Sermon Fodder – Turkish Baths

It appears that life is fashioned in such a way as to provide us with those little moments which necessitate being retold. Furthermore, any preacher or teacher will understand the great desire to take these little jewels once given and turn them into some rich illustration that produces a poignant response and the clear understanding of some deep spiritual truth inside the hearer. Hence, sermon fodder is born.

I had just such an incident on vacation.

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Amidst our mad dash through the touristy regions of the country, a friend of ours in the know decided a trip to a Turkish bath was a needed experience. Envisioning in my mind some last vestige of ancient Roman baths, and having never set foot into one of these places, I agreed this would be a fun outing. If only I had known.

Upon arriving at the 800-year-old Hammam, or Turkish bathouse, I was promptly instructed to remove all of my clothes and replace them with a towel. Then I was ushered by some comical looking Turkish man into a small stall with another of my companions. Apparently, changing rooms in Turkey are two-seaters.

Having divorced myself from my garments, with my friend as an audience mind you, and adopting this towel, which really looked more like a scarf, I presented myself to the Turkish man once again. We were then escorted to the back room. 

The building was very old indeed. Running upwards into a large dome, the ceiling finished at a skylight in its center. The rest of the room was a sanitary assortment of stone and ceramic tile. In the very center of the room was a large marble slab looking much like a giant table.

A strange mixture of emotions flooded my mind as I took in my surroundings. Had I entered a day spa or a torture chamber? As I presently write this, I can not tell you the answer to that question.

The following hour, or hours (for I am not sure; time seemed to stand still in that place), presented a series of chambers into which I was thrust only to be pulled out and placed in another. The first chamber was filled with a dry heat, and quickly made itself unbearable. The second chamber was at least as hot but was also filled with steam.

There is a point where heat stops being a condition and is so forceful it is itself a thing, looming over the room. This steam room was so hot I could reach out and touch the heat. It was oppressive and the steam, infused with some form of menthol, filled my lungs so that it was hard to breath. Consequently, I discovered I have pores in places where I did not know it possible, as they all began to cry out for fresh air. I produced myself, a sweaty, exhausted mess, from the steam room and my body rejoiced as it was reunited with the air outside.

It was then that they entered.

A collection of Turkish men, wearing only towels and their body hair, entered through the only door to the room. There was one Turk for each of us. I think mine was the biggest.

Instead of dallying with our obvious language barrier, these men chose simply to demonstrate what they wanted us to do by taking hold of our bodies and positioning them as they saw fit. Before I knew it, we were all spread out on the marble slab. What followed was surreal. My personal Turk began scrubbing my body with soap, contorting it as he saw fit. It was not a massage, and it was not a bath. Yet, somehow it was both.

Despite the slight argument over the precise position of my towel that continued throughout the event, I felt like the fellow and I shared some form of experience. He was the giver, and I was indeed the recipient, whether I liked it or not. It was horrible, but it was wonderful. It hurt, but it was relaxing.

Little did I know, the event was not over. Truly, what happened next was the crescendo, it was the orchestral hit at the end of the symphony. It was the shock pool.

When my masseuse/ inquisitor finished his performance, I was sat up and rinsed off. He then helped me, as I needed help by this time, out of the room with the large dome into another, smaller room. Inside was a small pool of crystal water. The temperature dropped drastically as we changed from one room to the next. Half expecting to be pushed, I stood there awaiting my fate. Instead, he smiled at me and motioned that I should get in.

I cannot find the language to accurately describe to you the feelings produced from jumping into that pool. I dare say it would have awoken the dead. I felt as though my body, which had been pushed to the very cusp of breaking, would indeed snap. As my body sank lower into that glacial water, each muscle was revived from its numbness. Until that moment, I only thought I knew what it meant to be awake. My head reemerged from the water, and I was a new man.

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Stories like these have “sermon fodder” written all over them. The question at hand is how to use it.

Here is my list so far: 

Sermon 1 – Use it as an example to explain God’s discussion of hot and cold water in the letter to Laodicea. It has the obvious advantage of taking place in the same location. The hot and cold water both served their purpose. However, this one does not sound like much fun.

Sermon 2 – Sanctification. Ah, the story plays right into this topic. God, like the big, hairy Turkish guy, works his hard hands over us, shaping us into who we should be. It hurts, but we come out the other side better for it. Endless word plays about getting “cleaned up” or “scrubbed down” would abound.

Sermon 3 – Admittedly a stretch, one could take the approach of contrasting the “heat and pressure” that comes from a sinful life and the refreshing exhilaration that comes from jumping back into the “cold pool” or God’s love.

I have the list started; now it is your turn. Take a minute and let the creative juices start flowing. How would you use this as a sermon illustration?

Comment with yours below…

 

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