There’s a Sermon Illustration in There Somewhere

June 14, 2013

Our home was filled with happy chaos for about twelve days surrounding my early June birthday. It was one of those milestone birthdays, the big 6—0. So our girls decided to orchestrate a birthday party for the two of us (hubby’s big one is in August); hence, “the twelve days of Birthday.” We are definitely of the school that celebrates birthdays as long as possible, and I have not been disappointed this year!

One of the party games our daughters cooked up was a matching game using twenty of my favorite sermon illustrations over the years. Just picking them out was an interesting exercise, and since some of my readers found out I had compiled such a list, they have been asking for it. Preachers understand, though, that such a list really isn’t a list: “Oh, you remember the one about the implosion of the Kingdome?” In order to do them justice, or to be useable by another, one must tell the whole story. So I thought, for fun and edification, I would share those illustrations that have stood the test of time. They are not all original with me, and I may not even be able to remember where I first heard them, so bear with me as I start this exercise. If you want to claim one as yours, I am happy to give you credit for it. The point is not the authorship, but the picture it paints of some Kingdom reality we are all trying to bring alive.

So here’s the first one, fun to tell with enthusiasm and humor. It never fails to challenge people to trust Jesus.

Topic: Faith as Knowledge, Assent, and Trust (a Bethel Series concept)
Source: first heard from the Rev. Robert Wise, at Bethel Teacher Training in Madison, Wisconsin, 1986
Scriptures: Hebrews 11:1; Matthew 14:22-43.

Charles.BlondinIn 1859 French aerialist, Jean François Gravelot, known as “the great Blondin,” came to America. Amid great fanfare, he strung a wire across Niagara Falls and, drawing a tense crowd of onlookers, walked across the thundering abyss with his balancing pole. For the return crossing—audience aghast—he slowly pushed a wheelbarrow in front of him, finally stepping to safety before a crowd wild with excitement and applause.  He shouted above the din, “Am I the greatest aerialist in the world?” “Yes, yes you are! The greatest!” [Knowledge]

“Do you believe I can cross the falls again?” the crowd shouted back, “Yes! Yes! You can do it! Do it again!” [Assent to his claims]

The man called out, “Okay then, who will get into the wheelbarrow?” [Invitation to trust]

The Bethel Series includes a lesson on faith as a composite of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, assent to his claims, and trust in his person and power. John Calvin made the first point in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (III, 2, 2): “Faith rests not on ignorance, but on knowledge.” The invitation to believe in Jesus Christ is a call to put our full weight on him.  A parallel illustration, from personal experience:

halfdome-df-08-20-09Teetering on the shoulder of Half Dome in Yosemite, I found myself saying, “I am staking my life on these cables bolted into the rock.” It isn’t very often that we think in terms of what we stake our life on. But when we do, it’s because we realize we will fall unless something or someone else carries us through a particular situation. Especially when challenged, or threatened, or when our world is rocked by misfortune or illness, we have the opportunity to appreciate a particular reality that keeps us steady. Daily! I count on the force of gravity, or that others will obey traffic laws, or that when we plug the kitchen appliance into a wall socket, electricity will power it up.

Spiritual growth happens when we discover that ultimately it is God who holds us up and holds us together.

Tomorrow: The Now and the Not-Yet of the Kingdom

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3 Responses to “There’s a Sermon Illustration in There Somewhere”

  1. John Campbell Says:

    In reading your sermon illustration about faith, it made me think of something from my past. I used to drive for a custom photo lab. I often thought of staking my life on other drivers as I sped across the Golden Gate Bridge. I had to trust that the other drivers would stay on their side of those cones. Yet more importantly I trusted God to keep me as I drove.


  2. Sermon illustrations have sure changed. I used the Blondin chestnut first about 1947, I think, when I was a junior in high school and doing my first sermonizing.

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