The Sacrament of Interruptions

October 11, 2015

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

I don’t know if any of you remember the Mets first season. It was rather a mess. Casey Stengel issued these famous words after they lost 9 games in row. “The trouble is we are in a losing streak at the wrong time. If we was losing like this in the middle of the season, nobody would notice. But we are losing at the beginning of the season, and this sets up the possibility of losing 162 games, which would probably be a new record, in the national league at least. “He also famously asked, “Can anybody here play this game?”

Stengel was arguing for that kind of uninterrupted predictability most of us know too well. Not only are things going badly, they will probably continue to go badly.

There is a famous parable about Jesus receiving the sick and the dying. Along come the disciples, as Mets, the people who have lost nine times and more in a row, and they want to get their friend to Jesus. Maybe he can help, since no one else can. Maybe he can break our losing streak. They are thinking that not only is our friend sick but also we can’t get through the crowd to get him help. This is what happened with our other friend and it is going to happen again and again. We are not just in a losing streak at the wrong time. We are in a losing streak.

I wish I knew which one of them decided to let their friend in through the roof. That person should be given an honorary doctorate or at least the employee of the year award by somebody. That person knew how to think. That person knew how to find a way where there was no way. That person is heroic in that quiet way that C.S. Lewis revealed in his wonderful book, Surprised by Grace.

That person also understood the sacrament of interruption. Interruption can be both active – as in creative, imaginative, the breaking of the mold and I do mean mold – and passive, when we realize that all our plans are out of date, not working or will never work.

This one disciple surprised his friends – and Jesus too – by coming up against obstacles and finding a way around them.

Today I want to talk about interruptions and disruptions. Our hero today was a disrupter. He saw the dead end and backed the car out of it. He saw the closed door and opened another one, another way. He didn’t just keep at it – which is what most of us do – he turned around and got the healing for his friends. Disruption, active intervention, is one kind of sacrament. I love everything about activist and have worn myself out being an activist. I want here to lift up interruption while not putting down disruption.

This will not be a rah rah, stick to it, pep talk kind of book. I don’t think any of us need any more encouragement to try harder. Most of us have tried way too hard at all.

I actually think that interruptions rival disruptions as healing moments. I am less and less a fan of activity and more and more a fan of active passivity. Or maybe even passive activity. We try so hard to control outcomes that can’t be controlled. We look for ground, even though we know the ground has shifted and isn’t where it used to be. Instead we might look for wind, that which blows, hither and thither, like the holier spirit. There is no need to abandon ground when putting our finger up in the air to find the wind. But wind needs a little more respect than it gets.

If you think this is a sneaky way of lauding the third person of the Trinity, without demeaning the other two, you are right. This is also not a religious book. You don’t have to believe in anybody or anything to read it. You just have to look for the holy in the ordinary, the way a sacramental sleuth does.

My husband for over three decades is Warren Goldstein. He and I did a life review a while back. What we discovered was that just about nothing that we had planned happened and that most of the good things that happened because we did not plan them. We were astonished. I nearly through my Planner out. When I talk about the disruption of the disciples and the interruptions of the good, don’t think I am going to be against planning. I love planning. I love my planner. It and I are best friends, touching each other more than I touch my dog or my lover. I love long-range plans the most. The only thing is that they don’t always work because something other and better comes along, making them silly.

Just a couple of examples from me. I submitted my profile to my current congregation in 1992. The conference lost it. I was never considered. I figured they didn’t like me. And now I have been here ten years. Oh, to have been here in the 20th century instead of the 21st! But that would be disrespected the wind that sometimes comes as a quiet breeze, sometimes goes dead in the water, and other times blows like half a hurricane.

We also had twins, way too soon after our first child was born, after being assured you couldn’t get pregnant while nursing a child. And I could go on. This sermon is not about me. It is about us. And a sacramental approach to interruptions.

Surely you have found yourself saying these words, “It was all for the good.” That folk wisdom repeats itself when we don’t get a job or marry someone or find our way to one museum in Prague only to discover another one that is better. I don’t really believe in coincidences like this or astrology like this. I do believe that interruptions are sacramental and that the more open we are to them, the more likely we are to find the open door, the roof through which to drop our ailing friend.

Disruptions are active interventions in trouble. Interruptions are the surprise of grace. We are in our losing streak, there is no way to get to the healer, we are stuck, and we just keep plugging along. Persistence is not a virtue when you are going fast down the wrong road to the wrong destination. Persistence is stupid then. Sometimes it is better to “see your opportunities and take them” and Yogi Berra said. And sometimes it is even “more better” to stand still and wait till the weather changes.

The Pope has disrupted our pessimism. But the pessimism is deep. We mock Congress. We await the next 9 – 11, almost as if forecasting it will protect us from it. We mourn the children who would be ten years old, murdered senselessly in Sandy Hook. We can’t even remember the names of al the black men murdered on the street by police. Or the students from Columbine and way too many more places who have been senselessly shot by a masculinity run amok. We hear about a hurricane in the South, at least here in New York City, and start obsessively repeating stories about Sandy. Now at least you know some of the reasons I would like to have been a pastor in New York City in the 1990’s rather than in the first century of this new century.

We are clearly in the first stages of a climate crisis, one that rightly scares us all and those with few resources the most. It is not just a weather crisis. It is an economic and environmental crisis. There is so much to worry about that I am going to stop here and simply validate the worry about the random and the predicted. Yes, we are facing a lot. Yes, we need to ground ourselves in reality and in whimsy, both, not either. Reality grounds us in the trouble, without denying it. Whimsy send us to the roof and lets us lower our friend in front of the healer.

This book is about resacralizing what has been desacralized. We are looking for God and Ground in all the wrong places. Change has happened, change will happen, change will come again. The ground under us has not only shifted; it will shift some more. Sacramental sleuths find the Spirit in the shifts. This book is a guide to sleuthing the holy in the new ordinary.

I am wondering if Judson is being surprised by grace in the person of an immigrant who went into labor when she was supposed to be checking in with ICE. She missed her appointment. She is in serious trouble. I wonder if we are supposed to offer her physical sanctuary. Don’t worry. Nothing will happen right away and there will be extensive processing. But isn’t this how good things happen? Right when you thought the immigration battle’s losing streak as going to last the whole season.

I am wondering if Judson is being surprised by grace in the person of Toby Twining, our remarkable interim music director and member, who yesterday led us in Tamil hymns at Prabhu SIgamani’s ordination service. Of course we have policies against hiring from within, Toby being a member and all.

I am wondering if Judson is being surprised by grace in a serious deficit budget this year, for the first time in ten.

I am wondering if you are being surprised by grace by the boss that challenges you the most or

The Sacrament of Interruption could be defined as facing the end of the road and realizing that the light at the end of the tunnel is not New Jersey but something with a better brand. Sacrament: the joy of something good. Interruption: what you didn’t think was there or was coming. They came in through the roof, avoiding the crowds. Their friend was healed.

Vatican sacks gay priest as Pope opens Synod.”

When Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, one the Vatican’s chief theological gatekeepers, openly celebrated his homosexuality and love for his partner as the “will of God” on the eve of the Synod on the Family, he both got himself fired and stirred a chorus of controversy—perhaps beyond his reckoning.

Might it rile an intransigent “hell-no” chorus or empower liberals to face the Church with its own “We’re here, we’re queer. So, deal with it” chorus? Will it expose the brittle historicity (and thus fallibility) of the church’s long naturalized theological anthropology? Can we expect the Vatican to examine its most fundamental notions about sex, sexual identity, and gender?.......

The same rejections apply to women. They go way back with strong roots in theology and philosophy. Speaking through Aquinas, Aristotle adds the clincher: only males can be priests, because priests need to represent the entire human race. But, for some reason or another, only males perfectly model the human species. The inglorious roots of this weird dogma lie in Aquinas’ view, adopted from Aristotle, that only men are “complete” humans. Women just don’t measure up. Women were “deficiens et occasionatus”—“’defective and misbegotten’” or “’unfinished and caused accidentally,” says Aquinas.

I wonder what it is that women are missing.

Ivan Strenski, Sex and Gender, Religion Dispatches, October 6

The monsignor lost his job. But he came true and interrupted his own life and disrupted that of many others. Why are women so often so gifted in so many ways? Even better than many men? (JOKE) Because we have been interrupted so many times on the road to complete and full humanity that we have found our way to it. That’s why.

Sometimes you just have to get home another way. Sometimes you have to make a way when there is no way. Sometimes you have to blow the roof off the house.

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