“It’s just a little turn of phrase in the 17th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, when Paul and Silas were in Thessalonica and there was a riot in the streets because of the radical implications of their preaching. The irate townspeople complained to the city authorities about them – these disciples, these apostles of Jesus: ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also. . . They are acting contrary to the decrees of the empire. . .’ What were the apostles saying, that so enraged the townspeople? No doubt, they were simply repeating the words of their teacher, when he taught them as that day on the mountainside: ‘Blessed are those who are poor – in possessions and in spirit. Blessed are those who have suffered loss and are in mourning. Blessed are the meek, and those who are hungry and thirsty – for sustenance and for justice; for righteousness. Blessed are the innocent, and those with purity of heart. Blessed are those who seek and work for peace: shalom, wholeness, health, fullness of life for all.’ Why is it that these thoughts are so revolutionary that they actually cause the world to be turned upside down – and that those who espouse them as principles for daily living and for social and political contract are made to suffer persecution and ill repute for daring to suggest that they are true?” – Rev. James A. Kelsey, The World Turned Upside Down
One of the basic premises of this blog is the notion that Jesus has called all of us to share the Gospel – the Good News – regardless of our circumstances, station, title, gender, wealth, politics, or anything that seems to divides us into camps and categories. We are all called to be evangelists.
So when we discuss the act of “sharing the Good News”, what in the world are we really supposed to be sharing? What IS the good news?
In my opinion, it is encapsulated in Rev. Kelsey’s quote above, in the story of Paul and Silas in Thessalonica. Those two famous evangelists were going around sharing the Gospel, right? They came to town with Good News. And I feel pretty confident that Rev. Kelsey has it right when he suggests that the heart of their message was the Beatitudes. That’s what they were sharing. That was their “evangelism”.
You know that stuff we’re supposed to go out into the world and proclaim to everyone? I think the Beatitudes are it. They are what Jesus teaches us God is about. They are what he lived and died to show us.
And when Paul and Silas shared it in Thessalonica, it started a riot in the streets.
Good News indeed.
But for whom? Well, let’s step back a moment from the numbness brought on by our years of rote memorization of these “nice” little statements and really think about what Jesus is saying. He’s saying that all the stuff that the rich & powerful voices of the world tell us is most important is actually a lie, and that what really matters to God is the stuff that lives on the margins, in the shadows, and under the radar. The ‘good news’ that Jesus is sharing is news that upends our ambitions, our power-quests, and the structures that work so hard to keep everything stable and well-ordered. Jesus is proposing to turn the world upside down.
Is that good news? Well yeah. It’s good news for the meek, the poor, the dispirited, the peacemakers. It’s good news for the marginalized and the despised. But what about the rich? What about the powerful? What about the empire, the institutionalized religion, the agents of law & order? It’s not really good news for them, is it? When your job is to keep the world as-is, to maintain the status quo, to stabilize the base of power and keep things all decent and in order, the world being turned upside down is NOT good news. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now.
We who would be evangelists in this time and place have to face something that is – if you ask me – pretty scary. If we go around sharing the Good News – the REAL Good News and not the safer, watered-down North American friendly version – it isn’t going to be good news to some people. And those ‘some people’ will tend to be the people with the power; political, financial, social & cultural power – the people with the power to shut us the hell up.
Yeah. Because to take the Beatitudes seriously is to turn the world upside down. To take them seriously is to make it clear that The Way Things Are is not the Way God Would Have Them Be. To take them seriously undermines so much of what we’ve come to think of as just and right and fair.
But the problem is … Taking the Beatitudes seriously, living them, sharing them, working to make them more real in the lives of human beings – that’s the Gospel. That’s what Jesus sent us out to do. And we can’t think for one second that, if we do so, we’re going to be treated any better by the Powers-That-Be than Jesus was. Or Peter, Paul, John, Stephen, Gandhi, King, and so many others who lived and died taking the Beatitudes seriously. But this is the Gospel. This is the Good News. This is EVANGELISM. And the world is arrayed against allowing itself to be turned upside down. Power is … well, POWERFUL. And rich, and entrenched, and very adept at making us think everything’s okay.
But it’s not okay. The meek, the poor in spirit, the peacemakers, the oppressed, the merciful … they’re still imploring us. And we’re called to engage in that, to do something about it. To help build a Kindom.
And I’m going to be honest and admit – that scares me. The power arrayed against us scares me. This is where Jesus’ words about carrying our crosses and hating our fathers and mothers and siblings and children for his sake starts to get to me.
Maybe we can talk about that more over the next few posts. Are you feeling some of the things I’ve expressed? How do you deal with it? How might we support each other and try to grow through it?
Help a brother out.