I had waited four years to see it.
For four years, I tried everything that I could to convince people – especially Abbi – that I needed to go to New York to see this one show. That didn’t work. When it left New York and started a nationwide tour, I began to calculate Christmas gifts and possible vacations for the family. That still didn’t work.
It wasn’t until the week before we moved here that I, finally, was able to sit in an auditorium and watch the one show I had been dying to see. That show was Hamilton. I loved it, and if it wasn’t for the cramped seating, I would have danced in the aisle the entire show. The show is right up my ally: hip hop music to American history. You can’t go wrong!
One of my favorite songs from the musical describes the events surrounding the victory at Yorktown. With the musical’s focus on history and catchy lyrics, it told how the Americans secured the victory and, ultimately, the war on the shores of the James River in the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia. It did so with a refrain that was sung in the background to describe what took place: the world turned upside down.
The world turned upside down! I love that refrain. I love how it speaks to history. I love how it speaks to the moment of the unexpected becoming reality. I love how it gives us, even, a way to consider what happens when the kingdom of God breaks into the world.
God’s kingdom, the reign of God established through the life of Christ, doesn’t come through political or military victories. It comes when the light of Christ shines in the midst of darkness and the people of God live out God’s desires through our words, actions, and deeds. It comes as a transformative change agent that brings hope in a broken world. It is the presence of God’s love and it changes the game. It creates new realities. It turns the world upside down.
I cannot help but think this is what Jesus describes when he shares with his disciples this gathering of blessings and woes. Our passage from Luke 6:20-26 is a familiar one, if only because our mind immediately goes to a similar telling from Matthew 5:1-12. This is Luke’s account of the famous Beatitudes, which Matthew records as being part of the Sermon on the Mount. (For the record, we will study portions of the Sermon of the Mount in worship next year.)
Matthew and Luke’s narrations are different. For one, Matthew tells the story as being told by the Sea of Galilee. The location for Matthew’s account has been preserved. Luke’s account has been treated as either an expansion of Matthew’s account or a second sermon all together. Part of the reason for that is the location being away from the sea and in a plain, and that he includes a series of woes to go along with the blessings.
Each of the blessings that Luke records from Jesus is matched by a corresponding woe. In both cases, however, those who are blessed and those who receive woes are unexpected if we are only looking at things through a worldly perspective. Yet, in the kingdom of God, they are signs and witnesses to how Jesus is turning the world upside down.
What we witness through these words is a continuation of Jesus’ mission and ministry throughout the Galilean region. Each gospel writer accounts for Jesus doing things that, even by today’s standards, seem to be unorthodox and not what you would expect. He goes to the marginalized in society, such as women, and tells them you have a place in God’s kingdom. He embraces those who are sick and gives them hope. He interacts with the poor and the hungry and provides for their basic needs. He dines and enters into fellowship with tax collectors and sinners.
These were all groups of people, and sections of society, that the religious elites and powerful said were unwelcome. They were dirty. They were sinners. They were to be kept away, so as not to hinder the righteousness of those who were worshiping the Lord. It is important for us to realize that these were real and not metaphorical people. While it is easy to make “poor” and “hungry,” especially, terms for spiritual need, and often they are, in Luke’s gospel they designate marginalized people who had real needs and were often excluded from community. The very people Jesus loved and interacted with, because he knew them through his days living in Nazareth and Caperanum. Both communities were known as being populated by the poor and marginalized of society.
In each of these blessings, Jesus looks at the poor, hungry, mournful, and mocked, and turns their world upside down. He says that they are blessed. They are loved. They are cared for by God. They are given a place of community in God’s holy love, where their situation in life is not the end or the definition of their existence. They are cared for by God and receive hope through the witness and generosity of those who seek to follow in Christ’s footsteps. Instead of treating the poor and hurting as those who should remain on the outside, Jesus says that they are blessed and made part of God’s community of grace and blessing.
Can you imagine what it must have been like to hear that announcement? Imagine being poor, hungry, grieving, or mocked by society and know that while you may be excluded by the world’s standards, there is a place for you in God’s community of grace. There is acceptance and freedom that comes in knowing God’s blessings are present when you deal with matters that often lead you to be excluded or treated differently in the world.
An acceptance and freedom that I have experienced when I have felt separated by society. I know what it is like to see your mom leave a shopping cart full of groceries at Kroger, because we couldn’t afford to pay. I know what it is like to write a check on Tuesday and rushing to bank on Thursday to make sure there was enough money in the bank to cover the amount, so that you could have food on the table. I know what it is like to feel looked down upon because where I lived, the condition of my house, and where I went to school.
To know that you are loved by God, blessed by the Lord, in spite of these things that the world often uses to separate one from another is freedom and blessing. To experience that blessing and freedom turns your world upside down and gives you hope.
That is why each of these woes are just as powerful as the blessings. Jesus extends words of caution to anyone who may believe that their riches and blessings give them permission to separate themselves from the needs of others. Those who are rich, well fed, full of laughter, or popular are not given a special blessing of prosperity or love by God. Jesus reminds them to consider how they, too, could experience the same struggles as those who are poor. Their lives are not better than someone else simply because they have received more.
What Jesus reminds the rich, well fed, and powerful, that they are not to create communities of like-minded or like-blessed individuals that creates a division between those who have and those who do not. Jesus encourages them to see how the kingdom of God makes room for them as well as those who have less. Definitions of community in God’s kingdom are not exclusive terms for the rich and privileged to determine. They are definitions of embrace by the God of holy love who welcomes all to the table of grace to experience the blessings of God.
Jesus turns the world upside down for the rich and powerful who might believe that they can live without interactions with the poor and marginalized. Whereas the world might define acceptance, blessing, and community based upon the standards of class, finances, what car you drive, or what part of the neighborhood you live in, those definitions are outside the kingdom of God. Having more than others doesn’t give you permission to see yourself as exceptionally blessed or loved by God. Instead, it gives you the ability to see how you can meet the needs of those who are welcomed into God’s kingdom that need help.
I am thankful that definition of who is blessed and welcomed into the community of God’s love is not based upon my own standards. If they were, I would make a mess of things and wanting community of those who only have the same experiences that I do. God’s kingdom and idea of community is vaster than we often give it credit. God’s kingdom and community welcomes all to the table of grace and makes room for the rich and poor, alike, to live together and care for one another.
On this All Saints’ Sunday, a day in which we remember that we are part of the communion of saints that seek to share God’s love with all people, perhaps that is a message that we need to remember today. God’s idea of community and blessing includes more than we often believe is possible. It includes those whom we seek to marginalize and exclude.
For among the communion of saints, among God’s kingdom, are the marginalized and the accepted, the blessed and the struggling, the rich and the poor, the hungry and the well-fed, the sinner and the saint. To see God’s community as only including those “like me” or defined by the world’s standards misses a large segment of the possibilities of God’s kingdom. It misses the kingdom of God’s idea of community that turns the world upside down.
For the kingdom of God, this house of worship, the community of God’s love is not an exclusive community only for those whom we like or feel well acquainted with. It is a place for all to feel the love of God, to share the hope of Christ, and to experience God’s presence of grace.
That’s love. That is turning the world upside down. And the good news is … we get to live it out today, tomorrow, and always by being the church that turns Huntington upside down!