The kingdom of God may best be described by the theological term ‘topsy-turvy,’ a phrase that comes in handy when ordinary words fail to capture the essence of a moment or the import of a movement. First recorded in England in 1528 as a compound word formed from ‘top’ and the obsolete ‘terve’, meaning ‘topple over,’ topsy-turvy portrays the sense of confusion one feels when things are not in proper order or are metaphorically upside-down. That’s more or less what Jesus meant when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He was reminding us that the kingdoms of this world are not identical with the kingdom of God, a fact that is frequently lost on Church leadership. Rather than standing in relief or opposition to these kingdoms, Christianity has often imitated them, and is still hard at it. A modern trend is afoot to redefine the pastor as CEO, the church as a business corporation, parishioners as customers, and to judge the whole ecclesiastical kit and caboodle according to a numerical bottom line. This obsession to imitate Madison Avenue explains the popularity of prosperity theology and edges the Church precipitously toward the abyss of conformity. Under this scenario the Gospel is more akin to a good stock tip, or picking the right horse at Louisiana Downs, or lucking out with the right number in the Lottery, than to changing the world. “The righteous get rich and the poor get what they deserve.”
The consistency with which the kingdom of God is not the opposite of the kingdoms of the world should serve as a warning to us. Donald Kraybill suggests that “the kingdom of God points to an inverted, or upside-down way of life that contrasts with the prevailing social order.” Jesus of Nazareth was well versed in topsy-turvy theology. Speaking to some rudely religious people, he warned: “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” He shocked his disciples by saying, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Before we shout ‘Amen’ too loudly and continue on about our business, it would behoove us to repent from acting like Christianity is a status rather than a calling, for downplaying the responsibilities of a relationship with God and only emphasizing its benefits. No wonder so many are rejecting the Church. If the Church is not committed to changing the world, it has become irrelevant. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” must move from being a prayer to becoming our vow.
(Taken from my soon-to-be-published book: Ordinary Glory: Finding grace in the commonplace)