I am writing this blog on the last morning of my brief trip to Riga to teach for the School of Preachers at the Latvian Biblical Centre. My departure from London was delayed briefly due to adverse weather conditions in Riga. I had thought that it was only places like the United Kingdom that were caught out by the wrong kind of snow.
When I arrived in Riga the city was blanketed in white, the traffic had been chaotic all day, and a long chill seemed to be settling in.
Many things in life can complicate aspects that are generally simple. Simple things like a walk to the river, a short car journey, going to the shops or organising a training event for preachers.
The snow and the continuing concerns about Covid meant that we had fewer students attend in person than was expected. Hybrid events that have a mix of in person and online participants do work but it is difficult to replicate the group identity and rapport that can be created in the classroom.
When our class got going, we had problems with the headphones used for the Russian translation, and an intermittent signal for those watching online. To this was added a strange feedback noise coming from the sound system. This was finally resolved when we all turned our mobile phones to airplane mode. That also meant that we were not going to get any ringing, pinging, or beeping during the session.
It seems that in a communicational version of Stone, Paper, and Scissors, the sound of a mobile phone ringing trumps all other demands on our time and attention.
Life is full of interruptions, delays, and setbacks. How do preachers deal with these?
When a mobile phone went off during one of my sermons, I tended to incorporate it into the flow of the sermon — acknowledging that it had happened tended to lighten the mood for a moment as we moved on with the message.
All this got me thinking about the ministry of Jesus. When we read the Four Gospels, it seems as if most of the ministry of Jesus takes place as a response to a variety of interruptions.
Like when Jesus is on the road and is met by a synagogue ruler who wants him to visit his dying 12-year-old daughter. On the way to the house, he is interrupted by a woman who has been subject to bleeding for 12 years. Jesus heals the woman and then is interrupted by the news that the 12-year-old is dead. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore,” is the message. (Mark 5:21–43).
Yet Jesus does not see these interruptions as an annoying disruption of his schedule but as a divinely ordered fulfilment of his mission to bring abundant life to the earth.
Jesus is glad to grasp the teachable moment, take the opportunity to touch a broken life, because for him interruptions were turned into divine appointments.
Maybe that is how we are to see details like the number 12 that gives a certain symmetry to the life of the sick woman and the little girl. What is clear is that Jesus could turn interruptions into life changing moments. The woman is healed, filled with peace and a fresh sense of identity, and the girl is raised from the dead.
Perhaps some apparently annoying interruptions might be our greatest opportunity.