Interruptions can help us begin again

This season we’re looking to Jesus to help us “begin again, again.” I noticed this week that new beginnings sometimes grow out of unwanted interruptions in our lives, especially when Jesus is consciously involved. But let’s start by acknowledging how annoying and inconvenient and sometimes devastating these interruptions are!

One time in college I was on my way to a very fancy wedding in NYC when I discovered a tick on the back of my neck, right on the hairline behind my ear. Yep. It was nasty because the tick was fully embedded and rather large from being there for who knows how long. I did a lot of wilderness activities in college, often sleeping outside, so I could imagine how this happened. But here I was, with my most urban best friend who knew nothing about removing ticks safely, and we were going to be late for her sister’s wedding if we stopped anywhere. There was nothing I could do except put my hair down and endure the cognitive dissonance throughout the wedding until I could get back to my wilderness friends that night to extract it. What an interruption! I don’t remember anything about that probably-beautiful wedding except that parasite on my neck. But I did realize that I was strong enough to endure an interruption for others.

Obviously this was a pretty harmless interruption. But many of us have experienced costly and devastating interruptions in life: breakups and breakdowns, job loss, car accidents, miscarriage, health problems, death of loved ones, and of course, this pandemic. 

One thing I notice about Jesus this week is that he acknowledges interruptions. He didn’t just blow through them in the gospels. He stopped and was curious about them, like Ted Lasso. He wanted to attend to what was happening, and often they became new beginnings.

I want to learn this openness and patience because often I am so focused on my plans or what I think I’m supposed to be doing, that I miss the opportunity for a new beginning. I don’t want to do that; I want to be changed. I think it’s no coincidence that Matthew records Jesus talking about becoming new wineskins right before a story about a big interruption that Jesus turns into a double new beginning. I think it’s foreshadowing! Jesus is saying that in order to be able to hold and mature this new wine of the Spirit we need to become new, too. Otherwise we’re only going to see the interruptions as inconveniences or failures or bad luck. Becoming new with the Spirit seems to involve a flexibility, like a new wineskin, that can add breathability to the wine so it can ferment into something delicious. We need to be flexible too. The Spirit can help us be flexible and curious about the interruptions in our lives.

In this story, Jesus gets approached by a desperate loving father. His only daughter is dying and he knows that if Jesus will lay his hands on her, she will live. She is actively dying though, and he’s begging Jesus to hurry.

Probably Jesus does try to hurry; he is moved by our pain. But someone else needs him along the way. Someone rather invisible and outcast reaches out and touches the bottom of his clothing. That means she’s on the ground, and she really is in every way as a person. She’s been bleeding for 12 years with something incurable, and bleeding makes one ceremonially unclean so this poor woman probably lived in isolation. Jesus could have just healed her silently and kept moving, but he embraced the interruption instead.

He asks, “who touched me?” His curiosity is real. His disciples think he’s being so ridiculous because so many people touched him, the crowd is pressing in, and they’re in a rush to get to this dying little girl of a prominent family. They didn’t have time for vagrants and outcasts. But Jesus doesn’t view the woman on the ground as any less than the prominent father of the dying little girl. 

Jesus is not annoyed by the interruption; it seems to be what he is for. What really is our purpose in life? Is it to get things done, or please others, the important people with status, or is it to be present to the power of God? Being present to God means pausing and tending to the least of these, even in our selves, the tender parts that can’t just keep moving sometimes. Jesus stops for that, and applies his power there.

It’s a touchpoint. I have a friend who calls interruptions “touchpoints” and I love the resonance with this story because this desperate woman who’s been bleeding for 12 years literally touches Jesus’s clothing and that is her new beginning. She gets close enough to touch, even though by law she’s not supposed to do that with anybody because it would make them “unclean.” The misogyny in the culture was real; women were considered unclean when they were on their monthly cycle. But Jesus came to undo misogyny. He not only wants to heal this woman, he wants to change this culture. He wants to put an end to shame that has isolated her. So he won’t stop looking around until this woman is seen and named and gets to tell her story, until she is healed from shame and restored to community. “Seeing she could not go unnoticed, she told WHY she touched him and how she had been healed.” What a brave act on her part! She obviously feels safe with Jesus. The power of God restored her and she doesn’t seem to feel held back by embarrassment or rejection anymore. Everyone can see her full humanity as she tells her story of suffering and healing and faith. Jesus tells her that her faith has healed her. How empowering is that?!

Did someone ever see your suffering and interrupt their schedule for you? Did you ever get vulnerable enough with Jesus or someone else to reach out for help? I bet not everyone would just keep on moving, I wonder who would stop to be like Jesus to you.

One of our members is in his final days with cancer. Recently one of our other members wen over to check on his friend and discovered how bad it was, and set up hospice care. This friend has barely left his side; he allowed his whole life to be interrupted because he loves his friend. Love enables us to be interrupted and not to count the cost. There is a new beginning for both friends in here somewhere. 

Jesus’s interruption was costly, too, because in the time it took for Jesus to attend to the bleeding woman, the little girl died. Someone came over and said, “don’t bother the teacher anymore.” Don’t worry about coming over, Jesus, it’s done. It’s all over. They don’t realize yet that there’s nothing that can interrupt the flow of God’s love and compassion and grace. It’s limitless.

Did anybody ever say “don’t worry about it” to you but you knew they still needed help? How many times have you said that to others when you were really in need? Did you hold back because you thought there was a limit to their love and capacity?

Jesus tells the wailers at the little girls house to quiet down. He takes two of the disciples in with her parents, and takes the dead little girl by the hand and speaks to her. He tells her to rise up, and she does. Her spirit returns to her body. Jesus attending to the interruption of the bleeding woman doesn’t stop this little girl from living. There’s more than enough love to go around!

Our cell church is built on that truth. But we have fearful thoughts sometimes that if we attend to the interruption that the more important thing won’t get done or there won’t be enough resources to survive. But that’s not the case in God’s economy. Each person is infinitely valuable.

Jesus interrupted the norms of social exclusion and death in this story, so following him might lead us to cause some interruptions. When the norms are hurting or excluding people, we may need to interrupt. 

I have a friend who is kinda shy and working on this in corporate meetings. When he feels afraid to bring up a hard topic he’ll try to say something like, “I noticed that there’s something I want to say that’s messy, can I take a moment to try to put words to it?” Or for someone else: “I noticed that so-and-so was going to say something back there, can we go back?” He’s realizing he needs to embrace clumsiness and awkwardness in order to be an interrupter of things that might need to change. He’s making room for marginalized voices to get into the conversation, and for all of us to be as imperfect as we are in this process of transformation. There’s no getting it perfectly right when it comes to interrupting. We are trying to start something new, and that will always be messy.

When a new person comes to the cell meeting it interrupts the social dynamics of the meeting in a wonderful way. It’s harder to become an insular clique when new friends are regularly included, and that’s the whole point: being part of a culture that is flexible and open to the Spirit through others!

Interruptions offer new opportunities to love and receive love, even and maybe especially when they’re difficult. Some of the biggest interruptions of my life have become the greatest gifts: becoming a Jesus-follower by needing God to interrupt my depression, becoming a parent before I planned it, becoming a pastor when that hadn’t been my goal. These were and are all new beginnings. Now our Circle of Hope is feeling the need to begin again with antiracism, to interrupt the harm to our BIPOC members that has occurred at times even through us. We are reaching out to Jesus and each other for help and healing. May we take his hand to begin again. May we allow him to make us new so we can stretch to hold the fullness of his unexpectedly abundant life.