Sermon: Holy Interruption

Faces of Faith sermon series
Acts 20:7-12
2 Kings 5:1-14

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Quick poll: how many of you had heard of Eutychus before today?

[Four people.]

I cannot understand why this story isn’t more popular. This is the most relatable story in the Bible. This is about a guy who fell asleep during the sermon.

Why do we not talk about this more? Why is this not in every Sunday school curriculum? “Hey kids! Good news! People fell asleep in church during Bible times too! But then they died from falling out a window.” It’s the carrot and the stick!

Because this is an unfamiliar story, let me add a little more color for you. Paul has been with the people of Troas all week, but now he’s leaving tomorrow, and he has just like, a couple of little things he wants to leave them with, it’s just gonna take a few minutes of everyone’s time here after this lovely Sunday gathering.

Hours later…Darkness has fallen. Lamps have been lit—which have the effect of making everything all warm and cozy, and my friends, if Paul’s letters are any indication of how he actually talked, I mean, can you imagine?

Eutychus might not be the only one nodding off…but he is the one who decided that the sill of a third-story window would be a great place to sit, and one moment he’s there, and the next minute, he’s on the pavement.

Because Eutychus was sitting at the back, Paul is the only one who had him in his line of sight when the poor guy went out the window. All everyone else sees if that all of a sudden, Paul’s hours-long monologue abruptly stops and he books it out of the room.

Paul doesn’t pause to call for help! He doesn’t ask if there’s a doctor in the house! He leaps into action! And Eutychus is saved!

What that tells me about Paul’s spirituality is that he knew, knew so deeply that in a moment of crisis he didn’t even have to think about it, that the gospel of Jesus Christ was empty unless it was willing to let words of grace be interrupted by acts of grace.

How did Paul’s spirituality come to be that way?

Well, the other thing about this story is that in the narrative of Acts, it functions as the interruption of a much longer travel itinerary. Eutychus’ saving is an incidental tale, told between much longer accounts of Paul’s comings and goings among various cities. And the pattern you notice emerging throughout Acts is that Paul changes course a lot. In fact, the only reason Paul is in Troas in the first place is because his plans to go to Syria are interrupted by a plot against him.

By this point in the Book of Acts, Paul is so used to being interrupted by the Holy Spirit that his reaction time in the face of surprises like people falling out the window during his sermons is down to zero. The Holy Spirit has been training Paul for this moment. He has gotten so good at letting God interrupt him that he isn’t even fazed when it happens during his sermon. He is ready for whatever God throws at him.

Are we?

What’s our reaction when God interrupts us?

Speaking for myself, in general, I am profoundly annoyed. Like, “Look, God, can’t you see I’m in the middle of something here? I have a plan! It’s a good plan!”

And then I get insecure, on my hamster wheel of anxiety. Like, “Don’t you like my plan, God? Did you have a different one? Have I not been listening carefully enough?”

hamster wheel
Behold, my hamster wheel of anxiety!

And then often Jesus is like, “I’m sorry, did you think you had this whole ‘follow me’ thing down perfectly and forever? That’s adorable, and I love you, and also this is what it’s like to be my disciple.”

And Jesus doesn’t lie! The man was a walking interruption. He certainly disrupted his mother’s plans. He stirred things up in his hometown to the point that they tried to throw him off a cliff. Every one of the 12 apostles had other things going on in their lives before Jesus showed up and said, “Follow me!” He interrupted the Pharisees’ understanding of the law, the Samaritans’ understanding of the separation between the Jews and themselves, and basically every category that the mainstream population of his time and place used to define who was in and who was out and why.

Interruptions are one of God’s favorite ways to work.

We all have stories of God interrupting us, and they usually don’t start out as fun for us. But here’s the thing: every time God gives us an interruption, God is also issuing an invitation.

Interruptions are God’s way of inviting us to imagine the present—and the future—differently. They are God’s ways of offering to redirect us. They are offers in a game of…improvisation.

Some of you may know that I was a drama major in college…but you probably don’t know that I wrote my senior thesis on American improvisational theater. Brace yourselves.

Every time God interrupts us, God is giving us what we in the “biz” would call an “offer.” And we, as God’s partners in this scene, have a choice about whether to say “yes” or “no” to the offer.

The golden rule of improvisational theater is “Yes, and.” It is the foundational rule upon which all of improvisational theater works. And here’s why:

If I come into a scene with a partner whose first words, their offer, to me are, “I can’t believe you kicked my cat!” and my response is, “I didn’t kick your cat,” then what you, the audience, get to watch is an argument about a cat kicking that may or may not have happened. Eh.

But if my partner says, “I can’t believe you kicked my cat,” and I say, “I’ve had it in for your cat for years, ever since he locked eyes with me while barfing into my most expensive pair of shoes and I realized that he was a psychopath, and so is his entire species. Join me in my campaign to put this furry menace in its place once and for all!”…well, that is a very different scene! Which one would you rather watch?

crazy cat
Adorable, psychopathic, who really knows where the line is? 

When you “Yes And” a scene—when you not only accept someone’s offer, but you build on it—that’s when amazing things begin to happen…and this is particularly true when God is your scene partner. When we accept God’s offers, they have ways of leading us to things that are different and difficult and wonderful and far outside the scope of our own imaginations.

The Bible offers a glimpse of “Yes And” in action in the endings of some of the different gospels. In the gospel of Mark, the women show up on the morning of the resurrection and a young man in white appears to them, interrupts their expectations, tells that Jesus is risen, and invites them to go and tell the other disciples. The women run away, and in the most reliable manuscripts of the gospel of Mark, the very last words of the gospel are, “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

That’s all.

That’s where it ends.

That’s what a “no” to God’s offer can do. It literally ended a gospel.

Now, if I was feeling nitpicky, I would point out that if the women in fact told no one, how would the author of the gospel of Mark have known that???, but instead of nitpicking, let me remind you of what happens in the gospel of John when Mary sees the risen Christ. She runs back to the disciples and says, “I have seen the Lord!” And that’s the first seed of the gospel of the resurrection. Mary is the first person to proclaim it…and look at us now, after 2000 years of people who heard that news and that command to share it and said “Yes, and…”

We NEED to be interrupted. We are prone to getting stuck in our own little hamster wheels of whatever plans we’ve made, and once we’re there, it’s a lot harder to listen for that still, small voice that might nudge us into something we need. Poor Naaman in our Hebrew Bible reading is a perfect example of what happens to us when we get into those phases—those waters of healing were right in front of him, and the cure for his leprosy was so simple, but he was so wrapped up in the way he thought things should go, that he came this close to the decision to just be sick and angry instead of wrong and whole.

When God interrupts, it can be profoundly annoying, but it’s also profoundly life-giving…and as Christians, we have a unique witness to the power it can have for us, because at the core of our faith is the ultimate act of interruption: Christ’s death and resurrection.

Jesus’ coming back to life is the best cosmic “yes, and” ever: “Yes, the Son of God did die, and he rose again.” Christ interrupts all our expectations about the very worst that can happen to us with the good news of his own victory over sin and death and every single thing that makes us afraid of being interrupted, afraid of losing track of the Plan, afraid of saying “Yes, and.”

Where is God interrupting you?

Or…maybe I’d better say…What is God inviting you to?

What will you say?




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: