Sunday, April 22, 2018

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

Call to Worship:

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

You have given me lush meadows and quiet pools.

Even when the way goes through Death Valley,

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

Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women's Sunday, April 15, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  We give thanks on this Women’s Sunday, Lord, for special women in our lives.  “Some have changed - some forever, not for better -  some have gone and some remain.”  All these women have their places in crucial moments of our lives that have gone before, some are dead and some are living, some have shown us the face of Jesus, some have loved us through darkness and pain, some have helped us change our hearts and lives.  In our life, we’ve cherished them all for their particular incarnation of God’s grace.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts 3 and the poetry of Paul McCartney)

Call to Worship:

When I call, give me answers, God. 

Take my side!

Now I’m in trouble again:

Grace me!  Hear me!

Look who got picked by God!

God listens the split second I call.

Complain if you must, but don’t lash out.

Build your case before God and wait for God’s verdict.

Why is everyone hungry for more?

I have God’s more-than-enough, more joy in one ordinary day.

At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,

For you, God, have put my life back together. (Psalm 4, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, help us not to worry about what is yet to be.  Instead, free us to marvel at the kind of love you have given us, a love that calls us your children!  May we not be discouraged when the world doesn’t recognize us, because the world didn’t recognize Jesus our Lord, either.  We take comfort in scripture’s reminder that “it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be,” though all around us chaotic voices demand we embrace their frenetic schedules and their dark vision of what lies ahead.  Grant us the unfettered courage of a child, resolved to “make sure no one deceives you,” for we pray as our Galilean Lord taught us, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 John 3)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for being just as afraid in the face of unfolding terror as were your first disciples in the wake of your crucifixion.  If you suddenly stood among us this morning, we too would likely think we were “seeing a ghost.”  We shrink from your invitation to “touch me and see,” for fear we would then have no choice but to follow you and make disciples in your name.  We much prefer to gather in your name every Sunday as members of the Jesus admiration society, with no real intention of drawing others into the beloved community of believers we claim means so much to us.  Have mercy, we pray.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 24)   

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news!  Jesus has spelled out for us the point of his suffering, death and rising from the dead on the third day: “A change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins to all nations.  You are witnesses of all these things.”  May our changed hearts, ennobled lives and willingness to “forgive others even as you have been forgiven” combine to show a broken world what newness of life looks like in person.  Thanks be to God for the privilege of being called as witnesses on Jesus’ behalf!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 24)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “Real courage is when you know you’ve licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”      - Harper Lee, American writer 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Prayer As We Gather: Honestly, Lord, Luke’s description of the early church sounds too good to be true, ”a community of believers one in heart and mind, holding everything in common, no one saying this is mine.” He’s either remembering a time that never was, or recounting the one brief, shining moment when church folk behaved themselves as they should. As we stumble in, one week this side of an empty tomb, resurrection’s miracle seems co-opted by a lunatic fringe who have stormed the world’s stage and demanded our allegiance. May our witness to Jesus be as grace-laden as the first apostles, our fellowship so generous there would be “no needy persons among them.” Amen.*                                                                                         - inspired by Acts 4

Call to Worship:

How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along!

It’s like costly anointing oil flowing down the collar of priestly robes.

It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon,

Flowing down the slopes of Zion.

Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing,

That’s where God ordains eternal life. (Psalm 133, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Sometimes, Lord, we can’t help but be envious of Jesus’ first followers, the fortunate few who could “announce what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what our hands touched.”  How very different our lives as believers would be, we muse, how courageous and fearless our discipleship, if only we could have touched him, felt his breath upon our faces, walked and talked and laughed with him along the lakeshore.  And yet we take comfort in the promise Jesus spoke to them and still speaks to us, as fully present with us today as with those who knew him face to face: “God is light and there is no darkness in God at all.  If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong.”  Right now, we claim this promise through our Galilean Advocate who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 John 1)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for being so easily silenced.  Because we fear criticism so much, because the angry voice of bullies seems resurgent at every level of our culture, because it’s suddenly all right to be mean-spirited and divisive in the public square, because so many seem so willing to resort to the coarsest of language incited by the shortest of fuses, we have allowed ourselves the first steps on a steep and slippery slope.  Aggressive ignorance is not new to the political realm, as when Rome’s paranoid puppets yielded to jealous religious leaders intent on Jesus’ death, nor is fear a new emotion, as when Jesus’ disciples huddled in terror behind closed doors just hours after his crucifixion. Have mercy on their willingness to be scared witless, and our reluctance to believe your love is stronger than death.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 20) 

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, all who are weary of being weary, exhausted by fear-mongers who would be king.  Granted, the disciples hid, but Jesus found them, came and stood among them, heedless of sturdy walls and locked entries.  Huddled behind our collective duplicities, cringing beneath the weight of our life’s thousand tiny lies, we’re still hiding.  And Jesus is still seeking us out, enfleshing God’s pursuing love, gently relentless on the  trail of our tears like some hound of heaven whose tireless saving impulse we keep trying to elude.  But we can never elude God’s love, cannot in spite of our most desperate fleeing ever reach a place beyond God’s great compassionate forgiveness.  Thanks be to God for searching until we are found, caressing us with the same greeting Jesus delivered to his quivering, deserter disciples:  “Peace be with you.”  (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 20 and the haunting imagery of British poet Francis Thompson)

Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  On this “great gettin’-up morning”, God of dangerous wonder, help us navigate Easter’s spiritual mine field.  Years of church tinkering have reduced resurrection to a quasi-magic carnival, shrinking the broad power of Jesus’ miraculous life to fit the narrow parameters of  one unknowable, mysterious moment. Help us reclaim apostle Paul’s truth that “God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another;  whoever worships God and does what is right is acceptable to God.”  In this worship hour made holy by the sturdy pilgrims gathered here and God’s hovering angels drawing near, may we faithfully proclaim the message of peace Jesus embodied, as we continue his work of “doing good and healing everyone oppressed by the devil.”*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts. 10:34-43 and the poetry of James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones.)

Call to Worship:

Thank God, because God’s love never quits.

God’s my strength, my song, my salvation.

God tested me, pushed me hard,

But God didn’t turn me over to Death.

Swing wide the righteous gates!

I’ll walk right through and thank God!

God has bathed us in light.

O my God, I lift high your praise.*(Psalm 118, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that we don’t have to squinch our eyes, tap our heels together three times and try very hard to believe every impossible creedal tidbit imposed upon us across the ages, in order to be saved.  We rejoice that faith is not some one-time propositional transaction on which our eternal deliverance hinges, but a fluid, organic process in which we are being saved, as apostle Paul insisted.  Like him, “we are what we are by God’s grace, and God’s grace has not been for nothing,” as we confess anew whenever we recall the One who died, was buried, and rose on the third day, teaching us along the way how to talk to you, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 15)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for fearing the spiritual darkness all around us, when in fact darkness should remind us that followers of Jesus are meant to be the light of the world.  Just as Mary Magdalene came to Jesus’ burial site very early in the morning bearing spices to anoint his dead body “while it was still dark,” we so often move about our daily routines as though we still hadn’t heard that what Mary found was an empty tomb signaling the miracle of resurrection. Like Mary, we allow today’s cultural chaos to render us tearfully immobile, as though the anti-Christ powers-that-be “have taken away our Lord, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.”  Have mercy on our distracted souls, wandering about as though Jesus had never lived.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 20)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, terror-struck though you may rightfully feel in a nation where it is easier to buy an automatic weapon than a pack of cigarettes.  Jesus is still waiting and watching just over our shoulder, patiently biding his time until we turn to see him, even if like Mary we mistake him for the gardener.  Indeed, he is just that, a constant gardener of our soul’s soil, pruning away the dead growth choking our spirits, watering our parched and weary hearts, tenderly nurturing our fearful selves with life-giving hope.  Just as with distracted Mary, Jesus will call us by name if we’ll give him a chance, bidding us come and follow him and promising he will never leave us or forsake us.  Thanks be to God for walking and talking with us, telling us we are his own … forever.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 20)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  We all love a parade, Lord, but sometimes we forget why we’re marching.  On this Palm Sunday, draw us in the Spirit’s tether to the tasks you have to fulfill for our time, as when Jesus sent two disciples to fetch the donkey that would carry him to Jerusalem and crucifixion:  “Go, untie, bring.”  Simple enough.  But that simple obedience set in motion Holy Week’s ineffable misery and mystery.  On this Palm Sunday, we join the parade of Jesus’ followers wise or simple who through their own toils, conflicts, and sufferings have learned who he is.  We want to learn, too.  Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 11 and the writings of Albert Schweitzer)

Call to Worship:    

Give thanks to God, because God is good.

God’s love never quits.

Thank you, God, for responding to me;

You’ve truly become my deliverance!

The stone the masons discarded as flawed is now the capstone!

This is God’s work:  We rub our eyes, we can hardly believe it!

This is the very day God acted –

Let’s celebrate and be festive! (Psalm 118, The Message)

 

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for allowing us the same advantages of education you granted prophet Isaiah, for the same purpose, “ to respond to the weary with a word that will awaken them.”  May we see ourselves as attorneys well prepared to argue your case before a cynical world. Open our ears to your summons, so we don’t cut and run or hide our face from the insults sure to come when we are found faithful to our crucified Lord.  Grant us tender hearts to defend the voiceless poor and a stony courage that speaks truth to power.  When we stand together, “who could condemn us or bring judgment against us?”  Thanks be to God for bidding us take up the cross and follow the Galilean carpenter who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Isaiah 50)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for completely abandoning Jesus’ servant attitude, so poignantly sketched by apostle Paul: “He emptied himself by taking the form of a slave, becoming like human beings.” Tortured on the Roman state’s favorite mode of capital punishment du jour, his broken form draped in lurid humiliation for all the leering world to see, Jesus endured the cross.  We, on the other hand, with our addiction to accumulation and our preoccupation with image, are far too full of ourselves to consider even briefly any disciplined self-emptying.  Have mercy on our Facebook profile-obsessed psyches, we pray.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Phillipians 2)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, distracted accolade seekers:  There is no statute of limitations on spiritual attitude adjustment.  This very day, this priceless moment, you may “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.”  The attitude-adoption process is as wide open as Jesus’ loving arms, waiting for you to accept his embrace and emulate his life.  God knows our hearts, sees our every weakness, our desperate hunger to be recognized, yet God still stands ready and eager to honor our turning toward the way of the cross.  After all, as Paul faithfully notes, it was in response to Jesus’ obedience that “God highly honored him  and gave him a name above all names.”  Thanks be to God, our Creator still honors obedience, as you will see if only you’re willing to give it a try.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Philippians 2)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Calm us, Lord, as we assemble ourselves in this sacred place this holy hour.  Soothe our fretful hearts and distracted spirits with remembrance of the covenant pledge you whispered to prophet Jeremiah: “I will put my instructions within you and engrave them on your hearts, I will be your God and you will be my people, I will forgive your wrongdoing and never again remember your sins.”  What blessed assurances, sufficient to still our anxious thoughts as we offer ourselves to you in worship once more.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Jeremiah 31) 

Call to Worship:

Generous in love - God, give grace!

Huge in mercy – wipe out my bad record.

I know how bad I’ve been;

My sins are staring me down.

You’ve seen it all, the full extent of my evil.

Whatever you decide about me is fair.

What you’re after is truth from the inside out.

Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.

Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,

Set these once-broken bones to dancing.

Bring me back from gray exile,

Put a fresh wind in my sails! (Psalm 51, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Just when we stop opening doors, Lord, finally knowing the One that we wanted was you, we’re tripped up by the stumbling-block of prayer, puzzled by why you sometimes seem not to be listening.  Thank you for the reassuring reminder in Hebrews, the early church’s letter/prayer/essay reminding us how Jesus himself offered prayers “… with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices.”  When we despair of your hearing us, grant us a glimpse back to Jesus, who “was heard because of his devotion, the obedience he learned from what he suffered.”  Perhaps if we were more willing to risk suffering on behalf of our faith, we’d be more confident you were hearing our prayers, as you surely heard the tearful cries from our crucified Savior who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Hebrews 5 and the poetry of Stephen Soundheim)  

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, when we lamely insist our own compromised courage as disciples would somehow have been so much greater if we had been contemporaries of Jesus, present with him in those awful final days of testing and trial on his way to the cross.  We, who can’t even seem to agree on what is factual news and what is fake, would likely have responded no more nobly than the crowds pressing in on Jesus when you spoke to him from heaven, reassuring him of your presence:  “Was that the sound of angel voices or merely the rumble of thunder?  Hmmm … Hard to say.”  Have mercy on our petty theological musings and our limited sense of the Holy, replacing them with a memory of Jesus’ disquieting claim:  “The time has come!  Whoever serves me must follow me.”  May it be so.  Amen. *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 12)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have very good news:  Unlike us, Jesus could always tell the difference between meteorology and mission. He’s not the least bit confounded by the current crop of thundering clown despots bumbling  their deceitful, incompetent way across the world’s stage, nor is he for one moment puzzled over the true identity of the prince of darkness pulling their marionette strings:  “Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out.  When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.”   Thanks be to God for the seismic unmasking accomplished on the cross, when evil was forever dethroned and God’s suffering children eternally befriended by a crucified Advocate.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 12)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Prayer as We Gather

Lord, as we bravely assemble ourselves during Lent’s unfolding journey to give this thing called worship one more try, help us discern between mystery and magic. Like the wandering children of Israel under Moses’ weary watch-care, our fear-driven impatience often results in bratty behavior. In an instant-gratification culture where critical complaint serves as our instinctual default, deliver us from the magical thinking of a voodoo-level faith replete with false gods far more bizarre than Moses’ bronze snake-on-a-stick. May this holy hour echo your entreaty to “look up and live,” as the cross looms before us on our lonesome way toward resurrection. Amen.           - inspired by Numbers 21

Call to Worship                                                                                                              

Oh, thank God! God is so good!

God’s love never runs out. 

All of you set free by God, tell the world!

Tell how God freed you from oppression,

Rounded you up from all over the place,

From the four winds, from the seven seas.

Some of you were feeling the effects of your sin;

So miserable you thought you’d be better off dead.

Then you called out to God;

God got you out in the nick of time.

God spoke the word that healed you,

Pulled you back from the brink of death.

So thank God for God’s marvelous love;

Tell the world what God has done: Sing it out!        - Psalm 107, The Message

Morning Prayer                                                                                                                           Thank you, Lord, for allowing us to eavesdrop on apostle Paul’s heart-felt letters to Jesus’ earliest followers, as cogently relevant today as when first penned, honest outpourings in which we see ourselves. We too have “followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power, a spirit of disobedience to God’s will.” Eerily pre-figuring the 1960s “If it feels good, do it” mantra, the apostle cites destructive behaviors grounded in “whatever felt good, whatever you thought you wanted,” but then ushers us full-circle into the wonders of your compassion, insisting “God is rich in mercy, bringing us to life while we were dead because of those things we did wrong, delivering us by grace, not because of something we possessed, something we did that we can be proud of.” Indeed, we are “God’s accomplishment, created to do good things” in the name of the One who taught us to pray, saying …*                                         -  inspired by Ephesians 2
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those       
who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: 
for Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Forgive us, Lord, for mindlessly chirping John 3:16, so selfishly concerned with heavenly afterlife we have ignored the likelier translation of “eternal life” as a quality of life that is eternal, beginning right here, right now on this earth. We’ve made it sound as though eternal life begins only when we stop breathing, even though Jesus insisted “the kingdom of God is among you!” Worse still, so focused are we on passing heaven’s entrance exam we conveniently overlook evangelist John’s bedrock insistence that “God so loved the world,” the whole messy, mixed up world with all its competing cultures, faiths, languages, that God came among us “so that the world might be saved.” Have mercy on our relentless misuse of Jesus to divide rather than unite, to shame rather than understand, to condemn rather than accept, when John’s gospel couldn’t be any clearer: “God didn’t send Jesus into the world to judge the world.” Have mercy on us when we presume to do what Jesus did not do.*  - inspired by John 3

Assurance of Pardon
Take heart, all who have fretted over creeds, confessions and  religious doctirne’s neurotic precision. God’s plan for creation is infinitely simpler and more compassionate than the tyranny of humorless orthodoxy mandated by church power structures across the centuries. The fourth gospel cuts right through our most stingy attempts to narrow the scope of God’s grace, rejecting a God that is too small in favor of  evangelist John’s clear directive: “Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.” What more can be said? Thanks be to God for coming to us in the gentle strength of a Galilean carpenter whose arms, even in his agony on a cross, were stretched wide to embrace the whole, hurting world.*                                                                                      - inspired by John 3
 

 

 

 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  In this holy hour, God of our Hebrew forebears, shroud us as you once enshrouded Moses in mist and mystery on Sinai.  Rehearse in our inmost being your ancient directives to remember and honor parents and sacred days, even as you also reprove in us our hard-wired penchant for idolatry in all its seductive vestiges, from weapons of violence to coveting what is not ours.  Lift the clouds of doubt and fear as we dare invoke your unspeakable Presence.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Exodus 20)

Call to Worship:

God’s glory is on tour in the skies,

God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.

Madame Day holds classes every morning,

Professor Night lectures each evening.

Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded,

But their silence fills the earth: Unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.

The revelation of God pulls our lives together.

The life-maps of God are right, showing the way to joy.

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!

Keep me from thinking I can take over your work;

Then I can start this day scrubbed clean of the grim of sin.

These words in my mouth are what I chew on and pray.

Accept them when I place them on the morning altar,

O God, my Altar-Rock.*(Psalm 19, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  God, in our competitive collegiate bubble, where compulsive GPA pursuits and BMI obsession lure us toward unhealthy peer comparison and an inordinate fear of appearing foolish to those around us, we pause this morning to take a deep breath.  Thank you for apostle Paul’s counsel that, sure enough, the message of the cross is absolute foolishness to those blinded by their own resumes and shamed by their body types.  How delightful, then, his assurance that your willing presence on that instrument of state-sponsored murder forever proclaims your unyielding, unconditional love for all your children, no matter their gender, skin color, immigration status, religious creed or lack thereof.  As we consider the cross on this Lenten Sabbath, may we replace our tired old query of “Where was God?” with a more apt and grateful “There was God!” embodied in the young Galilean carpenter who taught us to pray …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 1)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for draining the color from Jesus’ cheeks.  Have mercy on our relentless two thousand year attempt to deny his human-ness in favor of our self-serving obsession with his divinity.  Deliver us from the pale,  melancholy visage we have superimposed upon this robust young carpenter from Nazareth.  Replace it with a more authentic memory, a deliverer so passionate he made a whip from ropes and chased the bankers from temple grounds, his shouts crashing around their retreating shoulders:  “Get out!  Don’t make my Father’s house  place of business.”  For every incremental betrayal of his vision for how we followers should fashion our lives, for every subtle selfishness by which we have morphed the church into a quasi-religious business, we do now most heartily repent.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 2)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news on this cross-shadowed Lenten Sabbath.  The misguided morphing of Jesus’ early followers into an admiration cult we call “church,” found so lacking by a hurting world in need of something far more transcendent, is neither what Jesus had in mind nor what we are futilely condemned to endure without redress.  Worn-out traditions and empty religious gestures can be challenged, indeed must be swept aside if we are to reclaim the miracle-working spirit of beloved community Jesus established on this earth.  Such audacity, however, comes at a cost.  “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up,”  he declared, thereby effectively signing his own death warrant among the rabid religionists of his day.  Thanks be to God that we, too, can overthrow lifeless religiosity, if we’re willing to be as bitterly misunderstood as Jesus.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 2)

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)