When I was a little girl, there was nothing I enjoyed more then when my parents would tell me a story. I guess I inherited that gift because today I telling stories and using them to teach important lessons. Lately I have been thinking about one of my favorite stories. It’s a simple, but powerful story called “The Rabbi’s Gift.”
There was a famous monastery, which had fallen on very hard times. Formerly its many buildings were filled with young monks and its big church resounded with the singing of the chant, but now it was deserted. People no longer came there to be nourished by prayer. A handful of old monks shuffled through the cloisters and praised their God with heavy hearts.
On the edge of the monastery woods, an old rabbi had built a little hut. He would come there from time to time to fast and pray. No one ever spoke with him, but whenever he appeared, the word would be passed from monk to monk. “The rabbi walks in the woods.” And, for as long as he was there, the monks would feel sustained by his prayerful presence.
One day the abbot decided to visit the rabbi and to open his heart to him. So, after the morning Eucharist, he set out through the woods. As he approached the hut, the abbot saw the rabbi standing in the doorway, his arms outstretched to welcome. It was as though he had been waiting there for some time. The two embraced like long lost brothers. Then they stepped back and just stood there, smiling at one another with smiles there faces could hardly contain.
After a while, the rabbi motioned the abbot to enter. In the middle of the room was a wooden table with the Scriptures open on it. They sat there for a moment, in the presence of the Book. Then the rabbi began to cry. The abbot could not contain himself. He covered his face with his hands and began to cry too. For the first time in his life, he cried his heart out. The two men sat there like lost children, filling the hut with their sobs and wetting the wood of the table with their tears.
After the tears had ceased to flow and all was quiet again, the rabbi lifted his head. “You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts,” he said. “You have come to ask a teaching of me. I will give you a teaching, but you can only repeat it once. After that, no one must ever say it aloud again.”
The rabbi looked straight at the abbot and said “The Messiah is among you.”
For a while, all was silent. Then the rabbi said, “Now you must go.”
The abbot left without a word and without looking back.
The next morning, the abbot called his monks together in the chapter room. He told them he had received a teaching from “the rabbi who walks in the woods” and that this teaching was never again to be spoken aloud. Then he looked at each of his brothers and said, “The rabbi said that one of us is the Messiah.”
The monks were startled by this saying, “What could it mean?” They asked themselves, “Is Brother John the messiah? Or Father Matthew? Or Brother Thomas? Am I the Messiah? What could this mean?”
They were all deeply puzzled by the rabbi’s teaching. But no one ever mentioned it again.
As time went by, the monks began to treat one another with a very special reverence. There was a gentle, wholehearted, human quality about them now, which was hard to describe but easy to notice. They lived with one another as men who had finally found something. But they prayed the scriptures together as men who were always looking for something. Occasional visitors found themselves deeply moved by the life of these monks. Before long, people were coming from far and wide to be nourished by the prayer life of the monks and young men were asking, once again, to become part of the community.
In those days, the rabbi no longer walked in the woods. His hut had fallen into ruins. But, somehow or other, the old monks who had taken his teaching to heart still felt sustained by his prayerful presence.”
That is the story of the Rabbi’s gift. I love this story because for me it speaks about the power of the Creator to change our lives through the teachings, ministry, and legacy of the spiritual leaders that have come before us. It speaks to me about how a simple teaching can change our lives even when our “hut” may have fallen into ruins and we may not feel as connected to our Higher Power as we once might have. For me it is a story about how we have the power to change our relationship with self, others and the world.
For me this story is about seeing the Divine in each of us. My guess is if I asked each of you if you have ever experienced the presence of God, you would say yes. I would also guess that the God you met did not have nail scarred hands and feet and was not named Jesus, Buddha, Allah, or any other world renowned spiritual leader/teacher. For the past few weeks, I have been thinking about all the people through whom I have experienced God. I remember experiencing God while I was teaching English to migrant workers who were here illegally picking produce at local farms. I remember experiencing God while having prayerful conversations with my financial advisor who wanted to make sure that I was being a good steward of my resources. I remember experiencing God in my niece who never wanted to “act like a girl.” I remember experiencing God in a five year old who boy who made me laugh when I wanted to cry. I remember experiencing God in the children in my former churches who would not sit still while the adults were trying to listen to the sermon. I remember experiencing God in my wife as she sat next to my hospital bed. There is not a place where I have not experienced God. I have experienced God while visiting people in prison. One night I experienced God on a Liftline bus in the body of a man leaving the Kirkhaven Nursing Home. I have experienced God in the stranger on the street, in the person in front of me at the grocery store, and in my friends. Do you want to see the face of God? Then look at the person sitting next to you!
When you see the Divine in others, then you get to witness the power of God to bring about transformative change in their lives. When people see the Divine in us, they get to see ways that God has brought about transformative change in our lives. Do you want to see someone created in God's image? Just look in the mirror! Odds are you'll recognize the face looking back at you!
There may be days in our lives when we feel as if we are living with heavy hearts and an empty faith. I need you to know we have a choice. We have a choice as to whether we serve God with heavy hearts or with the joy and grace of the transformed monks in the story. The choice is ours; are we willing to ask who is the “Messiah” in our lives? Who does it mean for you? How different would your life be if you realized that someone you know is the “Messiah”?