Have you ever been around people that just their presence was enough to calm you down, put you at ease? For many of that sort of presence is family, those people who you have spent the most time with and have the greatest connection to. But sometimes there are others, people who know and trust and feel an affinity for in the same way we feel about family members. Their presence can be as much of a force in your life as that of your family or for some, maybe more.
I have been blessed to have through the years family and friends who have been supportive and present even when I didn’t always appreciate or recognize it. When I think of my journey to become a minister, outside of my family, two men have had the greatest affect by their presence on my ministry; one when I began the process and the other, when I was ordained into the order of clergy of the UMC.
The first of these presences was Kevin Lobello, an ordained elder who was serving at Griffin UMC while my daughter was at their preschool. At the time I was trying to understand what church I fit in based on what I believed, and it wasn’t the church I was in at that moment. I went to the chapel to pray after dropping Ava off for school and when I came out and started to walk down the hall he stepped out of his office. We talked for a while and when I left his office, I had a copy of Christian As Minister in one hand and a marked edition of The Book of Discipline. I kid about being one of the few Methodists who came to the church because I read The Book of Discipline but it’s true. From then on Kevin and the rest of the Griffin UMC staff helped me assimilate to my new found understanding of faith until the day I moved to serve another parish. Even after that, Kevin has been a sounding board and safe place for advice and wisdom.
On the other end of the journey, I was blessed by the presence of Olon Lindemood. Olon was my mentor during the provisional part of my process and is without a doubt one of the gentlest souls you will ever find. Even during the most stressful times of the process – and believe me there was no shortage – Olon was a calm voice in the chaos of the moment. When I stood before the annual conference to have my stole of office placed on my shoulders, it was Olon who prayed with the bishop over me and stood there beside me as I stepped into the office of elder.
The presence of these two men looms large over my ministry even today. When I think of a calming, gentle, wise, human presence, I think of these two men and the influence they have had on me and I am grateful.
I believe we all have those people in our lives who are people of presence for us. Think about it for a moment and I am sure you can come up with someone who just by walking in the room can change your mood, your demeanor. For you this is person is safe, hopeful, comfortable and because of this you feel at ease with them. Presence, a strong presence, can change or shift the direction of our lives and it only takes a moment for that presence to bring things back into clarity.
As I was reading the text for this morning the other day, an idea jumped out at me. The writer of Luke’s gospel says,
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?”
When I read this, I began to think about Elizabeth’s response to Mary’s voice and how the excitement of Mary being with her cousin opened Elizabeth to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that when the two women got together, Elizabeth was responding not only to the happy occasion but to two other things in the moment: the mother of the Messiah, the one anointed to rescue His people, and the Messiah being in her presence. She testifies to these things as she says, Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? Notice the two things that are called blessed by Elizabeth, Mary and the child she carries. Elizabeth responds with joy and excitement as did the child that Elizabeth carried, Jesus’ cousin John.
Imagine that moment. Imagine being in a country that has been the home of your ancestors for two thousand years and knowing that your homeland really isn’t your homeland, it belongs to someone else. Imagine that country, Rome in this case, treating your people with an attitude that ranges from brutality to indifference. Think about being able to remember the uprisings through the years by false messiahs and riots and killing. How many family members of Elizabeth and Mary died following others into riots and skirmishes with the Romans? One writer wrote about the year that Jesus was born and says,
According to our best knowledge, Jesus Christ was born around 4 BCE. This year was an unforgettable and challenging year for the Jews. When Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, Jews rebelled all over the land. The Syrian legions under the direction of Rome crashed the Jewish rebellions and burned the city of Sepphoris in Galilee and reduced its inhabitants to slavery. Jesus grew up in Nazareth about 4 miles from Sepphoris. Those who could not hide from the Syrian legions “were killed, raped, and enslaved. Those who survived have lost everything.” Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth must witness this horrific act.
Now imagine hope. Imagine that inside the womb of your cousin, the cousin standing right in front of you, is one that the Holy Spirit of God has called into being to bring that hope to your people, your family. It’s no wonder that Elizabeth cries out loud, no wonder that the child in her own womb leaps, no wonder that their meeting feels more like a celebration than a simple visit from family. For Elizabeth, this was a great moment, not only for her but for the future of Israel.
So, what was it for you? What was that first moment of encounter with Jesus like for you? What did you experience? Most of us can think back to a moment when we realized for the first time that we were in the presence of Jesus and we reacted with any number of emotions. In that moment of meeting, most of us began our faith journey by reorienting ourselves to the Way of Jesus, something theologians like to call justification.
For many of us that was a great moment, a literal turning point in our lives, leading us to become someone different than perhaps we set out to be. But what about now? What about today, here, now? I’m not talking about how you feel, feeling come and go. I mean what is the commitment that you’ve made to be a person living a changed life that leads others to change? Is it the same as it was in that moment you began? Is it greater than it was? Have you grown?
The presence of Jesus in our lives should change us, should cause us to move in the direction of following the ways and practices and beliefs of Jesus in imitation of him. That presence should be the defining presence that shapes and sculpts ever aspect of who we are, how we think, how we live. But does it?
In First Peter, the author writes,
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
And then later,
…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In both cases, the encouragement of the writer to his audience is that those of us that have begun the journey of following Jesus need to grow – literally, grow up, mature – into our faith. This is the challenge and the reward of being in the presence of Jesus.
 Luke 1:41-43
 1 Peter 2:1-3
 2 Peter 3:18