Good morning! It is a pleasure to be back at St. Stephen’s – a pleasure to spend a chunk of the day yesterday with your Vestry. If you haven’t said “thank you” to a Vestry member recently, they were in church most of the day yesterday, and a lot of them are back today. So make sure you say “thank you” to a Vestry member. And I’ve got to tell you, I know this isn’t a Pentecostal Church, but I’m hoping you can give me an “Amen”. I think you have just two of the most fantastic clergy in the diocese! I’m grateful for Amy and Shayna, for their friendship and companionship and support.
I relocated here about 7 months ago with my wife and 2 young children from Rochester, New York. I have the joy of serving on Bishop Scanlan’s staff as the Canon for Mission Development and Innovation. What that means is I have the joy of working with our 60 parishes and one mission to implement this initiative that we call Shaped by Faith – the reason we prayed that prayer at the beginning of the service today praying that God would give us the insight to hold on to what is true the courage to explore new ideas in the boldness to create. So it is a joy working with our 60 parishes and one mission to talk about how it is God may be inviting us into the ministry – often challenging, but holy ministry – of transformation.
But it’s not all just visiting parishes. The other week our son turned 7, and so we decided to spend the week in New York City. We took our 2 young kids, we invited my parents from New Jersey and we tried to pack it all into a long weekend in New York City. We combined Christmas presents and birthday presents, so we got in there and we went to the Natural History Museum and saw the dinosaurs; and we saw Aladdin the Musical; and we saw the Statue of Liberty; and we went to this crazy restaurant called Ninja where ninjas were the waiters and they were flipping things around at you, throwing things up in the air…so we just tried to pack it all in to a weekend. When we got home, I asked our son, the birthday boy, “So Jonathan what was your favorite part of New York City?” And without hesitating he said, “Daddy, I loved riding the subway.”
I share this because I don’t know whether it’s this wonderful ministry of Shaped by Faith. I don’t know whether it’s that subway comment from my kid, but the other day in the car listening to an NPR podcast something really resonated with me. It was a podcast by the British economist Tim Hartford. Tim was relating an episode from a few years ago in London. About 4 years ago, some of the workers in the London subway system, the Underground, the Tube, went on strike. The strike lasted for 48 hours. It was a substantial chunk of the subway system that was not functioning for 48 hours. And so for 2 days, tens of thousands of folks had to figure out a different way to get to work, had to figure out a different routine for their morning. Now conventional wisdom says that after 2 days most folks would go right back. Hartford and a few other economists were curious they did some surveying, did some research, and they were shocked. They found that 1 in 15, 1 out of every 15 commuters changed their routine. 1 out of every 15 commuters, in just that quick 48 hour span, discovered there was a different way, a quicker way, a more efficient way a cheaper way, a more scenically beautiful way, or just frankly a different way – after decades of always doing it the same, a different way to start their day. 1 in 15 decided to make a shift. And one of the folks that they interviewed said that that strike was for her, her words, “a blessing”. It was a blessing to have to rediscover and rethink how it is she started her day.
So I share that with you – if you hear nothing else this morning, if you’re about to zone out, I want to suggest that that act, that this disruptive act… and how appropriate on a day when we all just had our sleep disrupted by an hour. In a world where we are all too familiar – and maybe like me you feel like disruptions are just coming at you all the time – what is it in this reflective period of Lent to look to disruptions as a sign of God’s blessing? What is it to see God at work in some of those disruptions in our lives?
I read that today. I read that in this short passage from Genesis, this beginning of Abram’s story. Did you catch on to it? God is saying to Abram, “Abram, go from your country, go from your kindred, go from your father’s house. Leave everything familiar. Leave the comfort and the familiarity and the ease of your home.” And God says if you are willing to do that – if you’re willing to venture into the unfamiliar and the unknown, if you’re willing to embrace and embark on a little disruptive journey, God says again and again in this short passage that on the other side, you’ll find blessing. You’ll find blessing that a blinder-led life can’t always reveal. Maybe you and I aren’t being called like Abram to leave everything familiar, leave our homes, and leave kindred, and leave our parents house, maybe we’re not being called to make as dramatic a shift as Abram, but I’m guessing that like me there are ways – seemingly simple ways, day in and day out – these little pokes, these little nudges. But I just find different excuses to ignore, so that I can stick with the known and the familiar. I’ve got my to-do list today, thank you very much. I didn’t I didn’t put “disruption” on my to-do list for the day. Sorry, God. What is it? What is it in this season if we respond, not just tolerate, but respond as Abram does: in faith and joy, venturing into the unknown to discover what blessing God may have for us on the other side?
I read that. I read that call to disruptive journey in Abram’s story. I read that call to disruptive journey in our gospel reading from the 3rd chapter of John’s gospel…which contains probably of the most familiar verses of Scripture, right? Most of us know it, we see it held up at football games: John 3:16, the gospel in a nutshell, words many of us learned in Sunday School. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but shall have everlasting life.” We can pick that one out.
But thanks be to God, a little bit of disruptiveness today: we don’t just get that one little verse from John. We get the longer saga, and we’re reminded today that Jesus utters that most familiar phrase not to his discipling buddies, not to a big gathered crowd, but to this guy: Nicodemus. Nicodemus, who we’re told at the beginning ventures out into the night. And as a quick little theological side note: anytime you hear John talking about people going out at night, a little flag goes up, a little light goes off. People did not go out at night. Night is dangerous – thieves, criminals, wackos are out at night; you have no idea what you’re going to run into if you venture out after dark. And yet Nicodemus – I imagine just restless, tossing and turning, unable to quiet himself, unable to put to rest some of that deep hunger and curiosity about this person of Jesus and his teachings and his ministry – makes the choice to venture out into the dark to find just a speck of light, a little ray.
And he finds Jesus. And it’s in that context: someone willing to venture into the unknown, someone willing to disrupt their sleep and their ease and their pattern – it is in that way that Jesus makes this revelation, “My friend, all our hopes, the salvation of the world, God’s great disruptive intervention to humanity are all rooted,” Jesus says, “in love.” God’s love.
That’s a word we toss around a lot in church, right? Bishop Curry famously says, “If it ain’t about love, it ain’t about Jesus”. The whole gospel is about love. We just have that one little four-letter word to talk about this emotion. The Greeks understood that there’s a lot going on there; they had lots of ways to talk about love. They would talk about romantic love; they would talk about love that friends have between each other; they talk about the great agape – sacrificial love: the kind of love that comes when you’re willing to put your needs on the back burner and instead be of service to someone else. But this kind of love, the love that Jesus is talking about in John 3:16, denotes connection, denotes attachment. God is so connected, God is so attached, God is so unwilling to sit on the sidelines. God is so involved with the world, God had no choice but to intervene, to disrupt, and so he sent us Jesus.
I don’t know about you, friends, but I need that. I need that word today. I need that word in a world that can feel like were not always motivated by the desire to connect, to attach, to associate. Political scientists tell us we live not in a time in of hyper partisanship or extreme partisanship. We live in a time of negative partisanship. We live in a world where so often the primary motivator is not “who do I think I want to attach myself to, who do I want to connect myself with?” The primary motivator is, “who do I want to dis-associate, who do I want it to distance myself from?” I’ll put my hat in with this other person not because I really want to connect with them, but because I really don’t want to connect with you.
John 3:16 is the cure to that. Maybe like me you’ve had a taste of that kind of love in your life. Maybe like me you’ve fallen short, you messed up, and someone who had every reason to distance, to disconnect, to keep you at arms-length, instead responded by digging in, to connecting, to reaching out, to joining, to disrupting. Love, friends. Love is our great Christian disruptor. Love is our response to the changes and challenges of this world. Love is not just about the familiar and the comfortable. Love, true love, the love of Jesus, changes us, disturbs us. Whether we’re blessed to be on the receiving end, or whether we are willing to put ourselves out there and model and be instruments of God’s disruptive love. If it ain’t about love, it ain’t about Jesus. But if it ain’t about change, if it ain’t about disruption, if it ain’t about walking a different way, than it ain’t about love.
How will you and I be agents of disruptive love in this world? It can be something as seemingly simple as responding to that call, changing a simple little routine, venturing out into the unknown, making that call, sending that text, reaching out to someone that you have found yourself distanced and disconnected from, and instead choosing to reconnect. We’re just two weeks into the season of Lent. How will we respond to God’s invitation to be agents of disruption? Thanks be to God. Amen.