Sermon Illustrations


Centralia was a small mining town in the eastern part of Pennsylvania with about 1000 residents making their income off of the coal dug just underneath the crust. The town had existed the same way for over a century when pre-Civil War settlers moved out to dig up the anthracite from the earth.

But in 1962, a small fire created from trash burning near the dump swept slowly into the tunnel causing a problem that the city couldn’t figure out how to deal with since they couldn’t come up with the couple thousands dollars needed to extinguish the flames.

Today, the fire rages. At the heart of this underground inferno are blazes that register hotter than Mercury, an atmosphere that is as poisonous as Saturn, and lethal clouds of carbon monoxide and gaseous chambers that would frighten even the strongest and most distant star. Spurred on by mild flows of oxygen that cannot be prevented unless every hole in the county was adequately covered, it would appear that the fire in Centralia will continue to burn. The cost of containing the fire has been put in the billions of dollars, and that would be the cost of just containing it--not stopping it.

The town’s population of 1,100 back during the Kennedy administration has since dwindled down to 21 at the last census, and now has only 5--all of which are there illegally as they refuse to leave their property. Not long ago a twelve year old boy fell into a sinkhole that opened up 4 by 150 feet wide, obviously, just walking through town can be considered dangerous. The 2 parochial schools, 7 churches, 5 hotels, 2 theaters, bank, office, 14 general stores, 27 saloons are all closed. Even their own zip code has been declared extinct. The good news is that scientists point out that over time the fire will burn out, we have to just wait around 250 years or so.

When I first read about this story, I found it fascinating that some place in the world there is actually a place that is constantly under fire. Then I discovered that Centralia is not alone in the world as Burning Mountain in Australia has been on fire for over 6000 years (the fire actually moves southward about one meter per year; scientists do not have a time they expect that fire to end). Can you imagine, living over a giant piece of land that is actually on top of fire?

Well, we are. We actually do live on top of fire. My kids refer to it as H, E, Double Hockey Sticks, the Bible calls it Hell. The Bible talks a lot about Hell. If the Bible mentions the place of everlasting suffering once, it mentions it 100 times. Acts 2 calls it a place for disembodied spirits. Luke 16 states it’s a place of torment. Matthew 25 states hell is on fire, and also describes it as a place for punishment. Matthew 3 says it is unquenchable, which makes it many. many times more dangerous to the fire that breeds under Centralia because at least that 1000 degree inferno in Pennsylvania will go out some day.

Friends, where are you going to go? And why? Friends, the most important question for all eternity, is where are we going to spend eternity.

(From a sermon by Tom Papez, Deep Sea Fishing, 8/6/2011)

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