Sunday, August 19, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  God of wisdom and compassion, breathe your fresh winds of joy within us this holy hour, as we enter a new school year of study, friendships and opportunities to transcend old boundaries.  Fill us with your Spirit as we dance to the music you have planted in our souls.  Help us sing your songs of hope and courage, always giving thanks for everything in the name of our dearest friend, Jesus of Nazareth.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Ephesians 5)

Call to Worship:

I give thanks to God with everything I’ve got!

God’s works are worth a lifetime of study,

God’s generosity never gives out.

This God of grace and love keeps the ancient promise,

Establishing truth and justice,

Never out of date, never obsolete,

So personal and holy, worthy of our respect:

The good life begins in reverence for God!  (Psalm 111, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Lord of the Dance, plant within us your audacious Spirit of poetic whimsy, so we might soar beyond the cramped confines of a too literal, hide-bound faith.  Free us to run stride for stride with Jesus, who dared see himself as living bread and fear-calming wine.  As you sent Jesus into a restrictive world of rigid religion and state-sponsored cruelty, so now also send us into our polarized culture where fear spawns fierce tribal mistrust and forced separation of immigrant children from their sanctuary-seeking parents.  Thank you for a Savior who insisted “Let the little children come to me, for they embody God’s Kingdom!”  We pray as he taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 6)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, our perpetual excuse-making.  We keep dodging your covenant instructions to our Hebrew forebears, promising them life-blessings if they would walk in your ways and obey your commands.  Like King Solomon, we have all protested at some point “But I’m young and inexperienced.  I know next to nothing.”  Too often, we’d rather whine over our insufficiencies and wallow in false modesty than accept your call for laborers in your vineyards, fields bursting with needing, hurting people desperate for some good news and hope in their lives.  We confess the comfortable heresy of our Sunday worship habits, slipping into the pew expecting the church to meet our needs without ever giving thought to bringing someone along with us, some new friend or long-time work associate, who so profoundly needs what our loving Lord offers freely.  Have mercy, we pray.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Kings 2)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for our compassionate God is still pleased to answer our pleas for forgiveness and the restoration of discernment in our distracted daily lives.  God sees each of us as unique children, worthy of compassion and pardon.  Trust God’s profound, unconditional love that treasures every child as a miraculous creation, and receive God’s reassuring whisper as Solomon heard it:  “There has never been one like you before now, nor will there be anyone like you afterward.”  Thanks be to God for such fathomless grace!* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Kings 2)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “Like Michelangelo, calling forth a figure out of stone, the Spirit of Christ is trying to bring us to life, trying to free us from our own individual blocks of marble that imprison us.”  -Ken Kovacs

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Thought for a Sabbath Day:   “In the light of Jesus Christ, it makes sense not to be always striving, trying to have everything, governed by the laws of prestige and competition, the cult of abundance.  ‘Poverty in spirit’ means contented unpretentiousness and confident unconcernedness as a basic attitude.”       -  Hans Kung, Swiss theologian and author

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, we feel hobbled this holy hour, straining under all the burdens we’ve placed on our own shoulders, like young David struggling under King Saul’s coat of armor, bronze helmet and sword imposed upon him by the crazy despot.  We stagger under bigotry ingrained within us from our birth, prejudices imbibed with our mother’s milk, the unwitting products of a cultural captivity so pervasive as to be indiscernible.  Grant us the shepherd boy’s audacity to refuse such unsolicited weight, declaring “I can’t walk in this!”  Help us shed the deadening load of nationalism, militarism, racism and greed, as our hearts yield to your perfect will for us through Jesus our Lord.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Samuel 17)

Call to Worship:

God’s a safe-house for the battered, a sanctuary during bad times.

Sing your songs to God, tell God’s stories to everyone you meet.

Be kind to me, God; I’ve been kicked around long enough.

They’re trapped, those godless countries, in the very snares they set,

Their feet all tangled in the net they spread.

The cunning machinery made by the wicked has maimed their own hands.

The wicked bought a one-way ticket to hell.

No longer will the poor be nameless, no more humiliation for the humble.

Up, God! Aren’t you fed up with the empty strutting?

Expose those grand pretensions!  Show them how silly they look.  (Psalm 9, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Help us, Lord, not to be put off by apostle Paul’s abrasive self-confidence, hard-earned through the perils he endured in Jesus’ name.  Disabuse us of any lingering false modesty where faith is concerned, replacing it with honest self-reporting of hardships encountered in following Jesus’ example.  Give us strength to survive, as did Paul, “imprisonments, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger,” bearing it all with “knowledge, patience, generosity and genuine love, telling the truth in spite of verbal abuse, being seen as both fake and real, having nothing but owning everything.”  May we take personally Paul’s entreaty to “open your hearts wide, too,” as we bear before a watchful world the imprint of the undaunted Galilean carpenter who taught us to pray, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 2 Corinthians 6)

Prayer of Confession:  Have mercy on us, Lord, for strutting our Christian faith around in shallow pantomime, only to dissolve in cringing fear when the storms of life are raging.  How very like Jesus’ first disciples we must appear, demanding of him in sheer panic when rough seas rocked their little boat: “Don’t you care that we’re drowning?” Forgive our proclivity for over-reacting when threatened by enemies perceived and real, and give us gumption to obey his stern rejoinder, that most difficult of all demands in these days of gushing, self-promoting social media profiles:  “Silence! Be still!” Grant us grace to shut up and listen, mindful that “Jesus knew for certain that only drowning people can see him,” after all.   Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 4 and the poetry of Leonard Cohen)

Assurance of Pardon:  Stop thrashing about, grab hold of Jesus, and hear the good news:  Nobody cares more about you than your risen Lord, who can with a word still the winds and calm the waves.  Our problems  stem largely from unwillingness to acknowledge and correct the destructive behaviors that landed us in peril in the first place.  Rescue is certain, for Jesus loves us no matter our brokenness, but survival hinges on our willingness to hear Jesus’ abiding question:  “Why are you frightened?  Don’t you have faith yet?”  Answer him.  Thanks be to God for Jesus’ enduring compassion, extended to all of us drenched and shivering wretches, once lost overboard but now found!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 4 and the poetry of reformed English slave trader John Newton)


Father's Day, Sunday, June 17, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, banish from our hearts any festering resentment over recent state and national political choices, recalling your blunt rebuff of Samuel as he lamented King Saul’s disastrous reign:  “How long are you going to grieve?  Fill your horn with oil and get going!”  Just as we cannot choose our earthly fathers, so too are we powerless to assure people’s wise choice of earthly leadership.  For every loving father and every virtuous leader, we give you thanks this day.  Upon every faithless father and imbecile tyrant, we urge your swift justice.  For all your discouraged children, we pray your comfort.  In this holy hour, fill us with anointing oil and send us back into the fray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Samuel 15)

Call to Worship:

I pray God answers you on the day you crash,

Putting you out of harm’s reach.

Exclaim over your offerings, celebrate your sacrifices;

Give what your heart desires, accomplish your plans.

Help is coming, an answer is on the way,

Everything’s going to work out.

Let other people polish their chariots and groom their horses;

We’re making garlands for God, our God.

Their chariots will rust, those horses will pull up lame.

But we’ll be on our feet, standing tall.* (Psalm 20, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, we all yearn for that peaceful, easy feeling that comes from following you.  We complain when Satan leads us to do things we shouldn’t, but Satan can’t take us anywhere we don’t already know how to go.  Help us never to shrink from speaking truth to power, but to recognize such encounters as opportunities to make you proud of us, unlike those who take pride in superficial appearances rather than what is in the heart.  We’re content for the world to call us crazy, if it’s for God’s sake and Jesus’ love controls us.  From now on, we want to recognize people not by human standards but through the eyes of Jesus, as part of the new creation in which old things have gone away and new things have arrived, just as Jesus urged us when he taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 2 Corinthians 5 and the poetry of Glen Frey)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for contorting your Kingdom into a reflection of our tortured, linear rationalism, more reflective of the renaissance than the resurrection.  Have mercy on our incapacity for mystery as embraced by Jesus in his image of seed scattered on the ground, then sprouting and growing without the farmer understanding how the miracle unfolds.  We, of short attention spans and pervasive hunger for instant gratification, admire the mustard seed’s phenomenal growth but lack the patience to tolerate the slow blossoming of our own spirit under the watchful eye of Jesus, our constant gardener.  Slow us down, Lord, and grant us the joyful deliberateness of patient discipleship which results in our tree of faith producing large, sheltering branches in which fragile souls, like the birds of the sky, are able to nest in its shade. Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 4)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news:  Even Jesus, the supreme storyteller, the weaver of our soul’s narrative, was limited by his disciple’s dull literalness, making it necessary for him to speak to them in parables, “to give them the word as much as they were able to hear.”   If Jesus was willing to take extra time with those first disciples, often having to explain his teachings all over again when he was alone with them after speaking to the crowds, he will surely be patient with those of us following along centuries later.  Thanks be to God for coming to us in such a compassionate, tender, unhurried Savior.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 4)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “One way for us fathers to measure ourselves is to note the frequency with which we are viewing what’s on our smart-phones when we’re with the kids.  Another measure is how we treat our children’s mother and other women?”   - Harvard Business Review, April 2015

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, as we assemble in this room made holy by numberless pilgrims before us, our attention shifts from things that can be seen but don’t last to things that can’t be seen but last forever.  If the earthly tent we inhabit is torn down, we have a building from you, a house not made by  hands but eternal in the heavens.  Remind us that “the house we live in will never fall down if we pity the stranger that stands at our door.”  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 2 Corinthians 4 and the poetry of Gordon Lightfoot)

Call to Worship:

Lord, everything in me sings “Thank you!”

I kneel in worship and thank you for your love and faithfulness.

Most holy is your name, most holy is your Word.

The moment I called out to you, you stepped in;

You made my life large with strength.

No matter the distance, you know everything about me.

Finish what you started in me, God.

Your love is eternal, don’t give up on me now. (Psalm 138, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  We should have seen this coming, Lord.  If we had spent less time addicted to social media, less time making an idol of sports, and more time heeding your promises in scripture, we would have known how kings operate, “taking your sons for his cavalry, your daughters in human trafficking, your grain and vineyards for his officials … and you will become his slaves!”  You couldn’t have said it more plainly:  “When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you chose for yourselves; but on that day the Lord won’t answer you.”  Like the children of Israel, we insisted “No! There must be a king over us like all the other nations, to judge us and fight our battles.”  We would not listen, we did not know how.  Perhaps we’ll listen now, to the lonesome Galilean who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Samuel 8 and the poetry of Don McLean)

Prayer of Confession:  Have mercy on us, Lord, for thinking that following Jesus would be like a walk in the park.  Why did we not notice that the first people to misunderstand and insult Jesus were members of his own family, who tried to take control of him, saying “He’s out of his mind!”  Why did we think mainline religions of our day would praise us for walking in Jesus’ footsteps, when the religious leaders of his day charged “He’s possessed by Satan!”  Why are we Americans so shocked to see all around us the grim fulfillment in our culture of Jesus’ warning:  “A house divided against itself will collapse.”  Have mercy on our spiritual blindness, we pray.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 3 and the morning headlines)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for God apparently has not only patience but also a great sense of humor where we are concerned.  Jesus gave us all the warning we need of the impending perils unleashed by Satan when evil triumphs because good people do nothing to stop it.   Thanks be to God for coming to us in a Messiah willing to challenge even the unwritten rules of neurotic family control systems, demanding “Who is my mother?  Who are my brothers?”  Can a tyrant pardon himself?  What would Jesus say?* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 3 and the wisdom of British statesman Edmund Burke)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “Psychologists joke that early marriage is a battleground in which two families send their best warriors to determine which family’s culture will direct the couple’s lives.” –David Brooks, New York Times columnist

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, be patient with us as we dare attempt once more the audacious prospect of holy worship.  Like the boy Samuel who kept confusing your divine call with mere midnight sleep-talk ramblings of old man Eli, we are often too quick to dismiss your urgent summons toward servant ministry opportunities as just a passing thought, a whimsical musing.  Hold us closer, magnificent Creator, as we submit to your bidding this disquieting hour.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Samuel 3)

Call to Worship: 

God, I’m an open book to you;

Even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.

You know everything I’m going to say

Before I start the first sentence.

You formed me in my mother’s womb.

Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

You know me inside and out,

You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit.

The days of my life all prepared

Before I’d even lived one day.

Cross-examine and test me, Lord,

Then guide me on the road to eternal life. (Psalm 139, selected verses, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that following you is not like studying for final exams, where all the pressure is squarely on our shoulders.  How renewing to recall we’re supposed to proclaim not ourselves, but Jesus.  How freeing to remember we are only earthen vessels, entrusted by you with the great treasure of your good news, not dependent upon our own strength but imbued with your unspeakable power.  Troubles can’t crush us, depression doesn’t mean we’ve been abandoned, being knocked down isn’t the same as being knocked out, because on this side of the empty tomb we carry Jesus around within us.  Our bodies may be slowly dying, but you keep beaming life without end into our eternal souls, just as promised by the Savior who taught us how to talk to you, saying … (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 2 Corinthians 4)

Prayer of Confession:  Lord, we’re not getting any younger.  The pain and the hunger keep driving us on, reluctant to let you love us the way Jesus tried to love us.  Meanwhile, a skeptical world looks on with a jaundiced eye, convinced we are a bunch of rules-driven Sabbath keepers, though Jesus made it clear Sabbath was created for humans to savor, not intended as a dreaded day of rigid laws to be piled high on our weary shoulders as we continue running against the wind, afraid to trust you for our safe-keeping.  Forgive our foolish ways, we pray.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 2 and the poetry of Pete Seeger, the Beatles and Eagles)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for I have life-giving news:  The same Jesus who dared healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath is moving among us this very moment, urging our rebellion against dull, boring worship long on guilt and short on redeeming love.  The same crucified Jesus thought by his small-minded tormentors to have been silenced by a state-sanctioned  death penalty is as alive and present as when he walked through wheat fields on the Sabbath, breaking rules and munching grain as he went.  Thanks be to God for Jesus’ audacious irreverence and his refusal to let the tiny political and religious minds of his day get him down!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 2)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “Write your blessed name, O Lord, upon my heart, there to remain so indelibly engraved that no prosperity, no adversity shall ever move me from your love.”         - Thomas a Kempis, medieval German priest

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, when the cynical world sees us celebrating Pentecost, they may say we’re dreamers … but we’re not the only ones. May we, like the early disciples, be dazed and confused by the constant audacity of Holy Spirit’s dance among us, breaking down walls with an unfettered joy that spills over into the weariness of the everyday.  Help us dance our faith like there’s nobody watching and love the unlovely without fear of rejection. Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts 2 and the poetry of John Lennon)

Call to Worship:

What a wildly wonderful world, God!

You made it all, with Wisdom at your side.

All the creatures look expectantly to you,

To give them their meals on time.

The glory of God, let it last forever!

Let God enjoy God’s creation!

Oh, let me sing to God all my life long,

Sing hymns to my God as long as I live!  (Psalm 104, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that our life is more than merely an extended dress rehearsal for death.  Though we do wonder about life beyond this life, and often yearn for the day our bodies will be set free from illness and pain, we want to be fully present in every moment you give us, patiently hopeful for those things we cannot yet see.  When we struggle with prayer, hardly knowing what we should even say, your Spirit sweeps in to earnestly plead our case, defending us with sighs too deep for words.  Search our hearts, Lord, as did the Galilean carpenter among his befuddled disciples when he taught them to pray, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Romans 8)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for consistently missing the second coming, and the third, and the thousandth, all those daily occasions when your Spirit revisits us and we are too distracted to notice.  Forgive us our stubborn obsession with triumphalist, Hollywood-esque notions of your return, complete with smoke, trumpets and special effects.  We so cleverly ignore your stark warning of how your Spirit will “show the world it was wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment,” too dull to recognize that sober reprimand being played out in the daily foibles of our self-appointed leaders, bumbling and mumbling and stumbling their narcissistic way toward destruction, consistently wrong about everything, with all of us in mute, sheep-like complicity following merrily along.  Have mercy, we beg you.  Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 15)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news!  Jesus’ expectations of our collective wisdom are apparently mercifully low, as when he told his closest followers prior to his ascension “I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.”  No they couldn’t, and neither can we, and God loves us anyway.  It has never been up to us to completely understand or perfectly enact Jesus’ instructions, only that we be willing to follow him, willing to learn how to be fishers of hurting souls, willing to show mercy and dispense grace to all the lonely people yearning for hope.  That’s all.  Thanks be to God, that is enough!* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 15)

Thought for a Pentecost Sabbath:  “People are more than the worst thing they have ever done.”      - Sister Helen Prejean, O.S.J., anti-death penalty activist

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:   Thank you, Lord, for the contrasting images of this Mother’s Day/Graduation Sunday, when we reward measurable academic progress even as we marvel at  immeasurable maternal love. Guard us from reducing Jesus’ ascension to mere levitation magic, ignoring his stern directive to wait patiently “for what the Father had promised,” insisting it isn’t for us to know the eternal plans you have set for us.  May our worship amount to far more than “standing here, looking toward heaven,” as we invoke Holy Spirit’s power to guide our steps.  Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts 1)

Call to Worship: 

Clap your hands, people!  Shout joyfully to God!

Because God is the great king of the whole world.

God subdues nations and chooses our inheritance;

Sing praises to God!

God sits enthroned, with the leaders of all people gathered around,

Because the earth’s guardians belong to God. (Psalm 47, Common English Bible)    

Morning Prayer:  We cannot stop giving thanks to you, Lord, when in our prayers we remember mother-love.  Grant us “enough light from the eyes of our hearts” to show others the sort of hope our mothers instilled within us, the hope of your call upon our lives.  As this election year unfolds, with human greed and political intrigue ratcheting up mistrust and fear among us, help us reclaim a sturdy, resilient faith in your powerful grace, “far above every ruler and authority and power,”  allowing us to shut out the chaotic chatter of dark forces stalking Caesar’s hallways, seeking whom they may devour, for we make our appeal in the name of the Galilean who strikes fear in the heart of the deep state through words he taught us to pray, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Ephesians 1)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for squandering Jesus’ example of opening minds through his explanation of scripture, when we so often have manipulated scripture to close our own minds.  Eager to gain the religious upper hand through our selective misuse of the Biblical narrative, we rush about frantically, desperate to defend our entrenched doctrinal position and claim the theological high ground, meanwhile ignoring Jesus’ counsel to “wait until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”  Because we are not willing to wait for a word from you, Lord, we have nothing worthwhile to say when we do speak, so a hurting world finds it easy to ignore us.  Have mercy on our babbling superficiality.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 24)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, all who are more prone to panic or withdraw than pause and reflect.  If you yearn to get off the frantic busy-ness merry-go-round this world wrongly labels “self-actualization,” take comfort in Jesus’ promise:  “I’m sending to you what my Father promised, and you will bear witness when Holy Spirit comes upon you.  There is nothing more authentically Christ-like than pressing the pause button, rethinking your assumptions and reimagining what is possible.  When you do, you will realize you were always waiting for this moment to arrive.  Thanks be to God for the chance to come down from your fences, come to your senses and open the gate to genuine peace of mind.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 24, Thomas Friedman, Paul McCartney, Glen Frye, and Don Henley)

Thought for an Eastertide Sabbath:  “In each pause I hear the call.”     -  Ralph Waldo Emerson, American transcendentalist

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  God of mystery, power and compassion, may your Holy Spirit descend upon our hearts in this sacred hour.  We give you thanks this day for the commitment and influence of Paul Yoder in his years  among us in college ministry at University Baptist Church, and we pray your blessings upon him as he continues to follow your lead into further discipleship in your name.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts. 10)

Call to Worship: 

Sing to God a brand-new song.

God has made a world of wonders!

God made history with salvation and remembered to love us, a bonus.

Shout your praises to God, everybody!

Let loose and sing!

Strike up the band!

God comes to set the earth right.

Fill the air with praises to God,

With everything living on earth joining in.

God will straighten out the whole world! (Psalm 98, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, help us not get all tangled up over Trinity language, confused about the identities of Father/Son/Holy Spirit and how they interact, tripping over where one begins and the other ends.  Thank you for the early church’s  witness to the mystery of your divine essence, experienced in three reliable ways:  Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.  May we never get lost in the cosmos of ephemeral religious imagery, but remain grounded in scripture’s abiding assurance that Holy Spirit is simply Jesus’ spirit lingering among us, and that Jesus’ spirit was God in person,  all the same Presence, all the same truth.  Thanks be to God for keeping it real, most starkly in the Galilean who taught us how to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 John 5)

Prayer of Confession:  Have mercy on us, Lord, as we careen about inside our little religious circles, so proud we have chosen Jesus as our Savior, convinced we would have been a friend of his if we had lived during his time on this earth.  Comforting though that smug reverie may be, it’s likely not  true.  After all, Jesus couldn’t have said it much more bluntly:  “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  We’d like to pretend we don’t know what he had in mind, but there it is, lurking just before the bit about being his friends:  “Love one another just as I have loved you!”  As in selling all our stuff and giving the proceeds to the poor?  As in welcoming the immigrant at our door?  As in forgiving our enemies ‘til the cows come home?  As in being willing to suffer and die on behalf of the voiceless poor? Sorry, Lord, but we were hoping for a little cushier assignment.  Maybe next life.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 15)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news, all you whose best offer to Jesus so far is a very conditional love.  In the first place, as Jesus made uncomfortably clear, “You didn’t choose me, I chose you.”  In the second place, you were chosen not in some ancient Jewish version of a beauty contest, but for a particular task, “to go and produce good fruit.”  The best news?  It was Jesus who appointed you and goes before you into every opportunity for sharing his love with a hurting world.  Jesus never sends us without first spiritually equipping us for the task.  Not a bad deal, eh, to hear Jesus promise “my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete.”  Thanks be to God that Jesus is willing to call us his friends and eager to grant us a joy we’ve never known!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 15)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins, not our minds.” - Susan Sparks, comedian and pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church, NYC (on the “young earth” perspective)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Prayer of Confession             

Forgive us, Lord, for hearing only what we want to hear and disregarding the rest, as when we unfairly consider Psalm 22 only a baleful lament, a reciting of our mistreatment at the hands of others, the haunting agonized cry made forever infamous by Jesus’  plea from the cross:  “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Worse yet, our unfair and partial consideration of this ancient song wrongly informs our own prayer habits. Our default mode when we pray is our penchant for cataloguing misfortunes, nursing our wounded pride,     rehearsing the scorn heaped upon us by adversaries.  What we call prayer is often little more than holy whining, ignoring the fuller   dimensions of your divine grace that imbues even our darkest hours.  Have mercy on our misuse of these sacred words, we pray. Amen.**                                                                                        - inspired by Psalm 22 and the poetry of Paul Simon

Assurance of Pardon                                                                                                                         

Take heart, all whose prayers tend toward self-indulgent mourning. Lament is a necessary and healthy component of prayer, lacking which our entreaties to God would founder in sugary sweet irrelevance. God cannot comfort us if we cloak our brokenness and deny our grief. But lament without hope is not a true reflection of Biblically-informed prayer, and Jesus’ choice of Psalm 22 in his desperate       suffering on the cross served then and now as code words pointing to that Psalm’s ultimate shout of victory over pain, humiliation and death. Indeed, only when our frail souls feel “poured out like water,” just when “a company of evildoers encircles us like dogs,”         precisely when “trouble is near and we are scorned and despised by others,” at that very moment is God most near, not hiding but hearing when we cry, ”ruling over the nations, proclaiming deliverance to a people yet unborn.” Thanks be to God for speaking to us not in partial-Psalm sound bites, but through the full expression of the matchless Hebrew Psaltery!**                         - inspired by Psalm 22


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  We come into your house, Lord, no less accountable to a skeptical world than was Simon Peter when questioned by the cynical religious leaders of his day:  “By what power or in what name did you heal this person?”   Like Peter, our only authentic response must be inspired by your Holy Spirit, as we see all about us in the beloved community of our congregation the clear evidence of your healing reconciliation.  Thank you for the miracles unfolding in our midst, as together we continue to worship in the name of “Jesus, the stone the builders rejected, who has become the cornerstone!”  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts 4)

Call to Worship:

God, my shepherd, I don’t need a thing.

You have given me lush meadows and quiet pools.

Even when the way goes through Death Valley,

I’m not afraid when you walk at my side.

Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.

You revive my drooping head, my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.

I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.*(Psalm 23, The Message)

Morning Prayer:   Lord, on this side of Jesus’ death on a cross, remind us that the call to “lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” means more than being death-seeking martyrs.  May we be willing every day to lay down old prejudices, set aside bitter resentments over past mistreatment, relinquish our need for vengeance upon those who have disappointed or betrayed us.  Help us, in our abundance of material possessions, not to turn away when we “see a brother or sister in need,” but embrace the early disciples’ plea:  “Let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth,” for we pray in the name of the One who showed us what that would look like, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 John 3)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, God, for acting more like the hired help than disciples willing to follow Jesus no matter what.  Jesus’ unflattering description might as well have been aimed directly at us:  “When the hired hand sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away.”  That’s us, all right, lacking courage to counter the evils greeting us every day, afraid to speak truth to power, shrinking from the opportunity to call things by their right names in our families, on the job, in the classroom and amid the sad farce of national politics. Have mercy on our benumbed silence when “the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them,” lest we be at a loss for words when our risen Lord demands of us at the judgment, “Why didn’t you resist evil in high places?”  Why, indeed?  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 10)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news for all who are brave enough to actually follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  Jesus assures us “I know my own sheep and they know me,” so if we truly heed his familiar voice we will be led to safety.  If not, Jesus makes it clear “I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen, and I must lead them too;  they will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, with one shepherd.”  Even if we betray our calling to be his disciples, even if our cowardice forces Jesus to say “Depart from me, I never knew you,” at least in our banishment we can take comfort in knowing that some of the very folks we excluded from our close-minded religious circles were embraced by Jesus’ sufficient grace.  Thanks be to God for a grace that exceeds our creeds.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 10)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “Character is much easier kept than recovered.”     - Thomas Paine, English-born American political activist, philosopher and revolutionary