Frederick Buechner Sermon Illustration: My Ways Are Not Thy Ways

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 Third Sunday in Lent. Here is this week’s reading from the book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 55:6-9

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Buechner’s character Leo Bebb, from the novel The Book of Bebb (a compilation of the series of four Bebb novels: Lion CountryOpen HeartLove Feast, and Treasure Hunt), often used the phrase “my ways are not thy ways”. Here is one example, originally published in Lion Country, then later in The Book of Bebb:

"Antonio, I'm not kidding myself. What I do next may be in my hands or then it may not be, and that's what I'm waiting here to find out. They're always locking people up for the wrong reasons—the right people maybe, but the wrong reasons and the wrong times. Think of it, Antonio—this thing I've been dreaming about come true at last. I threw out the life-line, and the one caught it was Herman Redpath in all his wealth and power. And now the lock-up. But my ways are not thy ways, saith the Lord. Antonio, you take a man's been in prison a couple years, and he's ready for Jesus like he's never been ready any place else. He's ready for anything has got some hope and life in it. Life, Antonio, is what a prisoner's ready for. Freedom. Lion Country. It's worth breaking the law just so you can get put in the lock-up, where the grapes are ripe for the harvest and the Lord needs all the hands he can get for the vineyard. You should hear the way they sing hymns behind bars, Antonio. Makes you go all over gooseflesh."