Mark 5:21-43; Psalm 30
It might surprise some of you but I am quite obsessed with punctuality. Since I am on no official clock you might think I would be a bit casual concerning promptness. That is hardly the case. I don’t wear a watch because I would be checking it constantly. I can tell you exactly what I will be doing tomorrow at 8:00 because it was the same thing I did last Monday at 8:00. I can tell you which nursing home I will be visiting next Tuesday at 1:00 because it is the same nursing home I visited last Tuesday at 1:00. I can not stand being late for an appointment which means I am usually early. The downside of this is I do a lot of waiting. The upside is I always keep a book in my car. My first adventure into Central America 30 years ago was a disaster because Nicaraguans tell time differently than me. A favorite phrase in Central America is, “We will meet in the afternoon”. Not we will meet at 2:45, but we will meet in the afternoon. I wanted an exact time. My Nicaraguan friends kept explaining we will begin when everyone arrives. Things like this drive me crazy but it didn’t seem to worry them in the least. Now when I go to Central America and someone asks me for the time of day, I say, “It is afternoon. When the sun goes down it will be night.”
Besides waiting, a second huge part of my life is consumed with interruptions. Folks don’t usually plan for illness or emergencies. The only time you will not find me working on the bulletin at 1:30 on Monday afternoon is if someone is having surgery. Interruptions are not something for which I plan, but I know they are going to happen. A minister I greatly admire once said, “My whole life I’ve complained about my work being interrupted until I discovered interruptions are my work.”
Most of us have not come to that conclusion. I suspect you feel a tinge of inner protest when someone disrupts your schedule, bad weather ruins your Tee time, or illness puts previous plans on hold. We like to have life wrapped up in a tight little ball, knowing exactly what will happen next, certain of the appointed hour when we begin and when we call it quits. But that is not the way life is. Interruptions can’t tell time. Interruptions play havoc with our schedule. Interruptions shift the emphasis from my time management to your crisis. Most of the folks who interrupt you are not all that interested in what they are interrupting. They have a problem. They want you to solve it. Their crisis becomes your crisis. The last answer they want to hear is, “I will deal with your problem, but not right not now. You must first wait.”
Our inability to wait and our frustration with interruptions plays a major role in our gospel lesson this morning. The story reveals the desperate situation of two very different people. The first was a powerful man named Jairus who finds himself in a powerless situation. His daughter is dying. The doctors regretfully explain nothing could be done and death would soon follow. Someone tells Jairus of a miracle worker from Nazareth. Normally he would dismiss such talk as nonsense, but he is desperate. So he goes to the healer for help.
It is recorded that a great many people gathered that day to hear Jesus speak. But the father is persistent and pushes to the front of the crowd. Jairus begs Jesus to come with him. In other words, the crowd can wait; the sermon can be interrupted; I need you right now. Drop what you are doing and follow me.
After hearing his pleas, Jesus agrees to go see the daughter. But as Jesus is walking through the crowd, there is another person who has waited for more than a day to be made whole. She is a nameless woman who has suffered from bleedings for twelve years. Like the father, she too has heard about Jesus. She too has come to the seashore hoping for a miracle. And now her only hope is walking away toward the town. She quickens her step, slips past the disciples and reaches out to touch the robe of one she knew could save her. Jesus feels the touch, stopped and inquired, “Who touched my robe?”
An interruption! On the way to heal one person another steps into his path. A woman, clinging to her last chance for restoration, forces the father to wait on his only hope for life. The two people, unknown to each other are now linked together in this deadly tug of war. Can you imagine what must have been going through their minds? The woman trembles with the remote possibility her anguish might be over while the father stands to the side knowing his agony has just begun. In the midst of their hope and pain, two voices are heard. Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you whole.” At the same time a neighbor quietly said to Jairus, “Your daughter is dead.” Screams of joy are overshadowed by shrieks of grief. Before his very eyes the father has witnessed a miracle. Jairus has seen firsthand the power of God. But the miracle, the interruption, had come at the expense of the life of his daughter.
The woman had waited 12 years for a miracle. Who can blame her for suspending time? It was the chance of a lifetime and she took it. But who can question the father’s frustration. Why did Jesus have to stop? Jesus could have healed the woman later that day. His crisis was immediate. There was no tomorrow. Now it was too late.
One of the really important things that I have learned in my many years of ministry is that our schedule and God’s schedule might not be exactly the same. Sometimes a marvelous idea comes to us. We believe the idea is so brilliant that it must be the work of the Holy Spirit. We gather folks around us and investigate how we might make God’s inspiration part of our perspiration. We go to a committee and share our dream. They believe it to be a good idea. The work begins to make our dream a reality. But “t’s” have to be crossed and “i’s” have to be dotted and things don’t move as fast as we had anticipated. In the back of our head we wonder if this is really what God had in mind. As patience begins to wane, so does our enthusiasm. Sometimes a good idea is lost because of our desire for instant gratification.
Could interruptions be a way of measuring our faith? For twelve years that woman waited for the opportunity to be cured. For twelve years that woman prayed that she might find relief. Then one morning she woke up knowing today is the day. She stepped forward, seized the opportunity and was healed. But her salvation seemed to lead to the misfortune of another. What of the father? Was he not patient enough? The tough question is did God save one at the expense of another?
The Psalmist cries out, “Lord, I cry to you, hear my voice.” Then he takes a deep breath and continues. “I will wait for you, like the watchman waits for the morning.”
As a kid I used to deliver newspapers. Every morning I would get up, retrieve the papers, fold them and put them in the basket attached to my bike. Most mornings I began my route in total darkness. During the winter months, I would often finish before the sun would rise. Many a morning I prayed that the sun would arrive earlier to light my path and warm my body. Delivering newspapers I learned two lifelong lessons. First, the sun never rises on my schedule. Second, there was never a morning the sun failed to rise.
God’s time is not our time. If we dare ask God to join our journey, we must be willing to be patient, to endure interruptions and set backs, and faithfully wait for the sunrise.
40 years ago I might have ended the sermon here and said, “If you believe and have patience in God, God will provide.” But you are too smart for that kind of simple resolution.
Sometimes the miracle does not happen. Sometimes both the woman and the child die. In our community we witness death more often than miracles. Death cast such a long shadow over us it might seem we are living in an age of darkness. Perhaps that is why many people of faith claim poetry over prose.
The Psalmist writes, “God’s anger is but a moment, while God’s favor is for a lifetime. Be gracious to me, O God.”
I went to a funeral on Wednesday. I was sitting in the pews so I did not have the usual duties that occupy my mind. It was an African-American funeral so I knew it was not going to be short. As is the habit, a designated person came forward to read all the cards that had been sent. I wish Hallmark would hire someone who is a bit more creative. My mind began to wander and I had left my book in the car. In desperation, I took the bulletin and reread the obituary. Margaret Clark lived 80 years. She had children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, all of them, at that particular moment in time, saddened by her death. But she had lived 80 years. She had given life to those who gave life, who in turn will eventually give to others.
I know Mrs. Clark’s daughter. No one has any idea how many people have received a miracle because of Betty Howard. Her life has been constantly interrupted by cries of desperation which she somehow turns into opportunities for hope.
Wednesday, our eyes could have focused on a moment in time when death appeared victorious. Only the family would have none of that. Their very presence reminded me to focus on the life of their mother in which every day was a blessing. As the Psalmist would say, “Turn your mourning into dancing. Be grateful for what you have rather than linger on what you lost.”
Our lives are lived in the midst of interruptions. You can believe your time is held hostage by the needs, the pain, even the dreams of others. Or you can believe the concept of time has never belonged to any of us in the first place. I like to think we are living in GST, God’s Standard Time, where each interruption is an occasion to celebrate the past and each inconvenience is an opportunity to change the future.
The poet promised, “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.” The next time a life threatening crisis appears on your horizon, instead of running over everyone and screaming for help, might I suggest you step back, take a deep breath, and imagine Jane Andrews singing, I Need Thee Every Hour.
Then look at the big picture. You might find it brighter than you ever imagined.
To God be the Glory. Amen.