Sunday, September 15, 2019

Prayer as We Gather:  We take grim solace, Lord, in how little we your children have changed since the Hebrew prophets spoke on your behalf.  We remain “foolish, skilled at doing wrong, inept at doing right,” our rebellious consistency matched only by your  compassionate forbearance in not destroying the earth completely.  May this holy hour find us grieving our disobedience, rejoicing in the tender mercies of your steady love.  Amen* (Inspired by Jeremiah 4)

Call to Worship:

Fools say in their hearts, There is no God.

They are corrupt and do evil things.

The Lord looks down from heaven on humans

To see if anyone is wise, but everyone is corrupt,

No one does good – Not even one person!

Evildoers devour my people like they are eating bread.

But count on it:  they will be in utter panic

Because God is with the righteous.

Evildoers may humiliate the plans of those who suffer,

But rejoice, for the Lord will change our circumstances for the better! (From Psalm 14, The Common English Bible)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, immortal, invisible God, for giving us strength to minister in your name.  Like apostle Paul, we have been shown mercy in spite of our ignorance and shallow faith, your favor pouring over us like a healing ointment soothing the multiple insults and injustices offered up to us each day by those who have never known the grace of your touch.  May we see them for who they are, hurting, lonely people desperate to receive what is our high privilege to bestow:  the peace of Christ, as sublimely offered through the Galilean carpenter who taught us to pray, saying … *(Inspired by 1 Timothy 1)

Prayer of Confession:  Here we stand, Lord, guilty and embarrassed at our grumbling refusal to follow the unblinking example Jesus set for us, welcoming sinners and eating with them.  That’s no way to be voted Most Likely to Succeed or invited to pledge a social fraternity.  What would our grandparents think?  We’ve worked so hard to be among the elite, to gain the inside track toward financial comfort and the praise of the crowd.  Frankly, it’s a tough choice between ego-boosting success and Jesus’ unvarnished call to take up the cross.  Have mercy, we pray.  Amen.*(Inspired by Luke 15)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for Jesus’ summons is not “Come, be long-faced and miserable along with me,” but “Celebrate! There’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s change of heart and life than over ninety-nine people who think they have no need to change.”  Thanks be to God for the privilege of celebrating as sinners God loves …  no matter what.*(Inspired by Luke 15)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “My country, right or wrong;  if right, to be kept right, and if wrong, to be set right.”  - Carl Schurz, 19th century German immigrant, Republican Senator from Missouri, 13th Secretary of the Interior 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Prayer as We Gather:  Like old man Paul, imprisoned for his faith but undaunted in his witness, O God, we come this holy hour giving thanks as we recall the faithful love we have known across the years through UBC’s beloved community.  May our hearts continue to be refreshed by their compassionate acts of faith.  Amen.*(Inspired by Paul’s letter to Philemon)

Call to Worship:

Lord, you know me.

You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways.

You surround me, you put your hand on me.

That kind of knowledge is so high above me I can’t fathom it.

You created my innermost parts, knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I was marvelously set apart.

When I was woven together in a secret place,

Your eyes saw my embryo.

God, I can’t comprehend your countless plans,

But if I came to the very end, I’d still be with you. (from Psalm 139, The Common English Bible)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, like prophet Jeremiah observing an artisan potter as his work, we await your instructions for what to do next.  Like clay on the turning wheel, we have often  yielded to forms and shapes that grieve you, causing you to break us down for re-forming in your caring hands.  Thank you for loving us enough to deliver us from our evil thoughts and selfish actions, crafting us instead for the good you have intended for us all along, for we make our appeal through the unflawed vessel of our Galilean Lord, praying as he taught us … *(Inspired by Jeremiah 18)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for ignoring Jesus’ clear demand that we calculate the high cost of following him, including rejection by family and  forfeiture of earthly wealth.   We have often relegated Jesus to a distant third place behind parents’ suffocating expectations and the seductive lure of material possessions.  We have foolishly tried to have it both ways, settling for a fool’s compromised discipleship ridiculed by a watching world.  No wonder so many folks have such low regard for the church.  Have mercy, we pray.  Amen.*(Inspired by Luke 14)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for Jesus has not set us an impossible task, only a task whose successful completion is wholly reliant upon his faithful presence – which he has promised unconditionally.  In every confrontation with competing demands that would thwart Jesus’ claim on our lives, whether in the form of families’ pre-conceived notions of who we should become or society’s incessant “show me the money” drumbeat, what may appear to us as a better way than servant discipleship cannot begin to match the incomparable joy of walking through this life with Jesus at our side.  Thanks be to God for such a faithful friend! *(Inspired by Luke 14)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:   “I can see no way out but through.”   - Robert Frost    

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Prayer as We Gather:  Laughing God, we assemble ourselves for worship amidst a culture where the lunatics are apparently running the asylum, echoing prophet Jeremiah’s incredulous “Has anything this odd ever taken place?”  We cringe at your verdict,  “My people have exchanged their glory for what has no value.”  As with Jeremiah’s people,  we stand guilty of forsaking your living springs and then digging broken wells that can’t hold water.  Dazed and confused, we implore you:  Restore us to our rightful minds.  Amen.*(Inspired by Jeremiah 2)

A Labor Day Call to Worship:

Lord, we celebrate the work people do and the gift of work you have given us.

We give thanks for our jobs as an opportunity to do your will in the market place.

We pray also for the millions of people who are unemployed.

Give special encouragement to those looking for work. 

We lift up all employers, that they may be just and fair with their employees.

Help our leaders treat the poor with fairness.

O God who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes,

Help us become a society that cares for immigrants.

May we speak for the destitute who cannot speak for themselves,

May we never tire of defending the rights of the poor and needy.*(from Labor Sabbath by N.C. Council of Churches)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “The peace I am thinking of is the dance of an open mind when it engages another equally open one.”  - Toni Morrison

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for keeping it real.  It often seems nobody honors promises any more, reviving the old lament “if love never lasts forever, what’s forever for?”  But your word sustains us, as when the writer of Hebrews reminds us we should “be free of the love of money, content with what you have.  Easier said than done, until we remember “the Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid.”  We cherish the beloved community of UBC, where we are surrounded by folks whose faithful lives are worth imitating because they trust the Galilean carpenter who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and who taught us to pray, saying … *(Inspired by Hebrews 13 and the lyrics of Rafe VanHoy)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for acting as if it’s Opposite Day by doing precisely what Jesus said we shouldn’t do: “Don’t take your seat in the place of honor, go and sit in the least important place.”  We’ve scratched and clawed our way to honor rolls and inflated resumes in the name of “using our gifts,” when it may be more about our need to feel we’re better than others and get a leg up on the competition. Then along comes kill-joy Jesus:  “All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”   Have mercy on our wearisome pretenses, we pray.  Amen.*(Inspired by Luke 14)

Assurance of Pardon:   Take heart, for even in his most stern reprimands Jesus always offers hope and a way toward being redeemed.  When we’re up to our conniving old ways of currying favor among the rich and influential, the Galilean suggests a more honorable option:  “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind.  And you will be blessed because they can’t repay you.”  Thanks be to God for sending Jesus as living proof of what faithfulness looks like, and for providing our UBC family with myriad ways to be on mission among those incapable of paying us back.*(Inspired by Luke 14)

Student Sunday, August 25, 2019

A Prayer as We Gather:  Here we are, Lord, stumbling in for another shot at the mystery of worship.  Like children playing on the kitchen floor with a stick of dynamite, looking for a way to kill another Sunday morning, we lack the urgent respect that should accompany speaking your holy name.  All week we have put on our best faces, hoping to avoid being truly known by those around us who fear rejection as profoundly as we do.  Yet here we are, drawn to you by prophet Jeremiah’s channeling of your unyielding vow:  “Before I created you in the womb I knew you.”  Truly, we long to be known by you, sent by you, led by you, freed from fear by the words you put in our mouth.  We surrender, Lord.  Have your own way with us.  Amen.* (Inspired by Jeremiah 1 and the brave pen of Annie Dillard)

Call to Worship:

I’ve taken refuge in you, Lord.

Don’t let me ever be put to shame!

Deliver me, bend your ear toward me, save me!

Be my rock of refuge where I can always escape.

Rescue me from the grip of the wrongdoer and the oppressor,

Because you are the one I’ve trusted since childhood.

You cut the cord when I came from my mother’s womb.

My praise is always about you.*(from Psalm 71, The Common English Bible)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, loving God, for drawing near to us in untouchable ways:  fire, darkness, shadow, and a sound that makes us beg for silence.  Beyond achievement test scores and class rankings, beyond crippling family hierarchies and withering home-town jealousies, beyond mean religion shaped into a weapon to punish instead of a beacon to show the way, beyond all the rantings of weak bullies and tiny-brained demagogues, we take shelter now in the loving embrace of one whose gentle courage and wise compassion are always rejected by tyrants, our Galilean Lord who loves all the children of the world and who taught us to pray, saying …*(Inspired by Hebrews 12 and Episcopal priest Tom Ehrich)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, our grim determination to reduce Jesus to a one-trick pony, a merely magic man turning stones to food, water to wine, stormy lake surface into solid walkway, the mentally challenged into unwitting pawns of his healing super-powers.  We cheer when his miraculous touch straightens the spine of a woman crippled for eighteen years, we gasp with delight when he pronounces her free from infirmity, yet we resist with every fiber of our being his attempts to set us free from our personal demons and beloved addictions.  We, like the religious leader incensed that Jesus would dare heal on the Sabbath, have been poisoned by a toxic elixir of hypocrisy and bad religion.  Have mercy, we pray.  Amen.*(Inspired by Luke 13)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for there is good news:  You have a choice, unfettered and open to everyone confronted by Jesus’ boundless joy and uncompromising humor.  You can grimace, Grinch-like, at the contagious hilarity that flows from his mirthful rejoinders and playful teasing of the oh-so-respectable orthodox, or you can rare back with a soul-cleansing belly laugh at yourself and your fear-tinged propriety.  In every recorded encounter between the Galilean carpenter and the pinch-faced, perfect-attendance-badge-wielding believers of his day, “all his opponents were put to shame, but all those in the crowd rejoiced.”   Choose the Jesus way, and get busy setting hurting people free from bondage!* (Inspired by Luke 15)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “People are more than the worst thing they have ever done.”  - Sister Helen Prejean, Roman Catholic activist, author of Dead Man Walking

 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Prayer as We Gather:  We gather on this late summer morning, Lord, lovers serenading the fertile vineyard of justice you planted in the hearts of all the children of the world, every color and culture, those who call you by varied names and those who do not call upon you at all.  In the prayers, hymns and promises we offer during this holy hour, hear our pleas on behalf of all your children displaced and unloved.  Shape us as instruments of your peace, for we make our appeal in the strong name of our Galilean Lord.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Isaiah 5)

Call to Worship:

Shepherd of Israel, listen! Wake up your power and save us!

You brought a vine out of Egypt and planted its roots deep.

The mountains were covered by its shade;

The mighty cedars were covered by its branches.

So why have you now torn down its walls,

So that any wild boar from the forest can tear it up?

Please come back, God of heavenly forces!

Attend to this vine, revive us so we can call on your name.

Restore us, God of heavenly forces!

Make your face shine so we can be delivered!   (adapted from Psalm 80, The Common English Bible)

Morning Prayer: Thank you, liberating Creator, compassionate friend to immigrants and refugees across the ages, for ignoring our First-World whining.  We stand amazed at our Hebrew forebears’ courageous flight from Egyptian cruelty to the freedoms you promised as reward for their trusting your sheltering hand.  We are the undeserving beneficiaries of their rejecting the scouts’ gloomy verdict: “Compared with the residents of the promised land, we are but grasshoppers!”  In these days of narcissistic nationalist paranoia in high places, if we think of ourselves as helpless grasshoppers then grasshoppers we surely are.  Help us embrace instead apostle Paul’s challenge to throw off the extra baggage of our lives and fix our eyes on faith’s pioneer, the undaunted carpenter who dared defy Caesar and taught us to pray, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Hebrews 11)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive, Lord, our casual devotion to you, our shallow understanding of what Jesus expects of us.  Weary of the vitriolic, partisan spewing that passes for public discourse these days, we retreat too easily into a tame plea for consensus, slinking into a false hope of appeasing the fear-spawned rage of white supremacist bullies newly emboldened by emergent strains of ancient evils now strolling the corridors of power.  Grant us, we pray, a renewed will to hear what Jesus actually said:  “Do you think  I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, I came to cast fire upon the earth, dividing households from within.  How is it you don’t know how to interpret the present time?”  Have mercy on our cowardice to confront Satan in Jesus’ name, unmasking sneering demagogues for what they are.  God of justice, help us bravely interpret the times and find our voice!  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 12)

 

Assurance of Pardon: I have good news! Jesus’ demands for sacrificial loyalty, tough though they are, come with his covenant promise never to leave us or forsake us, but to be with us to the very end of the age. When he warns us that the most entrenched opposition to following him is most likely to come from within our own families, he is not being a nay-saying sourpuss. He is simply remembering how his own mother and siblings woefully misunderstood his fierce allegiance to the liberating God of their immigrant Hebrew ancestors, whose very nature was to welcome the stranger and outcast at their door. From the very first disciples to now, the church has forever tried to tame and mitigate the unsettling gospel Jesus embodied. “If you will only let God guide you, and trust in God through all your ways, whatever comes God will stand beside you, and bear your through the evil days.” Thanks be to God for such a blessed assurance! *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 12 and the 17th century poetry of Georg Neumark)

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, as we wander into the sanctuary today for another crack at worship’s mystery, we reverently invoke the spirit of Tabitha, beloved sister in the early church “whose life overflowed with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need.”  Help us emulate those qualities, not merely gawk at her for having been raised from the dead.  May our own compassionate good works  enliven those who daily move among us as people whose courage and hope have died, for we make this appeal  in the power of our resurrected Lord, Jesus of Nazareth.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts 9)

Call to Worship:

The Lord is my shepherd.  I lack nothing.

God leads me into grassy meadows and restful waters, keeping me alive;

God guides me in proper paths for the sake of God’s good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no danger because You are with me.

Your rod and staff protect me.

You set a table for me right in front of my enemies.

You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spills over!

Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,

And I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live. (Psalm 23, The Common English Bible)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, God, for Jesus’ calm assurance that “I and the Father are one.”  When the cynical world’s shallow notion of cheap grace demands proof of Jesus’ credentials, re-shaping him in its own self-serving image, we hear his comforting reminder:  “My sheep listen to my voice;  I know them, they follow me, and no one will snatch them from my hand.”  On that great promise we rest, safe and secure from all alarms.  Thank you for the loving UBC family, whose caring embrace welcomes all and turns no one away.  What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms of our Galilean Lord, who draws us in the Spirit’s tether through words he taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 10 and the poetry of Elisha Hoffman)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for always wanting to spike the football in the end-zone, faith-wise.  We relish Revelation’s imagery of great, adoring crowds in flowing robes, waving palm branches and singing alleluias as they encircle the heavenly throne.  It makes for good theater, and requires little commitment or sacrifice.  And then the writer has to go and spoil it all by adding that nasty bit:  “These people have come out of great hardship.”  It’s that hardship bit we’d like to avoid, Lord, if at all possible.  Could we maybe just keep the entertainment worship component and forgo the suffering hardship implicit in following Jesus?  Have mercy on our reluctance to truly “take up the cross and follow,” as Jesus instructed. Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Revelation 7)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take comfort, though your sins weigh heavy on your heart, and be of good courage, for as we walk through the valley in peace, Jesus himself is our witness, insisting “My Father, who has given my sheep to me, is greater than all.”  Thanks be to God for a Savior who never said it would be easy to follow him, only supremely worth it.  Ominous though evil may prove in our daily struggles, the battle has already been won on Calvary, and whatever hardships may come our way in Jesus’ name are only mopping-up skirmishes.   Rejoice, the Lord is King!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 10, the poetry of Charles Wesley and  anonymous words from a beloved traditional spiritual)

Thought for an Eastertide Sabbath:  “Being a disciple is not just about the miracles we see, it’s about seeing God in the ordinary.  God can perform wonder even in situations that appear dormant or dead.”

- Lisa D. Jenkins, senior pastor, St. Matthew’s Baptist Church of Harlem, New York City

   

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Prayer as We Gather:  In this holy hour, dear Lord, re-mind us.  Grant us a new mind, a new way of thinking, to faithfully  follow you.    Re-mind us of the darkness from which you have brought us, and where we might  otherwise have been.  Re-mind us that Jesus called us to be followers of “The Way,” not people of The Destination or The Organization or The Building or The Bank Balance.  Re-mind us how you transformed apostle Paul from a hate-filled man breathing murderous threats against the first followers of the Way into a fearless proclaimer of The Way who would one day lay down his own life for Jesus’ sake.  Transform us likewise.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts 9)

Call to Worship:

I exalt you, Lord, because you pulled me up;

You didn’t let my enemies celebrate over me.

I cried out to you for help, and you healed me,

Brought me up from the grave, brought me back to life.

Weeping may stay all night, but by morning, joy.

You changed my mourning into dancing.

Dress me up in joy, so my whole being might sing praises to you.

Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever. (from Psalm 30, The Common English Bible)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for visions sent, received and acted upon.  May we shed the blinders and restraints of timid reason in favor of soaring, Holy Spirit-prompted dreams.  Unsettle us with such disruptive imaginings as inhabited evangelist John’s musings on the island of Patmos, sounds and blinding flashes of angelic choruses, living creatures and church elders singing with abandon:  “Worthy is the slaughtered Lamb to receive power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory and blessing.”  Rid us of fear over what others may think of our new-found spiritual abandon.  May our worship of your majesty not cease at the sanctuary threshold, but propel us to reckless obedience of your commands delivered so fearlessly by the Galilean carpenter who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Revelation 5)

Prayer of Confession:  Have mercy, Lord, when we look right through you.  Crazy as it may sound that your own disciples failed to recognize you after your resurrection as you stood on the lakeshore, calling out to them as they completed a night of fishing, far too often you remain equally invisible to us in the conversations and appointments of our overly-scheduled lives.  Forgive our neglect of your pleading presence in the hurts and fears of those whose paths we cross daily, heedless of your counsel that “in as much as you have ministered (or not) to the least of these, you have done so even unto me.”  Give us another chance to see you, hear you, touch you as we extend nets of caring through the ministries of our beloved UBC community, gathering all the children of the world to your precious, bleeding side.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 21)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news!  Jesus understands our every weakness, including our perpetual blindness to his presence, and yet he continues to beckon us along the lakeshore of our lives, greeting us with a warm breakfast fire, fish on the grill and fresh bread for all who heed his call.  If we will only cast our nets of love where he leads us, we will be astounded at the bounty of rescued souls and reclaimed wanderers he will privilege us to embrace.  Thanks be to God for the high calling of fishing for persons, and for the burgeoning future of servant ministry opening before us at University Baptist Church.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 21)

Thought for an Eastertide Sabbath:   “Nothing can take away the sins of the world except the love that is revealed on the cross and vindicated in the resurrection.”  Martin L. Smith, Episcopal priest, Washington, D.C.

Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019

Prayer As We Gather:  Help us, loving Creator, amidst the cumulative distractions layered upon Easter’s original stark revelation, not to miss resurrection’s shimmering truth: “God does not show partiality to one group of people over another.” Whatever may be the disconnect between that singular claim and any folly we have embraced and misnamed faith, we urge you to bridge that chasm in this holy hour so we might be drawn nearer to your risen spirit, as vested in our Galilean Lord.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts 10)

Call to Worship: 

The sounds of deliverance songs are heard in the tents of the righteous;

The Lord’s strong hand is victorious!

I will live and declare what the Lord has done,

Disciplining me but not handing me over to death.

I thank you, God, because you answered me,

Because you were my saving help.

This is the day the Lord acted;

We will rejoice and celebrate in it! (from Psalm 118, The Common English Bible)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, bombarded as we are by pitiful pretenders vying for our attention, cluttering our hearts with a despair born of deceitful narcissism, for apostle Paul’s stubborn hope of a coming day when “every form of rule, every authority and power will be brought to an end, every enemy put under God’s feet.”  May we not postpone the celebration of that victory for some distant day in a life yet to come, but be found delirious this very moment with Easter’s startling boast:  Death is the last enemy to be brought to an end. Thank you, Lord, for coming to us, in ways never dreamed before nor equaled since, in the person of a Galilean carpenter who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 15)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive, Lord, the church’s ancient sin of de-valuing women, beginning with the male disciples’ refusal to believe the first-hand report of Jesus’ female associates who were first to discover the empty tomb.  To the latest generation, we have found it easier to accept those men’s dismissive rejection of the women’s unsettling resurrection revelation as mere ”hysteria,” the very term itself based on the word for “womb.”  Forgive our shameless forsaking of Jesus’ strong example, affirming women as he did without question or pause.  May this Easter find us releasing our sister, wives and daughters from the tombs of disdain and abuse they have too often inhabited in the church.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 24)

Assurance of Pardon:  Hear the good news: God’s love is stronger than death, as a group of women discovered when “they set out early in the morning on the first day of the week” to visit Jesus’ tomb.  Indeed, the good news of resurrection was first revealed to those very women, though they neither anticipated it nor understood its implications, because all they had intended to do was anoint Jesus’ dead body “with fragrant spices.”  But even though “they didn’t know what to make of this”  and were frightened witless by the angelic messengers’ explanation that Jesus had been raised, they faithfully reported all they had witnessed.  God’s good news still comes to us when we least expect it and are ill-prepared to respond. God’s grace is not hampered by our inability to grasp it, thanks be to God!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 24)

Thought for an Easter Sunday:  “Christ is not Jesus’ last name, but the title for his life’s purpose.  Christ is our word for what Jesus came to personally reveal and validate – which is true all the time and everywhere.”       -Richard Rohr, Franciscan friar  

 

 

Sunday, April 14, 2019: Palm Sunday

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, Holy Week’s dizzying descent from Palm Sunday’s thronging adoration to Good Friday’s crucifixion hysteria trumpets scripture’s brutal truth:  the crowd is false,  always. May this holy hour find us grappling with our own spiritual vacillation.  Grant us the obedient spirit of Jesus’ donkey-fetching disciples, and may their simple response serve as our only defense necessary for doing his bidding:  “The master needs it.”  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 19)

Call to Worship:

Give thanks to the Lord,

Whose faithful love lasts forever.

Thank you, God, for answering me,

For being my saving help.

The stone rejected by the builders is now the foundation stone!

This has happened because of the Lord;

It is astounding in our sight!

This is the day the Lord acted;

We will rejoice and celebrate in it!

You are our God, we will lift you up high! (from Psalm 118, The Common English Bible)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, even as paranoia and distrust are daily modeled at the highest levels of government, for Jesus’ calm response to the cowardly military and religious leaders afraid to confront him in the light of day, closing in to seize him at night:  “Day after day I was with you in the temple, but you didn’t arrest me.  But this is your time, when darkness rules.”  In these days when darkness seems so much in the ascendant, grant us unwavering courage to withstand Herod’s blasphemy and a healthy awareness of our own propensity, with Simon Peter, to deny our Lord.  Comfort us, when darkness rules and heroic voices are rare, to trust you for evil’s sure defeat at God’s own hand, as promised by the victim of the state-sponsored death penalty who taught us to pray, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 22)

Prayer of Confession:  Have mercy on us, Lord, with all our vaunted academic credentials, for failing Isaiah’s clear expectation of education’s highest use in your service:  “The Lord God gave me an educated tongue to know how to respond to the weary … “   To the contrary, we are prone to see educational advancement as a feather in our own cap, an income-enhancing springboard to separate us from the vast, unwashed middle, whose lack of schooling gives us financial gain and considerable power over them in the marketplace, we assume.  Forgive our Ivory Tower elitism, the filters of wealth and privilege which blind us to the needs of the poor and mute the cries of your weary children outside the entrenched ranks of white, male power.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Isaiah 50)

Assurance of Pardon:  Hear the good news!  Apostle Paul’s portrait of our suffering Messiah provides all the example required for how to receive God’s blessing.  Self-emptying, obedient servant-hood was on display for all the world to see when Jesus submitted to grisly torture and death on a cross.  Far from the notion of Jesus as a stand-in, atoning substitute for us, by which an angry God’s fatherly wrath was somehow assuaged, the truer picture is of God, in human form, taking on the sinful burden of our rebellious willfulness, showing how inexhaustible is God’s love for us.  The more we learn to empty ourselves on behalf of all God’s hurting children, the more we resist the false boundaries of religion and entitlement, the more we adopt the attitude that Jesus modeled, the greater will be our joy in this life and the fuller our awareness that the Kingdom of God is truly right here among us!  Thanks be to God for the privilege of a cross-shaped servant ministry, and the nurturing fellowship of our beloved community at UBC!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Philippians 2)

Thought for a Palm Sunday: “If you learn to use adversity right, it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way.”   -Tony Bennett, UVA men’s basketball coach (UVA, 2019 NCAA men’s basketball champions, was a #1 seed in the 2018 tournament, but lost in the opening round to the #16 seed, the first such loss in NCAA history.)

 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Prayer as We Gather:  Shrouded by worship’s mysteries, God of creation, we embrace the whimsy of Hebrew prophetic wisdom, urging fidelity to ancestral traditions even as it cautions “Don’t remember the prior things, don’t ponder ancient history.”  So which is it, Lord, remember or forget?  Grant us the breadth of spirit to entertain equal and opposing ideas, while still continuing to function in our deeply conflicted world.  Guard us from an uncritical faith, the blind allegiance to compromised truth that deafens us to your timeless summons:  “Look!  I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?”  You formed us for yourself, mischievous maker, now help us know what to keep and what to throw away, as we await your next new thing.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Isaiah 43 and the musings of F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Call to Worship:

When God changed our circumstances for the better,

It was like we had been dreaming.

Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter;

Our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.

Yes, the Lord has done great things for us, and we are overjoyed.

Lord, change our circumstances for the better,

Like dry streams in the desert waste!

Let those who plant with tears reap the harvest with joyful shouts.

Let those who go out crying

Come home with joyful shouts!  (from Psalm 126, The Common English Bible)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for tax time’s truest gift to us:  an enforced reckoning with our financial assets and liabilities.  May we be at least as accountable to you as we are to Caesar, recalling apostle Paul’s resolve to “consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Jesus my Lord.”  Grant us clarity to admit, with Paul, that knowing the power of Jesus’ resurrection requires “participation in his suffering,” a caveat we would just as soon by-pass.  Strip from us any pretense of personal perfection, for surely it is you who grab hold of us, not the other way around.  Replace our urge toward multi-tasking with a yearning for what Paul termed “this one thing, forgetting about things behind me and reaching out for things ahead of me,” as we pursue the prize of your upward call in Jesus, who taught us to pray, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Philippians 3)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive, O Lord, our penchant for gleefully damning Judas Iscariot (as portrayed by the anti-Semitic author of the fourth gospel), when he protested Mary’s lavish, sensuous anointing of Jesus’ feet in costly perfume, wiping them dry with her hair:  “Why wasn’t this perfume, worth a year’s wages, sold to benefit the poor?”  Refusing to grant Judas even the possibility of sincere motivation, we retreat to a one-dimensional caricature of the man Jesus trusted to hold the coin purse of the disciples, in the same way we casually slander and dismiss other people’s motives in our own day.  May we practice the restraint of Jesus, who refrained from assigning blame to Judas, replying simply “Leave her alone. This perfume is for my burial.”  Have mercy on our willingness to condemn others and vindicate ourselves.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 12)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for indeed “there’s mercy with the Lord,” as echoed in the sturdy old hymn’s promise,  “and He will surely give you rest by trusting in His word.” Just as Jesus showed grace toward Judas’ ambivalent plea on behalf of the poor, so also he saw in Mary’s stark caress a profound blessing of his looming sacrificial death on a cross.  Far from being dismissive of poverty’s perennial scourge, Jesus makes this a teachable moment of reminder that the disciple’s time to experience his ephemeral presence was indeed fleeting.  Thanks be to God for every moment we have with our risen Lord, every sweet expression of his boundless love for us!  May we savor the profound peace that comes with trusting him.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 12 and the poetry of John H. Stockton)

Thought for a Lenten Sabbath:  “In the church, we look for responsible budgets that make the best possible use of every cent.  However, Christian stewardship must be founded not primarily on pragmatic efficiency but on an overwhelming love that leads to what others may consider mere waste.”   -  Justo L. Gonzalez, professor emeritus, Candler School of Theology