“Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were waiting for him. Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about 12 years old, who was dying. As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years….”
As I concluded a late-afternoon hospital visit to a member of my congregation, I mentioned that I was heading back to my office to finalize details for that evening’s session meeting. “Wow!” remarked the wife of the patient. “Back in the church where we lived a number of years ago, the minister told us that it took her a whole week to get ready for a session meeting, and it meant she had no time for visits or pastoral calls in the week which preceded it!”
Sometimes I wonder how the church has survived all of its very human ministers, but mercifully God’s Spirit learned long ago how to work around us (and, thankfully, often through us!). But whether we are clergy or lay, the question is really the same: what has become of the gift of flexibility? One of the greatest problems in any organization is the institutionalization of its practices. When there is no longer any room to adjust and stretch in response to real human need, I believe we have successfully lost faith with our calling to be Christ-like in the world.
Consider the passage above from Luke’s gospel, chapter 8. In the span of less than four verses, Jesus returns to a welcoming multitude, responds to a man whose daughter is dying, deals again with this ever-present crowd, and swiftly attends to a woman with a blood hemorrhage. Yet nowhere in the passage do I hear the words, “One crisis at a time, please!” Because Jesus understands that the nature of life is predictably unpredictable. And a responsive, compassionate church must surely grasp the concept as well. I believe that one of the key marks of a lively, healthy faith community is the capacity to adapt and be flexible in response to human necessity, both within it and around it. In fact, not only is it a mark, but a requirement.
Now that is not to say that boundaries are unhelpful. Clearly, an ordered society respects that there are benefits to following appropriate channels that are understood by all. We Presbyterians probably wrote the textbook on that one. But having said that, it has been my lifelong experience that much of life’s most meaningful accomplishments are lived out in the “interruptions” which come among us, day after day. Therefore, shouldn’t our attitude of service be one of openness to whatever possibilities may surface? Surely the ability to act swiftly in Jesus’ name is a sign that we really do care to make a positive difference. It also reflects the overflowing love and grace of God, and from my perspective, the church in our time needs to be known for this and not for rigidity. Just like Jesus is.
Grace and Peace,