• Julie Hinz

Listening for God in the Interruptions


A Sermon Preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church

The Third Sunday After the Epiphany Text: Matthew 4:12-23

January 26, 2020

The Rev. Charlie de Kay




Good morning!


We interrupt the regularly scheduled program to bring you this important message: Herod Antipater, known by the nickname Antipas, ruler of Galilee and Perea under Emperor Tiberias, has arrested John the Baptist. We now return you to our program, already in progress.


How do you prepare for the unexpected, the disruptive event? Is it stockpiling supplies into a flood-free, earthquake proof, fallout shelter? Is it through professionally calculated risk assessment? Or do you manage it best by living faithfully in loving relationship with God fully present in the current moment?


We interrupt this program to bring you this important news update: John the Baptist having been arrested, the man whom he identified as the Messiah, the one long promised, who – according to Judean sacred texts – would restore Israel to her former glory as a unified, regional power, has disappeared. Various reports have him in Jerusalem, while others have claimed he was in Samaria, Perea, even Galilee. This man may be headed back to his home in Nazareth. His motives are as unclear as his destination. What appears clear is that this threat to the stability established Herod has disappeared with him. We now return you to our program, in progress.


This is not like receiving the Los Angeles Times when you expected to find the Chicago Tribune waiting at your doorstep. No, this is like being awakened in the hospital by a brilliant whiter-than-white shimmering bright light – yet somehow soft and warm not harsh like a police interrogation lamp – and a commanding and irresistible voice convincing you not to be afraid, but to trust that all is well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well. The hospital – that center of the interrupted life (and itself usually in an interruption in the plan of the day) – where nurses, attendants, staff, and even doctors leave you alone for long stretches only to heighten the surprise when their insistent knock precedes yet another check-in, check-up, or pull you away from where you’d just gotten comfortable for yet another test.


We interrupt this program to bring you this important news update: John the Baptist, has been put in prison by Herod Antipas’ guard. We can now firmly report that a man matching the description of his friend, Jesus of Nazareth, whom he claims to be the Messiah, has been positively identified in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee. It’s been said that he, too, has begun to preach, “Repent, for the Kingdome of heaven has come near.” Followers of this story may remember that John the Baptist had a similar message as he called his followers to be washed in the Jordan. We will be listening to hear what this man has to say. We now return you to our program, in progress.


Some argue that for a good manager, the interruptions are the job, more important than all the planning, meetings, and execution of plans. The interruptions are the point at which reality inserts itself into the very best imagined plans. In the hospital, the interruptions are the moments when the staff intervenes and attempts to arrest the illness or to assist in the healing from damage caused by an accident. Monks, seeking to be ever mindful of how God’s interventions are always received by humans as disruptive events, intentionally interrupt their workdays with services of prayer. The monastery bell calling them back to prayer is a disruptive force, interrupting their work and personal meditations.


We interrupt this program to bring you this important news update: John the Baptist, now in prison, identified one man, Jesus of Nazareth, as the Messiah, who would come after him. He has been reported to have been spotted in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee where it appears he is making his home. Strange events are being reported about him. One witness testified that he watched as this man approached a group of fishermen at work, casting nets into the sea. Without any introductions, this man, Jesus of Nazareth called out to Simon and his brother Andrew, saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” The witness says this is where the story gets strange. The fisherman – Simon and Andrew – turned at the voice, smiled, dropped their nets and walked away from their work, doing as this man commanded.

Then, eyewitnesses reported that it happened again. As the now three men walked further along the shore they came across another group of fishermen – Zebedee and his sons James and John – in their boat mending nets. Jesus – they say – called the young men and, likewise without explanation, they dropped their unfinished work, got out of the boat and followed this man. Their father Zebedee had no comment. We now return you to our program, in progress.


How do you prepare for the unexpected, the disruptive event? Consider, for instance the biblical story in the Gospel of Matthew of the calling of the first disciples. Scholars note that “The fisherman are already at work, already doing something useful and important, thus they are not looking for a new life. Jesus’ call does not fill an obvious vacuum or meet an obvious need in their lives, but like the call of prophets in the Hebrew Bible, it is intrusive and disruptive, calling them away from work and family.”[1] Jesus calls, the disciples don’t speak. The kingdom of God has come near – in Matthew’s text the passive tense always indicates the handiwork of God, not the actions or intentions of people. In Jesus, God’s heavenly kingdom is breaking in, establishing itself in our midst. The question for us as Christians today is not if it is or if it will again but can we prepare for it and how might we be likely to respond when it does?


In our faith tradition, we understand the reality through a particular lens: God is in charge. We need not fear. God loves you, no exceptions.


How do you prepare for the unexpected, the disruptive event? Is it stockpiling supplies into a flood-free, earthquake proof, fallout shelter? Is it through professionally calculated risk assessment? Or do you manage it best by living faithfully in loving relationship with God fully present in the current moment?


Assuredly each approach has its value. As Christians might we best be served preparing for the unexpected by trusting in God’s love and staying present? If we remember that God is in charge, we fear nothing but God. It’s worth noting that the first disciples responded by disruption with a parallel disruption of their own: a leap of faith. Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John were not hypnotized or under a spell. They responded of their own free will. Jesus chose them, and they, in turn, chose to follow Jesus. St. Augustine in his classic autobiography, Confessions, wrote: “I could not seek you, if you had not already found me.”


At a monastery, the bells call monks back to prayer, intentionally interrupting their work, reminding them to put God at the center, and to remember (through imitation or following Jesus’ example) that God is always breaking through our time, our space, our moment.


In closing it’s worth noting what happens next: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” The work of the kingdom – restoring all creation and all people to wholeness and to true freedom – had begun.


May we – as we uncover our passions with God’s help – be willing to listen for the divine call amidst the interruptions that we might hear how Jesus is calling us to follow him. Amen.

[1] M. Eugene Boring, “Matthew.” The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume VIII, page 171.

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