“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Sermon Series Continues

Date:  February 12, 2017

Title:  “Interrupting Cow”

Preaching:  The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard

Scripture:  Luke 10:38-42

            There is an old joke that goes like this:

Knock, Knock – Who’s there?

            Interrupting Cow – Interrupting C… MOO!

             Before I could even ask “Interrupting Cow Who?” I was interrupted!  How annoying that is, right?  If you have children in your life, you’ve heard “Interrupting Cow” before, probably too many times before.  Kids seem to love this joke, while adults find it irritating and annoying.  We find it annoying because we tend to think all interruptions – the things, the people and the events that break into our lives, disrupting us and causing disconnections where we least expect them – we tend to think all interruptions are annoying to some degree.

And yet, the truth is, some of life’s greatest invitations come to us as interruptions.  Think about it for a moment.  We slip from the darkness of the womb into the brightness of the world – an interruption and an invitation.  We embark upon educational adventures, moving from home to school to school in a series of interruptions and invitations.  We grow up, make friends and lose friends – constant interruptions and invitations.  We birth our own babies, we bury our dead, we find jobs and lose jobs, we struggle, we succeed, we fail, we grow…all interruptions, all invitations.

Our lives are full of interruptions.  And so is God’s life in our midst.  The Biblical record is nothing if not a story of interruptions.  From the serpent interrupting Eve in the Garden, to Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers; from Moses being interrupted by a bush burning in the desert, to Saul being blinded by an interruption on the road to Damascus, the Bible is full of interruptions. And Jesus’ own ministry was a continuous stream of interruptions.  How many times do we read that Jesus was “on the road to”, or “on his way to”, when he is interrupted, and something significant happens?  Jesus is a guest at a wedding when the party is interrupted as they run out of wine.  He’s on his way to heal one person when another touches the hem of his robe and he perceives that power has gone forth from him.  He is trying to take a little break from the work when the crowd follows him, interrupting his rest, and he ends up feeding 5000.  All interruptions, all invitations to do something new and to offer something more.

This morning we hear another story of an interruption and in invitation, in the story of Mary and Martha.  Now let’s be honest – how many of you would rather have Jesus say something like “Mary, why don’t you go help Martha for awhile?  We can talk during dinner.”  Or better yet, what if Jesus said “Martha, I’m so sorry!  What was I thinking?  Why don’t we all go into the kitchen and work together to get dinner on the table?”

But no – what we get instead is a perspective which speaks to some of us all the time, many of us much of the time, and all of us some of the time, when Jesus says “You are worried and distracted by many things.”

You see, we all have something of Martha in us, which causes us to miss the gift of the interruptions in our lives.  Mary sees the invitation in Jesus’ visit.  Mary recognizes the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet, to learn firsthand what it means to live wholeheartedly as a child of God.  Martha – and too often, you and I – see only the interruptions. Martha can only see the additional tasks, and the burden of extra guests.  In our distraction we allow a thousand things to take on the weight of urgency.  It is precisely this tyranny of the urgent which causes us to lose sight of the important, and blinds us to the invitation inside the interruption.

Jesus was a master of recognizing the invitations that came his way.  I think of the healing stories, the teaching moments, the holy times when Jesus somehow manages to let go of his own agenda, abandon his own schedule, and forget about the “many things” in favor of the “main thing”, choosing to see and respond to the invitation hidden in the interruption.

The 13th century Persian poet we know as Rumi put it succinctly in his poem entitled “The Guest House”.  He writes:

This being human is a guest house.

            Every morning a new arrival.

            A joy, a depression, a meanness,

            some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

 

            Welcome and entertain them all!

            Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

            who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,

            still, treat each guest honorably.

 

            He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

            The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

            meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

 

            Be grateful for whatever comes.

            Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

             This is the second in a four-week sermon series called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, in which we consider what it means to be a neighbor.  Last week we heard the story of the Good Samaritan, and this week it is Mary and Martha who remind us what it takes to be a neighbor in the best sense of the world.  If we are to truly be a neighbor as Jesus calls us to be, we have to make some room in our lives for the interruptions of the holy.

Mary knew what the Samaritan instinctively understood, and what we need to remember in these days of social and political upheaval…that sometimes our agendas, our schedules, and our To-Do lists only get in our way.  We have to make room for the interruptions which are more about “being” than “doing”, more about loving and living as whole-hearted people.  Being a neighbor means making room in our lives for interruptions.

And it means opening our eyes to the invitations inherent in the interruptions.  Like the Samaritan, and just like Mary, we have to be able to see more than an inconvenience in an interruption.  We live most of our lives by following familiar patterns and particular cycles.  An interruption breaks the pattern, and gives us the chance to create a new pattern, to entertain a new possibility or to experience a new way of being.  Being a neighbor means opening our eyes to the invitations inherent in the interruptions.

And finally, it means magnifying the opportunities we receive when we say “Yes” to those invitations!  Just imagine the opportunities Mary receives as she sits at Jesus’ feet.  Just imagine the opportunities we will receive, when we let love interrupt all the ways we try to hide, or when we let God interrupt our flights of fancy which take us out of the here-and-now into some make-believe world of busyness and worry and fear.

Let me say it again – some of life’s greatest invitations come to us as interruptions.  Eric Butterworth tells the story of one valiant woman who not only saw the invitation, but answered it, time and time again.

It seems a college professor had his sociology class go into the Baltimore slums to get case histories of 200 young boys.  They were asked to write an evaluation of each boy’s future.  In every case the students came back saying, in one way or another, “He hasn’t got a chance.”  There was just too much stacked against these boys.

25years later, another professor came across the earlier study.  She had her students follow upon the project to see what had actually happened to those boys.  Amazingly, they were able to find almost all of the original 200, contacting 180 of them.  Of those 180, they were surprised to find that 176 of them had achieved more than ordinary success as lawyers, doctors, teachers and businessmen.  The professor was astounded and decided to pursue the matter further, contacting each of these men to ask, “How do you account for your success?”  In every case, the reply came, “There was this one teacher…”

The teacher was still alive, so the professor sought her out and asked what magic formula she had used to pull those boys out of the slums and give them a chance.  The teacher’s eyes sparkled and she said, “It’s really very simple.  I loved them.  I paid attention to them, no matter how busy or scared, or discouraged, or disheartened or tired I was.  I just loved them, that’s all.”

She just loved them.  She just made some room in her life for them.  She just opened her eyes to them.  She just magnified the opportunity she saw in them.  Perhaps we could do the same, for anyone who asks us today, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”  Because some of life’s greatest invitations will come to us as interruptions, even today.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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