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The Revelation of God in Human Life: Interruptions

October 21, 2012

 

Sermon:  The Revelation of God in Human Life:  Interruptions
Text:  Luke 8:40-56

 

We are continuing our series The Revelation of God in Human Life.  Our sermon today is on the way God reveals Himself to us in the interruptions of life.  I attended a meeting one day this week.  I had failed to silence my cell phone, and it rang in the middle of the meeting.  I silenced it then.  The person calling felt it urgent to talk with me.  If your cell phone is on, I would invite you turn it off now.  I do not need additional illustrations.

We turn to our Scripture passage today, Luke 8:40-56.  Hear now the Word of God.

 

40 Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. 41 Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house 42 because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”

50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”

51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”

53 They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

 

Monday night I met with the deacons.  I must commend our Deacon Chair.  It is amazing that he actually dismissed us in less than an hour.  I can promise you that when we look at the budget at next month’s meeting, we will not be dismissed early.

After that meeting, I ran an errand for Clare.  Just as I was finishing the task, I received a call on my cell phone from my aunt and uncle.  They told me that they needed to go the emergency room.  I was a little concerned because they had not called one of their children.  I found out later that they had tried, but no one was available.

Because I was in my pickup truck, I had to go home first and get a car they could ride in easily.  I knew I could never get them up into my vehicle.  Once I reached their house, I asked if they had all their insurance information.  They assured me that they did, so we proceeded to get into the car, which was no small task.  Before we started for the hospital, I again said, “Let’s be sure you have the insurance information.”  A long search ensued.  Neither one could locate the papers for quite a while, but finally we got on our way. 

I suppose I had gone less than a mile when I realized that I had a flat tire.  What to do?  My uncle began volunteering to change the tire.  I would never ask him to do that.  Because I have trouble seeing at night, I knew that I would not be able to change it.  I also knew that I needed to make two phone calls.  I first called my brother and asked if he could pick up and drive our aunt and uncle, our aunt and uncle, to the hospital.  He was available and arrived fairly quickly.  Then I called AAA and asked them to send someone to change the tire.  They said it would take about half an hour for someone to come.  It took much longer.

I sat in the car waiting, waiting, waiting.  Two guys on bicycles came through the dark and tapped on my window.  I recognized immediately that they were Mormon missionaries.

They asked, “Sir, can we help you?”

I asked, “Are you Eagle Scouts?”

I have been to enough Scout jamborees to know that many Mormons are Eagle Scouts.  Almost all Mormon missionaries are Eagle Scouts.  Scouting is the youth program in the Mormon church.

“Yes, we are Eagle Scouts.”

“Have you ever been to a national jamboree?”

Taking them off on a Scouting jaunt is called ministerial diversion.  I let them talk about Scouting for a little while, then said, “I am a Southern Baptist pastor.  AAA is on the way to fix the flat. Thank you for stopping.”

As soon as I revealed my identity, they said, “If we cannot really help, we will be on our way.”  The men did not want to talk to a Southern Baptist pastor for very long, but they need to meet one every now and then.

I waited a while longer.  Eventually, a very young man from AAA pulled up in a pick-up truck.  He came over to my car and looked at the tire.  “That’s a big tire.  Do you have a doughnut?”

“No, I have a real tire in the trunk of this ’94 Buick.”

He said, “I’ve never seen a spare that big.”

“How long have you been doing this?”

“About five weeks.  Let me get some tools.”  He walked back to his truck and returned with a tiny screwdriver, one of those cheap kind from a big box store.  He was holding a small flashlight in his mouth.

I asked, “Don’t they give you some good tools to use?”

“No, we have to provide our own.”

Since changing the tire together took us a while, we became engaged in a conversation.  I asked, “What were you doing before five weeks ago?”

“I was in the Marine Corps.”

“Where did you serve?”

“I was at Camp Lejeune first.  Then I served in Afghanistan for more than a year.  I just got home five weeks ago.  This is the job I have, and I’m trying to learn to do it well.”

I assured him, “You’re going to be just fine.  If you have been in the Marine Corps, you are going to do just fine in this job.”

He added, “My wife comes with me when I work at night.  She does not like staying at home by herself.  She’s afraid.  I work twenty-four hours on and twenty-four hours off.”

The evening’s events were an interruption.  I missed most of Monday night football.  Can you imagine that?  That experience, though, was an opportunity for me to encounter some really important people.  Because my aunt and uncle needed me, I not only saw them but also met two young Eagle Scouts doing their Mormon mission.  I met a young Marine, just out of service, and his wife.  I invited the couple to church.  I do not know whether they will come, but they told me they did not have a church home.

When I got home, I was so tired.

On Tuesday afternoon, I had another interruption here at the office when a very desperate woman came in unannounced.

Our children and our grandchildren often interrupt us.  Of course, we stop and respond to the people we love.

I thought about those experiences and talked about them with Clare.  I could actually see the hand of God at work in those interruptions.  It is important for us to learn to pay attention when God interrupts, when things happen in ways that we do not expect.

Do you realize that Jesus was also constantly interrupted?  Sometimes another person interrupted him.  If we read the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, we see that Jesus had had a long day in which he healed a man in the synagogue, healed the mother-in-law of Simon Peter, and then healed people well into the night.  Then he left early the next morning and to pray.

His disciples interrupted that prayer time, saying, “Don’t you know people are searching for you?  You do not need to be up here on the mountain by yourself praying.  You need to be taking care of all these people.”

On another occasion Jesus and his disciples needed a retreat, as we saw in the Scripture last Sunday.  They left the throng so that they could go to a solitary place.  The whole crowd, 5000 men and their families, met Jesus and the disciples at their destination.  Jesus did not turn the people.  Because he had compassion, he healed many and taught them.  Then he told his disciples, “You feed them,” and enabled them to do just that.

In our text for today, we read of another person who interrupted for Jesus.  The ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum, Jairus, came to Jesus with the plea of “I need your help.”  Any rabbi worth his salt would help the ruler of the synagogue.  No one wanted to do anything to offend that person.  Jesus started on his way to the home of this important man whose twelve-year-old daughter was at the point of death, the Scripture says.

As Jesus made his way through the crowd, maybe through the marketplace, people pressed all around him.  He felt someone touch his garment and knew that power had gone out from him.  He stopped dead in his tracks and asked, “Who touched me?”

Surprised, the disciples answered, “What a question!  Look at all these people around you.  It could have been anyone.”

Jesus explained, “No.  I felt power go out of my body.  Someone touched me as an act of faith.”

A woman confessed that she was the one who had touched his garment.  Jesus healed her, simply on the basis of her faith.

By this time, messengers from the home of Jairus have arrived.  They told Jairus, “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.  Your little girl has died.”

You can imagine how grieved Jairus must had been when he heard this news.  Jesus assured him, “Don’t be afraid.  Keep the faith.  She is not dead.  She is only asleep.”

Hearing the weeping and wailing as he neared the home, Jesus instructed the crowd to be quiet.  When Jesus told them, “This is no time for a funeral dirge.  The child is only sleeping,” they laughed at him.  Jesus would not allow anyone who had no faith in that house.  Only Peter, James, John, and the parents went inside the house.  Jesus healed the little girl, actually raised her from the dead.  Luke’s Gospel, in saying that her spirit returned to her, meant that the life came back into her.

This account of Jesus performing a miracle on the woman in the crowd is recorded in three of the four Gospels.  We find it in Luke 8 and Matthew 9, but Mark 5 is the earliest of the accounts.  It has some distinct differences that I want to point out to you.  Please turn with me to Mark 5.  Verse 25 sounds just like the account in Luke 8:  “A woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.”  Verse 26 differs in that it gives more detail about the suffering she had gone through:  “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many physicians and had spent all that she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.”  The woman had sought assistance from one physician after another with absolutely no benefit.  Instead of getting better, she grew worse.

You realize that Luke does not mention any of that information.  Why?  Luke was a physician.  He left the information out of the account because he did not want to defame his fellow physicians.  You understand that the Gospel writers do not provide us with a photograph of Jesus.  They offer a portrait, each one painting differently, painting with the distinct personality and style of the Gospel writer.

One other marked difference exists in the way Mark and Luke present the story.  We see the variation at the very end of the healing of the little girl.  Mark 5, Verse 41 says, “Jesus took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’”  We have in Mark’s Gospel the Aramaic words Jesus used when he healed this child.  Mark also knew Aramaic.  He included the very words Jesus spoke in his native tongue.  We can hear the compassionate heart of the Master in those words.  I doubt that Luke, the only Gentile writer in the New Testament, knew Aramaic.  He certainly knew Greek, and he gives us a perfectly good account of this healing in that language.

We begin to see how important this interruption was just in the way the stories are told.  Jesus cared deeply for the little girl and certainly for Jairus, not because Jairus was an important man but because he was a father whose child was very sick.  Jesus also cared for this woman, who according to Jewish law, would have been considered unclean because she had an issue of blood.

The circumstances of life also interrupt us.  An illness may surprise us, take us out of commission.  Those of us on the staff visit the hospital frequently.  Sometimes I encounter people who did not expect a trip to the hospital.  They are very impatient with their circumstances.  I understand just how inconvenient a hospitalization can be.  I have been a patient myself.  The Bible tells us that sometimes God makes us lie down so that He can restore our soul.  Sometimes God interrupts our lives through events like an illness because He knows that we need healing that is much deeper than physical healing.  We need spiritual restoration as well.

A sudden death is certainly an interruption.  Some of you know exactly how that feels.  It can take months or even years to get over the death of a loved one.  Sometimes natural disasters interrupt our lives.  I am not suggesting that we assume a Pollyanna attitude, saying that everything is right with the world.  I am suggesting that we look deeply into Romans 8:28, remembering that God really does work together for good in all situations.  That Scripture is not saying that God makes bad situations occur.  It means that God can mold and shape those difficult life interruptions so that we receive the revelation of God.

I do believe in a kind of randomness in this life, but I cannot explain everything.

I received an e-mail entitled “How Was Your Day?” that I want to share.  Listen carefully to this conversation between God and a person who feels put-upon.

“God, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Promise you will not get mad?”

“I promise.”

“Why did you let so many bad things happen to me today?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I woke up late and got to work late.”

“Yes.”

“My car took forever to start, and I had to jump it with jumper cables.”

“Okay.”

“At lunchtime, the waitress got my sandwich order wrong.  I had to send it back and another cook to fix a new sandwich.”

“Yes.”

“On the way home, my cell phone went dead just as I picked up a call.”

“Yes.”

“On top of all of that, when I got home my feet were aching.  All I wanted to do was soak them in my new massager and relax, but it would not work.  Nothing went right today.  God, why did you do that to me?”

“Let me see.  This morning the death angel was at your bed.  I sent another angel to battle for your life and allowed you to sleep through that.  I kept your car from starting because a drunk driver on your route would have hit you.  The person who made your first sandwich was sick.  He would have given you salmonella.  I did not want you to catch what he had, so I got you to send it back for a fresh sandwich.  Your phone went dead because the person calling wanted to gossip, which you did not need.  And that foot massager?  It had a short in it.  If it had worked, it would have blown out the power in your house.  Listen.  Learn to trust me.  Do not doubt my plan.  My plan is better than your plan.”

We can take the view that God is tinkering with all the details of our life.  It works just fine as long as we are the beneficiaries, but it raises questions about times when God seems not to intervene.  A person wakes up in the morning, and the death angel is there.  The person dies.  What about the person who is killed by a drunk driver?  Or the person who eats the sandwich and becomes sick?  Or the person who hears gossip on the cell phone?  Or the person who loses power in his home because of a faulty appliance?  This sword cuts both ways.  How are we to understand that?

Trying to understand what he called double-edged predestination turned John Calvin inside out, pretty much tied him in knots.  How could God favor some but not favor others?  My take on this is that we are better off letting God be God rather than trying to explain everything about Him.  We must take seriously that teaching in Isaiah 55:8, “My thoughts are not your thoughts; my ways are not your ways.”  I do believe in a certain amount of randomness in our world, but I also believe in very few coincidences.  God is at work in every situation; He really does have a good plan for all of us.

Think of the stories in the Bible where God interrupts.  Moses was in the wilderness tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, when he sees a bush that was burning but not consumed.  He drew near.  Realizing that he was on holy ground, he took off his sandals and stood there to receive his marching orders.  God directed him to go to Egypt and declare, “Let my people go.”  Moses did not want to follow those directions, claiming he had a speech impediment, but God would not take no for an answer.  He insisted, “You go.  You are the one I choose.”  Moses was eighty years old at the time, according to the Scriptures.  Do you think that interruption changed his life?  I promise you that it did.

Take a man from Tarsus, Saul, traveling on his self-assured way to Damascus.  God interrupted his life and changed his name to Paul.  He was never the same again, and neither was the world.

God’s greatest interruption of all was announced to a teenage girl.  Think about Mary in Nazareth when the angel Gabriel appeared to her and changed her life forever.  What an interruption!  God told Mary that she was going to be His instrument to bring about a great plan of incarnation.  God chose her, and she could have never imagined what God had in store for her.

God interrupts our lives sometimes in dramatic ways.  I would suggest to you that He interrupts your life every single day with a sunrise, a sunset, a rainbow, a butterfly, the last hummingbird of summer, the colors of fall – and that from a colorblind man.  God interrupts our lives on a daily basis, sometimes in the magnificence of the small details of nature, sometimes in a grandchild who simply asks for attention, or maybe an aunt and uncle who need help getting to the emergency room.  God interrupts our lives because He wants us to know something more about His nature, something more about His purpose in our lives.  We must pay attention.

In her Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes – The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

Imagine the great God of the universe interrupting our lives by becoming one of us.  That is exactly what He did in Jesus.  This divine interruption changed everything.  We look at the life of Jesus and see how to live.  We look at the death of Jesus and see God’s plan of salvation.  We look at the resurrection of Jesus and see the great hope that is ours in heaven and life eternal.

Have you allowed God to interrupt your life?  Have you allowed Him to barge into your life through Jesus Christ?  He will change everything.  That will make all the difference.  If you have never done that, I would invite you today to accept Christ Jesus as your Savior.  There are those here today who need to make that decision.  You respond.

 

Kirk H. Neely
© October 2012

 

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