E-Letter #157

Posted by on Feb 27, 2014 in Devotions | 0 comments

In rummaging through a desk drawer, I came across an old file containing a yellowed copy of my senior sermon. I wrote it 25 years ago, and under the bright red A+ my professor, mentor, and dear friend scribbled this note, “You do not yet know what you do not know, and that is a blessing!” I hardly understood his cryptic words, but the grade…oh yes! The sermon was on the story of Jesus’ transfiguration as told by the evangelist Mark, 9:2-29.  In it, I tell the story of the overly-confident student who approaches a renowned teacher asking to study under him.  The teacher hands the headstrong student a dead fish, a haemulon, and tells him to study it.  Day after day the student comes back to his teacher and tells him what he’s observed about his specimen, and every time the teacher sends him back to the lab with the cryptic instruction, “Tell me what you know and how you know it.”  Over time, the student, frustrated and confused, scrapes and prods and probes and dissects his specimen until it is no longer recognizable.  One day he carries the pieces of his specimen to his teacher, angrily drops them on his desk, wipes his hands Pilate-fashion, and informs his teacher that he will no longer continue as his student.  The teacher, unmoved by this “resignation”, sends the student back to the lab with the by-now familiar instruction, “Tell me what you know and how you know it.”  Days later, the sleep-deprived student emerges from the lab cradling the pieces of his specimen, approaches his teacher and says, “This is a haemulon.”  The teacher asks, “How do you know?”  Head bowed, the bleary-eyed student confesses, “I listened to it.”

A quarter of a century later, and I, like the disciples Peter, James, and John, am still dazzled by the Matthew’s story of the transfigured Jesus whose face is transformed and whose clothes blaze Clorox-white. Something in me wants to understand what I’ve imagined happening right before my eyes on that cloud-covered mountain! I want to “build a dwelling” for this miracle story and eyeball it in the laboratory of my mind where I can scrape and prod and probe and dissect this “specimen” of  pre-resurrection memory in hopes of understanding it. I do not yet know what I do not know, the Divine Storyteller reveals to me as he sends me back with the by-now familiar instruction, “Listen to him, my Beloved Son!”

There is an old Hasidic tale the disciples of Rebbe Levi-Yitzhak shared. Apparently the renowned rabbi was sought by many for his wisdom. “How does he know what he knows?” his devoted students wondered. After years of studying Torah with him, scraping, prodding, probing, and dissecting his intellect, they knew that their beloved teacher loved King Solomon, the wisest of all the kings of Israel. “But why?” a precocious student dared ask. “Was it because, according to the Midrash, King Solomon had mastered all the known languages of the world?” “No,” the humble rabbi replied.  “Then why,” the student persisted, “why do you love King Solomon?” His head bowed, the rabbi whispered, “Because he heard the God who told him to listen to the words of madmen.”

I remember the wise words penned across the top of an old sermon, You do not yet know what you do not know…and that is a blessing! And so I start my morning, head bowed, listening to the voice of the Divine Storyteller who loves the Son who walks down the cloud-covered mountain to a people-crowded valley where the only voice he hears is a desperate father, crying out like a madman, “I believe!  Help my unbelief!” (Mk.9:24)