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When our world is turned upside down… it freaks us out. At least makes us uncomfortable.

Thessalonica is still today in the northern part of Greece, the northern coast of the Aegean Sea. It was named for Alexander the Great’s sister and, by the time Paul and Silas arrived, and had been an important city in the Roman Empire given its long history and being a port town. It was a thoroughly Greek city, with all the expectations that might have come with. And that matters for us because that means the Jewish community were in the minority in Thessalonica, members of the community but we know how quickly the feelings of the majority can be turned against a few.

In Acts, the teaching and the discussions that Paul and Silas were having were a threat to the stability those in the synagogue had settled into in the city, and out of fear, I’m sure, they went to the leaders of the city and were very clear–it’s not us causing this ruckus, it’s them.

Things didn’t always go well for Paul when he entered a new city.

But that’s what he was called to do. Paul would go to a community, establish a church there, then move on. He would write letters of encouragement or advice or judgment. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is thought to be the oldest one we have, one of the first ones he would have written.

Sometimes, often, we read the bible from beginning to end, even if it is just a book of the bible from beginning to end. Today, we have the story of Paul establishing the church in Thessalonica told by one author and Paul’s letter to the church after he left.

This letter is one of encouragement in the midst of difficult times. We have to assume that just because Paul and Silas left, the difficult times and feelings towards the Jesus followers didn’t go away. There were members of the synagogue who became followers of the way, there were random Gentiles, and there were women, not a few which I assume means multitudes. Other writings, and Paul’s letters, let us know that often the women who joined in following Jesus were women of means, of important families, often who didn’t want to marry. Those things on their own are destabilizing.

The message Paul and Silas had brought was turning the world upside down. Changing how they thought about the Messiah, how they thought about themselves, how they thought about the empire, and how they thought about themselves in light of the empire. Theirs was the message of Jesus, of countering the powers of violence and death and scarcity with active peace and life and abundance. Theirs was the message of Jesus, an invitation to live a different way than the powers, one of love and generosity and justice, that all might have enough and none more than they need. There’s was the message of Jesus of the last being first and the first being last, the raising up of the poor and the wealthy selling all they have.

They were teaching of a world turned upside down and people were following. The world was being turned upside down.

It seems like turning the world upside down is part of the calling. The past has a habit of repeating and people are people, we often function in the same ways. The world today seems to thrive on violence, the powers wield death as a weapon, and our TV’s, commercials, books, movies sell us what makes a good life. Someone who lives “the good life” can be earned, won, achieved, bought, or stolen. It can be described in objects you can touch, collect, or pile. The good life is displayed on Instagram with perfect filters, from the right angle, nothing but good vibes. The good life is one that other people have and I am still struggling for. I can see it just over there…

The world as it is can be navigated. You can make a life in this world. You might even be able to do ok in a world that requires you to prove your worth, earn your value, win your place. But at what costs? And at the cost of who? And what about those who can’t play the games the world expects you to?

What about the laws and the rule and the systems that don’t hurt you, that you aren’t actively working in, but hurts others. I’m thinking about anti-trans bills, or immigration laws and actions that separate families, or laws and architecture that effect homeless populations while not offering adequate shelters. And to stand up, to say something, might cause issues, discomfort. People might talk. So silence. And silence is complacency, it is passively agreeing.

I don’t judge the community in Thessalonica. You have to get by to get by. Don’t rock the proverbial boat that everyone in Thessalonica was in. If they are throwing some folks overboard, or trapping them down below and your great fear is that if you say something, you’ll find yourself thrown out too… well… I get it. It’s safer to live quietly, don’t draw attention.

To maintain the good life they had found in Thessalonica, they had to live in the system that existed.

But that’s not the life the church… we are called to live. They… we are called to live differently, to live counter to the world, to turn the world upside down; to live a life that is good, not the good life the world tries to sell.

Paul was traveling, going to other towns, establishing other churches, and in his travels he was hearing stories about the church in Thessalonica. Stories of them turning the world upside down. Choosing a life that is good instead of the good life.

A life that is good isn’t one where we earn or prove or buy. It turns out that Jesus and science come to the same conclusion–people. In an eighty-year study, Harvard followed people with surveys and tests and found that the happiest and healthiest people, those with the most fulfilling and meaningful lives are those with good relationships. It’s about each other, about community, about looking out for each other, about the work we do for each other in love and faith. That is how and what Paul was hearing about miles and miles from Thessalonica. That’s what Paul was writing and encouraging them.

We know that, that with relationships we grow, learn, change, with relationships we become more empathetic, compassionate, we move in justice and mercy. The message of Jesus that Paul brought was ancient and new–love. Love God, Love your neighbor near and far, Love yourself. Love without expectation, without question, without consideration of the cost. That kind of love turns the world upside down.

So our measurement of success in our lives as individuals, families, communities, or as a church, what makes a life that is good, can’t be measured with numbers, profit, production, size, or accumulation.

Biblical scholar Abraham Smith wrote: Paul’s commendation is not just about their work, but their work of faith; not just their labor, but their labor of love; not just their steadfastness, but their steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Their routines of life were now all transformed, supported by the decisive event of the coming of Jesus into the world and governed by a purposefulness that transcended yet included them.

Our lives are measured then by our labor, work, and steadfastness to each other and to Christ. Measured in Love. They transformed their living into the message of Jesus that Paul brought them and turned their world upside down.

These are things, this is it: work in and of faith, labor in love, steadfast in hope. It is what we do for each other, for our communities, for the world. It is being in relationships, working toward love and justice and hope. That is how transform our lives, our living, our communities, our part of the world.

What do we stand up for? What do we take a risk for? What are we willing to make sure the world is turned upside down? To make sure everyone can stay together on the boat? What if our relationships could be expansive? What will others say about us a mile down the road? The next town over? That we worked in faith, labored in love, were steadfast in hope? For ourselves? For each other? For our neighbors near and far?