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					                            CANDIDATING SERMON
                   “When The Lord Stands Before Us”
                            CHURCH OF THE COVENANT

                             Rev. Dr. Terry H. Johnson

                                  January 3, 2010



Prayer of Illumination:

Dear God, Father in Heaven, in the Name of your only Son, so uniquely and
humbly born, “… wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger, no place for
him in the inn,” in His Name we pray for the power to hear your Holy Word, to
know that “You stand before us all, and that your glory shines all around us,” so
that we may “see you and know you.” Amen.

Introduction to the Text:

In Luke’s Gospel (2.8-14), we find Dr. Luke’s unique and dominant theme of God’s
“all-inclusive love.” In this instance, it seems strangely random that the Lord visits
these regular “Joe the Plumbers” in the middle of their busy night’s work. We
might imagine them as tough guys, but an “angel of the Lord” (Gabriel) scares the
bejillions out of them!

Yeah, it was dark that night in the fields where these unknown shepherds “lived”
24/7 taking care of all those sheep, when suddenly and unannounced, as the text
says, “God stands right in front of them, and the glory of the Lord shone all
around them.” So, it must have been pretty bright that night “out in the fields”
around Bethlehem.

Listen for God’s Holy Word from Luke chapter two, beginning with the 8th verse:




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2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world
should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while
Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be
registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea,
to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the
house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he
was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the
time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn
son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because
there was no place for them in the inn.



8
 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping
watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood
before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they
were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for
see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
11
  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the
Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child
wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly
there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising
God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth
peace among those whom he favors!”



15
   When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said
to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has
taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with
haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When
they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
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   and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But
Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The
shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and
seen, as it had been told them.




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Sermon:

I was seventeen-years-old in 1971 (No need to get your calculator’s out and do
the math!). I was in Mrs. Perrow’s Eleventh Grade English Class at Terry Sanford
High School, Fayetteville, North Carolina - my birthplace and hometown for 23
years. It was that scary time of the academic year, that is, when the annual book
report was due. And, I didn’t of course mind reading J.D. Salinger’s CATCHER IN
THE RYE; I even thought it was sort of interesting, but to stand in front of all my
peers – including life-long friends (Robin Kelly, Norwood Smith, and Grant Carter)
- and speak, give a ten minute formal book report, I was TERRIFIED! “Terry, it’s
your turn,” said Mrs. Perrow, and I thought Mrs. Perrow was just a dandy teacher,
regardless.

Well, I grabbed my papers and my book; I walked up in front of the class to the
podium; I looked at all of them - again thinking I couldn’t do this or get through it,
but I began to speak. I was looking about my notes, sort of reading everything,
doing O.K. with the whole thing, when suddenly, I just froze. I tried to find my
composure, but I just couldn’t manage. I remember looking at everyone, nearly in
tears, and then I told my teacher, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Perrow, but I cannot speak
anymore.” I put my head down, and just went back to my seat silently, and I sat
there is a daze the rest of the hour. Needless to say, I never did another book-
report or public-speaking engagement the rest of my high school career; I was
never going to embarrass and humiliate myself like that ever again! I made sure
my senior year to get in the “decelerated” English class!

Well, what is the number one fear of the vast segment of the human population?
That’s correct - “public speaking.” And, guess what number two is? Right again,
“the fear of death.” Now, does that sound right? It is strange, but true, and the
rest of my high school tenure, I would rather have been “dead” than do another
book report!

That same fear of public-speaking persisted for many years throughout my young
adult life. I regret it to this day, but when my younger brother got married in
1981 – even while in seminary at Princeton - no less, I refused to be a part of that
momentous occasion. My sister-in-law was a member of a very large Baptist
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Church in Charlotte, N.C., and I knew it would be packed with her friends and
family and my own; no way I would stand in either the Lectern or the Pulpit! I
told him, “Tim, I love you and Marty, but I just can’t take that risk, of
embarrassing you and everyone else. I’ll be happy to be one of your ushers and
give The Blessing at the Reception.”

I remember my hometown Pastor, Dr. Robert Allen, calling me up one Thursday
afternoon, saying he was sick and needed me to step in for him to preach; I
politely declined for fear of embarrassing myself in front of all my hometown
friends and family. In Retrospect, I know I should have done this for him for a
number of good reasons.

But, the “Lord continued to stand before me, and the glory of the Lord continued
to shine around me” in many ways …

Several of my hometown pastors, including Rev. John Mauney and Dr. Robert
Allen, continued to trust and have faith in me during those years; they were very
wise, putting me to work in all sorts of public positions, “taking baby steps, you
might say” - reading scripture, saying written prayers, singing in the choir, chairing
the Worship & Planning Committee, the Building and Property Committee, even
chairing the Church Men’s Group. I was “forced” face my fears head-on. They
wrote letters to me in college and seminary; they sent “love offerings” of
encouragement, and it began to take effect; I gradually overcame some of my
irrational fears.

But, there was this one “mentor” that “put me over the top.” He used to corner
me in the hallway of famous 4th Alexander Hall at Princeton. (Alexander Hall was
the original building at the seminary, built in 1812, containing all dorm rooms and
classrooms together; it was also once the dorm space of Albert Einstein himself!)

Well, this sagacious person, over and again, would say to me: “Terry, you’ve been
CALLED TO PREACH; you have been CALLED TO PREACH”! Yes, many times this
happened, to the point where I actually began to believe it, to actually “see” and
“visualize” myself becoming a pastor and preacher of a church. To this day, I still
remember those defining moments, sensing the Lord “standing right in front of

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me, and his glory shining all around me,” compelling me to “SEE WHAT JESUS
COULD DO.” It wasn’t that I was unwilling; I just didn’t think I was able. But,
here we are today!

 And, “the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree,” as they say. Mrs. Broberg said
to me yesterday at the last Reception Time, “Terry, now you just go up there and
relax and preach.” I said to her lovingly and respectfully, “Mrs. Broberg, that
sounds like a misnomer – a veritable contradiction in terms.” We both laughed!

Though I am always a touch pensive about public speaking and engagement, I
always trust God to “surround me with his presence,” and I hear his voice always
saying, “Do not be afraid …” As I walked into this chancel this morning, I was
praying for God to “surround me with his presence”!

Imagine how those lowly shepherds must have felt …

It’s night time; they are literally “LIVING IN THE FIELDS 24/7 WATCHING THEIR
FLOCKS,” taking care of business, protecting all those sheep for use at the
Jerusalem Temple. They were just regular “Joe the Plumbers,” when out of
nowhere, BAMB! In all that pitch darkness, “THE LORD STANDS RIGHT BEFORE
THEM … AND THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHONE AROUND THEM …” (2.9) They
knew it was going to be a life-changing event, and perhaps this explains their
“terror.” They definitely knew it was a CALL FROM GOD!

How could this be? Well, if we look at the text …

The Angel Gabriel tells them “not to be afraid.” Why? How could the angel say
such a thing? The text goes on, stating: “For see, I am bringing you good news of
great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY FOR EVERYONE, including them, had already been
born in Bethlehem, THE MESSIAH, THE LORD, and THEIR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS
CHRIST! And, if that wasn’t enough, “BAMB” … “Suddenly,” the text says in verse
2.13, “There was with Gabriel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God


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and saying, “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST HEAVEN, AND ON EARTH PEACE
AMONG THOSE WHOM HE FAVORS.”

They knew they had been CALLED! They also knew it was serious business, but
MOREOVER … THEIR MESSIAH WAS BORN, AND ALL OF HEAVEN WAS ON THEIR
SIDE PULLING FOR THEM, ENCOURAGING THEM!

Just like yesterday, when I didn’t really know what to expect at the three
“Receptions.” Yes, the Johnson family has been living for some time now in
between, anticipating a completely new home, schools, work, and play. Church of
the Covenant has been doing the same for many months now, living in that time
in between choosing and considering a new Associate Pastor. We live so much of
our lives in between, just like those Shepherds “living in the fields,” and
“terrified” about a BIG change in their lives!

Over the years, I’ve interviewed at many churches, sat with a myriad of PNC’s,
been to reception after reception, but – I must say – NEVER HAVE I SEEN
ANYTHING LIKE I WITNESSED YESTERDAY from ALL AGES OF THE MEMBERSHIP OF
CHURCH OF THE COVENANT! It was so encouraging and helpful to me, and my
two beautiful children, Hans and Leslie Anna, right there with me, experiencing all
that love and support. It was truly amazing!

The Lord stood before those shepherds …

His presence surrounded them …

The Lord spoke words of encouragement to them all, until they were able –
despite their very real fears – to respond to the “call” and say …

“LET US GO NOW TO BETHLEHEM AND SEE THIS THING THAT HAS TAKEN PLACE,
WHICH THE LORD HAS MADE KNOWN TO US, AND THEY TOLD THEIR STORY TO
EVERYONE’S AMAZEMENT!”

And, so the story continues today for every one of us here! The Lord stands
before you; his presence – at the very same time – surrounds you, and the Word
of the Lord says, “Do not be afraid. No matter what your circumstances are,
there is nothing to fear... Our Lord and Savior lives!”

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And, we are all today invited to join the Heavenly Hosts, “as the priesthood of all
believers,” (I Peter 2.9), HE CALLS US ALL TODAY, and our response or praise …

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he
favors!”

LET US GO NOW … LET US ALL GO AND SEE WHAT IS GOING TO TAKE PLACE IN
WASHINGTON, PENNSYLVANIA’S CHURCH OF THE COVENANT! Amen.




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