Change is inconvenient and uncomfortable, and often completely disrupts the world as we know it.
Democracy disrupted monarchy.
The automobile disrupted horse breeders.
Email disrupted the postal service and envelope manufacturers.
Personal computers put typewriter companies out of business.
And remember stereos, VCRs, and cassette tapes? We could make a long list of that which was disrupted by change.
Sometimes, new industries are generated while other businesses fade away. Still, we wouldn’t have it any other way. As one writer says, “Few people are crying that Edison put lantern makers out of business.”
And the disruption continues, coming to us today in the form of the devices we carry in our pockets and purses, or wear around our wrists. Sensors, cloud infrastructure, data and business intelligence tools, A.I., robotics, nanomaterials, biotech, quantum computing and the internet— all are changing, transforming and disrupting.
But this isn’t a new concept. We find disruptive information and change in the Bible, too. Think of the angel of the Lord appearing to Moses in a burning bush. Because he can’t believe his eyes, Moses stops dead in his tracks to “look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” Then God speaks to him out of the bush, and Moses says, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:1-4)
Think of Peter, James and John on a mountaintop with Jesus, and suddenly he is transfigured before them. The appearance of his face changes and his clothes become dazzling white, leaving them bewildered. Then the disciples get help from “the cloud”, and a voice says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9)
Or how about Easter morning? The women find the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they go in, they cannot find the body of Jesus. They stare, not comprehending. Then two men in dazzling clothes tell them Jesus has risen, and they take this news to the disciples and all the rest (Luke 24:1-9), and the world is never the same.
A burning bush. The transfiguration. The empty tomb. All three are examples of disruptions to the world as we know it, and in each case, after an initial time of confusion, the old worldview gives way to a new one.
But new can certainly be good. None of us will ever give up our remotes and go back to manually changing the channel on the TV or getting out of the car to put the garage door up and down.
So new is good. Even though it will cause disruptions to the world as we know it.
Something new is emerging in our text for today when the apostle Paul and his companion Silas arrive in the city of Philippi, a Roman colony, where Paul drives a spirit out of a slave girl.
For doing so he and Silas are dragged before the authorities where the slave girl’s handlers are angry that her spirit of divination has been removed, cutting deeply into their fortune-telling profits. “These men are disturbing our city,” they say. “They are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.”
Paul and Silas are given a severe flogging, and then are thrown into prison. The jailer puts them in the innermost cell and fastens their feet in the stocks.
Paul and Silas pass the time by praying and singing hymns to God. Then, at midnight, a violent earthquake opens the doors of the prison and unfastens everyone’s chains. The jailer assumes his prisoners have escaped, and with a deep sense of shame he draws his sword to kill himself. But Paul calls out and urges him not to harm himself, since the prisoners are all still present. Calling for lights, the jailer rushes in and falls down trembling before Paul and Silas.
The jailer clearly struggles to wrap his head around what his eyes and ears are telling him. When an earthquake shakes loose prison doors, prisoners are supposed to escape. So, why are these prisoners still here?
In this time of confusion, the jailer’s old worldview gives way to a new one. He brings Paul and Silas outside and asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
He’s asking what needs to happen to be part of this new world order that is unlike anything he’s ever experienced or imagined.
In every time and place, the Christian faith is a constant source of disruptions to the world as we know it. Love and kindness and generosity disrupt hate, selfishness, and greed.
And as an innovative idea, this stresses us, surprises us, confuses us, but then— once experienced and accepted— it changes our lives in ways we’ve never experienced or imagined.
In the same way, this story from Acts helps us grasp the transformation of Christian living. Each element of the story shows how disruptions to the world as we know it can change our lives for the better.
So let’s break down three of these disruptions found in our text for today.
Disruption One: You are valued for who you are, not for what you do.
After the midnight earthquake, the jailer feels deeply embarrassed that he has lost his prisoners. In noble Roman fashion, he draws his sword to commit suicide. But Paul shouts, “Do not harm yourself.”
The jailer then rushes into the cellblock, sees his prisoners have not escaped, falls down before Paul and Silas and asks, “What must I do to be saved?”
They answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Although we do not live in a first-century Roman colony, we tend to share the jailer’s belief that our value is based on what we do. If we fail to achieve success in school or in work, we feel worthless.
A study from the University of Oxford found that due to the 2008-2010 recession that hit the United States, Canada and Europe more than 10,000 “economic suicides” occurred.
Many of us believe our value is based on our performance, and while most of us aren’t tempted to end it all, when we face failure, there’s still a small voice somewhere deep inside whispering we’re not good enough, that we’re total losers.
But God says, “Your value is based on who you are, not on what you do. And you are mine.”
Each of us is a precious child of God with worth that comes from being made in the image God, and no amount of success or failure changes that truth.
Disruption Two: You are saved through your faith in Jesus, not by the gods of status, beauty and popularity.
Although we don’t think of ourselves as pagans, we have to admit we fall down in front of a lot of false gods today.
Author Meg Hunter-Kilmer writes, “We burn incense at the altar of status, beauty and popularity. We bow down before soccer and standardized tests and sleepover parties. We bow down before magazine images and bank account numbers. Maybe it’s the gods your parents worshipped or the gods of the culture you live in, but if you’re anything like me, your life is filled with idol worship.”
Kilmer speaks a hard truth. Our idol worship of the things of this world keep us from the one who makes life good and right.
In the midst of this disruption the jailer falls down before two faithful Christians. He trades his faith in the Roman gods for faith in Jesus the Christ, putting his trust in the One who can truly save him. And he’s made whole by doing so.
Disruption Three: Faith is never entirely personal, but leads you to serve others and practice hospitality.
The jailer asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Paul was correct to say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
But like everything in the Bible, such a truth can create confusion. The challenge with this verse is it gives the impression that faith is primarily an individual commitment, a relationship between the individual and Jesus.
But there is a larger truth, and the jailer sees it, which is that personal faith leads to communal action. He shows this when he immediately serves Paul and Silas by washing their wounds. And then he practices Christian hospitality by throwing a feast for his guests and his household.
He immediately finds community for himself and his family—a community that embraces the hope, peace, joy, and love of God.
Disruptions can be inconvenient and uncomfortable, but the jailer shows us that these divine disruptions can be good and will lead to new life.
Christian life is full of disruptions. When we see God at work in our lives, we begin by trying to make sense of it. Then we get overwhelmed at the sight and wonder of a way we’ve never experienced or imagined.
But when we push through these disruptions to the world as we know it, and open ourselves to the whole new world God intends for all, we find our old worldview gives way to a new one, where…
…You are valued for who you are…
…You are saved through your faith in Jesus…
…And faith leads you to serve others and practice hospitality.
Such truths emerge only when our world as we know it is disrupted.
But when we let the disruptions come, and embrace them, everything changes for the better.
Maybe we need to be reminded of the power of these divine disruptions.
If so, then may we be open to them—knowing it will leave us stunned and bewildered, but knowing also it will cultivate a hopeful new worldview.
Or maybe we know of others who need to have the power of these divine disruptions revealed to them.
If so, may we be a presence that helps reveal it, and then helps guide them through
May we do so because we know that though change is inconvenient and uncomfortable, change is good and leads to new life—even though it will cause disruptions to the world as we know it. Amen.