But I am reading a book on preaching entitled Countdown to Sunday, by Chris Erdman. He has a chapter on Illustration. I have often struggled with the use of illustrations. Obviously, Jesus and Paul both used them extensively. But there are also inherent dangers.
Here's what Erdman (who is a post-modern preacher, by the way) says: This business of sermon illustration, though so common, actually obscures the text of scripture we hoped to bring to the light of day (emphasis mine). Sermons preached this way may draw the masses, but I can't be persuaded that this is preaching. Speech-making, maybe. Entertainment, yes. But not preaching.
I used to illustrate my sermons this way too. There were too many Sundays for too many years when folks shook my hand or wrote me notes after worship and said things like, "You're a great storyteller," or, "That story today really moved me." For too long I liked those responses-- loved them even. I got to the point where I preached for those responses and stewed in my frustration for a while after a sermon if I didn't get them.
But over time the frequent compliments grew thin, and something began to gnaw at my preacher's conscience. I began to realize that people loved the stories I told, the illustrations that populated my well-crafted sermons, but showed little evidence that they were growing in their love for THE Story. They were increasingly dependent on my words, but not on the Word. That troubled me. I began to long for someone to come out of worship, shake my hand, and say, "Preacher, the text came alive for me today, and I don't think I'll be able to shake it off. It's disturbed something inside me, and it may well take the week to make some kind of sense about what it wants to do to us as a church." I began to figure that if I could get that kind of response, then we as a church might really be on our way to being the people of God.
Oh, how I want that to be the result of my preaching as well!