Note: Pastor Andrew broke his glasses before Sunday’s service, and with no back-up available, was unable to deliver the sermon as written below. The audio captures the sermon as delivered, but if you’re interested in reading the sermon as it was originally composed, the text is included.
+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
How many of you can remember a time when you’ve made it home in the evening and realized that the stuff that’s still on your to-do list looks eerily similar to the stuff that was on it when you left the house that morning? I’ll confess that raising three children aged four and under has made this phenomenon much more familiar than I could have ever thought possible before Evelyn, Isabelle, and Abigail became part of my world. Many evenings, Katie and I compare the list of things that we started out the day intending to do with the list of things that actually got done, and more often than not we discover that one of those lists is much longer than the other. I’m fairly certain you can guess which one is which. I’m also pretty confident in thinking that everyone understands how frustrating it can be when distractions and interruptions cause our carefully crafted “to-do” lists to go up in smoke.
In our gospel reading for today, Jesus appears to be having one of those days. We don’t know, of course, what was on his agenda when he and the disciples landed on the shore after crossing the lake again. All we know is that he was almost immediately surrounded by a crowd of people who, presumably, wanted to hear a few words from the new rabbi whose teaching and preaching had taken Galilee by storm. Personally, I imagine that Jesus was just getting ready to open his mouth and begin teaching when Jairus, the local synagogue leader, suddenly emerged from the crowd, fell at his feet, and cried out: “My daughter is dying! Please! Come lay your hands upon her, so that she might be healed and live!”
Whatever plans Jesus may have had that day quickly faded into the background. He set out toward Jairus’ house, and the great crowd that had gathered on the lakeshore pressed all around him in their eagerness to see what would happen next.
Then, just as suddenly as before, Jesus’ day took another turn, as his plans are again interrupted by an unnamed woman who had been struggling with a terrible illness for twelve years. I’m not sure that she intended to derail Jesus on his journey to Jairus’ house; on the contrary, it seems that she was looking for a quick healing that would go unnoticed and allow her to go on with her life. She didn’t throw herself at his feet and beg him for healing. She didn’t do anything to try to stop him from going about his business. She just hoped that getting her fingers on the very fringes of his garment would be enough to free her from the physical and emotional suffering that had been her constant companion for twelve years. So she pushed through the crowd, approached Jesus from behind, and made a desperate reach for one of the tassels on his prayer shawl.
As soon as she made contact she received the healing that she longed for, but she also became the recipient of some unwanted attention. Jesus sensed that his power had touched someone in the crowd, and he couldn’t keep going toward Jairus’ house until he figured out who that someone was. The disciples balked at his question – Who touched me? – but Jesus was undeterred. Despite the urgency of Jairus’ request, he continued asking for the person who had touched him to step forward. Finally, after what must have seemed like an eternity, the woman stepped forward, fell at his feet, and told him the whole story. His response is striking: “Daughter, your trust has healed you. Go in peace and be whole, freed from your affliction!”
Jesus turned to continue his journey to the bedside of Jairus’ daughter when he was interrupted again, this time by messengers from the synagogue leader’s house: “Your daughter is dead! Why are you still troubling the teacher?” Jesus knew right away that this interruption was not worth his time, so he ignored the messengers, reassured Jairus, and went forward to finish what he had started back on the lake shore. When Jesus arrived at the house, he threw the mourners out of the house, took Jairus, his wife, and three of his disciples to the bedside, and, as if it was perfectly normal, addressed the girl and raised her to new life: “Talitha, koum!” Just like that, the girl was up, walking around, and eating with her family, and Jesus and his disciples were on the road again to continue their mission of mercy.
I love this story, because I think it demonstrates something important about Jesus and his attitude toward life and ministry. As I said earlier, it’s not unusual for us to become angry or frustrated when our carefully planned agendas are interrupted. Part of that is just the anxiety of having to switch gears on the fly, but on a deeper level I think it’s because we often imagine that the things that we have planned are much more important than anything else that could possibly come along. That’s why this reading from Mark is so important: where we see interruptions as problems that derail and distract us from our objectives, Jesus saw interruptions as opportunities to extend his mission to those in need.
This is a lesson that we can all too often forget in the midst of our busy lives. Sometimes, the very people and things that we regard as distractions are – despite the imagined importance of our daily plans – the people and things that God is calling us to attend to. That’s not to say, of course, that our plans are never important, or that we need to entertain everything and everyone who comes across our path. It is to say, however, that maybe – just maybe – the interruption that strikes you or me as a distraction is really an opportunity for us to bring the gospel of life and light into a situation in which it is desperately needed.
That’s a particularly important idea for us to ponder as we prepare for our annual congregational meeting. We all have ideas about where God is calling us to go as the people of St. Paul’s, and your council and other leaders have worked diligently to help carry out the work of our congregation and set the course for the next year of mission and ministry in the Falls City area. We intend to continue daily, weekly, and monthly to follow the Spirit’s leading. As we do that, we should be especially careful that we don’t dismiss the opportunities for ministry that come out of the blue, the chances to extend God’s grace and love in unexpected ways and to unexpected people.
As we reflect on 2015, look ahead to 2016, and then go out from this place in service to God and neighbor this week, let us reflect on this gospel reading and the way that Jesus handles the “distractions” that get thrown his way. Let us pray that God will help us to figure out which “distractions” are actually occasions for ministry and mission in Christ’s name. Above all, let us remember that we worship a God who is always with us, who never views us or our needs as mere distractions, and who responds to us with love and grace beyond measure. Thanks be to God! Amen.