Being Present Luke 1: Presbyterian pastor Mark Labberton tells the story of one his members

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1 1 Being Present Luke 1:39-55 Presbyterian pastor Mark Labberton tells the story of one his members named Doris. 1 A very active woman with silver-blond hair, Doris was in her eighties. Every Friday morning at 11:00 a.m. she would drop a basket of muffins off at church. One Friday morning as Doris reached into her car to fetch the basket of muffins she was struck from behind and forced back into her car. The invader, a young man, jumped into the driver s seat and sped off with Doris. Later that day Doris pastor Mark Labberton went to her apartment to see how she was doing and to offer his care and support to Doris. Besides being a little shaken, Doris seemed to be almost matter-of-fact about what had happened. After he took off with the car, the first thing I did, of course, was to ask him his name, explained Doris. 2 Pastor Labberton seemed a bit mystified. You were being mugged and kidnapped and you started by asking the guy his name? Yes, said Doris. 1 Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor: Seeing Others Through the Eyes of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL, 2010). The story of Doris is found in the book s introduction. 2 Ibid. p. 13.

2 2 The guy said his name was Jessie. So then Doris said: Jessie, what are doing? Jessie explained that he was kidnapping her so they could go to her ATM machine and withdraw money from her account. Doris came right back at Jessie, Why are you doing this? He said he needed money for drugs. So Doris again weighed in. Well Jessie, it s a terrible thing to be a drug addict. You really shouldn t be a drug addict. It s not the way you should be living your life. At this point in the conversation pastor Labberton began feeling even more anxious about what he was hearing. When they arrived at the first ATM Jessie threatened Doris in order to get her ATM password. Jessie got to the machine, got the cash and then took off for another ATM location. While driving to the next ATM Doris told Jessie that he really needed help. This drug problem was something bigger than Jessie could handle on his own. He needed God s help, a God who loved him and could understand what he was going through, she said. After Jessie had succeeded in withdrawing money at the second ATM Doris added that she thought he could use an effective drug rehab program.

3 3 Jessie said that he had tried that and it didn t work. Doris countered with suggesting that he needed a better program after learning about Jessie s previous experience. By the third bank branch, Jessie had hit the withdraw limit on Doris s account. No longer of any use to Doris, Jessie pulled the car over and said he was going to leave her out there. But Doris wasn t done offering her take on things. Jessie, I am going to pray that you will get caught for this, because it s wrong and you shouldn t get away with doing this to people. I m also going to pray that you will get caught so I can not only testify you did it, but so I can plead with the judge to get you into a really good drug rehab program. You need to get caught, so you can be stopped and helped. You need God to give you the strength to get off drugs and have a better life. Upon hearing this pastor Mark Labberton wasn t so sure that he would have had the courage or composure to offer such words to his kidnapper. Doris was so battered and stiff she couldn t get out of the car. It was then that something of tiny miracle unfolded.

4 4 Instead of leaving Doris off at the curb, Jessie came around to the other side of the car took Doris arm and helped her out. He then escorted her to the driver s side of her car, helped her get behind the wheel, and then helping her with her seatbelt gave her a kiss on the cheek. At that point Doris pastor said something like most pastors would say, something like, I am so sorry this horrible thing happened to you. Then in what was a stunning reply Doris said, It s true, it is horrible, but the really horrible thing is Jessie is addicted to drugs. 3 Her pastor, still trying to bring comfort continued, But it s awful that you should get attacked and kidnapped like this Doris was quick with a response: Well yes, but really, why not me? This sort of thing happens every day to thousands of people. When pastor Labberton invited Doris to pray, she reminded him that Jessie needed their prayers as well. As you might suspect, Doris ended up at the police station a couple of months later identifying Jessie. 3 Ibid. p.15.

5 5 During the court proceedings that followed his arrest Doris greeted Jessie, Remember me, Doris? I said I was going to pray for this moment and I told you why. Here we are! During the court proceedings Doris let the judge know that Jessie was the perpetrator and then added, Judge, Jessie really needs a good drug rehab program so he can get his life back. I know he s guilty. But he also really needs help, please, Judge. 4 One of the questions that we sometimes ask is: Why did God choose Mary to become the mother of Jesus? Why Mary? What was it about Mary that made her special? After all, Mary described herself as a person of humble station in life, seemingly unworthy of such an honor. She wasn t on anybody s list of who s who, wasn t famous; wasn t craving for attention. Why Mary? I think God chose Mary because she had a lot of same attributes as did Doris. What both Mary and Doris have in common is the profound sense of God s presence. And with the acknowledgment of this presence comes a deep understanding of love. 4 Ibid. p. 15.

6 6 Take Doris for example. She was initially shocked and disoriented by the invasion of an unwanted visitor, but there was something about Doris sense of God being with her that allowed her to be fully present to her captor, to the point of moving beyond fear to seeking his welfare. Likewise, Mary was also shaken and a bit disoriented when an angel named Gabriel invaded her life an announced that she would be bearing the child Jesus, the son of God. And yet with both women there was an acceptance of the invasions that had entered their lives. For Doris, the invasion was potentially dangerous; for Mary, the invasion downright scandalous. For the gospel writer Luke, Mary is the model disciple; and in some sense, as some have argued, the first disciple. Her presence and attention to what was going on in her and around her makes her just the kind of person God wants and needs. So when we ask, Why Mary? Our response can be one of why not Mary! Doris had a similar kind of response when her pastor tried to suggest how awful that someone would dare to kidnap her.

7 7 Why not me! exclaimed Doris, as if to say she was just as viable as anyone else to help a drug addict in his moment of fret and frenzy. This morning s scripture focuses on Mary s declaration of God s intentions. She knows why she is carrying this child. Her sheer sense of joy comes because she knows God wants to fill the hungry with good things, fill people like Jessie; whose misplaced hunger for drugs will not give him the life he s capable of having or even knowing. God wants to bring down a peg those of us whose hearts have decided, for example, that people like Jessie are hopeless drains on our society. Far too often we give up on people us who need our help far too quickly. At times we miss the opportunity to fully exercise our love for others; maybe because we ve made up our minds that things won t really change. Mary s announcement is that there is one who is coming who will help us love others the way God loves us. It was the kind of announcement that God was making through Mary that created the kind of disciple Doris had become. As her pastor Mark Labberton came to realize, Everything in Doris believed her God was God for Jessie too.

8 8 The same love God extended to her was also for him. God s heart seeks the welfare of his enemies, so hers did too. 5 That s what makes Mary s proclamation so radical and what makes Doris s faithfulness so compelling. The coming of Christ is for everyone, for those who are called, like Doris to embrace God s presence in love, as well as for Jessie, who may not realize it, but is as loved and cherished as any other person on earth. That is the Good News Mary is proclaiming. It is definitely Good News for us! Amen. Dale Davis December 23, Ibid. p. 16.

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