Summary: We are called to turn the world upside down, as revolutionaries. But our energies dissipate and we become frightened. Let us look to the one who did not flinch from His mission.
The winter of 1780 and 1781 had looked bleak indeed for the American cause. If the English control of the seas continued; if the French did not move more decisively to help; if the supply arsenals could not be stocked and if the men did not keep their courage, all would be lost. Even General Washington feared the worst and confided in his diary that not only was he losing military engagements, he was losing the heart of the people. On the first of May in 1781, Washington wrote, "Instead of having everything in readiness to take the field, we have nothing; and instead of having the prospect of a glorious offensive campaign before us, we have a bewildered and gloomy defensive one. (All that we need), he wrote, is too contingent to build upon."
Now that was May 1, mind you, just as today is May 1, and the commander in chief of American forces was weary, tired, worn out from apparently fruitless endeavors. Now some things were soon to happen – too numerous and too complicated for me to elaborate on here. The arrival of the French fleet, some important strategic decision, some British mistakes. And by the middle of October, less than six months later, Lord Cornwallis and the British army had surrendered at Yorktown in Virginia. The image I have always cherished of that surrender is the picture of the British troops filing by to lay down their arms and their standards while the American military band played a tune popular in those days, a tune called "The World Turned Upside Down." The revolution had been won.
From defeat to victory in six months; from the depths of despair to ecstatic joy in so little time; from the first of May, May Day, to the world turned upside down. Wouldn't it be great if you could always count on that? Wouldn't it be grand to know the secret of that?
Today, as I’ve said, is May Day, the first of May. It is two hundred and seven years since Washington's May Day, for him a day of despair and hopelessness. And it is less than a hundred years since labor leaders and others around the world began celebrating the first of May May Day, as a day that would lift up the idea of revolution, of change, of struggle for the rights of the working man. Today on the streets of Moscow and in a dozen other capital cities around the world there will be May Day parades with a focus on revolution, change, a world in the making, in short, a world turned upside down. And if you and I find it hard to think that a Socialist state would really be a people’s paradise; if you and I strongly suspect that what May Day really means to many around the world is more oppression rather than more freedom, more despair, rather than more hope, well, that may be, but that does not dim the fact that this day, the first of May, has long-standing connotations of revolution and change, a world turned upside down.
Now in the 17th chapter of the book of Acts we learn something about the revolutionary spirit that wants to turn the world upside down. And we learn too what the world thinks about being stood on its ear. Maybe as we read this story on May Day we can learn something about the drive to turn the world upside down.
The traveling missionaries are Paul, Silas, and Timothy; they are on their way through the cities of Macedonia in the northern part of Greece. They had just spent a night or rather half a night in the pokey at Philippi, and now they are on their way to the city of Thessalonica. Listen to what Paul and Silas did and how they were received there in Thessalonica:
Acts 17:1-9 These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and they say that there is another king, Jesus.
I tell you, the world generally reacts to revolutionaries this way. Who do they think they are to upset what we have gotten so used to? Who do they imagine they are to suggest a new and different loyalty? Most of us are not very comfortable with visionaries and revolutionaries; and most of us have so domesticated the Christian faith that the farthest thing from our minds would be this business of being tabbed as those who have turned the world upside down. No, we would rather think of ourselves as those who set it right side up!
But Paul and Silas, preaching to the Thessalonians, claimed that their loyalties were misguided and that their allegiance to Caesar was off base, that there is another king, Jesus. And for that Paul and Silas were hounded out of town.