It is jarring how quickly life can turn from great to grim. A single phone call, an instant in a moving vehicle, or one brief conversation can change everything. The pain, the heartache, the grief can take us from very high to very low very quickly. But we are not alone in our anguish. Jesus himself experienced this same thing. In the matter of a few days, Jesus went from receiving the adoration of the crowds as he paraded into Jerusalem, to being arrested, to suffering a painful death on the cross. On this Palm Sunday, we walk with Jesus from celebration to silence and wait for the dawn of hope and new life. Worship Link:

Welcome: All You Need is Love

For some people, it's fun to throw a nice party. For some, to plan an interesting guest list, set a nice table, and plan special food is the epitome of hospitality. To be remembered for a lovely event is thanks enough for their efforts that welcomed others into their presence and home. In the Gospel of John, Jesus welcomes people into his "home," his dwelling place and relationship with God. He does it not with a lavish setting and fancy food. He does it on his knees as he washes the guests' feet. To welcome and love like Jesus is a tall order. But the Beatles taught us just how easy it really is... All You Need Is Love. <3 Worship Link:

God's Gift

Few of us make it through this life without disappointments, mistakes, and outright failures. Falling down is a part of life. And it's easy to let those negative experiences define us. Our shortcomings cling to us much more insistently than our successes and achievements. We might even come to believe that we are less than others, not as good as the people around us, and not worthy of care, respect, love, or affirmation. But the good news is that God doesn't see us that way. Even if we - and others - don't think much of us, God loves us passionately and completely. It matters not who we are or what we and others think of us, God welcomes you into the family of God. Come on in! There's a place for you here. Worship Link:

Lent: God’s Extreme Love

It's become popular in retail establishments and stores for someone to greet you when you enter. Sometimes this is a person who stands at the door and has the sole job of saying, "Welcome!" to everyone who enters. Sometimes it's less formal, as in an employee behind a counter shouts out, "Welcome!" while attending to other matters. But rarely does the welcome go much beyond that. No one invites you in, learns your name, provides for you or seeks to really serve you. The welcome God offers through Jesus is all of this - and so much more. Because of God's great love for us, God not only shouts, "Welcome!" when we turn toward God; God also gets to know us, meets us in our needs, serves us as both Master and Servant, and ultimately leads us in welcoming others. God's welcome makes us one with God, one with Jesus, and one with each other. Welcome to the family of God! We've been saving a place just for you! Worship Link:

Good Fruit (Palm Sunday)

Early followers of Jesus were especially bold to live in the ways he had taught and modeled. They included and welcomed the outcast and alien. They sought justice for the oppressed. They valued and served the poor and undeserving. They lived according to the law of love, not the law of Rome. Some around them observed that "...these people have been turning the world upside down..." The core of Jesus' teaching as found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) teaches that to be a follower of his is to live in ways that seem upside down to the ways of the culture around them. In this Upside Down Kingdom of God the blessed are those who are poor, those who mourn, and those who are persecuted for his sake. In the Upside Down Kingdom of God subjects live for others, not themselves. Citizens don't live according to the rules, they live to a higher standard of love. And followers of Jesus are part of a community that shows mercy and compassion to others; never condemns, tears down, or belittles others. In the Upside Down Kingdom of God, followers of Jesus are known by their loving words and actions that reflect the love and lordship of their King, Jesus the Christ. In the Upside Down Kingdom of God, followers of Jesus are known by the good fruit they produce. Worship Link:

Judging Others

You hear it on the school playground; in the teens' locker room; at the coffee shop; around the water cooler at work... the seemingly harmless remarks that are intended to, ever so subtlety, raise ourselves up and put others down. "My mom and dad are taking me to Disney World for spring break. Where are you going?" "After school today my dad's taking me to pick up the car he bought me. Are you still driving your mom's van?" "Did you see how that woman was dressed? Seems a little over the top for someone her age." "What was he thinking? I would never be so crass as to say such a thing out loud - even if I thought it. No wonder he got passed over for that assignment." And the snipes, the criticisms, the judgments only escalate from here. With little effort, we can make ourselves out to be better than nearly anyone else around us. We always have a way to 'one-up' others, as we claw our way to the top of the heap. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus teaches his followers about life with him in the kingdom of God. And most everything about life with Jesus stands over and against the ways of the world. In the upside-down Kingdom of God, the poor are blessed, people live for others, the rule is love, and prayer is about relationship, not results. And Jesus also has a shortlist of don't's in his sermon. One of them: Do not judge. It seems a simple and clear enough command until we try to live it out. In the upside-down Kingdom of God, living in love with others means not condemning, criticizing, or belittling others. In the upside-down Kingdom of God, our measure is Jesus, not others. Worship Link:

The Lord's Prayer

We learn early how to get what we want. The first words toddlers learn are "please" and "thank you," the "magic words" to get what they are asking for. As we grow we learn how to behave with others so that we'll be accepted by the 'in crowd' and have influence there. We learn how to do a job to earn a paycheck so that we can buy what we want. And in the world of one-click buying on Amazon and more than 1,200 petabytes of data available on the Internet, why shouldn't we have everything we want and have it right now? It's no wonder then, that when life is not going well and we pray to God to fix, provide, or change things, we're disappointed when things don't immediately improve. After all, isn't that what prayer is all about - doing it right so that God will give me what I want? Jesus prayed often and had a lot to say about prayer. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gave both instruction about prayer and an actual prayer for his followers to use. It's neither complicated nor difficult, but it has little to do with our wish lists. In the Upside Down Kingdom of God, prayer has less to do with us getting what we want, and almost everything to do with God making us into what God wants. In the Upside Down Kingdom of God it's not about praying right, it's about becoming right - with God and others. Worship Link:

The Difficult Sayings

Life is easy when we know the rules and understand what's expected of us. Clearly defined tasks at work make for easier success. IKEA furniture goes together smoothly with the clear instructions provided. House rules about chores, bedtimes, and schedules make life together less stressful. But too many rules feel oppressive. Not enough clarity about what's expected, though, makes it difficult to complete tasks or live well together. What about our life as followers of Jesus? What are the expectations? Are there rules and boundaries for our behavior? In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus gives an extended teaching about the rules of life with him. In this section, often called 'The Difficult Sayings' (Matthew 5:17-48), Jesus takes the commonly understood rules for faithful living and turns them upside down, pointing out that his followers both follow these rules and live beyond them. In the upside-down kingdom of God, rules are not about what to do or not do, they are about who guides what we do or don't do. In the upside-down kingdom of God, Jesus is the rule. Worship Link:

The (Be)atitudes

While we might find it fun – even thrilling – to experience the gravity-defying ride of a roller coaster that coils, dips, drops, and turns us upside down, most of us find it uncomfortable to have our everyday lives up-ended. We have carefully laid plans, clear goals, and great hopes for our lives. We don’t find it so fun when those things get turned upside down. And it's even more disorienting to suffer those tragedies, small and large, that enter every life at some time... unexpected divorce, life-changing medical diagnosis, layoff from a job, death of someone close. Times like these seem to be the worst of what life has to offer. But in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus opens with a series of 'blessings' that seem anything but. Jesus seems to suggest that these kinds of hurts and heartaches are the very places and times we find special favor with God. Jesus has a lot to say that seems over and against the ways of the world, even counter to what seems and feels right. Could it be that what we experience as bad, wrong, painful, and tragic, Jesus can use for our good, drawing us closer to each other and closer to him? In the upside-down kingdom of God, things are not always as they seem - and that's a good thing! Worship Link:

Better Than Expected (Palm Sunday)

Hosanna in the Highest! (Palm Sunday celebration)