Frederick Buechner Sermon Illustration: A Path from God - Exodus 14:19-30
A Path From God
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 Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Here is a reading from the book of Exodus:
The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh's horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, "Let us flee from the Israelites, for the LORD is fighting for them against Egypt." Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers." So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.
In the following excerpt, Buechner's character Brownie uses the parting of the Red Sea metaphor. This was originally published in the novel Lion Country and later also in The Book of Bebb:
Brownie said, "I can't talk over the phone, dear. They left just a day after you did, all three of them. I would have left too, but Mr. Bebb asked me to stay and straighten things up here. I've got all their belongings to pack and the house to close, and you wouldn't believe the heat we're having."
"Where did they go, Brownie?" I said. "Was there any trouble, or did everything just blow over?"
Brownie said, "Dear, you never know who's listening. I can tell you this, though. Before they left, they asked me to give you a message."
"Sharon did?" I said.
Brownie said, "No, it wasn't Sharon. It was Mr. Bebb. He said if you called, to tell you to remember how when Moses led his people out of bondage in Egypt, the Lord opened up a path for them right through the Red Sea."
"How could I forget?" I said.
Brownie said, "There are many treasures hidden Scripture, dear, and many things written that he who runs may read."
"He who runs where?" I said.
Brownie said, "There's never any telling where a man may run to except that even if he takes the wings of the morning and flies to the outermost parts of the sea, he can never run away from the Lord."
"Not even in Texas, I suppose," I said.
Brownie said, "I certainly wouldn't think so, dear."
"Not even in Dallas," I said.
"Not in Dallas and not in Houston either," Brownie said.
I said, "Brownie, I miss you. I miss you all, and I even miss the Salamander Motel. By the way, by mistake I took The Apocryphal New Testament edited by M. R. James home with me in my suitcase. How can I get it back to you?"
Brownie said, "Don't you worry about that. Just keep it until we meet again someday, and that will be time enough."
I said, "I hope we do meet again someday, Brownie. All of us."
Brownie said, "If not in this world, dear, then in a better world to come," and when he hung up, I could see him there with the smile already fading and the sweat stains dark on his shirt as he turned back to the debris of Gospel Faith—the half-filled suitcases, the bulging cartons, and, for all I knew, even the rugs rolled up in the downstairs hall and Lucille's color TV in a crate. Had Brownie, that disentangler of meaning and lover of clarity, resorted to the veiled language of espionage as an act of midsummer madness, I wondered, or did the walls really have ears listening for just the faintest echo of Bebb's footsteps so that the pursuit could begin?