked. 

“It’s for you. You’re the king,” she said. 

Elvis’s response was classic. After taking her hand and smiling, he told her, “No honey, I’m not the king. Christ is the king. I’m just a singer.”

Stuart Strachan Jr. Source Material from Godvine.com

Reducing People to the Madness of a Single Moment

In his thoughtful book, Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes, Jonathan K. Dodson points out our blind-spots with respect to pride:

We rarely think of ourselves as proud. Instead we think of others—“the arrogant guy,” “the stuck-up girl”—who seem to excel in pride as if they work at it. People from the entertainment industry may come to mind: Rosie O’Donnell, Christian Bale, or Beyoncé. Or from sports: Floyd Mayweather, Draymond Green, Nick Kyrgios.

Pride is easy to spot in those who are in the limelight but difficult to see in ourselves. When a video of Bale losing his temper and cussing out a camera crew went viral, people spewed judgments at him online. We often judge a high-profile person for an instance of arrogance, one explosion of anger, or a tirade rife with profanities, as if we’ve never done the same thing. We reduce people to the madness of a single moment.

Taken from Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes by Jonathan K. Dodson Copyright (c) 2020 by Jonathan K. Dodson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Secret to Happiness Among the Famous

We’ve all seen and loved the movies about the young underdog becoming a star. I won’t claim to be 100 percent immune to it. In fact, I think there’s something natural about wanting to be famous, in terms of biological evolution. When our ancestors lived in the wild, having everyone know who you were probably helped you get the support you needed to brave the harsh environment and pass on your genes.

So I’m not saying you’re a bad person if you want to be famous. I’m just saying you might be heading down a path that won’t lead to happiness. Of the famous people I know, the ones who are happy aren’t happy because of the fame. They’re happy for the same reason everybody else is; because they’re healthy, because they have good people around them, and because they take satisfaction in what they do, regardless of how many millions of strangers are watching.

I think this applies outside of acting and entertainment. In any field, there’s usually some kind of mythological reward you’re supposed to receive if everybody considers you a success. But in my experience, there’s a lot more honest joy to be had from taking pleasure in the work itself.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Quoted in Tim Feriss, Tribe of Mentors, Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt.

A Visitor In A Household Of Tranquil Prayer

Archbishop Theophilus of Alexandria, one of the principal cities of the ancient world, once traveled to the monastic colony at Skete in the Egyptian desert. The younger monks were distressed that their elder, Abbot Pambo, had nothing to say to their august and powerful visitor. “Say a word or two to the bishop,” they urged him, “that his soul may be edified in this place.” Abbot Pambo replied: “If he is not edified by my silence, there is no hope that he will be edified by my words.”

One can imagine that Archbishop Theophilus, a man who had heard endless words from the many people courting his attention, returned to Alexandria shaken by his encounter with a community of men who had completely resigned from chatter. The monks made no effort to convince him of anything or win any favors. For the length of his stay, their august guest was simply a fellow Christian who, in a climate of silence, found himself freed from the heavy burden of being an Important Person with all the words and gestures that importance involves. He was a visitor in a household of tranquil prayer. The monks bathed him in their own quietness.

Jim Forest, The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life, Orbis, 2007.

The Well-Intentioned Couple and the Vagabond

When I was in college I sometimes visited Bel Air Presbyterian Church, as did many of my friends. At that time Bel Air was known for being a place celebrities liked to visit. (This was not my favorite reason for attending, but I digress). One Sunday, a friend of mine’s sister was there and got to observe the following interaction. So there was a man sitting by himself in a pew, in torn clothing, looking fairly disheveled. After the service had ended, a well-to-do couple (this was the home of the Fresh Prince, after all) in the pew next to him began a conversation with the vagabond. They informed the man that there was a shelter not far from the church that he could easily get to via the bus. After patiently listening, the man simply responded:

“I’m Bob Dylan.”

Then walked away.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

See also Appearances, Entertainment, Idolatry, Money, Power, Social Media

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