Sunday, February 25, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Keep it simple, Lord, like your covenant memo to Abraham:  “I am God.  Walk with me and be trustworthy.”  We church folk are practiced artful dodgers where the Gospel is concerned, feigning confusion at your intent for our lives when, in fact, scripture spells it out with unhesitating bluntness.  In this holy hour, dissolve all our clever excuses for neither walking with you nor living trustworthy lives.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Genesis 17)

Call to Worship:

Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers;

Give glory, sons; adore God, daughters.

God has never let you down, never looked the other way,

Never wandered off, stayed right there, listening.

From the four corners of the earth, people are coming to their senses,

Running back, falling on their faces before God.

God has taken charge; from now on God has the last word.

The power-mongers, the poor and powerless,

Those who never got it together,

Everyone will be worshiping God!

Babies not yet conceived will hear the good news:

God does what God says!*(Selected from Psalm 22, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Now I think I know, Lord, what you tried to say to us at Calvary; how you suffered for your sanity, how you tried to set us free.  We would not listen, we did not know how.  Perhaps we’ll listen now, as we recall how patriarch Abraham, when all hope was gone, had faith in your promise that he would become father of many nations, even though “his own body was as good as dead.”  May we, like Abraham, not hesitate but grow strong in faith and give you the glory, even when all hope seems gone, for we pray as Jesus taught us, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Romans 4 and the poetry of Don McLean)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for pretending we’re not quite sure what you’re asking of us, only to recoil in horror when you spell it out for us.  We’d rather sing about heaven than labor in your earthly vineyard right here, right now.  When the shadow of the cross looms before us, we want to scold you like Simon Peter did, correcting you for even suggesting we might ever need to deny ourselves for your sake.  It would serve us right to hear you say “You’re not thinking my thoughts, you’re thinking your own thoughts.”  Have mercy, we pray.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 8)  

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, and hear the good news:  We have Jesus’ word that if only we’re willing to lose ourselves in living as he directed, we’ll end up saving ourselves from the confused darkness all about us.  We are not powerless, even if our elected leaders lack the moral courage to confront violence and greed.  We are a free church in a free state, at least for now, and we hold the power to cast aside elected officials  paralyzed by a truncated vision’s withered conscience, and replace them with leaders undaunted by Caesar’s bullying.  Thanks be to God for the faithful remnant stirring to life and reclaiming its voice in the public square!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 8)

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  During this holy hour, Lord, re-clothe us in our rightful minds.  We have trampled the covenant you first made with Noah “and with every living being: birds, large animals, all the animals of the earth.”  We’re so busy poisoning the wildlife inhabiting our streams, air, oceans and soil with toxins spewed by the petroleum and pharmaceutical industries, we are no longer struck with wonder by the divine promise a rainbow represents.  We’re not apt to keep a covenant we don’t even remember.  Speak to our hearts, Lord.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Genesis 9)

Call to Worship: 

My head is held high, God;

No hangdog skulking for me.

I’ve thrown in my lot with you;

You won’t embarrass me, will you?

Show me how you work, God;

Lead me down the path of truth.

Mark the milestones of your mercy and love;

Forget that I sowed wild oats.

God is fair and just;

God sends the misdirected in the right direction.

God’s hand leads the rejects step-by-step.

Follow the Covenant signs. (from Psalm 25, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for this first Sunday in Lent, when we recall Jesus’ baptism and your Spirit darting, diving, swooping all about him, making him fully alive and open to your bidding. When our timid spirits shrink before the world’s cold rebuke, breathe that same life-giving Spirit into our hopeful hearts.  Fill us with Jesus’ own urgency to seek out and deliver those who labor under heavy, often self-imposed burdens.  In your cross-shaped suffering, taking human form, your deathless love for us blazes forth.  May our baptism covenant with you burn no less fiercely, for we pray in the name of the Galilean writhing on that cross, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Peter 3)

Prayer of Confession:  Lord, forgive our failure to grasp, in the drama of Jesus’ baptism, that there really is something transcendent happening here, even if what it is isn’t exactly clear. We’re so distracted by the spectacle of a ventriloquist dove serving as heavenly courier, we miss your commendation of Jesus:  “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”  If you, the Creator of the universe, find happiness in Jesus, surely we his flawed followers should be over the moon, deliriously happy to receive the limitless love he offers.  Have mercy when our bearing reflects more grim endurance than unbounded joy.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 1 and the poetry of Stephen Stills)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for even amidst the horror of his cousin Baptizer John’s arrest and murder, Jesus never stumbled in announcing God’s stunning revelation:  “Now is the time!  Here comes God’s kingdom!  Change your hearts and lives and trust the good news!”   God still interrupts our programmed, discouraged daily lives to bring us that special news bulletin, if only we are willing to summon the courage to change our hearts and lives and simply trust what we’ve already heard from Jesus’ own lips.  Thanks be to God!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 1)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:   O God of powerful mystery, blast through our ordered worship calculations the way your fiery chariot swept prophet Elijah up to heaven in a windstorm.  Nothing less is likely to get our attention.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 2 Kings 2)

Call to Worship:

God welcomes the sun in the east,

Farewells the disappearing sun in the west.

God blazes into view, makes an entrance,

Not shy in coming, preceded by starbursts of fireworks.

God summons heaven and earth as a jury,

Taking God’s people to court:

“Round up my saints who swore their loyalty to me.”

The cosmos attests that God is judge, God’s court is fair. (Psalm 50, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, when we as people of faith seem to be speaking a different language than the world about us, for so it was with the earliest followers of Jesus.  Help us embody apostle Paul’s description of the church:  “God’s slaves for Jesus’ sake, a light that should shine out of the darkness.”  May your light shine in our hearts, piercing the veil Caesar is so desperate to place around the gospel, for we make our appeal through him whose death on a cross tore that veil in half, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 2 Corinthians 4)

Prayer of Confession:  Lord, forgive our “Simon Peter Moments,” when we stammer in the presence of your dangerous wonder as Simon did when Jesus was transfigured, clothed in amazing brightness in front of his disciples.  We’ve always found it easier to build shrines in Jesus’ honor than become living shrines of obedience to his commands.  Instead of fretting over “What Would Jesus Do?”, help us ask “What Did Jesus Do?” and then just do it.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 9)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news.  It turns out God did leave us an instruction book on faith, after all.  Actually, it’s more like an instruction sentence, when God spoke from the cloud after Jesus’ transfiguration:  “This is my Son, whom I dearly love:  Listen to him!”  Thanks be to God for keeping it simple.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 9)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, apparently we didn’t get the memo you sent out at the beginning of time, announcing “God makes human dignitaries useless, drying them up with a single breath, to be carried off by the wind like straw.”  Goodness!  Here we are, fretting over the latest unhinged ramblings of our current clown-tyrants, and there you are not sweating it at all, unwearied, your understanding “beyond human reach, giving power to the tired and reviving the exhausted.”   In this holy hour, rekindle our hope in you.  Renew our strength.  Inspire us to rise up on wings like eagles, soaring above the madding crowd, circling like a falcon ever closer to you, our divine Center who holds the universe in place.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Isaiah 40)

Call to Worship:

It’s a good thing to sing praise to our God!

God’s the one who rebuilds and re-gathers the faithful,

God heals the heartbroken and bandages their wounds.

We’ll never comprehend what God knows and does,

How God puts the fallen on their feet again

And pushes the wicked into the ditch.

Sing to God a hymn of thanks, play music on your instruments!

God is not impressed with horsepower or human power.

Those who honor God get God’s attention;

They can depend on God’s steady love.*(Psalm 147, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, help us retrieve the lost discipline of being “much obliged.”  Grant us apostle Paul’s compulsion to “spread the gospel because I’m obligated to do it, and I’m in trouble if I don’t,” instead of the misguided sense of entitlement that sees church as a private club, with paid hirelings posing as ministers purring to the membership “What can we do to meet your needs?”  If we have made no effort this week to draw others into this beloved fellowship, make us miserable in our padded pews.   Spark in us Paul’s notion of partnership with you in “recruiting the weak , becoming all things to all people” so that by every means available we might reach our splintered world with the healing embrace of him who taught us to pray, saying…*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 9)

Prayer of Confession:  Have mercy, Lord, on our uninspired desertion of Jesus’ curative directives, as when “he healed many who were sick and he threw out many demons, but he didn’t let the demons speak.”  In our timid rush to pretend all opinions are of equal merit, we too often allow our personal demons to have the last word, instead of silencing them in the powerful name of Jesus.  We seem also to have lost our sense of decency and outrage in the public square, condoning filthy language and disgusting behavior by those in elected positions from which we formerly demanded higher ethical standards. Re-clothe us in our rightful minds before it is too late, Lord.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 1)

Assurance of Pardon:   Take heart, all who find the evening news too nauseating to listen.  Jesus consistently modeled a spiritual discipline you too can practice, as when he “rose early in the morning and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.”  Unencumbered by the need for public approval, his response when the disciples found him and announced “Everyone’s looking for you!” was to insist “Let’s head in the other direction, to the needy.  That’s why I’ve come.”  Turn off your screens, unplug your ear buds, carve out a few minutes in a quiet place to read and pray.  Don’t have enough time for that?  Then you probably don’t have enough time for Jesus.  Thanks be to God for patiently waiting in line, always beckoning us to come to our senses.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 1)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, we enter your tent of meeting this day grateful for men whose actions reflect respect for the women and girls in their lives.  May our worship of you consistently mirror ancient Biblical principles of mercy-tinged justice, and may this congregation continue to produce fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands worthy of the trust you invest in them.  Hold us accountable when we ignore the prophetic words of those you send among us to speak your truth.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Deuteronomy 18)

Call to Worship: 

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

God’s works are worth a lifetime of study, endless enjoyment!

God’s generosity never gives out.

This God of grace and love remembers to keep the ancient promise.

God manufactures truth and justice,

Never out-of-date, never obsolete, rust-proof.

God is so personal and holy, worthy of our respect.

The life of faith is grounded in respectful awe toward God. (Psalm 111, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for continuing to raise up from among your children prophetic voices like Moses and Hannah.  Grant each of us discernment to recognize your truth and courage to live it, wisdom to expose deceit in high places.  As with the ancient Biblical prophets, hold us accountable when we do not listen to your voice or arrogantly speak a word in your name which you haven’t commanded, for we make our appeal in the name of him who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Deuteronomy 18)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive our forgetting, Lord, that “knowledge makes people arrogant, but love builds people up.”  Our self-concept is more often grounded in what we know, what degrees we’ve earned, what facts we can marshal, than in our capacity for loving others just as they are.  Our masks of pride betray our deep insecurity, right down to the way we worship and the folks we deny our compassion. Have mercy on our pretending to know more than we do. Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 8)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news:  Our Galilean Lord, who bids us deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him, amazed onlookers by his teaching, “for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts” with their vaunted knowledge.  If you are willing to be his disciple, you too can amaze people by the sheer mystery of God’s grace.  All around you, people are hurting, longing for hope.  They do not need one more self-appointed expert, they need the Lord.  If you know the Lord, why not share him?  If you don’t know him, this very day you can decide to follow him.  Rejoice!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 1)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Prayer as We Gather: Lord, jostle us the way you jostled Jonah when you sent him to the people of Ninevah:  “Get up and go …!”  with a word of hope and demand for turning to new life.  Like Jonah, our dirty little secret may well be that we don’t really want others to hear a word from you through us, for fear they may actually turn and follow your way, and then where would we be: Nobody to demonize, no nations to despise, no one upon whom we could look down.  Stir us up, Lord, this very hour, to do your all-encompassing bidding.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Jonah 3)

Call to Worship:

God, the one and only,

I’ll wait as long as God says.

Everything I need comes from God, so why not?

God is the solid rock under my feet,

God is breathing room for my soul.

So trust God completely, people.

Lay your lives on the line for God,

For God is a safe place to be.

Strength comes straight from God.

God pays a fair wage for a good day’s work!*(Psalm 62, The Message)

Morning Prayer: Thank you, God, for Jesus’ constant modeling of urgency without desperation.  Grant us his courage in the face of Caesar’s wrath, as when baptizer John was imprisoned by the state and Jesus responded, not with panic, but with resolve:  “Now is the time!  Here comes God’s kingdom!  Change your hearts and lives, and trust the good news!”  Surely we are surrounded these days by just such opportunities to stand firm against the powers that be, not cowering but audacious in our vigilance.  Just as Jesus responded to John’s arrest by calling Simon and Andrew from their fishing nets and bidding them “Come, follow me!”, so may we seize these moments of national turmoil to be about your Kingdom’s work.  Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the facing of this hour, for we appeal to you through the fearless Galilean who bids us pray …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 1:14-20)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive our feeble sight, Lord, at the very hour you so need your children to be people of vision heedless of the consequences.  Our tiny attention span lurches from one shallow national spectacle to the next, from delusional tweets to Super Bowl speculations to international Olympic intrigues.  Help us pay attention to apostle Paul’s no-nonsense insistence:  “The time has drawn short.”  Our worship too often mimics a bunch of children, sitting on the floor playing with a batch of dynamite to kill a Sunday morning.  Shake us from our casual sauntering into the worship hour, as though nothing depended upon what happens when we gather in your name.  Lash us to our pews, out of respect for what might actually happen when we call your Holy Name.  Have mercy on our blindness to your earth-shattering presence, and give us one more chance to worship you in spirit and in truth.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 7 and the wisdom of writer Annie Dillard)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news, though it may seem like bad news on first hearing.  Meddlesome apostle Paul was right”  “This world in its present form is passing away.”  Instead of hearing that as an end-times, doomsday cry, may God ennoble our hearing to embrace the inferred promise:  The God who created heaven and earth is in no way threatened or dismayed by the rulers of this world.  For just such a time as this was the church birthed, in the midst of Empire’s folly and Emperor’s childish instability.  God is in no wise worried about any petty earthly tyrant, but is intent we should all be seeking first the Kingdom and its ways, confident that everything important to our spiritual lives will be added as needed.  Thanks be to God for the privilege of service in this very moment of history!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 7)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, an authentic word from you seems as elusive these days as when young Samuel wrestled with your personal summons, back when “visions weren’t widely known.”  But one vision is all it takes, Lord, like your hint to Samuel: “I am about to do something that will make the ears of all who hear it tingle.”   We huddle here this morning hungry with hope wise old Eli was right: “God will do as God pleases.”  We await word of your ear-tingling next move.  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!

Investigate my life, O God,

Cross-examine and test me,

See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong,

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

Morning Prayer:  Protect us from ourselves, Lord, awash in personal freedoms so easily morphed into destructive habits. May we echo apostle Paul, rejoicing in our freedoms but determined we “won’t be controlled by anything,” including an unhealthy devotion to communications technology’s addictive lure toward perpetual connectivity.  Forbid the abdication of our bodies, intended as temples of your Holy Spirit, for any uses less than worthy of your approval, for we appeal to you through him whose body was broken on our behalf and who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 6)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, God, our creative avoidance of Jesus’ command to make disciples in his name.  We have more excuses for not inviting others into the orb of your compassionate grace than there are days in the week.  We willfully break the chain set in motion by Jesus himself, the sharing of your love’s good news with another, who then shares it with another, on down the line, as when he found Philip and said “Follow me.”  Philip, joyful at being called, found Nathaniel with news of Messiah’s arrival, only to be greeted with a skepticism all too familiar in our cynical world:  “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”   But Nathaniel relented, confessing Jesus as Lord, as would many of our acquaintances if only we had courage to find them on your behalf.  Have mercy on our spiritual laziness.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 1)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for you too are capable of earning Jesus’ warm appraisal of Nathaniel as a person “genuine, in whom there is no deceit.”  Resist the negative voice within, the relentless whine of the prince of darkness, desperate in every instance to inspire within us the chronic complaint “Can anything good come from this person or that situation?”  To which God ceaselessly answers:  “Yes.  Oh, yes.  Keep searching. Keep finding. Never give up on all the lonely people, all the discouraged faces you meet every day.  Love them, as I have loved you.”  Thanks be to God for the new thing God is about to do in you!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 1)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, we’re just going to have to trust you on this “arise and shine” thing prophet Isaiah chirped, your light and glory in the face of globe-encircling darkness and gloom.  In these frigid early days of this new year, we crave what  he envisioned:  a dawning spirit-light, a warm beacon of hope to open our trembling hearts wide toward fresh possibilities.  Guide us, Lord.  Amaze us.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Isaiah 60)

 

Call to Worship:

Give the gift of wise rule to those in power, O God,

So they may rule rightly, being honorable to the your meek and lowly.

Please stand up for the poor, come down hard on cruel tyrants.

Outlast the sun, outlive the moon, be rainfall on cut grass.

Let peace abound until the moon fades to nothing.

God rescues the poor, the destitute who have run out of luck.

God’s heart is open to the down-and-out, the wretched of the earth.

God frees them from tyranny and torture:

When they bleed, God bleeds.

When they die, God dies. *(Psalm 72, The Message)

 

Morning Prayer:  May we never again sing of your amazing grace, Lord, until we first acknowledge with apostle Paul the responsibility to distribute that grace.  On this first Sabbath of the Epiphany season, we peer into the year ahead for courageous opportunities to show earthly rulers “the many different varieties of God’s wisdom through the church.”  Surprise us in this new year with how wise the beloved community of UBC truly can become, as we continue on mission in your Kingdom.  Thank you for calling us together in precisely these numbers with precisely these spiritual gifts of distribution for precisely such a time as this, for we pray as Jesus taught us …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Ephesians 3)

 

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for being little Herod look-alikes, more troubled than delighted at the birth of a Jewish messiah who threatens our carefully crafted plans for influence and control.  Have mercy on our desperate reliance upon contemporary vestiges of chief priests, legal experts and magi whom we summon for guidance and advantage, from tawdry health-and-wealth evangelists to  justice-shirking Congressional leaders to tax attorneys and accountants counseling us in Kingdom-avoidance strategies that deny Jesus’ teachings, in favor of lining our own pockets at the expense of the voiceless poor. Convict us of our self-delusions, we pray.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 2)

 

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news on this Epiphany Sunday, for the ancient Hebrew prophet’s promise to the nondescript village of Bethlehem holds true for UBC today:  “You are by no means least among God’s children, because from you will come one who will shepherd my people.”  Who knows what persons among us in worship this very hour God may have chosen for special Kingdom service, shepherding hurting, wandering children toward the comforting shelter of God’s love ?  Perhaps you, perhaps me, perhaps all of us. Thanks be to God for the possibilities present in this very room, at this very moment!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 2)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Prayer as We Gather

Lord, as this fourth Sunday of Advent beckons us toward celebrating a birth that forever altered human history’s trajectory, we long to re-kindle a Jesus-based identity both strong (durable, motivating) and kind (accepting, loving). May Jesus’ perfect love propel us beyond the American Christmas Machine’s obsession with accumulating more, and into faith’s saner discipline of simply desiring less. Draw us to a lowly manger, where gentle Mary’s child proves nothing is impossible for God. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.*               - inspired by Luke 1 and the wit of G.K. Chesterton

Call to Worship                                           Mary’s Song                                         

I’m bursting with God-news;

Dancing the song of my Savior God.

God’s mercy flows in wave after wave,

Scattering the bluffing braggarts,

Knocking tyrants off their high horse,

Pulling victims out of the mud.

The starving poor sat down to a banquet;

The callous rich were left out in the cold.

God embraced God’s children;

Remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.*     - Luke 1, The Message 

Morning Prayer                                                                                                               

Thank you, Lord, for announcing through Jesus the secret kept quiet for so long, the good news that you love us and you bid us love our neighbor. Thank you for the beloved community that is University Baptist Church, a family of caring pilgrims where the transformative Gospel is lived, where the broken are welcomed and the discouraged restored to union with you. May we never be ashamed of Jesus or confuse impartiality with indifference, which is just another word for ignorance. Guard us from reducing Jesus’ birth to a cheesy fairy tale. As we peer with wonder into the manger, keep always in our hearts the question: “What child is this?” 

                                   - inspired by Romans 16, with a nod to Richard Rohr and G.K. Chesterton

Prayer of Confession                                                                                                 

Forgive us, Lord, our false modesty and gratuitous benevolence, as when King David, smugly settled into his palace after his latest military conquest, offered up his smarmy offer to build you a shiny new temple. When we surround ourselves with people who demand too little of us, send us friends who love us enough to tell us the truth, as when prophet Nathan faithfully conveyed your abrupt rebuke: “I don’t need no stinkin’ temple, and even if I did you’re not the one to build it. I took you from the pasture, shepherd-boy, and made you a leader. Remember who you are!” On this final Sunday in Advent, as we recall a peasant mother, a bewildered father, a child - deemed illegitimate by religious snobs – birthed in a cow stall and destined to attract the powerless riff-raff to his healing touch, may we remember who we are: wandering children, desperate to know your redeeming love, privileged to share that love with the whole hurting world. Amen.*                       - inspired by 2 Samuel  7 and Luke 1

Assurance of Pardon      

I have good news, actually the best news ever: We are a visited people, serenaded by our Creator with astounding, life-interrupting tidings: “Unto you a child is born, a mighty counselor, a prince of peace, upon whose shoulders true governance rests! I love you so much, I am coming to you in human form, urging you to seek first my reign and its way of living on this earth, assuring you that all the things you truly need will be provided, giving you rest from all your enemies. Trust me, and do not succumb to worry. I am with you forever.” Thanks be to God for telling us everything we need to know about who (and whose) we really are.*

    - inspired by 2 Samuel  7 and Luke 1

 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Prayer as We Gather:  Here we are, Lord, reporting for duty on this Advent Sabbath, your spirit heavy upon us, unsettling and urgent as your summons of prophet Isaiah.  Replace our vague disquietude with a primal memory of being  anointed, sent by you to bring good news to the poor and bind up the brokenhearted.  Make of us willing foot-soldiers, comforting those who mourn, restoring and renewing ruined lives.  Because you love justice and hate dishonesty, we pledge to do likewise.  Touch our hearts in this holy hour.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Isaiah 61)

 

Call to Worship:

It seemed like a dream, too good to be true,

When God returned Zion’s exiles.

We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune.

We were the talk of the nations:

“God was wonderful to them!”

Indeed, God was wonderful to us.

And now, God, do it again:

Bring rains to our drought-stricken lives,

So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing,

With armloads of blessing.*(Psalm 126, The Message)

 

Morning Prayer:  Lord, most days our Christian witness to this fractured, distracted world seems so negligible we are apt to echo baptizer John:  “I am a voice crying out in the wilderness.”  We despair of anyone hearing or caring about whatever “good news” we claim to possess.   Then we remember:  It’s not about us.  It’s about  the same guy self-effacing John referenced when badgered by religious bigots:  “Someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize …”   He still stands among us, not acknowledged by the powers that be, which makes our task all the more urgent.  Give us gumption enough to keep making straight the path to One who saves us by his life and inspires us by his death, teaching us along the way how to talk to you, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 1)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for ignoring what is surely among the earliest disciples’ most crucial warnings: “Don’t suppress the Spirit.  Don’t break off Spirit-inspired messages.”  But we do it all the time, dismissing Holy Spirit’s whispered directives as merely whimsical musings or ill founded after-thoughts not worthy of a closer look, a fuller review, a further consideration.  How often have we broken off a heavenly message from you, our minds so cluttered with trivia there is no room left for intimate, Spirit-breathed conversation?  Have mercy when we shut you out, then complain that “there is no word from the Lord!” Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Thessalonians 5)

Assurance of Pardon:  Hear the good news!   Spirited, life-changing intimacy with our Creator is not only still possible, but entirely attainable.  Heed the time-tested counsel of early Christians, urging us to “examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.”  You’ll be surprised what events God uses, what people God chooses to show us the way.   It’s not magic, not even particularly mystical, but it does require this one pesky pre-condition:  “Avoid every kind of evil.”  Perfection is not required, just personal responsibility.  You can do this.  God will help.  Thanks be to God that the communication lines remain open!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Thessalonians 5 and the lyrics of Richard Avery and Donald Marsh)