The World Turned Right Side Up

When I was three or four years old, my mother left me alone in the garage for just a few seconds. Everything should have been fine, she just needed to run into the house for a moment. Everything would have been fine, except that she left me with a cake she had baked for my grandfather’s birthday. And before she ran back into the kitchen to grab something off the counter, my mother told me what kind of cake it was. The cake was a pineapple upside down cake. I was a very literal child. Now that I live one, I can tell you most toddlers are very literal. Just a few seconds she was gone. But by the time she returned, I had turned the upside down cake right side up. My mother has never baked that kind of cake again, at least not with me around.

Today, for the feast of All Saints we hear Jesus most famous teaching, the Beatitudes. We hear the center of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus tells us who is blessed, and implicitly, who is not. This is where the rubber meets the road for Jesus. And the list is surprising. Listen to how he starts: “Happy are the people who are hopeless.” Happy are the hopeless? Happy are those who grieve? Happy are the humble? Happy are the hungry and thirsty? Happy are those who seek justice?

I’ve often preached that Jesus wanted to turn the world upside down. You can hear it in this list. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the hopeless. Blessed are those who grieve. A few years ago now, Jillian Smith from our congregation and I were chaplains for our Episcopal summer camp, Camp Phoenix. We thought we were clever. We decided the theme would be “the world turned upside down.” We wanted to teach Jesus, and nod to Hamilton the hit Broadway musical. “The World Turned Upside Down” is a repeated chorus in the show. Very few of the kids had seen Hamilton. Our jokes were lost on the eleven year olds. We had fun though, and I hope we learned something together about Jesus.

But I’ve found myself wondering the past few weeks, whether even Lin Manuel Miranda, the author of Hamilton had it backwards. I wonder if I’ve been preaching the Gospel all wrong.

These past weeks, as I’ve watched frightening news, I’ve been thinking about Jesus. A virus is raging. A version of Christianity which believes my husband and I should not have been able to be legally married, should not have been allowed to adopt our son, that version of Christianity seems ascendant. The US Senate seems more interested in curtailing access to rights than securing access to healthcare. These past weeks I’ve been frustrated, and scared, and depressed, and I’ve been thinking about Jesus.

I wonder, did Jesus want to turn the world upside down? Or, Or, Did Jesus want to turn the world right-side up?

We make a bold claim in this church. We make a bold claim. We say Jesus is divine. Jesus is God. Jesus is the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, the Word made flesh. Logos sarx egeneto. That is a claim so bold, that at times I have to take a step back, and think about what it means.

For me, this morning, as we hear the beatitudes in a sick, tired, and oppressive world, I need Jesus’ words. I need this Gospel not to be about turning the world upside down, but about turning the world right side up.

If Jesus is God, then Jesus is naming the world as it SHOULD be. Jesus is naming the world as it was DESIGNED to be. Jesus is naming the world as it is MADE to be. The poor, the hungry, the mournful, those who seek after justice, those who make peace, in God’s world these are exactly, exactly the people who are blessed. That is the world right side up.

We live in an upside down world. We really do. And it’s making us sick. It’s exhausting. The upside down world cannot last.

Today we remember the saints. We remember those holy women, those holy men, those holy people who went before us in faith. Today we remember the capital S saints. We remember people like St. Francis and Pauli Murray and Thurgood Marshall and Dr. King. We remember those who caught a glimpse of the world as it should be. We remember those who did their part to try and turn the world right-side up. We remember those who helped us see the world for what it should be. We remember the lower case s saints as well. We remember the people in our own lives that have pointed to God, and have pointed us in the right direction.

We celebrate this All Saints day on the cusp of an election. This is perhaps the hardest sermon so far for me to preach like this, online, to a camera. Gosh I wish I could look around the room and take strength from my congregation. I wish I could look in Martha Bonds’ eyes, in Mary Allen’s eyes. I wish I could get a hug from Gretchen Wilkes, and that Mary Duba would whisper something funny and encouraging in my ear as she made her way through the line. It’s been a hard few days waiting for the election ahead, it has. I wish we were waiting a little more palpably together. But since we can’t. Since safety means an abundance of caution, I simply invite you: Remember the words of a couple of the saints with me today.

Dr. King, said this:

“One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites…What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic.”

Dr. King.

William Sloane Coffin once preached that “Easter has less to do with one person’s escape from the grave than with the victory of seemingly powerless love over loveless power.”

For too long the hungry, the meek, the humble, those who thirst for righteousness, those who grieve, those who have been kept down by systemic racism and homophobia and gender discrimination for too long God’s people have been kept seemingly powerless.

I don’t know what will happen Tuesday. I don’t. God I wish I did. I don’t know if we will know what will have happened Tuesday for awhile, and that makes me nervous. But I do know this. God is conspiring with us, even now. God longs to turn the world right side up. God longs to unleash power in this world. God longs to make a change.

I also know, no matter who wins the election, we will have work to do. Washington can’t do it alone. Whoever is president, the work of Holy Communion will be pretty much the same. We need to make a difference with love. We need to make a difference with love. We need to turn our little corner of the world right-side up. We can only do it with love.

Whether you shout with joy in the week ahead, or you find yourself harassed, insulted, grieving and humble. Take heart. Taste and see that God is good. Those who fear God lack nothing.

St. Teresa of Avila told us, Christ has no hands now but yours. Whatever happens Tuesday, for us, it’s time to turn the world right side up.


Published by Mike Angell

The Rev. Mike Angell is rector of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in St. Louis.

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