Sermon Illustrations on Violence


For Whom the Bell Tolls

While lying in bed due to a serious illness, the poet and pastor John Donne heard over and over again the funeral bells at his church, which would ring to announce the death of someone in the parish. Ill and away from his ministry, he was therefore unaware of the goings-on in his church and who had “shuffled off this mortal coil,” so to speak.  With each ring of the bell, Donne wondered, “Who is it that has died?”

After some time, he finally answered himself, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Why, we might ask? It is because “No man is an island, entire of itself.”

And he continued:

“Each is a piece of the continent,

a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less…

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.”

As J. Ellsworth Kalas notes in his short book on the Ten Commandments, John Donne has, in this poem, unintentionally provided commentary on the sixth commandment. “You shall not murder,” as brief a command as it may be, has to do with not just protecting me, but protecting my neighbor as well. Death by violence makes each involved less than they once were. As Kalas notes, “Both my neighbor and I are part of the mainland of life; if my neighbor dies, I am the less, and if I die, my neighbor is, to some degree, impoverished.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from J. Ellsworth Kalas, The Ten Commandments From the Backside, Abingdon Press, 2013.

On Turning the Other Cheek

Many of those who have committed their lives to ending injustice, simply dismiss Jesus’ teachings about nonviolence out of hand as impractical idealism. And with good reason. “Turn the other cheek” suggests the passive, Christian doormat quality that has made so many Christians cowardly and complicit in the face of injustice. “Resist not evil” seems to break the back of all opposition to evil and to counsel submission. “Going the second mile” has become a platitude meaning nothing more than “extend yourself,” and rather than fostering structural change, encourages collaboration with the oppressor.

Jesus obviously never behaved in any of these ways. Whatever the source of the misunderstanding, it is clearly neither in Jesus nor in his teaching, which, when given a fair hearing in its original social context, is arguably one of the most revolutionary political statements ever uttered:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

…Jesus did not tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. That would have been absurd.is utterly at odds with such a preposterous idea.  His entire ministry is utterly at odds with such a preposterous idea…A proper translation of Jesus’ teaching would then be, “Don’t strike back at evil (or, one who has done you evil) in kind.” “Do not retaliate against violence with violence.” The Scholars Version is brilliant: “Don’t react violently against the one who is evil. Jesus was no less committed to opposing evil than the anti-Roman resistance fighters. The only difference was over the means to be used: how one should fight evil.

Taken from “Living Toward a Vision” by Walter WInk, in Christian Peace and Nonviolence, A Documentary History, Ed. Michael G. Long, Orbis Books.


Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Years ago, Rodney King was brutally and tragically beaten by Los Angeles police officers. The city exploded in riots for six days after three of the four police officers, each of whom were white, were acquitted in a jury trial. Famously, King called for an end to the violence in a 1992 interview. “Can’t we all just get along?” he asked.

These words are inscribed on his tombstone. It is a question that continues to dog humanity as our fragmentation continues to remain on display. But it’s not a question the triune God has ever needed to ask of himself. In our search for peace and unity, what is our example? What is our aim? How will we actually know when peace has been achieved?

Taken from The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best by Irwyn L. Ince Jr Copyright (c) 2021by Irwyn L. Ince Jr. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Covered by the Blood

On a Saturday in September, 2013, one of the most deadly terrorist attacks in history took place in an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Four Gunman, part of the Al-Qaeda affiliate al Shabab, took the lives of 67 people, with over 200 injured. It was by all accounts a horrible disaster. But one story of the shooting ended up receiving media attention. It was the story of a young mother named Sneha Kothair-Mashru. Sneha was at the mall having coffee with a friend when the gunfire began.

Having dropped to the floor she heard a cell-phone going off near her. Not wanting the gunmen to come closer, she reached under the person next to her to silence the phone. It was at this point that she realized the man next to her was bleeding heavily.

“When I put my hand under him that’s when I realized that this guy had been shot because he was bleeding,” she told NBC News. “He was bleeding heavily. There was a lot of blood there.”

At this point, the woman made a difficult, life-changing decision. She decided to smear the blood of the man on her own body, in hopes that the terrorists would assume she was dead and they would “pass over” her body.

Her grisly camouflage probably saved this woman’s life.

“I’d love to know who he was, because I think his blood protected me, saved my life,” she said.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from NBC News

Do You Know Who I Am?

In a story circulated among an ancient monastic community, a vicious warlord intimidated whole villages, sending its entire population into the hills to hide in caves, waiting for the ruler to move on. One day the warlord entered a small village and asked, I presume all the people have fled by this time?” “Well, all but one old monk who refused to flee,” the aide answered. The warlord was beside himself.

“Bring him to me immediately,” he snarled. When they dragged the old monk to the square before him, the commander shouted at him, “Do you not know who I am? I am he who can run you through with a sword and never even bat an eye.” And the old monk gazed up at the commander and replied, “And do you not know who I am? I am he who can let you run me through with a sword and never bat an eye.”

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Joan Chittister, Between the Dark and the Daylight, 2015, The Crown Publishing Group.

I Would Take Half

The British romantic poet Lord Byron (George Gordon) grew up with the disability of clubfoot, which kept him from engaging in many of the activities and joys of childhood. He was nevertheless, a person of some courage. One day he happened to notice a childhood friend being beaten to a pulp by one of the school bullies.

Byron, completely unable to come to the boy’s aid physically, nevertheless found a way to support his friend. Byron confronted the bully and asked how many punches he planned on giving to his poor friend. “What’s it to you?” the bully roared. “Because, if you please,” Byron answered, I would take half.”

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Violence Fights Back

Unlike hunger or homelessness or illiteracy, if you try to attack the problem, it will attack you. Violence fights back. One of the places we have seen this most starkly is in IJM’s fight against slavery. As hard as it is to believe, there are millions of people in the developing world who live and die as slaves. Not as metaphorical slaves, but as actual slaves—about twenty-five million, experts say. My colleagues and I have met thousands of them.

Some are as young as a little four-year-old girl named Devi. Devi labored as a slave in a rice mill in South Asia. My IJM colleagues bravely infiltrated the hidden slave operation and rescued her and more than thirty other slaves forced by sheer terror to toil seven days a week inside the concrete walls of the rice mill. Devi’s emancipation document from the government certifies that she was “forced to work under physical threat to her life.” Of course, Devi didn’t become a slave accidentally or by bad luck. The slave owners planned and conspired to hold her and her family as slaves through the power of violence.

Gary Haugen, Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian, InterVarsity Press. 

Violence is Intentional 

The first thing to notice is that violence is intentional. For example, one of the most brutal forms of violence affecting millions of poor women and girls in our world is sex trafficking. Lured away from their villages with promises of a good job in another city or country, millions of women and girls are abducted into forced prostitution and compelled to endure an endless nightmare of sexual assault inside the backrooms of brothels and bars. Rather than look away from such ugliness, Christians have to actually go looking for it.

At IJM, that is exactly what we do. Almost every night, somewhere in the world, IJM undercover investigators are infiltrating the dark, violent underworld of sex trafficking to find the women and children who have disappeared into the blackness. These women and girls suffer alone, out of sight and out of mind—so someone has to go find them. It’s different, but that is exactly what my IJM colleagues do. And when we find the victims, we find they are not suffering by accident. They aren’t suffering because of bad luck or a bad storm or a bad harvest or a bad bacteria. They are suffering because violent people want them to suffer. Violence is intentional.

Gary Haugen, Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian, InterVarsity Press. 


Violence is Driven by Vulnerability

The vast majority of violence oppressing the poor is not driven by the overwhelming power of the perpetrators—it’s driven by the utter vulnerability of the victims. Give the poor a strong, consistent advocate who won’t go away, and the oppressors will simply leave them alone. Why is that? Violence is intentional and scary, and it leaves deep scars, but it also can be stopped. Well, here is the first secret: Those who prey upon the poor are not brave. They only prey upon the poor when they think they can. The reason these men fly all the way to Cambodia to abuse children is because they think no one will try to stop them.

Gary Haugen, Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian, InterVarsity Press. 

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