Music legend Marshall Grant, an original member of Johnny Cash's backing band The Tennessee Three, died last weekend. I had the honor of meeting him about three years ago at the Johnny Cash Flower-Pickin' Festival in Starkville. After a lengthy time of touring with Cash and acting as his road manager, Grant went on to manage the career of another Cash-act, the Statler Brothers. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s the Statler Brothers were one of the best-selling groups in country music.

While Grant was managing them, they wrote and sang a song titled, “Would You Recognize Jesus?”

    Would you recognize Jesus if you met him face to face; or would you wonder if He's just someone you couldn't place? You may not find Him coming in a chariot of the Lord Jesus could be riding in a '49 Ford.

~ ~ ~

The 2005 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly was just weird.

Rather than being – like most conventions – centered downtown in a major city with hotels clustered around a convention center, this particular one was at a new self-contained convention center/resort complex outside of Dallas in Grapevine, TX. The Gaylord Texan is the name of this luxurious world unto itself.

Here were thousands of Cooperative Baptists, largely white middle-class folks, going to conferences and attending sessions challenging us to address poverty issues and racial issues and justice issues from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, and in our individual and collective actions.

Visually, the contrast was overwhelming: white folks wanting to serve God and follow Christ and deal with poverty and racism, being served and spoiled and pampered by hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Hispanic workers.

Hispanics – some speaking very little English – making our beds. Carrying our luggage. Waiting our tables. Cleaning our bathrooms. Picking up our trash. Bringing us our extravagantly overpriced “luxurious” foods and drinks.

I attended the final morning's Leadership Scholar breakfast for seminary students. Again, the overwhelming majority of us white and being waited on by an almost 100% Hispanic workforce.

Hispanic waiters and waitresses were constantly coming to our tables offering coffee, orange juice, more water, or more coffee, or to take our plates.

Fellow students from numerous CBF-affiliated seminaries and I were talking at the table – trying to envision ourselves peace-makers and justice-seekers in the midst of such luxury – when a waiter leaned over my shoulder and offered to pour me some coffee.

I looked up to say “no thanks” and to apologize for our spoiled arrogance; it actually crossed my mind to get up, let him sit in my seat, and I'll pour him coffee and go get him some breakfast …

But when I looked up, I could not speak. I heard in the most clearly audible voice – though he was saying nothing – “I came not to be served but to serve. I'd like to pour you some coffee.”

I said nothing as I held out my fine coffee cup. At my eye level was the waiter's name tag pinned to his chest.

J – E – S – U – S .

And I heard the voice again: “I came not to be served but to serve. Just shut up and just let me serve you today, Bert.”

Jesus was right in front of me and I didn't recognize him. If not for the name tag …

I was too caught up in my own agenda – in Christ's name of course – to have ever noticed. I was meeting him face-to-face and I didn't recognize Jesus.

One of the biblical stories that really fascinates me is the one where some guys are walking along the road to Emmaus after the resurrection; these were guys who knew Jesus personally. And there is Jesus walking with them and talking with them, but they don't even recognize him. He's a total stranger to them.

Until … until they invite this stranger into their house. Until … until they invite the stranger to sit at their table and share a meal. Until … the stranger takes over and breaks the bread and gives thanks. The stranger being welcomed and being served becomes the one to take what is present and serve those who are present with him.

THEN their eyes are opened, and THEN they know Jesus is with them …

~ ~ ~

Thanks to Robbie Ward and the Flower-Pickin' Festival, I shook the hand of Marshall Grant; the hand that managed Johnny Cash and the hand that managed the Statler Brothers, whose song is one of the most simplistically profound expressions of the Gospel:

    Would you recognize Jesus if you met him face to face or would you wonder if He's just someone you couldn't place? You may not find Him coming in a chariot of the Lord Jesus could be riding in a '49 Ford.

~ ~ ~

Learn more about Bert at his website.

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