7-15-15 2I love stories. I collect them (over 5000 I’d guess), I listen to them (ever been to the National Storytelling Festival?), and I tell them. Garrison Keillor, who knows a thing or two about this, said, “Prophecy can explain only so much. Storytelling is required for the rest.” Here, with no particular rhyme nor reason, are a few I like. I’ve used these stories in sermons but here I’m not applying them or connecting them. I’m just passing them along. For lots of good sermon illustrations, including a bunch of mine, check out

On heaven: In Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Gilead, one elderly pastor is telling about his friend, another older pastor: “Boughton says he has more ideas about heaven every day. He said, ‘Mainly I just think about the splendors of the world and multiply by two. I’d multiply by ten or twelve if I had the energy. But two is much more than sufficient for my purposes.’ So he’s sitting there multiplying the feel of the wind by two, multiplying the smell of the grass by two.”

On unity, or rather, disunity: Years ago a fellow named Emo Philips told this story. “I was walking in San Francisco along the Golden Gate Bridge when I saw a man about to jump off. I tried to dissuade him from committing suicide and told him simply that God loved him. A tear came to his eye. I then asked him, ‘Are you a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu, or what?’ He said, ‘I’m a Christian.’ I said, ‘Me, too, small world. Protestant or Catholic?’ He said ‘Protestant.’ I said, ‘Me, too, what franchise?’ He said, ‘Northern Baptist.’ I said, ‘Well, me too. Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?’ He said, ‘Northern Conservative Baptist.’ I said, ‘Well, call Ripley! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist or Northern Conservative Reformed Baptist?’ He said, ‘Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist.’ I said, ‘Remarkable! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Easter Region?’ He said, ‘Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Greak Lakes Region.’ I said, ‘A miracle! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region of 1879 or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region of 1912? ‘ He said, ‘Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region of 1912.’ I said, ‘Die, Heretic!’ And I pushed him over.”

(It’s a great story but if you’re going to tell it, you have to memorize it!)

Moralism, and keeping the law:  

A. J. Jacobs is a writer. A few years ago he set out to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and then wrote about the experience in a bestseller called The Know-It-All. Then, having no religious background whatsoever, he tackled the Bible, determining to not only read it but to do everything it says for one year. The resulting book was called, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. So, for example, on Day 62 he meets a guy in his mid-70s on a park bench in New York, and when the man asks Jacobs why he’s dressed so weird—in a loose robe with only natural fibers, he says:

“I’m trying to live by the rules of the Bible. The Ten Commandments, stoning adulterers…”

“You’re stoning adulterers?”

“Yeah, I’m stoning adulterers.”

“I’m an adulterer.”

“You’re currently an adulterer?”

“Yeah, Tonight, tomorrow, yesterday, two weeks from now. You gonna stone me?”

“If I could, yes, that’d be great.”

“I’ll punch you in the face. I’ll send you to the cemetery.”

He is serious. This isn’t a cutesy grumpy old man. This is an angry old man. This is a man with seven decades of hostility behind him.

I fish my pebbles from my back pocket.

“I wouldn’t stone you with big stones,” I say. “Just these little guys.”

I open my palm to show him the pebbles. He lunges at me, grabbing one out of my hand, then flinging it at my face. It whizzes by my cheek.

I am stunned for a second. I hadn’t expected this grizzled old man to make the first move. But now there is nothing stopping me from retaliating. An eye for an eye.

I take one of the remaining pebbles and whip it t his chest. It bounces off.

“I’ll punch you right in the kisser,” he says.

“Well, you really shouldn’t commit adultery.”  [pp.92-93]

New name: The headline in the Chicago Tribune was poignant: “Living a Life Unknown.” The subhead said, “Dozens of John, Jane Does turn up yearly at Illinois police stations and hospitals. Most are identified. These 5 weren’t.”

Despite all the efforts of social services and police no one seems to know a woman who calls herself Seven. She says she is 71 and that she’s gone by that name since 1976. She’s been in state care since 2003 and has dementia. Even her smiling picture on the front page of a Chicago paper is not likely to help.

Some have names—Robert Rockefeller, Shannon Night—and others bear the last name of anonymity—Doe. But no one knows who they are.

Sometimes, though, an identity is discovered. A man they named Carlos has been a ward of the state since 1998, longer than any of the other John Does in Illinois. According to the Tribune, “He doesn’t speak and likely had a stroke that caused brain damage. He uses a wheelchair and wears a medical helmet to prevent injuries. His only reaction to people is a wide smile and a giddy giggle.”

Then on November 29, 2011, the staff at the care facility where Carlos lives discovered his identity and that that day was his 53rd birthday. According to the story, “That day, caretaker Azucena Herrera went to Carlos and uttered the name Crispin Mareno. The usually giggly man fell silent after hearing his real name for the first time in at least 13 years. Then tears ran down his cheek.”

1 Peter 2:10 says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” Jesus sent word to the church in Pergamum that to the one who is victorious Jesus will give “a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Ultimately, one of the wonderful privileges of the gospel is that we finally learn who we really are!

Source: “Living a Life Unknown,” by Becky Schlikerman, Chicago Tribune, February 21, 2012