In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s an amazing exercise to view things upside down.
When I was a child, I used to love playing on the monkey bars. I loved hanging by the backs of my bent knees and swinging with my fingers brushing the grass, and looking at the world. How odd it all appeared. And how funny my friends looked. I could see right up their noses! They didn’t seem to be dependent much on their feet anymore. Instead their heads seemed to float in space. It was very interesting and kind of surreal!
Turning things upside down reveals things that can be hidden by our usual perspectives. It takes courage sometimes to look at things differently from the way most people do.
God looks at things upside down, too. We have a lot of upside down perspectives in our readings today, and we’ll be reading from Holy Scripture a lot in this sermon. That says it best!
Did you notice how the readings all talk about Christian ethics—the way that God expects us to act in the world? In our current milieu where it seems to pay to speak loudly and carry a big stick, we have Jesus telling us in the Beatitudes that God’s way of being with people is upside down—it’s different from the way we usually see power acted out.
God doesn’t favor the winners. God favors the losers—and calls them blessed.
It’s not the brash who are in favor with the Almighty. No, it’s the meek, the humble, the poor in spirit: those with no chips on their shoulders and nothing to prove; people trying to be kind, to act well, to be quiet champions of the poor and the disadvantaged. Refugees and those who help them and others who have suffered greatly for all kinds of reasons—these are the people in favor with God. Oh, heck, Jesus says it better:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” [Matthew 5:1-10]
Jesus didn’t just pull this stuff out of thin air. He pulled it out of Israel’s Holy Scriptures wherein prophets tell forth the words and feelings of God about right behavior. He pulled it out of God; he pulled it out of himself.
Today we hear the words of the prophet Micah speaking to us from about 2700 years ago. Micah’s words are the upside down truth of God, counter-cultural and misfit in a world of power and glamour. They were true way back then and they still are true. Here they are:
“God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” God tells us that in a world where greed and power and wealth characterize the “winners,” just the opposite things are what please God. To do justice. To love mercy. To walk humbly with God. It’s upside down from the way things are. And it will always be so.
Our psalm gives us a timely reminder to live upside down with a Q and A. “Lord, who may dwell with you?” The answer: “Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from his heart.” The one who speaks the truth…
Today’s reading from 1 Corinthians also describes the upside down way of God as the way of paradox. “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” [1 Corinthians 1:25]
Paul is talking about how the teaching about the cross of Jesus Christ is such an objectionable thing to the people in the Mediterranean world. Jews are offended because their scriptures say that anyone who dies on a cross is cursed. So for them the cross is a stumbling block—something that trips you up.
Greeks are offended because they can’t rationalize Jesus’ death on the cross with the world’s wisdom and the world’s philosophical methods. They can’t parse it, so they see it as foolishness.
And we surely have strong echoes from each of these objections all around us today.
But then Paul proclaims that Jesus’ death on the cross is a subversion of the way most people think things should be. God should never have come as a human among us. God should be too untouchable to live a human existence, to get dirty and sick, to have a body with every one of its normal functions, to die naked and suffocating on a cross, the most shameful and public death known at that time. It makes no sense.
But it’s God’s choice to come among us in human form and live and die this way. It’s God’s upside down choice to face the terror of human death, and to emerge on the other side. And why? Only for love’s sake. To show us the way to live and to love and to die.
Does it make sense? No. It doesn’t.
But here’s the upshot: Christ Jesus invites us to put to rest our typical ways of thinking and being, and to adopt a different way of looking at things—an upside down way. Jesus invites us to realign our priorities with God’s priorities. Now we come to value God’s poor and disadvantaged people as our teachers. Now we come to see our refugees as a precious gift, leading us to remember our history and re-think our prejudices. Now we place kindness and mercy toward others above amassing wealth. Now we give deeply and with outrageous generosity, because it is right.
Paul wrote, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one may boast in the presence of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:27-28]
Again, from Paul, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters.”
Consider your call to live truly as a Christian is supposed to live. Live upside down.