While proper exegesis is crucial for discerning God’s message from a text for a congregation, I don’t know of a preacher who isn’t always searching for metaphors and illustrations to help bring a sermon alive. Three points and a poem is pretty easy to put together, but the form has become dry enough that it’s pretty worthless today.
Of course, illustrations can be misused — and often are. Far too often I hear sermons where funny stories or anecdotes are wedged into the sermon with pretty forced connections to the claim of the text. Illustrations help to open up the biblical vision to the hearer, but superfluous illustrations aren’t helpful.
I tend to be a person who wants to draw on personal experience quite a bit in my preaching. One of my preaching professors would raise her eyebrows a bit in that admission, for she (and others as well) feels that using too many personal stories is self serving, or forcing the congregation into a personal therapy session with the pastor. The preacher has to balance his or her own personal learnings and connections with the text with not becoming the shining example for how the text is lived out in the world. More often than not, I tend to use my weaknesses as examples of what not to do than to suggest that I know the way and that folks should follow my example. I firmly believe that our postmodern context requires transparency, and that has to start from the pulpit, as long as it doesn’t abuse the trust of the congregation.
Having said all that, I (like most of us) often find myself scrambling for another story or metaphor to help flesh out the sermon, or to provide a hook or image upon which to develop the narrative. And when I fall into the Saturday night special syndrome, I draw on a couple of sites which provide resources for stirring the pot.
One place I often go for good quotations organized by topics is the quote library run by my friend Jordon Cooper (http://www.jordoncooper.com/resources/quotes/index.htm). Most of these are relatively short, but since Jordon and I have similar sensibilities, I can often find some helpful stuff.
Another similar site that I usually check out is SermonIllustrations.com (http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/a/index.htm). A lot of these illustrations are familiar and overused, but with a little patience I can sometimes find a gem that gets things moving in my mind.
The site that I mentioned in a previous post, The Text This Week (http://www.textweek.com), includes many materials that contain illustrations. I find that the sermons from the Chicago Saturday Night Club broadcasts often have good material. Even better are the devotional articles from the Christian Century.
Bartleby.com (http://bartleby.com/) is a great source for traditional quotation references, including Bartletts, although the Columbia Book of Quotations is more contemporary.
Last, but not least, don’t disparage good old Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page). With over two million articles and growing, Wikipedia can often provide fairly good background information on a topic. Yes, one has to understand how these articles are written and take them with a grain of salt, but I have found most articles to be quite accurate and fairly complete.
I’m sure that you have your own sources for illustrations. Why don’t you leave a comment and share yours, which I will add to the bottom of this post.