Monday, June 15, 2015

The Rabbi's Gift as the Smallest Seed


The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Once a great order, as a result of waves of anti-monastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.

In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. "The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again " they would whisper to each other. As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. "I know how it is," he exclaimed. "The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore." So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. "It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years, "the abbot said, "but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?"

"No, I am sorry," the rabbi responded. "I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you."

When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, "Well what did the rabbi say?" "He couldn't help," the abbot answered. "We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving --it was something cryptic-- was that the Messiah is one of us. I don't know what he meant."

In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi's words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that's the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people's sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the rabbi didn't mean me. He couldn't possibly have meant me. I'm just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn't be that much for You, could I?

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi's gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.

This story came from The Different Drum, by Dr. M. Scott Peck, M.D. 

The audio of the sermon is available on the right sidebar PodBean Player.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

We are Family - Jesus says So

Did you all hear me take a long, deep, cleansing breath earlier this week? I am so excited that we are back in Mark – with plain language – unclean spirits & crowds who get who Jesus is – scribes and disciples who can’t even seem to buy a clue… it’s good to be back on track again. Today’s gospel is Classic Mark – a story within a story – all pointing us to who Jesus is and how we are to be.

Today in the inner story, we get a lesson about the Unforgivable Sin – insulting the Holy Spirit. This one always worries me a bit – how about you? Here’s the deal – if we are worried about it, we are not doing it. Resisting the Spirit, refusing to repent, regarding God with contempt or rebellion, refusing forgiveness = that’s what Jesus is talking about. The scribes were refusing to believe in who Jesus was and instead insisted on attributing his divinity to a demonic association.

In the outer story, we get a lesson on family. This reading is troubling to some people because it seems as though Jesus is being disrespectful to his family of origin, especially his mom – which would be breaking a commandment. However, there is no evidence that Jesus’ real family was actually there. This translation says mother and brothers, but it was probably cousins or extended family members. Since Jesus later answers specifically about mother and brothers, the translators carried that into the story. This reading is also comforting to some people because Jesus gives us permission to shed the unhealthiness that some of us might find in our families of origin and surround ourselves with healthy, loving, new families. Jesus expands what “family” means. He then goes onto to equate those who do God’s will as family.

This is where we get the language of Church Family. In some ways this could be very unhealthy – just as all families can be very unhealthy. In an ideal church, this can be very healthy. It becomes a way for us all to care more deeply about each other – more than co-workers or acquaintances. We can invest time and energy getting to know and care about each other. We have the privilege of having the hard conversations and higher expectations of each other. This is church at its best and healthiest – doing God’s will together: feeding people, housing people, helping people – inside and outside of these walls. Today, the first volunteers for the Habitat for Humanity fundraiser will begin volunteering and we will do that for an entire eight days. Next week, we will feed 60 or so of God’s Beloveds who will stay at Faith Mission for the night. We are living into doing God’s will and being a healthy family.

I have placed an empty piece of paper in your bulletin. One of our family members needs help. You all know Luke. He is struggling with addiction. His parents are going to leave directly from here to go visit him today. I want his church family to send him notes of encouragement. Before the service is over, we will bless those notes and his parents as they leave on the journey – taking our notes and best wishes for his health with them.

God as Parent to us all, bless this your family. Amen. 

The audio will be on the PodBean Player on the right sidebar.