Responding to Interruptions
Would it be fair to say that this past year has been a year of interruptions? Whether it has a pandemic, working from home, learning new ways to communicate, connecting with people, experimenting with worship, or an email from your district superintendent, this has been one year full of interruptions.
Just as you think you have a plan of action and a routine that works, there comes another “knock on the door” in the form of a change, an additional request, or an extra task. You feel a passing tinge of irritation and think to yourself, “Why this? Why now?”
The Ministry of Interruption
The disruptive “knock on the door” presents itself relentlessly throughout the day, in the form of Zoom meetings, emails, text messages, questions to answer, problems to solve, fires to put out. It seems the information age has morphed into the interruption age. So how do you respond?
It’s a matter of perspective. What if you were to change your view of these interruptions? What if you began to see them as opportunities that didn’t interrupt your work but became your work? What if they became opportunities for you to be the leader God created you to be? It is tempting to lock the door, hold the calls, ignore the emails, and miss the meetings. But what if you stepped up and made these interruptions a crucial part of your work?
What’s Your Role?
Years ago, I read a story about a boy named Wally. He was seven years old, big for his age, considered to be a slow learner, and always eager to be in the middle of what was happening. That’s why everyone wondered what role the teacher would give him in the annual Christmas play. He was hyper and didn’t pay attention. Perhaps she would let him pull the curtain to open and close the play. To everyone’s surprise the teacher gave Wally the role of the innkeeper. He was delighted. All he had to do was to learn one line, “There is no room in the inn.”
He practiced in the mornings and in the evenings. He had the line down. His timing was perfect in rehearsals. He was ready and eager to play his part.
On the night of the program, parents and guests took their places. Every seat in the auditorium was filled. The children entered singing “Oh come all ye faithful.” The lights dimmed. A hush moved over the audience. The curtain opened on the scene. Mary and Joseph entered the stage and walked up to the inn. Joseph said to the Innkeeper, “Please sir, my wife is not well. Could we have a room for the night?”
Wally was ready for his line. He knew it. He had rehearsed it. But at that moment, his mind went blank. He began, “There is…” and he hesitated. He started over again, “There is…” and again his mind went blank. The audience began to laugh nervously. Some people were embarrassed for him. A prompter, just off the stage, whispered, “There is no room in the inn,” but Wally couldn’t hear what was being said. At that moment, neither Wally nor Joseph knew what to do. So, Joseph started to walk away toward the stable on the left side of the stage. Seeing him walk away, Wally in desperation called out, “Look, there’s plenty of room at my house. Come and go home with me.”
Over the years the characters in the Christmas story have become clearly defined for us. The issues all seem clear cut. Herod is a villain, the shepherds and the wise men are heroes. And the Innkeeper has become one of the people who turns Mary, Joseph, and baby away. In our imagination, we envision him as a bearded old man, sticking his head out a window, and shouting, “There is no room in the inn. There might be something in the stable out back. Check there.”
Who is Central to the Story?
I think the innkeeper might be a key figure in this story. Although preachers and storytellers have presented him in a negative way, I think his action is a symbol for Luke. Throughout Luke’s story of Jesus, he tells of how there was room made for people who had been left out and forgotten.
He takes this one line, “There is no room in the inn,” and illustrates how it is a theme throughout the ministry of Jesus. He shows us how Jesus and the church have responded to unexpected interruptions.
He tells us that John, one of the disciples, tried to stop someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The person was not part of their group. But Jesus says, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.” Jesus makes room for those who are not part of the group.
He tells us that people were bringing their babies to Jesus so that he might bless them. When the disciples saw the parents bringing their children, they ordered them to stop. But Jesus called for the parents and the children and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them…” Even though the parents and children were an interruption, Jesus made room for them.
What’s Holding You Back?
He also tells us of Philip, when filled with God’s spirit, went to Samaria to tell people about God’s love and acceptance in Jesus. The Samaritans had been excluded from the main part of the Jewish religion. They were considered outcasts and unworthy to be part of the Jewish community. Yet, the Spirit interrupts what Philip had been taught and leads him to these outcasts. Luke reports that the crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said. There was great joy in that city. The Samaritans had been considered unworthy in the past. Although they were considered an interruption to the main community, the church found room for them.
Philip, on his way back to Jerusalem from Samaria, met an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the queen of Ethiopia. He was a Gentile and unable to father children. In Deuteronomy 23 it states that any man who cannot father children is not admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Yet, Philip befriends him and shares the story of Jesus with him. The eunuch asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” In other words, what prevents me from being a part of the group, the community, the church? Although Philip is interrupted by this Ethiopian eunuch, he baptized him. The church found room for those who had been excluded in the past.
Luke tells us of Simon Peter and his conversation with Cornelius. Cornelius was a commander in the Italian Cohort. Directed by God’s spirit, Simon Peter and Cornelius meet at Cornelius’ house. There is a large group waiting to hear from Peter. Now, because Cornelius is a Gentile, Simon Peter says, “You yourselves know that is it unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
Peter continues, “I truly understand that God shows not partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…” Peter shares with Cornelius, his family, and friends about Jesus. By the end of the meeting the Holy Spirit is poured out even on the Gentiles. Peter baptizes them in the name of Jesus Christ. Another interruption that became an opportunity to share the love and acceptance of God.
Not The Room You Expected
For Luke, the innkeeper is a key figure in his story, because he did find room for Mary and Joseph. It just was not the room expected. In the midst of all he was facing, he was ready for the interruption. Every Christmas season, we rehearse the story of God’ saving and healing work coming to be with us in Jesus. The question is, do you and I have room for such an interruption?
Jesus comes knocking at the door of our hearts in various ways, through various people, in various events, providing us an opportunity to be who God created us to be. Often, we dismiss the knock by saying, “I’m tired of all these interruptions” or “I’m just a layperson” or “I’m not a preacher” or “I’m not a pastor or theologian or…”
The Innkeeper’s Response
The innkeeper was an ordinary person, doing his job. He was overworked because of the census. He was on the frontline. I imagine that Mary and Joseph were not the only ones seeking a room that night. Although there was not room in the expected place of the inn, he did have a place for them.
He responded with compassion. Even though it was an interruption, he made room. Just as Mary and Joseph came to the innkeeper that night, Jesus comes to you, not in the form of a king but in the lives of people, like Mary and Joseph, who need a place.
He comes in the lives of people outside our groups, our clubs, our churches, looking for a place. He comes as those who have nothing to offer but themselves, who need a place. He comes as outcasts, those pushed aside, those excluded, who need a place. He comes as those who are seeking healing and hope. We all need a place.
God Makes a Place for You
The Christmas good news is, God has made a place for you and for me. Whether we are insiders or outsiders, whether we are good or not so good, whether we feel we belong or feel left out, whether we think we deserve it or feel that we are unworthy of any goodness, God has already made a place for you. Because of God’s love in Jesus, you have a place.
Now, we can look at the innkeeper and say that he claimed there was no room in the inn. I suppose we could say the crowded inn is like our lives so cluttered with things that there is just no time, no energy, no money, no room left. We could say that Mary and Joseph were an unexpected interruption to a long and tiresome day.
Or you can say, as full as my life is, I still have room.
Jesus Comes When Least Expected
Just as in Bethlehem, Jesus comes when you seem to least expect him. Mary and Joseph came late at night when the innkeeper was tired. Again, I’m guessing they were an interruption to his evening. Although there was no room in the expected place of the inn, the innkeeper had room for them.
So, what if you were to change your view of these interruptions? What if you began to see them as opportunities that didn’t interrupt your work but became your work? What if you responded to these interruptions as opportunities for you to be the leader God created you to be? Try the following:
Focus upon the person or persons involved
Look for Jesus in each person. With every encounter take advantage of the opportunity to make a positive and lasting connection.
Adapt to each person and context
Remember that “one size does not fit all” persons or contexts. Be alert to the fact that behavior that works remarkably well with one person may turn another person off completely. It’s important to be able to adapt in each unique circumstance.
Your genuine response will add a little “magic” to the moment. Lead out of who are and not out of your title or position. Listen carefully, understand the issue, and respond with compassion, care, and confidence.
Intentionally develop care and compassion in others
As you address the most pressing issue in a way that helps now, intentionally empower those you are assisting. Help them develop the skills of compassion and care. Assist them in becoming who they have been created to be.
Don’t Dismiss the Interruptions
This coming year don’t dismiss all interruptions as barriers to work. Begin to view these moments as an important part of your work. Open yourself to a more fulfilling expression of your leadership. Even a single interruption is an opportunity to help people think differently about themselves and their future.
It is almost Christmas. Keep your mind and your heart open for an interruption. For the hour approaches when Jesus will come to you and to me. And like the innkeeper, you and I will have to decide. The knock at the door will come. Will it be another knock in a long series of knocks of interruption and inconvenience? Or will the knock be the next opportunity to love in the name of Jesus?
Even though this Christmas might be different in its gatherings and celebrations, Jesus still comes, and he still brings all his interrupting friends with him.
Remember, Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at email@example.com. We are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to give insights and resources to assist you in becoming a courageous leader.
From Diana, Sara, and Tim, in your Capitol Area South District office, we interrupt you with this blessing, “May the joy of Jesus be yours this Christmas! May you have a blessed Christmas!”
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