Saturday, January 12, 2019

Turning the World Upside Down

            These days the word, “Christian,” is a loaded term.  To some people, it means a “hypocrite,” while to others it refers to someone who is “superstitious” or “greedy.”  To still others, it refers to someone who is “judgmental,” while to others it means someone who is faithful to God.  To even others, a “Christian” may take on additional meanings. 

In our foundational scripture from the Book of Acts this weekend, the first Christians were described as “these people who have been turning the world upside down.”  During his ministry, Jesus frequently “turned the world upside down.”  In my post last week, I remembered how Jesus turned the popular, accepted notion of justice upside down.  Rather than accepting “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” Jesus taught his followers, “…if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…” (Matthew 5:39)

            There are many other examples of Jesus’ teachings turning the world upside down as well:

1.      When Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20), he turns the socio-political world upside down by privileging the marginalized over the powerful.

2.      When Jesus teaches, “ ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” (Matthew 5:43-44), he turns our natural inclinations upside down.

3.      And, when Jesus consistently refers to God as Abba, “Pops,” then he turned the nature of our relationship with God upside down.

In addition to his teachings, Jesus also turns the world upside down through his actions: 

1.      Jesus turned the conventional understanding of keeping the Sabbath upside down, when he healed on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6, Luke 13:10-17) and allowed his disciples to pluck grain in the field on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-6).

2.      Rather than hanging out with the righteous and the powerful in society, Jesus frequently ate with sinners and the marginalized—thus turning the social order and the expectations for a rabbi upside down.  (Mark 2:15-22)

3.      During the last week of his earthly life, when Jesus was in Jerusalem, he stormed into the Temple and overturned the tables of the money changers and the merchants who sold doves, quoting scripture and saying:  “‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”  (Matthew 21:13)

Again and again and again, Jesus and the early Church turned the world upside down.  Yet that all changed in 312 C.E., when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.  Whereas before, Christianity was literally an outlaw religion, banished to the margins of society, after Constantine’s conversion Christianity became the official religion of the Empire.  Whereas before Constantine’s conversion, becoming a Christian meant becoming socially ostracized and risking the death for one’s faith, afterwards becoming a Christian was a career move leading to social and financial promotion. 

Constantine’s conversion became a watershed moment because it encouraged Christianity to shift away from turning the world upside down.  Rather, as the official religion of secular society, the Church was predisposed to defend and justify the prevailing secular society.  There were important exceptions to this generalization, of course.  For instance, one shining exception was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the religious-led Civil Rights movement.  Yet, despite these important exceptions, Christianity, and especially the Church, has focused more on supporting and defending the socio-economic status quo.

But, what if the Church began turning the world upside down again?

I began this post by noting that for many people today, the word “Christian” has a deeply negative meaning, raising up negative adjectives, such as hypocritical, superstitious, greedy, and judgmental.  The truth is that many contemporary people view the Church with great suspicion.  Yet, despite the negative assessment of the Church and Christianity in general, Jesus is popularly viewed in overwhelmingly positive terms.  This disconnect for many people—both inside and outside the Church—is that in his life Jesus clearly modeled the love and life which all of his followers should have.  Yet, when they look at the Church and contemporary Christians, they don’t see the enactment of Jesus’ teachings; they don’t see the Church doing anything productive or worthwhile.  Instead, they see hypocrisy, superstition, greed, and judgment.

Perhaps before the Church can turn the world upside down, someone needs to turn the Church upside down.  But, what does that mean, to turn the Church upside down?  And, what will it take to turn the Church upside down?

If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, January 13th.  As we continue our series on the “Upside Down Church,” I will suggest that it is the responsibility of those inside the Church to turn it upside down. 

Christ UMC is located at 4530 “A” Street.  We have three worship services on Sunday mornings at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00.  The 8:30 and 11:00 services feature a traditional worship format and the services are held in our Sanctuary.  “The Gathering” at 9:45 is held in our Family Life Center (gym), and it is more informal and interactive.   

Come, join us.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

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