Weekly Sermon Illustration: Job

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

This Sunday we will celebrate The Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost.  Here is this week’s reading from the book of Job:

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? "Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, 'Here we are'? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? "Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?

In Buechner’s book Peculiar Treasures, he talks about the story of Job.

Job was the richest man around, but in a single day he was wiped out. The Sabeans ran off with his asses and oxen and slaughtered the hired hands. Lightning struck his sheep barn and burned up the whole flock, not to mention the shepherds. The Chaldeans rustled his camels and made short work of the camel drivers. And a hurricane hit with such devastating effect the house where his seven sons and three daughters were having a party that there wasn't enough of them left in the wreckage to identify.

What happened next was that Job came down with leprosy. And what happened after that was that he cursed the day that he was born. He said that if he had his way, it would be stricken off the calendar entirely and never so much as mentioned again. He prayed to die but his heart went on beating. He prayed for the sun to go out like a match, but it kept on shining. His wife advised him to curse God and then go hang himself, but he stopped just short of that because he was a very good man and a very religious man and there were some lengths to which, even though he was almost out of his head with the horror of it all, he couldn't quite bring himself to go. And that was the crux of his problem - the fact that he was a very good and a very religious man and knew it. Why had God let such things happen to him?

He had four well-meaning but insufferable friends who came over to cheer him up and try to explain it. They said that anybody with enough sense to come in out of the rain knew that God was just. They said that anybody old enough to spell his own name knew that since God was just, he made bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. They said that such being the case, you didn't need a Harvard diploma to figure out that since bad things had happened to Job, then ipso facto he must have done something bad himself. But Job hadn't, and he said so, and that's not all he said either. "Worthless physicians are you all," he said. "Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom" (Job 13:4-5). They were a bunch of theological quacks, in other words, and the smartest thing they could do was shut up. But they were too busy explaining things to listen.

Eliphaz the Temanite proceeded to make a few helpful suggestions about some of the bad things that Job must have done and then let slip his mind. He must have robbed a few beggars of the rags on their backs, he said. He must have refused food to some poor soul who was starving to death. There must have been several widows and orphans he'd ground his heel in the faces of without stopping to think what he was doing. But Job didn't even dignify these charges by refuting them. He talked about God instead.

There had been a time when God and he had been like that, he said, holding up side by side what the leprosy had left of two fingers. There was a time "when his lamp shone upon my head," he said, "and by his light I walked through darkness. When the Almighty was with me, and when my children were about me" (Job 29:3,5), and then he had to stop for a few minutes and blow what was left of his nose before going on.

The question, he said once he'd had time to pull himself back together, was where was God now? He had looked for him in front, and he had looked for him in back; he had looked for him to the right, and he had looked for him to the left; but he wasn't anywhere to be found. If he only knew where God might be keeping himself, he'd go tell him his troubles and get an explanation at least, but God had made himself scarce as hen's teeth, and looking for him was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

"God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes," he said, too miserable to worry about mixing his metaphors. "I cry to thee, and thou dost not answer me," he said, "and with the might of thy hand thou dost persecute me" (Job 30: 19-21). It was the closest he had come yet to taking his wife's advice and calling him a sonofabitch. "My skin turns black and falls from me," he said (Job 30:30) and then took advantage of a long speech by a friend named Elihu to change a few of his dressings.

Elihu went over many of the same points his colleagues had already ticked off and then added the idea that the destruction of all Job's property and the death of all his children and his leprosy were probably just God's way of helping him to improve his character and sharpen his sensitivities. "He delivers the afflicted by their afflictions," he explained, "and opens their ears by adversity" (Job 36: 15), but Job had no chance to respond to this new and comforting insight because at that point another speaker made himself heard, and this time the speaker was God.

Just the way God cleared his throat almost blasted Job off his feet, and that was only for starters. It is the most gorgeous speech that God makes in the whole Old Testament, and it is composed almost entirely of the most gorgeous and preposterous questions that have ever been asked by God or anybody else.

"Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?" he asked. "Where is the dwelling of light? Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or has the rain a father? Can you bind the chain of the Pleiades? Who has put wisdom in the clouds or given understanding to the mists?" (Job 38 passim). And by this time he was just starting to get wound up.

"Is the wild ox willing to serve you?" he asked. "Will he spend the night at your crib? The wings of the ostrich wave proudly, but are they the pinions and plumage of love? Have you given the horse strength? Have you clothed his neck with thunder, who says among the trumpets Ha, ha! and smells the battle afar off? Does the hawk fly by your wisdom and stretch her wings toward the south?" (Job 39 passim).

There was obviously only one thing for Job to say, and he said it. "Behold, I am of small account. What shall I answer thee?" he said, coming out with that one frail question of his own. "I will proceed no further" (Job 40:3-5). But God wasn't through yet.

You can think of God as a great cosmic bully here if you want, but you can think of him also as a great cosmic artist, a singer, say, of such power and magnificence and so caught up in the incandescence of his own art that he never notices that he has long since ruptured the eardrums of his listeners and reduced them to quivering pulp. "Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?" he asked (Job 40:9), and then he launched off into a devastating aria about Behemoth, the hippopotamus he had made, and Leviathan, the crocodile he had made, challenging Job, or anybody else if they thought they could, to take them for walks on leashes or pierce their armored hides with cold steel.

You feel that God had only paused to catch his breath when Job saw his chance to break in again at last. "I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know," he said (Job 42:3). And then he said something else.

All his life he had heard about God, about his glory and his holiness, about his terrible wrath and his great mercy, about the way he had created the earth and all its creatures and set the sun, moon and stars in the sky so there would always be light to see by and beauty to gladden the heart. He had sometimes thrilled and sometimes trembled at the sound of these descriptions, and they had made such an impression on him over the years that not even the terrible things that had happened to him or the terrible question as to why they had happened or the miserable answers to that question which his friends had proposed could quite make him curse God as had been suggested although there were a few times when he came uncomfortably close to it. But now it was no longer a matter of hearing descriptions of God because finally he had heard and seen him for himself.

He had seen the great glory so shot through with sheer, fierce light and life and gladness, had heard the great voice raised in song so full of terror and wildness and beauty, that from that moment on, nothing else mattered. All possible questions melted like mist, and all possible explanations withered like grass, and all the bad times of his life together with all the good times were so caught up into the fathomless life of this God, who had bent down to speak with him though by comparison he was no more than a fleck of dust on the head of a pin in the lapel of a dancing flea, that all he could say was, "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5 - 6).

But God didn't let him despise himself for long. He turned to the garrulous friends and said, "You have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has" (Job 42:7), with the clear implication that Job had been right in standing up to him if only because it showed he was worth listening to as his friends preeminently were not. And then he gave back to Job more riches than he had ever had before together with his health, and Job lived to have a whole new set of children and to see them through four generations before he died old and full of days.

As for the children he had lost when the house blew down, not to mention all his employees, he never got an explanation about them because he never asked for one, and the reason he never asked for one was that he knew that even if God gave him one that made splendid sense out of all the pain and suffering that had ever been since the world began, it was no longer splendid sense that he needed because with his own eyes he had beheld, and not as a stranger, the one who in the end clothed all things, no matter how small or confused or in pain, with his own splendor.

And that was more than sufficient.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Money

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate The Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost. Here is this week’s reading from the gospel of Mark:

Mark 10:17-25

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'” He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

In Buechner’s book Whistling in the Dark, he discusses the issue of money.

MONEY - The more you think about it, the less you understand it.

The paper it's printed on isn't worth a red cent. There was a time you could take it to the bank and get gold or silver for it, but all you'd get now would be a blank stare.

If the government declared that the leaves of the trees were money so there would be enough for everybody, money would be worthless. It has worth only if there is not enough for everybody. It has worth only because the government declares that it has worth and because people trust the government in that one particular although in every other particular they wouldn't trust it around the corner.

The value of money, like stocks and bonds, goes up and down for reasons not even the experts can explain and at moments nobody can predict, so you can be a millionaire one moment and a pauper the next without lifting a finger. Great fortunes can be made and lost completely on paper. There is more concrete reality in a baby's throwing its rattle out of the crib.

There are people who use up their entire lives making money so they can enjoy the lives they have entirely used up.

Jesus says that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Maybe the reason is not that the rich are so wicked they're kept out of the place but that they're so out of touch with reality they can't see it's a place worth getting into.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Like a Child

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate The Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost. Here is this week’s reading from the gospel of Mark:

Mark 10:13-16

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

In this short interview clip, Buechner discusses what it means to become like a child in relationship with God. This video interview is courtesy of New Life Films. See additional Buechner interviews at www.frederickbuechner.com and http://buechnerfilm.com/.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Xerxes, Esther, Haman, and Mordecai

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost. Here is this week’s reading from the book of James:  

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10

So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, "What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled. Then Queen Esther answered, "If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king." Then King Xerxes said to Queen Esther, "Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?" Esther said, "A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!" Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, "Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman's house, fifty cubits high." And the king said, "Hang him on that." So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

In Buechner’s book Peculiar Treasures, he describes this episode.

King Xerxes of Persia, otherwise known as Ahasuerus, has the distinction of being the only person in the Bible whose name begins with an X. There's not much else you can say for him. He was a blow-hard and a show-off, and anybody with an eighth-grade education could wrap him around his little finger without half trying. Or her little finger.

There was Haman, for example. Haman was Xerxes' right-hand man and a raging anti-Semite. There was also a Jew named Mordecai, who lived in the capital, and one day when Haman came prancing by, Mordecai refused to flatten himself out and grovel in the dust like everybody else. It was the break Haman had been waiting for. He told Xerxes about Mordecai's insubordination and rudeness and said it was a vivid illustration of how the Jews as a whole were a miserable lot. He said if you let one of them in, they brought their friends, and Persia was crawling with them. He said the only laws they respected were their own, and it was obvious they didn't give a hoot in Hell about the king or anybody else. He then said that as far as he was concerned, the only thing to do was exterminate the whole pack of them like rats and offered the king ten thousand of the best for the privilege of organizing the operation. Xerxes pocketed the cash and told him to go ahead.

But then there was also Queen Esther, a good-looking Jewish girl who was both a cousin of Mordecai's and Xerxes' second wife. As soon as she got wind of what Haman was up to, she decided to do what she could to save her people from the gas-chamber. Xerxes had a rather short fuse, and you had to know how to handle him, but she planned her strategy carefully, and by the time she was through, she'd not only talked him out of letting the Jews get exterminated but had gotten him to hang Haman from the same gallows that had been set up for Mordecai. She even managed to persuade Xerxes to give Mordecai Haman's old job.

Unfortunately, the end of the story is less edifying. Not content with having saved their people and taken care of Haman, Esther and Mordecai used their new power to orchestrate the slaughter of seventy five thousand of their old enemies. The whole unpleasant account is contained in The Book of Esther, which has the distinction of being the only book in the Bible where the name of God isn't even mentioned. There seems every reason to believe that he considered himself well out of it.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Envy

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost. Here is this week’s reading from the book of James:

James 3:13 - 16

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.

In Buechner’s book Wishful Thinking, he discusses envy.

Envy is the consuming desire to have everybody else be as unsuccessful as you are.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Wisdom

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate The Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost. Here is this week’s reading from the book of Proverbs:

Proverbs 1:20-33

Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: "How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices. For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster."

In Buechner’s book Whistling in the Dark, he discusses wisdom.

In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom is a woman. "The Lord created me at the beginning of his work," she says (Proverbs 8:22). She was there when he made the heaven, the sea, the earth. It was as if he needed a woman's imagination to help him make them, a woman's eye to tell him if he'd made them right, a woman's spirit to measure their beauty by. "I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always," she says (Proverbs 8:30), as if it was her joy in what he was creating that made creation bearable, and that's why he created her first.

Wisdom is a matter not only of the mind but of the intuition and heart, like a woman's wisdom. It is born out of suffering as a woman bears a child. It shows a way through the darkness the way a woman stands at the window holding a lamp. "Her ways are ways of pleasantness," says Solomon, then adding, just in case there should be any lingering question as to her gender, "and all her paths are peace" (Proverbs 3: 17).

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Riches

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost. Here is this week’s reading from the book of Proverbs:

Proverbs 22:1-2

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all.

In Buechner’s book Wishful Thinking, he talks about how riches are not the answer to all of life’s problems.

The trouble with being rich is that since you can solve with your checkbook virtually all of the practical problems that bedevil ordinary people, you are left in your leisure with nothing but the great human problems to contend with: how to be happy, how to love and be loved, how to find meaning and purpose in your life.

In desperation the rich are continually tempted to believe that they can solve these problems too with their checkbooks, which is presumably what led Jesus to remark one day that for a rich man to get to Heaven is about as easy as for a Cadillac to get through a revolving door.

Weekly Sermon Illustration: The Pharisees

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate The Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost. Here is this week’s reading from the gospel of Mark:

Mark 7:1-8

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."

In Buechner’s book The Faces of Jesus, he talks about what the gospel writers say, and don’t say, about Jesus. It was clear what he thought about the Pharisees.

The writers of the Gospels make no attempt to show how he fitted into the religio-political complexities of first century Israel but only how he fitted into the hearts of those who believed in him. They make no attempt either to depict his personality, to suggest the way he walked, talked, the kind of things that made him laugh, his attitude toward his friends, his family. There are only hints of these matters, to be read differently by each who reads them.

There seems to be a kind of sad humor about some of his parables—the man who tries to sleep through his friend's importunate midnight knocking; the rich man trying to squeeze into Paradise like a camel through a needle's eye—and one can imagine him smiling as he told them, but maybe the smile is only one's own. What seems to have made him angriest was hypocrisy and irrelevance, and thus it is the Pharisees who come in for his strongest attacks, the good people who should have known better. "You brood of vipers," he called them. "How can you speak good when you are evil?"

Weekly Sermon Illustration: The Two Battles

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday we will celebrate The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost. Here is this week’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

Ephesians 6:10-18

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

In Buechner’s book The Magnificent Defeat, he gives an insightful sermon based on this passage entitled “The Two Battles.” In it Buechner describes two different types of war:

“Whatever we do, to live is to do battle under many different flags, and of all our battles, there are two, I believe, that are major ones.

The first is a war of conquest, which is a war to heat the blood of even the most timorous, because one way or another we all fight to conquer, and what we fight to conquer is the world. Not literally the world, perhaps, although like Walter Mitty we may dream a little in that direction sometimes; but for the most part our goal is a more realistic one: just a place in the world, a place in the sun, our place… We feel that we must conquer a territory in time and space that will be ours.

If that is the goal of this war of conquest that we all must wage, there are also the adversaries with whom we have to wage it; and they are adversaries of flesh and blood. They are human beings like ourselves, each of whom is fighting the same war toward the same end and under a banner emblazoned with the same word that our banners bear, and that word is of course Myself, or Myself and my Family, or Myself and my Country, Myself and my Race, which are all really MYSELF writ large.

To use the metaphor of Ephesians, what is the armor to wear in such a war? Not, certainly, the whole armor of God here but, rather, the whole armor of man, because this is a man's war against other men. In such a war, perhaps, you wear something like this. Gird your loins with wisdom, the sad wisdom of the world which knows that dog eats dog, that the gods help those who help themselves and charity begins at home. Put on the breastplate of self-confidence because if you have no faith in yourself, if you cannot trust to your own wits, then you will never get anywhere. Let your feet be shod with the gospel of success-the good news that you can get just about anything in this world if you want it badly enough and are willing to fight for it. Above all, take the shield of security because in a perilous world where anything can happen, security is perhaps what you need more than anything else - the security of money in the bank, or a college degree, or some basic skill that you can always fall back on. And take the helmet of attractiveness or personality and the sword of wit.”

Then Buechner goes on to describe the “other” kind of war—the one of which Paul speaks:

“But there is another war that we fight, of course, all of us, and this one is not a war against flesh and blood. ‘For we are not contending against flesh and blood,’ the letter reads. Then against what? What worse is there to contend against in this world than other men? "The principalities . . . the powers . . . the world rulers of this present darkness . . . the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places," Paul writes.

This other war is the war not to conquer but the war to become whole and at peace inside our skins. It is a war not of conquest now but of liberation because the object of this other war is to liberate that dimension of selfhood which has somehow become lost, that dimension of selfhood that involves the capacity to forgive and to will the good not only of the self but of all other selves. This other war is the war to become a human being. This is the goal that we are really after and that God is really after. This is the goal that power, success, and security are only forlorn substitutes for. This is the victory that not all our human armory of self-confidence and wisdom and personality can win for us-not simply to be treated as human but to become at last truly human.”

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Bread

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

Next Sunday, we will celebrate The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost. Here is this week’s reading from the gospel of John:

John 6:51-58

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."

Here are Buechner’s thoughts on this incident, first published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words:

WE DON'T LIVE BY BREAD ALONE, but we also don't live long without it. To eat is to acknowledge our dependence—both on food and on each other. It also reminds us of other kinds of emptiness that not even the blue-plate special can touch.