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We Know Who You Are
a sermon based on John 6:35, 41-51
an anonymous DPSer

Have you ever noticed that it is very difficult to escape your reputation? Once people have an image of you in their minds, it is very difficult to change their perception.

Jesus encountered this attitude among those who thought they knew Him. He lived in a small town, in a small country. The little village of Nazareth where He grew up was tiny. In the time of Jesus, the village of Nazareth took up no more space than a football field. Everybody knew everybody in Nazareth. People knew Jesus' mother and father. They would have even known Him as He worked at His trade in His father's carpenter shop. Perhaps He had built a piece of furniture for them or replaced a handle on one of their favorite tools or made a yoke for their oxen. After all, He did not begin His ministry until He was about thirty years old. For most of His adult life He labored in as a carpenter or builder.

You can imagine how these people responded when suddenly Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the One prophesied by the prophets. We read in today's lesson that His fellow countrymen began to grumble about Jesus because He said that He was the bread that came down from heaven. They said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose mother and father we know?"

We can appreciate their disbelief for we have done the same thing to people. We put them in a box. We assign them to a category. We know where they came from, we know who their parents are, we know where they went to school, we can tell by their accent or by their appearance about their background and we make certain assumptions. And because we make those assumptions, we treat them in a certain way. Maybe, if we are a teacher, we subtly overlook them in class. If we are a police officer, perhaps we are a little more aggressive when we pull them over to the curb. If we are the president of the company, perhaps it slants the way we regard them when it comes time for a raise or a promotion.

Oh, none of this is intentional of course. We may not even be conscious of it. It simply saves our brains the time and energy of sorting out people individually. So, we sort them out by category. That is what the folks in today's text were doing: "We know who you are. You are Mary and Joseph's son. You're from Nazareth. That's farming country, isn't it? People are a little slow there. Well, maybe we can find a job for you that's not too taxing mentally." Do you think such things do not happen? Then you are naive. That is the way the human brain seems to operate.

Robert Schuller once asked one of his colleagues, "What's one of the most vivid memories you have of going to school as a child?" Here's what his colleague told him:

"In the third grade, we were asked to stand up in front of the class and say what we wanted to be when we grew up. Now, I went to a fairly strict school, and every time you were asked to stand before the class, it was a pretty serious matter. I remember very distinctly one girl who stood up and said, 'I'm going to be a movie star.' As I remember, there wasn't anything special about this girl. She wasn't very pretty. Her grades were average, some of them were even below average. She didn't come from a wealthy family. In fact, the only thing I really remember about her was the class laughing at her. The whole class laughed at her. And I remember she just stood there smiling, as if she knew something the rest of us didn't. I don't remember ever seeing that girl again in school. Now I see her all the time. She's one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Every time I sit in the movie theater and watch her up there on the silver screen, I think, 'She was always so proud of who she was. She had a dream she always held onto.' Back then," he concluded, "they laughed at her. Now they pay to see her. I'm glad I didn't laugh."

They laughed at Jesus. "Bread from heaven? We know where you came from. You're Mary and Joseph's son." Be careful when you judge anyone else's potential.

It makes no difference where we come from...or how we look or talk...or who our parents are. We are all children of God. We all have more potential than we can ever exhaust. And there is One who can help us so orient our lives that we can overcome every obstacle. Christ is bread for the world. When we feed on Him we find we are able to accomplish more than we ever dreamed possible.

Tracey Bailey stood before the judge with his head held high, his jaw set defiantly against the sentence the judge was about to pronounce. The words of his high school wrestling coach echoed in his mind: "Don't you ever hang your head. Don't admit defeat." And Tracey wouldn't hang his head, not before his ashamed and heart-broken parents, not before his shocked community, not before this judge, and certainly not before God. No one would see his pain.

The citizens of Goshen, Indiana had been stunned to learn that Tracey Bailey - captain of the wrestling team, member of the student council, good student, from the church-going Bailey family - had been one of the teens involved in the devastating vandalism attack on the local high school. He had fallen in with an unruly group who used alcohol to fuel their frequent petty vandalisms and thefts. But one night, the boys, in a drunken frenzy, had broken into the high school and torn apart whole classrooms. Now the judge wanted to hold them up as an example to others with similar mayhem in their blood. Tracy was sentenced to a five-year term in the juvenile offenders facility. Originally conceived as a lesser form of penitentiary, this facility now held hardened criminals, even murderers and rapists. It would not be a slap on the wrist.

In prison, Tracey was determined not to bend an inch. He would be tough. He would never admit defeat, no matter how much he was hurting. But during a stint in solitary confinement, Tracey happened to catch sight of himself in a mirror, and the sight shocked him. He didn't just look hardened. Deadened was more like it. And he knew that the deadness would keep reaching down past his countenance into his very soul. All his toughness melted away, and tears began to flow as he prayed to God and admitted his defeat. There was no one else to turn to, and he couldn't rely on his own reserves anymore. Tracey doesn't know how long he prayed, but he does know that God heard him. One of his guards approached him and offered him prayer. Someone else gave him a Gideon Bible. And soon he joined the prison Bible study.

When he was released early from the center, Tracey worked for a few months to pay off his debts and make restitution to the school he had vandalized. Then he entered college, studying for an education degree in science and math. He decided that he would pay back society by becoming a good role model for other confused young people. He would become a teacher. I guess you could say he reached his goal. In April 1993, Tracey Bailey attended a special ceremony at the White House where the President awarded him the National Teacher of the Year honors.

What is your dream? Don't tell me the strikes you have against you. "I'm too short. I'm too tall. I'm female. I'm Hispanic. I didn't go to a very good school. My parents didn't have the money to give me all the advantages." Don't tell me about the obstacles you have to overcome

Our God is able to overcome any obstacles. Don't tell me where you came from. All that matters is where you are going - and Who is going with you. If the Man from the tiny town of Nazareth is with you - the Man who spent most of His adult life as a carpenter - the Man who was laughed at because they knew His father and mother - the Man who now reigns with the Father in glory - if that Man is going with you then hold on for a great adventure. But on the way, make certain that you do not make the same mistake that others make - of judging people on the basis of outward characteristics that have nothing to do with what's in their heart. Amen.