The World Turned Upside Down

The 🌎  turned 🙃 : Gospel and Revolution

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Since it’s the Fourth of July weekend, and since nothing has helped me reclaim patriotic feelings quite like musical Hamilton, about the life of treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, I want to invite you to relive the Revolution through the words of Aaron Burr in the show as he introduces the Revolution:

“How does a rag-tag volunteer army in need of a shower

Somehow defeat a global superpower?

How do we emerge victorious from the quagmire,

Leave the battlefield waving Betsy Ross’s flag higher?”

The musical goes on to detail what it calls “the world turned upside down” — when a bunch of volunteers across the sea somehow, with help from France and Marquis de Lafayette, defeated the greatest army in the world and won their independence. And it all started not too far from here: Lexington. Concord. Boston.

Philadelphia. New York.

The world turned upside down.

It’s a fitting memory for the Fourth of July.

“The world turned upside down,” is also how I prefer to describe the Gospel: when the last are first, the first are last, the mighty fall, and everything is shaken up and ordered for justice.

You see, today Jesus sends out the seventy (or seventy-two, depending on which manuscript you ask) out two by two to proclaim one thing: that the Kingdom of God has come near.

The world turned upside down.

Jesus sends the seventy into the places the he intends to go. This is pretty normal — even politicians today do the same thing: send out folks ahead of the main event to see how well they’ll be received, figuring out where the person themselves should focus their time. It actually seems pretty driven on Jesus’ part by efficiency: spread the word, get as many people on board as possible. Not unlike the Revolution, either.

Jesus tells the seventy that he’s sending them out “like lambs in the midst of wolves.” While I’m sure campaigners often feel the same way — the Democrats in my home state of Alabama being only one example — there are key differences, of course.

See, revolutionaries and politicians are out to win. Jesus — not so much. When your  mission is to ultimately die and rise again, “success” is defined differently.

What we often want is to be successful, to win, to turn the world upside down, as the revolutionaries did. Churches are no exception. After all, we live in a world dominated by the need to succeed. And when we don’t succeed the way that we think we should — namely, in numbers and money — we can get either hostile to the world around us, as many Christians have become, or we can become angry and insular, keeping to ourselves like church mouse hermits.

If we don’t get more people, how will we turn the world upside down? Isn’t that the Gospel?

This desire to increase our numbers isn’t all bad, of course. It’s incredibly practical. After all, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open it up and see the — “ Thank you.

We need people to be the church. We need people to make a difference. And who doesn’t want to be part of a booming church?

We need people to do work, feed people, serve people, give money to fund the church to keep the lights on and buy new lawnmowers and make sure the pastor can buy groceries. We need people to serve on council, to help us renovate the fellowship hall, to care for the altar and the building. The need for people is real. Without people, there is no church. And without new people, coming in to share their gifts, we can become stagnant. The desire for new people is a categorically good instinct — otherwise Jesus never would’ve sent out the seventy in the first place: they would’ve just holed themselves in the upper room until it was time for Jesus to go and die.

Instead he sends them out and tells them to proclaim one simple message: the Kingdom of God has come near. The world turned upside down.

But he doesn’t tell them how they can convince the most people — in fact, he tells them that they’re going to fail a lot, and he tells them how they should react when they aren’t adding new people, and even when the Gospel is outright rejected: keep proclaiming the message. Tell them “Know this — the Kingdom of God has come near.”

Whether you listen or not, the world is still being turned upside down.

Success wasn’t about how many people they could convince to follow Jesus. Success was about delivering the message:
The Kingdom of God has come near. The world turned upside down.

Luke mentions the kingdom over 30 times, or way more than the other three biblical Gospel accounts. The word he uses for “kingdom” comes from the Greek “basileia,” and it’s not to be confused with an actual place, as we often hear. Jesus isn’t talking about heaven — it’s not a place, it’s an active thing. A better translation, I think, is not kingdom of God but reign of God. It’s not a place, it’s the new order of things. It’s the world turned upside down.

Luke mentions the reign of God alongside healing, alongside calling the poor blessed, alongside calling the powerful poor and the poor powerful. He is referring to the world turned upside down, power structures turned upside down, success defined differently: where a crucified Messiah, perhaps also in need of a shower, can somehow subvert a global superpower — in this case, not Britain but Rome.

And so it’s not surprising that when the seventy return, the disciples are as thick-headed as ever and are still talking about winning and success as they know it: “Lord, even the demons obey us! We kicked demon butt!” Jesus sends them out telling them they’ll be like lambs among wolves, but they still have to go — that they’ll fail often, but what’s important is that they preach the world turned upside down. He even tells them not to prepare but to rely on others. He doesn’t set them up to focus on winning.

But of course, the seventy come back talking about how successful they were.

You can hear Jesus face palming through the ages.

Last week during our text conversation after church, some of you were curious about what Jesus says in response about Satan. Now this is only my interpretation, but I imagine Jesus waving his hand dismissively in reply. “I saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” In other words, Hipster Jesus says, “I’ve been kicking demon butt since before it was cool.”

Jesus says, don’t rejoice that you can make evil spirits submit to you. Don’t be happy that you can win over the bad guys. Rejoice that the world is turned upside down and your names are written in heaven.

Don’t rejoice at what you can do, even when you’re winning. Even when you directly defeat the bad guys. Rejoice that God has claimed you as God’s own. Ultimately, the story of our church, and of each of our lives, is not a story of booming success — it is a story about God.

All there is for us is to know and continue to live into and say this: the Kingdom of God has come near. The world is being turned upside down by the crucified and risen Messiah.

In the song “Yorktown” from Hamilton, that details the last and decisive battle of the Revolution, the American revolutionaries do win, and win big — they win their freedom, and ours, from British rule across the sea. The song remembers the great battle that ultimately won us our independence, where the British are cut off by Lafayette in Chesapeake Bay.

From there, the story is told:

“After a week of fighting, a young man in a red coat stands on a parapet

We lower our guns as he frantically waves a white handkerchief

And just like that, it’s over. We tend to our wounded, we count our dead

Black and white soldiers wonder alike if this really means freedom”

And from center stage George Washington replies, meaningfully:

“Not yet.”

Even our greatest successes come up short. Though America had won its freedom, it would be nearly another century before every human was free.

And as for full freedom and justice and safety — as for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans?

Not yet.

Jesus knew that failure was part of living together as humans. He knew that not everyone would receive his message. But he taught us to proclaim it no matter what: “The kingdom of God has come near.” The kingdom, the reign of God, where all are truly equal and cherished and loved — is brought about only by God, and it cannot be achieved with numbers or spreadsheets or sermons or even political independence. But still, we say, know this: the Kingdom of God has come near.

We have glimpsed it, we are proclaiming it and working towards it as Jesus taught us, and it is coming.

Not yet. But soon. Until then, through the success and failure, keep proclaiming the Kingdom, the Reign of God, the world turned upside down.

And even when you are successful, do not rejoice in success: rejoice that God has claimed us. Because this isn’t a story about our successes, thank goodness: it is a story about God.

We are God’s beloved, called to proclaim the reign of God come near. Called to proclaim the world turned upside down.

At the end of the song “Yorktown” in Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton narrates the end of the Revolutionary War:

“We negotiate the terms of surrender

I see George Washington smile

We escort their men out of Yorktown

They stagger home single file

Tens of thousands of people flood the streets

There are screams and church bells ringing

And as our fallen foes retreat

I hear the drinking song they’re singing:

‘The world turned upside down’….”

This weekend we remember how those who came before us secured our freedom, how they turned the world upside down by defeating a global superpower, how they dared to claim their independence and humanity despite all risk. How they established a new order, a new reign, a new rule. They did not fear failure, because they knew that failure might be a part of success.

So let us also dare greatly. We may see an influx in numbers or we may not. No matter what happens know this: the reign of God has come near.

May they see in us the world turned upside down.

Author Sara Miles says that the Kingdom of God according to Jesus’ parables is finding the one thing that matters and letting everything else go.

The one thing that matters is that God has claimed humanity — you. Me. And everything else: including our fear of failure — can go.

So let us, claimed and beloved, go in the name of disciples and revolutionaries, and proclaim this: “The world turned upside down. Amen.

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