“Greetings, favored one,” the Angel Gabriel declared to Mary, “ the Lord is with you” You have found favor with God, and for that reason we are putting life as you planned it on hold. We have placed within you a Divine Interruption, which shall be the salvation of the world…
Have you ever noticed that salvation almost always comes in the form of an interruption? I’m busy writing my sermon. Trying to write my sermon. Trying very hard to write my sermon. But a woman comes in wanting food for her two kids- Needs a food card from our Congregational Care Fund, and a couple minutes of kindness.
She leaves. Back to the sermon. Little while later, another guy comes. Needs gas. Give him a gas card from our Congregational Care Fund, and a couple minutes of kindness.
All he’s wearing is a light-weight zip-up sweatshirt. It’s 18 degrees outside. You ever wonder what happens to coats that hang around in the back closet too long? He also leaves with a coat.
Back to the sermon. Remember I have to do the January newsletter. Torn between sermon and newsletter. Phone call comes in for Dousman Home Meals: the daughter of a woman with dementia calls, needs meals for her mother on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Find her a route and work on the directions to her home, call the kitchen, call the daughter back- yes, we have you all set up. Is your mom well enough to answer the door?
Back to the sermon… or was it the newsletter…?
And the angel comes: Greetings, favored one; the Lord is with you… and for that reason we are putting the sermon and January newsletter on hold. Instead, we are giving you Divine Interruptions, which to some will mean salvation.
And I respond, Well, thanks and all. But I really have a lot to do. People have been dropping by all day, and I really don’t know how I’m going to get my work done….
And the Angel responds, Whose work, Nansi? Yours, or God’s?
Salvation comes in the form of Divine Interruptions…. You’re sitting there in front of your computer trying to finish up the proposal that your boss wanted yesterday. It’s taking longer than you anticipated; you are totally focused on it.
Your son comes in and says, “Dad, I need to talk.” Staring at the screen you say, “Son, can’t it wait? I’m in the middle of this proposal.” But he keeps standing there, and you glance up. And seeing his face, you push Save, and turn away from the demands of tomorrow for the needs of your son tonight.
John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” True enough. But maybe it is more than that. Maybe it is deeper than that.
Bede Griffiths was a Benedictine mystic back in the 60’s. He said it like this: “Anything which breaks through the routine of life may be the bearer of a message to the soul.”
Sickness, need, exhaustion.You walk in to your living room, and there are all these friends of yours standing there. You didn’t invite them. You didn’t know they were coming. One of your friends speaks up as you walk in, and says, “You think you’re hiding your drinking; but you can’t hide. We all know.” And your life turns into a chaos of denial and shame. They know, and there is no more hiding. But perhaps, by the grace and mercy of God, there may someday be sobriety.
Anything which breaks through the routine of life may be the bearer of a message to the soul.
So the angel comes: Greetings, favored one; the Lord is with you… and for that reason we are putting life as you planned it on hold. We have placed within you a Divine Interruption, which shall be the salvation of the world…
And we respond, Well, thanks and all. But I really have a lot to do, and I don’t know how I’m going to get all my work done…. And the Angel responds, Whose work, Child? Yours, or God’s?
Miss Jean Thompson was an elementary school teacher in Philadelphia. It was September, and all the children came to school, and she made the speech you always make to children in the first week of school: “Boys and girls, I love you all. I have no favorites.”
Teachers lie. Of course they have favorites. And there are some children they don’t like. And little Teddy Stollard was a boy that Jean Thompson did not like. And for good reason: He was always in a daze. He sat in a slouched position. His clothes were always musty; his hair was unkempt. He was a dirty boy. An odor-filled boy. An unattractive boy.
When she spoke to him, he always answered in monosyllables of “Yea… Nah”. There was an insolence in his voice. His mouth hung open, and his eyes were always unfocused. He was someplace else. He wasn’t there.
When she marked his paper, she got a perverse delight out of putting ‘X’s next to the wrong answers. And when she put the ‘F’ at the top of the paper (and there was always an ‘F’ at the top of his paper,) she did it with flair.
She should have known better. She had records. Teachers have records. First grade: “Teddy is a good boy. Shows promise. In work and in attitude he is above average.”
Second grade: “Teddy is obedient and well-behaved. His work is always done on time, but he is deeply troubled. His mother is terminally ill.”
Third grade: “Teddy is a good boy. He does what he is told. But he is slipping behind in his work. His mother died this year.
Fourth grade: Teddy is slipping hopelessly behind. He needs professional help. His father shows no interest. Miss Jean Thompson had the records.
Christmastime came. All the boys and girls brought their presents as children will do, and piled the presents on her desk. They were all wrapped in brightly colored paper- all except for Teddy’s present, which was wrapped in a brown paper sack and scotch tape. On his present in crayon was scribbled, “To Miss Thompson, from Teddy”.
When she tore open the paper, out fell a rhinestone bracelet, with half of the stones missing, and a bottle of cheap perfume that was half-used-up. The other children began to giggle, but Jean had enough sense to quiet the class, slip on the bracelet, put some perfume on the other wrist, hold it up for the children to smell, and to say, “Isn’t it lovely? Isn’t it lovely?” Taking the cue from the teacher, they all agreed.
And the end of the day, when all the other children had left, Teddy lingered behind. He came over to the desk and he said, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother; and her bracelet looks real nice on you too. I’m glad you liked my presents.”
And when he left the room, Miss Jean Thompson got down on her knees and cried before the Lord, and asked God to forgive her. Oh, she had always been a Sunday School teacher, but for the first time she realized that her calling was to create the Kingdom of God in that classroom; to create a Sanctuary, a safe place, God’s place in that classroom; to transform that classroom into the kind of classroom that God would want it to be.
And the next day when the children came, they came not to a school; they entered into a Sanctuary that had been cleaned for God and transformed into God’s Kingdom. A place where Teddy Stollard was loved, and cared for, and tutored.
She did that: she tutored the students, particularly the slow ones, particularly Teddy. And by the end of the year, he had caught up with a lot of the other students; he was even ahead of some.
She didn’t hear from Teddy for a long time. And then she got this note: “Dear Miss Thompson: I wanted you to be the first to know. I’m graduating second in my (high school) class. Love, Teddy Stollard.”
Four years later, another note: “Dear Miss Thompson: I wanted you to be the first to know. I’m graduating first in my class. The university has not been easy, but I liked it. Love, Teddy Stollard.”
Four years later: “Dear Miss Thompson: I wanted you to be the first to know. As of today, I am Theodore J. Stollard, MD. How about that? I’m going to be married in July- the 27th, to be exact. I want you to come, and I want you to sit where my mother would have sat. You see, you’re the only family I have now. Daddy died last year.”
Miss Jean Thompson went to that wedding. And she sat where Teddy Stollard’s mother would have sat, because she deserved to be there. She was a woman who understood that she was called by God to transform her part of the world into the kind of place that God would want it to be. She was claiming the Kingdom on earth.
Teddy Stollard. A smelly, unkempt, no-account boy, by some accounts. By another account, the Divine Interruption by which a woman’s life would be shaped, formed and glorified. Whose work are you doing, Miss Jean Thompson? “Yours, Lord. Yours.”
Whose work are we doing, dear friends? For the angel is coming to us with a Divine Interruption, saying, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you….
In the Name of the One who breaks through life as we know it, to give us a life we could never imagine, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resource: The story about Teddy Stollard comes from Tony Campolo’s “Compassion” sermon
During Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary who lived in Nazareth, a town in Galilee. She was engaged to marry a man named Joseph from the family of David. Her name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “Greetings! The Lord has blessed you and is with you.” But Mary was very confused by what the angel said. Mary wondered, “What does this mean?” The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, because God is pleased with you. Listen! You will become pregnant. You will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and people will call him the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of King David, his ancestor. He will rule over the people of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end.” Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen?” The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you. The baby will be holy. He will be called the Son of God. Now listen! Elizabeth, your relative, is very old. But she is also pregnant with a son. Everyone thought she could not have a baby, but she has been pregnant for six months. God can do everything!” Mary said, “I am the servant girl of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!” Then the angel went away.