January 11th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

My Take: 3 sermons you’ll hear about homeless radio phenom Ted Williams

Editor's Note: Jon Acuff is the founder of the blog, StuffChristiansLike.net.  He is the author of two books, "Stuff Christians Like" and "Gazelles, Baby Steps and 37 Other Things Dave Ramsey Taught Me About Debt."

By Jon Acuff, Special to CNN

A few things happened last Sunday if you went to a Protestant church.

You tried to beat the person next to you in a race when the pastor said, “Please open your Bibles and turn to …”

The guy who led worship had on a v-neck T-shirt and possibly an unnecessary scarf.

You heard a sermon about Ted Williams, the “Homeless Man with Golden Pipes.”

If that last one didn’t happen, it’s going to. Trust me.

That story is amazing. You can’t help but cry while watching the video of a man on the streets get his second shot as a radio personality.

It’s the best rags-to-riches story of the year. Although to call something “best of the year” in January is a little like the Ben Affleck movie poster I saw that called his new movie the best of the year even though it releases January 21.

But I think Ted Williams story will hold the “comeback” title all year long.

We Christians loved Williams’ story, especially when we saw him deliver what was essentially a sermon in some of his interviews. He talked repeatedly about how it was God who kept him going. Over and over, he went far behind the ubiquitous “shout out to God” that rappers like Lil Wayne are required by to give at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Now clearly, we’re a little nervous to hear the media describe his faith as “spirituality.” That’s often just another way of saying, “I like sage-scented candles and deep thoughts about the sunset.” But let’s withhold judgment on Ted.

What we can’t withhold, though, are the sermon illustrations that are bound to flow like the Red Sea after the Israelites had walked on through. Here are the three sermons you should expect to hear about Ted Williams:

1. The Samson Comparison

This one seems so obvious, I’m embarrassed even mentioning it.

Samson and Ted Williams have a lot in common. They were both gifted with immense talent. They both struggled with living with that talent and the attention it brought. They both had dramatic haircut transformations.

They both tied 300 foxes together with torches in order to attack their enemies. OK, that’s probably where the comparison breaks down, but I’m not the only one who thought about this.

Given his meteoric ride to fame, one of CNN.com’s articles on Saturday about Williams was titled, “Keeping success from becoming a curse.”

2. Redemption

Culturally speaking, we love comebacks, and Williams’ is truly beautiful.

The best quote I’ve seen from him is about his mom: “One of my biggest prayers that I sent out was that she would live long enough … to see me rebound.”

This fits well with the prodigal son story in Luke 15. Say what you will about Christianity, but it’s a faith where a son makes the worst possible mistakes and returns home to a party. That’s even more outrageous than Williams’ story.

The prodigal son didn’t clean up, or get discovered, or get a job offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers before returning. He walked back filthy and broken. And the father figure, representing God, is the one who ran to embrace him. The best part is, we still serve a running God, a God who loves comebacks even more than we do. That could be an awesome sermon.

3. A Ted Williams/Chilean Miner Sermon Illustration Medley

My secret hope is that some pastor will do a mashup of Williams’ story, the Chilean miners' ordeal and maybe even a smidge of lousy World Cup officiating for one massive sermonic remix.

It won’t be easy; that will take the pastoral equivalent of DJ/Musician Girl Talk, but I think it’s possible.

(I’m talking to you, pastors Jarrett Stevens and Matt Chandler. As they kids say, “Get jiggy with it!” What? They stopped saying that nine years ago? No doy!)

These sermons are coming. Maybe not the last one, but those other two are right around the corner.

You’ve probably already experienced a Ted Williams sermon illustration. If you haven’t, and if a month goes by without you hearing anything about him at church, there’s only one possible explanation:

Dead birds falling from the sky.

That has sermon illustration written all over it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jon Acuff.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Opinion • Protestant • United States

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soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. Matthew

    He's still drinking and was just checked into rehab. Let's see how he does.

    January 13, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  2. B

    I do admit that spelling is an objective standard

    January 12, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  3. B


    You disagree with faith based on logic and reason, but you make a definitive statement that the article is not entertaining or funny–two completey subjective standards?

    While I wouldn't choose reading the article over Flight of the Conchords, I wouldn't say it's Two and a Half Men material either.

    January 12, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Bob


      > You disagree with faith based on logic and reason,
      re is no such thing as faith based on logic and reason. Faith is the belief without evidence. That's not logical.

      > but you make a definitive statement that the article is not entertaining or funny–two completey subjective standards?

      No. Faith not being based on logic is not a subjective standard. It's a fact. Faith is the belief in something for which you have no evidence. You could have faith in atoms that exist and don't exist at the same time. You could have faith in a dog that's a dog and an elephant at the same time. I'm not subjectively saying faith is not founded on logic. I'm declaring it as a truth. If you can show me a "logical faith" I'd be happy to debate you on it.

      The opinion on the article is purely subjective. You'll note that I qualified who might find things like this funny. The bland and boring. Like accountants.

      January 12, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • katherine

      @Bob have u read augustine, aquinas, and those early philosophers/theologians?

      January 13, 2011 at 8:31 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.