"Is that your cell phone?" I squirmed in embarrassment as a well-known theologian and pastor turned to me in the midst of a presentation in a crowded auditorium on the SMU campus and asked that question. I started to apologize when he interrupted me and said, "In our church, we insist that everyone leave their cell phones on and that babies are never shushed. If we don't have time to listen to crying babies, what do we have time for? If we can't recognize that God may be speaking through us in our cell phone interruptions, perhaps we don't know how God works very well."
He then told about the time he was preaching on the Bible story where some friends of a paralyzed man were trying to carry their friend to Jesus and couldn't get near him. In desperation, they cut a hole through the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching and lowered their sick friend down, hoping for a healing touch. While he was preaching about this story, someones cell phone starting ringing. It stopped and then started again. Finally, the owner of the phone answered it with a loud "hello." Yes, this was definitely a disruption in the worship time. As it turns out, it was his elderly mother telling him that his father was on the way to the hospital with a probable heart attack.
Immediately, this pastor stopped his message, and everyone circled around this man, laid hands on him and prayed for him and his father. The roof had been broken in at that church in downtown Minneapolis. The words of Scripture suddenly became very, very alive. The sermon was in the cell phone.
In a questionnaire recently circulated on Facebook as a way to help people get to know one another, this question is asked, "What is your favorite sound?" Mine? It is the sound of children whispering and talking and squirming and coloring and playing and even crying as the adults in the congregation quiet themselves for a time of prayer. I always tell the adults that these are their prayers and must not be shushed or squelched. I had not thought before of adding the various ring tones of cell phones to the mix. But it makes sense. Many of us have special ringtones for the people we hear from the most. So what if my husband were to phone and the sounds of "My Guy" entered the sanctuary, or my sister and "The Flight of the Bumblebee" raced forth? Would it be awkward? Yes. Would it upset the usual routine? You'd better believe it. Would I be embarrassed? Probably.But the movement of God into our lives is rarely convenient or managed and can indeed be embarrassing.
We just don't have the privilege of controlling when God decides to becoming more manifestly present, although most of us try. We tell God that we'll offer a few minutes on Sunday, and perhaps in a short time of daily prayer, but that is enough, thank you. We effectively say to God, "Don't show up in a business meeting and ask me to turn the other cheek--it's my job to be ruthless there." Or, "Don't wander in when I'm angry with my children and insist that they are valuable to you and that I control my temper." Or, "Don't You dare intervene when I'm looking at my finances and tell me that I'm supposed to give some of this way--I don't have enough for myself." Or "How dare You permit my loved one or me to suffer like this? What kind of a God are You that asks for me to learn endurance through sorrow?"
No, we want God to just show up on our schedule in a simple, non-threatening way and pat us on the back and keep us all well and happy and wealthy. Thank goodness God does not work on our schedule or on our demands! Let's all learn to celebrate the crying babies and the cell phones and discover new possibilities of the holy transforming our lives.