Eleven year old Emily headed out with her mother to share “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” She met judges, assistants, and clerks who worked with her mom and especially enjoyed helping the security guards scan courthouse visitors. She went to some meetings but had to sit out others, so she walked around the old courthouse gazing at display cases, art, and reading bronze plaques. Roaming the chambers, Emily spotted a forlorn looking girl about her age. The girl sat on a bench listening to a woman, who Emily guessed was an officer of the court. Right away, Emily noticed a big black garbage sack tucked below the girl’s feet. Later, Emily asked her mother why that child sat alone? And why did she drag a lumpy garbage sack into the judge’s chambers? Emily’s mother explained that most likely the child was being placed in foster care or involved in a custody dispute. Emily wept a little trying to imagine what it would feel like to travel to an unknown home dragging your belongings in a garbage sack. The unfairness shook Emily. The chat with her mother helped, and Emily retreated to her mother’s office to call her grandmother. Emily, her mom, and her mother’s colleagues ate at the restaurant off the square where all the courthouse crowd ate. After lunch, Emily’s grandmother stood on the sidewalk outside the cafe, shaking her head, laughing as she chided Emily’s mom, “You must be boring my granddaughter, because she asked me to bring this stuff!” The security guards laughed as they scanned Emily’s fashion forward suitcase filled with prized Beanie Baby stuffed animals. Emily rolled the suitcase into her mom’s office, dumping the stuffed animals all over the conference room table. A few minutes later, Emily rolled her suitcase out into the courtroom and found the little girl still sitting on a bench. The big ugly garbage sack sat at her feet, Emily introduced herself and asked, “would you like something to put your clothes in?” The girl nodded. The two fifth graders sat on the courtroom floor emptying the plastic sack and packing the daisy covered suitcase. Emily handed her new friend a gift wrapped in yellow legal paper, a rare purple paisley lioness beanie baby. At church the next week, Emily’s Sunday School class started collecting suitcases so the children would not have to carry their belongings to a new home in a big ugly trash sack. I don’t know if Emily’s project is still collecting suitcases, but I know for at least five years every child who wanted one, got a new suitcase to carry their stuff into a new home, usually accompanied with a toy. Emily helped make someone’s terrible day a bit brighter. Emily saw suffering and decided not to look away.
We are made in the image of God. Our neighbors, our enemies, and those who come to us as strangers are made in that same divine image. If we tend to God’s image, it will flavor our lives, it will bubble up within us, percolating life and flavoring the world. Jesus said, ”You are the salt of the earth. But if you lose your flavor… you won’t do much good!” (Matthew 5:13)
The earliest Christian communities were not called churches or Christians but “the Way.” I like that, the pathway of Jesus. Luke tells us “a great disturbance erupted about the Way.” Demetrius, a silversmith, made idols and trinkets venerating the goddess Artemis- goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, virginity. and childbirth. The artisans made a nice living selling amulets and little tiger trinkets to those trekking to her temple. Demetrius worried that if people abandoned idol worship, they would stop buying his little silver statues, so he called a meeting of the craftspeople. “Friends, you know that we make a nice living from this business. And this Paul has convinced and misled a lot of people. He says that gods made by human hands aren’t really gods.” (To the devotee, an idol is a lot more than religious art!) Demetrius continued, “This Paul poses a danger by discrediting our trade and dishonoring the great goddess Artemis. The entire civilized world worships her, but her splendor will soon be extinguished.” The crowds were beside themselves with anger. They began to shout, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” The angry mob rushed as one into the theater and seized Gaius and Aristarchus,Paul’s traveling companions. (Easy lines for us to read, but imagine yourself seized by a mob.) Paul wanted to address the crowd, but the disciples wouldn’t allow him. Some in the crowd shouted one thing, and others shouted something else, and most of the crowd didn’t know why they had gathered. Indeed, the crowd screamed, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” for two nearly hours.
Paul just seems to stir up trouble. Team Paul percolated this same sort of trouble in Thessalonica. There a group of fellow Jews grew jealous of Paul and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. The mob searched for Paul and Silas to drag them out to the assembly. Unable to find Paul, they attacked Jason’s house and dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” (Acts 17)
If someone quotes Paul, telling you to obey unjust or inhuman laws, remember what they said of Paul, Junia, and the earliest Christians: “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” Friends, there is another King, one named Jesus, whose law supersedes every unjust inhumane law.
Could it be said of us: “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…” I don’t think Paul could help but percolate trouble. Paul was so God-intoxicated he was not easily intimidated by emperors, silversmiths, or market gods! Even the news of Jesus’ birth shook the established order, for when King Herod heard of our newborn King the whole capital city was troubled. Jesus flipped over temple tables. The mob sought to stone our Lord more than once. The politicians and preachers came together to crucify him. Perhaps, if we live as Christian folks, our saltines, will not just be a pleasant flavor but a catalyst for change. When the love of God percolates within us, we will incrementally turn the world upside down.
I hope we never grow weary of the prophetic voice of Reverend Martin Luther King: “There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators’. But the Christians pressed on in the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven’, called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They, too, were God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated’. By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.” (letter from a Birmingham jail)
If the Way of Jesus salts our lives, then it can never be business as usual. When the Way of Jesus percolates within us- everything changes. You see there is a path, a way, a truth, a life, a salt, a light, a city shining in the night, a seed, a grit, a grind, a grace, a gravity, an ethic, an aroma, a flavor, a seasoning, a holiness, a wholeness, a peacemaking, a transforming, a wrench, a reach, a righteousness, a radicalism, a justice, a speech, a stand, a solidarity, a sanctity,a dynamism, a challenge, a change, a courage, a charisma, a cross, a catalyst, a compassion, a peace, a power, a percolating, a faith, a hope and a love that changed the world. Jesus always percolates a kingdom that turns the world upside down.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount gives us a taste of the Kingdom God wants to grow within us. Let Jesus’s words soak into our souls percolating new ways of living in us:
Be modest, meek, and merciful.
Comfort those mourning.
Strive to be just and good.
Be a peacemaker. Be pure. Endure persecution.
Be salt. Be light.
Avoid cheap religious talk.
Reconcile. Never dwell in anger.
Do not lust, break vows, call names, or swear.
Be faithful, content, plainspoken and generous.
Disarm evil with goodness.
Give, and then give some more.
Pray for enemies. Seek redemption and equal justice for enemies.
Never make a show of your faith.
Avoid flowery prayers- pray from your heart.
Forgive. Receive forgiveness.
Do not stockpile wealth- you can’t serve God and wealth.
Strive to foster heaven on earth.
Do not judge! Restore others, after you fix your own stuff.
Keep asking, knocking, seeking- spiritual living takes time.
Treat others as you hope to be treated.
Take the harder, less traveled path.
Your actions matter more than your words.
Such living endures riots, mobs, and life’s storms.
May Jesus percolates with us a kingdom that turns the world upside down, or perhaps right side up! Amen.