Weekly Sermon Illustration: Do Not Be Weary

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.

On November 13, 2016 we will celebrate the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost.  Here is this weeks reading from 2 Thessalonians:

2 Thessalonians 3:13

Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Here is an excerpt from the sermon The Message in the Stars first published in The Magnificent Defeat and later in Secrets in the Dark:

But he also speaks to us about ourselves, about what he wants us to do and what he wants us to become; and this is the area where I believe we know so much more about him than we admit even to ourselves, where people hear God speak even if they do not believe in him. A face comes toward us down the street. Do we raise our eyes or do we keep them lowered, passing by in silence? Somebody says something about somebody else, and what he says happens to be not only cruel but also funny, and everybody laughs. Do we laugh too, or do we speak the truth? When a friend has hurt us, do we take pleasure in hating him, because hate has its pleasures as well as love, or do we try to build back some flimsy little bridge? Sometimes when we are alone, thoughts come swarming into our heads like bees-some of them destructive, ugly, self-defeating thoughts, some of them creative and glad. Which thoughts do we choose to think then, as much as we have the choice? Will we be brave today or a coward today? Not in some big way probably but in some little foolish way, yet brave still. Will we be honest today or a liar? Just some little pint-sized honesty, but honest still. Will we be a friend or cold as ice today?

All the absurd little meetings, decisions, inner skirmishes that go to make up our days. It all adds up to very little, and yet it all adds up to very much. Our days are full of nonsense, and yet not, because it is precisely into the nonsense of our days that God speaks to us words of great significance--not words that are written in the stars but words that are written into the raw stuff and nonsense of our days, which are not nonsense just because God speaks into the midst of them. And the words that he says, to each of us differently, are "Be brave ... be merciful ... feed my lambs ... press on toward the goal."

National Vocation Awareness Week

In recognition of National Vocation Awareness Week, here are two well-known Buechner descriptions of Vocation:

 

The first excerpt was originally published in The Hungering Dark and later in Secrets in the Dark.

 

In the year that King Uzziah died, or in the year that John F. Kennedy died, or in the year that somebody you loved died, you go into the temple if that is your taste, or you hide your face in the little padded temple of your hands, and a voice says, "Whom shall I send into the pain of a world where people die?" and if you are not careful, you may find yourself answering, "Send me." You may hear the voice say, "Go." Just go.

Like "duty," "law," "religion," the word "vocation" has a dull ring to it, but in terms of what it means, it is really not dull at all. Vocare, to call, of course, and a man's vocation is a man's calling. It is the work that he is called to in this world, the thing that he is summoned to spend his life doing. We can speak of a man's choosing his vocation, but perhaps it is at least as accurate to speak of a vocation's choosing the man, of a call's being given and a man's hearing it, or not hearing it. And maybe that is the place to start: the business of listening and hearing. A man's life is full of all sorts of voices calling him in all sorts of directions. Some of them are voices from inside and some of them are voices from outside. The more alive and alert we are, the more clamorous our lives are. Which do we listen to? What kind of voice do we listen for?

 

And this, originally from Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words.

 

Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, "to call," means the work a person is called to by God.

There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self-interest.

By and large a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you've presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you've missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you're bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren't helping your patients much either.

Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.

Featured Book: Now and Then

Periodically our blog features one of Frederick Buechner's books.  In this article we highlight Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation, which is the second of Buechner's four memoirs.  Click here to learn more.

Book Description

""There is something more than a little disconcerting about writing your autobiography. When people have occasionally asked me what I was working on, I have found it impossible to tell them without an inward blush. As if anybody cares or should care. As if I myself should even care that much - like showing your baby pictures to strangers.....But I do it anyway. I do it because it seems to me that no matter who you are, and no matter how eloquent or otherwise, if you tell your own story with sufficient candor and concreteness, it will be an interesting story and in some sense a universal story. I do it also in the hope of encouraging others to do the same - at least to look back over their own lives, as I have looked back over mine, for certain themes and patterns and signals that are so easy to miss when you're caught up in the process of living them. If God speaks to us at all other than through such official channels as the Bible and the church, then I think that he speaks to us largely through what happens to us, so what I have done both in this book and in its predecessor is to listen back over what has happened to me - as I hope my readers may be moved to listen back over what has happened to them - for the sound, above all else, of his voice. Because the word that God speaks to us is always in incarnate word - a word spelled out to us not alphabetically, in syllables, but enigmatically, in events, even in the books we read and the movies we see - the chances are we will never get it just right. We are so used to hearing what we want to hear and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear that it is hard to break the habit. But if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize, beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear him, he is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, his word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling. In that sense autobiography becomes a way of praying, and a book like this, if it matters at all, matters mostly as a call to prayer."" - Frederick Buechner, in the Introduction to Now and Then

Book Reviews

""Strikes to the heart Unpreachy meditations on life and Christianity at its most profound.""  People Magazine

""Buechner writes better than almost anyone.  This book and its companion, The Sacred Journey, reduce and clarify the who and what and why of his whole life to something not unlike the palm-sized egg of crystal.  Deep within it, as we read, the sun shines and the constellations rove.""  James Merrill

""The humility of this title--the ""now and then"" that refers to the occasional glimpse of glory but does not claim any more for itself than that--beautifully reveals something of the tone and attitude of Buechner himself. It also suggests what it is about him that readers hold so dear."" - Doug Thorpe

""Buechner is graceful in story and insights.""  Los Angeles Times

""Candidwistfulbreathtaking images.  Christian Century

""Buechner is a worthy member of the great prose stylists: Pascal, Newman, and Merton, who have harnessed their art to a passionate religious faith.""  Louis Auchincloss

 

Hello, World!

All Saints Day

In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a pocket handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.

Many people think of saints as plaster saints, men and women of such paralyzing virtue that they never thought a nasty thought or did an evil deed their whole lives long. As far as I know, real saints never even come close to characterizing themselves that way. On the contrary, no less a saint than Saint Paul wrote to Timothy, ""I am foremost among sinners"" ( l Timothy 1:15), and Jesus himself prayed God to forgive him his trespasses, and when the rich young man addressed him as ""good Teacher,"" answered, ""No one is good but God alone"" (Mark 10:18).

In other words, the feet of saints are as much of clay as everybody else's, and their sainthood consists less of what they have done than of what God has for some reason chosen to do through them. When you consider that Saint Mary Magdalene was possessed by seven devils, that Saint Augustine prayed, ""Give me chastity and continence, but not now,"" that Saint Francis started out as a high-living young dude in downtown Assisi, and that Saint Simeon Stylites spent years on top of a sixty-foot pillar, you figure that maybe there's nobody God can't use as a means of grace, including even ourselves.

The Holy Spirit has been called ""the Lord, the giver of life"" and, drawing their power from that source, saints are essentially life-givers. To be with them is to become more alive.

 

~originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words

 

Weekly Sermon Illustration: God of the Living

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.

On November 6, 2016 we will celebrate the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost.  Here is this weeks reading from the gospel of Luke:

Luke 20:37-38
And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.""

Here is an excerpt fromThe Son of Laughter:

""Your god will doubtless care for you in death as generously, the king said to Joseph as they stood in the darkness lit only by the guttering torches of the servants, ""because you are the friend of the king and have been given the king's ring with his seal upon it and great power over all of the Black Land, Joseph thought of his mother's spent body buried, unbandaged, on the road they had been traveling with only a pillar no taller than a tall man to mark it and of the body of his grandfather Isaac lying under stones near the bodies of Abraham, Isaac's father, and Sarah, his mother, where Joseph's father and Esau had placed it with no treasure of any kind to bring him comfort and only the two ash cakes for food which Esau had placed under his two arms. His father had told him that he heard it said that the dead move like shadows. They dwell, thirsting for light, deeper than the feet of mountains in a land where no light falls. Did the Fear remember them there, Joseph wondered. Did the Fear have a silver boat for sailing them to blessedness, a golden boat like Ra?

""My god is a god of those who are alive,"" Joseph said to the king.

The chamber where they stood smelled of the cool stone and the burning pitch of the servants' torches.

""He makes us no promises about death,"" Joseph said. ""He makes us promises about life. I do not know what he promises to the dead if he promises them anything"".

"

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.

On November 6, 2016 we will celebrate the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost.  Here is this weeks reading from the gospel of Luke:

Luke 20:37-38
And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.""

Here is an excerpt from The Son of Laughter:

""Your god will doubtless care for you in death as generously, the king said to Joseph as they stood in the darkness lit only by the guttering torches of the servants, ""because you are the friend of the king and have been given the king's ring with his seal upon it and great power over all of the Black Land, Joseph thought of his mother's spent body buried, unbandaged, on the road they had been traveling with only a pillar no taller than a tall man to mark it and of the body of his grandfather Isaac lying under stones near the bodies of Abraham, Isaac's father, and Sarah, his mother, where Joseph's father and Esau had placed it with no treasure of any kind to bring him comfort and only the two ash cakes for food which Esau had placed under his two arms. His father had told him that he heard it said that the dead move like shadows. They dwell, thirsting for light, deeper than the feet of mountains in a land where no light falls. Did the Fear remember them there, Joseph wondered. Did the Fear have a silver boat for sailing them to blessedness, a golden boat like Ra?

""My god is a god of those who are alive,"" Joseph said to the king.

The chamber where they stood smelled of the cool stone and the burning pitch of the servants' torches.

""He makes us no promises about death,"" Joseph said. ""He makes us promises about life. I do not know what he promises to the dead if he promises them anything"".

"

Our Shared Story

My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually. 

- originally published in Telling Secrets

 

Darkness Is Where We Are

What is coming upon the world is the Light of the World. It is Christ. That is the comfort of it. The challenge of it is that it has not come yet. Only the hope for it has come, only the longing for it. In the meantime we are in the dark, and the dark, God knows, is also in us. We watch and wait for a holiness to heal us and hallow us, to liberate us from the dark. Advent is like the hush in a theater just before the curtain rises. It is like the hazy ring around the winter moon that means the coming of snow which will turn the night to silver. Soon. But for the time being, our time, darkness is where we are.

- originally from The Hungering Dark

Weekly Sermon Illustration: Zaccheus

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.

Here is this weeks reading from the gospel of Luke:

Luke 19:1-10
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ""Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today."" So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ""He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner. Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ""Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much."" Then Jesus said to him, ""Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.""

Here is Buechners description of Zaccheus, originally published in Peculiar Treasures and again later in Beyond Words:

Zaccheus stood barely five feet tall with his shoes off and was the least popular man in Jericho. He was head tax-collector for Rome in the district and had made such a killing out of it that he was the richest man in town as well as the shortest. When word got around that Jesus would soon be passing through, he shinnied up into a sycamore tree so he could see something more than just the backs of other people's heads, and that's where he was when Jesus spotted him.

""Zaccheus,"" Jesus said, ""get down out of there in a hurry. I'm spending tonight with YOU"" (Luke 19:5), whereupon all Jericho snickered up their sleeves to think he didn't have better sense than to invite himself to the house of a man that nobody else would touch with a ten-foot pole.

But Jesus knew what he was doing. Zaccheus was taken so completely aback by the honor of the thing that before he had a chance to change his mind, he promised not only to turn over fifty percent of his holdings to the poor but to pay back, four to one, all the cash he'd extorted from everybody else. Jesus was absolutely delighted. ""Today salvation has come to this house,"" he said (Luke 19:9), and since that was his specialty after all, you assume he was right.

Zaccheus makes a good one to end with because in a way he can stand for all the rest. He's a sawed-off little social disaster with a big bank account and a crooked job, but Jesus welcomes him aboard anyway, and that's why he reminds you of all the others too.

There's Aaron whooping it up with the Golden Calf the moment his brother's back is turned, and there's Jacob conning everybody including his own father. There's Jael driving a tent-peg through the head of an overnight guest, and Rahab, the first of the red-hot mamas. There's Nebuchadnezzar with his taste for roasting the opposition and Paul holding the lynch mob's coats as they go to work on Stephen. There's Saul the paranoid, and David the stud, and those mealy-mouthed friends of Job's who would probably have succeeded in boring him to death if Yahweh hadn't stepped in just in the nick of time. And then there are the ones who betrayed the people who loved them best such as Absalom and poor old Peter, such as Judas even.

Like Zaccheus, they're all of them peculiar as Hell, to put it quite literally, and yet you can't help feeling that, like Zaccheus, they're all of them somehow treasured too. Why are they treasured? Who knows? But maybe you can say at least this about it-that they're treasured less for who they are and for what the world has made them than for what they have it in them at their best to be because ultimately, of course; it's not the world that made them at all. ""All the earth is mine!"" says Yahweh, ""and all that dwell therein,"" adds the Twenty-fourth Psalm, and in the long run, presumably, that goes for you and me too.

To Be A Saint

To be a saint is to be human because we were created to be human. To be a saint is to live with courage and self-restraint, as the alcoholic priest says, but it is more than that. To be a saint is to live not with hands clenched to grasp, to strike, to hold tight to a life that is always slipping away the more tightly we hold it; but it is to live with the hands stretched out both to give and receive with gladness. To be a saint is to work and weep for the broken and suffering of the world, but it is also to be strangely light of heart in the knowledge that there is something greater than the world that mends and renews. Maybe more than anything else, to be a saint is to know joy.

- originally from The Magnificent Defeat