Interrupted by Grace
June 27, 2021
Text: Mark 5: 21-43
In our scripture today we have a wonderful story of Jesus going about his ministry. He crosses the Sea of Galilee, and when he gets off the boat, there is a large crowd wanting to hear more from him. He gets ready to teach them and then a man comes up and says his little daughter is dying and he asks Jesus to come to his house to heal his daughter. Jesus knows that a lot of people have gone to a lot of trouble to get the venue and set up the sound system for his appearance; furthermore, the crowds have been waiting. But he is able to change his plans and plans that his followers had for him, in order to go with this man to attend to his daughter. So, he starts out on his journey. Then a woman touches his garment and he knows it, and he stops what he is doing and asks who touched him. He waits. Everyone else is trying to give him excuses and explanations for what he feels. But he waits. And finally, the woman speaks up and tells him her story. He takes the time to listen and to assure her that her faith has healed her. About the same time, the father of the sick daughter is told that his daughter has died, so there is no need to go to the man’s house. Jesus overhears this exchange and says, “Don’t fear; only believe.” So, he continues his journey along with a few of his close disciples. But there is a large crowd at the house lamenting the death of the child. Jesus is not dissuaded. He says to them, “Stop your weeping. The child is only sleeping.” The crowd laughed at his naiveté. They surely said things like, “Bless his heart. He wants to help but this is a lost cause.” Jesus then goes inside and brings the child to life. The scripture says, they were overcome with amazement. Jesus said: ”Give the child something to eat, for Pete’s sake.”
Life is full of interruptions. Some interruptions we ignore or forget to acknowledge. I almost did this on Friday.
Friday, I had lunch with Rome, a 23-year old in Baltimore who was living on the street until my friend Natasha took him under her wing. After lunch we were walking back to the office and said to ourselves, let’s just go into the Renaissance Hotel and see if we can talk to the HR Director about setting up a relationship that would allow us to send prospective workers to the Hotel for jobs. We went into the office area and the security guard said all jobs are posted online and that is how you apply. Rome said, we understand that but we just want to talk with the HR Director to make a personal connection. The guard looked skeptical but went and got the Director as we waited in the office. Sherrice came out and we explained what we wanted to do. She was happy to meet us and definitely wanted to have more applicants for all the jobs she had available. We asked about herself. She explained that she started in Housekeeping at this very hotel, about sixteen years ago. She worked her way up to finally taking a job in HR. But Marriott, who owned the hotel at the time, moved her to other hotels, some in DC, over the past 10 years. When she lost her job due to Covid last fall, she applied to this Baltimore hotel, now owned by another company, and started her job just last week. She is so glad to be back at her old hotel, and back in Baltimore, so she can spend more time with her husband and children. And, yes, she would love to be a guest speaker in one of our training sessions. Her day was interrupted but she did not turn us away. At lunch just an hour before, Rome and I were wondering if we would be able to interest HR Directors at hotels and restaurants in hiring women who have been living on the street. Sherrice’s response was a touch of grace, as she calmed our fears that no one would want to partner with us.
Some interruptions we cannot ignore.
Many of you know that my brother Pierre went to prison for six and a half years when he was sixty-two. He was charged with fraud and embezzlement. At the time he was CEO of a $700 million foundation. The state shut down the foundation without having any evidence of wrongdoing. They were responding to a reporter’s allegations. And, although Pierre was innocent (and they knew that), he had a 10-month trial in order to save their political reputations. The jury ruled he was guilty of three counts of fraud. Family and friends were devastated. This was so unfair. However, while in prison, Pierre began working for the chaplain, who became a good friend. In that position, he mentored several young men who had never had fathers, or appropriate role models. Many came to know the Lord and left prison changed men. Pierre showed up, even in prison, and was a source of Grace. His favorite hymn in prison was “He Giveth More Grace,” for he felt God’s grace even while locked up. He has been out for almost six years. I believe that had he continued running the $700 million Foundation, working as hard as he was working, he would be dead now of a heart attack. Instead, he is healthy and able to play with his 4 grandchildren, all of whom have been born since he got out of prison. A life interrupted by Grace.
Most if not all of our mission groups came about through interruptions.
I think of Allen and Janelle Goetcheus. They stopped by Washington DC on their way to the mission field in Pakistan. After meeting Gordon and learning more about the Church of the Saviour and its ministries, they stayed and started Columbia Road Health Services, next to the Potter’s House. Janelle became a leader in health care in our city and two years later was asked by the federal government to manage a number of health centers. A year later that became Unity Health Care, with clinics all across the city, merging Columbia Road Health Clinic into that network. She and Allen then worked with others to build and operate Christ House, helping people from the street heal from minor medical problems or recuperate after a hospital stay.
Ann Barnet was a doctor at Children’s Hospital and -- with Gordon Cosby’s encouragement -- gave a talk at the School of Christian Living’s pre-class dinner one evening. “We need to do something about the low birth weight of children being born in DC,” she said. Barbara Quist and Betty Price said, “Yes. We will drop what we are doing and help you create a place where pregnant women can get the care they need to make sure their babies are born healthy.” The Family Place is now forty-one years old and literally thousands of babies have been born healthy as a result.
Marja and David’s lives were interrupted when they responded to a call to start Joseph’s House, moving their whole family into the third floor of this hospice for people with AIDS.
The Dorsey’s have kept interrupting their lives every time they have invited another refugee into their home -- well over twenty now.
I know that each of you listening can think of ways, small and huge, that your life has been interrupted -- either by chance or by your response to call. I challenge you to think of these interruptions as grace because interruptions will continue.
What we learn from the scripture story for today is that Jesus, too, was interrupted, and he stopped to pay attention and respond. That is the first lesson: Stop and pay attention. He also made an effort and was faithful. He took off to the man’s house to visit his daughter even when the crowd said she was dead. Don’t bother, they said. Even when the crowd laughed at him, he continued. That is a second lesson: Do the work required and be faithful. And then he told them not to speak about this healing, and to give the child something to eat. That is the third lesson: Be humble; don’t make a big deal about it; just be practical.
But of course, someone made a note about it and two thousand years later, we get to read about it and be blessed. My prayer for each of you is that you will feel and know for certain God’s grace in your lives -- even in the midst of interruptions.