My Sermon (from yesterday): The Mercy of Unexpected Interruptions

Mark 1:40-45

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,”he said. “Be clean!”  Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

Believe it or not, when I was a little girl, you couldn’t shut me up. There were so many reasons and opportunities to talk: a story to share, a joke to tell, someone to tattle on. I was great at each of these, but my specialty was interrupting.

My parents frequently had guests over for dinner. We’d be sitting around the table, the adults would be talking and something someone said would remind me of a story or a joke. Instead of waiting for a lull in the conversation, I would just pipe in with my insightful comments as they came to me, giving the yawn fest of adult conversation a much needed break.

You’re welcome, world.

Apparently, though, people weren’t as interested in what I had to say as I was. It got the point where I would come home from school and my mom and I would have “interruption class: we would discuss why we don’t interrupt people when they are talking, and we talked about ways that I could contribute to conversations without having to cut someone off.

I got really close to my stuffed animals during that time, because I was usually the only one doing the talking at our tea parties. 

I learned through those “classes” that people don’t like to be interrupted because sometimes it distracts them from where they wanted to go in a conversation, sometimes it makes them feel unimportant, and sometimes they just get annoyed because interruptions are irritating.

I was in  my third week of summer translating in Mexico. It was a  beautiful day. A light breeze was rustling the trees. I had  just finished accompanying a group of missionaries to the homes of several members of the El Zorillo congregation, to pass out food and I was enjoying a quiet moment to myself, listening to my worship mix on my iPod instead of being grabbed by the arm every two seconds to answer the demands “what did she say?” or “tell her that….” or “ask him if we can…”

I had decided to use my down time to look over the manuscript I’d been given for the ladies’ class I’d be translating that night, to get a head start so I wouldn’t have to do as much interpreting on the fly. First, I was  gonna have to re-write most of it, trying to  stay true to the message while removing North American colloquialism that don’t work in Mexico.

I took a deep breath, a technique that had served me well over the past 3 weeks, and got to work. I was so in the zone and dead to my surroundings when one of the American missionaries came over and asked if I had a second.

I thought  to myself “ headphones in, pen to paper, concentration face. Yeah, I have a second.” I took out my headphones and looked up, with a “whatcha need” look that was not  as friendly as it could have been. She said that she only needed me for a few minutes to come and talk to the preacher.  She said she felt comfortable with me, and just had some things she wanted to share.

I looked down at the paper. Then I looked up. Without trying even a little bit to mask the irritation in my voice I said “*SIGH* ok. But as long as it really is just a few minutes. I’m trying to get some work done.”

Interruptions are irritating.

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you feel like every time you are about to make progress on something really important, something else happens that steers you in a totally different direction?

A parent is busy at work, almost done with a project that is up against a huge deadline and they get a phone call from their child’s school saying they need to come pick her up right away.

A tired member of the sandwich generation tries to juggle caring for an aging parent while still working hard to care for her growing children. She looks at her calendar and realizes her daughter’s recital is at the exact same time as her mother’s doctor’s appointment.

A seminary student is hard at work on a paper for one class, taking breaks only to read for another. Just as fresh insights for the paper begin to flow, the phone rings. It’s the leader of her Bible study group calling to ask if she can please come 45 minutes early to help cook dinner because the person who signed up to cook this week had something come up.

Jesus is taking a thoughtful stroll, looking forward to expanding his preaching and teaching ministry to the towns around Galilee  when a guy with a scaly skin disease steps onto the path, blocking Jesus’ way and begs him for healing.

“Another one, huh?” Jesus thinks to himself. He’s already healed Peter’s mother-in-law and crowds keep swarming him from all directions so that he can’t even get away to a quiet place to pray! And now THIS guy.

He’s  dressed in old, dirty, ragged clothes, and kneels a few feet away from Jesus, so he’s not too close.  His voice is shaky, but his words are unmistakable.

“Stop! Don’t come any closer, um, Jesus? Is it? I have this disease. You don’t want near me, you really dont. But I can’t live like this anymore and you can heal me. I know it. Just, say whatever it is you say, and do whatever you do, you know, spit on me, or throw some mud at me, just please, if you want to, you can heal me. I know you can. Please want to.

And time stands still… for only a few moments that seem like an eternity.

Panicked thoughts race through the leper’s mind. “Oh my goodness. What are you doing?” “You just flung yourself at the feet JESUS. What is the MATTER with you?” “ I hope he isn’t mad. I hope he heals me… I can’t live like this anymore.”

The moments tick by like fingernails sliding down a never-ending chalkboard. It’s one of those moments that make you wish that pretending you’re invisible will actually make you invisible.

He waits, in silence, for Jesus’ answer.

Jesus has been praying about his ministry. He doesn’t just want to be known as the miracle worker. Whenever he heals, people find out and track him down. Another crowd would prevent him even more from preaching and teaching in the surrounding towns.

He looks down at the man, kneeling before him. The poor guy is trembling. Jesus can almost feel him trying to shrink into nonexistence. What Jesus sees is not just a man asking for healing. He sees a broken life in need of restoration.

Jesus is so moved that any earlier irritation at this interruption in his day is masked by compassion.

Finally, Jesus speaks.

“ I do want to heal you”. And then, Jesus reaches down, and touches the leper.

Who knows how long it’s been since this man last felt a human touch. He recoils a little at first, but soon relaxes into Jesus’ touch.

Jesus says “be clean.” And immediately, the man is healed.

Imagine him feel the disease leave his body. He looks down at his hands and arms, and his feet. He watches white, scaly, leprous skin be replaced with newly pink flesh; like a child pulling off a dirty Band-Aid to marvel at the sweet pinkness underneath.

Jesus wants to see this guy not only healed, but also restored. He tells him to show himself to the priest, the only one who can pronounce him pure. Then he’ll be able to offer the cleansing sacrifices so that he can re-enter society and live a life free of isolation and desperation.

Jesus starts thinking about the crowds that will swarm him if this guy tells anyone about this. He’s not interested in gaining popularity, but in doing God’s will. He wants to preach and teach in the towns in Galilee and won’t be able to if there’s a mob.

So, he commands the man not to say anything about what’s just happened to anyone. Then, he sends the man away. The Greek terminology actually suggests that Jesus casts the man out with a shake of his head, or a snort, or maybe a “ *SIGH* this better not take too long. I’m trying to get some work done.”

Unfortunately for Jesus, this guy has just been cured of LEPROSY, the disease known as the “living death”; the disease believed to be a punishment from God for the worst of sins. It’s kind of big deal!

Being healed from leprosy was so improbable, that the only thing more amazing than that, was being raised from the dead.

Basically, it’s like he’s been raised from the dead!

He may be hearing Jesus’ warning not to tell, but he’s too busy processing what just happened for the words to make an impact.

The isolated existence that was his reality a few moments ago is no more. He’s in shock and filled with joy and excited and nervous all at the same time.

While Jesus is speaking, the healing is sinking in.

It’s real.

That. Just. Happened.

Jesus’ warning is just a drop in the bucket of his mind, and is swallowed up by drops of joy, excitement, restoration, liberation.

He excitedly heads toward town, maybe stopping to intentionally ram his toe into a rock, just to see how it feels to stub your toe, as if for the first time.

As he goes, he makes a guest-list in his mind for his leprosy healing after party, and plans the menu. Stuffed grape leaves for sure, we’ll see about the mediterranean pizza, but anchovies and crispy brioche are a MUST!

He starts spreading the news, and Jesus becomes so popular, that he can’t go to big cities any more. Even still, people somehow know how to find him, and flock to him from everywhere.

Miracle stories exist to teach us the nature of Jesus. Sometimes, interruptions serve the same function.

I wasn’t prepared for what the American missionary said next during our meeting with the preacher. She said that a few days before she’d left to come to Mexico, her family had experienced a great loss and she wanted prayer for herself and her family. We prayed for her and for her family, and then we each went back to what we’d been doing before.

When I went back to look over the lesson, pre-translating that night’s lesson didn’t seem as important as stopping everything to say a prayer of repentance for my ungodly attitude and a prayer of thanks for my sisters and for Christs’ compassion that transcends human barriers through unexpected interruptions.

Unexpected interruptions give us a chance to reflect the compassion of Jesus.

In a leper’s intrusion on Jesus’ thoughtful stroll,  a desperate soul trapped in a nearly lifeless body finds healing and restoration, and comes face to face with the mercy of Christ.

In a shared moment of prayer, a missionary who has come to show the love of Christ to those in need experiences the same love for herself; a local Mexican preacher is encouraged by the missionary’s sacrifice to come and serve in the midst of her loss; and a snobby translator learns an important lesson about Christ-like compassion.

Christ-like  compassion follows the will of God.

Christ-like compassion isn’t bound by time or human priorities

Christ-like compassion  says “ I am willing. Be clean.”

We reflect the compassion of Christ when we embrace interruptions as opportunities to teach others the nature of Jesus.

We reflect the compassion of Christ when we offer to team up with our co-worker to help him  get the project done so he can go pick up his child from school.

We reflect the compassion of Christ when we take some time off from writing that paper for class, to cook a meal for a Bible study group so that participants can be both nourished and encouraged.

We reflect the compassion of Christ when we offer to drive our friend’s mother to her doctor’s appointment so she can attend her daughter’s recital.

We reflect the compassion of Christ when we allow God to use interruptions to make us more like Jesus.

As we continue to become more like Jesus, let’s be  be people who pray for willingness to show compassion and for insight to recognize “every day lepers” who need to see Christ’s compassion mirrored in us.

Let’s remember with joy the times we’ve been the leper receiving compassion,so that we can live lives that tell the story of Christ’s compassion for us so that others might experience the compassionate Christ for themselves.

Let’s be people who thank God, everyday, for the mercy of unexpected interruptions.

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