The following is the text of a sermon that I preached as a guest speaker at a local church.
Blessed Are the Disrupters
The title of my message tonight is “Blessed are the Disrupters.” But before I get too deep into my message, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I always think that it’s good to know a little bit about someone before they start preaching at you, so here’s your opportunity to get to know a little bit about me.
I am a wife and a mother. I’ve been married since 2005 to my high school sweetheart. We have two daughters who are 5 and 2. I’ve lived in Missouri for most of my life, although half of my “adult life” was spent living in Virginia, just outside of DC. My husband and I grew up in a rural community about two hours north of here. I have been in ministry in varying capacities since 2003, and I am currently a student at Fuller Theological Seminary, which is based in Pasadena, CA. I graduate in June of 2020, and I hope to eventually become ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. However, I am open to wherever Jesus leads me.
I’m also a racial justice advocate, and so most of what I share with you tonight will be from that perspective, but a lot of what I’m saying can easily apply to disabled people, sexual minorities, gender minorities, and people who are marginalized because of their religion or their lack thereof.
Blessed are the disrupters.
People who possess privilege hate disruption. The only thing that privilege hates more than disruption is those who are the ones doing the disrupting. If you’re someone who disrupts the status quo, whether it be through your words, deeds, or simply by daring to exist, you can guarantee that there is someone out there who is mad at you and wishes that you would sit down and shut up.
Privileged people often don’t like to hear about their privilege. There is something in white American culture that chafes at the suggestion that there are things that they didn’t earn. The American ethos emphasizes the idea of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” Our cultural mythos champions the narrative of the brave patriot of humble estate who fought against British Royalty for his freedom. Or the plucky pioneers who fought their west through many dangers toils and snares. White privilege conveniently glosses over the inconvenient truth that this country did not thrive because of the grit, tenacity, and innovativeness of white men. It was the literal blood sweat and tears of indigenous peoples and African slaves and their descendants who made America “great.” White privilege sits on a throne of lies.
People get the idea of privilege twisted. Privilege doesn’t mean that you haven’t gone through some stuff. It means that there’s some stuff that you haven’t gone through because you’re part of a dominant cultural group.
For example, I am a straight, cisgender woman. Never in my life have I had to hide the fact that I’m straight. I have never had an interaction where I wondered if I was being treated poorly because I am straight. No one has ever told me that I can’t do anything because I’m straight. I’ve never been denied employment because of my orientation. I’ve never had someone, not knowing that I’m straight, complain about how, “The heterosexuals are ruining everything.” I’ve never been accused of promoting a “heterosexual agenda” by simply existing in this world. That’s privilege.
At the same time, I am a black woman. I can’t hide that I’m black in face-to-face interactions, but there are times when I have changed how I speak while talking on the telephone to sound more “white” and therefore more believable in a customer service call or other situation. I’ve also changed how I speak and carry myself in face-to-face interactions so people don’t code me as an “angry black woman.” Countless times, I have wondered if people were treating me badly or flat out ignoring me because I’m black. I have had people get mad that I’ve been hired…because I’m black. I have listened to people say demeaning things about me specifically and black people in general. My husband is white, and there have been many times, walking on the streets of this city or walking into certain situations that I have pretended that we weren’t together because white people are also hostile to interracial marriages.
I share these things with you because I want to make you aware, if you aren’t, that racism isn’t something that died when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot on that hotel balcony in Memphis. A lot of white people treat Dr. King like he was some kind of Messianic figure. It’s as if he came down from heaven, fought the good fight, and shed his blood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel so that no one would ever have to call a white person a racist ever again. King died so that we never have to see the color of one another’s skin. King died so that the privileged would never have to experience discomfort and everyone else could work on lifting themselves up by the bootstraps…this is a lie. This version of Dr. King is as real as the story Paul Bunyan or Johnny Appleseed; it is rooted in some vague historical truth, but it’s nothing but a tall tale.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Disrupter. He upset the racial status quo in this country and fought for the liberation of black people. He wasn’t popular. White people didn’t quote him or try to claim adjacency to him or his work for clout. King pushed back against racism and disrupted the white supremacist status quo. Blessed are the disrupters.
There is this idea out there that if we’re all nice to one another, and if we all can just get along, racism will disappear. This is totally false. We cannot Care Bear Stare white supremacy away. We have to keep disrupting the status quo until justice is normative instead of oppression.
Five years ago, when black people were rising up in Ferguson to protest police brutality, I heard a lot of white people say, “Protesting in the streets isn’t the way to get people to listen to your cause. Why can’t they be peaceful? Why are they destroying their own city? We would listen if they would be more peaceful.” When people stood across streets and highways, white people got mad and asked, “Why do they have to protest that way?” When the protest changed to Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem, many of those same people complained about Kapbeing “disrespectful.” If privileged folks had it their way, the only suitable form of protest would be peaceful, private, and would inconvenience them in no way.
The only way that we have seen progress in the area of race relations has been through disruption. If I had the time I would take you through the history of black protest and how making privileged people uncomfortable has been the only way black, brown, and indigenous people have been able to accrue to themselves a modicum of dignity in American society. Blessed are the disrupters.
Over the past several years I have listened as a lot of white people have tried to silence black people’s complaint and disruption by appealing to the—quite false—notion that Jesus Christ himself would not be okay with disruption. I don’t know what Bible they’ve been reading or what Christ they claim to know, but Jesus is no stranger to disruption. If anything he is the Chief Disrupter. There’s a saying that you can’t play a player…well there was a woman in the Bible who managed to disrupt the Chief Disrupter.
In the Bible, there is a story of a woman who disrupted Jesus while he was in the middle of doing another miracle. I’m going to read the shorter version of this story that is found in Luke 8:40-48:
40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying. As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. 43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
The woman with the hemorrhage tried to go through conventional means to receive her healing and it didn’t come. Her condition meant that she was marginalized. She broke with convention and disrupted what Jesus was doing and her faith made her well. Blessed are the disrupters.
A lot of people turn this story into a biblical magic trick. I personally believe that this particular event likely happened as it was recorded (you don’t have to), but that’s besides the point. A lot of folks want to make this story into “Well if you just believe, Jesus will make everything better.” That cheapens what happened here. This woman was marginalized and dying. She was cut off from her community because of her condition. In those days, women were not allowed to interact within general society until they had “cleansed” themselves from their menstrual flow.
It is generally accepted among biblical scholars and theologians that the “hemorrhages” that this woman experienced was due to some kind of gynecological disorder. This meant that she had been perpetually “unclean” for over a decade. Her condition threatened her life and she had to live in relative isolation because of it. Her illness, something that she couldn’t help, put her on the fringes of society.
We cheapen this woman’s story when we act like all her story is good for is spurring us on in our personal faith. Her healing didn’t happen so we can act like faith is the Band-Aid to all of our problems. This woman’s faith was all she had when every other system had failed her. She disrupted the status quo so she could live. Blessed are the disrupters.
When children are in cages at our nation’s border, we need to disrupt the status quo and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment so that our faith can make us well. Blessed are the disrupters.
When LGBT+ youth are unhoused and sleeping on our city streets, we need to disrupt the status quo and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment so that our faith can make us well. Blessed are the disrupters.
When religious minorities are being treated like dirt in a country that guarantees religious freedom, we need to disrupt the status quo and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment so that our faith can make us well. Blessed are the disrupters.
When disabled people cannot afford life-sustaining treatments, medicine, or equipment, we need to disrupt the status quo and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment so that our faith can make us well. Blessed are the disrupters.
When white supremacists freely organize and racist rhetoric is spewed from the highest levels of our government, we need to disrupt the status quo and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment so that our faith can make us well. Blessed are the disrupters.
Our faith carries power. If one person’s faith can move Jesus into action, what can our faith do to human systems? Our faith isn’t some passive “thoughts and prayers” nonsense. Prayer is a powerful tool, but faith without action is dead.
I leave you with this thought: In what ways will you leverage your faith to disrupt injustice?