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

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.