“Holy Disruptions”

May 6, 2018
Jonathan Rumburg
Acts 10:1-21, 44-48

Introduction

If you ever thought about becoming a vegetarian, but can’t bear the thought of giving up juicy burgers, well guess what?  You’re in luck.  There is a new meat alternative you can throw on your grill.  It’s the ready-to-cook Beyond Burger.

It looks like a burger.  Cooks like a burger.  Tastes like a burger.  It even “bleeds” like a burger.  But there’s no meat.  Instead the burger is made out of a plant-based beef alternative, with “bleeding” that comes from beet juice.  The burger is produced by a company called Beyond Meat.

Beyond Meat is a cultural disruption in the food business.  This is the phrase the business magazine Fast Company uses— cultural disruption.

Hydroponics—growing crops without soil— is becoming a cultural disruption of agriculture by becoming a commercially viable method of growing food.  Almond and soy mild are cultural disruptions.

But there are more examples than just food.

The auto industry is reaching a tipping point with the electric car.  It used to be that electric cars were rare—the Toyota Prius used to be in a class all by itself.  But now almost all car manufacturers are rushing for market share.

And speaking of cars, self-driving cars are going to change our lives.

An article published on cnbc.com describes ten industries that will experience significant disruption as autonomous cars hit the road in the coming years— industries such as: parking, real estate, law enforcement, insurance, legal professionals, hotels, media and entertainment, food and package delivery, auto repair and auto manufacturing.

The article concludes saying, “The disruption has started; autonomous cars will run the roads sooner than we expect.  Business leaders in all industries can no longer take a ‘wait and see how to respond’ approach.”

Meaning, these industries can no longer afford to bide their time and “wait and see” how a cultural disruption might or might not disrupt.  Companies are realizing that cultural disruptions should not to be endured, but rather need to be embraced.

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          Now there are many who see this and get worried.  But truth be told… history shows that positive changes and growth have relied on disruptions.  Disruptions can make culture and life better.

This proved true for the early Christians.    Acts reminds us the early Christians were people who had grown up Jewish and had been taught never to associate with “unclean” people like the Gentiles of the Greek and Roman world.

Enter then the cultural disruption found in verse 15: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

For first century Jews, this is an earth-shattering declaration.  It upends centuries of Jewish dietary customs and cultural traditions.  It disrupts ways of life.  It disrupts thinking, teachings, and decision making.  It disrupts beliefs.  It even disrupts faith.  It is a cultural disruption.  But it’s also a holy disruption.

Move 1

Here’s how it happened.  Cornelius, a Gentile, had a vision from God in which he was told to send for the apostle Peter.  Meanwhile, Peter had a dream in which foods deemed “unclean” in Judaism came floating down from heaven, and a voice told Peter to eat.  But Peter, being the good Jewish lad he was, could not eat unclean food, even in a dream.  Then a voice said to him in the dream, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

So after having the dream, Peter told how God had shown him that he “should not call anyone profane or unclean” (v. 28).  No one should be excluded, even those who eat burgers that bleed beet juice.

Peter preached the Good News of Jesus to Cornelius and his friends and family, and Acts tells us that while Peter was speaking, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word” (v. 44).

That meant the Spirit fell on Jews and Gentiles.  It was a holy disruption—one that actually interrupted Peter preaching his sermon.  (And now some of you are thinking, “Wish the Spirit would interrupt this guy’s preaching!”)

I cannot emphasize enough how astonishing this was.  The Jewish believers were “astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (v. 45).  They were utterly dumbfounded.  Blown away.  They were like meat-eaters tasting their first Beyond Burger.  It would be like us Indians fans saying, “You know, the Yankees really aren’t such a bad ball club.”

These early followers had a really hard time grasping the idea that God’s love reached beyond them to others.

Peter knew he was in the middle of a holy disruption, and that a new reality was being born.  He asked his fellow believers: “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit?” (v. 47).  You could hear a pin drop.  No one said a word.  So hearing no objections, Peter ordered Cornelius and his family and friends to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Cultural norms had been disrupted by God’s holiness, and they would never go back to the way they were before.  And it was all for the better.

Move 2
The falling of the Spirit on the Gentiles began a new era in the life of the church.  By making this change, God was enabling the Gentiles to hear the Gospel and be part of the community of faith—something Jewish laws had previously prohibited.

Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary writes, “One of the first lessons the early Church had to learn was how to accept the Samaritan, Gentile and even eunuch who believed in Jesus Christ as Savior.  It was disruptive, and disruption is always difficult.  Our church today is still learning how to accept the stranger God has chosen to include in the community of Christian faith.”

There is resistance, from even the most faithful, to see others as children of God.

It’s a sad but true statement.

And the Church’s reluctance to do so has contributed to the negative opinion and disdain that many non-religious people have of the Church.

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          When Peter reported this new teaching to the church in Jerusalem, he encountered resistance and criticism.  But he concluded his report in Acts 11 by asking a question that silenced his critics, saying, “If then God gave them the same gift that God gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (11:17).

What a great question.  “Who was I that I could hinder God?”

Who are we to resist a Spirit-driven, holy disruption?

If God wants us to change and do a new thing, who are we to say no to God?

If God calls us to love and accept all people—as Christ showed us— who are we to say no to God?

Move 3
Now to be certain, disruption can create tension.

The tension in the Jerusalem church was between ancient laws around culture and diversity—a struggle we still experience today.

Around the church, we see some Christians who believe in law, and want to enforce such laws and beloved theological dogmas.

Yet, other Christians are proponents of diversity and want to embrace a broader range of theological and cultural perspectives.

Disagreements are bound to arise in the Church.

We don’t all agree about homosexuality, premarital sex, medical ethics, gun control, the ordination of women, the morality of war, or the nature of Jesus Christ.

And such tensions are challenging to navigate because they don’t all break down clearly into right and wrong or good versus evil.  The delicate balance between ancient laws around a culture and diversity, or orthodoxy and heterodoxy, is one that challenges the Christian community.
So how do we know when ancient laws around a culture are “ancient”, and we ought to move toward a new era?

Well… It helps to get a word from Jesus.

The Church can do no better than to follow the example of Jesus, who showed a willingness to challenge, and even break, established laws in order to minister to those society had pushed to the margins.

Remember… Jesus healed on the Sabbath, touched menstruating women, welcomed little children and preferred the company of sinners over saints.

In all these ways, Jesus favored the diversity of God’s people over religious laws.  Jesus was never afraid to push for change, even in the face of opposition.

Jesus was a Spirit-driven, holy disrupter.
He changed the world by taking an old approach and replacing it with a new and better one—one that embodies grace and hospitality.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus came with a new and better way, and today he asks us to move in this new and better direction with him.

He challenges us to get to know the immigrant who works down the hall, to reach out to the neighborhood teen who is isolated and alone, to adopt the child with a disability who needs specialized care, to support the young woman in an abusive relationship, to invite young singles to church, to visit the elderly bound to their homes.

Jesus wants us to be part of the movement of inclusion that was seen so clearly when the Spirit fell on the Gentiles and welcomed them into the community of believers.

Conclusion

More often than not, change and growth requires disruption.

As followers of Christ, we need to understand that love, diversity, and inclusion are holy disruptions in a world that often casts them aside, or even tries to silence them by saying, “Let’s just wait and see how we should respond.”

Jesus was not a “wait and see” Savior.  Rather Jesus was all about love, diversity, and inclusion.  It is a movement he advanced through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, it was disruptive then, and it is disruptive today.  But it is precisely what a Spirit-filled church should be embracing.

Our challenge as Christians is to reach new people with the Good News of Jesus Christ, following the example of Jesus and the inspiration of the Spirit.

Our Spirit-driven acceptance of diversity and our Christ-inspired love is something the world needs now, more than ever.

So may we embrace holy disruptions, and may we seek to be holy disruptions.

For holy disruptions can and will change everything.  For the better.  Amen.

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