Transfigured Faces

February 14, 2007

I don’t much care for preaching on Transfiguration Sunday. (Click here for this week’s lectionary text.) My Front Row Lady said a couple of years ago on Transfiguration Day, as soon as I had finished reading the text but before I launched into my sermon, “That is SO weird!” I couldn’t agree more. But I’ve got a little bit of an angle this year. I’ll be telling the following story by Francis Dorff in my sermon:

There was a famous monastery which once had been full of monks and visitors seeking spiritual guidance. But the monastery had fallen on dry years when their spirituality level was very low. Few pilgrims came to seek guidance, and few young people gave themselves to become monks. At last, there was only a handful of elderly monks going about their work, their prayer, their study with heavy hearts. The only time their spirit seemed to lift was when the word went out that the rabbi was walking in the woods. You see, in the woods near the monastery, there was a small hut that this rabbi had constructed as a place of retreat, and he came from time to time to fast and pray. And when the monks in the monastery knew he was fasting and praying, they felt supported by his prayer.

One day, the abbot of the monastery, hearing that the rabbi was walking in the woods, decided to go see him. And when he reached the little hut, there was the rabbi standing in the doorway with his arms outstretched, as if he had been standing there for sometime to welcome the abbot, who had given no notice of his visit. They greeted one another, and then went in the simple hut where there was a table with a book of scripture opened on the table. They sat there, silently prayed, and then the abbot began to weep. He poured out his concern for the monastery and for the spiritual health of the monks. Finally, the rabbi said, ‘You seek a teaching from me and I have one for you. It is a teaching which I will say to you and then I will never repeat. When you share this teaching with the monks, you are to say it once and then never to repeat it. The teaching is this. Listen carefully. “The Messiah is among you.”

Well, when the abbot heard that teaching, he thanked the rabbi. He went back to the monastery to gather the monks and to tell them the teaching of the rabbi. He told him, as he was instructed, that he would say the teaching once, and then they were to talk about it no more. “Listen carefully,” he said. “The teaching is this: One of us is the Messiah.” It wasn’t exactly what the rabbi had said, but they began to look at one another in a whole new light. Is Brother John the messiah? Or Father James? Am I the messiah?

In the days to come, as they went about their prayer life and their work and their study of scripture, they began to treat one another in a whole new light. Each one of them might be the messiah, and this new treatment of one another, this new sense of expectation, was noted by the few pilgrims who came. And soon the word spread. What a spirit of concern and compassion and expectation can be felt at the monastery! Young people began to offer themselves in service. Pilgrims began to come in great number, all because they looked at each other as people of worth.

Here’s hoping that your face lights up with expectation and wonder and people see the Messiah in you.

3 Responses to “Transfigured Faces”

  1. Matt Says:

    oh, I love that. Now I want to change my sermon title to, “A Whole New Light” Thanks for sharing.

  2. Larry Ayers Says:

    I’m not even a Christian but I thought was a wonderfully nuanced story!

  3. Alex Says:

    Now you have to take back your distaste for Transfiguration Sunday…

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