If you're looking for a meat alternative for your summer grill, you can now buy the ready-to-cook Beyond Burger at Whole Foods. It is located right next to the real meat, so you can make your own decision about plant versus animal protein.
Beyond Meat is what is known as a health-driven disruption in the food business. This is the phrase the business magazine Fast Company uses -- health-driven disruption, a phrase that has led some to observe that, more often than not, all change requires disruption.
Here’s another example. Consider electric cars, and how that industry began to grow, and continues to expand further every year, despite skeptics, critics, and ill-wishers. Years ago, a friend of mine owned an electric car- in 1993 that meant the inside front and rear of the car was filled with large batteries. The batteries took all the storage space, making the car very heavy, and you could not drive more than 100 miles before needing a recharge, and places to plug in were few. It used to be that electric cars were rare. Hybrids like the Toyota Prius had some degree of popularity, as they still do. But today, everyone, including Ford, General Motors, Daimler and others, is rushing for a share of the sales market. Some believe the gasoline-powered automobile may soon be a thing of the past.
The early church experienced disruptions, too; one of them is described in our reading from The Book of Acts, but we need to set the context of the conversation between Cornelius and Peter that comes earlier in the chapter to fully understand this story. It will help us see how throughout history, positive changes have relied on disruptions; and disruptions are almost always seen initially as negative.
The Book of Acts tells us that early Christians in Jerusalem were people who had grown up Jewish. They had been taught never to associate with uncircumcised, unclean people like the Gentiles of the Greek and Roman world. It was simply not done.
Enter the disruption, in verse 15: "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." This is an earth-shattering verse, upending centuries of Jewish dietary customs and cultural traditions considered religious law- orthodoxy! Talk about disruptive!"
And this is how it happened.
One day in Caesarea, Cornelius, a Gentile, had a vision from God in which he was told to send for the apostle Peter. Meanwhile, the apostle 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 a devout Jew, 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 (wicked, irreverent, unholy, blasphemous)." It is a strong, a powerful message, and Peter got it…and began a disruption.
Upon arriving, Peter acknowledged that it was unlawful for Jews to visit with Gentiles, but then reported that God had shown him that he "should not call anyone profane or unclean" (v. 28). No one should be excluded. So when Peter was asked to go to Cornelius there was no question what God wanted him to do.
So Peter preached about Jesus to Cornelius and his friends and relatives, and Acts tells us that while Peter was speaking, "the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word" (v. 44).
The Spirit fell on all who heard the word. Gentiles and Jews. It was a Spirit-driven disruption, one that even interrupted the preaching of Peter.
The Jewish believers were "astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles" (v. 45). Utterly astonished. They were like meat-eaters tasting their first Beyond Burger. They had a hard time grasping that non-Jews were experiencing the Holy Spirit and praising God.
Peter was wise enough to recognize that he was in the middle of a spiritual disruption and radical change, and that a new reality was being born. Peter asked those with him: "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit?" (v. 47).
I am willing to bet you could have heard a pin drop. No one said a word, so Peter ordered Cornelius and his family and friends to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Normal operations had been disrupted, and they would never go back to the way they were before.
The falling of the Spirit on the Gentiles began a new era in the life of the church. Through this major disruption, God opened the way for Gentiles to hear the gospel and to be part of the community of faith -- something that Jewish purity laws had previously prohibited.
"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," writes M. Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary.
The truth is that disruption is always difficult, and our church today is still "learning how to accept the stranger God has chosen to include in the community of Christian faith."
When Peter reported this experience to the church in Jerusalem, he encountered a lot of resistance and criticism. But Peter concluded this report by asking a question that silenced his critics, "If then God gave them the same gift given to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?" (11:17).
What a momentous question. "Who was I that I could hinder God?"
Who are we to resist a Spirit-driven disruption? If God wants us to change and do a new thing, who are we to say no?
Disruption often creates tensions during the process of new knowledge and change.
The tension in the Jerusalem church was between purity and diversity, a struggle that we are still experiencing today in The United Methodist Church even as our Council of Bishops met last week to propose which plan from the Commission on the Way Forward should be adopted in relation to lgbtqia+ people; and these tensions reach far beyond the boundaries of our denomination. Throughout the Church, and throughout the history of the Church we find some Christians who believe in “purity” -- people who want to enforce traditional definitions of morality and beloved theological dogmas.
We also see other Christians are who proponents of diversity and who embrace and accept a progressive theology with a broader range of theological and cultural perspectives.
Disagreements are bound to arise in a time of disruption. We do not all agree about definitions of human sexuality or gender identity, the morality of war, medical ethics, or the nature of Jesus as the Christ. These tensions are particularly tricky because they do not break down clearly into right and wrong or good versus evil. The delicate balance between purity and diversity or orthodoxy and heterodoxy is one that challenges both pastors and church members. We see it in the Christian community, we hear it debated in our society, and we feel it in ourselves.
The underlying question is: when should we invite the Spirit to help us let go of the past and move into a new era? It helps to get a divine word, such as the guidance Peter received in Acts. But until then, the church can do no better than to follow the example of Jesus, who showed a willingness to break established purity laws in order to minister to those defined as outcasts, outsiders; societies’ “unclean” of that time.
Remember, Jesus disrupted religious law and healed on the Sabbath; Jesus disrupted religious law and cultural norms and touched a menstruating woman; Jesus disrupted religious law and welcomed little children; Jesus disrupted religious law and preferred the company of sinners over saints. In all these ways, and others, Jesus not only broke religious laws, but actually favored the diversity of God's people over the purity of religious law.
Jesus was never afraid to push for change, even in the face of opposition, because Jesus was a Spirit-driven disrupter. Jesus changed the world of religion by taking an old approach to purity and replacing it with a new and better one. In Jesus, "a purity of law turns into a purity of love," observes Susan Andrews, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This is a purity of love "embodied in the gracious and hospitable ministry of Jesus Christ."
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus came up with a new and better religious system, and today still invites and calls us to move in this new direction with him, challenging us to get to know the immigrant who works down the hall, to reach out to the neighbor who is isolated and alone, to make opportunities to sit down and talk with people who are not like us…
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. Purity of love. Diversity and inclusion. That's what Jesus was about, and it is a movement that was and is advanced through the power of the Holy Spirit today. It was disruptive then, and it is disruptive today. Our Spirit-driven acceptance of diversity and our Christ-inspired purity of love is something that the world needs now, more than ever.
There's an African story about a remote village called Shango Oba, whose people had a fine tradition of celebration. Always, when it was time for a feast, the whole village would gather, sitting cross-legged on the ground. The village elders would then carefully apportion the food, so everyone would have enough.
A young man from the village, named Jacob, received a rare invitation to study at an American university. He was away for many years; and became steeped in Western culture. Eventually, he returned home to Shango Oba. To welcome him back, the people did what they did best: they put on a feast.
Jacob, however, was troubled by what he saw: "My family, I mean no disrespect, but why are you eating your food on the ground?"
"How would you expect us to eat: standing up or sitting in a tree?" asked one of the elders.
"No. Don't be ridiculous," said Jacob. "Civilized people sit at a table."
His response gave them pause to consider. If this is what the wise people of America did, there must be something to it. The village elders decided to bring a table into the village.
The table was just large enough to seat eight people. At every feast thereafter, the villagers quarreled over who those eight should be. Some said it should be the young men, for they had carried the new table into the feasting grounds. The women said it should be they who sat at the table, for they had prepared the food. "Such a sense of entitlement," thought the elders, shaking their heads. "It should be us," they declared. "Age has its privileges."
Something had happened at Shango Oba's feasting grounds that had never happened before. Peace had departed the village.
Finally, Jacob's father called him aside. "Look what you have done," he pointed out. "In the name of civilization, there is no purpose, no unity, no community."
Later that night, under the sliver of a moon, Jacob took an ax and chopped the table into many pieces. He picked up the pieces and laid one at the door of every house in the village. In the morning, he called the village elders together and explained what he had done. "I want to see unity and harmony return to Shango Oba."
That very day, the elders decreed it was time for another feast: to celebrate the end of the table.
--Adapted from Dorothy Winbush Riley's story, "Shango Oba," in The Complete Kwanzaa:
Nowhere is the unconditional love and welcome of God through Jesus better symbolized or experienced more clearly than at the open and diverse Communion table at which Christ is our host, where all have a place, and where everyone is welcome.