Frederick Buechner Sermon Illustration: Bebb's Speech at Revonoc

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 Fifth Sunday of Easter.  Here is this week's reading from the Gospel of John:

John 13:33-35

Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Here is a portion of Leo Bebb's famous speech at Gertrude Conover's Revonoc in Princeton, NJ from Frederick Buechner's Love Feast (later also published in The Book of Bebb):

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a great feast. That's the way of it. The Kingdom of Heaven is a love feast where nobody's a stranger. Like right here. There's strangers everywheres else you can think of. There's strangers was born out of the same womb. There's strangers was raised together in the same town and worked side by side all·their life through. There's strangers got married and been climbing in and out of the same fourposter together for thirty-five or forty years and they're strangers still. And Jesus, it's like most of the time he is a stranger too. Even when he's near as the end of your nose, people make like he's nowhere around. They won't talk to him. They won't listen to him. They keep their eye on the ground. But here in this place there's no strangers, and Jesus, he isn't a stranger either. The Kingdom of Heaven's like this.

"He said, "We all got secrets. I got them same as everybody else—things we feel bad about and wish hadn't ever happened. Hurtful things. We're all scared and lonesome, but most of the time we keep it hid. It's like every one of us has lost his way so bad we don't even know which way is home any more only we're ashamed to ask. You know what would happen if we would own up we're lost and ask? Why, what would happen is we'd find out home is each other. We'd find out home is Jesus loves us lost or found or any whichway."

The room flickered like the scratched print of an old newsreel, the hands of Bebb jerky as Woodrow Wilson laying a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Shadows. Faces. Afros like puff balls of dust under beds, more air than hair. Grainy, light-struck blizzarding of old film.

Bebb said, "Eating. Feeding your face. Folks, I've eaten my way 'round the known world. I've eaten snails out of their own shells in Paris, France. I've eaten octopus in Spain and curry in India so hot it makes your eyes water and the skin on your head go cold as ice. I've eaten hamburgs pitiful and grey like the sole of your shoe in greasy spoons from here to Saint Joe. I've eaten the bread of affliction, all of us has. We got to eat or—food, it's life, but all the food in the world, all the turkey and fixings plus your ice cream the shape of hats, it's not life enough to keep you alive without you eat it with love in the heart.

"Dear hearts," Bebb said, "we got to love one another and Jesus or die guessing."