Several years ago, while I was on vacation, a friend and I went backpacking. Our trip was cut short by interruptions. The hike was all right and the scenery was beautiful. The neighbours by the lake were a royal pain. Our plans, you see, were interrupted by the bugs. Mosquitoes, horse flies, black flies, no-see-ums; you name it. They were so thick around us we could hardly see. We tried repellent. It didn’t help. We tried smoke. It worked for about a minute. We tried running from them (almost literally). If we kept walking we could lose the horse flies after a while. But almost as soon as you lost one group, you stumbled into another. Finally we tried hiding in our tent. It meant missing out on exploring the beautiful lakes, but we felt we had no choice. After we spent 10 minutes hunting down all the ones that got in there with us we could settle down for some sleep, laughing at the thick swarming mass of bugs sitting on the screens trying to get in.
Or so we planned. Shortly after dark the other neighbours appeared. A herd of very heavy-footed mule deer decided that the plants around our tent would make a fine all-night banquet. They stomped around and around for hours, sometimes so close to the tent that you could not only hear them chewing, but breathing. Finally around 2 am. I had had enough and I yelled out into the darkness. “Get lost, we’re trying to sleep!” In the light of my small flashlight I could have sworn I saw one of them look up, raise an eyebrow, and turn his back to me before continuing with his supper.
What’s my point in all this? None of the ways we tried to handle the interruptions in that trip worked. In fact they seemed to just make things worse. But that’s exactly how most people try to handle those unexpected, unwanted, and frustrating interruptions in their life. They either try to run, or they try to hide, or they lash out in their anger and frustration. When you run away from one problem, though, you usually end up running smack-dab into another that’s even worse. When you hide yourself away from the interruptions, you end up missing out on so much that could enrich your life. When you are quick to lash out in anger or frustration, you lose credibility and trust. Especially when the interruption isn’t trivial like insects, but as important as a real live person with hurts and needs and feelings!
You see, dear baptized, all too often, when we get wrapped up in the way we think things should be turning out, we handle the interruptions that come our way in the opposite way in which God would have us do. Instead of having compassion, we run or hide or lash out. That’s part of sin’s legacy. In fact sin itself is one great big interruption in God’s perfect plan. The perfection God created had nothing in it to distract or deter, or frustrate. The interruptions all started with those first little words the serpent said “Excuse me Eve, I’m sorry to bother you, but could I speak to you over by that tree?” From there it has only continued to snowball out of control. Not only the interruptions themselves, but our sinful responses to them!
But in our Gospel reading for this morning we see God’s amazing response to interruptions. Even the interruption of sin. Jesus and his disciples have been reunited after long months of separation. It is a time of both great joy and much suffering. There is joy because disciples have be successful in proclaiming the message of Christ’s kingdom and many miracles were performed. But there is also a note of great sadness, for they have also just heard that John the Baptist has been killed for preaching just that very same message!
30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
Jesus can see the jittery edge his disciples have. He can see how tired they are, how jangled their nerves are. He was probably not feeling much better. What they all needed was rest. Time to recuperate and regroup. But they couldn’t find it there. The crowds kept interrupting them to the point where they can’t even enjoy a single meal in peace. Jesus and the disciples tried to find that peace by getting into a boat, but it doesn’t work. The crowds interrupt them again.
32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.
So what does Jesus do? Does he keep trying to run away? Does he try to hide? Does he lash out at the crowds in his frustration? No, even though we might expect that, he does just the opposite. He welcomes the interruption and has compassion on the people.
34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied.
Jesus is the God of all compassion. He is that shepherd promised in Jeremiah. He is the Righteous Branch, the reigning King, the One who is wise and just. He is the one who will bring back all the scattered sheep of God. For Jesus, people and their problems could never be an interruption. That’s what He came for. Whether it was helping the exhausted disciples or the confused and hurting crowds. He came to gather each and every one of you to himself, showing you his boundless compassion in the midst of all life’s interruptions.
Think about it … Jesus interrupted His heavenly sojourn, so that He could be born as one of us. So that He could face all the interruptions that sin brings into life in this world. The Gospels are full of accounts where Jesus’ planned ministry is interrupted by people, or events or a lack of understanding. Only Jesus never ran, or hid, or lashed out. He reclaimed those interruptions, using each and every one of them to further the work of His salvation. And finally, when His work on earth had been fulfilled; when He had kept the law of God perfectly; He caused a little interruption of His own. He died on the cross. He was buried in a tomb. And He rose again to life on the third day.
Through Jesus’ life death and resurrection He has interrupted our path of sin and death, with the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. He has broken down the dividing wall between us and God. He has brought back all those who had strayed away. Jesus reclaimed the greatest interruption of God’s plan: death itself. And through death – His own death – brought life and peace forevermore.
And it’s that life and peace that He brings to us time and time again, when we meet together in His house for worship. This time together every week is meant to be a welcome interruption in the daily routine. A chance for us to come away with our Lord Jesus for a time of rest and recuperation. Church is supposed to be that welcome interruption in our life which takes us out of the world for a few precious moments, and places us in the loving arms of our Saviour.
It is the time and place where all our worries about the here and now can be calmed. Where in their place we can be given things eternal: God’s Word and the Holy Sacraments. Church is where God interrupts your worried and hectic life with peace and rest, hope and joy, forgiveness and life eternal.
Church is a heavenly interruption which prepares us to face all the other interruptions of our life. It is Jesus’ way of giving us all the gifts we need so that when everyone, and everything seems to come knocking unbidden at our door we don’t have to run or hide or lash out. Instead we can, face those interruptions with the compassion that our Saviour first showed to us. And the more we stop trying to run or hide or lash out at all the interruptions in our life the more we will come to see that our Lord of all compassion is there for us in those interruptions, with even more gifts give. Thank God for life’s interruptions!