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Seeing The Lord

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TITLE:  Seeing the Lord -- Receiving the Blessing! SCRIPTURE:  Mark 6:1-13

Herb Caen, a popular San Francisco journalist, told of a group of carolers who stopped to sing in front of a house in Hillsborough, California -- a posh San Francisco suburb. 

Hearing the music outside her door, the woman of the house opened the front door, a worried look on her face.  Instead of relaxing and listening to the music, she said, "Look!  I'm just too busy.  The plumbing's on the blink -- I can't get anyone to fix it -- and there's a mob coming for dinner.  If you really feel like singing carols, come back about nine o'clock.  Okay!"

To which Bing Crosby said, "Yes ma'am" -- as he ushered his little band of carolers on down the street.

You have to be of a certain age to fully appreciate that story.  Bing Crosby was the most popular singer of his era.  Millions of people bought his records -- enjoyed his movies -- listened to him on the radio -- watched him on television.  He was the kind of person that you hoped to glimpse when you visited Hollywood -- the kind of person whose autograph you would covet.  For many people, seeing Bing Crosby in the flesh would have been the highlight of the year -- maybe the highlight of their lives. 

But the Hillsborough woman was so caught up in her problems that she failed to recognize him. She sent him away because she had more important things on her mind -- plumbing problems and Christmas dinner.  The irony was that, had she recognized Bing Crosby, he would have been the highlight of her day.  She would have spent the evening telling people about Bing Crosby singing Christmas carols at her front door. 

That story reminded me of the many times that I have missed something important because it didn't seem important at the time.  Maybe I missed seeing Bing Crosby too -- or someone equally important -- just because I didn't recognize him.  I'll never know. 

But I know that I have missed important occasions in my family's life, because I was too busy with work -- or hobbies -- or personal problems.  I know that there have been times when a kind gesture on my part would have been transformational for my wife.  I know that there have been times when a kind word would have been transformational for my son.  But I have sometimes passed by on the other side -- busy with other things -- preoccupied -- unable to see the need closest to me.  Has that ever happened to you?

When I read the Bing Crosby story, I thought, "Who was the loser in that story?"  Was it Bing Crosby?  Do you think that he went away saying, "I really shouldn't have bothered this nice lady on Christmas Day?"  I doubt it.  The real loser in that story was the woman who didn't have time to listen for a couple of minutes to the sounds of Christmas -- sung by the most popular singing artist of his day.  If she had taken a minute to look more closely, she would have had a story to grace every Christmas for the rest of her life.  But she didn't see Bing Crosby.  She saw only a distraction.  And that was her loss.

It was like that in Nazareth two thousand years ago.  Jesus had been doing marvelous things elsewhere -- stilling a storm (4:35-41) -- healing a man possessed by demons (5:1-20) -- healing a woman with a hemorrhage and a restoring a little girl to life (5:21-43).  Crowds flocked to him, and Mark tells us that the people "were overcome with amazement" at the wonderful things he was doing (5:42). 

But then he came to Nazareth, where he began to teach in the synagogue.  Nazareth, as you will remember, was his hometown -- the place where he grew up.  He was born in Bethlehem, but raised in Nazareth.  As a man, he moved to Capernaum (Matthew 4:13) -- so there is no telling how long it had been since he had been in Nazareth -- but now he was traveling through the area, so he stopped to teach in his hometown synagogue.

You would think that the people would have welcomed him gladly -- with a ticker tape parade -- with banners and balloons -- with Hosannas and huzzahs -- a hometown boy made good!  But they didn't.  Other people were bowled over by his teachings, because he taught "as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (1:22).  There was never anything boring about his sermons.  You never knew what he would say next.  When he spoke, it was as if he were drawing back the curtain so you could see into heaven.

When he taught in the synagogue in his hometown, the people were astounded (5:2) -- but not in a good way.  They didn't say, "This is the most wonderful teaching I ever heard."  They said, "Who is this guy!  We know him!  He is a carpenter -- the son of a carpenter!  We know his brothers and sisters!  Who does he think he is, so highfalutin?"  "And they took offense at him" (5:3).

      "And he could do no deed of power there,

      except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 

      And he was amazed at their unbelief" (5:5-6).

Keep in mind that other people recognized Jesus as a great teacher and healer.  There was no doubt in their minds about him. Jesus always had trouble with religious leaders -- the scribes and Pharisees -- but his hometown was the only place common people failed to see his greatness.  Who was the loser?  Was it Jesus?  Did Jesus need something from these people?  No!  They were the losers. 

Hearing this story made me wonder if I would recognize Jesus if he came into our midst today.  Would you recognize him?  Would we be willing to hear the radical demands that he makes of his disciples?  Would we be willing to take up our cross and follow him?  Would we be willing to love God and neighbor above all else?  Would we?  Would we?

I began this sermon with a Christmas story -- the story of Bing Crosby caroling people in the neighborhood and not being recognized.  July hardly seems like a time to be telling Christmas stories, but that one seemed to fit.

I have another Christmas story with which I would like to close -- because it fits too.  It comes from a poem by Edwin Markham -- a poem that is familiar to many of you.  The poem, "How the Great Guest Came," is the story of Conrad, the cobbler, who dreamed that the Lord was coming to visit him. 

Excited at the prospect of seeing the Lord face to face, Conrad scrubbed the walls of his shop and washed the shelves until they glistened.  He decorated his shop with holly and fir branches.  He set his table with milk and honey and bread -- the best he had to offer.  And then he sat to await the Lord's coming.

But while he was waiting, Conrad noticed a beggar walking barefoot in the rain.  It was cold outside, and Conrad could hardly bear to see a man walking barefoot in the cold rain -- so he called the man inside and found him a pair of shoes.  Then he took his seat and began waiting once again.

But his attention was distracted once again -- by an old woman this time.  He saw her walking bent over with a load of firewood on her back.  He felt sorry for her, so he invited her to come inside his warm shop to eat.  He then helped her as she resumed her journey.

      Then to his door came a little child,

      Lost and afraid in the world so wild,

      In the big, dark world. Catching it up,

      He gave it the milk in the waiting cup

      And led it home to its mother's arms,

      Out of the reach of the world's alarms.

The hours passed, and night began to fall.  Conrad began to wonder if the Lord had forgotten to come -- or perhaps he had missed the Lord when distracted by the barefoot beggar and the old woman and the little child.  It made him sad to think that the Lord might not be coming.

      Then soft in the silence a Voice he heard:

      "Lift up your heart, for I kept my word.

      Three times I came to your friendly door;

      Three times my shadow was on your floor,

      I was the beggar with bruised feet;

      I was the woman you gave to eat.

      I was the child on the homeless street!"

NOTE:  To see the poem in its entirety, go to:

http://www.newcelebrations.com/Advent_How_Great_Guest_Came.htm

And so Conrad's dream was realized, not once, but three times.  The Lord was present with him each time he helped a person in need.

The people of Nazareth recognized Jesus in their midst, but they did not recognize the Lord in their midst.  And so they took offense -- and so they missed the blessing.

Conrad the cobbler didn't recognize Jesus when he came -- but Conrad was busy helping others -- and so Conrad experienced the blessing.

The Lord is with us here -- now -- in this worship service.  Keep your heart attuned to him, and receive his blessing.

The Lord will be with you tomorrow -- in your home -- in your workplace -- in the highways and byways as you go about your business.  Who knows what form he will take?  But keep your eyes open and your heart ready to receive him -- and you will be sure to receive his blessing.

God Be With You Till We Meet Again (CH #434; ELW #536; PH #540; TNCH #81; UMH #672; VU #422; WLP #801; WR #716)

HYMN STORY: O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee

Washington Gladden was a controversial 19th century clergyman of the Congregational Church -- a preacher unafraid of a good fight.  For a period of time, he served as editor of the New York Independent newspaper, and his editorials were credited with starting the investigation that sent the notorious Boss Tweed to jail.

Gladden was especially interested in labor disputes, and got involved in a number of strikes -- not to encourage them, but to negotiate peaceful settlements.

He sparked controversy when he opposed the acceptance of a $100,000 donation to his denomination by John D. Rockefeller -- "Tainted money," he called it, because of Rockefeller's business policies.

But there has been no controversy associated with Gladden's hymn, "O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee."  This hymn simply expresses in simple language what we all feel -- a need to walk with God -- to feel God's presence -- to have God guide us -- to have God help us through the tough struggles of life.  It is a hymn, but it is also a prayer.  It asks God to give us a "winning word of love" that will make a difference in someone's life.  It asks God to give us patience -- and hope -- and peace. It then concludes by asking, "With Thee, O Master, let me live."

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