I really miss my Mother. She has been with God for many years. She was an excellent cook with willing heart and hands to prepare big family meals. My father loved pineapple upside-down cakes and my mother really knew how to make them well. An upside-down cake is a strange animal. Mom would take our big black skillet and lay a foundation of brown sugar, pineapple rings, cherries, walnuts or pecans in the bottom. She would put raw cake batter, made from scratch, on top. Then we would live with those awesome smells and wait. Mom's concern was never about the cooking process. The real issue with an upside-down cake is in the turning over process. The cake has to be cooled to a certain temperature, cooled just right, or you will have a real mess on your hands. Mother made excellent, delicious and pretty pineapple upside-down cakes. She knew the trick. She had the skills, And, she knew what she was doing.
The Bible and all of its explanation of Jesus Christ, from Genesis to Revelation, is an upside- down story. Actually, the story doesn't always make sense. And, when you look at us, The Church of Jesus Christ, the story often doesn't look real good. But, we're in the mix, sometimes in the heat and the Good News is that God already has the end of the story figured out! It's just an upside down story. And, I have come to understand that the Bible is not a pretty, neat and well packaged tale. It's an upside-down story, about an upside-down people on a journey to becoming a right side up church and community of faith.
Consider Jesus. He is the self-revelation of God, who left the splendor of heaven, descended to our level as human, poor, ethnic, despised, rejected, betrayed, abandoned and denied in order to be killed so that we might have eternal life. And, this one who died a victim's death will return as the reigning King of Eternity. It's an upside-down story.
As I read the Biblical passage for this week you will discover that the author expects and anticipates that Christian people will continue to live out this upside-down experience. And, he writes to The Church in the sixth chapter of Galatians, talking about those who will dare to live by the direction of God through the Holy Spirit. On the birthday of the Church the Holy Spirit came with visible displays of tongues, wind, fire. The Holy Spirit came to empower us to do almost the complete opposite of what we want to and feel like doing. The Holy Spirit comes to direct our lives so that we do not live according to the desires of our bodies and minds, but according to the dictates of God. So, the real truth is that we are called to live an upside-down life.
Listen to the words of Scripture. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh, but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So, let us not give up. So, then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith."
I really like the first sentence of this passage. I have quoted it often to those I felt had done me wrong. But, this past year I came to see that this passage was directed toward me! I had worked with a group of people and gave my best. I worked hard and was diligent to our common goal. Most of them could not say the same thing. I got an attitude. I got huffy. I quoted this scripture as I talked about them. But, the message was also to me, for I am part of an upside down kingdom. And, the passage is not complete with just the first sentence! It goes on to say that you will get what is coming to you, in the long run, not from people, but from the Holy Spirit, who sees, who records and knows every good and evil deed. When I promised God that I would never work with or associate with this group again, the rest of the scripture rose up to greet me. "So, then, Linda said whenever we have an opportunity let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith." Wait a minute! I did my part. I put in the time, the energy and the sweat equity. I'm tired. And, I'm sick and tired of them. So, if I've already done the best I know how, what more is there for me to do? "At the next opportunity, do more," says the Apostle Paul. For if you live by the power of the Holy Spirit, you will not seek to gratify your sinful nature!
This passage is the basis for our doing those random acts of kindness which have become so popular over the past couple of years. It's been part of the upside-down story of the Church of The Living God all the time. For there is a need for gentleness in our world. There is a need for kindness in our world. There is a need for mercy in our world. And, upside-down people are the only ones who can provide what the world needs. "Let us work for the good of all," admonishes the Apostle. Let us help those who don't look like us; those who don't measure up to our qualifications; those who have needed our help for too long; those who can't pay us back and those who don't understand the concept of our mission ministry. We do what we do because we are part of an upside-down story. We do what we do, because this is what Jesus did.
All the people that the Temple Leaders felt were beneath them, inferior to them and insignificant were the very ones that Jesus reached out to with healing, hope, help and health. It made no difference to him what color, what gender, what class or race. he helped whoever had a need. He came for the good of us all. And, he came to establish the Church. So the Galatians' passage says that we are to do good to all, but especially to those of the family of faith. OUCH! That group I worked with last year was a church group. That group I wanted to get away from and declared I would never return to was part of the family of faith. So, the Holy Spirit gave me power to return and say, "if you need me again, call me. We are family!"
Once upon a time, a hippo fell in love with a butterfly. The hippo was enchanted and wanted a deeper relationship. So, the hippo went to visit the wise old owl and asked how this relationship might blossom and grow. For a minute or two, the owl was quiet. Then, the owl said to the hippo, "Become a butterfly." The hippo stood there for awhile trying to comprehend how to become a butterfly. Finally, the hippo took off running and made an heroic attempt to fly. Of course, there was this big boom and some embarrassment as the hippo got up and returned to the owl, "You made a fool of me," said the hippo. "I tried to become a butterfly and failed. What am I to do now?" The wise old owl was quiet, but eventually spoke to the waiting hippo. "I make policy. It's up to you to enforce it."
The policy has been made: "Do good to all, especially to those of the family of faith." The Holy Spirit has been given that we might be empowered to enforce the policy of the right-side up Church, in an upside-down world. It requires the power of the Holy Spirit to go against our nature and do the Christian thing! It requires the power of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and see the needs all around us; to respond to the non-verbal cries for help and to offer the little that we have, trusting God to do the rest.
Have you been singing that "Somebody done me wrong" song? I can relate. Is there something eating at you about another member of your local faith community? Oh, I can relate. Is there a neighbor or CO-worker that you'd like to see pack up and move to another country? You bet, I can relate. But, the policy has been made. We must be the Christ in their midst. We must be the healing agent. And, we must act in an upside-down matter in order to get them to see God right-side up! That's the bottom line! What does this cake look like on the top?
Our God reigns, on top. Our Christ advocates for us on top. The Holy Spirit is working in us to get us, on top! When the cake is flipped and the beautiful arrangement of brown sugar, Cherries, nuts and pineapple come out just right on the cake plate, it's a spectacular sight to see and a mouth-watering experience you don't want to miss. Oh, when this old world is flipped on its axis, and Jesus comes to gather us on the clouds, I want to be there. This means my following the lead of the Holy Spirit in directions that are not comfortable and not always self-satisfying But, the power to do the upside down is available, for the Holy Spirit has come to live within us.
There is an anticipated end to this upside-down story. One day what has seemed to be the dominant powers of this world will have to bow before the One who was killed on a torture stake. For early one Easter Sunday morning Jesus got up from His grave. He left some astonished followers to watch him ascend to the top, as He challenged them to go and make disciples of the whole wide world. He promised them the power of the Holy Spirit to assist them with every assignment in this upside-down world. One day, our pains and problems will be wiped away; our tears will be gone; the hurt feelings will be over and the tree in the midst of the city will be good for the healing of the nations. Until then, we journey on in faith, content to be part of an upside-down story!
Prayer: Divine Designer God, tell me who I am. In this upside world where right is called wrong and the awful is called good, who am I? My life is really upside down as I strive to live for you. I cry when I'm happy and can actually see hope when I'm sad. Your Word causes me to question the norms and the values all around me. Living for you causes me to stretch in ways which are uncomfortable and unsure. Thank you for staying beside me, while I try to sort out this mix called life. Direct my steps. Help me to find myself at home, in you. In the name of One who has made the world to come, right-side up, I pray. Amen.