Lately, there's been a lot of talk about "disruption" in the world around us. And what's meant by "disruption" is that an idea, a technology or a new way of doing something radically changes how we live and function in our society.
And so people talk about how the internet has disrupted how we receive and process information. People say that Amazon has disrupted how we shop for and buy the things we need. And auto executives are beginning to talk about how electric vehicles are now disrupting the auto industry.
In fact, there have always been "disruptions" in human society. The ones we can study in the past are cool, because we don't have to live through them! The invention of the printing press was as disruptive in its day as the internet. The industrial revolution was so disruptive that it caused riots. And even things we take today as basic safety features were once so disruptive that they caused warnings ... (apparently the first AAA warning about what we today call "distracted driving" was issued because of the introduction of windshield wipers...!)
"Disruptions" are often both exciting and scary. They present both new possibilities and opportunities, as well as threats and challenges to the way people live. And lately, they seem to be happening at a faster and faster pace.
Yet true "disruption" in this sense of the word, is never destruction. Really, it's about transformation from one way of living to another. And in it's best sense, disruption is about making something better and more accessible... (Amazon isn't trying to destroy shopping; Auto execs are more and more embracing electric vehicles because they see the future potential; and the internet, for all it's "fake news", also opens doors for people who would never have had those opportunities otherwise...)
But as disruption begins, it's often scary. As disruption begins, it's hard to differentiate it from just another big mess. And as disruption begins, it necessarily threatens the ways we've become comfortable with, even if we recognize that some of those ways need changing.
And so I think it's important to see Jesus' "cleansing of the Temple" as more than Jesus having a bad day! Especially, as the story is told here at the very beginning of John's Gospel, Jesus is intentionally being "disruptive." That is, he's not just making a mess and ticking people off. He's beginning a process of transformation of what it means to have a living relationship with God. His intention isn't simply to move the sales folks to another floor, but to call people to re-imagine what's central to the Temple, and therefore, to what's central to their relationship with God.
And like any "disruptive" process, Jesus ISN'T trying to destroy the Temple or even Temple worship. Instead, he was challenging:
- A routine that had, for many people, become the goal of going to the Temple, instead of the means by which worship was empowered ... (that is, all of the conveniences of changing currency and having sacrificial animals readily available were supposed to make it easy for you to focus on worship if you didn't have to worry about that stuff; instead, for many, it had just become a routine that you did, and the routine had become the point, so Jesus needed to disrupt the routine...)
- An attitude that said that as long as you did the routine (and made the sacrifices), you didn't have to invest yourself in a relationship with God; the priests or the system would take care of that for you; that, of course, was never the official line, but that's clearly what many people thought. Jesus disrupts the system by reminding people that this is a house of prayer, which means a place to deepen, nurture and invest yourself in a living relationship with God...
- A way of thinking that things can just go on like this forever. Not unlike folks in any age who have learned a way of doing things and imagine it will always be like this (until it isn't!), many folks in the Temple were very impressed with how big and secure the Temple seemed to be. They could just put the wheels in the ruts and keep going like this without having to consider that life around them was about to radically change. Jesus is disrupting the system by calling people to not be so complacent that they don't even try to envision how God could still work in their lives even if the Temple wasn't there ... (which indeed, it wasn't 40 years after this event...)
We live in a time and place where there's a lot of "disruption" in our lives. Some of the "disruption" really is ultimately good for us and for our society. But some of what appears to be disruption just makes a big mess in our lives. And often, we're not sure whether we're experiencing disruption, or just another big mess.
And so it can be tempting to avoid "disruption" altogether if we can. And yet, today's Gospel reminds us that sometimes God is intentionally disrupting our lives to draw us back into a closer relationship with him. And sometimes Jesus is asking us to consider how we're willing to disrupt things in order not to be people who just go through the routines of religion.
And while Jesus is only said to have dramatically disrupted the Temple one time, Jesus was, and continues to be, in the process of calling us to the kind disruption that challenges:
- Routines that have become ends in and of themselves, instead of patterns that help us grow in faith and hope ... last year, I led us through some discussions about "why" Jesus calls us together to be church, because if we're not constantly asking that question, "going to church" or "being part of a church" just becomes something we do (like the Temple sacrifices), instead of something we do for a purpose; and if it's not serving the purpose, does it need to be disrupted...?
- Our attitudes about faith and God ... are we all taking responsibility for investing in our own relationship with God, and for helping others to experience a living relationship with Jesus? Or are we just hoping the routines and the programs (and maybe the Pastors) will take care of it? Part of what Lent is supposed to be about is disrupting our routines in order to actually pay more attention to listening for God in our lives, so that we don't just rely on routines...
- Our ideas that the way we did this in the past can just go on forever ... increasingly, Christian communities are needing to revisit how we organize ourselves, grow and pass on the faith to others; here, and in many congregations, old structures that served well for many years don't work anymore, and they aren't going to come back any more than VHS tapes! What happens when the "temples" of our past aren't there anymore? Are we willing to envision and live into disruption for the sake of the Gospel?
Ultimately, disruption is hard. It can be painful. And it can mean destruction of the ways we've become comfortable with. In Jesus' day, the disruption that Jesus spoke of and demonstrated ultimately meant the destruction of the Temple - both the building and his own body.
But new life came from that disruption. Jesus rose from the dead and gave people a new and living hope that no one had really imagined was possible before. Jews lost the Temple, but they didn't die out. They found renewed ways to connect with God and live as God's people.
And that's also the hope for us when we face disruption. It can be painful. It can be hard. And it's certainly confusing.
But it's also full of hope. It's full of possibilities. And it's full of new life, because when we open ourselves to God's disruptions, God always has something new and life-giving in store for us.