For Your Sermon Illustration FileIllustrations for Preachingby Clyde W. Chesnutt*
Much of the following material is copyrighted and is presented here for oral communication only. Permission for reprinting must be secured from the publisher of the periodical from which the illustration is excerpted.
CHURCH "Music or Death"
Fanla Fenelon was played by Vanessa Redgrave in the wonderful documentary movie, Playing for Time. Jewish musicians—all women—were spared the gas chambers in Nazi Auschwitz as long as they played beautifully. They were dressed in drab gray—all alike—and their heads were shaved. Thus both identity and femininity were taken from them. Everything, even their right to live, became irrelevant. Their lives were reduced to a single proposition: music or death.
Perhaps I've spoiled the metaphor by speaking so plainly, but we must remember that the music of the church is the evangel—the good news that God was in Christ. If poor orchestration obscures the theme for long, the church will begin to lose members and, worse than that, may actually lose its way. And a lost church can do little to redeem a lost world. It must keep the music going or it will die. In this strategic, saving symphony, every instrument counts.
In a sense, these are the glorious options of the church: music or death. We must therefore play as well as we can, for the quality of our instrument is not as important as the certain, unfailing sound of the music. . . . Calvin Miller, "Fiddlin With the Staff," Leadership, Winter '86.
I never understood the radical nature of what Jesus did until it was driven home to me some years ago in a dramatic way. It was our first year in Boston. I was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Chelsea is one of the most isolated, economically deprived, inner-city sections in greater Boston: 27,000 people crowded into less than two square miles. Chelsea is a receptacle for all kinds of drop-outs—prostitutes and pimps, drug addicts, people who have not "made it" and probably never will.
Every new minister in Chelsea soon became acquainted with one of these drop-outs, an alcoholic known to everyone as Johnny Cornflakes because he often rummaged through the trash, looking through the cereal boxes or whatever to find a bit of food. We sometimes
* Clyde W. Chesnutt is publisher of Windows of Truth, a newsletter of sermon illustrations. His address is P.O. Box 339, Blanco, Texas 78606.
gave him food and clothes and tried to see that he had a place to spend the night.
One Sunday after church we held our first dinner party in Chelsea for out-of-town guests. We had worked so hard to make everything perfect—our best linen, our finest dishes, trying so hard to impress—when right in the middle of the main course the front door of the parsonage burst open. Into our dining room in all of his inebriated glory sauntered Johnny Cornflakes. If you think we were startled, you should have seen our guestsl
And suddenly I knew what the Pharisees must have felt like. Johnny Cornflakes was someone you'd hand a sandwich to at the back door, someone you'd deliver a CARE package to at the inner-city mission, but definitely not someone you would invite to a Sunday dinnerl Yet this is exactly what Jesus did, he invited all the Johnny Cornflakes of Jerusalem to Sunday dinner with the best linen and the finest dishes. . . . Timothy George, "Sunday Dinner or Backdoor Lunch?" Seeds Reader, August 1985
HUMANITIES "They Tell the Truth"
Despite Michael Hooker's fascination with technology and the sciences, his ideal curriculum leans strongly in another direction. He is the lively new chancellor of the University of Maryland's sprawling Baltimore County campus.
"I'd educate everybody in the humanities — literature, philosophy, poetry," he says. Why? Because "they tell the truth."
The history of literature, he explains, is "the history of pointing out that the world is not as simple as it seems, that life is filled with ambiguities and uncertainty, that we deceive ourselves right and left. Literature tells the truth, and if it doesn't tell the truth it's not literature, it's propaganda or something else. . . . Rushworth M. Kidder, "Michael Hooker," The Christian Science Monitor, October 1, 1986
IRONY "Painting Sets Record Price"
The world-record price for a painting was smashed Monday when Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers" sold for 24,750,000 pounds—more than $39.9 million—at Christie's auction house in London. The painting was bought by an anonymous foreign buyer in a battle between two bidders conducted over the telephone in Christie's auction room. The $39,921,750 price made "The Sunflowers" the most expensive bunch of flowers ever sold, working out to almost $3 million a bloom.
The sad irony is that van Gogh, penniless and unknown, committed suicide in 1890 in despair at age 37. He had sold only one painting in his lifetime. . . . Baltimore Sun, March 31, 1987
MIRACLE "To Kill a Butterfly"
I'd been driving about half an hour when I saw a monarch butterfly just ahead, flying toward me on a collision course. Though I swerved in. a last-minute effort to avoid it, I watched helplessly as it disappeared into the front of the car. I'd killed a butterfly on the road to Hope, Minnesota.
Rather than being smashed against the grille as I'd imagined, the butterfly was wedged into a crevice along the rim of the hood, its wings sticking up over the top like a hood ornament. When I pulled into Hope, I stopped the car to move the butterfly. At least I could lay its body on the grass or in a bush—something green and living—a final resting place more befitting a monarch. But as I released the latch and lifted the hood the butterfly beat its wings with power of its own, rose up like an apparition and flew away on the southbound breeze.
Maybe I shouldn't have been quite so surprised. A monarch's graceful wings, made for annual migrations as far away as Mexico and back, aren't as fragile as they would appear. And I suspect a few aerodynamic principles could adequately explain why the butterfly was spared. Still, though the thought hadn't occurred to me that the butterfly might survive the car's initial impact, much less a 60-mile-an-hour ride down the highway, I saw it take to the air, in winged testimony to life's resiliency. To my mind, that's a miracle—and my mind needs all the miracles it can get.
. . . Carol Howard, "Minor Miracles," Psychology Today, August 1986
PRAYER "Faith Offers Prayers"
An old Jewish legend tells about a little farm boy who had been left an orphan at an early age and was unable to read. But he had inherited a large, heavy prayer book from his parents. On the Day of Atonement he brought the prayer book into the synagogue and laid it on the desk. He then cried out, "Lord of Creation, I do not know how to pray. I do not know what to say. So I give you the entire prayer book."
In the same village there was an old man who on the Day of Atonement over-slept and missed the service. That meant that the prayers offered did not include him. Not knowing how to pray by himself, he devised this plan. He repeated the letters of the alphabet over and over and asked God to arrange them into the words of an appropriate prayer.
Both prayers were acceptable because of the faith of those who offered them. , . . Mark Trotter, Grace All the Way Home, The Upper Room, 1982
TEN COMMANDMENTS "The Hall of Mirrors"
When the traveling funfair came to our town last summer, our family enjoyed riding on the space-age rides and playing the computer games. But the big success of the night was an old favorite which continues to delight every new generation—the hall of mirrors.
We laughed long and hard at our distorted reflections with giraffe necks and stumpy legs, elastic heads and wavy tummies. And I came home grateful for the true mirrors I take for granted whenever I comb my hair or stop to brush flour from my nose before answering the doorbell.
I think the Ten Commandments are like a mir
ror. The psalmist reminds us that in God's word
we find truth (Ps. 119:153-160). God's word is
a mirror that does not lie. If we take a close and
honest look, we will see just where our lives need
tidying up, exactly where the smudges are.
. . . Brenda Courtle, The Upper Room, April 22,
CHURCH MANAGEMENT—THE CLERGY JOURNAL