A Sermon by Frederick Buechner, Lightning and then Sleep

Last night, in the dread of today, I read a sermon, “The Calling of Voices” by Frederick Buechner. The text was Isaiah’s vision in chapter 6 with the culmination of “Here am I, send me!”

My sons and I had driven clear across town for this book. No library near us had it. So we went. Them, to spend time with their dad. I, the same. The rain had just stopped and the grass and the trees were a green I’ll never forget. Azaleas and Dogwoods lined the streets we slowly traveled for to get this book.

He sets up three scenarios – a phone call for help in the night, a seagull carrying a mussel in its beak and then dropping it to the rocks below, a young boy realizing “with a kind of panic almost” his kindness to a handicapped boy is like “Christmas morning and a rocket to the moon.”

And he says about the young boy and anyone else these events might happen to…

“It was the summons that he had to answer somehow, or at considerable cost, not answer. Or in the year that King Uzziah died, or in the year that John F. Kennedy died, or in the year that someone you loved died, you go into the temple if that is your taste, or you hide your face in the little padded temple of your hands, and a voice says, “Whom shall I send into the pain of a world where people die?” and if you are not careful, you may find yourself answering, “Send me.” You may hear the voice say, “Go.” Just go.”

The rest of the short sermon is worthy of reflection. And maybe that will come. But it was this section that struck like lightning in the night. The kind of lightning you never forget, the brightest of all bolts in the darkest of all nights. The kind that pushes away fear if even for a moment so you can take a step in the right direction.

On Tuesday, I attended my uncle’s funeral. The dark blue suit was bought for the pastor-to-be but has of late been worn by the banker, was worn. Worn. And there it hit me how much more comfortable I was there among the mourners than I was at the bank, behind the desk. The wrong desk.

Whom shall I send into the pain of a world where people die?

I would not have planned to read this sermon just before attempting sleep had I known. I might as well be honest, it does no one any good for me to talk in code or veiled allusions. I dread each day of work and rarely sleep less than fitfully. Could I have ever known two years ago when I began to walk away from vocational ministry, this darkness would come? I don’t know. But it has happened and now I’ve read these words.

And last night’s sleep was sweet. Like a death itself. For I have not been careful.

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