Sermon illustrations


Constructing Utopias

One of the seductions that continues to bedevil Christian obedience is the construction of utopias, whether in fact or fantasy, ideal places where we can live the good and blessed and righteous life without inhibition or interference. The imagining and attempted construction of utopias is an old habit of our kind. Sometimes we attempt it politically in communities, sometimes socially in communes, sometimes religiously in churches. It never comes to anything but grief. Meanwhile that place we actually are is dismissed or demeaned as inadequate for serious living to the glory of God. But utopia is literally “no-place.” We can only live our lives in actual place, not imagined or fantasized or artificially fashioned places.

A favorite story of mine, one that has held me fast to my place several times, is of Gregory of Nyssa who lived in Cappadocia (a region in modern Turkey) in the fourth century. His older brother, a bishop, arranged for him to be appointed bishop of the small and obscure and unimportant town of Nyssa (a.d. 371) Gregory objected; he didn’t want to be stuck in such an out-of-the-way place. But his brother told him that he didn’t want Gregory to obtain distinction from his church but rather to confer distinction upon it. Gregory went to where he was placed and stayed there. His lifetime of work in that place, a backwater community, continues to be a major invigorating influence in the Christian church worldwide.

Eugene Peterson, Introduction to Eric O Jacobsen, Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith, Baker Publishing Group.

Expectations for the Messiah King

In this short excerpt, scholar N.T. Wright describes the expectations regarding the Jewish messiah king:

The coming King would do two main things, according to a variety of texts and as we study a variety of actual would-be royal movements within history.  First, he would build or restore the Temple.  Second, he would fight the decisive battle against the enemy.  David’s first act upon being anointed was to fight Goliath; his last was to plan the Temple.  Judas Maccabeus defeated the Syrians and cleansed the Temple.  Herod defeated the Parthians and rebuilt the Temple.  Bar-Kochba, the last would-be Messiah of the period, aimed to defeat the Romans and rebuild the Temple. …

 It is unlikely that the followers of a crucified would-be Messiah would regard such a person as the true Messiah.  Jesus did not rebuild the Temple; he had not only not defeated the Romans, he had died at their hands in the manner of failed revolutionary leaders.

Taken from The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is by N.T. Wright Copyright (c) 2015 by N. T. Wright. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Hopes and Fears

As a thirty-something, my hopes and fears for this generation are the hopes and fears I have for myself. Both hope and fear have been amplified with increased exposure to how I have seen us living out our faith. I believe that this generation bears extraordinary promise, but the fulfillment of this promise depends on our ability to confront our particular weaknesses.

That is, the shift to systems thinking is not simply about having a more comprehensive perspective on complex phenomena like poverty and ecology. It also often means that we engage such issues in a way that presupposes that, or at least acts as if, the human condition can be fixed through human effort-that that the world is ours to save. This is a problem.

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. The World Is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good.

Our Loves Can’t Hold the Wait of our Expectations

The ultimate reason for our misery, however, is that we do not love God supremely. As Augustine so famously put it in prayer, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you” (Confessions 1.1.1). That means, quite simply, if you love anything at all in this world more than God, you will crush that object under the weight of your expectations, and it will eventually break your heart.

For example, if your spouse and his or her love of you is more important to you than God’s love, then you will get far too angry and despondent when your spouse is failing to give you the support and affection you need, and you will be too afraid of your spouse’s anger and displeasure to tell the truth. Only if God’s love is the most important thing to you will you have the freedom to love your spouse well.

Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Penguin, 2014), Kindle Electronic Version, 2567-73.

Stories We Tell Ourselves

A man named Jack was driving on a dark country road one night when he got a flat tire. He saw a cabin in the woods and began to walk towards it. He told himself that the person who answered the door would be angry and irritated for the interruption.

In fact, the person would probably harm him. He was probably a truly terrible person. Who else would live out in the woods away from people? Jack convinced himself that the person who lived in the cabin was a menace to society, so when the door opened, Jack punched the man in the nose and ran away.

Quoted in the Cruzman

Unfulfilled Expectations as a Famous Actor

Just about 2 weeks ago I dropped my mother off at the airport, and on the drive back I found myself listening to an interview with the actor and comedian Tony Hale. Hale has been on a couple of successful sitcoms and also happens to be a Christian.

On the show he described reaching this point in his career where he had achieved everything he had ever wanted as an actor, he had been on a highly successful show, he had become famous, and he said, “you know it didn’t feel like I thought it would”

“I didn’t feel fulfilled in the way I thought I would” and he pointed out that, as actors, one of the things you want more than anything is to be known…and might I add on to that, that you want to be known as being good, or even great, you desire glory. And what he said, I thought was quite fascinating he said, that desire to be known, can actually cause you to become less known both to yourself and to those around you that you love.

And so Hale realized that he had this misplaced expectation for what his career would give him. He realized that the glory he was seeking in his career needed to be re-directed.

And so, interestingly enough, in this secular program he went on to acknowledge that as a Christian, he was looking for glory in all the wrong places…okay, those were my words, not his.

But he realized that, that the glory he anticipated receiving when he made it big would never really arrive.

And he had the wisdom to realize that he needed to re-orient that desire in himself. Instead of pushing harder and harder in the wrong direction, he turned to God and recognized that this need would never be satisfied in his work.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Winner and Loser Lane

Back in 1958, a baby boy was born into the Lane family. The father, a man named Robert, chose to name his boy Winner. How could the young man fell to succeed with a name like Winner Lane?

Several years passed and the Lanes had another son. For unknown reasons (this is a true story), Robert named this boy Loser. How tragic to doom the boys future prospects with the name Loser Lane. How many counseling sessions did it take to undo that?

Of course, all the family’s friends thought they knew how the two boys’ lives would unfold. But contrary to all expectations. Loser Lane succeeded. He graduated from college and later became a sergeant with the NYPD, shield number 2762. Nowadays, no one feels comfortable calling him Loser. His colleagues simply refer to him as Lou.

And what of the brother with the can’t-miss name? The most noteworthy achievement of Winner Lane is the sheer of his criminal record. Inmate number OOR28Q7 has nearly three dozen arrests for burglary domestic violence, trespassing. Resisting arrest, and other mayhem. Sometimes things are not as they first seem.

Tom Hughes, Down to Earth: How Jesus’ Stories Can Change Your Everyday Life, NavPress, 2019, p.13.

See also illustrations on DreamsHope, Opportunity

Still Looking for inspiration?

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

Follow us on social media: