Sermon illustrations


The Elderly Contractor

An elderly master carpenter was ready to retire. He told his employer of his plans to leave the house building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family.

He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire. They could get by. The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end his career.

When the carpenter finished his work and the builder came to inspect the house, the contractor handed the front-door key to the carpenter. “This is your house,” he said, “my gift to you.”

Source Unknown

I Couldn’t in Good Conscience…

The British poet Thomas Campbell, attending a horse race with some friends, bet one of them  (Thomas Wilson)  £50 that the horse Yellow Cap, would come in first place. After the race ended, Campbell, thinking his horse had lost the race, turned to his friend Wilson and said, “I owe you fifty pounds; but really, when I reflect that you are a professor of moral philosophy, and that betting is a sort of gambling only fit for blacklegs, I cannot bring my conscience to pay the bet.”  “I very much approve of your principles,” replied Wilson, “and I mean to act upon them. In point of fact, Yellow Cap has won the race, and, but for conscience, I ought to pay you the fifty pounds. But you will excuse me.”

Stuart R Strachan Jr.

Sharing or Stealing Their Last Ration

In 1908, Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton headed an Antarctic expedition attempting to reach the South Pole. They came closer than any before but, 97 miles short of the pole, had to turn back.

In his diary Shackleton told of the time when their food supplies were exhausted save for one last ration of hardtack, a dried sort of biscuit, that was distributed to each man. Some of the men took snow, melted it, and made tea while consuming their biscuit. Others, however, stowed the hardtack in their food sacks, saving it for a last moment of hungry desperation.

The fire was built up, and weary, exhausted men climbed into their sleeping bags to face a restless sleep, tossing and turning. Shackleton said he was almost asleep when out of the corner of his eye, he noticed one of his most trusted men sitting up in his bag and looking about to see if anyone was watching.

Shackleton’s heart sank within him as this man began to reach toward the food sack of the man next to him. Shackleton watched as the man opened the food sack and took his own hardtack and put it in the other s sack.

Harold J. Sala, Heroes, Barbour, 1998, pp- 277-278.

A Sinner or Saint?

I heard about a pastor who was asked by a man in the community to do his brother’s funeral. Neither of the men had been churchgoers or showed any religious inclinations. The man offered to give $25,000.00 to the church if the preacher would call his brother a saint at the funeral. The brother had been a real sinner in the community and everybody knew it. A friend of the pastor asked, “You are not going to do it, are you?”

The pastor said that he was going to do it because the church needed the money. The word got out that the preacher had sold out to the family for money and the church was filled for the funeral. The pastor stood up and this is what he said, “The man we are burying here today was a liar, a cheat, and a drunk; however, next to his brother who is sitting here today, he was a saint!”

Source Unknown

Sticking It Out Without Knowing Why

I once offered up a free paint job during a church auction to raise money for a cause. I figured an elderly woman would bid a thousand dollars on a quick two- to three-day job and I could help someone in need without it costing too much. Sadly, fifty bucks got my services. I drove out one morning to meet my client, and as I headed into a very rich neighborhood called the Northwest Hills of Portland, I realized, that I might be in a pickle, All the homes were huge, and many of them were positioned on cliffs overlooking downtown. I prayed, but my worst fears were realized. The house was huge, and the back of the home was four stories high on stilts, overhanging a cliff full of blackberry briars.

In that moment I decided to feign illness. But as I put my head on the steering wheel to collect myself, a very gentle but very strong message entered my mind:  Paint the House. I knew it was God, but I sat there another thirty minutes to make sure. Eventually, with drooping head and shoulders, I knocked on the door. Out came Ralph, and we talked over the job. The last words I remember him saying were, “Oh, and I’d like you to hand paint it with a brush instead of using your paint sprayer so we don’t get any overspray on the plants.” Perfect, I thought. I should be done just about the time Jesus returns to earth.

For the next four weeks, Ralph and I became friends. Sort of like Sylvester and Tweety Bird. I tell you this story because at the time, I couldn’t find God in any of this. I actually thought that I was wasting precious finances and ministry time. It made no sense at all. Until I met Ralph’s son. Scott, a local businessman, found out that I had stuck it out with his crazy dad and was so impressed he eventually joined our church and became my greatest personal friend and financial advocate. He helped fund our church plant, and he also bought me a condo that we sold later so we could acquire an awesome mountain getaway spot for my family.

Hugh Halter, Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth, David C. Cook. 

The Test of Spiritual Integrity

The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life. Many people will pray when they are required by cultural or social expectations, or perhaps by the anxiety caused by troubling circumstances. Those with a genuinely lived relationship with God as Father, however, will inwardly want to pray and therefore will pray even though nothing on the outside is pressing them to do so.

Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Penguin, 2014), Kindle Electronic Version, Loc. 336-39.

The Two Mechanics

A friend once took a car to a mechanic who was able to find several things wrong with it in addition to the original problem. To fix it all would cost about $700. He went to a second mechanic, who said that a lot of what the first mechanic was recommending was not really necessary, at least not right away.

The second mechanic said he could have the car up and running for less than $200, and if the other problems occurred down the line, he would address them then. Not surprisingly, my friend chose car mechanic number two. This mechanic settled for under $200, when he probably could have gotten another $300 or $400 out of his customer. But his honesty and commitment to looking out for what was best for his client earned him a customer for life. What he lost on that first day, he more than made up for in the months and years to come.

John M. Templeton Jr, Thrift and Generosity: The Joy of Giving, Templeton Foundation Press, 2004.

A Venomous Creature At Your Bosom

Frederick Douglass describes how the evils of slavery and racism acts as a sap on the integrity of both our country and our faith in a God where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free:

Fellow-citizens, I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad: it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing and a bye-word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union.

It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement; the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet you cling to it as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!

Frederick Douglass, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” speech, Rochester, NY, July 5, 1852.

Wholeness and Jack Pines

The educator Parker Palmer writes, “Wholeness doesn’t mean perfection: It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.” When Palmer speaks of wholeness, he doesn’t mean a perfectly functioning body, or even a worldview where all the pieces fit together. What he has in mind is closer to the idea of integrity. He uses Douglas Wood’s meditation on a jack pine to illustrate:

Jack pines . . . are not lumber trees [and they] won’t win many beauty contests either. But to me this valiant old tree, solitary on its own rocky point, is as beautiful as a living thing can be. . . . In the calligraphy of its shape against the sky is written strength of character and perseverance, survival of wind, drought, cold, heat, disease. . . . In its silence it speaks of . . . wholeness . . . an integrity that comes from being what you are.

Taken from Hurting Yet Whole: Reconciling Body and Spirit in Chronic Pain and Illness by Liuan Huska. Copyright (c) 2020 by Liuan Huska. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com. Source material from Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 3.

See also illustrations on Character, EthicsHypocrisy, Justice, Morality, Value, Virtue