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The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (21A) | By the Rev. Kevin Goodman

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21:23-32)

David Byrne, lead singer of Talking Heads, shares, “Life tends to be an accumulation of a lot of mundane decisions, which often gets ignored.” But we are called to notice the disruptions in between. If we don’t take notice of the disruptions, life is just the same as it ever was.


Disruptions. They are unexpected and uninvited, forcing us to stop, take notice, examine the present moment, and make choices. Disruptions are a time of judgment. A decision will have to be made. We can buckle down, harden up, and ignore the disruption, or we can step into it, with curiosity and wonder, aware that something will have to change.

When have you experienced disruption? What happened? Where did it lead? I wonder if anything changed.


Paul’s life was majorly disrupted. While on the road to Damascus, Paul was struck blind, knocked to the ground, and face falling into the dirt of the road. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t get his bearings straight. He suddenly had no sense of himself. Everything he thought he knew was challenged.


“Very truly, I tell you, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But there will come a time when you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”


Disruption. What if it causes me to walk in a direction I do not wish to go? Will I be open? Will I trust God? Is it possible that God is in the disruption?


Cynicism comes from resistance to disruption. Late-night comedian Stephen Colbert shared this: “Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the furthest thing from it because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is self-imposed blindness: a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say ‘no.’ But saying ‘yes’ begins things. Saying ‘yes’ is how things grow. Saying ‘yes’ to uncomfortable invitations creates the space for something to happen. But we have to say ‘yes.’”


In this morning’s gospel from Matthew, Jesus’ presence in the temple of Jerusalem is created by an unpredictable sequence of disruptions.


On their way into Jerusalem, just outside of town, Jesus directed his disciples up the street to get a donkey. His request was given as if it were just part of a normal routine. He tells them to let the donkey’s owner know he needs it.


Disruption.


The crowds heard that Jesus was just outside the temple gates, so they gathered and prepared for the famous rabbi’s pending arrival. They grabbed palm branches from the city’s trees and pillaged blankets and bands of cloth from anywhere they could find, dropping them on the ground and waving the branches in the air to herald Jesus’s arrival.


Disruption.


Jesus entered the temple and was taken aback by what he saw. He suddenly and unexpectedly interrupted the temple economy and called on all holy people to change their ways. He overturned tables, yelled at money changers, and pushed everyone out in a fit of rage.


Disruption.


Today’s gospel is the morning after. Jesus has returned to the temple, and the religious leaders aren’t pleased to see him.


“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”


“Where is your curriculum vitae?”


“We need to see your resume.”


“Forward us your references.”


“Where did you go to school?”


“We haven’t given you any authority, so you have no authority here.”


Jesus invites us into a life of disruption. Disruption started millions of years ago when God, through a cosmic bang, revealed God’s presence as light amid chaos.

Stability finds its roots in disruption.


When God’s love is hidden behind humankind’s economic greed, we are called to overturn the tables and clear a path for all. When God becomes hidden by ritual and sacrifice, we appear at the river's side, reminding everyone to turn and look towards God, which may be as simple as dunking oneself in water.


“Jesus asked the religious authorities, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another. “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’”


It is so easy to succumb to the will of the status quo and forget about discerning God’s hope for ourselves and for all of God’s people.


Parker Palmer, a teacher, theologian, and community activist, shares this in his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, “We are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots.”


Slots are created by the status quo. They are easy to fit into because we don’t need to change to find our place. However, we need to understand that the expectations of the status quo are of human origin and not from God.


Jesus tells the parable of a vineyard owner and his two sons. The dad asks his sons to work in the vineyard. But this invitation disrupts their own plans. To get his father off his back, one son says “yes” with no intention of working in the vineyard. The other says “no” but eventually decides to do it despite this hiccup in his plans for the day. Nobody likes disruption.


And yet, God’s story is full of disruption. A garden paradise becomes the origin of exile because of plans disrupted. The desert becomes a home to wilderness wondering because of constant disruption. Calls for a king from the people of God disrupts God’s plan to be central when considering societal structure. The Ten Commandments disrupt our plans for domination. The Beatitudes disrupt our hope to live free from accountability. The cross is a disruption to friendship and expectations. A stone rolled aside, revealing an empty tomb, is a disruption to the power of death.


In her book The Dream of God, Verna Dozier reminds us that disruption is the foundation of God’s holy story. She writes, “Kingdom-of-God thinking calls us to risk. We always see through a glass darkly, and that is what faith is about. I will live by the best I can discern today. Tomorrow I may find out I was wrong. Since I do not live by being right, I am not destroyed by being wrong. The God revealed in Jesus whom I call the Christ is a God whose forgiveness goes ahead of me, and whose love sustains me and the whole created world. That God bursts all the definitions of our small minds, all the limitations of our timid efforts, all the boundaries of our institutions…


“Nothing scares us more than freedom. We are always afraid that freedom will degenerate into chaos— as it often does— so to escape chaos we flee to authority, which means authoritarianism.” [1]


Any disruption to the status quo is quickly labeled as “woke.” Am I awake to life, or am I asleep, full of fear and anxiety of disruption?


Faith is a journey through disruption. The day, the week, the year never goes as expected. In the Exodus narrative, Moses notices a bush burning in the desert. This is a disruption. But, the burning bush is a call to stop, pause, take notice, and look. Something is happening.


In the midst of daily routine, disruption is where the spirit lives and moves and has its being. What disruptions have you experienced lately?


Joan Chittister, in her book Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, shares this, “The great interruptions of life leave us completely disoriented. We become lost. The map of life changes overnight and our sense of direction and purpose goes with it. Life comes to a halt, takes on a new and indiscernible shape. Promise fails us and it is the loss of promise that dries in our throats. What was is no more and what is to come, if anything, is unclear. All the things we depended on to keep us safe, to show us the way, to give us a reason for going on, disappear.”


This week, I invite you to take notice of the disruptions in your life. What is God calling you to do? How are you being called to change? How do these disruptions bring you closer to God and to God’s people?

 

[1] Dozier, Verna J. The Dream of God (Seabury Classics) . Church Publishing Incorporated. Kindle Edition.

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