Easter Sunday, 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 are often over and against the ways of the culture around them. So much so that life with Jesus has sometimes been called "upside down." The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the ultimate upside-down story. When it seems that all is gone – Jesus is dead, love has lost, hope is extinguished – God turns the grave itself upside down and raises Jesus from death to life! And what’s more, the power that up-ended Jesus’ death and returned him to life is that same power available for the dead parts of our lives. God wants nothing more than to enter our lives and turn our failures, heartaches, hurts, and little deaths upside down – bringing new life into every area of our existence. In the Upside Down Kingdom of God, death never has the final word. In the Upside Down Kingdom of God, new life is always on the other side of defeat. Worship Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJMLHGwXnaQ

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6HQKQFlxFA

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmb_5MmrQQ0&t=4113s

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyzvg9jZ_WM

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXK5_ZZhRGc

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07kgKoUNLGU