Routines In Life
Interruptions are the bane of productivity. One research project estimated that interruptions consume about 28% of a worker's day. Managers cannot complete their cost analysis if their phone keeps ringing with sales calls. Visits by the overly involved parent during the middle of class will disrupt even the most well thought out lesson plan. A timing belt will take forever if customers are constantly calling the mechanic about the rattle in the whatchamacallit. Even high school students are finding that research papers are written much faster when their cell phone is turned off.
Time management gurus tell us that one method of dealing with interruptions is to develop strategic routines. Instead of responding instantly to an email, managers are encouraged to assign a time during the day when they respond to the non emergency emails. The same advise is given for returning telephone calls. These types of routines are very helpful in accomplishing everyday tasks. Studies have proven that we will get ready for work or school much faster if we develop a set routine.
Routines also help to bring stability by making things predictable. We can more easily remember to attend a meeting if it is held on the same week of the month and the same day of the week. Even the most legitimate interruption such as a national election, a snowstorm, or a church wide event will cause a drop in attendance when the meeting is rescheduled.
Interruptions are also seen as negative events because they add to our work load. We must not only complete our previous assignment but we must also deal with any additional tasks made by the interruptions. This is compounded because we are usually not prepared for the interruption. As every dad has found out, tires do not go flat on warm sunny days when you are alone. They go flat when the car is jammed with more suitcases than you ever thought would fit and the rain is coming down in sheets.
Advent: The Season of Interruptions
We prefer the routine over the interruptions in our spiritual life also, especially on Sunday mornings. We are much more comfortable doing the same thing Sunday after Sunday. We call it the “Order of Worship” with an emphasis on the first word—order. Surprises are interruptions. We prefer knowing that the Melody of Praise will follow the Call to Worship and the Prayer for Illumination will following the singing which will be followed by another song and then the sermon.
This is one of the reasons for the Liturgical calendar with the two seasons of Advent and Lent and the special days of Epiphany Sunday, the Baptism of our Lord, Transfiguration of our Lord, Ash Wednesday, and Pentecost, to name a few. The order of the days builds a routine. It puts us into sync with the rhythm of the life of Jesus. The irony of all of this is that the first season of the Christian calender—Advent--is all about interruptions. The church year does not start off with a slow, smooth beginning but with a sudden cataclysmic event. Advent is God's grand interruption.
Jesus is the first one to jolt us out of our religiously induced slumber. This is not baby Jesus with his cute cries and adorable smiles. This is the adult only version. This is the short tempered Jesus. Two weeks ago the disciples were admiring the beauty of the Temple. Their comments triggered a switch. He knows what is coming. These massive, seemingly immovable stones are going to come topple down. Jerusalem will be surrounded by armies. The sun, moon and stars will show signs of distress. Earthquakes will shake the very foundation of creation. Permanence will shatter into impermanence.
The description of world wide destruction did not come as a surprise for Jesus' disciples. They knew the stories from Ezekiel. They had heard Isiah's similar language. Jesus was not teaching them anything new. He was just reminding them about their own Jewish heritage.
"I will execute judgment upon him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him."
(Ezekiel 38:22, NIV)
"See, the Lord has one who is powerful and strong. Like a hailstorm and a destructive wind, like a driving rain and a flooding downpour, he will throw it forcefully to the ground."
(Isaiah 28:2, NIV)
"The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine."
(Joel 3:15, NIV)
Even if we have never read very much of the Old Testament prophets, all this talk about political tremors, and geological explosions and terrestrial chaos should not be a complete surprise to us either. God has been doing this since the first chapter of Genesis. In the beginning God interrupted the routine of the darkness with light. He interrupted the water and formed dry ground. He disturbed the dry ground and made man and woman. God never veered from this patten. He disrupted Noah's life with a flood. He interrupted Abraham and Sarah's life with a new homeland and a son. When Moses had finally worked out a comfortable routine tending sheep, God lit up a bush with flames of fire. After years of political turmoil and economic instability, the Romans finally restored order. Israel was adjusting to their life under Roman occupation. King Herod had built a marvelous Temple in which they could make their sacrifices religiously. So what does God do? He interrupts everything by sending Messiah to disrupt the religious community and destabilize the social fabric of the nation.
This is the tragic paradox of the faith. Most people view the church as a stabilizing force in society. They consider the church to be the institution that maintains order. Unfortunately, the church has misused its authority and power to strangle and control society. The church is viewed by its critics as an oppressor rather than a interrupting liberator. But today's Gospel text speaks about a God who is going to do some very destabilizing things.
We try to neatly order our lives into manageable routines so that we faithful disciples and God comes along and disrupts everything. That should not be a surprise.
Jesus tells that when we see all of this turmoil taking place to stand up. His description of the disciple's response is in marked contrast to the fainting of men and women in the secular community. Jesus expects his disciples to live with confidence and boldness. Knowing that God is sovereign over all of these events should produce a greater degree of emotional stability.
Our confidence is more than wishful thinking that the economy will improve. It is also something different than predicting that the bulls will stampede down Wall Street. Jesus expected his disciples to possess an inner strength to equip them to deal with any situation. He expects us to engage in ministry regardless of threats before us. We are not to quake in fear when confronted by critics. We are not to run and hide in seclusion simply because we are accused of holding antiquated beliefs and sexually repressive morals. As I reminded you last week, we can hold our heads up high because we serve the King of Creation.
It warns us about falling into a routine caused by the anxieties of life. Our worries can distract our attention causing us to direct our focus upon securing our financial future. We can easily develop a routine that is contrary to God's intentions for us. This will cause us to misread the signs. Eyes that spend too much time reading the Wall Street Journal may not be able to discern the coming events. We do not like to admit it but some of us are enslaved to habits that are literally blinding us from recognizing God's interruptions.
Fred Craddock tells of a person who, in a time of crisis, reached down but had no resources upon which to draw:
I went to see a lady in our church who was facing surgery. I went to see her in the hospital. She had never been in the hospital before, and the surgery was major. I walked in there and immediately saw that she was a nervous wreck. She started crying. She wanted me to pray with her, which I did. By her bed was a stack of books and magazines: True Love, Mirror, Hollywood Today, stuff about Elizabeth Taylor and folk. She just had a stack of them there, and she was a wreck. It occurred to me, there's not a calorie in that whole stack to help her through her experience.
God had interrupted her life and she was completely unprepared.
Someone once said that the difference between a dead, false god and a living true God is that a dead, false god will never surprise you. Advent then is a yearly reminder to the church that it serves a living true God, one who interrupts our lives and surprises us.
Let us therefore begin Advent with a prayer:
Lord, give us the grace to be prepared for the interruption of your grace among us, give us the courage to receive you when you intrude into our lives, and give us the wisdom to follow you into the future that only you can give. Amen
Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories, edited by Mike Graves & Richard F. Ward, Chalice Press, 2001, p. 30
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