31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
April 17, 2016
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
When you go to the amusement park, do you love the large roller coasters that flip you over loop after loop after loop? Are you the first in line for the rides that tumble you side to side and upside down? Or are you the one who stays safely on the ground until its time for the merry go round?
If even the thought of Lake Compounce’s new rollercoaster Phobia makes you nauseous, it’s not that you have gotten old or become un-fun. It’s an inner ear thing!
There are three canals in our inner ear that regulate our balance. When they get out of order, they signal distress to the rest of the body. It won’t surprise you that adults are more sensitive to their inner ears being out of balance than children – thus the one and done for me on the spinning tea cups. Even the ferris wheel at the carnival yesterday was a little much for me.
So while the thought of being physically flipped upside down is not an appealing one for most adults, there are plenty of upside down things that we are quite fond of: pineapple upside down cake, the Diana Ross song “Upside Down”: boy you turn me, inside out and round and round, and of course love. Falling in love turns us upside down every single time.
In this morning’s scripture passage from Acts, the Apostle Paul is accused of turning the world upside down. Called by the Risen Christ to be God’s messenger, Paul sets out to share the good news of God’s unconditional love with Jews and Greeks alike. In every city Paul travels to, he goes into the synagogue. He goes to God’s chosen people, his own people, and Paul tells them about the Messiah. He tells them how God came to live with us in the form of Jesus Christ and how Jesus willingly died to show us the depth of God’s love, and then three days later, Jesus rose from the dead to show us that not even death can separate us from the love of God made known to us in Jesus Christ.
This is good news.
The truth of God’s unconditional love for us is good, good news.
Christianity has been the dominant religion in our culture for so long though, that we take this news for granted. It was a message though that turned everything upside down in Paul’s world.
For the leaders of the community, the leaders of the synagogue that scripture refers to only as “The Jews”, the good news Paul was sharing was as welcome as a ride on the scrambler for someone with vertigo.
The leaders of the synagogue were the experts in their community. They were the ones people listened to. They were the ones who shared God’s word. They were the ones with the power.
So Paul’s presence on three consecutive Sabbath days in their synagogue, Paul’s charismatic presence in their community, was not welcome. He was invading their turf, stepping on their toes. Paul was changing things!
Even in the best of circumstances, like a new baby, a wedding, change is hard. People do not like change. Change often feels like it is taking something away from us, that we are losing. That is how the leaders of the Jewish community must have felt. This “good news” that Paul was sharing, it turned their world upside down. It scared them, made them sick to their stomachs. So, as it is with many changes in life, they resisted it. They resisted the good news in their hearts, and they actually started a riot in Thessalonica, anything they could do to get this change agent to stop talking, to get out of town, and leave them in peace, leave things the way they were.
The leaders of the synagogue saw their world being turned upside down as a negative thing, but others heard the “good” in the good news, and they fell in love with God in a new way.
Their pulses raced; their stomachs flip flopped; the whole world looked rosy and bright, anything was possible – all because they knew God loved them enough to come to earth, giving up God’s power and majesty to be close to them; all because they heard that God sacrificed Godself to take away any sin or separation between God and God’s creation; all because they learned that God had conquered death and that from now on, nothing in heaven or on earth would separate them from God’s love.
When you hear that good news, does it make you fall in love with God in a new way? Does it make your pulse race, your stomach flip flop, your senses thrill, as if you were riding a roller coaster? As if you were falling in love? As if you were eating pineapple upside down cake?
The Jews and Greeks who formed a new community of believers in Thessalonica certainly were changed for the better by the good news of God’s love. Their worlds were turned upside down; Their lives were transformed. The good news of Jesus’ resurrection empowered them to walk in faith, labor in love, be steadfast in hope. All who met them could sense the power of the Holy Spirit in them. They exuded joy and love.
And in that spirit of joy and love, they shared God’s word in every place they could.
Two weeks ago, I challenged those gathered to become an apostle, to become a messenger, and to share the good news of God’s unconditional love with others: to share it with a fellow church member, to share it with a child in your life or family member, to share it with someone who does not know how God’s love can turn your world upside down for the better.
I continue to challenge you to be a messenger of God’s love. Whisper in your godchild’s ear “God loves you so, so much.” Slip a note in a loved one’s purse, briefcase, car cup holder that says, “God created you, and you are wonderfully made.” Over dinner with friends, tell a story about a time when God was real to you, a time when you knew God was holding you and guiding you.
Be like the Apostle Paul. Be a messenger of God’s love. Do it to turn people’s lives upside down in a good way. Do it because it will turn your life upside down in a good way. Do it because it is through our sharing of God’s love that we fall in love with God over and over and over again.