In July I took a continuing education class on Emotional Intelligence, which is a sort of fancy study about how one’s emotions, and ability to understand one’s emotions, and the emotions of others influences one’s capacity to succeed in many areas of life including many important relationships.
Part of the class was a study on community building and the different phase of a theory about how communities develop. A Christian Psychologist, Scott Peck, whose writings were fairly influential in the secular world, wrote a book in the 1980’s about community building. It’s a sort of class book on the study of community relations. The title of Peck’s book was, “The Different Drum” and, in the book , a theory is laid out on the different stages of community development.
Peck uses a story written many, many years ago. No one is exactly sure who wrote the story, but the story fits well with today’s Gospel reading. It’s call the “Rabbi’s Gift.”
The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. It was once a great order, but because of persecution, all its branch houses were lost and there were only five monks left in the decaying 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 occasionally used for a hermitage. 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” they would whisper. It occurred to the abbot that a visit the rabbi might result in some advice to save his monastery.
The rabbi welcomed the abbot to his hut. But when the abbot explained his visit, the rabbi could say, “I know how it is” . “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 spoke of deep things. When the abbot had to leave, they embraced each other. “It has been a wonderful that we should meet after all these years,” the abbot said, “but I have failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me that would help me save my dying order?”
“No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded. “I have no advice to give. But, I can tell you 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?”
“The rabbi said something very mysterious, it was something cryptic. He said that the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant?”
In the time that followed, the old monks wondered whether the significance to the rabbi’s words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks? If so, 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 always being there when you need him. He just magically appears. 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, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.
People still occasionally came to visit the monastery in its beautiful forest to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even to meditate in the dilapidated chapel. As they did so, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that 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 compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery to picnic, to play, to pray. They brought their friends to this special place. And their friends brought their friends.
Then 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.
The parable we have from Jesus this morning uses the image of a wedding feast where he is an invited guest. And to his host, Jesus gives advice to invite those he probably never thought of inviting, because they could never repay the favor. In fact, perhaps, to see for the first time people he had never seen. Such an act of kindness will not go unnoticed. Jesus tells us that God notices such things.
In God’s economy, the great banquet is more likely to be like a potluck than a fancy meal. Everyone is invited to bring along a “dish”. Humbling ourselves we try new ways of ministry and sample different “foods” that are served at the banquet table.
God invites us to take a risk, try a new dish, explore new treasures and talents as a methaphor for trying new ministries.
Cause we are invited to the banquet. So, show up, pull up a chair, and join in on the conversation. Doesn’t matter who you are, what shady background you, or what you’ve doing with your time. We’ve all been invited to sit at the table. Will join in God’s great “grace” list? Amen.
 The Different Drum was written by Scott Peck. He did not write this story. The author is unknown.