Any pastor will tell you finding good sermon illustrations is one of the hardest things about preaching. We are constantly looking for that one great story, that one newspaper article or circulating meme that will bind the sermon’s point into the heart and mind of the congregation. We subscribe to blogs. We read lots of books
and website articles – we write down cute things our children say – just so we’ll have that compelling story on Sunday morning no one will forget. If pastors were truthful, they would confess many weeks they’ll spend more time looking for a good illustration than actually studying the Scripture.
And, if we find a great story, we’ll do anything to make that story work, including changing the whole sermon. Have you ever heard a sermon that sounded like it was more about the story than the Scriptures? It probably was.
That’s why you hear the same stories over and over again. Once a preacher finds a great story, they’ll tell it over and over again. How many times have you heard the story of the little boy who came down to the front of the church for the children’s sermon? When the pastor asked the children, “What’s gray and furry and lives in the trees,” the little boy turned to his friend and said, “I know I’m supposed to say Jesus, but it sounds like a squirrel.”
When I was in seminary, we were taught to file our stories on 3×5 cards and note the date we used them so we wouldn’t tell the same story over and over. Now, we have computer programs to file and track our illustrations. Pastors subscribe to databases of illustrations. Want to tell a story about fish? Type in “fish” and hundreds of fish stories will scroll across your screen. Find a good one? Cut and paste it into your sermon text.
Jesus was a master of illustrations. Most of the time, the stories were pulled from real life. When reading the text, you get the feeling Jesus may have pointed to man working in his fields and said to those around Him, “The kingdom of God is like a farmer.” Jesus used common, everyday moments, to leave us with unforgettable teachings of grace and salvation. “A man had two sons…” Who can forget that story?
There was something else Jesus had. Most of the time, as Jesus went about His day and encountered the people around Him, He would heal, touch and teach in such a way that He would leave His sermon illustration standing right next to Him.
Jesus turns the water into wine. Want to see? The jars filled with wine are right here.
Jesus healed the Gerasene demoniac. Want to see. That’s him sitting with Jesus, fully clothed and in his right mind.
The man born blind? He’s here.
Jairus daughter? We know where she lives.
The woman with the issue of blood? Sure, we know who she is.
Since my retirement, I’ve had a little more time to think. As you would imagine, I’ve come up with a lot of theories with what’s wrong with the world. Here’s one of my theories. The world needs some good sermon illustrations. That is, we need more people whose lives prove the reality of the Risen Christ. Before people look at Jesus, they look at His followers. Do His followers show any difference in their lives? Do they show evidence of having been with Jesus? If the world sees something interesting, then they might want to learn more about Jesus. If they don’t find anything in the lives of His disciples, the world will conclude there’s nothing to Jesus either.
As I have often said, the world isn’t mad at the church because we’re different. They’re mad at us because we aren’t different enough.
Maybe the world needs a few more sermons. Maybe. What we really need, however, are more good sermon illustrations. People whose lives tell the gospel in unforgettable ways. People who love their neighbors. People who forgive after being horribly wronged. People who can live in hope when the world is filled with despair. Whenever we hear stories like these, they stick with us. We can’t forget them.
The world is always looking for a good story. We just can’t find enough of them. Maybe if we made it easier to find a few good stories – a few good sermon illustrations – the world would find it easier to find Jesus.