A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on June 28, 2015 (Proper 8, Year B)
There’s a show that airs on ESPN called Pardon the Interruption and it gives me agita. It’s a roundup of the day’s sports news hosted by a couple of loud, contentious talking heads with strongly voiced opinions about…everything. I’ll often wander down to the rectory around 5:30 pm which is when it begins and Ben usually has it on — it’s one of his favorite shows. It’s kind of like the sports version of the McLaughlin Group, the long-running PBS news show that puts liberals and conservatives around a table and lets them have at it. Both shows are 30 minutes of people interrupting one another in what is basically, at least to my ears, a verbal food fight. Which is not, by the way, anything like a vestry meeting at St. John’s. In case you were wondering.
Much of ministry, like life itself, is an interruption. You can plan out your day and yet, depending on what arises, it often veers off in a completely different direction. Pardon the interruption. Those plans you had to write that newsletter article? That gets trumped when you get a phone call that someone took a fall and is being transported to South Shore Hospital. Or that time you carved out to sit in your office and go over the budget for the upcoming buildings and grounds meeting? That goes out the window when a parishioner comes in with news that her father just died.
You can either rue the disruption of your regular routine or you can view it as an opportunity to serve others. And you learn pretty quickly that people are much more important than your own calendar or deadlines or to-do list.
Jesus certainly knew what it was to get interrupted. During his brief, what I like to call “rock star” phase, when people hounded him wherever he went, his life was one long interruption. He couldn’t go anywhere without people wanting his attention or a healing touch or a chance to take a selfie with him. If he wanted a quiet moment for renewal he had to slip away by cover of darkness to find a place to pray — and even then people caught up with him and interrupted his private devotions with their own needs and concerns. Something he never once complained about.
This morning’s gospel story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter contains a major interruption in the form of a second healing story, of the woman who touches his cloak seeking relief from her hemorrhages. Jesus’ interaction with this woman is sandwiched in-between the two-part account of Jesus’ dealings with Jairus and his entourage. Jesus agrees to go and heal the man’s daughter and, as the crowd follows him, he is interrupted by this other woman. If Jesus had followed his own schedule, he never would have stopped. But he did. Jesus is quite literally a man on a mission but it’s a mission that invites stops of compassion along the way. And in this case, he allowed himself to be interrupted and a life was transformed in the process.
Now, Jairus himself couldn’t have been thrilled with the interruption. When your child is ill and at the point of death, any delay could have dire consequences. In fact, some of his friends came from the daughter’s bedside to tell him not to bother Jesus anymore. She was dead. The interruption took too long. Forget it.
It’s not a difficult leap to imagine Jairus being enraged even in the midst of, or precisely because of, his profound grief. I mean he was a prominent leader in the Jewish community; an upstanding citizen used to preferential treatment while this other woman, well, she was a nobody; an outcast — her disease made her an untouchable by Jewish law. It would be like a major donor to Mass General being indignant at having his daughter’s care interrupted as a prominent physician left her bedside to tend to a homeless person who had just been brought in.
And it is at this precise moment that we see the conflicting emotions swirling around Jesus. Jairus’ despair set against the joy of this long-suffering woman who is not only healed physically but is also restored to her community after years of isolation. So a woman who has been afflicted for 12 years rejoices in her newfound freedom even as the family of a 12-year-old girl grieves her loss.
Part of what this passage does, then, is to shift our perspective. While we often view interruptions as a great source of annoyance and frustration, we can all thank God for what I like to call “holy interruptions.” Unplanned interactions with others that make a difference in our own lives or those of others. The thing is you have to be open to the holy interruptions that present themselves. Sometimes it means putting your phone away and really listening. It means seeing the Christ in others even when we’d really rather not get involved. It means being flexible as we go about our days — flexible enough to leave room for people who may be hurting or vulnerable or seeking a word of comfort from a friend or stranger. It means cultivating an awareness to those in our midst rather than remaining so inwardly focused.
Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual writer used to complain about interruptions to his work — important work which built up the body of Christ and inspired thousands of people around the world. But at a certain point, he realized that “It has been the interruptions to my everyday life that have most revealed to me the divine mystery of which I am a part . . . All of these interruptions presented themselves as opportunities . . . invited me to look in a new way at my identity before God. Each interruption took something away from me; each interruption offered something new.”
The opportunity for holy interruptions happen all the time — both at home and at work. There are days when I come home from the office, and after being annoyed that I have to listen to PTI in the background— that’s the shorthand for Pardon the Interruption — I finally sit down to unwind with the newspaper I didn’t get to in the morning. It’s usually at that very moment that the boys want me to go out and shoot hoops with them. And I don’t want to. I’m tired physically and tired emotionally from a full day. And I’m tired of playing two-on-one against them and having my 6-foot-tall 16-year-old swat away my shots like Shaq playing one-one-one with Spudd Webb. But more often than not, I go out anyway because these holy interruptions won’t be there forever. And I’m always glad I did even as I suffer yet another basketball beatdown.
What are some of the ways interruptions might turn into holy interactions in your own life? I encourage you to reflect on this in the days ahead. Unlike Jesus, we may not be able to resurrect someone from the dead, as Jesus ultimately does with Jairus’ daughter, but we can raise up God’s presence in the life of someone who desperately needs it. In other words, don’t pardon the interruption but embrace it. Allow interruptions to instruct rather than to disrupt. And know that your life will be all the richer for it.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2015