Upside Down {Words for the Journey 5.22.16}

by susan on May 23, 2016

acts 17After 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.’ The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this, and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go. – Acts 17:1-9

If you or I were to leave this earth today,
what kind of stir would we leave behind?
If The Well at Springfield were to vanish tomorrow,
would our neighbors notice?

Whether you believe Jesus lived, died & was resurrected or not ,
whether you believe he was the promised Messiah or not,
there is one thing we can all say with certainty.

His life created quite a stir,
and not just for those who chose to follow him,
but also for those who chose not to.

The beginning of the commotion he caused is described in the gospels, and then in the Acts of the Apostles (part 2 of the gospel according to Luke). Before Jesus ascended to heaven, leaving the disciples for the second time, he told his disciples to go to Jerusalem to wait for the coming of the Spirit (Luke 24:49). And, fifty days later, the Spirit came in an undeniable way.

This was just the beginning.
The event we call Pentecost gave birth to
living, breathing, Jesus-centered community
community that looked a lot less like an organization & a lot more like a movement.

Here is what this Spirit-inspired movement looked like in Acts. Followers of the Way:

  • Gave up ownership of their possessions, pooled their resources and made sure there was no one in need.
  • Healed & found healing, changed directions & changed their minds.
  • Crossed physical, economic, cultural & religious boundaries to share stories, teachings & Jesus’ invitation into a new way of life.
  • Willingly endured persecution & death to remain loyal to the kingdom of God.

The Spirit is not only like fire & flaming tongues,
like water poured out &
like the breath of God being breathed through us.

To our growing list of images, we can add:
The Spirit is like life-giving community –
the kind that heals, liberates & creates quite a stir,
the kind that leaves things different than how they found it.

Finding images of the Spirit as breath, water and fire (like we did last Sunday) was fairly simple, but what does the Spirit look like as it flows through community?

Maybe it looks something like this (the quality of this popular of this video is not great but I think you’ll get the point):

dance partyThe Spirit is liberating, unmanageable & quite contagious. It connects us with the ways of the kingdom. The kingdom of God, it seems, is like a dance party that begins with one free Spirit & pretty soon, it’s causing a commotion.

That’s what was happening through the collection of stories told through Acts. Lives, powerful systems & ingrained ways of thinking were being interrupted & healed and in turn, more interruption & healing was happening. There was a ripple effect. What began as a small community of misfits was growing into a world wide movement and people were starting to take notice.

By the 17th chapter of Acts, Christ followers are described as those who:
“Act contrary to the decrees of [Roman emperor] Caesar [Augustus]” and as “those who are turning the world upside down.”

They were disturbing the status quo.
They were not allowing business as usual.
And, the disapproving community of Jews in their latest place of travel was concerned. The Message translates their response this way:

But the hard-line Jews became furious over the conversions. Mad with jealousy, they rounded up a bunch of brawlers off the streets and soon had an ugly mob terrorizing the city as they hunted down Paul and Silas. They broke into Jason’s house, thinking that Paul and Silas were there. When they couldn’t find them, they collared Jason and his friends instead and dragged them before the city fathers, yelling hysterically, “These people are out to destroy the world, and now they’ve shown up on our doorstep, attacking everything we hold dear!         -Acts 17:4-7

Destroying the world? How could healing, liberation & new life be perceived as destroying the world?

Perhaps the writer of Acts was not only telling stories about the earliest christian community, he was preparing future followers:

Get ready.
As the Spirit moves through you &
as you come alive to God’s presence:
People will misunderstand you.
They will think you have lost your mind.
They will think you are what’s wrong with the world.

Get ready. You will cause a commotion.

This picture in Acts is a far cry from the church today. We are so easily ignored, aren’t we?

How might we connect with the wild, unmanageable, commotion-causing Spirit of God? And, what stir will we cause as we do? What new life will flow through us? What difference will we make?

I was first introduced to spoken poet Micah Bournes at the Inhabit conference in Seattle a few years ago. His passion & poetry have continued to inspire me. I closed Sunday’s sharing with Micah’s  thought provoking poem, Upside Down.


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