Stories That’ve Stayed

When Jo was very young, she genuinely believed that every story or anecdote her preacher told from the pulpit was true and happened in real-life. Last week, for instance, the preacher’s cousin had this curious thing happen to him that just happened to fit that Sunday’s message perfectly. Then, yesterday, he’d heard about this man who did this other strange thing–something you wouldn’t expect to happen, normally.

It was remarkable how relevant the sermon was to these weird things that kept happening to the preacher’s kith and kin.

Anyway, all that happened a long time ago, right? It’s not like it was recently that Jo was innocently browsing the library and stumbled upon an entire section devoted to sermon illustrations. It’s not like she felt a deep sense of disillusionment as she remembered all those interesting stories that the preacher had told about those people who were only ever means to an end.

The disillusionment was similar to realizing that when people type “rotfl,” they are almost certainly not rolling on the floor laughing. It was a dark day for literal-minded me.

Alright, so maybe I didn’t discover sermon illustrations that recently (it’s been a couple years now, since that initial blow), and maybe all that opening bit was just silly. I was thinking about sermon stories, though, and how there are only a few that have really stuck, and that I still think about sometimes. Some of them are funny and a little ridiculous, and one of them made a deeper impression. So I thought I’d share ’em, and maybe they’ll stick for you, and maybe they won’t.

Notice that I will not try to give the impression that any of these things happened to people I know personally.

Sermon Illustration #1: “Not Enough Salt, Dennis!”

I heard this one at a youth and family conference that featured several speakers, all talking on various topics related to apologetics/cultural engagement/actually-doing-something- important-with-one’s-life. This speaker was a nice man, but the crowd was a tough one, made up of maybe 6-7 painfully shy homeschoolers who nodded politely at everything he was saying. His story started with a boy named Dennis.

Dennis lived on a farm where he helped his mom with all the farm chores. Usually, it was fine and he did a good job, but Dennis did have a tendency to be careless and a little lazy with some of his chores. He enjoyed not doing his chores, see, and so his mom sometimes had to get on to him to really get him to focus and do a good job with milking the cows or whatever the chore may be. So that was Dennis.

It was the time of year when they butchered the hog and packed the meat down and preserved it for the next year. Dennis helped his mother with the whole process and watched her cook some of the meat, and make some of it sausage and some of it bacon. For the really large slab of meat, she told him to take it out to the smokehouse and salt it. She gave him all the instructions on how much salt to use and how long to rub it in, but Dennis only half-listened, because he was so ready to be done and this was the last step. He rubbed in the salt and hung up the slab of meat and closed the door and that was that.

–I think this is the point in the story where the speaker read us Matthew 5:13, about Christians being the salt of the earth. So he went on for a bit about our responsibility to represent Christ and live according to his will. And then he finished the story.–

Well, next spring rolled around, and toward summer it was time to break out the meat from the smokehouse. Dennis’s mother went down there to get a hunk to cook for supper, while Dennis stayed, doing whatever he was doing. All of a sudden, he hears a loud, long call from the smokehouse: “Dennnnniss!!” So he runs down there, and see his mom standing by the side of meat, which is covered in disgusting maggots. She points to it, and says, “Not enough salt.”

Sermon #2: “I ain’t the one who moved”

Ugh. This one annoys me because I can’t think of it being told in anything but a very Southern accent, but I also find it hilarious and I don’t understand why it’s still in my head. Here’s how it goes:

Well, friends, God is like this man who was driving down the road in his old pick-up truck. His wife was with him, and she was just starin’ out the window, not sayin’ anything. But he could tell she was bothered by somethin’, so he asked her:

“What’s botherin’ you, honey?”

She turned toward him and said, “I was just thinkin’ of when we first knew each other, and I’d ride in your truck and we’d be settin’ so close to each other, and it seemed like nothin’ could separate us. And now you’re on that side of the truck, and I’m on this side, and there’s a whole big space between us. What’s happened to us?”

And then the man chuckled and said, “Darlin’, I ain’t the one who moved.”

And, friends, that is exactly how it is with us and God. Whenever you feel far away from him, remember that He ain’t going nowhere–it’s us who’s moved.

Sermon #3: The Folded Cloths

I really do enjoy this one, and each time I remember it, it’s as good as when I heard it. That’s probably because it’s not a sermon illustration, so much as it is the main points of an entire sermon that I still remember. The text was from the resurrection account in John, and it was the section where Peter and John come to the empty tomb. So it’s John 20:6-8, and I had to look it up to remind myself:

Then, following him, Simon Peter came also. He entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. The wrapping that had been on His head was not lying with the linen cloths but was folded up in a separate place by itself. The other disciple,who had reached the tomb first, then entered the tomb, saw, and believed. 

The preacher was asking why John would have made the distinction that Jesus’s head-wrapping was folded up by itself, and why seeing that would have made John and Peter believe. So he started talking about the customs of the time, and how, at meals, when the master was finished eating, he would crumple up his napkin, and his servant would know he was done, and that he was finished. He wasn’t coming back.

If, however, the master folded his napkin, it signaled to the servants that he wasn’t finished yet, and that he was coming back.

I know it’s a small thing, and it’s only two verses, but in it the preacher communicated the hope and joy of Easter, just by the simple idea that, yes, Jesus is coming back.

That’s about all I have to say on sermon illustrations. I’d love to hear any stories that you remember from church, so comment them if you would like to share. Thanks for reading!

 

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4 thoughts on “Stories That’ve Stayed

  1. YOU MEAN THOSE STORIES AREN’T TRUE? I’ve always loved the stories my pastor back home would tell about his family – granted, once there was this story about a time when his son was jumping on a trampoline and heard someone calling him three times before he realized it was God, which sounded very familiar… but I would never have expected that anecdotes like that might have come from a book!

    Anyway, I really like the story you described about the guy saying, “I ain’t the one who moved.”, hahaha! Haven’t heard that one and it’s great!

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    • Haha, well I’m sure that not every story preachers tell is from a book of illustrations. Like you mentioned, many “pulpit stories” are drawn from the preacher’s family–although you’re right that the trampoline story sounds a little sketchy;) I guess one could argue that even if a story didn’t happen “in real life,” it can still be true. We don’t object, for instance, that a lot of our favorite poetry isn’t based on any specific event “in real life.” It still is true:)

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  2. I’m with you JoAnna. I too always believed those stories told on Sunday mornings were real. Then while typing up sermon notes from various books for the pastor one day, it came to me…they get this stuff out of books! It really jaded me from then on. To this day I prefer only sermons that are taken directly from the Bible, no illustrations please that did not come from Jesus!

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    • I get the feeling jaded part, for sure. I guess I still enjoy a good illustration–if I know it’s only an illustration. I don’t particularly enjoy feeling as if I’ve been fooled. Of course, this all could simply be me preferring different kinds of communication–and also tending to take things more literally.

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