Benediction Online

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Turning the World Upside Down

Today’s gospel reading marks a pivotal point in Jesus’ ministry. Up until now he has been healing the sick and preaching the reign of God. But today, he asks his disciples who do you think that I am? And when they respond, “The Messiah” he starts to talk about his betrayal, death and resurrection. I don’t know why he asked them. Did he need an outward confirmation of what he was feeling inside? Was he beginning to dread what was coming and wondering if he could back out? Or was it away to introduce his new teaching?

I don’t know, but it was a pretty shocking and memorable moment for the disciples. We have the advantage of 2000 years of hearing about Jesus as the Messiah and knowing about his death and resurrection. They didn’t. They knew of the Messiah as someone who would come and liberate Jerusalem, who would free Israel from its oppressors. But instead of talking about victory and vanquishing his enemies, Jesus starts to talk about being killed.
He’s got it upside down.

Verse 1[1]
O Lord all the world belongs to you
And You are always making all things new
What is wrong, you forgive,
And the new life you give
Is what’s turning the world upside down.

It’s not surprising that Peter feels a need to take him to one side to talk him out of his sudden funk. No, no, no he must have said, you are the Messiah, none of that happens to the Messiah, it can’t. But Jesus pushes him away abruptly. “Get behind me Satan!” – get away from me you stumbling block – because he can’t start to think like that. He can’t allow himself to slip back into the cultural mindset of what the messiah will do.

He has to keep his center even when every human nerve in his body must have been screaming, run, run, run away. He knows that the way for the redemption of the cosmos, the way to bring us all back to God, is not to follow business as usual, but to take the path of humility and non-violence. And so he calls the crowd together and tries to teach them that the path he is taking is also the path his disciples must take. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” This is Jesus’ call to arms. It’s not a call to carry weapons, but to carry the opposite, the cross. Jesus is turning the whole thinking of the world upside down.

The world’s only loving to its friends
But your way of loving never ends,
loving enemies too;
And this loving with you
Is what’s turning the world upside down.

For the past few weeks, several of us have been reading Laudato Si, the Pope’s encyclical. This is an important document because it establishes Catholic teaching and yet it is addressed to all human beings. The Pope is clear that the current environmental crisis has come about because we have messed up our relationships with each other, with the environment and with God. In other words, because of sin. Although technological advances will be useful, they are not the answer because the crisis has been caused by our assumption that if something can be done, it should be done, especially if it makes the rich richer and the powerful more powerful. It doesn’t matter if the consequences hurt both humans and non-human animals. We have no strong moral and ethical framework from which to evaluate the potential impact of technology and to make a decision about its use.

In order for lasting change, we’re going to have to turn that thinking upside down.

The world lives divided and apart
You draw us together and we start
In our friendship to see
That in harmony we
Can be turning the world upside down.

In fact, we are going to have to work together in a new way because we have to change the way we live and the way we think quite radically. Jesus says,” those who want to save their life will lose it.” 99% of scientists now agree that climate change is being brought about in large part by human activity and that unless we make radical changes and we make them now, the planet will become a very different place and a lot of people will lose their lives. For the sake of our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren, we need to act.

The most challenging part of the Pope’s encyclical for me has been his insistence that those of us who live in developed nations have used and wasted resources which were meant to be shared so we owe a great moral and social debt to those in less developed nations. He calls this climate justice. Our part in global change needs to be far more demanding than I had thought. I had thought that we could work out how to use renewable energy for everything and stop using animals for food and that would be enough. But our entire economic system is based on using other people’s resources, just as back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the English people we see on Masterpiece Theater in their big houses were benefitting directly and indirectly from slavery. Our economic system is based on trade which benefits us. How can we even imagine an economic system which is based on sharing?

The world wants the wealth to live in state,
But you show a new way to be great:
Like a servant you came,
And if we do the same,
We’ll be turning the world upside down

I know that it seems overwhelming. The things that we can do seem very small in comparison with the global scale of the problem. Our attempts to reuse, recycle, reduce our footprint of energy use, seem to be just drops in the bucket. But they are important, and we are important. Sitting back and saying well there’s so little we can do, let’s just continue to live comfortably is not following Jesus’ example. The ignominious death of a peasant rebel in Palestine was meant to solve a small order problem in the Roman Empire. Instead it turned the world upside down. Following Jesus means letting go of our lives as we have known them and embracing voluntary simplicity; to use the old adage – living simply so others may simply live. Following Jesus means doing everything in our power to restore relationships, between ourselves and God, between ourselves and our neighbor both near and far, and between ourselves and our environment.

There is much to be done and many sacrifices to be made in order that our children may live comfortably, and that those across the world whom we don’t know but whose lives are none the less intricately interconnected with ours, may also live in peace and prosperity. Living these gospel values is totally different from the way most of the world lives. Just as Jesus took up the cross not the sword, so we get to take up simple living not the so-called prosperity gospel.

This is turning our world upside down.

O Lord all the world belongs to you
And You are always making all things new
What is wrong, you forgive,
And the new life you give
Is what’s turning the world upside down.     

[1] O Lord, all the world belongs to you, Weinberger and Appleforth


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