Sermon: Life Interrupted...Or?

December 1st, 2011

When were you last interrupted? Perhaps your sleep was interrupted this morning when ecstatic children bounced on your bed exclaiming, “It’s Christmas, get up, get up!” Sleep interrupted. Or perhaps you were at your desk last week, trying to get those last few items finished up before the holiday, when the phone rang. You almost didn’t answer it, but you were afraid it might be that prospective client. But then you picked it up and it was a telemarketer, soliciting a donation. Work interrupted. Maybe you were running late on your way to the airport to catch your flight home for Christmas when you got stuck in mall traffic, almost missing your flight. Travel interrupted.

In the book Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen acknowledges the frustration and even anger that accompany these constant interruptions. But, he says, what if our interruptions are in fact our opportunities? What if all the unexpected interruptions are in fact the invitations to give up oldfashioned and outmoded styles of living and are opening up new unexplored areas of experience? (Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, [New York: Doubleday, 1975], 52). Instead of viewing these interruptions as things that keep us from our work or ministry, how would we be different if we viewed interruptions as opportunities for ministry?

Most of the time, interruptions are just minor annoyances that temporarily distract us from what we are trying to do. And in these cases, Nouwen’s thoughts help me manage the small interruptions. But what about those more serious interruptions, the ones that rock our worlds?

There you are at your desk, trying hard to get that report finished when the boss pops in. Perhaps he regretfully informs you that due to downsizing your job is being outsourced overseas. Or perhaps it’s been a good year and you’re being promoted to headquarters, which is half a continent away. Major life interruption or an opportunity for personal growth and ministry? Maybe you have worked hard and saved for years to buy or pay off your home. Then one late summer day the weatherman warns of a Category 5 hurricane headed your way. Two days later everything you own is gone. Major life interruption or an opportunity for personal growth and ministry?

Imagine that you are one of the main characters in our gospel text this morning. Imagine yourself as Mary or Joseph—your wedding plans are put on hold and your standing in the community is threatened when Mary becomes pregnant before you are married. Imagine the response from friends and family when you claim from the beginning that the child was the future Messiah fathered by the Holy Spirit! If that weren’t enough, the government requires you to travel to Bethlehem for a census count late in Mary’s pregnancy. The city is overcrowded with weary and shorttempered travelers, all of the inns post no-vacancy signs, and labor begins. Without proper medical help or the support of family and friends, you deliver your son in an unheated, unsanitary barn. Life interrupted or opportunity for personal growth and ministry?

And what about the shepherds? Picture this scene with me—twilight is long gone and there is no moon this night. The darkness, inky black and all-encompassing, settles over the field. Sleepy shepherds take up strategic positions among their slumbering flocks, trying to remain alert to any sign of danger. All of a sudden, the night sky explodes with light and an angel of the Lord appears before them, announcing the birth of the Messiah, the Savior, and telling them to go and find him! Sleep, work, and life interrupted, or a once-in-a-lifetime chance to worship the newborn king?

As an adult, Jesus had a habit of breaking into lives unexpectedly. Jesus called fishermen from their nets and a tax collector from his office. Work interrupted or an opportunity to embark on a whole new path? Jesus spoke to the woman at the well and dealt with the local religious leaders who were about to stone the woman caught in adultery. Life interrupted, or an opportunity for two marginalized women to receive grace and a second chance to live their lives with wholeness and dignity? Jesus interrupted the status quo and the security of centuries of established religious practices when he ushered in the kingdom of God among us. Jesus interrupted those who tried to silence him by executing him, and he interrupted the power of evil by overcoming death and rising again from the dead.

Jesus is still about the business of breaking into lives today. For some of us, we hear the call like the shepherd, “I am bringing you news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day . . . a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord!” We arrive at the manger in amazement, to worship our King and then we return to the work that God has already called us to do, but our hearts are changed forever. God may be calling some of us from our offices or fishing nets, whatever they may be, to follow Jesus on a whole new vocational path.

God may be calling others of us to speak up on behalf of those who for whatever reason cannot speak up or defend themselves. Still others of us may be called on to stand against the status quo, against those who can no longer see interruptions as possibilities for growth and ministry. When was the last time you were interrupted?

Sermon adapted from The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2008, ©2007 Abingdon Press

The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2012 is available now from Ministry Matters.

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