This Sunday is Jubilee Sunday, i.e. “Welcome back after summer” Sunday! To kick off the program year the ministers will be doing a sermon series on “Thorny Theological Themes” at all three services, starting this Sunday with discipleship.*
As progressive Christians we may “balk” at the word discipleship. It may have rigid, rule-based, unimaginative connotations. Join us for worship and the Involvement Fair at Jubilee Sunday this week as we open up the parameters of discipleship.
Consider this story from our Jewish sisters and brothers. How does it open the concept of discipleship?
The Rebbe’s Melody
(adapted by Jane Anne from Yiddish Folktales, ed. Beatrice Silverman Weinrich, trans. Leonard Wolf)
Tradition had it that whenever the rabbi sat down to his studies he would sing:
“All the angels, all the seraphim
Ask who God may be.
Ah woe, what can we reply?
‘No thought can be attached to Him.’
All the people – every nation –
Ask where God may be.
Ah, woe, what can we reply?
‘No place is without Him.’”
One day as the Reb Zalman was teaching the Torah he noticed a new student in the midst of all his disciples. The man was older. He face was fierce with a frown of concentration. Yet it was full of grief in not understanding.
After the lesson the Reb sent for the new student. The man came to his study and the rabbi asked what he had understood that day. With that the man broke down into tears. “Nothing!” he cried. He explained that he came from a poor family that did not have the money for synagogue school when he was a child. And his father had died when he was young leaving him as the eldest child to help his mother provide for the family. So he worked hard all his life. He married and had a family and provided well for them so he did not have time for Torah study.
The man said, “All I can do is recite the Psalms and even though I do so daily, I do not understand them well. Now my children are grown and on their own. I have time to study the Torah, but I fear it is too late. Most scholars laugh at my misunderstandings but I heard that you turn no one away from your table of study. So I came to you. Please, help me. Is it too late to learn Torah?” And once again the man began to cry.
Reb Zalmon looked at him kindly and placing a hand on his shoulder he said ”No tears today for today is the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of joy in God’s presence. You have made a wise and humble choice my friend to study Torah. Today I was explaining the great Rabbi Baal Shem Tov’s understanding of Hasidism. If you did not understand listen to this melody for all his wisdom and the wisdom of God are hidden in it.”
The rabbi began to sing to the man, a sweet, sweet melody. The man listened with rapt and perfect attention. He found his soul caught up in the sound. After a time a light began to dawn in the man’s face and suddenly he smiled and then he laughed through tears. When the rabbi finished singing, he cried out, “I understand, I understand! Oh, Rabbi, thank you. Now I feel worthy to be your student and to study Torah in God’s presence.”
So it became a custom for Reb Schneur Zalman to always finish his lessons with the singing of that simple, profound and sweet melody. Just in case there was someone at the table who had not fully understood the teaching that day. And the melody became known as the Rebbe’s Melody.
Blessings on your journey into our new Plymouth worship and program year,
*Thorny Theological Themes schedule:
DISCIPLESHIP - The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
GRACE - The Rev. Hal Chorpenning
SURRENDER & EMPTYING - The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
LIVING IN EXILE - The Rev. Dr. David Petersen
SALVATION - The Rev. Jake Joseph
ECCLESIOLOGY: BEING THE CHURCH - The Rev. Hal Chorpenning
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate, Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Learn more about Jane Ann here.