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Sermon Illustrations for Epiphany 2 (2018)

Illustration
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
A humorous but pointed anecdote emerges from the pages of history and the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Owen Wister, an old college friend of Theodore Roosevelt, was visiting him at the White House. Roosevelt’s daughter Alice kept running in and out of the room, until Wister finally asked if there wasn’t something Roosevelt could do to control her.

“Well,” said the president, “I can do one of two things. I can be president of the United States or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.” 

That story brings me a chuckle, and I might laugh a bit more had I not found it about the story of Eli and Samuel. Eli was the priest who encountered Hannah, Samuel’s mother. When she dedicated Samuel to the Lord, he then worked under Eli. Though he was faithful himself, Eli did not do a good job of controlling his kids. God was about to bring consequences. “I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.” The main responsibility of parents is to teach their children the ways of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6; 1 Timothy 5:8). Failing to do so leads only to trouble. As the Oompa Loompas sang in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, “Who do you blame when your kid is a brat? Pampered and spoiled like a Siamese cat? The mother and the father.”  Parents, take seriously your role in raising your kids. 
Bill T.


1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
When have you, if ever, heard the voice of God? When did you hear the call of God? What form did it take?

How did you answer?

For James Gribble (1883-1923), God’s call came at a difficult time in his life. Born in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, he never attended Bible school or seminary. Instead, he worked hard farming, in office work, and as a streetcar conductor in Philadelphia. His hobby was photography. He experimented in agriculture, working to increase the black walnut, hickory nut, and chestnut crop. Later he began to experiment with fruit trees.

However, his life took a turn in 1904 when, while conducting a streetcar, a woman was killed through no fault of his own. Not long afterwards he told the pastor of the church he attended that he wanted to be baptized a Christian that very day. Gribble believed that his baptismal prayer, “Oh Lord, deliver me and I will henceforth serve thee,” was answered when he was exonerated of wrongdoing in the accident.

He then dedicated his time to serious Bible study and preparation to become a missionary. His years in Eastern Africa and Equatorial French Guinea were few but fruitful, until he died of disease and was buried thousands of miles from his place of birth. His final words were “Come, dear Lord Jesus!”
Frank R.


1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Hugh Hefner always enjoyed drawing comics, as he did for the school newspaper at Steinmetz High School in Chicago. While attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he edited the campus humor magazine, Shaft, and started a photo feature called “Co-Ed of the Month.” After college, Hefner had several jobs before he began his employment as the circulation promotion manager for the magazine Children’s Activities. Yet he was dissatisfied, as he wanted to create his own magazine. It was to be a men’s magazine, and he believed a men’s magazine could only sell if it had pictures of naked women in it. With money loaned to him by others, including his mother, he had the capital needed to start his magazine. He was also fortunate enough that for $500 he was able to purchase a nude calendar photograph of Marilyn Monroe. Hefner called his magazine Playboy, and it was first published in December 1953. Marilyn Monroe became its first centerfold.

The magazine became a huge success, with pictorials, raunchy comics, fiction stories, interviews, and promoting the “Playboy philosophy.” The first issue sold just under 54,000 copies; by November 1972, over 7 million magazines had been sold. 

Playboy clubs and the Playboy mansion became icons of sexual liberation and freedom from societal restraints on moral behavior. Hefner admitted in an interview that in the early days of the magazine at the clubs and at the mansion “everyone was coupling with everybody,” including him. Hefner went on to brag that he had slept with over 1,000 women. During the interview, and throughout his life, Hugh Hefner would say over and over again: “I’m the boy who dreamed the dream.”

Application: We are starkly informed in our reading that we are to listen to the Lord, we are to be receptive to the teachings of the prophets of the Lord, and that we are to have a conversion experience. Failing to so this, there will be judgment. We ought to evaluate what life we dream for ourselves. 
Ron L.


1 Corinthians 6:12-20
“Fornication” is not a word we use much anymore, although stories of sexual abuse and adultery seem to be in the news even more than in the past. The “Me too” movement is a testament to the abuse one human being can perpetrate on another. So many women and men have come forward, and not just those who have been abused by a famous person. I heard a story about women assaulted during airplane travel on the news recently. It seems no place is safe.

But Paul is writing about something a little more complicated and a little more simple than physical sexual improprieties. Paul is writing about what happens to our spirits when we choose to engage ourselves in adoration and love of something other than God. Paul is concerned, first, with our alignment with God in our spirits and our hearts, with the fact that our bodies are temples to God, gifts from God.

How often do we abuse our own bodies? When we don’t get enough sleep, when we eat junk that harms our health, when we fail to move our muscles or rest our minds, all these are adoration of something other than God, other than treating ourselves as temples in which God rests, in which the spark of the divine acts in the world.

Surely we are not to abuse one another, to be violent or licentious or hateful to one another. Yet almost more important, for the abuse of others stems from this, is our need to not be self-abusive. When we can love ourselves as a creation of God, as one of God’s beloved, we begin to be able to see others as children of God as well. We are all temples of the divine. Let us treat ourselves and others as such.
Bonnie B.


1 Corinthians 6:12-20
The fornication Paul laments in the text is running rampant in America today. A 2007 MSNBC poll revealed that the average number of lifetime sexual partners American men have is 17, and for women the number is 11. Even when allowing for exaggeration of sexual prowess by subjects in the poll, it is unlikely that these numbers have considerably changed in the last decade as millennials have come to maturity. The irony is that brain research suggests that heterosexual sex is more pleasurable in long-term relationships, because the pleasurable brain chemical secreted in sexual encounters (dopamine) wears off in its effectiveness. But in long-term relationships a different pleasurable brain chemical is secreted (oxytocin), to which we do not build up immunity like we do from short-term dopamine-related sexual encounters (Daniel Amen, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, p. 93; Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love, and Feeling).

The freedom that we have in the gospel is not “anything goes.” It is a long-term commitment to Christ, with all the benefits of the long oxytocin-related relationships. This sense of freedom also entailing commitment reflects in remarks by Pope John Paul II: Freedom, he proclaimed, “consists not in doing what you like, but in having the right to do what you ought.” Famed French existentialist Albert Camus made a similar point: “Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.”

This freedom happens spontaneously for a Christian. Martin Luther nicely elaborated on this point, with a marriage image which very well fits this text’s reference to sexual relations: “It further follows from this that a Christian man living in this faith has no need of a teacher of good works, but he does whatever the occasion calls for, and all is well done.... We may see this is an everyday example. When a husband and wife really love one another, have pleasure in each other, and thoroughly believe in their love, who teaches them how to behave to one another, what they are to do or not to do, say or not to say, what they are to think?” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 44, pp. 26-27). 
Mark E.


1 Corinthians 6:12-20
We are given the strength to do anything we want, but some things are not beneficial. We should not be mastered by anything not from God. We can enjoy sex, but only in the proper relationships. We must not be tempted to immorality -- in thought and word as well as in deed! There are many opportunities to sin (which we can learn from bankers, lawyers, politicians, movies, etc.) outside our bodies, but our body is a temple of God. God owns us. He bought our souls when He died on a cross. So we have to be careful how we use his property, our body. We can use our minds for sexual thoughts, but dare not be mastered by them. It might be well and good if those thoughts are only for our spouses, but don’t we all have occasional flashes of lust from movies and other media as well as just seeing a pretty and tempting member of the opposite sex in our everyday lives?

I think sex is mentioned so frequently because it is one of mankind’s greatest temptations. It can even fill our dreams, but we should realize that we do not own our bodies. They have been bought by God at a great price on the cross.

When we marry we become one body. It is no wonder that divorce is so painful if it means tearing our bodies apart! Since we are not our own, why do we feel free to do what we want? Can we decide which one of God’s laws to keep? Are we even free to think what we want to think? Can we even take off on a Sunday church service to go and have some fun, or spend money we had planned to give to God on some other “important” project?

I have often said that the whole world would be Christian if it weren’t for Christians. We always seem to have other priorities. Our church is to help us know that we belong to God -- not to our whims and desires. Church should also be helping us find the strength to obey God’s will so we can be one with him in Spirit.
Bob O.


John 1:43-51
In his Ronald Reagan biography Dutch, Edmund Morris describes Reagan’s hometown of Tampico, Illinois as “a depressed village on the Illinois corn flats.” Theodore Roosevelt came from, in his own words, “a moldering old brownstone in the toy district.” Both men, considered historical giants by many, came from ordinary beginnings.

Nazareth was in Galilee, far north of Jerusalem and just west of the urban, Hellenized Decapolis. This town, however, did not hold the luster of a big city nor the quaint, rustic appeal of a small town. Nazareth was the quiet, poor backwoods of the Roman empire. The population of Nazareth around Jesus’ time of birth was, according to archaeologist James Strange of the University of South Florida, “a maximum of about 480.” The people were physically robust, strong-minded, practical, respectful of traditional and loyal to family. It was a conservative town, clinging to traditional Jewish culture in a world that had been radically affected by Greek thought and culture. It was the place where Jesus grew up. Certainly this would qualify as “humble beginnings.”

Nathanial was only expressing to Philip the common thought of his day. Upon hearing that Jesus, the prophet, was from Nazareth, he said: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” An ordinary hometown for an extraordinary person; true of presidents, and even more true of our Savior.
Bill T.


John 1:43-51
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Perhaps someone in NASA’s astronaut office asked just as sarcastically if anything good can come out of a working-class neighborhood in Oceanside, New York. Certainly Mike Massamino felt like the cards were stacked against him because of people’s preconceived notions.

Massamino grew up determined to travel to space -- even though he realized he did not fit the standard government-issue template for an astronaut, at least not the astronauts in the early days of space flight who had that indefinable “right stuff.” He met obstacles in college and graduate school that he overcame by sheer willpower. Once part of the astronaut corps, he realized he might never fly unless he made himself indispensable, which he did, taking part in two very delicate missions to rescue and repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

In his book Spaceman, Massamino described his awe when, looking down on the earth during spacewalk, he realized that the earth, as he put it, was a planet. By that he meant that the place we live is this world in space that’s moving around the sun. He went on his book, to write:

After I’d collected myself, I looked a third time. When I did, the thought that went through my head was if you were in heaven, this is what you would see. This is the view from heaven. Then that thought was immediately replaced by another thought. No, it’s even more beautiful than that. This is what heaven must look like -- maybe this is heaven....

We might discover life in other solar systems someday, but for now there’s nothing but chaos and blackness and desolation for billions of light-years in every direction. Yet here in the middle of all that is this magnificent place, this brilliant blue planet, teeming with life. It really is a paradise. It’s fragile, it’s beautiful. It’s perfection. You have to stop and ask yourself: What in creation could possibly be better than this?...


How much God our Father must love us that he gave us this home. He didn’t put us on Mars or Venus with nothing but rocks and frozen waste. He gave us paradise and said, “Live here.” It’s not easy to wrap your head around the origins and purpose of the universe, but that’s the best way I can describe the feelings I had.
Frank R.


John 1:43-51
Roger Moore was the actor with the longest run of portraying James Bond in the movie series about a spy based on novels written by Ian Fleming. Moore acted in seven films from 1973 to 1985: Live and Let Die (1973); The Man with the Golden Gun (1974); The Spy Who Loved Me (1977); Moonraker (1979); For Your Eyes Only (1981); Octopussy (1983); and A View to Kill (1985).

Moore broke from the portrayal of Bond by Sean Connery, who preceded him and launched the series with Dr. No in 1962.

The Connery spy was serious, with an occasional sense of humor. Moore introduced a Bond of gadgetry and cartoonish excess. In his memoir My Word Is My Bond, Moore wrote: “My contention about my ‘light’ portrayal of Bond is this: how can he be a spy, yet walk into any bar in the world and have the bartender recognize him and serve his favorite drink? Come on, it’s all a big joke.” In an interview Moore said, “Sean Connery played him as a killer, and I’m a lover.”

Sean Connery was critical of Moore’s portrayal of James Bond, saying in an interview that he tried to portray the character with “credibility” and in some of the wilder scenarios with “indigenous humor.” Connery maintained that Moore went “for the laugh or the humor at whatever the cost of the credibility or the reality.”

The question that has always been debated is of who played the better Bond.


Application: With the question of whether anything good can come out of Nazareth, there comes with it a debate about who is the real messiah.
Ron L.
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