Caitlyn knows where the waiting rooms are. Whatever the hospital, whatever the floor or the department, Caitlyn has sat in a lot of waiting rooms and has since she was able to sit alone for more than ten minutes, if I was visiting you, there was a decent chance that Caitlyn was waiting outside.
Most of the time there was no problem, was just dropping in on my way home, reminding someone that the church still loved them and knew where they were and Caitlyn was just going home so there was no rush. Sometimes Caitlyn had other plans and we stopped by the hospital anyway because that is what I do.
And so that is what she does.
It’s not a big deal, most of the time she’s got a book with her if not some homework so she just sits and waits as her father goes about his work.
To be fair, she would complain a little at first and nowadays she has gotten old enough to just take the bus home instead of relying on me, but in the middle there for a while, she was excellent.
You see I explained that the world is full of distractions, it is chock full of interruptions. Some of them are the kind that you like to have, like Desperate Housewives or the Big Bang Theory or, for me at least, Spanish Soccer. And then there are the kinds of things that you’d actually prefer never happened, like old high-school friends calling you up out of the blue, more common now in the days of Facebook; or members of the congregation calling you up in tears and saying that their loved one is in the hospital and could you please come and give comfort.
But part of what we are called into when we are called into faith, when the Holy Spirit of God reaches down into our hearts and minds and changes us forever, part of that calling is to make space in our lives for the interruptions, and even to begin to seek them out, finding new ways that other people can become important to us, can become a part of our lives.
Sometimes that means sitting for ten minutes or so, nothing really, while dad holds a hand, checks in, reminds someone that in Christ they are never alone.
Caitlyn also knows where the food pantry is. While this congregation never really embraced the notion of serving at the food pantry we have brought our young people from time to time to serve their fellow man, the residents of Bennett and Rincon Valleys who find themselves a little food insecure.
I thought she and the rest of the kids might benefit from seeing that, from realizing that kids in the Bennett Valley School District, classmates of theirs, might get some of their food from the pantry, that they might learn that it can happen anywhere, it is not a judgment on their character or their work ethic, sometimes it’s just bad luck.
Sure it takes two afternoons a quarter out of my life, one to shop for the pantry, one to serve there, but the humanity you regain, not gain as if you never had any to begin with but regain as in to reclaim from the television and the wine club and the insulating comforts of modern life; the humanity you regain is precious, it humbles you to see and to do, to learn and to learn to love.
I don’t know if it still bothers Caitlyn that you can’t shop at the pantry until you’re fourteen, but man that used to grind her up. There was something her dad was doing, for reasons she understood from working at the pantry and seeing the faces; something I was doing for the sake of the others who interrupted her life from time to time, and she wanted to lend a hand, she wanted to be a part of it.
Caitlyn and Jonathan and Jaleah and Sabin and Maddie and Lilli and Austin and Bennett and even little Sarafina, let’s not pretend that they are not distractible from the task at hand, we’ve seen them drift and wander on recycling days, wandering off to chat and joke and goof off. We bring them back and they go back to work because they understand what is at stake. Other people’s lives are at stake. We’ve donated enough to the food bank to provide hundreds and hundreds of meals for people who might only get one or two in any given day, yes, here in Sonoma County, here in Santa Rosa, right next door.
But they need to keep seeing it. After a while memories fade and things that you’ve touched and felt with your own hands, the elderly lady whose pension is not enough clasping your hand in gratitude for carrying her groceries to her car, the eyes closed in peaceful slumber after a long struggle, those things are buried under the avalanche of the interruptions we choose, the distractions we embrace and call our lives.
If you stop looking after a while, the human faces, the people attached to ideas like poverty, income inequality, hunger, homelessness, they become a part of the wallpaper, no more real than anything else they say on TV, no more important than the price of olive oil a continent away, the wedding of two inexplicably famous people halfway around the world, the machinations of a despot trying to hold down the last scrap of his relevance by parking a tank on it. They are abstractions; ideas that make us go tsk, tsk, tsk, shake our heads and then tune in to Top Chef.
It is more comfortable, it is certainly easier, after all, the cable bill is already paid. We have order and a schedule and undesired interruptions can be held at bay by caller ID and our insistence that Criminal Minds and Dancing with the Stars are a vital part of our lives, that we don’t have time to come to evening services, to help out at the pantry when the truth is we have the time, we’re just spending it on other distractions.
And just in case you are thinking that I’m getting pretty pompous up here what with the descriptions of all the ways I answer my calling, half of the TV shows mentioned here, are ones we watch pretty regularly at our house.
So I get it. I understand. I know how hard it is to pry yourself away and to give up some of your time and your attention.
But you also need to know something else. I also understand that what I am describing is the death of the church. Not this church here in Santa Rosa but the church on earth, the body of Christ crucified just one more time on the altar of not enough time, of “I’m busy,” of “well, you can’t get kids to do those things anymore,” of, “well, I don’t know how to talk about my faith;” on the altar of fear.
We want to see the church thrive, but we don’t want the distractions, we don’t want the interruptions, at least not the ones we do not choose, the actual interruptions.
But the people who might sit in these pews with you, ones you might want sitting next to you and the others whom you might be a little fearful of at first, the ones who are not here now because they do not know Christ and they do not know us; how exactly do we expect them to join us? What mechanism is it that you expect to work?
The solution to that little conundrum is not found within these walls.
It is found in the interruptions.
We built a monument to good planning, to the ability of this assembly to gather together its funds, to turn those funds toward a good and noble purpose, to provide something for future generations. It stands behind and little to my right outside.
That cannot be the end of the story. We cannot simply bestow it upon the world with a little plaque with our name on it and expect that it will teach people who the people were who built it, who gave this gift. We cannot simply drop it upon the landscape and expect native curiosity to guide people from its doors to our doors so that we can communicate the good news to them.
It, for all of its magnificence and for all that it says about us, it is a thing and nobody was ever saved by a thing. In four years’ time nobody going to the preschool will remember a time when it was not here and suddenly the nature of the gift is completely lost.
People are not saved by things, God is not glorified by things.
I have been to many cathedrals and while they say a good many things about the people who built them I do not personally think that they say very much about God. Our attempts to build monuments, signposts of the faith we hold are never as vital as the faith itself, never as compelling.
Like cathedrals, the preschool, unless it is filled with the stories, the voices, the witness of those whose faith moved them to build it will do nothing to glorify God, will do nothing to build up the body of Christ because it – cannot – speak.
But you can.
This morning we hear Jesus giving his final prayer, his final appeal to God the father before departing for the penultimate time. They have seen him crucified and risen, they have heard His words and perhaps finally understood some of them now that His body is imperishable and his voice is from beyond death.
Jesus asks that God glorify the son so that the son may glorify the father. Flory, glorify or glorified are used six times in these eleven verses and the last time to me is the most striking. Verses nine and ten read “I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.”
We who know all that Jesus has said and that all things are from the father, that all things are Christ’s and that we are Christ’s, in that Christ has been glorified in us, or so Jesus says.
But is we have truly heard the Word, if we are truly His and truly God’s and understand that all things are from God, why do the dusty roads that Jesus walked fade from our memory? Why do the challenges, the journeys, the interruptions not open our eyes to see that the ones less fortunate, the ones Jesus never ignored, are not interruptions to our ministry? They are our ministry. They are the ones to whom we have been called and as comfortable as it is to come here every Sunday and then go back about our business the other 166 hours of the week in that Christ finds scant glory.
If we want to leave a church for little Caden, little Adlai, little Adam, all of the baptisms we’ve held here; if there is to be a church for them to inhabit and love the way that we love this place then we’d best get about the business of glorifying Christ and pronto.
We’ve got to get to burnishing the name of Christ so that when people look upon the Body of Christ they will think that Christ must be an old word for love, that Jesus is an old word for hope, or peace. We’d best get about the business of the kingdom or there won’t be much left of Christ’s body for those we baptize to inherit or inhabit.
Church buildings are mute. They are wood and stone and metal and they do not speak. The church cannot afford such luxuries. If we are to be about the business that Jesus left to us, we are His inheritors after all; then the body must build itself up, summon our courage and be an interruption to the world of greed and easy, comfortable exploitation, of despair and of degradation of human dignity. We must be an interruption of grace. Then and only then in us will Christ be glorified.