GOSPEL READING Mark 1:29-39
The Holy Gospel according to Mark.
Glory to you, O Lord.
As soon as [Jesus and the disciples] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer
You all may not realize this but Pastors get interrupted all the time. I don’t just mean right before worship when you’re walking through the worship service in your head to make sure you have notes in all the right places for announcements or other things that got rearranged in the bulletin by mistake and didn’t get caught that week. I mean throughout the week as a pastor I have a “plan”—meetings scheduled, time to write my sermon, scheduled visits—and then there is time for the interruption.
One holiday, pre-covid, my brother was telling me about a his work week as an insurance adjuster where we went to work and sat at a desk and reviewed insurance claims and made some phone calls to follow up on reports and speak to the people involved; he grabbed some lunch; he came back to his desk and follow up on calls with the people necessary until he could make a decision on a claim and close that case; then he’d move onto a new one. My initial response was “oh, the monotony” then I thought “ooooh, the monotony!”
Then I explained to him that I had a “plan” for how my day or week was going to go, and that could all change a few minutes into any given day. I told him that people contact me when things are very chaotic in their lives sometimes and I just can’t tell them “well how about tomorrow @ 2pm we get together.” I, and many other people, have termed it over the years as the ministry of interruption.
I can also tell you as someone who now works from home and has a 3 y/o son, my brother knows exactly what the ministry of interruption is like now 🙂
I learned very early on in ministry that interruptions weren’t just occupational hazards for pastors, but were human-hazards of life. One mom can in to talk to me because she was so upset about she handled this situation with her child.
She was just sitting down with her cup of coffee, grabbed her pen and notebook and set out to do her daily fifteen minutes of writing. The boys were watching some morning cartoons and she told them she was starting her writing. “Please don’t interrupt me for the next fifteen minutes,” she said. They nodded, eager to get back to their show. She sat down at the little side table by the window, opened to a brand new page, and started to write. She was in the zone, eight minutes in, when she heard her six year old walk up behind me. “Mommy?” he asked. She threw her pen down and spun around. “What? Didn’t I ask you NOT to interrupt mommy?”
Tears streamed down his face when he saw how upset she was. She tried to soften. “Are you having an emergency?” “No, but I just wanted to show you something,” he blubbered. Resigned to this interruption, she walked over to kneel beside him, willing herself to show more patience. “What is it, buddy?” “My top front tooth is loose!” he told me as she wiped his cheeks dry.
Her heart melted. She tried to make up for her mommy moment by oohing and aahing and making a big deal out of this event. Satisfied, he went back to his TV show, and she went back to writing, remorseful over her behavior.
On the one hand, didn’t she have every right to be upset? Had she not clearly set a boundary and communicated her expectation? And on the other hand, didn’t her behavior communicate what mattered most to her? By reacting the way she did, she let her son know that her writing was more important to her than he was. She finished with, “Ouch, pastor that really hurts.”
It is a human-hazard of life to have interruptions, but it’s how we handle those interruptions that I think we can learn from Jesus today. Jesus had interruptions on top of other interruptions throughout his life and ministry. So let’s take a look.
When you think you have had a busy day, take a look at a day in Jesus’ life! Just consider all that he does in this week’s Gospel reading (Mark 1:21-28) and in the several verses preceding it.
First, in the middle of a worship service he heals a man with an unclean spirit. Then, as soon as he leaves worship, he goes straight to Simon’s house to heal his mother-in-law. That evening, even as the sun sets, a virtual mob of sorts appears before him, all either in need of healing themselves or desiring healing for someone else.
Then, very early the next morning, Jesus’ own prayers are interrupted as Simon and some others “hunt” him down to deliver the message “everyone is searching for you.”
What are we to make of Jesus’ seemingly incessant busyness? Is this text aiming to encourage us to up our own ministry game? Should we encourage each other to step up the pace of their own busy lives? Or will it ultimately just motivate us to enjoy a much-needed nap?
I wonder if, when it comes down to it, this lesson is prompting followers to be good stewards of time and opportunity. Ultimately, these are the most precious gift we possess, time, and Mark 1:29-39 enables us to ask if we are being intentional in our use of this gift.
I must admit I don’t like calling it ministry of interruptions with interruption as one word. To call something an interruption (as one word) is to assume two things about the situation:
First, you assume a goal. You are definitely headed somewhere. There is no interruption if you are not “on your way” to do something or go somewhere. Second, you assume that your goal is more important than the interruption. There is no interruption if you are on your way but are diverted by something you think is more important.
So then, an interruption is something less important that “gets in the way” of going somewhere or doing something more important.
Now, when we read about the life of Jesus, he seems to have a different take on interruptions.
In fact, his story seems to be more about interruptions than anything else. Think about it. It’s almost like the gospels are written as strings of interruptions tied together by “and now Jesus decided to go here.” Almost every single time Jesus heals someone, he is “on the way” to somewhere else. He is rarely “on the way” to heal someone. Some of the most important moments in Jesus’ life are what we would call “interruptions.”
I think what we call “interruptions,” because we are obsessed in our culture with “accomplishing things,” Jesus would consider “inter-ruptions,” (hyphenated word) that is, opportunities for two human beings to have a moment, to connect in a way that date-books, deadlines, and over-inflated senses of purpose and importance simply will not allow. Jesus would consider an inter-ruption (hyphenated word) as an opportunity for service.
The story of our culture says that we have too much to do and not enough time to do it. In these stories, people are “interruptions.” They will make me 3 minutes late for a meeting.
- The people in front of me at the grocery store: interruption.
- The people who crowd the department store: interruption.
- The friend who calls as I’m walking out the door: interruption.
- The family member who drops by unannounced: interruption.
- The stranger who strikes up a conversation at the airport: interruption.
But the story of the Gospel tells us a different story. In that story, people are more important than a list of to-dos. Our success is no longer what we accomplish but whether or not we value people for who they are instead of for how they contribute to my accomplishments. The life of Jesus calls us to transform our daily lives in such a way that people are no longer “interruptions” (as one word) but “inter-ruptions” (hyphenated word) an opportunity for service.
I am slowly learning that a Jesus-informed way of life must pry my hands away from the need to “get things done” toward connecting with people in such a way that my encounters with them “rupture” me internally, they change my heart, my perspective, my life.
My friends, the purpose of our Gospel text is not necessarily to give us one more reason to stand in awe of Jesus. But, it is a reminder that time is the most precious gift we possess, and we can be faithful stewards of the opportunities placed in front of us. Sometimes the opportunity will be to lovingly come alongside someone else in their distress; another time, it might be to use our own healing to serve others; and other times, we will take advantage of the opportunity to engage in prayer and much-needed soul-searching, even when the places we go to do this feel dark and deserted. The time and opportunities we have been given enable us to further Christ’s work in and for our communities and the world.
And this is not something I have mastered. I get caught up in the things I “have” to do and don’t treat each encounter as an inter- ruption as a hyphenated word. Some of you in here have experienced that and I apologize for those interactions. But I continue to try, because you never know how it will affect the person in your encounter.
I want to close with a story about a Scottish farmer named Fleming who viewed his inter-ruptions as opportunities for service. Fleming was a poor Scottish farmer who was working the land when he heard cries for help from a nearby bog. Running to the bog, he found a boy sinking down into the muck with no possible way to get out.
Mr. Fleming threw the boy a rope, and saved his life as he was drowning. Farmer Fleming gave the boy a new set of clothing and sent him on his way without getting his name.
A few days later, a fancy carriage pulled up to Fleming’s farm. A nobleman got out and thanked Fleming for saving his son’s life in the bog. The nobleman wanted to pay Fleming for his gesture of kindness but the farmer would not take any money. Fleming’s son came to the door as his father was talking to the nobleman. “Is this your son?” asked the nobleman. Fleming replied “yes.”
The nobleman said, “Why don’t you let me take your son and educate him? I have a feeling this boy could turn out to be something great… if he’s anything like his father!”
Fleming entrusted his son to the care of the nobleman, and some years later his son, Alexander Fleming, graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London, England. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. But the story doesn’t end there. The nobleman’s son got pneumonia and became quite ill. Dr. Fleming’s penicillin saved the nobleman’s son’s life! By the way… the name of the nobleman was Lord Randolph Churchill and his son was… Sir Winston Churchill!
Wouldn’t it have been a loss for the world if Farmer Fleming had not responded to that inter-ruption? The world might not have had penicillin…or Winston Churchill! Remember… an interruption is an opportunity for service.