When sermon illustrations go wrong

I had a great sermon illustration for the 10.45 Communion the other week.

I was comparing and contrasting the lives of two men. The first was Leo Tolstoy a russian dissident and author whose name is well known, whose works many have heard of and some have even read. The other is a man few have heard of – John H Nicholson, an American contemporaneous with Tolstoy. Though no-one is likely to have heard of him he has had a huge impact in terms of books being read. He founded the Gideons, and through their donations of Bibles and the placement of them in hotels and other settings have caused many tens of millions to be read over the last hundered years.

The point – it is our actions that have eternal significance as opposed to our fame.

I began the sermon with a question: ‘Who here today has heard of Leo Tolstoy?’ – an impressive numner of hands rise.

‘And who has read one of his books?’ the hands remain raised. I start to sense this is not quite going as planned, I push a little ‘I don’t mean, read a part of one oh his books, I mean has read one of his books all the way through.” One or two hands drop, the others remain in the air.

‘And who has heard of John H Nicholson?” No hands rise, – back on safer ground. ‘And who has read one of his books, a Gideon’s Bible?’ No one moves. ‘Nobody?’ No-one. ‘And who has seen one, perhaps in a hotel room?’ One or two hands rise. ‘And did you read any of it?’ The hands fall.

‘Oh… well, anyway…’

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