Things are Not What they Seem
Let me tell you some stories about God’s kingdom, scattered seeds and mustard.
[…] The first one was written by Scott Peck in his book “A Different Drum” called the Rabbi’s Gift
The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Once a great order, as a result of waves of antimonastic 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.
Things are not what they seem, the monastery appears to be in decline, a sense that God is finished with this humble group of men, and then with the seed of an idea scattered on the ground by the rabbi, with a kernel of a speculation – life began to germinate, until the full stalk of potential of the abbey was revealed
And like the mustard seed that invades a garden and takes over the space and grows beyond the well cared for vegetables and fruits, and puts forth branches so that even the birds of the air can make their nest – so too the abbey becomes a place of hope and restoration offering sanctuary and home for monks of the future. And God’s will is done and the kingdom comes.
Let me tell you another story about God’s kingdom, scattered seeds and mustard.
This one was written by a scribe over 2000 years ago and placed in the book of 1 Samuel
Once a long time ago, there was a priest named Samuel. He was a man who could hear the voice of God. For a long time the people listened to Samuel, because they knew that he could hear God. Eventually however, the people began to become restless. The people looked around at others and thought these people have a king to look after them, and look how successful they are, we should have a king. The told Samuel what they thought, Samuel talked to God and God said, they don’t need a king, things are working well as they are. Samuel told the people, the people said they want a king. So Samuel talked to God again, and God said, they don’t need a king, things are fine as they are. Tell them if they have a king their children would become servants for the king and they would have to give a portion of all they made to the king. Samuel told the people and the people said, we don’t care, and we want a king. Samuel talked to God one more time and God said, let them have a king, so Samuel anointed Saul and Saul became king. And all was as God said it would be.
The time came when Samuel was an old man and before he died he need to anoint the new king that would succeed Saul. The people assumed that Saul’s son Jonathon would succeed his father as the king, but Samuel and God were sorry that Saul had become king. And then God said to Samuel, don’t grieve over King Saul, I am going to have you anoint a new king. Samuel was afraid because he knew that if King Saul heard about what he was doing he would have Samuel killed. So God came up with a plan – “fill a horn of oil and take a heifer with you for sacrifice, and if anyone asks just say that you have come to sacrifice to the Lord.”
God told Samuel to “go to Bethlehem, and there he will find a man called Jesse who has 8 sons, go and offer the sacrifice and I will show you what to do.” And Samuel did as God asked and went to Bethlehem, and met Jesse and his sons and offered the sacrifice to the Lord.
In the midst of the ritual of sacrifice each of seven Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel. All of them were big and strong and beautiful men. Surely though Samuel one of these handsome, strong men must be who God has in mind for king…perhaps it is Jesse’s oldest son Eliab thinks Samuel – no says God
Well what about Abinadab, he is surely who God has in mind…no says God and it is not Shammah either nor any of the seven sons who are here at the sacrifice- because says God – ‘I do not look at appearance, nor height, nor statue or beautiful face – I look into the heart of man…
There must be another thinks Samuel, if all of these sons are not the one – and Jesse is called and he tells Samuel about his youngest son, who is just a boy, a shepherd out in the fields. The boy is called in to the ritual and God says – this is whom I have chosen, this boy…he is to be anointed King…and he was.
Things are not what they seem, the big strong strapping sons make the most sense for becoming a king, but instead God chooses a seed of a boy, and an anointing of an idea for a new kingship, a new way forward is scattered on David’s head with anointing oil. And it began to germinate in David as he grows into the man and the king he is called to be.
And like the mustard seed that invades a garden and takes over the space and grows beyond the well cared for vegetables and fruits, and puts forth branches so that even the birds of the air can make their nest – this small boy chosen by God begins to sprout into the King that will be for the people the best king ever!…and God’s will is done and the kingdom comes.
Let me tell one last story God’s kingdom, scattered seeds and mustard.
This is maybe our story
Once there was church, it began simply enough with a small group of people who had a big idea and a bunch of God seeds, they scattered them in the neighbourhood and they grew…it was exciting watching all the new growth. Soon a building was needed to gather in and the building became a wonderful resource for the community of believers as they shared it with the children and the woman’s group and men’s groups and couples groups and the line dancers.
And for many years this church grew and thrived. There were moments of pain and challenge and sorrow, but overall things were good, and people felt nourished and God got in the kingdom was around.
As the years past, things changed outside the doors of this church. The community grew and grew and more and more people lived in the area but less and less people were familiar. Some of the people came from other countries, other cultures and other faith practices. Less and less people need the building.
Inside the building, the people were getting older. Some of the times of difficulty had taken a toll and many of the beloved founding members passed on. Hair was getting greyer, energy was diminishing, resources where in decline…the people were getting tired and wondering what to do now, and how to be now – when what they knew and what they used to be was so different than what it was today.
The need to remember about the kingdom of God because when God is in the midst of a moment
Things are not what they seem, the church appears to be in decline, there may even be a sense that God is finished with this humble group of woman and men, but it only takes a seed of an idea scattered on the ground to grow into a bountiful harvest – life begin to germinate, until the full stalk of potential of the church can be revealed and the kingdom can come
And like the mustard seed that invades a garden and takes over the space and grows beyond the well cared for vegetables and fruits, and puts forth branches so that even the birds of the air can make their nest – so too the we can be a place of hope and restoration offering sanctuary and home for people in the future. And God’s will is done and the kingdom comes. Amen.