“revolution,” November 8, 2015

Responsive Call to Worship
When do you want a revolution?
When you want things to change.
When do you not want a revolution?
When you like the way things are.
So you say you want a revolution?
All we want is to change the world.
Well, the world’s in need of changing.
So is it just what you say you want?
Or will we put our lives where our mouths are?

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
Acts 17:1-7
After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia,
they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.
And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days
argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving
that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead,
and saying, ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.’
Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas,
as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians
in the market-places they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar.
While they were searching for Paul and Silas
to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house.
When they could not find them, they dragged Jason
and some believers before the city authorities, shouting,
‘These people who have been turning the world upside down
have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests.
They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor,
saying that there is another king named Jesus.’”

Pastoral Prayer
We said upside down
You’re turning us.
You’re giving love instinctively.
Around and round you’re turning us—
upside down,
God, You turn us—
inside out
and round and round.

Grant that we might receive this gift—
this gift of Your love
manifest in experience and perspective.
Grant that we might fall, head over heels,
ever more into Your love—
that we might grow more into those
who can draw on knowing
the upside down and inside out.
This we pray
in the name of the one
who turned everything (and everyone) upside down—
and still does,
amen.

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
Every year—more specifically, every summer,
our children and youth head off to camp.
And for the past 19 years for our youth,
and since it started being offered for children in 2004,
that’s been Passport camps.

Most years, we then try and take a worship service in the fall
to reflect back on the theme explored in both children and youth camp.
It’s intentionally been the same theme in both camps for the last several years.
We reflect back on this theme in our own worship
to affirm its significance for our children and youth,
and to own it as significant for us.
This past year, the theme was “revolution.”

In our Acts passage, Paul and Silas are in Thessalonica.
Or actually, maybe they’re not, but they had been—
doing their usual thing—
going to the synagogue—
engaging people in dialogue—
talking to people about scripture and about Jesus—
intriguing people with their good news.

And some of the Jews were persuaded—
as were many devout Greeks,
and some of the leading women of Thessalonica.
Well the Jews of the synagogue, we read, were jealous,
and manipulated the anger of some ruffians of the city,
we read, formed a mob, and set the city in an uproar.

But they couldn’t find Paul and Silas anywhere in the city
to bring them before the authorities,
so they attacked Jason’s house, where they had been staying,
but they weren’t there either.
So they dragged Jason and some of the other believers
before the authorities shouting that these people—
these people who have been turning the world upside down,
have now come here, and Jason welcomed them into his home—
into our community—hosted them—sat down to eat with them,
and now they’re all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor,
saying that there is another king named Jesus.

Rob Bell, in a recent video posted online,
lamented the political blinders
with which people hear and think of the word “evangelical.”
He traces the word, evangelical, meaning good news—
gospel—back to the Romans,
who after another military victory would announce—
pronounce “good news.”

So it was quite sneaky of the early christians—
audacious—presumptuous—brilliant—devious—
to take a word used to boast of military victory
to boast of a victory no military can win—
to claim that Caesar’s good news
is nothing compared to the good news of Jesus.
You think that’s good news? Ha!
Which gets you to thinking—
and we’ve noted some of this before—
gets you to thinking how thoroughly those early christians
looted imperial vocabulary and ideology—
subverting both imperial propaganda and worship.

So along with the word “evangelical,”
those christians claimed, used, and subverted
more of the vocabulary and ideology of Roman propaganda and worship.
They claimed the title, kyrios, lord, applied to Caesar for Jesus.
They claimed the title universal savior, applied to Caesar for Jesus.
They claimed the titles god, son of god and lord and god,
all applied to Caesar for Jesus.
They took the peace of Rome (the pax romana)
and spoke rather of the peace of Christ.
They took the word “parousia,” translated presence
and used to speak of Caesar’s presence,
and applied it to the second coming of Jesus.
They took the word epiphany, manifestation,
regularly used of Caesar, and made it a festival of Jesus in the church year
(http://www.christianmonthlystandard.com/index.php/savior-in-the-roman-world/).

And that’s our whole premise this alternative lectionary year, isn’t it?
The intentional restorying—subverting
of the stories, the energy, the priorities of culture.
It’s so very political.
Those who say our faith story should stay out of politics
evidently have no idea!
It was so political—
unapologetically explicitly political by design.

There is a war going on—always.
But it’s not physical.
It’s narrative.
Who’s got the best story?
And the one with the best story gets to tell it.
So there’s not a war on Christmas
(though that’s a story some try and tell—
some evidently, to my mind, looking for something
to be against that doesn’t cost them anything.)
There is a war for Christmas—
and, just so you know, amidst
the liberals, and the politically correct,
and the fundamentalists, and the other religions,
the retail version is winning.
(Interesting that retail can be heard as re-story, right?
a retelling of the tale—retail!).

So when we lament that the word “evangelical” has been hijacked,
well, it was hijacked to begin with!—
creatively—counterculturally.
And some of those who claim the word “evangelical” now
still claim that countercultural priority—
in what I consider ludicrous stories of persecution—
that war on Christmas.
We’re being counter-cultural, they say.
It’s not just about being countercultural though.
It’s about being counter-cultural with good news to share—
not just judgement—not just anger—
certainly not self-righteousness
and not fear.
It’s about being counter-cultural with good news to share.
It’s never about being small—
and mean.

Many lament how soccer and baseball—sports—
take our children and families out of church—
part of that war on christianity.
I say, if church equips our children and youth
to manifest sportsmanship—sportswomanship—
and joy and teamwork and an appropriate competitiveness
(and our parents model the same things!)—
how good is that?!

These people who have been turning the world upside down—
turning the world upside down with good news—
good news of great joy
which shall be for all people—
good news of peace on earth—
that is not some superpower’s boot on everyone else’s neck—
good news of justice for all,
not just those with connections—
these people that have been turning the world upside down—
I love that verb construct, by the way—
have been turning.
It’s an ongoing work
not completed ….
They have come here now.

Another survey came out this past week,
its results going along with those that have for some time now
been indicating the decline of the institutional church—
the decline of religion in our culture.
Bring it on, I say!
We have too long counted among the religious and the spiritual
those who believe in words, but not words made flesh—
those who do want to be turning the world upside down,
but only for everyone else.
We have too long counted among the religious and the spiritual
the fearful—
those who find it easiest to express their affirmations
in denigrations and denials—
their piety in judgment.

Our call, I believe, is ever to assess our own living—
not someone else’s,
and to assess it in light of our faith,
and so to ever be turning, correctively, to God—
from the world—
so as to be in the world in the way of God—
turning from evil—
turning from injustice.

Etymologically, the word “revolution”
comes from the latin verb “to revolve”—“to turn.”

The earth is revolving east to west around its own axis.
One complete revolution taking place in twenty-four hour period.
The earth is simultaneously revolving around the sun,
one complete revolution taking place in 365 days.
And yes, I know neither of those time measures are exactly right!

It’s a neat trick
to live on an ever revolving planet
that allows you to feel like you’re not moving,
when we are, in fact, constantly being turned upside down
and spun around—
but precisely in such a way that it’s up to us
to embrace that—
and what it means.

You note the importance of the rhythms of time, by the way,
in scripture—
whether that’s the rhythm of the week
to the beat of the sabbath,
or the rhythm of the year
with all the various prescribed festivals.

As with annual celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries,
these annual festivals constitute not just a matter of marking time past,
but depths attained—
growth maintained.
Each birthday—each anniversary—
isn’t supposed to be just another year gone by,
but another level reached—
in relationship, in maturity.

One revolution around the sun.
One year.
One more time around.
But it’s not just the same, right?
You’ve learned more.
You’ve grown.
One more revolution.

So while at the end of every revolution of the sun,
you end up back where you started—
another birthday—another anniversary,
another Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year,
you reach it having been turned upside down!

And how does life go on once you’ve been turned upside down?
Ah, there’s the question.
And it can, of course, go on just as it did.
But—but
it’s not the same—not supposed to be.
If through revolutions of the sun, every time Christmas rolls around
you’re still hoping some thing will make you happy—
some thing will fulfill you,
you’re needing to learn more—grow some more!

We have talked and talked and studied and reflected
and maybe prayed and wondered
about the vast chasm that lies between the ways of our world
and the way of God in the way of Jesus.

How does my life confront my world?
Challenge my world?
Potentially participate in transforming my world?

If I can’t answer those questions,
I have work to do.
If you can’t answer those questions,
you have work to do.

We have work to do.

What people are turning the world upside down today?
Where are they? Are they here?
Will they come here?
And where else will they go?

To go back to the accusation levied against Paul and Silas and Jason,
it was legitimate, you see.
They were turning the world upside down.
They were subverting the stories of their time.
And they were subverting the authority of Caesar.
We have a better story.

Thessalonica was the “capital of the Roman province of Macedonia.
For its support of Octavian it had become a free city in 42 B.C.
and was not turned into a Roman colony….
Though officially free, Thessalonica was yet another city
caught in the emperor’s social network involving patronage
and the response of homage and loyalty”
(Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles:
A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand Rapids:
Wm.B.Eerdmans, 1998] 503-4).
And there is evidence of the imperial cult in the city.

The word “revolting” didn’t take on the connotations of disgusting,
by the way, until 1806.
I found that noted but not explained.
1806 would have been in the middle of the Napoleonic wars though—
the ongoing French Revolutionary wars,
and 1806 saw Napoleon initiating a blockade against British trade.
My guess is that in english usage,
Napoleon’s revolution was seen as disgusting.

Revolution is disgusting from the perspective
of those with everything to lose.
Less so from the perspective of those with everything to gain.
These revolting people who have been turning the world upside down,
they’ve come here now.

In the brilliant lyrics of the Broadway musical “Mathilda”
adapted from the brilliant book by Roald Dahl,
Australian comedian, actor, composer, lyricist, Tim Minchin,
took the derisive mocking designation
of the children as revolting—
as disgusting—
as maggots,
and had the children claim the insult—
we are revolting children indeed!
They turned the insult on its head
and claimed another perspective—
an affirmation.

How boldly would we sing?
We are revolting children … of God—
not caring how we’re perceived—
as long as it’s as people of the way—
living in revolting times—
not feeling defensive—
like we have to defend what is—
embracing the opportunity to claim our better story.
We sing revolting songs—
using revolting rhymes,
and we’ll be revolting children … of God
’til our revolting’s done.
All we want is to change the world—
to be changing the world.

’Til people might say:
those people—
those revolting people,
who have been turning the world upside down—
who will not allow things to go on as they are—
who confront and challenge our stories—
our way of being—
what we take for granted—
who say they have a better story,
they have come here now.
God help us.

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Proverbs 4:20-27
My child, be attentive to my words;
incline your ear to my sayings.
Do not let them escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them,
and healing to all their flesh.
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forwards,
and your gaze be straight before you.
Keep straight the path of your feet,
and all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil.

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