New Chances

taylor-swift-kanye-west-2009-vogue-12feb15-pa_bLook for the interruptions. In our lesson today, Jesus is returning from the far side of the Sea of Galilee. No sooner does he step off the boat than he is met by Jairus, a man of great importance, a synagogue leader, who implores Jesus to heal his daughter.

It is clear that Jesus’ fame has spread in his time away, as crowds crush in on him. And that’s when the interruption comes.

A woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years pries her way through the crowd to touch the hem of his robe, trusting that even this moment on the fringes will be enough to heal her.

Jesus stops, sensing that someone has drawn his power. The disciples are insistent: “Haven’t you seen the crowds? Of course somebody touched you!” They’re anxious to keep going. After all, they’ve got a mission: to heal the important woman’s daughter. But Jesus takes his time. He finds the woman. He blesses her before turning back to the matter at hand.

Look for the interruptions.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not one for interruptions. If I’m in the middle of an activity, I much prefer to focus on what I’m doing. An interruption is a break, and not in the good way. It’s a rupture, a fissure that appears in the middle of life. It’s unwelcome, disruptive, derailing.

And yet, an interruption can be a holy moment, a crack through which living water can pour into our lives. Sometimes we just have to stop long enough to pay attention to what is going on around us.

In some ways, it is all about our perceptions: do we see them as interruptions? Or do we welcome them as potential opportunities, chances, new chances to recommit ourselves to the God we know in Christ? We only allow ourselves these opportunities if we are paying attention in the first place.

So: look for the interruptions.

The thing about interruptions is that you have to be doing something in order to be interrupted. We all know people, or might be those people ourselves, who simply wait around for interruptions so that our life might have some direction. We jump from emergency to emergency as though it might give us some purpose. If you happen to work in an Emergency Room, that makes some sense. But otherwise, if you’re just waiting around, there’s nothing to interrupt.

It is only because Jesus and the disciples are headed toward Jairus’ house that they can be interrupted. That’s the whole point of what makes his response so telling. He has to change directions in the middle of the journey in order to respond to the need at hand. The interruption is an inconvenience. It was not on the agenda. It’s a distraction from the main objective. And that’s what makes it worth our attention. Jesus’ destination is toward the home of a powerful man. The woman who detours him is everything that Jairus isn’t: she’s unimportant – so much so that she doesn’t even warrant having a name. And yet, that was exactly where God’s attention was drawn, where God’s people needed to be.

Look for the interruptions.

Here’s the thing about interruptions – just because it’s an interruption doesn’t mean that it is something that God desires. There are times when I’m working on the computer, researching this or that subject online. And that’s just when the rabbit hole pops into view, those “click bait” links with intriguing enough information to lure me in: “He sets a pile of leaves on fire. You won’t believe what happens next!” What happens next? It must be amazing – otherwise they wouldn’t have said so!

Two hours later…

Maybe we should say, “Look out for the interruptions.”

There is a deep need for wisdom in the Christian life. As Jesus says, our calling is to be as “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” The invitation to follow Jesus is not an invitation to naïveté or to suspicion. The call to faith, instead, lives in the tension between trust and testing. There are times when the interruptions that come can sway us from the faithful path we are meant to follow. And there are times when they can call us to the other path that is, at least for the moment, the more faithful one.

And yet, if we are not paying attention, we won’t even recognize the opportunities when they come. So we should still look for those interruptions, looking closely enough to know the difference between those that clarify our purpose and those that simply distract.

In our lesson from Mark, at first, the interruption seems to be more of a distraction. The crowd presses in on him as he tries to follow Jairus back home. The intervening conversation with this unnamed woman is long enough to delay him from arriving at Jairus’ house. By the time he gets there, his daughter is already dead. If not for the interruption, Jesus might have made it to the house in time to do another miracle.

Of course, that’s not how the story pans out. After all, this is Jesus we are talking about. Instead of the lesson being one of “either or”, it is one of “both and”. The fact that Jesus delays his journey long enough tells us something about Jesus, and what it means to follow him. And the fact that he arrives “too late” also gives the story added depth, miracle, surprise. The girl is no longer just deathly ill, but flat out dead. And that gives him the opportunity to show the power he contains. Two people are ill, and two people are made whole.

That’s the wonderfully absurd thing about God: there is no limit to grace. Scarcity, in the kingdom of God, is a myth. Abundance, instead, is the way God chooses. Healing mercy overflows any kind of bounds we may try to set for it. God cannot be contained.

And that is an important distinction for us to remember. God cannot be contained, because God is infinite – but we are not. It is one thing to pay attention to the interruptions that may come, recognizing the faithful distractions from the unfaithful temptations. It is another thing altogether to think that we can do it all. We can’t. We’re not Jesus. Which is why we need Jesus.

Because of that, there will be times when the choice to follow the detour means we may not get to our initial destination. And that is where both wisdom and trust come into play. If we are paying attention, we will know enough to recognize when the interruption is truly the thing that demands our focus. And when we make that choice, we can also know that God holds that which we had attempted to accomplish in the first place. We may be limited. God is not.

God cannot be constrained, no matter how hard we may try. We may act otherwise, as though God is limited to nation, race, political affiliation, religious creed. But if we are followers of Jesus, if we look to the Lord of all, then we ought to be willing to put all of our biases and assumptions aside for the sake of faithfulness.

And that, in the end, is what faith in God calls us to recognize: that we are, all of us, connected, one to another. It’s there in the very beginning of our Scriptures, where God creates all of humanity in God’s own image. There are no caveats, no asterisks to that divine stamp. This very root of our faith points, unequivocally, to the inherent dignity of each and every person on this Earth.

It’s right there in our morning’s lesson, too. First, as we have already noted, the woman who interrupts Jesus, would have been of little or no consequence in that time period. But she is worthy of God’s attention. And the girl, though only a child, is worth weeping over – not because she is the daughter of an important man, but because she, just like the woman who touches Jesus’ robe, is God’s own child.

The story tries to put an even finer point on it by linking the woman and the girl even closer. The woman had suffered from her blood disorder for twelve years, which just so happens to be the girl’s age at the time of her death and revival. Whatever that might have meant to an ancient people hearing this story, for us, the very heart of it is that there is a link between the two of them – a connection that Jesus alone recognized.

Yesterday, the four Sanders attended an event called “Visit a Mosque Day”. With all of the rhetoric around Muslims in the United States, a number of mosques throughout Georgia decided to open their doors yesterday as a gesture of welcome, of hospitality. We ended up at the Al Farooq Mosque down on 14th Street. It was truly heartening to see the crowds that were there – crowds of non-Muslims who had come to learn more, to experience, to show their solidarity in a time of deep division.

For me, along with everything else, it was a reminder of how important moments like that are, moments that humanize us all. It is these moments that remind us how intimately intertwined our realities are – it’s just a matter of choosing to believe what is already true.

Can we take this truth to heart? In a world that seems more and more divided, where we feel more and more at odds with each other, it is critical to remember that we are truly and ultimately connected at our core. And when we do, it will make us more likely to see those Godly interruptions for what they truly are: calls to discipleship in a world that might be too busy to notice otherwise.