hen I was just out of high school, I got a job with the New England Tel & Tel in Massachusetts. This was before the big breakup of Bell Telephone and it was a great job to have. Every weekend there was a party given by the management somewhere and one summer night they decided to hold one in a public park. It had a swimming pool, places to grill out……and lots and lots of alcohol. I had come alone and at about 10:00 I decided I had enough of mosquitoes, noisy conversation and people getting intoxicated.
When I came out to the parking lot I discovered I had a flat tire. So, I found a pay phone and called my father. He came down to the park to change the tire and as he worked on it, he talked about how not one person at the party would offer to help me. We could hear the party from where we were and people were getting pretty rowdy. He was pretty upset. In the middle of taking the flat tire off, he stopped. Just stopped what he was doing and stood up.
“What’s wrong, Dad?” He sushed me. “Quiet,” he said. Then he said, “Stay here, I’ll be right back.” “Where are you going,?” I asked. He just kept walking over to the party. I stayed behind for what seemed a long time, and finally I saw him coming back and he was sopping wet. When I asked what happened, he told me that while he was changing the tire, he heard someone dive into the swimming pool, but he did not hear the person come up. By the time he got to the pool, the man who dove in was at the bottom of the pool, so he dove in and got him out. Not one person at the party, around the pool noticed the drowning man, not one.
Sometimes I am still incredulous with what happened that night so many years ago, and so I have come to call it a “Holy Interruption.” I remember it as I read this morning’s gospel where Jesus has a couple of interruptions of his own. As soon as he gets off the boat with the disciples Jesus is faced with a crowd of people. A man named, Jairus falls to Jesus’ feet asking him to heal his dying daughter. Jesus says, “Absolutely,” and off they go to Jairus’ house with the same crowd of people following along. On the way to see Jairus’ daughter though, Jesus is interrupted by a woman who suffered from hemorrhaging for twelve years. She manages to worm her way through the crowd wanting to just touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. She doesn’t THINK she’ll be healed by doing this, she KNOWS she’ll be healed of her illness.
The woman does touch Jesus’ cloak, and her illness disappears. And then, Jesus stops in his tracks. Just….. stops. “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples are just as stunned to hear that question. They say something to the effect, “You are kidding, right? This massive crowd pressing in and you ask, “Who touched me?” For the woman with the hemorrhages it was just a touch, but for Jesus, real power was what he felt surging from his body. Physical touching followed by complete healing. The same process happening for the child that was deemed dead by someone in Jairus’ house. Only Jesus said, “The child is not dead but sleeping.” To which a bunch of people make fun of him because they do not take him seriously. Until, of course the child gets up and walks around and Jesus says something my Italian grandmother would say, which is, “Get her something to eat.” Death can make you pretty hungry.
Most of the time, interruptions are those ‘barging in moments’ that happen in our busy day and are more of an irritation than anything else. Don’t we sometimes hear people say, “He/She interrupted me for that?” To which we breathe a deep sigh of frustration and get back to doing whatever we were doing. But some people believe that interruptions can be and sometimes are (as the case with my father) a somewhat ‘blessed’ event. Professor and theologian, Henri Nouwen explained to a friend, “Once while visiting Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for years I met an older, experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. While we strolled over the beautiful campus, Nouwen’s friend said with a certain melancholy in his voice, “You know, my whole life I’ve been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”
Interruptions confront our illusions that we are in control of our time where nothing could be further than the truth. Actually we are in control of very little in our lives as difficulties can pop up in a moment’s notice to tear us away from what seems like the absolute, most important work that needs to be done. For me, this is when I may realize that being interrupted at that moment was more of a teaching/healing and emotional one that I could have ever experienced.
Last week I was writing this “amazing” sermon in hopes of getting to grant writing and another project for the ministry I lead in New London. The phone rang and I recognized the caller to be one of the women from the program. Usually in the evening the women call to check in, to let me know what kind of day they’ve had, or if something is wrong. Little did any of them know just how busy and ‘tight of schedule’ I was. I thought, “Oh please I don’t want to have to deal with this tonight.” I answered it and it was Fran, a woman whose health is not the greatest. She was at the hospital and wanted to know if she could get a ride home. Her apartment is right around the corner from the hospital but she has a terrible time walking. I felt terrible and got in my car and rushed to pick her up. She was sitting outside on a bench and waiting for me when I got there. She had been feeling very ill and thought she may have been having a heart attack. It turns out that she was not. She was given some meds for her related illness and told to contact her doctor the next day.
What I witnessed when picking her up and talking with her is that this woman who has been sick for 20 of her 45 years is a person who only cares about others. She has many things wrong with her, and watching her sitting on that bench, giving me a huge smile as I drove up and got out of my car. Just so happy to see another person. Asking me how I was, how sorry she was to have had to call me. She hoped she wasn’t interrupting my work. (Laugh out loud). This is a person who has nothing. A small amount of family she only gets to see occasionally. She is in recovery from a drug habit she acquired in an abusive life that has hampered any chance she has had to shape her life into something meaningful. Her choice, I know but if I had grown up in the same way I know I would have walked the same path.
Watching her that night—smile, take responsibility for her health, and make a plan to work even harder at her self care, I saw my self absorbed to-do lists, my projects and the like melt like candle wax. This was a sacramental moment in that God was in the very essence of our words and our thoughts. God wanted me to be there. God wanted me to understand that nothing is as important as another person—this accepting woman who was just thrilled to have a person next to her, to talk to and to listen. And I realized that when it comes to time, we really only have this minute…..and this minute….and this one. And, thank God we are not in control of any of them because I would have missed such an amazing hour of my life.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God’s crooked yet straight path.”
My time with Fran last week was such a gift. It helps me that God interrupts moments in my life as a means of grace in the lives of others. They shape me and change me, and perhaps knock me off the well-beaten path of agendas. They give me fresh awareness of God-self through the lives of others. God is around us all the time and invites us to see God through others and through different situations. What have I learned through these ‘holy interruptions’? For me it is that God is encouraging His people to be a part of the kingdom come. What holy interruptions will you experience this week?
Preached by The Reverend Ann Perrott