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Sermon illustrations

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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.

Rescuing His Pursuer

In sixteenth-century Holland, the Mennonites were outlawed and, when caught, often executed. One of them, Dirk Willens, was being chased across an icefield when his pursuer broke through and fell in.

In response to his cries for help, Willens returned and saved him from the waters. The pursuer was grateful and astonished that he would do such a thing but nevertheless arrested him, as he thought it his duty to do. A few days later Willens was executed by being burned at the stake in the town of Asperen. It was precisely his Christlikeness that brought on his execution.

Ronald A. Wells, History Through the Eyes of Faith (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989)

S.D.G.

If you’re familiar with Bach, you may know that at the bottom of his manuscripts, he wrote the initials, “S. D. G.” Soli Deo Gloria, which means “glory to God alone.” What you may not know is that at the top of his manuscripts he wrote, “Jesu Juva,” which is Latin for “Jesus, help!” There’s no better prayer for the beginning of an adventure.

Andrew Peterson, Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making, B&H Books, 2019.

The Stalker

Editor’s Note: This story is often told as a true story, when in fact it is probably fictitious. Nevertheless, there is a significant illustrative point: sometimes the things we fear most may in fact be the most likely to save us.

One night a woman was driving home on the interstate when she noticed some strange behavior behind her. It seemed as though a semi-truck was following her. Every time she changed lanes, the truck-driver followed after her. She tried to speed up to lose him, but the man in the truck just kept up and followed after her.

Hoping this was all in her imagination, she began nervously checking her rear-view mirror. Each time he was there, determined it seemed to follow her wherever she went.

The lady began to panic, but having left her phone at work, she was unable to call the police. Eventually she decided to pull off the highway to try and find shelter at a well-lit gas station. Again, the truck seemed to be stalking her as she began hunting for a place to stop and get help.

Eventually she found a station, parked, got out of the car and began screaming for dear life. Just then she noticed the man getting out of the truck and charging full-steam towards her.

She prepared for the worst.

But just before he reached her, he darted for the back door of her car. The man flung open the door and pulled a man out of the back seat. It turned out, the man had snuck into her car earlier in the day with malicious intentions. The truck driver had somehow spotted the man as he casually glanced in front of him on his evening route.

Sometimes, the person trying to help us looks like the person most wanting to hurt us. The story begs a question: who is trying to hurt us and who is trying to help us? And do we sometimes confuse them?

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Thank You God for Sending a Professional

Pastor John Ortberg shares this amazing story about how God sometimes uses even our broken pasts to to help others:

I read about a woman who locked her keys in her car in a rough neighborhood. She tried a coat hanger to break into her car, but she couldn’t get that to work. Finally, she prayed, “God, send me somebody to help me.” Five minutes later, a rusty old car pulled up. A tattooed, bearded man wearing a biker’s skull rag walked toward her. She thought, God, really? Him? But she was desperate.

So when the man asked if he could help, she said, “Can you break into my car?” He said, “Not a problem.” He took the coat hanger and opened the car in a few seconds. She said to him, “You’re a very nice man” and gave him a big hug. He said, “I’m not a nice man. I just got out of prison today. I served two years for auto theft, and I’ve only been out a couple of hours.” She hugged him again and shouted, “Thank you, God, for sending me a professional!”

Taken from John Ortberg, All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know?: God Has Placed before You an Open Door.  What Will You Do?, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 

See also Illustrations on Comfort, Encouragement, Friendship, Rescue, Salvation, Service

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