Excerpts from a sermon preached on July 1
Chapel of St. James the Fisherman, Wellfleet, MA
As I stood in the pulpit, a scruffy man walked up the center aisle. Who was he, what did he want, and why was he interrupting my Easter sermon?
He stood in front of the altar, looked up at me and said, “Hey Mama, what’s happening?” With a smile of recognition and relief, I replied, “Good morning Pop. It’s Easter, and I’m talking about Jesus. So have a seat.” Sensing the congregation’s curiosity, I introduced my friend Bacardi. Spontaneous applause greeted him as he took a seat in the front row.
I met Bacardi on my first Sunday as rector of that inner city church. Finding myself in unfamiliar territory, I couldn’t help but notice a noisy group of men sitting on the litter strewn corner - drinking, laughing, and gesturing at me. Feeling both curious and out-of-place in my new suit and neatly pressed clergy shirt, I walked into a bodega and bought a few cups of coffee and a pack of cigarettes. I went back out on the corner and approached the men, offering each of them a smoke and some coffee.
“Who are you?” they asked. “I’m the pastor of the church,” I responded. They laughed, and one said loudly, “A woman preacher in that church, no way.” But we kept talking, and I invited them to come and see for themselves.
Over the years, Bacardi and his friends hung around my church, watching over its buildings and its female pastor. Sometimes, one or more of them would come in for food, clothing or shelter; periodically, one would seek my counsel or ask for money; and once in a while, they’d wander into the sanctuary to pray or make a confession.
So whether or not the Sunday congregation knew it, it made perfect sense that, in spite of his dirty clothes, scruffy beard and hangover, Bacardi came to church on Easter morning. What I didn’t quite understand was his unusual entrance.
In silence, Bacardi sat through the sermon, stayed for the prayers, and passed the peace. In silence, he listened to the choir anthem, witnessed the communion table being set, and watched the ushers bring up the offering. All’s well that ends well, I thought.
However, just as I was about to begin the Eucharistic prayer, Bacardi stood up. He walked to the altar, smiled at me, put a dollar on the Lord’s Table, wished me Happy Easter, and then left, this time by the side door. As he departed, I sensed a silent relief from the congregation, but I felt like It was a very holy moment. In an Easter morning interruption, the Risen Christ, disguised as a homeless drunk, had come among us and blessed us.
That’s how it is. Life happens, God acts, and Christ appears in the interruptions. Yet, we often experience interruptions as nuisances: a needy child intrudes into your conversation; an unexpected visitor disrupts your morning schedule; a cell phone rings during a concert; bad weather ruins your vacation; an emergency disrupts your weekend; or an illness, accident or death of a spouse interrupts your life.
Interruptions break into the normal state of affairs and stop the continuity of events. It is no wonder we’re taught as youngsters that it is not polite to interrupt others.
Though I don’t always welcome them in the moment, I have come to see interruptions as opportunities of divine grace waiting to be recognized and received. In fact, I believe that the Risen Christ is always standing in the shadows of life, and every now and again, more often than not, makes God known to us through some action or event, an interruption into the ordinary realm of possibility. We never know when Christ is going to move from the shadows to center stage. It just happens, and when it does, the normalcy and complacency of our lives is interrupted.
The evangelist Mark tells us that, “Wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that he might touch even the fringe of his cloak.” (Mark 6.56). Did Jesus reject or refuse all these interruptions? No, Jesus saw the realm of God at hand as an interruption to be welcomed.
On this Independence Day, our nation is being interrupted by the moral crisis of our current immigration policies. If you found yourself in one of the more than 600 locations participating around the country Saturday, you would have been interrupted by neighbors expressing disapproval of our government’s policy of building border walls, separating families, raiding workplaces, refusing visas, and keeping innocent people locked up in horrid detention facilities.
What would Jesus do, and what is he calling us to do? I believe Jesus would not have passed by and ignored this crisis. He would have allowed himself to be interrupted, offered compassion to the suffering, and interrupted the political establishment by speaking out and expressing his opinion. You and I are called to do the same.
As Paul wrote, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” (2 Cor 8:14)
Again, most of us don’t like to be interrupted, and we’re taught that it’s not polite to interrupt others. One of the challenges of gospel living is to make room for interruptions: to look up and stop what we’re doing when we hear, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt but….” God only knows what will happen, what gifts might be given and received, how we might be instruments of God’s grace, how we might ease someone’s pain or share in another's joy, and how we might experience the life of God more fully.
The other challenge of gospel living is to be willing to interrupt: to interrupt our neighbor when we need help; to interrupt our neighbor on behalf of another who needs help; to interrupt the status quo when it needs arousing; and to interrupt acts of hatred, evil and oppression whenever and wherever they may be found - even in the highest office of the land. For in and through the interruptions, we experience and release the life-giving power of God.
Yes, it might not be polite to interrupt others, but whoever said that Christianity was polite. So the next time you are interrupted, or you want to interrupt somebody else, remember – Life happens, God acts, and Christ appears in the interruptions. - Tracey