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

Sunday, March 31, 2019, Women's Sunday

Prayer as We Gather:  God of creation’s abundance, may this holy hour be our Gilgal moment, recounting the place you proclaimed to faith forebear Joshua “Today I have rolled away from my people the disgrace of Egypt.”   Grant us relief from the stubborn legacy of guilty disgrace over our own past bondage, as we recall how on the very day your people first celebrated with food produced in the Promised Land, free manna from heaven ceased.  Help us embrace the hard work spiritual freedom demands.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Joshua 5)

Call to Worship:

The one whose wrongdoing is forgiven is truly happy!

The one in whose spirit there is no dishonesty is truly happy!

Lord, when I kept quiet I was groaning all day long,

Because your hand was heavy upon me.

So I admitted my sin to you; I didn’t conceal my guilt.

Then you removed the guilt of my sin.

You are my secret hideout!

You protect me from trouble.

The pain of the wicked is severe,

But faithful love surrounds the one who trusts the Lord.  (from Psalm 32, The Common English Bible)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, as we embrace apostle Paul’s call to be ambassadors for Jesus, help us live into the full implications of being  ”an official messenger on some special errand, representing the highest qualities of her group.”  How sobering to realize you would risk negotiating with the world through us, drawing all people together by Jesus’ example of not counting their sins against them.  How staggering that Jesus would trust us with this ministry of reconciliation, inviting us from this point on not to recognize people by human standards.  In our daily walk, grant that others would sense in us the presence of the reconciling Galilean who taught us to pray, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 2 Corinthians 5)

Prayer of Confession:  Lord, forgive our chronic misapplying of Jesus’ trenchant short stories, none more so than the moving account of a loving father’s compassion we have clumsily reduced to a tale of “the prodigal son.”  Ignoring the heart-breaking image of God as an elderly parent eager to offer unconditional love to a wandering child, we have too often seen ourselves as the naughty-but-darling younger sibling, longing as we all secretly do for a party to be thrown on our behalf in spite of our chronic, willful mischief.  In our eagerness to cut the older child some slack for his disgust over the spoiled brat’s return, we have refused to see ourselves mirrored in his petulant jealousy, the familiar role we so easily assume in our daily lives of envy and sullen pouting over others’ good fortune.  Have mercy on our stubborn refusal to enjoy other people’s victories and forgive their failings. Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 15)  

Assurance of Pardon:  Hear the good news:  God is the same loving, patient, forgiving parent as when Jesus crafted this multi-layered parable.  Even when we throw our little jealous hissy fits over some perceived grace extended toward some perceived enemy we’d just as soon see dead, God’s rejoinder remains constant:  “Child, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad because this child was lost and is found.” Thanks be to God for grace so profound it still startles a hurting and cynical world, compassion so unbounded it would transform every community of faith on the planet if only we dared practice it. *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 15)

Thought for a Lenten Sabbath:  “Lent is a season when we seek to become like the son who has always obeyed his father.  When this happens, we must recognize ourselves as scribes and Pharisees who resent Jesus’ welcoming attitude toward those who are not as good as they are.”    - Justo Gonzalez, professor emeritus, Candler School of Theology

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Prayer as We Gather:  Thirst-quenching God, after surviving another week in our culture’s parched, angry desert of fear-stoked competition, we collapse at last into the peaceful oasis of your presence in this holy hour.  We come seeking the waters of your grace while they can still be found, calling upon you while you are yet near.  Fill our cup, Lord.  Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Isaiah 55)

Call to Worship:

God, I search for you!

My whole being thirsts for you!

I’ve seen your power and glory in the sanctuary,

So I will bless you as long as I’m alive.

My mouth speaks praise with joy on my lips,

Because you’ve been a help to me.

My whole being clings to you;

Your strong hand upholds me. (from Psalm 63, The Common English Bible)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you for apostle Paul’s timely reminder not to grumble, Lord.  May our confidence in your ultimate justice help us keep our own struggles in perspective, mindful that “no temptation has seized you that isn’t common for people,” even though they may seem crafted around our particular weaknesses and blind spots. Counter our fears with the calm assurance that you won’t allow us to be tempted beyond our abilities, but will always supply a way out so we will be able to endure every trial, for we appeal to you through the One who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 10)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive, Lord, our propensity for wanting special treatment from you, our dark need to equate other people’s suffering with their being more sinful than we.  We stand convicted by Jesus’ stern reprimand of those who delighted in other people’s misfortune:  “I tell you, unless you change your hearts and lives, you will perish just as they did!”  Dispel the hardness of heart tempting us to greater grief over the slaying of fellow Christians than the slaughter of faithful Jews and Muslims.  Have mercy on our history of hiding behind religion to perpetrate the most grievous violence in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 13)

Assurance of Pardon:  Hear the good news:  Jesus, the constant gardener of our souls, stands in perpetual advocacy on our behalf, appealing to our Creator to grant us yet another opportunity to be found faithful to our Kingdom calling as disciple-makers, invoking the familiar image of a fig tree failing to produce figs:  “Lord, give it one more chance; maybe it will produce fruit next year.”  Thanks be to God for the grace of another opportunity to draw others close to Jesus precious, bleeding side. (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 13)

Thought for a Lenten Sabbath                                      

“America is the psychological society, and the language and philosophy of need have seduced the church.”    - Bill Hull, Pastor and Author                                                                                                                   

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, open our eyes.  Replace our dull sense of the apparent with clearer sight, so we might begin to see you in those everyday people and ordinary occasions we often dismiss as mundane.  As we come to our senses and come down from our fences, help us recognize your mysterious presence in all those messy encounters the prince of darkness intends for evil but you intend for good.  Surprise us this holy hour with your mirthful grace and restore within us a humor-laced faithfulness.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Genesis 45 and the poetry of Glen Frey/Don Henley)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for setting us free from all those tired old earth-bound queries into the afterlife, musings over how the dead will be raised and what kind of bodies they’ll have. We welcome apostle Paul’s salty rejoinder to such gratuitous pondering:  “Look, fool! Our physical bodies will be raised as spiritual bodies.  We’ll look like heavenly persons, just as we’ve looked like earthly persons in this life.”  O God, you who never ask us to park our brains at the door as we gather for worship, keep us honest.  Herd us as the divine sheep-dog we so need you to be, nipping at our wandering souls when we’re spiritually distracted, prone to substitute a lazy cynicism for the obedient servant-hood modeled by the Galilean carpenter who showed us that flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 15) 

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive, Lord, our faithless duplicity born of feigned confusion over just exactly what it was Jesus was trying to tell us with his mumbling directives: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who mistreat you, show compassion, forgive, don’t judge or condemn, give to everyone who asks, treat people in the same way you want them to treat you.”  Gosh, Lord, what do you think he intended to get across to us?  If only he weren’t so vague, we’d be more than happy to obey.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 6)

Assurance of Pardon:  Hear the good news:  Jesus wasn’t mumbling. Instead he spoke so clearly his words were too painful to heed.  But if we truly listen, if we follow his bidding through to its natural conclusion, a promise of un-measurable bounty awaits us:  “If you love your enemies, do good, lend expecting nothing in return, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act,  for God is kind to ungrateful and wicked people.”   There it is:  Ungrateful though we are, God never stops being kind, never stops loving us.  Thanks be to God, we can do the same!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 6)

 Thought for a Sabbath Day: “The seeming value or dignity of an object doesn’t matter; it is the dignity  of  your relationship to the thing that matters. For a true contemplative, a gratuitously falling leaf will awaken awe and wonder just as much as a golden tabernacle in a cathedral.”

 - Richard Rohr,  Franciscan Friar                        

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Prayer as We Gather:  Help us, Lord, this very hour, to trust and rely upon you.  Prophet Jeremiah’s image of “trees planted by the streams, roots reaching down to the water” boosts our hope, propping us up on our leaning side.   Even as you discern our hidden motives and fairly deliver the consequences of our deeds, may our firmly rooted faith allow us not to fear, be stressed or fail to bear fruit for your Kingdom.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Jeremiah 17)

Call to Worship:

The truly happy person doesn’t follow wicked advice,

Doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.

Instead, they love the Lord’s instruction.

They are like a tree replanted by streams of water,

Which bears fruit at just the right time.

The wicked are like dust the wind blows away,

They will have no standing in the court of justice,

For the way of the wicked is destroyed. (from Psalm 1, The Common English Bible)

Morning Prayer:  Apostle Paul was spot-on, Lord, insisting as he did that your gospel comes across as foolishness to a world intent upon death by self-absorption.  Yet we keep hoping to make your counter-intuitive sacrificial love somehow respectable in the marketplace, where money and status are the only markers acknowledged, and where compassion is perceived as weakness.  Truly, if our highest faith priority is acceptance by the crowd, we deserve (as Paul insisted) “to be pitied more than anyone else.”  We appeal to you in the name of the troublesome Galilean carpenter who wasn’t interested in being pitied, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 15)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for being so much like the Jesus-groupies who thronged after him by the hundreds, desperate for miraculous healing and a free lunch.  We are equally affronted by his unwelcome rejoinder:  “Happy are you who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, rejected, insulted, condemned.  Leap for joy, because that’s the way prophets have always been treated.  But how terrible if you are rich or have full bellies or laugh or enjoy everyone speaking well of you.  False prophets have always acted that way.”  Have mercy on the religious booster clubs we’re created and dared to call “church.”  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 6)

Assurance of Forgiveness:  Hear the good (non-fake) news:  Jesus did heal people.  Jesus does heal people.  Jesus will continue to heal people.  He just wants us to know what real healing looks like, and how empty are the false promises of wealth, military might, and popularity.  Only trust him, and all manner of things will be well.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 6 and 14th century English mystic Mother Julian of Norwich)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “God’s passion to redress the plight of the struggling poor necessarily involves judgment on those who ruthlessly corner the earth’s resources for their own power and unjust wealth.”   - Martin L. Smith, Episcopal priest, Washington, D.C.   

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Prayer as We Gather:  What we need, what we long for in worship this holy hour, Lord, is the word you whispered to prophet Jeremiah:  “Before I created you in the womb I knew you, I set you apart.”  Set us apart, though we protest as Jeremiah did, with your firm insistence, “Where I send you, you must go.  Don’t be afraid, because I’m with you.”  That’s it, that’s what we long to receive from you.  Appoint us.  Put your words in our mouths.  Send us, Lord.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Jeremiah 1)

Call to Worship:

I’ve taken refuge in you, Lord.

Don’t let me ever be put to shame!

Bend your ear toward me, be my rock of refuge,

Where I can always escape

Rescue me from the grip of the wicked, Lord.

You are my hope, the one I’ve trusted since childhood.

I’ve depended on you from birth.

You cut the cord when I came from my mother’s womb. (from Psalm 71, the Common English Bible)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, God who shaped us in the womb and knows us by heart, for being so much more than a prop for our fragile self-esteem.  Prone as we church folk are to doing the right thing for the wrong reason, we welcome apostle Paul’s sobering shot of reality, warning that all our good deeds and vaunted wisdom are for nothing if not underlain by sacrificial love.  His jarring cost-benefit analysis offends our gratuitous benevolence:  “If I give away everything I have to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.”  Ouch!  Launch us beyond a dim selfie-hedged religiosity into the intoxicating love that supersedes even faith and hope, for we pray in the name of the only One who ever lived that sort of love from first to last, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 13)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for no more fully understanding Jesus than did the Nazareth hometown crowd when he returned and spoke in their synagogue.  Have mercy on our dizzying vacillation, pivoting as did they when the wandering Galilean homeboy applied Isaiah’s messianic prediction to himself.  We, like they, shift from being “impressed by the gracious words flowing from his lips” to being “filled with anger, rising up and running him out of town to throw him off the cliff.”  Daily we cast Jesus out, symbolically hurling him from the idolatrous heights of our nationalism, racism and consumerism.  Grant us your full pardon, Lord, we pray.  Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 4)

Assurance of Pardon:  There is good news today, even for such a lynch mob as we, so take heart.  Our risen Galilean Lord continues to move among us with the same message he delivered that day in Nazareth.  Referencing prophets Elijah and Elisha, whose ministries extended beyond Jewish bounds to embrace hurting Gentiles in Sidon and Syria, Jesus hammered home the truth that God’s lavish love includes more than a chosen few, a truth still inciting hatred and violence among white supremacists.  In the same way Jesus passed unharmed through the murderous crowd “and went on his way,” so today his message of compassionate inclusion cannot be muted by the aggressively ignorant among us. Thanks be to God for all who are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 4)

Thought for a Sabbath Day: “That which we hope for and love about home – even when it is not our present reality – keeps alive in us the promise of a day when pain, rejection and misunderstanding at the hands of those who should know us best shall be no more.”        - Cleophus LaRue, professor of preaching, Princeton Theological Seminary

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Prayer as We Gather

We have a choice, Lord, in this holy hour: To echo apostle Paul’s earnest “we are what we are by God’s grace,” or to resign ourselves to helplessly hoping, gasping at glances, heartlessly helping ourselves to our bad dreams where confusion has its costs.  Guide us toward the right option, we pray. Amen.*

- inspired by 1 Corinthians 15 and the poetry of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young

Call to Worship                                                                                                                

Lord, I give thanks to you with all my heart.

I sing your praise before all other gods.

I thank you for your loyal love,

Because on the day I cried out, you answered me.

You still see the lowly,

But you keep your distance from the arrogant.

Whenever I am in deep trouble,

You make me live again.                     - from Psalm 138, The Common English Bible

 Morning Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your mischievous cunning, your quirky sense of humor in the face of our grim literalness. When we despair, as did prophet Isaiah, over having unclean lips and living among people whose lips are equally unclean, your winged messengers swoop among us in our smoke-clogged confusion and send us out to live our faith without fear. Where we see only a burned-over stump, you see a seedling of hope. Here we are, Lord, send us as Jesus did, saying...*       - inspired by Isaiah 6 

Prayer of Confession: We, the members of the Chapel Hill chapter of the Jesus Admiration Society assembled in weekly session, pause amidst our continuing refusal to actually follow Jesus as he              commanded, to reluctantly ask your forgiveness, Lord. Like Jesus’ first disciples, who balked at his command to “row out farther – into the deep water – and drop your nets for a catch,” we’d really rather not, if it’s all the same to you.  The deep cultural waters of angry entitlement and bigotry frighten us, almost as much as the notion of risking rejection and scorn by offering to pull our hurting, skeptical neighbors and co-workers into Jesus’ net of unconditional love and acceptance. Frankly, nobody told us during our initiation we were expected to invite others into this beloved UBC fellowship we’ve come to cherish. We’d prefer to just show up - occasionally - be kept warm in winter and cool in summer, enjoy some good sounds and hear an intellectually respectable sermon. But thank you for asking anyway, Lord. Amen.*             -  inspired by Luke 5

Assurance of Pardon: Hear the good news: Those same recalcitrant disciples, having first rebuffed Jesus’ presumptuous command to multiply themselves by inviting others to walk alongside him, at least had the good sense to grudgingly relent, mumbling “because you say so, we’ll drop the nets.”  Surely Jesus smiled to himself, bemused by their childish behavior, just as he must chuckle when we drag our pouty little selves into his servant ministry. Because he understands us like he understood them, he offers us the same comforting counsel: “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you’ll be fishing for people.” If any among us here this morning have yet to experience the joy of introducing another person to Jesus’ heartbreaking acceptance, may this be the hour we do as those first unsure disciples did: “They left everything and followed   Jesus.”* - inspired by Luke 5

 Thought for a Sabbath: “Jesus paid for living in a ‘mixed’ world, which is both human and divine, simultaneously broken and utterly whole. He hung between a good thief and a bad thief, between heaven and earth, inside of both humanity and divinity, a male body with a feminine soul, utterly whole and yet utterly disfigured– holding together all the primary opposites.”  - Richard Rohr, Franciscan Friar


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Prayer as We Gather:  In this holy hour, Lord, revive within us Isaiah’s faithful refusal to ”keep silent or sit still until righteousness shine out like a light.”  Infuse us with your spirit, so we might refuse to be shushed by bureaucratic ignorance or intimidated by hateful speech in high places.  May UBC continue to be a safe haven for free-thinking followers of Jesus, a harbor where the unmarked paths of religious liberty are better than a known way, a voice in the wilderness speaking truth to the sinister powers threatening academic freedom in our university community, so we may earn the prophet’s assurance that “the Lord delights in you, your God will rejoice because of you.”  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson/UNC Class of ‘72, inspired by Isaiah 62)

Call to Worship:

Your loyal love, Lord, extends to the skies.

Your justice is like the deepest sea.

Your faithful love is priceless, God!

Humanity finds refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Within you is the spring of life.

In your light, we see light. (from Psalm 36)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, God, for your boundless patience and sense of humor, as when you worked your miraculous mischief through Jesus at a humble peasant wedding in Cana, silencing his hovering mother’s intrusive counsel and salvaging a young couple’s honor by allowing the wine to continue flowing.  This candid snapshot of Jesus’ stubborn compassion for the poor reminds us that his earliest critics were members of his own family, a bitter truth still lived out among us when we dare put Jesus first in our lives, often at the price of offending entrenched family prejudices and inflaming smoldering family secrets. Grant us the gracious audacity of our Galilean Lord, who never mistook tradition for truth, and who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 2)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for ignoring apostle Paul’s jarring claim that your Holy Spirit chooses, one person at a time, what spiritual gifts each of us will receive.  No wonder so many of us have a vague, persistent sense of being unsettled, ill at ease.  We have avoided being still and quiet long enough to listen for your gentle voice of guidance amidst the clamor of our lives.  We have fled from what would truly bring our hearts joy, blinded by the bright lights of the marketplace, with its false gods of endless competition and its empty markers of status and success.  Even worse, we have misappropriated your intent that spiritual gifts be used for the common good, co-opting them instead as vehicles of ego-boosting self-promotion.  Have mercy on us  for kidnapping these good gifts for our own purposes.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 12)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart  and smile, for Cana’s wedding offers us more good news than reprimand.  Mother Mary, chastened by her charismatic son’s rebuff, rallies to reply as ought we all to Jesus’ commands:  “Do whatever he tells you.”  Her repentant obedience is matched by the headwaiter’s pungent aside to the groom:  “You kept the good wine until the last,” an unwitting metaphor for how we all should each day save our most tender mercies and deepest affection for the life partners with whom God has blessed us, not squandering our best selves and kindest smiles throughout the day upon people who will never understand us like those who know us best and love us in spite of ourselves.  Thanks be to God for that very small number of people we can trust to put up with us no matter what!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 2)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “Nothing worth doing can be accomplished in a single lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope.”     -  Reinhold Neibuhr, American Protestant theologian