If asked to identify a favorite New Testament character, most of us go with the predictable and obvious: Barnabbas, Mary, Nathaniel, Peter, Lydia, Timothy, Phoebe. You know the list.
Let me remind you of an obscure character who can remind us of an important truth about church health. His name is Jason, and you will find him in the first 9 verses of Acts 17. He lived in northern Greece in Thessalonica. Paul and Silas come through town on one of their missionary journeys, and make great headway at the local synagogue, persuading many Jews and devout Greeks “and not a few of the leading women”. Their success is not well received by the synagogue leaders, and so a band of ruffians is hired to find Paul and Silas and run them out of town.
In the midst of the search, the posse shows up at Jason’s house and drag Jason and some other believers before the city authorities. In v. 6, a telling comment is made by the accusers: “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests.” Jason bonds out of jail, and Paul and Silas escape the vigilantes. While Jason disappears from the pages of the New Testament, his spirit lingers on. Jason’s risky bed-and-breakfast served as a key link in the spread of a Gospel message that reversed the established order of the day and heralded a new way of thinking and believing about God.
Hosting those who bring a new, upside-down day is always risky business. In the 21st century, hosting can take the form of considering an idea, proposing a new method, suggesting an alternative, or raising a question. Sometimes hosting takes the form of saying what everyone is thinking but no one is willing to say. Upside-down ideas are those which challenge the established order or way of thinking or of being a church. Healthy churches need to have a steady diet of hard conversations about such ideas. If not, we will grow rigid and inflexible and we run the risk of missing the movement of the Spirit.
Of course, that is easier said than done. The established order may give lip service to wanting change and innovation, but the truth is most of us find change offensive and obtrusive. The way we do things brings some order to the chaos of our life and enables us to avoid the surprises that fill most of our days at work and at home. Those who bring or suggest change are often labeled as troublemakers or misfits and their ideas dismissed as unreasonable. Some days our church is the one place we can go that reminds us of how life used to be, and we cling to that fading dream with a vengeance.
The spirit of Jason is the spirit of adventure and a willingness to embrace the possibility of the new. Jason’s world was turned upside-down by these gospel messengers and by the revolutionary person they gave witness to. Jesus spent much of his teaching time upending the commonly held perceptions of his day.
Instead of leadership being determined by position and power, he suggested that the true leader is a servant first.
Instead of power being the avenue through which God works, he suggested it is weakness.
Instead of finding our life by holding onto it, he suggested we find life when we lose our life.
Instead of the rich receiving God’s blessing, he called the poor blessed.
Instead of loving self and looking to our needs first, he suggested loving our neighbor and seeking His kingdom first.
At every point, Jesus turned the world upside-down. He continues to inspire his followers and churches with upside-down thinking and acting. Our world will surely resist now as his world did then. Our goal must be to be among those who are accused of harboring such radical ideas and hosting such dangerous possibilities. Turning the world upside down was hard work then, and it is hard work today. In the end, upside-down was what brought abundant life and unconditional love to a world desperately in need of both.
The next time you are asked to name your New Testament heroes, consider Jason and his upside-down world. Even more, consider adopting his spirit and helping create a readiness at your church to be turned upside-down!