Fall Preaching Series:
Turning the World Upside Down
Last Sunday we began a new sermon series examining the radical faith of 1st century Christians. In the midst of their own sense of hopelessness in trying times, the Early Church articulated a successful response to Rome’s heavy-handed cultural imposition. The response cannot be one of cowering and retreat into isolation (the “Benedict Option”) but one of relational engagement with one another and those around us. God is reaching out to tell us we are beloved of God and born of an imperishable seed. He is calling us to be different so that we will make a difference. This tremendous hope is anchored in the Gospel and rests in the power of the Word of God. This fall, we invite you to come, explore and share this message of hope with others!
Part 1: Surprised by Hope
Listen to the sermon here
Take a look at Acts chapter 17. Notice this phrase – “They have turned the world upside down” – it is a phrase Paul’s opponents in Thessalonica used to refer to the impact the Gospel had on the city (Acts 17:6). Ironically, the phrase is part of a false accusation against Paul that he is somehow fomenting the overthrow of Caesar’s rule (Acts 17:7). The strategy worked because Paul and Silas were driven out of town, effectively ending what had otherwise been a brief but successful outreach in an affluent and influential port city of the Roman World (Acts 17:10). But here lies the surprise: the Gospel doesn’t leave town with Paul. The new believers in the house churches continue to grow and thrive, filled with “steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3) in spite of “much” sufferings and persecutions (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10). So they are “turning the world upside down” after all, but not quite in the sense of Paul’s enemies! The Thessalonian believers have “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” They have “received the Word with much affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” Paul says this turn of event has literally echoed (“sounded forth” verse 8) throughout the whole of Greece. Paul is overjoyed (and no doubt stunned) at their “steadfastness of hope”: These believers are not only hanging on for dear life to the faith, but growing in the most adverse circumstances.
In our times of tremendous pressures from our own dominant culture, we can choose two postures. One of retreat into our own ‘monasteries’ focused only on introspection and our own spiritual disciplines with the hope that somehow the imposition of the dominant culture ‘out there’ won’t influence us. OR, we can allow God and His Word, by the power of the Holy Spirit to “transform” us (Romans 12:1-2) so that we might able to know His will to carry out it out “on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Basilica of St Benedict in Norcia (before the earthquake)
Basilica of St Benedict in Norcia (after the earthquake – October 30, 2016)
In his influential book, Rob Dreher’s “The Benedict Option” describes in vivid ways how the 14th century Basilica of St Benedict in Nursia (Umbria, Italy) was destroyed on October 30, 2016. (the result of a powerful series of earthquake in this region of central Italy). In the words of one of the faithful Benedictine monks, “there is no place on this earth entirely safe from catastrophe.” While we might be tempted to try it, the option to ‘opt out’ of the culture is never a good one. God is calling us to a transformed identity, so that we might know His will and so that we might be His instruments to carry it out on earth as it is in heaven. Just like the Thessalonians were able to surprise the Apostle Paul by their steadfastness of hope in Jesus and the joy of the Holy Spirit in “much affliction,” our own transformed lives will too “sound forth” and ech o around us. And just like Paul, we too might find ourselves quite surprised how resilient and powerful the Gospel can be, even in the pressures and hardships of our own times!
For further reflection:
- Do you believe the Gospel can not only survive but thrive and flourish in our lives and families in this dominant culture of ours where God and His Word are routinely ‘canceled out’?
- In the midst of our own trying adversities, do we believe God can totally surprise us by the “steadfastness of hope” found in Jesus alone? Are we willing to be surprised by hope?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments, or reach out to a pastor and share your story with us!