CHRIST — Must be central
“Martin Niemoller, that wonderful man who had spent time in a Nazi concentration camp, came to Boston while I was still a student at Boston University. I remember after he spoke, the reporters went away in disgust, saying, ‘All those months in a concentration camp and all he can talk about is Jesus’.” (William Hinson, Senior Minister, First United Methodist Church, Houston, TX)
GOALS — Should be meaningful
“If you hit it every time, the target is too near.” (Tom Hirschfield — quoted by John Killinger, Distinguished Professor of Religion & Culture, Samford University, Birmingham, AL)
GOD — Vision of
“An old man and a little boy were out fishing on a pier in Florida late in the day. They’d been talking about all the important things in life — why the rain falls, why the leaves turn golden in the fall. Along late in the day, they’re putting their bait and their tackle up, and the little boy looks up in the old man’s face and asks: ‘Does anybody ever see God?’
“The old man looked out across the darkening horizon, his eyes filled with mist, and said, ‘Son, it’s where I hardly see anything else’.” (John Killinger, Distinguished Professor of Religion & Culture, Samford University, Birmingham, AL)
GRIEF — Can’t avoid
“A man heard that 80 percent of all traffic accidents happen within a mile of home. So he moved!
“But grief can’t be avoided. It comes into every life.” (Zelma Pattillo, Hospice Chaplain, Baptist Medical Center-Montclair, Birmingham, AL)
LOSS — Can be redemptive
“Part of life is loss. Despite what some sticky-sweet presentations of the gospel tell us, part of life is loss — of health, of friendship, of position, of place, of power, of perquisites in Moses’ instance — that leads either to bitterness or to denial or to the possibility that on the other side of that loss God will burn in a bush and we’ll have another encounter with Him.” (Joel Gregory, Pastor, Travis Avenue Baptist Church, Fort Worth, TX)
PREACHING — Power of
“A few years ago, a little magazine in my denomination, called Engage: Social Action, asked ten activists in our church — ten people who had laid their lives and their ministry on the line for social justice, for racial equality. And they asked these people, ‘How did you get here? What put you on the battle lines?’ And I was impressed that about eight out of ten said, ‘Well, it was a sermon I heard that turned me around, helped me to see things. I felt God’s call, I heard my name called. It was a sermon.” (William B. Willimon, Minister to the University, Duke University, Durham, NC)
POWER — Christ provides
“Jesus had power. He promised that those who followed Him would have power ….
“He knew that once the promise was fulfilled, they (the disciples) would have a power that would make them able, capable, ready to make things happen, which is really what power is all about — the ability to achieve an end, to bring something about that one plans. That is what power is.” (James Earl Massey, Dean, Anderson School of Theology, Anderson, IN)
Here are some illustrations drawn from biographical and autobiographical works.
CONFIDENCE — Don’t claim for self
George M. Docherty succeeded Peter Marshall as pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. In his autobiography, he recalls his ministerial study at Trinity College, and his final evaluation from his homiletics professor, A. J. Gossip. Gossip observed Docherty’s “trial sermon” and called the young man into his office after class on Monday.
Docherty remembers that the great Scottish pulpiteer pointed a bony finger at him and exclaimed:
“Young man! Don’t you think for one moment that you are a preacher. Don’t ever get a conceited notion into your head that you can preach — at all! Oh, maybe, I suppose, just maybe, after, let us say, ten years in your own pulpit, with regular weekly preparation, it is conceivable, yet it is conceivable, that perhaps — perhaps — you may lay claim to be able to preach what could be a passable sermon! But not yet, young man, not yet! And I beseech you, and I know the Lord Himself beseeches you, don’t ever believe that you are a good preacher. Man, lad, you have the gift! It’s from above, but don’t misuse this gift; don’t spoil it by believing it has anything really to do with you.” (George M. Docherty, I’ve Seen the Day, p. 58)
“I was eleven years old and I’d won a prize for selling the most tickets to the St. Paul Saints opening baseball game. This entrepreneurial coup was scored by telling my friends that if they bought their tickets from me, I could get them into the locker room to meet the ballplayers. It should have been easy. After all, as the Associated Press correspondent in town, my father knew every ballplayer on the team.
“Unfortunately, I hadn’t bothered to ask him about it beforehand. The day of the game, he was covering a political rally in Minneapolis, and even doing my best ‘Jack Mackay’s son’ number, though I could see the whole team sitting there in their skivvies drinking beer, I couldn’t bluff my way past the man at the clubhouse door.
“I made it home in one piece, but my credibility with my friends was zero. To top it off, my big prize for selling the most tickets turned out not to be such a big prize after all. It was a season’s pass, just the kind of perk my father could have had for the asking.” (Harvey Mackay, Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, pp. 28-29)
“On (Winston Churchill’s) seventy-fifth birthday a photographer said, ‘I hope, sir, that I will shoot your picture on your hundredth birthday.’ Churchill answered: ‘I don’t see why not, young man. You look reasonably fit and healthy’.” (William Manchester, The Last Lion: Visions of Glory, p. 34)
David H. C. Read — pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City — was a chaplain in the British army and was one of a million Allied troops taken prisoner of war by the Germans in the early days of World War II. In his autogiography, Read recalls the experience of hunger and how that affected his attitude toward thankfulness.
“We disembarked inside Germany and spent two foodless days in a barbed-wire pen before being herded onto trains to be shipped to our assigned camps. What I remember about this place was pacing around inside the wire with two majors from my division arguing about the future of the war ….
“Suddenly a German sentry perched above us at his machine-gun post finished his breakfast and threw the crust of his sandwich into our pen. I pounced on it quick as lightning. We crouched beside a stone, and measured that crust into three exactly equal parts, which we consumed like gourmets attacking a perfect filet mignon.
“It wasn’t the last time that I was to reflect how casually we accept the meals that come our way three times a day during peacetime, and how unreal are our occasional prayers of thanks.” (David H. C. Read, This Grace Given, Eerdmans Publishing Co., p. 109)
View more sermon illustrations for inspiration for your next message.