If you watch the television game show Jeopardy, you know there are three contestants, and at the end of the show the person winning the most money gets to come back the next day and play again for more money. The other two are done. I find myself thinking, why not let the winner go home and invite the person with the least amount of money to come back and try again? In other words, turn the game upside down.
But that’s not the American way. Losers go home and winners get to win some more. The workers get laid off or lose their pensions. The executives give themselves a bonus.
I share with you words found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 6, spoken by Jesus to the Church.
“But I say to you ... love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Give to everyone who begs from you. ... Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
A world turned upside down.
It is a part of the Christian faith we tend to either dismiss or forget. We are good at singing “Jesus love me, this I know . . . .” We confess boldly that Jesus died for my sins, was raised up from death to life, that he lives and has promised me forgiveness and eternal life in heaven.
But Jesus also instructs us in our daily walk. The Kingdom of God is not only about the promise of a life in heaven. It is about a life lived now. Jesus sets before us a world turned upside down and then gives instruction on how that might work.
I grew up in a family where certain things were just expected. There were things you did and things you did not do. We brushed our teeth, were polite to older people and those in authority, we went to church, we obeyed our parents. We didn’t vote on that. It was expected. We had a benevolent dictator and we called her mom.
Jesus has certain expectations of us as well. “Love your enemies. Do good. Bless others. Pray for others, even those you might not care for so much. Give if you have something to give.”
He is not asking us to vote on it. It is not one option among many. We are under orders.
Father William Bausch tells the story: There was a big drifter named George; wild hair, tattered pants, over sized food-stained T shirt. One Sunday morning George goes into a large beautiful church. He finds no place to sit and no one makes room for him, so he sits on the floor in front of the pulpit. It gets real quiet. Then the congregation’s elderly head usher slowly makes his way down the aisle to George. He is elegant, always well dressed, and he walks with a cane, but he walks with confidence and authority. Most everyone in the room knows that he will deal with George. It takes awhile, but the old man finally gets to George. Then he lays down his cane, and with great difficulty lowers himself to sit on the floor with George, so that George does not sit alone.
I think that is what Jesus is talking about. He quietly and gently went about touching people’s lives, and he told his followers to do the same, to sit with those who find there is no room for them in this world.
Another story. World War II. Christmas morning in London. Some American soldiers are walking down a road and pass a building with a sign, “Queen Ann’s Orphanage.” A woman comes to the door, explains that most of the children there are orphans because of the war, their parents killed in the bombings.
There are no presents, no tree, but the soldiers go around wishing the children Merry Christmas and giving them what they have: a stick of gum, piece of candy, a nickel. Then one soldier notices a boy in the corner and asks, “Hey, what do you want for Christmas?” The child replies, “Will you hold me?”
When we gather in worship, it is in part to experience once again the healing that comes from Christ as we make confession of our wrongdoing and our lack of doing, and receive forgiveness. And it is in part to encourage one another to not lose faith, to trust that we can be the disciples Jesus has called us to be, bringing healing and hope to those we meet in this world.
The church is, as it has always been, a communion of ordinary people, like you and me, living faithfully as best we can. If you are like me, there is a great sense of helplessness. We usually don’t know what to do.
But the truth is, hurting people usually don’t want advice or explanation, but simply want to be held and to be heard. We can do that. And when we do, we are turning the world upside down the way Jesus describes.
The stories of his raising the dead or walking on water or changing water into wine only confuse me because they seem so far away from what I have experienced in life. But those little scenes, those brief encounters with ordinary people who were considered of little value or importance still encourage and invite me.
For many, the Christian Church is irrelevant. It has nothing important to say and when it does say something good, often the actions of the church do not match the nice words. But people are still attracted to Jesus. They like what he says and they like how he treats people. He was always leaning towards inclusiveness. He was always opening his arms in welcome to those the religious folk wanted to keep out. He noticed people and he paid attention to people. He was doing something that all of us can do.
Ordinary, common, everyday compassion. Turning the world upside down.