First Baptist Church Laurens
May 12, 2013
In 1986, beloved Christian author Max Lucado released his book God Came Near. The focus was on the incarnation which is to say Jesus’ coming to earth as a human being. The book quickly became popular and one chapter in particular caught lots of people’s attention. It was Chapter Six which was entitled “Twenty Five Questions for Mary”. As the title suggests, the chapter is nothing more than a list of questions that Lucado longed to ask Mary regarding what it was like to be Jesus’ earthly mother. Among the list are questions such as: “What was it like to watch him pray?”; “Did the thought ever occur to you that the God to whom you were praying was asleep under your own roof?”; “Did you ever scold him?” and, “Did he ever wake up afraid?”
In essence, what Lucado captures in the chapter is a sense of the other worldly experience that Mary lived through. On the one hand, she was a mother just like other contemporary Hebrew women of her day and on the other hand, her experience was unlike that of anyone else. To a degree, there really was no one who could really or truly relate to the life experience that she was having.
Our text for today also alludes to what life must have been like for Mary. The scene is that of the time that Mary spent in the home of her relative Elizabeth during her pregnancy. At the time, Elizabeth was also pregnant. The child Elizabeth was carrying would become John the Baptist who would be a contemporary to and follower of Jesus. Mary appears to have gone to the home of Elizabeth because it was a safe place for her to be.
It was safe on the one hand, because Elizabeth could relate to what was happening to Mary and there certainly must have existed some sense of camaraderie between the two as a result. It was a safe place on the other hand, because being at home was likely a difficult place for Mary to be at the moment. Certainly questions were being raised about the circumstances of her pregnancy and people were likely talking as they always do. In the midst of the storm of home, Elizabeth’s house likely provided a safe haven for her as a place to rest and to live anonymously for a time.
Again, these had to have been confusing days for a young mother-to-be like Mary. Sure, she must have been excited about the possibilities and the chance to play such a profound role in God’s unfolding plan. But at the same time, there really was no way to clearly explain to the world around her what was really happening and there was also no way that she herself could completely grasp how all of this was going to turn out.
In the midst of her visit to her relative, Elizabeth says something to Mary that I find to be very, very profound. It is the last statement in the text that we read just a few moments ago as our focal passage for this morning. In verse 45, Elizabeth says to Mary, “you are blessed, because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” In the Message, Eugene Peterson renders the statement this way, “Blessed Woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true.”
What I think Elizabeth was saying to Mary is that in the midst of the uncertainties, questions and uniqueness of the moment, Mary was a blessed young women. For, in the midst of it, Mary trusted that in the end all would work out for the best just as God promised it would. Said another way, Mary held firm to the belief that it the midst of all of the difficulties of her task, in the end, the positives and blessings of the experience before her would far, far outweigh the downside.
There is a significant word here for all of us who live as parents and frankly for all of us who are willing to invest ourselves in any type of significant relationship. The honest truth is that being a parent is not easy. Neither is any attempt to live in authentic, deep relationships with anyone for that matter. But, in the midst of all of the difficulties that sometimes arise, the fact remains that the blessings of such life opportunities far outweigh the heartaches or difficulties. Like Mary, we are able to receive the wondrous blessings of such relationships if we are able to approach them with such an attitude.
When I was in seminary, my Old Testament professor was a man by the names of James Crenshaw. At the time, Dr. Crenshaw was nearing retirement and he had full head and beard of white hair. One Saturday while he was working in his garden, Dr. Crenshaw got a call from one of the children’s Sunday School teachers at their church. “Jim,” she said, “I was wondering if you could come to our class tomorrow morning and pretend to be God for my students. I basically want you to make a few comments about what God does and then to answer their questions.” When Dr. Crenshaw heard that request, his immediate response as a life-long professor of and expert on the Old Testament was how could he pass up such a golden opportunity. That following Monday, Dr. Crenshaw shared with us his experience. He said that he had never had to deal with such tough and perplexing questions in his life. “Why those first and second graders were more difficult to respond to than a half an hour of questions from a room full of PhD seminary students. Half of the time, I didn’t know which way to go or what to say. It was a tough assignment to say the least!” he shared. At the same time, with a grin on his face, Dr. Crenshaw admitted that he didn’t know when he had enjoyed Sunday School more or had had a better time teaching a group.
When I think about Dr. Crenshaw’s experience, I think he put his finger squarely on the work of being a mom, a dad, a grandparent or any kind of friend for that matter. Loving others deeply, passionately and with all of our being always leads to some difficult places. But, as Mary was able to affirm from the beginning, that never takes away from God’s promise that in such places and through such relationships we discover the most blessed and meaningful aspects of life. Even in the heartache, we can lay claim as did Mary to God’s promises that in such places are where life’s real blessings are found.
In turn, I also think it was Mary’s ability to see her role as the earthly mother of Jesus as a gift that allowed her to remain committed and faithful to the relationship all the way to the end. As far as we can tell from reading the scriptures, Mary is the only historical figure in the New Testament who remained completely committed to Jesus from the very beginning of his life all the way until the very end. There could have certainly been others, but based on what we know from the gospels or the rest of the New Testament, Mary is the only one clearly spoken of who was present throughout the entire journey. Long after Joseph as Jesus’ earthly father appears to have faded from the scene, Mary was still there. Long after the disciples had moved into the shadows during the crucifixion, Mary remained present and faithful. Why was Mary able to do this? I think at least in part, it goes squarely to what we see addressed in this passage. From the very beginning, Mary saw her chance to play this role in Jesus life as an amazing, blessed gift. It was a gift of God to revel in and to enjoy and as a result, she wasn’t going to miss a minute of it.
Back in early March, my two older brothers and I took our dad to the ACC basketball tournament. Dad’s 70th birthday was back last fall and one of the things that he loves is Duke basketball. For his gift we took him to the tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina. Our working theory was that this would give us a chance to spend several days to together and to in all likelihood get to watch Duke play three days in a row. Well, if you remember anything about the ACC tournament this year, you might recall that Duke lost their very first game on Friday night. In turn, rather than seeing them play three times, we saw them play once. With two full days left to go in the tournament, our favorite team was out. When this happened, I had a number of friends who knew of our trip text or ask me later if we left and went home after Duke left. The answer was an emphatic “no”. As grown men who don’t get to spend time together with each other with Dad that often, the decision wasn’t difficult at all. Those four days together were a gift and we were going be there until the end with or without our team. We were in it for the long haul because we appreciated and valued the opportunity that the trip afforded us.
When we see the chance to parent, grandparent or befriend others as the gift that it truly is, it is easy to shift how we feel and to what level we are committed to such opportunities.
On this Mother’s Day, these are wonderful truths to embrace. As Mary learned herself, in the midst of the heartaches and occasional difficulties these are where life’s blessings are found. And, as a result of the wonder of the gift of such relationships, there is no better or richer opportunity for us to commit our entire being too for the duration of our lives. Today may we reaffirm and recommit ourselves to these special relational blessings of God. Amen.