Frederick Buechner Sermon Illustration: The Power of God and the Power of Man

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

Next Sunday we will celebrate the Second Sunday in Lent.  Here is this week's reading from the gospel of Luke:

Luke 9:38-43a

Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

In his sermon The Power of God and the Power of Man from The Magnificent Defeat, Buechner uses the story above as an illustration of the power of God.  Here are excerpts from the rest of the sermon.

This is text number one. The power of God. Text number two is about the power of man, and it can be stated very simply in the words that Jesus himself uses, speaking about himself: "The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him." This is the power of man.

Put them side by side, as close as we can, as close as we dare, and look sharp. The power of God. The power of man. The power of God in Jesus Christ—to heal, to give life; not to heal and give life only to the body, but to heal whatever is broken, to give life to whatever is dead, dying.

God's power. Man's power. Put them still closer together until they really start to crowd each other as in fact they really do; look at them even sharper if you can stand it. The power of God is powerless against the man who chooses to oppose it. In six hours or so the Son of God was just as dead as anybody else's son. The hands that healed the epileptic boy were just as ruined as any dead man's hands. And has God had any power in all the two thousand years that have gone by since? On the third day he rose again from the dead. This is the faith. But did he rise with power? Or did he rise the way the mist rises from the earth at daybreak—lovely, irrelevant, substanceless? Does God really have power?

If that is really the question, if we are really seeking this power, then I have one thing to say—perhaps it is not the only thing, but it is enormously important: ask for it. There is something in me that recoils a little at speaking so directly and childishly, but I speak this way anyway because it is the most important thing I have in me to say. Ask, and you will receive. And there is the other side to it too: if you have never known the power of God's love, then maybe it is because you have never asked to know it—I mean really asked, expecting an answer.

I am saying just this: go to him the way the father of the sick boy did and ask him. Pray to him, is what I am saying. In whatever words you have. And if the little voice that is inside all of us as the inheritance of generations of unfaith, if this little voice inside says, "But I don't believe. I don't believe," don't worry too much. Just keep on anyway. "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief" is the best any of us can do really, but thank God it is enough.

Seek and you will find—this power of God's love to heal, to give peace and, at last, something like real life, so that little by little, like the boy, you can get up. Yes, get up. But we must seek—like a child at first, like playing a kind of game at first because prayer is so foreign to most of us. It is so hard and it is so easy. And everything depends on it. Seek. Ask. And by God's grace we will find. In Christ's name and with his power I can promise you this.