Rev. Paul Mitchell
Vashon United Methodist Church
Vashon United Methodist Church
April 28, 2019 -- Easter Sunday
Acts 5:12-26; John 20:19-31
Disruption is challenging for me.
Disruption is uncomfortable.
I hesitate to disrupt, and I really do not like being interrupted.
Perhaps you have heard of the system of personality characterization and categorization called the enneagram. Ennea is the root word for nine, and the system suggests that there are nine basic personality types: reformer, helper, achiever, individualist, investigator, loyalist, enthusiast, challenger, and mine – peacemaker, sometimes called harmonizer. There are many nuances and subtleties of the system, but one of the convincing things about it is that over time the results from various forms of the quiz you take to find out your number or type are quite consistent. I always get nine – peacemaker. So, disruption is anathema to me. The enneagram system does not attempt to explain how we get to be the type that describes us, but I suspect that I’m a nine in part because my mom said so often to me as a child, “If you can’t say something nice, please go to your room until you can.”
My intention today was to begin a series based primarily on texts from the Acts of the Apostles – but the Spirit disrupted me. We began Lent with an invitation to define agape love, and we have been publishing the definitions you offered in our weekly email for a couple of months now. So, as I pondered our worship focus for this season of Eastertide, I thought we might explore love a little further. Then, as I was planning for Holy Week, I was typing the lyrics to “What Wondrous Love Is This?” – and it struck me that our definitions of love are often quite narrow, romantic, and nostalgic. What if the wondrous love of God shows up in unusual, unexpected, and uncomfortable ways? Don’t you think that’s the case? Doesn’t love take us by surprise? Doesn’t love cause us to do unexpected things? Doesn’t love lead to unpredictable consequences? How does the unexpected resurrection play out as unexpected love? This wondrous love of God shows up as Disruption, Courage, Resistance, Solidarity, Listening, and Liberation. The order is not important, but is inspired by the narratives in the lectionary texts for the coming weeks of Eastertide.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected disruptions of the gospel narrative is the risen Christ breaking into – disrupting – the gathering of the disciples as they gathered, cowering in a locked room on the very evening that they had discovered the supposedly locked and guarded tomb of their leader to be empty that morning. As we noted last week, it was the women who had been attending to Jesus’ bodily disposition who first disrupted expectations. Even in the Gospel of Luke, which reliably celebrates women’s roles in witnessing and conveying the good news, even Luke says nobody believed it until Peter confirmed it. John’s gospel doesn’t specify that only the men are present in the upper room. But I like to imagine that the women were out seeking Jesus among the living – as Jesus had suggested they do. Now, the supposedly safe and secure meeting of disciples – minus Thomas, of course – was disrupted by Jesus’ very disruptive presence, by and through which he shakes them up even further. He gives them his peace – but not as the world gives, which might just be a clue to the way of disruptive love he expects them to live – his disruptive way of unsettling love. And scene one of this act closes with Jesus breathing on the disciples the same Spirit that troubled – disrupted – the waters at the beginning of creation. Jesus’ peace is an unsettling peace – not as the world seeks, the quiet, passive, complacent peace enforced through coercion and the threat of violence – but the dynamic, fluid, adaptive peace of the Spirit.
Scene two of this act. Same place. One week later. The disciples are still unsettled and not yet engaged in living out the mission that has been bestowed on them. This is the beginning of a new creation, and the first humans – the first lumps of clay into whom the Spirit has breathed – are back in that same barricaded room. Maybe they haven’t left except to retrieve supplies or the news of the day. “Are the authorities on to us?” they wonder. They seem to have run into Thomas and shared this news of Jesus’ astounding and world changing appearance in their midst. Thomas must see for himself. He must touch the wounds. This is disruptive to our post-enlightenment, post scientific mindset. Never mind that. What could it mean that Thomas could place his finger in Jesus’ wounds? Among many other things, it disrupts the idea that resurrection life is somehow different than the one in which we already live – the one in which we are wounded, and our wounds persist. Heaven is not a place where the realities of our embodied existence fall away, suggesting to me that Jesus really meant it when he said the realm of heaven is at hand. It’s right here if its anywhere. It’s right now if it’s any time. Heaven is not a place where the deaf can hear, but a reality in which everyone speaks in signs. The love Jesus gives can be very disruptive at times.
Last June, on the concluding day of Annual Conference, during the ordination service, the preacher was the Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber – a member of the conference staff for innovation and vitality. His title is Director of Innovation for an Engaged Church. The core of his message was this: Jesus was a disruptor, and to be fully engaged disciples of Jesus Christ, we too must be disruptors. Using the parable of the Samaritan who exemplified “neighbor” Barber said we must disrupt four things.
We must disrupt our routine. We cannot let business as usual continue. That doesn’t mean stop the business, but it does mean that our routines keep us from engaging life as it happens. Life is fluid and contains unexpected twists and turns. We are confronted by unexpected needs and opportunities which only we are well suited or fortuitously located to engage. Barber suggested that we need to just stop. Stop talking and listen. Listen to how and where God is calling us. Listen to how Spirit is blowing through our communities. Be still… and listen for the still small voice that is so easy to miss when we are tracking our carefully curated routines. I’ll come back to Listening toward the end of this sermon series, because Listening is one of the most wondrous loves we can practice. I’ll even suggest that we all engage in a year of listening deeply – without any agenda except to practice the wonderous love of God.
We must disrupt our comfort. Much of our comfort is a way of disengaging ourselves from true community – like the disciples withdrawn in the anxious comfort of their upper room. Jesus said, “Why do you seek me among the dead?” The clear implication is that we should be out in those uncomfortable places of engagement with people who are different from us and learn from them how they are the same – those whose disdain for our Sunday morning Christianity may be more well-founded that we care to admit. It might mean the discomfort of making a mistake, saying the wrong thing, admitting our implicit biases. It might mean engaging with our neighbor not as a project for us to undertake, but as a fellow traveler, seeking meaning and belonging and acceptance.
We must disrupt our plans. Barber spoke of this in specifically fiscal terms. The Samaritan probably didn’t plan on paying the innkeeper to keep and care for the traveler who had been beset by thieves. But it’s not just money that we allocate. One of the definitions of love that was submitted at the beginning of Lent is “to put others first, to listen to someone when you had other plans….” This does not mean to work without a plan, but instead to be clear about where the plan is intended to lead, and to see that other paths may present themselves. If the intent is to love the way Jesus loves, there might be an unplanned opportunity to follow the path.
We must disrupt our privilege. Paul declares to the Philippians that the mind of Christ, which we are to emulate, was to divest privilege. But we do not for a moment believe that Jesus just threw his privilege away. Instead, he leveraged it, he used it always to dwell on the margins, meeting the disempowered, and bringing them into a new center – a center that is in tension with the world’s centers of privilege. There are days when I would just like to put my privilege down. But even that attitude is a sign of my privilege, because to some extent, I could. But those who are outside of the world’s system of advantage do not have the choice to set down their marginalization. As a follower of Jesus, I must seek to disrupt the privilege of which I am a part in such a way as to bring the margins to the center.
Dr. Barber concluded his ordination sermon with this bold statement: “From now on, we ordain … disruptors.” I tend to be deeply moved by worship and preaching at annual conference. I often hear the charge to the ordinands as a reminder and refresher of my own ordination. Sometimes it doesn’t stick with me long enough to get it back and weave it into the life of the congregation I serve. In this case, the conviction that to follow Jesus is to be, like him, a disruptor, for the sake of God’s mission of salvation of creation, has stayed powerfully with me. I even changed my title on my Facebook page to say “disruptor in training.”
Beloved, what wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss, to wear this mortal flesh, for my soul. This wondrous love is disruption – disruption of my routine, disruption of my comfort, disruption of my plans, disruption of my privilege. You also are so beloved. In the resurrection we witness every day the bonds of sin and death are disrupted, and we are born again into new life – today.