Sermon text: Mark 5: 21-43
There are two seasons in Pennsylvania: winter and construction. Getting around Hollidaysburg has been a verified nightmare these past few weeks as roads are milled and repaved and other infrastructure projects disturb our traffic patterns. You can’t drive anywhere without seeing orange detour signs and traffic cones. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the improvements, the new, smooth roadways are fantastic…but I do not appreciate the interruptions. Even though they are a few minutes at most they feel like a real inconvenience.
We are people who live by the calendar. We are overscheduled and under slept. Our plans, agendas, and to-do lists are carefully laid out and we do not need unexpected demands on our time—to be thrown for a loop by surprises. However, our well-planned days are not always our best days. Sometimes the days chalk full of interruptions prove to be our most rewarding and also our most transformative.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ day is rearranged by two people in terrible distress. This is proving to be a pattern. Just the day before a man possessed by a legion of demons blew up his schedule, and now the very same thing is happening in a town in Galilee. This man and woman will find a way into his event planner.
I find Jesus’ ability to adjust and adapt to be nothing short of amazing. He is willing to flip the script and be redirected by desperate pleas of healing. He takes it in stride. No sighs. No anger. No eye rolls. Jesus addresses the needs that are in front of him, whether or not there was an appointment made.
First, there’s the leader of the local synagogue, a man named Jairus. He falls at Jesus’ feet and pleads for the life of his daughter. She is sick, very sick, to the point of death. Please, help her Jesus.
As Jesus makes his way to Jairus’ home a woman weaves her way through the swarm of people around Jesus and touches one of the tassels that would he would have worn on his outer garment. Just the fringe. She has had a bleeding wound for 12 years and Jesus is her last hope. She’s certainly heard about his healing miracles and maybe, just maybe, he can do something similar for her—spare her the tiniest bit of grace so that she can be made well.
A deep desire for healing thrusts both of those people into Jesus’ day. A father approaches Jesus for the sake of his daughter’s life. A woman comes to him out of the desperate desire to save her own.
I do not know what Jesus had planned for this particular day. Maybe he wanted to do some antiquing in town. Maybe he and he disciples were going to have a spa day or brunch at the local diner. Perhaps they were just passing through, or maybe he was going to the synagogue to teach about God’s kingdom. I don’t know, but Mark depicts this day like there’s orange road signs all around that declare “Detour!”
There are people in need who are literally blocking Jesus’ path, derailing his day. In obedience to the will of God, as a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom, Jesus stops to hear their pleas. He pauses to meet their needs. It’s not always the planned day that makes us the most useful; sometimes we’re most useful when we can see the hand of God in the unscheduled events of our lives.
Sometimes it feels like we’re moving from one crisis to another, like all we’ve done during the day is running around, solving problems, putting out fires. But it is in the randomness of our lives that our ministry occurs. When we are flexible to the interruptions around us, God uses us to be instruments of healing and grace. When we are tied to a rigid schedule, we lose our ability to meet others where they are. We are blessed, more than we know, by the interruptions in our lives.
Years ago, when I was on internship, I was grimacing under the weight of the all mighty, never ending to-do list. A deadline was fast approaching for a year end internship report for the seminary. Sunday’s sermon wasn’t writing itself. And our Vacation Bible School was only a week away and we were creating it from scratch, I was in charge of writing the opening skits and the Bible lessons.
In walks Mr. DiOrio, one of the most fascinating men I’ve ever met. Mr. Joseph DiOrio was a bit of a punchline in the church office. His eccentricities were well documented. In a former life he was a French and Latin professor at a Liberal Arts College in Alabama. He was also a classically trained vocalist and pianist, and with great nostalgia he would recount his past performances. Now in his late 70s, his health was failing, he couldn’t make it to our services, but he did stop into the office from time to time.
Recently, he had been making use of the church secretary. You see, Mr. DiOrio’s exquisite historic house was falling into disrepair and his neighbor, the Mayor of York, Pennsylvania, thought he was crazy. The mayor had even gone so far as to call the Area Agency on Aging to perform an evaluation to deem him mentally incompetent. The stunt failed and Mr. DiOrio, irate about the experience, would type letters to the editor for the local newspaper. The problem was that he didn’t have a computer, only an antique typewriter. And since they no longer made ink ribbons for it he would type his letter on carbon copy paper and our secretary gracously would retype them on her computer.
I could continue, but you can understand who Mr. DiOrio was and why I might want to go into hiding if he walked through the door. He was the last person I wanted to see when trying to write my sermon for Sunday, so imagine my frustration when he interrupted me.
“Ah! Mr. Bowman. How fortunate am I to have found you on this day. You’re a strong young lad and I am in desperate need of your assistance. My mattress fell off the bed and now lies at a precipitous angle, and I have not the strength nor the endurance to set it right. I beg of you, please come to my house and help me.”
It took me a second to register his question, probably because I was lamenting the interruption, but I exhaled, closed my computer, grabbed my car keys, and followed him to his house.
In those moments it’s hard to remember that interruptions can be a blessing, if we only take the time to discern the presence of God. When we make sense of God’s presence, those interruptions often detour into invitations to partner in the healing of the world.
As I stepped into Mr. DiOrio’s house I had to hold my breath from the many smells that populated the space. I tiptoed around piles of clutter that filled his hallway. It was a grand old house, something straight out of the Harry Potter series. It was dark, musty, dusty, filled with relics and boxes of medical supplies. Cats darted around the corners and up the stairs. In the corner of the living room was his bed, the mattress leaning onto the floor. Next to the bed was his prized possession, his baby grand piano…and on top of it was a cat, one that had died that morning. He was in the process of wrapping it for burial in his backyard and was very distraught over the loss.
In that moment, Mr. DiOrio, the man of famed eccentricity, became a man in need of healing. A man who was sick, grieving, and in need of community and conversation. So, I fixed his bed. I offered to help bury his cat. I sat with him for a moment and we talked. And in that space I could feel God stirring.
Mr. DiOrio interrupted my plans. He foiled my thoughts and my writing. But interruptions have a way of forcing us to see God’s transformative action in the world, even when other, equally important matter lay claim to our well-planned calendars.
A friend once told me, “Don’t ever by too busy to make time for somebody, because you’ll be richer for it.” Life is hectic, and it is easy to fall into the trap of busyness. Untimely interruptions always feel like they are costly, but they are the perfect stage for us to partner with God to do the work of redeeming, healing, and restoration for people in need. That’s what we see in the Gospel. That’s what we experience in our lives. And thanks be to God that Jesus is never too busy to make time for us, because we are certainly richer for it. AMEN