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Turning the world Upside Down?

8 months ago

n this blog post, Revd Rod Allon smith has us asking ourselves if we are ready to 'turn the world upside down' in partnership with the same Holy Spirit.

Listen to me and you shall hear, news hath not been this thousand year; since Herod, Caesar, and many more, you never heard the like before.

These opening words from a ballad of 1646 were written in protest at restrictions on Christmas celebrations imposed by Cromwell and the Puritans.  Surrounded by multiple and heated arguments reflecting commercial, religious, and social norms, the legal restrictions were to endure for several years through the 1650s until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.  The reasons?  Christmas was condemned for ‘excessive jollity’ and feasting, rather than express due solemnity desired by the reformers!  Because of changes in legislation impacting on a wide range of behaviours, the ballad was entitled ‘Turning the World Upside Down’!

2020 has been dominated by various crises caused by Covid-19, and the underlying challenges of Brexit and climate change.  Talk about ‘turning the world upside down’!  These changes all impact on work patterns, socialising, shopping habits, family visits, lifestyles etc.  As I write in mid-December, the debates are about how, where and with whom we will be allowed to or discouraged from meeting with over Christmas.  The hopes for effective vaccines on the horizon are tempered by anxieties over rollout and distribution.  Due caution and care remain watchwords for the coming months.  Do we now need to consider if Covid has, or will have, turned the world upside down for the foreseeable future?  Looking ahead, we can anticipate probable changes to patterns of work, travel and leisure.  What have we learned that we want to embed within our lifestyles?  And what of patterns of worship and activity within the church?  Some of us may hope – even if only instinctively – for a return to things ‘as they were’; however, while that would be safe and comforting, there is a danger that we miss what God is saying.

It is quite well known that the Chinese symbol for ‘crisis’ is made up of two characters – one representing ‘danger’ and the other ‘opportunity’.  In recent months we have certainly been surrounded by genuine dangers to health, the economy and familiar patterns of life; in the coming months we can expect fresh opportunities in many aspects of our lives – and that includes in the church.  Gandhi was once quoted as saying: “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet.  But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature”.  Going back to these scriptures invites us as Christians to seize the opportunity to engage afresh with radical (‘radical’, meaning ‘going to the root or origin’), biblically inspired and spirit-filled activities and behaviours.  Discerning the guidance of the Holy Spirit aligns with ‘turning the world upside down’ and is part of the core heritage and tradition we carry within the church.

This was evident in the incarnation itself: the coming of God as a human child, Jesus, was both unexpected and radical.  As John said at the start of his gospel, when reflecting on the incarnation and aiming to communicate deep truths to a predominantly Greek (rather than Jewish) readership: “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1: 14 NRSV).    

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation – everything has become new” (II Corinthians 5: 17 NRSV).  This radical truth, with huge consequences, was reflected in the activities of the early disciples: for example, after the initial proclamation of the gospel in Thessalonica, some of the local population felt very threatened and devised ’fake news’ to take Jason (their host in Thessalonica) and some believers before the city authorities, with the accusation that “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests.“ (Acts 17: 6 NRSV).  Reflecting on the life of the early Christians, Billy Graham wrote that “The men who followed (Jesus) were unique in their generation.  They turned the world upside down because their hearts had been turned right side up.  The world has never been the same”.

Today, the call to us is as clear and strong as ever.  Can we be those who, by witness to Jesus Christ, with Christian lifestyles and service, are ready “to turn the world upside down”.  We have never been called to achieve this with our limited human resources and gifts alone, but in partnership with the same Holy Spirit who has resourced and energised followers of Jesus for effective witness and discipleship.

In a delightful and somewhat jaunty contemporary hymn, Patrick Appleford starts with the affirmation that “O Lord, all the world belongs to you” - “you are always making all things new”.  Subsequent verses scan across spiritual values of forgiveness and love that lead to servant-style lives for reorientating aspects of wealth and power.  The hymn concludes with a short but heartfelt prayer for a re-energised church in our time: “Send your Spirit on all in your church whom you call to be turning the world upside down”.

How open are we, post-pandemic, to be inspired for radical renewal and discipleship in following Jesus Christ, and be partners with him in “turning the world upside down”?

Come, Holy Spirit, Come.  Amen

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