Paul was pretty good about turning people’s worlds upside down, wasn’t he? He’d come into one of the bigger towns, and he’d preach on three Sabbaths the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he knew, without a doubt, that he would cause conflict and upheaval.
Paul was no dummy. He was smart and calculated in what he was doing. He intentionally went to the bigger towns first because word would spread faster and farther that way. It’s still the same today, isn’t it?
So Paul and Silas went to Thessalonica and shared the good news about the gospel message. What I mean by that, is they talked to those who were there, those who were Jewish or Gentile, women and men, and they told them the story of Jesus’ life. They taught and urged them to believe that Jesus was the true Messiah that the Scriptures had foretold.
Now, people either liked this or didn’t like it. It still happens today. Whenever a new minister comes to the church, people either like them or don’t like them. Whenever something new happens people either like it or don’t like it. But when was the last time you heard the phrase “turned upside down” in reference to something positive, or at least immediately positive? Usually there’s a whole lot of chaos and pain and challenge before that, right?
It was the same with Paul and Silas. They came, they preached, they ticked people off and they made believers of some. There was opposition. And you know what? That was and remains the norm. Every time you speak to someone about your faith, there will be opposition to it. Every time you talk to an audience about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, there will be opposition to it. And if there isn’t opposition, then perhaps you’re talking to the wrong crowd. We don’t want you to preach to the choir, we want you to preach to those around the choir.
Each of us has a built in audience. Paul’s audience were those in the synagogues. He was a respected leader, so each time he went to a synagogue, he was given the freedom to speak and the ear of those who were there. He knew where he could go to be heard. I want you to think about who your audience is.
Is it your family? Your friends? The ladies you go with every morning for coffee, or those you play bridge with? Is it the guys tinkering with cars? These groups are your built in audience. They are the people you need to share your faith story with, the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and then those you need to grow in your faith with if they already believe or come to believe through your testimony, through your sharing of your story.
Again, it doesn’t always go smoothly. And it’ shouldn’t, frankly. It takes time. Paul and Silas preached for three Sabbaths, aka, three weeks. That’s a lot of time to spend trying to talk to people about faith before they just up and commit to believing. On top of that, as I mentioned before, there was opposition to Paul and Silas.
Some people became jealous and angry, and they arrested Jason—who was playing host to Paul and Silas—when they couldn’t find the people they were truly angry at. Jason was arrested, he was charged with a crime, and he had to pay a bail to be released. Paul and Silas not only made enemies for themselves, but they made enemies and haters for those who followed them.
This is a dangerous journey. If you feel safe, if you feel like you are not risking anything, then maybe you’re not doing this whole sharing the gospel thing right. Maybe you’re not sharing the gospel at all. This path we’ve taken as Christians, as believers, calls us to step out of our comfort zones, to share the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It calls us to turn people’s worlds upside down.
Barbara Brown Taylor, who is a leading writer and theologian, once noted that even in the Bible Belt, many people love the Bible more than know what is in it. Accordingly, many laity—that’s you—expect clergy to both read and interpret the Bible for them. That is unacceptable. In order to best fulfill our calling to be members of the body of Christ, we have to be reading and interpreting our Bibles. We have to know what on earth is in it.
We have to be like Paul, taking chances and risks, knowing the best way to take the risks, knowing we’re going to make friends and enemies at the exact same time. That is a risk we have to take. You need to know what is in the Bible, just as much as I need to know what’s in the Bible.
That’s why we study together and individually. That’s why I want you all to come together in a group and learn what the scriptures and what theologians are saying. It’s not just because I want to fulfill my duties as your minister. I want you to learn and grow in your faith. I want you to be able to stand up for Jesus, to stand firm in your faith and on the promises of God and to know what those promises are.
This is a time of change, in our politics, in our culture, and in our world. And when people, ten years from now, say we were turned upside down, I want you to be able to look back on this time with a positive lens. I want you to be able to say, “You know what? You’re right. I was turned upside down, and it was for the better. That I may not have gotten where I was going in life, but I certainly got where I needed to be.”
Sharing the gospel message, Jesus’ life is one thing, but sharing our stories, our faith journeys, our testimonies is another. I have no doubt Paul talked about his conversion experience to those he was preaching to. I have no doubt that Paul shared his story, that he willingly became vulnerable with each and every person so he could make a difference in their lives, a difference with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul was smart in how he shared the message, and we need to be smart like him. We need to share our stories, share our faith, testify and witness to the power of the Spirit in our lives. We need to go where we know people will listen, where the news of what we’re saying will travel fastest. We need to stand up for Jesus, and we need to turn some worlds upside down.