The Messiah is Among You

Mark 9:2-9
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

The Messiah is Among You
The Congregational Church of Easton – 2/11/24

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It’s the story of when he and a few disciples went up a mountain and his whole appearance was transformed. In the previous chapter Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Some said John the Baptizer, another said Elijah; others named other prophets. Then Peter nailed it. He said, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.
In today’s reading any doubts that Jesus was the promised Messiah vanish for Peter, James, and John. Listen again to part of the passage:
…a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!”
Can you imagine what that would have been like? What would it be like to hear a voice confirming Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved son.” Jesus heard similar words when he was baptized – “you are my beloved son.” On that occasion neither John or anyone else heard the voice. This time Peter, James, and a different John heard the voice. Now, for sure, Peter, James, and John knew that Jesus was the Messiah.
How do you suppose they treated Jesus after that? We can be sure they really listened to him. They must have treated him with huge respect.
What an experience! What an experience to discover that the Messiah is among you. Take a second to look around the room. Do you suppose the Messiah is among YOU? That’s an interesting question, isn’t it. Why would I ask you that?
Let me read you a story to answer that question. It’s entitled, “The Messiah is Among You.”
There was once an old stone monastery tucked away in the middle of a picturesque forest. For many years people would make the significant detour required to seek out this monastery. The peaceful spirit of the place was healing for the soul.
In recent years, however, fewer and fewer people were making their way to the monastery. A wave of secularism had swept over the land. Also, the monks had grown jealous and petty in their relationships with one another, and the animosity was felt by those who visited. The monastery was decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left: the Abbot and four others, all of whom were over 60. Clearly it was a dying order.
Deep in the woods surrounding the monastery was a little hut that the rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used as a hermitage. One day, it occurred to the Abbot to visit the hermitage to see if the rabbi could offer any advice that might save the monastery. The rabbi welcomed the Abbot and commiserated. “I know how it is,” he said. “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 rabbi and the old rabbit wept together.
The time came when the Abbot had to leave. They embraced. It has been wonderful being with you,” said the Abbot “but I have failed in my purpose for coming. Have you no piece of advice that might save the monastery?” “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.”
The Abbott was flabbergasted. One among his own was the Messiah! Who could it be? He knew it wasn’t himself, but who? He raced back to the monastery and shared this exciting news with his fellow monks.
When the other monks heard the Rabbi’s words, they wondered what possible significance they might have. “The Messiah is one of us? One of us, here, at the monastery? Do you suppose he meant the Abbot? Of course, it must be the Abbot, who has been our leader for so long.
On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas who is undoubtedly a holy man. Certainly, he couldn’t have meant Brother Elrod – he’s so crotchety. But then, Elrod is very wise. Surely, he could not have meant Brother Phillip — he’s too passive. But then, magically, he’s always there when you need him. Of course, he didn’t mean me – yet supposing he did. Oh Lord, not me! I couldn’t mean that much to 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 of them might be the Messiah. And, on the off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.
From that day on the mood in the monastery changed. Brother Elrod and brother Philip started talking again, neither wanting to be guilty of slighting the messiah. Brother Thomas and brother Matthew left behind their frosty anger and sought out each other’s forgiveness. The monks began serving each other, looking out for opportunities to assist, seeking healing and forgiveness where offence had been given.

Because the forest in which the monastery was situated was beautiful, people occasionally came to visit the monastery, to picnic or to wander along the old paths, most of which led to the dilapidated chapel. They sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that surrounded the five old monks, permeating the atmosphere.
They began to come more frequently, bringing their friends, and their friends brought friends. Some of the younger men who came to visit began to engage in conversation with the monks. After a while, one asked if he might join, then another, and another. Within a few years, the monastery became once again a thriving order, and – thanks to the Rabbi’s gift — a vibrant community of light and love.
A declining monastery on the brink of closing came back to life. A pretty hopeful story, right? I’ll bet you can predict where I’m going with this.
You can find dozens of resources about how to grow churches that have lost members. Many churches in this country are in the same situation as the monastery. Even some of the evangelical mega-churches are in trouble.
The average age of members of United Church of Christ congregations is over 60. Fewer young people are joining. A study found that 65% of the millennial generation who were raised in churches want nothing to do with church. These are people between 18 and 34, who probably went to Sunday school and youth group.
There are many reasons why. But I’m convinced that part of it is they didn’t see their elders treating each other as though one of them might be the Messiah.
A church I used to belong to has many strengths. It has a long history of caring for the poor. It sponsors mission trips for its youth. It also has a long history of people talking behind each other’s backs — one group talking about another and lots of grumbling about the minister.
I hope the young people in the youth group were oblivious to all the tension among the grown-ups. If they knew about it, they’d most likely be part of the 65% who don’t want anything to do with church.
The Congregational Church of Easton is different. I’ve been really impressed with you. Of course you have differences. There were differences of opinion during the discussion about whether to accept the Fit for Life proposal. But, by and large, those discussions were civil. People were respectful. You listened to each other even when you disagreed.

What if you were to take the loving, respectful way you treat each other in this congregation a step further? What if you were to look around and wonder if each person you see at worship or in coffee hour is the Messiah. Could the one who hardly ever talks be the Christ? How about the person who has such a lovely voice when we sing hymns? Could that one be the Messiah?
Let me go back to what I said about how James and Peter and John must have treated Jesus after they found out for sure he was the Messiah. They must have listened to him very carefully. They must have treated him with huge respect.
The Congregational Church of Easton has the possibility of transforming itself into a community like the monastery at the end of the story. If you really believe what Paul tells us over and over again that Christ lives in each of us — if you treat each and every one of us and everyone who walks in the door like she or he is the Messiah, and listen to them carefully, then maybe there are people in our towns who will discover the aura of extraordinary respect that permeates the atmosphere here in this church.
Perhaps they will come more frequently, bringing their friends, and those friends will bring other friends until once again you have a thriving Sunday school and are known as a vibrant community of light and love.
So many people, especially young people, want to belong to a community in which they can be deeply known and loved and listened to and respected for exactly who they are — without having to put up a front.
Yes, as you continue on your path of recognizing the Christ in each of you, these pews and your hearts will overflow.
Thanks be to you, O God, for sending us your son who is resurrected in the hearts and soul of each woman, man, and child in his eternal body, Christ’s church. Amen

Let us pray. Holy One help us look at each other and everyone we meet, thinking this person may be the Messiah. Amen.