United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“Disruptive Love”

Rev. Rebecca Migliore

April 28, 2019


       Today we are going to talk about disruptive love.  As I thought about preaching on this very dry text, on a baptism Sunday no less!, the thought came to me—what better example of disruptive love than a baby?  Here you have something that commands your attention, your care, your love—and you do that to the best of your ability—but no one is going to say that having a baby around isn’t going to disrupt the comfortable, expected norms of things like sleep, being able to keep up with the wash, even personal hygiene.  Parents can understand the all-consuming, all-encompassing work of love, and how it can disrupt everything.

       And so, on this Sunday after Easter; this Sunday after we have been shocked by the empty tomb, overjoyed that God has conquered death, and energized by the amazing story we are given to tell the world—this Sunday reminds us of the painstaking, plodding, courageous, even confrontational task living the resurrection really is.  

       Our text from the Acts of the Apostles may not have been one you have heard before.  It is a day-in-the-life of Peter and John (and the other apostles) in the city of Jerusalem after Pentecost.  The stunning nature of resurrection has worn off, and they have been in the capital city, hanging out with other disciples and waiting for the Holy Spirit to come upon them, as Jesus told them to do.  And this whoosh of flame and tongues of fire has happened just a few chapters ago, and now the disciples who used to meet only behind closed doors are talking about Jesus—his life, his death, and his resurrection—in the marketplace, on the street, basically anywhere they can get an audience.

       And they continue to preach, even though they have been cited by the authorities for rabble-rousing, and warned by their own religious leaders to be quiet.  Since the Acts of the Apostles is written by the same author as the gospel of Luke, I think it is safe to say that our writer would hear echoes of what Jesus said to those same authorities on Palm Sunday (in the words of Jesus Christ Superstar), “If every tongue was still, the noise would still continue, the rocks and stones themselves would start to sing!”

       So Gamaliel, the high priest, brings them in again, and whines, “We told you to stop preaching, but your story is all around Jerusalem, and you are getting us in trouble with Rome and everyone else!”  [Now I want to be clear that this text should not be used in an anti-Semitic way—as it has been in the past.  All the participants in this story, including Jesus, were Jews.  This is a story of empire, of power, of privilege versus the loving, disruptive acts of God.]

       Peter and the apostles aren’t sympathetic one bit.  They state what religious people over the world have claimed, “We must obey God rather than you.”  And when this puts the people of God against leaders, whether they be of the state or of the church, it becomes disruptive, hopefully disruptive love.

       We shouldn’t be surprised that the people following Jesus would end up at this point.  The story of Jesus is one of disruption from the beginning.  

The story of Jesus disrupts our sense of who should be in the know from the time of his birth (as told in the gospel of Luke) when angels showed up to tell the news not to the elite, but to the down and out shepherds sleeping in the hills far from town.  The story of Jesus disrupts the adage that older is wiser when Jesus, as a twelve year old, stays in Jerusalem, talking with and teaching the scholars in the temple, when everyone else in the family was on their way home.  The story of Jesus disrupts our sense of Messiah, of Savior, of holy man of God, by Jesus presenting himself to John the Baptist to be baptized, like everyone else.

Why are we surprised that the one who disrupted what we call natural laws by walking on water and feeding five thousand with just a handful of fish and bread and working miraculous healings and flaunting religious laws by eating with sinners and touching lepers and even healing on the Sabbath, then disrupted the law of the universe and rose from the dead? 

       I suppose what is truly surprising is that resurrection power then infected the people who believed in Jesus, and they began to disrupt in the same way.

       Now this type of disruption is not an end in itself.  This is not blowing up a church on Easter Sunday, or charging into a school with guns blazing, or having a march with tiki lamps down the center space of one of our oldest colleges.  These acts are certainly disruptive.  But they have nothing to do with love, or with listening to God above all other voices.

       On the other hand, we are not to be persuaded to think that love is only esoteric or ethereal.  Love in Hebrew—hesed, has a strong justice component.  This type of love is wrapped up with justice.  And Justice is always disruptive to the unjust.  So we have love and disruption, and disruption because of love.   

We can’t even claim that this disruptive love is all about the other, and never about ourselves.  Jesus said, “Love your enemies.”  Disruptive.  Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”  Disruptive.  Jesus said pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Disruptive. 

       This disruptive love, this love that contains justice, can be seen in the lives of people like Ghandi, and Mother Teresa, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rev. Desmond Tutu.  This disruptive love, this love that is enmeshed in justice, may have helped create forms of protest for equality in our own country, from the era of Civil Rights, to Stonewall, to Black Lives Matter, to Me Too.

       So that is all very well and good.  It’s a nice history lesson.  But what does it have to do with us? 

I guess I want us to consider when we participate in angry, snide memes on Facebook or Instagram or email—is this disruptive love, or just hating?  I think our text today asks us to think about what our bottom line is—when we go to the ballot box, when we march or gather, when we talk, even talk passionately, with one another—are we following God, are we listening to the murmurs of the Holy Spirit, are we walking alongside our brothers and sisters of faith, are we holding onto LOVE, Love that creates justice, Love that insists on justice, Love that is not love without justice?

       This following, this listening, this walking, this holding on, this disruptive love is not necessarily going to be popular.  Not necessarily going to be legal.  And certainly not going to be easy.

       The Christian Church isn’t the only one to notice we live in a world that needs disrupting, and needs to find a little more love.  I invite you to look for, or reacquaint yourself with the song by the Black Eyed Peas “Where is the Love?”  The chorus asks,


       People killin’, people dyin’

       Children hurtin’, I hear them cryin’

       Could you practice what you preach?

       Would you turn the other cheek?

       Father, Father, Father help us

       Send some guidance from above

       ‘Cause people got me, got me questioning

       Where is the Love?


On this Sunday after Easter, on this Sunday when we celebrate God’s love showered upon Camryn, just as it has been showered upon us, let us hold fast to the wonder and joy of belonging to God.  But we have work to do, for ourselves, for Camryn, for our world.  On this Sunday after Easter, we are given a glimpse of what resurrection might mean for us.  It might mean finding where God’s message intersects with our lives.  It might mean following love even if that brings disruption.  It might mean changing almost everything. 

       But we are promised that God’s love makes us strong and new.  We are promised that in God’s love we have a family, a community, to work with us.  We are promised that nothing, nothing in this world, or anywhere else, can separate us from the bedrock of life which is God’s love—from the beginning, until the end.

       May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.