Sermon illustrations


The Best Treatment (Sometimes) is No Treatment

In 1974, Cynthia Illingworth, an English physician specializing in emergency medicine, discovered that when children accidentally sever the finger tip (down to the first joint), the best treatment is no treatment. 

Cleaned and covered with a bandage, the finger tip, including the nail, grows back. In 11 or 12 weeks the new finger tip usually looks as if nothing had happened to it.

There seem to be three requirements for regrowth: the patient must be under 12 years old, the cut must be above the crease of the first joint, and surgeons must keep hands off the injury. Any operation performed on the finger destroys its ability to grow back. The last condition is the hardest to accept, admits Dr. Michael Bleicher, a pediatric surgeon at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. 

Reader’s Digest, March, 1980.


The Key to Understanding Anger

In his book The Mystery of Christ, a series of fictionalized pastoral counseling sessions (based on actual events), the Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon shares a number of helpful ways of understanding the nature of God’s salvation, including this section on the nature of anger:

The key to understanding anger is that it always arises out of an offended sense of justice. You can’t get truly angry at someone unless you can convince yourself he has willfully deprived you of something that was reasonably and rightfully due you. If a friend unwittingly backs over your old, stone-deaf dog because it was asleep under the right rear wheel of his car, you may be sad and hurt over the dog, but you cant seriously be angry at your friend.

(You might, of course, work up a case for being angry at God for making a world in which such things can happen; but that’s only because you went hunting for an injustice on somebody’s part to provide yourself with a provable villain whose unfairness would allow you to convert your hurt into anger.) But if the guest comes tearing needlessly up your driveway at forty miles an hour and kills the dog, you don’t have to hunt for the injustice in heaven: you’ve got it right in the driver’s seat of an overpowered sports car.

Therefore, the first thing you can do to defuse your anger at someone close to you is to take an honest look at the balance sheet of injustices between the two of you. If you do that, you’ll probably find that the unjust behavior that made you angry with your friend was itself the product of his anger at you — of his sense that something he had assumed was due him from you was withheld, or that something he didn’t deserve was dumped on him.

“Yes. But how does that get you to forgiveness?”

‘Actually it doesn’t. As a matter of fact, we haven’t gotten anywhere near forgiveness yet. Were only at the level of trying to see that there are usually two sides to these things, and then of understanding that maybe even forgiveness is too lordly and one-sided an exercise, given the general untidiness of the situation.

…The object of forgiveness is the restoration of relationship. And the device by which it works is the death and resurrection of the forgiver —his dropping dead to his own right to justice so that at least he himself can rise to the possibility of a restored relationship. If he doesn’t do that, his only alternative is to kill his unjust former friend and, as a result, the relationship. But if you can manage to say, “I’m as wrong in my way as he is in his,’ then maybe you can call a truce instead of having to declare World War III.”

Robert Farrar Capon, The Mystery of Christ & Why We Don’t Get It, Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1993.

The Payoff

If we are honest with ourselves, for many of us who celebrate the sacraments on a regular basis, at times we take them for granted. We lose sight of their nature to inspire and remind us of our covenant relationship with the Triune God. Thankfully, there are examples, especially from Missionaries to remind us of just how significant they are to those who get to experience them for the first time. Take for instance, the example of John Paton, a missionary in the 19th century to a cannibalistic tribe in the New Hebrides archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean (modern day Vanuatu):

For years we had toiled and prayed and taught for this. At the moment when I put the bread and wine into those dark hands, once stained with the blood of cannibalism but now stretched out to receive and partake the emblems and seals of the Redeemer’s love, I had a foretaste of the joy of glory that well-nigh broke my heart to pieces. I shall never taste a deeper bliss till I gaze on the glorified face of Jesus himself.

James Paton, ed., John G. Paton—Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1891), 376, quoted in Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 915.

Restoring the Image in Leprosy Patients

The conversations that stand out sharpest to me now are those in which Dr. Brand recalled individual patients, “nobodies” on whom he had lavished medical care. When he began his pioneering work, he was the only orthopedic surgeon in the world working among fifteen million victims of leprosy. 

He and his wife, Margaret, performed several dozen surgical procedures on some of these patients, transforming rigid claws into usable hands through innovative tendon transfers, remaking feet, forestalling blindness, transplanting eyebrows, fashioning new noses.

He told me of the patients’ family histories, the awful rejection they had experienced as the disease presented itself, the trial-and-error treatments of doctor and patient experimenting together. 

Almost always his eyes would moisten and he would wipe as he remembered their suffering.  To him these people, among the most neglected on earth, were not nobodies but persons made in the image of God, and he dedicated himself to honor and help restore that image.

Taken from Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s name: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey Copyright (c) 2019 by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


Scars Tell Beautiful Stories

In their excellent book, Mending the Divides, Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart describe a Japanese Pottery tradition that articulates the power of peace and reconciliation:

When we speak of peace, we can call to mind the ancient Japanese pottery tradition called Kintsugi. With this technique, a clay vessel is broken and then put back together, but not in its original form.

Instead the restoration process involves the use of pure gold to mend the divides and heal the fissures. The broken vessel is put back together in such a way that it is stronger and more beautiful than before it was broken. In Kintsugi, the scars tell beautiful stories of healing and restoration rather than painful stories of destruction.

Jon Huckins & Jer Swigart, Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World, InterVarsity Press.

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.


See also Illustrations on ConflictForgiveness, Healing, Peace, Reconciliation, RighteousnessSelf-Control, TeamworkUnity

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Belief. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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