1 Thessalonians 5.13b-23
A version of an old story.
An old monk prayed many years for a vision from God to strengthen his faith, but it never came.
He had almost given up hope when, one day, a vision appeared. The old monk was overjoyed. But then, right in the middle of the vision, the monastery bell rang. The ringing of the bell meant it was time to feed the poor who gathered daily at the monastery gate. And it was the old monk’s turn to feed them. If he failed to show up with food, the poor people would leave quietly, thinking the monastery had nothing to give them that day.
The old monk was torn between his earthly duty and his heavenly vision.
However, before the bell stopped tolling, the monk had made his decision. With a heavy heart, he turned his back on the vision and went off to feed the poor.
Nearly an hour later, the old monk returned to his room. When he opened the door, he could hardly believe his eyes. There in the room was the vision, waiting for him. As the monk dropped to his knees in thanksgiving, the vision said to him, “My son, had you not gone off to feed the poor, I would not have stayed.”
The last thing you want when you’re deep into communing with God is an interruption. The last you thing you want when you’re in the last ten minutes of a big project that’s due tomorrow, is an interruption. The last thing you want when you’re writing your sermon and you just figured out how you’re going to wrap it up, is an interruption. The last thing you want, when the snow is on its way and you have to get the crop into the barn, is an interruption.
Yet a long time ago one of my mentors in my ministry said to me, “You will find that some of your most important ministry will be done in the interruptions.” I wonder if you’ve found that true in your own work and life? Certainly, there are trivial interruptions – the woman who calls you six times while you’re on silent retreat until you finally pick up the phone, only to find that all she wants is directions to the church! The tractor that quits because of a loose wire that only takes a moment to fix, once you figure out what’s wrong. The kids who won’t let you have two minutes alone in the bathroom without pounding on the door! The co-worker who’s bored and wants to talk over the scores of last night’s hockey game – again. Those interruptions are annoying, but hardly significant.
But then there’s the interruption from a young woman who simply wants to go down the hall and sit in the sanctuary and pray because she needs to know that God is listening. There’s the person who phones you at home on a Saturday because their family is hungry and you’re the only way they know to access food. There’s the co-worker who just found out they have been denied a promotion and needs to talk to someone about it, and they choose to trust you. There’s the neighbour’s partner who calls because he’s flat on his back with pneumonia and he won’t get his crop in if he doesn’t get some help from the neighbourhood. There’s the child who calls you from school to tell you that they and a few other friends are walking a schoolmate home from school to keep them safe from bullies, so they’ll be a little late getting home. Those are significant interruptions. They’re sacred interruptions. They’re interruptions which might actually result in thanksgiving – certainly on the part of the person who has been helped, but also on the part of the person who has been given the opportunity to step out of the everyday and serve in Jesus’ name, or to witness that service from someone they love – something they never expected when they planned their day or week or month.
The assigned reading for this week was from the story of Ruth (.Ruth 1:1-17)
For those who don’t know the story, here’s a quick recap. Ruth is a young woman from Moab, who married an Israelite man who had come to Moab with his mother and father and brother to avoid a famine. Ruth’s father-in-law, husband and brother-in-law all died, leaving Ruth, her sister-in-law Orpah and her mother-in-law Naomi without support. Naomi decided to return to her home town in the Judean highlands, for the famine was over. Orpah stayed in Moab with her extended family, but Ruth was very close to Naomi and journeyed with her to the little town of Bethlehem. They were two poor widows with little to sustain them, so Ruth engaged in the ancient equivalent of signing up for social assistance or heading to the food bank– she gleaned the bits of grain that Hebrew law said were to be left in the fields for the poor like her to gather.
Naomi told Ruth to go the fields of a man named Boaz who was a relative of Naomi’s. He had a reputation for being a good man, and unlikely to take advantage of a young woman alone. He did notice Ruth, though, and when he heard her and Naomi’s story he made sure his workers left extra food for her and sat her down for a meal each day safe in their protective circle. Eventually, Boaz got his own blessed interruption. Naomi told Ruth to go the fields at night, lie down at Boaz’ feet, and when he awoke, to ask for his protection. When Boaz woke, there she was – and he soon made arrangements so that he and Ruth could marry. Ruth and Boaz were ancestors of King David, and of Jesus of Nazareth, generations later.
So I have an unusual suggestion for you today, and this week: when your life or work or recreation or rest are interrupted, ask yourself if there might be a blessing lurking in the midst of that interruption? Rather than getting annoyed or upset, consider: Perhaps you too, might find that sometimes, interruptions give rise to gratitude. The letter to the Thessalonians encourages us to “Give thanks in all circumstances, in all seasons”, and even in the interruptions. Amen.