Frederick Buechner Sermon Illustration: Nickolet's Sermon Writing for Pentecost
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 Day of Pentecost. Here is this week’s reading from Acts:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Here is an excerpt from the novel The Final Beast where Pastor Theodore Nicolet is trying to write a sermon for Pentecost:
HE LAY behind the barn with his jacket folded under his head. The rim of the sun had just appeared above his father's house, and long diagonals of light came slanting down at him from the peak of the roof. "The birthday of the church took place in the midst of terrible fire," he began, his thin lips barely moving. "I've got this sermon to do. . ." Don't ham it up, Nick. That's cheating.
As the sun cleared the roof, the light became almost intolerably clear. Every detail of texture and color seemed too visible, dazzled him; it was like looking at pebbles through the flashing water of a stream—the flakes of rust on the wheel of the ruined cider press, the beaded brilliance of orange rinds that lay tumbled down the slope of the compost heap. "You tell me, old Lillian, bare-shanks, how do I preach the power from on high?"
Just look around you, Nicolet. Her eyes swelled the chipmunk smile.
"I see a tiny red bug crawling up a tree trunk. I see where my tragic old dad dumps the slops."
Call on his name now.
"Oh Lord..." he began, stopped then. "My prayers move creepy-crawly like the bug. Help me."
His real name.
"Jesus?" He whispered it. "Makes me think of corn belt parsons with china teeth and ghastly old Jesus hymns. Beulah Land. Melodeons."
It's his name. Call upon it.
"Later." There were other saints. He leaned over on one elbow and took the pencil in his hand. "Power," he wrote, "from on high," with a little feathered arrow pointing up. The professor of homiletics had told them always to put into one sentence the central point and never to preach for less than twenty minutes--”Sermonettes make Christianettes," he had said. "It comes down," Nicolet added. Did it? He crossed out what he had written and in block letters wrote, "IS IT TRUE?" Was that, secretly, what they came to find out Sunday after Sunday, just that, yes or no? He thought of them settling down to silence, old jaws clamped in a look of imbecile concentration, as he took his place at the lectern and unfastened the paper clip from his notes, glancing down at where they sat—the queer old lady hats set square like little mansard roofs, hearing-aids in the front pews, here and there a palm leaf fan flickering and the muted complaint of a cough. Rooney would sit in the back with her hair tucked into a bun getting ready to add up the hymn numbers but not yet. For those few moments before he began to speak, he could believe that they had come for something, were dreaming that maybe this time he would tell them: IS IT TRUE? "It's the awful question you avoid like death," Rooney had once said in a fury. Like life, some saint said to him now. They waited. You waited. Sometimes you felt as though you had swallowed an anchor, waiting there. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight. . . .