Sermon illustrations


An Appetite that Killed

Thomas Costain’s history, The Three Edwards, described the life of Raynald III, a fourteenth-century duke in what is now Belgium. Grossly overweight, Raynald was commonly called by his Latin nickname, Crassus, which means “fat.” After a violent quarrel, Raynald’s younger brother Edward led a successful revolt against him.

Edward captured Raynald but did not kill him. Instead, he built a room around Raynald in the Nieuwkerk castle and promised him he could regain his title and property as soon as he was able to leave the room.

This would not have been difficult for most people since the room had several windows and a door of near-normal size, and none was locked or barred. The problem was Raynald’s size. To regain his freedom, he needed to lose weight. But Edward knew his older brother, and each day he sent a variety of delicious foods. Instead of dieting his way out of prison, Raynald grew fatter. When Duke Edward was accused of cruelty, he had a ready answer: “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills.”

Raynald stayed in that room for ten years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle. By then his health was so ruined he died within a year. . . a prisoner of his own appetite.

Dave Wilkenson 

Consider the Egg

In this short excerpt, the author and priest Robert Farrar Capon describes just how intricate and beautiful one single part of God’s creation is, the chicken egg:

Forget for the moment the fantastic intricacy of the mechanism from which all higher forms of life spring. Disregard, too, the wonder of its parts, its divisions, and its tremendous complications. Omit, finally, all other eggs but one: no frogs’ eggs, ducks’ eggs, robins’ eggs, or goose eggs; no snake eggs, no dinosaur eggs, no platypus eggs, no roe; no ova of any sort or kind but the eggs of the common hen.

And what have you done? You have renounced a whole world only to gain a dozen in its place.… [I]n our priestly attention to the fruit of the barnyard … we have discovered what no other animal will ever know. What will the egg not do? It will scramble, boil, bake, or fry – or go down raw if you have the stomach for it – and sustain and delight you in the bargain.

And that is only the start of the prologue of the introduction. It will thicken sauces, raise dough, explode into a soufflé, or garnish your soup. It can be taken with sugar and whisky, or with salt and red pepper; and still you have hardly begun. Omelets are more numerous than the generations of the human race.

Robert Farrar Capon, “An Offering of Uncles” in The Romance of the Word [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995], 97)

Creating a Healthy Food Supply

Eating does not need to follow this commodified, industrial way. It can occur in contexts where people take deeper notice of and accept responsibility for what they eat. To appreciate what this sort of eating looks like and what it entails, we should consider the example of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. Salatin’s chickens do not stay cooped up or crammed in a dark barn. Nor are they force fed and pumped up with antibiotics to keep them from collapsing. The stress and anxiety that is the life of an industrial chicken clearly indicates that this is not how chickens are meant to live.

This is why Salatin’s chickens live outside, on grass, often following his cattle herd. Chickens are free to forage through the grass and cowpies, looking for bugs and grubs. As they move through the fields they disperse cattle manure and leave behind their own, thereby contributing to the fertility of Salatin’s soil. Their eating also helps keep down the bug population, keeping Salatin’s cattle much healthier and happier (they don’t spend all their time swatting flies).

The end results are healthy animals, vibrant soil, and really fantastic eggs.

What makes this farm in Virginia so unique is that Salatin has tried to be intentional about respecting his animals as creatures. They are not “things” or economic units that have been forced to fit a business plan (even though they do clearly factor into such a plan) or maximize meat volume on an industrial assembly/disassembly line.

Because they are living beings with integrity of their own, they require Salatin’s attention and sympathy. Salatin tries to be attentive to the multiple dramas of life and death on his farm, dramas about soil and sunlight, worms and microbial life, chickens and rabbits, and pigs and cattle. He has observed that the land and his animals each have particular needs, limits, and potential that are worthy of respect. He understands that as a farmer, his work and energy are implicated in their well-being. What chickens need is not the same as what cattle need.

Norman Wirzba, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Fasting as a Flashpoint Issue for the Reformation

On a chilly morning in March 1522, in the city of Zurich, the printer Christoph Froschauer sat down with his workers and shared a plate of sausages, in open defiance of the Roman Catholic Church, which forbade the consumption of meat during Lent. Froschauer and his men were dragged before the civil magistrates, where he entered his official plea of not guilty on the grounds that he had a heavy load of printing jobs waiting and his men needed the extra sustenance. 

Such meals were not unheard of during Lent, and normally for a small fee one could purchase a “dispensation” on the grounds of infirmity, age, or even unusually difficult work. But the printer had never obtained his dispensation and was duly charged. 

The city rose in protest, street fighting broke out, and, on April 16, the local prelate Ulrich Zwingli preached a sermon defending the printer’s actions not on the grounds of necessity but on the basis of scriptural authority. The New Testament, Zwingli pointed out, nowhere mentions food prohibitions of any kind, all of which were merely invented haphazardly by the Church and could in no way constrain the conscience of men. 

Neither should there be specific times set aside for fasting: “as far as time is concerned, the need and use of all food are free, so that whatever food our daily necessity requires, we may use at all times and on all days . . .” Thus began the Swiss Reformation over a plate of sausages.

Ken Albala, Food and Faith in Christian Culture, edited by Ken Albala, and Trudy Eden, Columbia University Press, 2011.

Feeding God’s People

God wants to feed his people. In keeping the one tree from them, God protected Adam and Eve. When they broke table fellowship with God, they suspected that God was withholding something good, that this “good” would make them like God. … Just like in Eden, it’s hard to trust that God isn’t going to hold back the good things, the best things: that reaching out and taking what God is offering is really the best.

Rachel Marie Stone, Eat with Joy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013.

Food Didn’t Have to Be This Good!

There is an Indian restaurant in my neighborhood called Bollywood Theatre. I once went to lunch with my friend Todd Miles, a theologian at a local seminary. Taking in our first few bites, he blurted out, almost surprised by his own proclamation, “You know, A.J., when you think about it, food didn’t have to be this good!”

One could argue that this is the thesis statement of Genesis’s first two chapters—a good God makes a good creation. Creation is not bad. Creation is not “just okay.” Creation is good. The words of Martin Luther echo this refrain: “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” Were it not for lack of space, I bet Luther meant to include mangoes and Indian food?

A.J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, Kindle Location 448.

A Holy and Humbling Mystery

Food is a holy and humbling mystery. Every time a creature eats it participates in God’s life-giving yet costly ways, ways that simultaneously affirm creation as a delectable gift , and as a divinely ordered membership of interdependent need and suffering and help. Whenever people come to the table they demonstrate with the unmistakable evidence of their stomachs that they are not self-subsisting gods.

They are finite and mortal creatures dependent on God’s many good gifts: sunlight, photosynthesis, decomposition, soil fertility, water, bees and butterflies, chickens, sheep, cows, gardeners, farmers, cooks, strangers, and friends (the list goes on and on). Eating reminds us that we participate in a grace-saturated world, a blessed creation worthy of attention, care, and celebration.

Despite what food marketers may say, there really is no such thing as “cheap” or “convenient” food. Real food, the food that is the source of creaturely health and delight, is precious because it is a fundamental means through which God’s nurture and love for the whole creation are expressed.

…To eat is to be implicated in a vast, complex, interweaving set of life and death dramas in which we are only one character among many. No matter how solitary our eating experience may be, every sniff , chomp, and swallow connects us to vast global trade networks and thus to biophysical and social worlds far beyond ourselves. The moment we chew on anything we participate in regional, geographic histories and in biochemical processes that, for all their diversity and complexity, defy our wildest imaginations and most thorough attempts at comprehension.

The minute we contemplate or talk about eating, we show ourselves to be involved in culinary traditions and cultural taboos, as well as moral quandaries and spiritual quests. To amend an ecologist’s maxim: we can never only bite into one thing. Food is about the relationships that join us to the earth, fellow creatures, loved ones and guests, and ultimately God. How we eat testifies to whether we value the creatures we live with and depend upon. To eat is to savor and struggle with the mystery of creatureliness.

Norman Wirzba, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Just another Consumer Product?

One of the many technological transformations of the twentieth century took place right on our dinner plates. Because of its cheapness and convenience, most Americans quickly accepted new ways of eating food. This commodification of food is described by Paul Roberts, in his book The End of Food:

Raw materials such as No. 2 yellow corn or BSCB (boneless, skinless chicken breasts) are now handled like any other commodity: produced wherever costs are lowest, shipped to wherever demand is highest, and managed via the same contracts, futures, and other instruments used for timber, or tin, or iron ore.

Food-processing companies employ the same technologies and business models of other high-volume manufacturers. The continuous advances in technology and the ever larger scales of production that drive down costs in cars and home electronics are now also standard in the food business, as is the relentless product innovation one finds in clothing and cosmetics.…To an important degree, the success of the modern food sector has been its ability to make food behave like any other consumer product.

Paul Roberts, The End of Food (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), xiv.


Once, when sharing my faith with an agnostic friend, I was asked to make my greatest argument for God’s existence. I uttered one word: mangoes. I was not talking about just any mangoes. I was talking about fresh, ripe, just – off – the – tree mangoes, about have – to – change – your – shirt – afterward mangoes. Mangoes, I explained, were my greatest argument for God’s existence. To this day, I cannot eat a mango and say with a straight face that this is a world that has been invented by a jerk. Or that something so delicious could come from nowhere. Creation is good. Why? Because God is good. And his goodness is reflected in what he makes. A mango, as part of creation, is God’s love letter to humanity.

A.J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, Kindle Location 443.

The Powerful Forces Behind Cultural Food Mores

We may misunderstand the significance of food and dining in the Bible if we fail to understand the powerful cultural mores related to food. We can easily transfer our judgments about foods (that particular food is “bad”) to the people who eat them (those people are bad). We may apply negative values to Minahasans who eat rat meat, for example, or rural Americans who eat squirrel (which is essentially just furry rat that lives in trees). “How could anyone, especially a Christian, eat a rat?”

Ironically, our Asian friends are appalled that Americans eat cheese. “Do you have any idea where cheese comes from?” they ask incredulously. As they describe it, you start with baby cow food and then let it go bad until it sours into a solid mass of mold. That’s actually pretty good description of cheese-making. It is crucial to remember when we read the Bible that this sort of gut-level reaction to food isn’t something that affects Westerners alone. Even the biblical authors and their audiences were prone to attribute something like culinary immorality to someone whose palate was broader than theirs.

Taken from Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien Copyright (c) 2012 by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

A Toast to a Radically, Perpetually Unnecessary World

In this short excerpt, Robert Farrar Capon makes a toast to the fact that all of creation, including our food, are in some sense superfluous. That is to say, God did not have to create anything, including the food that tastes so delicious, but God did, and in so doing, gives us, on a daily basis, the opportunity to experience joy and pleasure when we eat:

To a radically, perpetually unnecessary world; to the restoration of astonishment to the heart and mystery to the mind; to wine, because it is a gift we never expected; to mushroom and artichoke, for they are incredible legacies; to improbable acids and high alcohols, since we would hardly have thought of them ourselves; and to all being, because it is superfluous.… We are free: nothing is needful, everything is for joy. Let the bookkeepers struggle with their balance sheets; it is the tippler who sees the untipped Hand. God is eccentric; He has loves , not reasons. Salute!

Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection (New York: Modern Library, 2002 [1967]), 85–86.

To Eat Pork Or Not To Eat Pork

When the first Christians were trying to decide whether Gentile Christians should keep Jewish dietary laws, they weren’t just quibbling over doctrine. Just like we do, ancients were transferring their feelings about certain food onto the people who ate them. The very idea of a tablemate gobbling down pig meat was enough to send a good Jew scurrying for the latrine. We may be speculating here, but there is contemporary support for our claims.

Journalist Khaled Diab, who calls himself a lapsed Muslim, confesses that “long after my spirited embrace of alcohol, my ‘sinful’ attitude to sex, my loss of faith in the temple of organised religion and my agnosticism and indifference towards the supreme being,” he still cannot bring himself to eat pork.

This isn’t a religious scruple but a cultural more. For modern Muslims, Diab explains, eating pork “is not merely tantamount to eating dogs for Westerners] in certain cases, we could go as far as to liken it to consuming cockroaches—so unclean is the image of these animals.” Diab even quotes a Jewish student who explained that although neither of his parents are “particularly religious,” nevertheless they both “find the idea of eating pig repulsive.”

Taken from Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien Copyright (c) 2012 by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


See Also Illustrations on Bread, Fishing, Gardening/Farming, Hospitality, Meals, Wine

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