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Upside Down Kingdom

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Epiphany 6: 15 February 2004
"Upside Down Kingdom"
Rev. Philip R. Taylor
Guest Preacher at Selma Original Free Will Baptist Church

Luke 6:17-26 : 17 Coming down off the mountain with them, he stood on a plain surrounded by disciples, and was soon joined by a huge congregation from all over Judea and Jerusalem, even from the seaside towns of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come both to hear him and to be cured of their ailments. Those disturbed by evil spirits were healed. 19 Everyone was trying to touch him-so much energy surging from him, so many people healed! 20 Then he spoke: You're blessed when you've lost it all. God's kingdom is there for the finding. 21 You're blessed when you're ravenously hungry. Then you're ready for the Messianic meal. You're blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning. 22 "Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. 23 You can be glad when that happens-skip like a lamb, if y ou like! -for even though they don't like it, I do … and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this. 24 But it's trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you'll ever get. 25 And it's trouble ahead if you're satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long. And it's trouble ahead if you think life's all fun and games. There's suffering to be met, and you're going to meet it. 26 "There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests-look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.
( Peterson, E. H. (2003). The Message: The Bible in contemporary language (Lk 6:17-23). Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress.)

Welcome to all visitors here today. Please make yourself known and we hope you will return again to Selma Church. Thanks to Pastor Frank Grubbs for inviting me to speak and to the Deacons for their approval. As always I am flattered and honored to be here.

Let us pray:
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit and you shall renew the earth. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit you did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by that same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy your consolations. Amen.

During this season after Christmas that we call Epiphany, the scripture lessons are helping us to see how God intends to break into our world and into our kingdom, through the words and deeds of Jesus the Christ.

In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus, having just chosen the twelve, begins to teach them about what to expect when God's Kingdom is realized or how to recognize God's Kingdom should they encounter it in the here and now.

The Beatitudes are given to us in both Matthew and Luke in slightly different formats. Luke has Jesus come down from the mount and deliver his message from a level or flat place. The beatitudes of Luke seem to have a faint echo of the song that Mary sang to Elizabeth when she was still carrying the Christ Child in her womb.

51 He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
52 He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
53 The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
54 He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
55 It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Jesus, as portrayed by Luke, and Luke himself seem to desperately want us, the readers and listeners of the Gospel, to understand that not only is God's Kingdom different than our own but that it is radically different, different in ways that we humans find difficult to understand. The name given to this theme in Luke's Gospel is "the paradox of inverted values." A paradox is by definition difficult to understand. Luke then adds to that 'inverted values', i.e. everything is upside down in God's Kingdom. The task that Jesus has, is to try and explain this to his disciples and to us.

20…You're blessed when you've lost it all. God's kingdom is there for the finding.

God's Kingdom is not lost; we are lost. We are lost in our pursuit of wealth, power, and status. When we begin to let go of these kingdoms, then God's kingdom is there for the finding.

21 You're blessed when you're ravenously hungry. Then you're ready for the Messianic meal.

It is no secret that the hunger of the soul is at least as powerful as the hunger of the stomach and that the hunger pangs of one is connected to the hunger pangs of the other. When our bodily appetites are sated, we often have no room in the caverns of our soul for the spiritual food of the Kingdom and without the spiritual food offered by God, we are merely gluttons no matter our weight or physique. God does not hide spiritual food any more that God hides the Kingdom.

21 … You're blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning.

Pain and sorrow are most often thrust upon us. Many times the tragedies of life come to us unexpectedly. Some of our pain, sorrow, and tragedy are even self-inflicted, but God has promised to stand with us in our pain and that the joy of God's presence is always available to us. Whenever we decide to move away from the pain and tragedies of life, Jesus stands ready to receive us into his loving arms of mercy held out to us in joy. This is no 'Pollyanna' Jesus who plays games with us. This is Jesus who suffered pain and tragedy, and death just like us. This is Jesus who wept openly at the tragedies of life. However this is also Jesus who was raised from the dead into the joy of the morning.

22 "Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. 23 You can be glad when that happens-skip like a lamb, if you like! -for even though they don't like it, I do … and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.

We will pay a price for trying to live in this upside down Kingdom. There are folk that think we are a little off balance mentally. There are folk that think we are a little dangerous to them and this earthly kingdom. They are correct. We are a little off; we are a little dangerous. Billy Graham said once, "It is not natural for Christianity to be popular." When we stop turning the other cheek, when we stop loving our enemies, when we fail to see Christ in everyone we meet, when we exclude those from God's table who are different than us, and when we seek popularity rather than truth, then we are no longer serving God's Kingdom, we are serving our kingdom. To put it another way, when the enemies of God, and there are many, array themselves against you, then you are probably doing God's work and speaking God's truth.

24 But it's trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you'll ever get. 25 And it's trouble ahead if you're satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long. And it's trouble ahead if you think life's all fun and games. There's suffering to be met, and you're going to meet it. 26 There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests-look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.

This part of the lesson is referred to as the 'woes'. I want to look briefly at what Jesus is warning us about.

24 But it's trouble ahead if you think you have it made. 25 And it's trouble ahead if you're satisfied with yourself.

Jesus is telling us that false pride is a dangerous thing. I'll add that it is especially dangerous when applied in a religious setting i.e. "I'm saved and I know exactly what scripture says therefore I'm better than you."

25…And it's trouble ahead if you think life's all fun and games. There's suffering to be met, and you're going to meet it.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ experienced pain and suffering. Who do we think we are if we expect to escape that? Escapism, in the form of alcohol, drugs, violence, and mindless entertainment, continues to be one of the major blocks between us and God's Kingdom. Jesus is saying, "Stop it! Wake up! Get real! Life is real and trying to escape it's reality will not work." "Come with me," says Jesus, " and let's try to change that reality, not run away from it."

26 "There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests-look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.

Sebastian Moore said, "Sin is seeing yourself through someone else's eyes." When we say things and do things purely for the approval of others, we are on very thin ice. When we speak the truth and follow Jesus into the dark places of our world without regard for the approval of others, then we are approaching the Kingdom, the upside down Kingdom of God.

Beloved, if there are any here who wish to publicly commit themselves to Jesus Christ and to follow him as Lord and Savior into this upside down Kingdom of God, please come forward during the singing of the commitment hymn. A Deacon will meet you at the altar to pray with you and tell you how you may join this community of faith, as they journey with Christ.

Let us pray: And now unto God the Father, God the Son, And God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, power, and glory, this day and forevermore. Amen.

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