St. Matthew.jpg

Upside Down

Matthew 16:21-28

The Rev. Jon Roberts

30 August

2020

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. 28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

The Crucifixion of Peter by Caravaggio, 1601

Upside down, boy you turn me.
Inside out and round and round.
Upside down, boy you turn me.
Inside out and round and round.[1]

Today we are going to hear how our lives can be turned upside down, and around and around, by following Jesus Christ. There is probably no one better who could relate to these lyrics, singing it with great passion, than the artist who brought this to us. Diana Ross topped the charts with “Upside Down” in 1980, and although the lyrics relates to the love of her life, who although he loved her so instinctively, he would ultimately cheat on her. Yes, Diana could relate to being rightside up in the height of love, then one moment later upside down, during the feeling of absence. This was the emotion she carried when singing this song. She has now had a lot of time to reflect. Memoirs and biographies have been written about her and as much as we would like to cling to the pinnacle of her success, it is the rough and tumble of life, where her low points bring greater meaning to the whole person. The pain of divorce, the pain of being estranged, the pain of losing stardom and the pain of financial loss tossed her inside out and around and round. At the supreme part of her life, she probably never imagined what could happen. There was some redemption in her older life when some of her successors saw respected her enough to include her in their music as a cameo. The hip-hop artist, P-Diddy included her in his album hit, “Mo Money, Mo problems” where she was able to relate her own life to such a downturn. Others, such as, Brandi, Beyonce, Alecia Keys and Halle Berry looked up to Diana who could relate to fallen stardom.

Stumbling blocks got in the way and this is where the message comes home today as things can be turned upside down. There is the constant reminder to Christians to stay true to the course when Jesus tells us to carry our cross. We need to be prepared when life turns things upside down and round and round. Make no mistake about it, it is a great song. It is joined by others. Let’s turn back a page to another song writer, one who gave us many wonderful hymns, nearly three hundred in his lifetime, such as “How sweet this song of Jesus name,” and “Amazing Grace.” He also wrote that his songs came out of a life that was turned upside down. He was an Anglican clergyman but also a slave trader. Many who saw the movie “Amazing Grace” will see how his life was changed when he, himself, was captured and made a slave. Only in that two year period did he realized the error of his ways and vowed to make things right side up if given the chance. John called out in his time of need. His hymns came from his heart and led him to become one of the great abolitionists of his day. How easy it is to fall from God’s grace, but how sweet it is to “save a wretch like me.” Events such as this give us true meaning to the lyrics of our own songs that we write and sing.

What about Peter? He has a life, a song, that is full of being turned upside down, round and round. At one moment he is following Jesus, he has his eyes up and is walking on water. The next moment he doubts and sinks like a rock. Another time he claims Jesus is the Son of God and is commended, when Jesus declares things will be bound or loosened by Peter. Keys to the kingdom will be given to him. Then we get to the 16th chapter of Matthew, when Jesus tells about his arrest, torture and death; Peter interrupts, saying this will never happen, then Jesus, turning to his faithful disciple says, “Get behind me Satan!”[2] What are we to make of this hard rebuke? What a reprimand. Later, he denies Jesus three times before his death and after the resurrection is forgiven and told to go and make disciples. If anyone could relate to these lyrics best, maybe it is someone like Peter. When he saw Jesus’ return at Emmaus, maybe he could chime in, “Upside down, boy you turn me. Inside out and round and round.” Peter would continue to keep this in his mind, when the trials would come and the world seemed to be flipped. Even to his own death, he made his point that to carry your cross for Jesus’ you need to be prepared for things like this to happen. His last display of faith and understanding was at his crucifixion when he requested to be hung, upside down.

The world wants to revolve on its on axis and so often away from God. It happens to frequently, when we desire to keep things in the right place where we have control. We want to make sure that we have a roof over our heads, money in our checking account, food on the table, but Jesus didn’t say he came into the world to make us comfortable and to have control of possessions. He came into the world to show us how to live by faith, knowing that God has control of the world. All you have to do is to give up everything. “No, not everything!” We are subcontiously pleading with God not to ask us things we have to sacrifice. Don’t make us give up our husband or wife, our children, “Lord have mercy!” In order to be a follower of Christ we simply have to be ready to let things go for the sake of being rightly aligned with God and God’s will for our lives. Simply letting go is to ask for amazing grace.

Many people have approached the priest asking him if we are to release everything that is close to our hearts. The anguish of this possibility is apparent. Do you have peace in letting go? God has a way of supplying ample amount of peace for you to navigate this unchartered territory. He has a way of being comfortable when things are turned upside down, knowing how to balance it once more upon the hearts of the faithful who can bring the world right side up. He has a way of loving us instinctively. We know the pain of loss and the agony of defeat. It is interesting that we get so lost in our routine that we can’t imagine any other way to live.

Sometimes God uses some event, a war, a pandemic to gather our attention. Like the flaming, but unconsumed bush and unexplained even by our modern science, Moses took off his shoes for he was on holy ground.[3] The world cannot understand this and the world cannot understand us when we live in joy, love and peace when the world is turned upside down. We are the agents of calm. People who do not relate to why we feel at peace, have joy and love during times of civil unrest, death and chaos, could be the next songwriter for Christ if we sing to them our tribute to the glory of God. Jesus’ life may have been taken from this earth but it only gave power to the witnesses of his resurrection to make disciples of Christ. Something may have to be taken from us in order for God to give life to those who are broken and misled. We may go through our sin, sickness and death but these give us opportunities to relate to the living God.

Today as you related to Jesus Christ, reflect on your own series of ups and downs. Make no mistake about it, Jesus is calling out to each and everyone of us, especially when things appear to be, upside down.

[1] Diana Ross, “Upside Down” Motown Records, 1980.
[2] Matthew 16:21-28
[3] Exodus 3:1-15

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