A Messiah With Bad Breath?

I found a great story on line a few days ago.  If you have listened to more than a handful of my sermon messages, you will know that the style of the story is a favorite, and one of which I frequently employ from the pulpit.  The aforementioned style, is that of the stereotypical search for answers from a holy man.  Usually it involves some great quest for knowledge, and it ends at the feet of the Holy Man, who the world believes has the answers to all questions.

How to find peace and happiness?  Climb a mountain and find the holy man.

  • How to find true treasure?  Climb a mountain and find the holy man.
  • What’s wrong with the Patriots?   Climb a mountain and find a holy man.
  • What’s wrong with the Red Sox?  Well…   How long do you have?

This story certainly, which I have exploded, embellished, and made exponentially longer… follows that general line of thinking.

It takes place up high in mountain top monastery known across the world.   Once the monastery was known across the globe for its piety and service, and when other monasteries were built, this one was the example.   Overtime, and for reasons unknown to the monks things started to change.

Eventually the monastery fell into disrepair.   Physically the place was a mess. Paint was peeling and windows were broken.  Roofs needed re shingling.   Weeds grew at a dizzying place.  At the same time, things were not quite right among the monks.  They seemed to lose patience quickly.   They were constant little squabbles.   They just seemed to no longer enjoy each other’s company or the monastery.

All this dissatisfaction resulted in fewer monks worshipping together.   Their church, the center of the monastery, used to be their pride and joy.   Sadly over time, the pews became emptier and emptier.   Even the town folk who used to make the trek to worship at the monastery chose to stay away.

The monastery was dying slowly.   The heartbeat seemed to be gone.    The peeling paint became symbolic of a sense of decay that had overtaken the place.   Nothing was crisp, and there was no vitality.

How do you fix the monastery?   Climb a mountain and ask a Holy Man.

That is what the abbot of the monastery decided to do.    He grabbed his belongings and began that trek up the mountain.  As he reached the top, there was the target of his quest.   A man in white robes, sitting in a lotus position chanting out some meaningless mantra, was sure to be the answer for all the man’s and monastery’s worries.

Falling at the holy man’s feet, he immediately asks his questions:  “Why or why has our monastery fallen?   Why is the paint peeling?   Why are we no longer the crown jewel of all monasteries?   Why do the brothers quarrel?   What happened to us?”

The holy man, in the way that holy men do, slowly reached down and grabbed the abbot’s hand.   “My son”, he says, “it is because of the sin of ignorance.”

The abbot was surprised.    Along that journey, he had tried to think about what the answer was himself.   He came up with many.    The monastery needed more gimmicks.   Maybe it needed flat screen televisions and projection systems, which would broadcast the words to hymns right on the wall.   Maybe it was fancy websites, and 24-7 access.   Maybe it was more guitar, or more modern music.   Maybe the abbot needed to crack more jokes at the pulpit, or maybe he didn’t need to dress as fancily.

When the word “ignorance” came out of the holy man’s mouth, the abbot was befuddled.   This never even crossed his mind.   What was he ignorant of, thought the abbot?   Was he ignorant of some new gimmick, conference plan, church growth initiative, or monastery revitalization program?   As he tossed this about in his head, he became excited.   The Holy man had an answer!

“What is it, that we are ignorant?” asked the abbot?

All of a sudden, the Holy Man’s eyes squinted and his browed furrowed.   In a look that resonated with both paranoia and secrecy, the man, looked around cautiously as if some great worry was hiding behind a bush, or rock.     After insuring no one was looking, the Holy Man looked deep into the abbot’s eyes and said; “The Messiah…you are ignorant of the Messiah.   One of you, one of those in your midst, is the Messiah, and you are missing this.”

As the abbot walked home, he tossed it about in his head.   Who is the Messiah?    He started to make the mental listing of all the monks in the monastery.   

“Could it be Brother Treasurer who handles our books?   Could he be the messiah?    Or what about Brother Carpenter, who fixes all the dents and bruises of the church…could he be the messiah?   Maybe it is that brother that sings so well.   Maybe it is that brother that cooks so well.   Maybe it is that brother who seems to have all the theology and doctrine down pat.”

As he worked his way down the mountain, he worked his way through the mental list of Messianic Candidates.   He thought about how one was a little short tempered, and couldn’t be the messiah.   He thought about the time he heard the carpenter swear after banging his finger.  The messiah doesn’t cuss.   He thought about the one who knew the theology, and remembered how bad his breath was.   The Messiah doesn’t have bad breath.

As he worked through the countless faults of his brothers, he realized that each of the countless monks had a never ending supply of  faults and issues.   Some were subtle and, boy, some were huge!   They all had defects from big noses, to short tempters.   Some had bad tempers and others bad eyes.   In the end, the messiah was supposed to be perfect, he thought.

As he went back and forth and his headache slowly grew, the abbot had his epiphany.    “Perhaps, Just Perhaps,” he thought, “the imperfection is his disguise!”   He realized that this would be just the way that Jesus would hide among the monks.    He couldn’t wait to return to the monastery and tell his brothers.

Upon his arrival, he had his assistant ring the bell which usually indicated a fire, or call to prayer, and busily readied himself for the now gathering assembly in their dining hall.   When every last monk and town person had gathered into the great hall, he told the crowd of the great news.

As you can imagine the news was met with great silence.   After what seemed like an eternity the silence was interrupted by murmuring.   Everywhere you looked townspeople were looking at townspeople, monks eyed other monks.   Little children where looked over quizzically.   Theories were developed, talked about, tossed away, and returned too.    All wondered who the Messiah was.

“Could it be him?   Could it be her?   Could it be that little girl, or that boy?”  Questions like this soon became the mantra across town.   As the questions continued, something strange started happening.  

People started to walk a bit differently.   “Was he the Messiah?” They looked around at each other instead of burying their heads.  “Was he the Messiah?”  They smiled at that monk that ticked them off so greatly the week before.    They extended their hand to the stranger who stood beside them. “Maybe it’s her!”

They looked at their neighbor and offered a meal.   Instead of complaining about the nasty condition of the paint, they grabbed a brush.    Instead of looking at his neighbor’s lawn as an eyesore, they pulled weeds.  

They got down on their hands and knees to not only pray, but to get to work.

It wasn’t long before the Monastery shined.  People returned.   They became known again across the world.    The people arrived day after day, because they knew.   They knew that within those walls, the Messiah could be found.

I have spent a great deal of time and energy, trying to find that magic potion, special mix, and ultimate gimmick or system.   Perhaps I find too much self actualization as a minister tied to the numbers of butts in the pew each week.   Maybe there is a piece that reads of those cases of church growth and wonder.   Do I need to sell out on my beliefs to fill these pews?   Do I need to shortchange the radical and all encompassing message of Jesus to keep the stranger comfortable but in the church?    I look at those rare stories and say, how can we be different and be true to who we are, while reaching out  and making a place for a world that seems so bent on turning away?

I would love to one Sunday drive into Chesterfield New Hampshire and have to park at the Library, because we have no parking spots.   Wouldn’t it be incredible to see the parking lot of our church on Sundays, be the same as it is on Saturdays, when they line up outside for the food pantry.  

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if hungry people lined up for the food that we offer on Sundays too?

At Asbury, at churches like us, there is plenty we are doing as a church to see that this happens, and we are doing all the right things.   We are sound in our stewardship of all of the assets God has entrusted into our care (be they building, giving, or people).  We are being creative in our outreach.  We are welcoming in our ministries.   We are showing what the Gospel looks like through our action first, and then our words.   We are providing an authentic, relevant, and life changing Jesus to this community and these things matter.

Like all those monks and villagers, we are not perfect.  There are things that we need to be about, that we are not quite there on.   We need to understand if we are reaching everyone we need to.   Are we utilizing the right tools?    We need to continually think about new technologies, new ideas, and new approaches.    Do we have music, worship, a service, and a building that is capable of reaching the people outside this family?  

What are we doing to figure out who those people are?

Are we actively praying for the future that we envision for our church?  Are we practicing those disciplines that take our faith to a new level, and as a result make our message more real?.   Are we praying for our children each and every day?   Are we praying each day that God provides just one opportunity for us to reach out to one of those nameless neighbors?   Are we learning how to be comfortable telling our story? 

These are all things that matter.

 Again, some we are doing.   Some we are doing really, really well, others we are not doing well enough.    This is our journey, our mission, and our challenge as a church.    This is our mission as people of faith; to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of this community and our world.

In the end, all of blood, sweat and tears, may just be noise.  

It will be all noise if we forget the most fundamental truth about church growth, and our great commission.     If we don’t realize and don’t remember that the Messiah is in our midst; we lose.   If DO NOT we approach everything we do, everything we say, and hope and pray with this as our premise; we lose.   If we don’t acknowledge his presence in the pew or in the person next to us;  we lose.

But if we do, and do it on a level that is greater with each passing day, this monastery, our church, shines.  That is the most important church growth program that matters.  

People will hear.  People will realize.   People will arrive day after day, because they will know.   They will know, that despite our imperfections (bad eyes, bad tempers, bad breath and all) that there is something different here. They will know that within the walls of our churches, the Messiah can be found.

(Painting by Moretto de Brescia, “The Saint Monk”)
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