Sunday, October 21, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, help us never take ourselves too seriously, especially when we assemble for worship.  Keep us tethered to the healthy humor of your response to Job’s questions, reminding us of our limits, our inability to even “give understanding to a rooster.”   In our prayers, songs and promises this holy hour, may we crow less and obey you more.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Job 38)

Call to Worship:

God, my God, how great you are!

Robed in sunshine, all heaven stretched out for your tent.

You set earth on a firm foundation,

So nothing can shake it, ever.

Mountains pushed up, valleys spread out

In the places you assigned them.

What a wildly wonderful world, God!

You made it all, with Wisdom at your side. (excerpted from Psalm 104, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, perhaps nothing so bluntly distinguishes Jesus’ life from ours as the simple disclaimer in Hebrews:  “Christ did not promote himself.”  Surely we are ill-prepared, we of the voyeuristic, selfie-snapping crowd ever eager to experience the next big thing and broadcast widely our involvement in it, to grasp such a concept or follow such an apparently boring example as his.  From our first breath, we are goaded toward embracing our own American exceptionalism, whether on the playing field, in the classroom or around the family dinner table.  Yet how starkly does Jesus set himself athwart such misguided “look-at-me”-ism.  We thank you, therefore, that when we congregate as the beloved community called church, we are freed from any bleak need to offer showy sacrifices to impress others, but are held to the higher standard Jesus himself embraced, confident of your hearing him because of his devotion, a faithful obedience refined through personal suffering.  Incline our hearts toward such obedient suffering, for we pray as Jesus taught us, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Hebrews 5)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for living lives that mimic the opening line of a tired old joke:  “Did you hear the one about the Republican and the Democrat who both wanted God to do whatever they asked?”  Yet here we are, in the run-up to the latest in a series of elections clouded by clamorous voices on all sides, warning that electing their adversaries will surely mean the end of life on earth as we know it.  Maybe Jesus’ honest rejoinder to our political zealotry is the same as his response to those disciple brothers who demanded he allow them to be seated on his right and left in the Kingdom:  “You don’t know what you’re asking!”  If it is true that we elect the leaders we deserve, surely we must be humbled enough by now to finally abandon our need to exercise authority over others, an obsession Jesus stoutly ridiculed:  “That’s not the way it will be with you.  Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant, whoever wants to be first will be the slave of all.  I came to give my life to liberate many people.”  Have mercy on our attempts to morph Jesus into a cheesy, popular icon.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 10)

Assurance of Pardon:  Hear the good news, as relayed by one coming late to the faith: “It’s not that the gospel has been tried and found wanting, but that the gospel has been found difficult and left untried.”  It is not impossible to follow Jesus, just not a task for the faint of heart or the easily discouraged.  Serving others through the ministries of our beloved community at UBC, becoming the willing slave of people who have never known compassion or tenderness, most assuredly leads to an eternal form of greatness, an abiding sense of being first in ways unknown by the madding crowd of competitors jostling for attention and praise in the marketplace.  Thanks be to God for the first-rate privilege of being last but not least!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 10 and the droll wit of G.K. Chesterton)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “Sharing is the path between the fear of deprivation and the shame of undeserved privilege.”   -  Peter W. Marty, publisher of The Christian Century

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Rescuing God, Job’s plea speaks for us as we gather for worship this morning:  “Oh, that I could know how to find God, I would lay out my case and understand what God would say to me.”  We come seeking an audience with you, Lord, surrounded as we are with clashing opinions and strident, angry voices.  But Job’s assuring rhetorical question-and-answer comfort us:  “Would God contend with me through brute force?  No, God would surely listen to me.”  Listen to your children praying, Lord.  We need you every hour.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Job 23)


Call to Worship:

God, why did you dump me miles from nowhere?

I call to God in pain:  No answer.  Nothing.

Are you indifferent, God, above it all,

Leaning back on the cushions of Israel’s praise?

We know you were there for our parents:

They cried for your help and you gave it.

Everyone pokes fun at me, they make faces at me.

I need a neighbor, Lord; I need you.*(excerpted from Psalm 22)


Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for the hope-charged voltage surging through Hebrews, the funky New Testament letter/sermon/essay.  Just when our world appears to be wobbling dangerously out of control, just when it seems the center will not hold, just when the latest vestige of some rough beast slouches toward Washington to be born in the latest hideous incarnation of chaos, the writer's strong voice pulls us back into a sheltering sanity, insisting "God's word is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword; nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight, everything is uncovered and laid bare."  May your living Word inspire Christ-centered activism behalf of the voiceless among us, buoyed by a confident patience that, in the fullness of time, all the narcissistic pretenders to the crown will be crushed beneath the weight of your unassailable truth, for we pray as Jesus taught us to pray, saying ... *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Hebrews 4 and the visionary poetry of William Butler Yeats) 

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, our resemblance to the man whose pretense at discipleship was a thin disguise of his truer loyalty to wealth and possessions. We assemble ourselves for Sunday worship, some vague desire "to inherit eternal life" dancing in our heads like sugar plums, only to be affronted by Jesus' withering, loving demand that we sell our stuff and give to the poor.  At worship's end, we stumble sadly back into a world intent upon proving Jesus a fool, convinced that following Him is as impossible as a big ol' hairy camel squeezing through the eye of a needle.  Have mercy on our schizophrenic waltz of belief/unbelief.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 10)

Assurance of Pardon:  Hear the good news:  Though Jesus never implied it would be easy to follow Him, especially when we are toting on our backs the self-imposed burden of possessions and the crushing weight of status infatuation, he was equally adamant that "all things are possible with God."  Indeed, the gaunt Galilean went even further, promising that those willing to pay discipleship's dues of persecution would be richly rewarded, both in this life and in the age to come, with a quality of life that is eternal. Thanks be to God for coming to us in human form, forging on the cross an eternal covenant worth every instance of self-denial it incurs.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 10)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  "The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding."   - Will Durant, historian

Sunday, September 23, 2018


Prayer as We Gather

Thank you, Lord, for the Biblical roots of “Me Too” activism as detailed in Proverbs’ unswerving defense of women’s worth.  The strong portrait of women’s expertise and leadership in business, agriculture, education and advocacy on behalf of the poor creates a picture of strength and honor as the very garments of wise women.  May such vigilant female confidence in a better future be encouraged in this beloved community this holy hour, as we at UBC model for our young women the audacious courage God provides women to hold powerful men accountable for the violent sexual disregard so often silenced and condoned in the past. Amen.*          - inspired by Proverbs 31

Call to Worship                                                                                            

The truly happy person thrills to hear God’s Word,

Chewing on scripture day and night,

Refusing to follow wicked advice

Or sit with the disrespectful,

Choosing instead to follow God’s instructions,

Thriving like a tree replanted by the water:

It bears fruit at just the right time,

Its leaves never fade.*                                    - Psalm 1, Common English Bible

Morning Prayer

God of full disclosure, it’s no wonder we’re so good at pretending not to understand Jesus: We’ve been at it ever since he walked among his first disciples. It’s also no wonder Jesus didn’t want folks to know what he was actually teaching those first disciples: That he would be handed over to his enemies, crucified, then be raised from the dead. Fact is, we’d still prefer an easier way than Jesus’ way, preaching delivery to captives, restoring sight to the blind, attacking the systemic roots of poverty that seep like flood waters across entire generations of poor people. This thing of following Jesus is tough, Lord! We want to be first, not last. We’d rather be considered sophisticated than childlike. Help us, Lord. Restore us to our rightful minds, for we make our appeal in the name of the Galilean who taught us to pray, saying …*   

- inspired by Mark 9


Prayer of Confession                                                                                              

Lord, forgive us our cravings, especially our unquenchable competitiveness and perpetual thirst for more money and a bigger pile of stuff.  We expend great portions of our energy in pursuit of social standing and influence, often ignoring the needs of those closest to us who are desperate for our attention, but for whom we do not have time because we are futilely following after our illusive dreams and fleeting schemes.  No matter how often we hear the testimony of flood victims who have lost homes and possessions, “these were only things, which can be replaced,” our addiction to accumulation proves we still don’t get it.  We continue to live as though things were in fact more valuable to us than relationships.  Have mercy, we pray. Amen.*     - inspired by James 3


Assurance of Pardon                     

Take heart, for there is encouraging news from Jesus’ own brother James: The jealousy, selfish ambition and disorder all about us can be defeated by “God’s wisdom from above, which is pure, peaceful, gentle, obedient, fair, genuine, filled with mercy and good actions. You can sow the seeds of justice by peaceful acts. You don’t have God’s peace because you don’t ask.”  So go ahead, ask God to grant you peace, then go about making peace among the people in your life. Sound too simple? James’  promise is blunt: “Resist the devil, and the devil will run away. Come near to God, and God will come near to you.” It’s worth a try, thanks be to God!*   - inspired by James 3

Thought for a Sabbath

“When I drive my car over a bridge, I want to be certain the engineers who built it weren’t thinking about faith but mathematics. But when I come to church for worship, I’m hoping there won’t be an engineer in the pulpit. My parched soul doesn’t need a great logical  argument. It needs living water.”       - M. Craig Barnes, President of Princeton Theological Seminary




Sunday, September 16, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Thank you, Lord, for Proverbs’ portrait of Wisdom as a woman scorned by “the noisy crowd, clueless mockers who love their naivete and hate knowledge.”  Apparently, some things never change:   Foolish simpletons abound at the highest levels of our national government.  How vivid, Wisdom’s harsh disdain for the aggressively ignorant among us!  How cruel, in the wake of Florence’s fierce winds and torrential rains, her jarring rebuke:  “I’ll make fun of you when terror hits you like a hurricane, because you rejected all my correction.” Ignorance isn’t bliss, after all.  Its just ignorance.  We cling to your promise, Lord:  “Those who obey me will dwell securely, untroubled by the dread of harm.”*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Proverbs 1)

Call to Worship:

God’s glory is on tour in the skies,

On exhibit across the horizon.

The revelation of God pulls our lives together.

God’s life-maps are right, showing us the way to joy.

God’s directions are plain, easy on the eyes.

God’s reputation is pure gold, God’s decisions accurate.

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

Keep me from thinking I can take over your work.

Accept my words when I place them on the morning altar,

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

Morning Prayer:   Lord, of all the words Jesus spoke to us, surely among the most sobering are these:  “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful generation, I will be ashamed of that person when I come in my father’s glory with the holy angels.”  Our generation is not the first to be found unfaithful to Jesus’ commands, just the latest.  Help us, when we are so intent upon losing ourselves in hollow pursuits that leave us empty inside, to risk the high-stakes course correction that is Christian discipleship.  Thank you for being ever willing to redeem our lives if only we are willing to lose ourselves in you, as did Jesus when he instructed us to pray, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 8)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for mimicking impetuous Simon Peter, who impulsively grabbed Jesus and scolded him in horrified response to Jesus’ graphic prediction of his coming crucifixion.  Like Simon, we so often mean well when we act in ways that end up compromising your perfect will for our lives.  Help us resist our urge to remove all obstacles from the path of discipleship, attempting to make the Jesus way less disruptive of our ordered lives, but managing instead to earn the same rebuke Jesus leveled at Simon:  “You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.” May our speech and actions be ever more akin to the gaunt Galilean, who laid down his life to show us how unfathomable is your love for all the children of the world.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 8)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for Jesus’ own brother James offers us a hope-filled goal to which we can aspire, even in the midst of our own worst instincts toward hasty, hurtful words and deeds:  “We all make mistakes often, but those who don’t mistakes with their words have reached full maturity, controlling themselves entirely.”   We are all far more capable of self-control and thoughtful speech than our worst moments imply, if only we call upon Holy Spirit to tame our tongues.  In the midst of an increasingly acerbic culture, where insults and put-downs are prized tools of the insecure, thanks be to God for the reminder that “nothing is always a clever thing to say.”*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by James 3 and the wisdom of American historian Will Durant)


Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “There are no tidy lives.  The truth only appears when you see beyond appearances.  What a mess.  What glory.”    - Samuel Wells, vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, you made both the rich and the poor.   We who by the world’s standards are wealthy to excess must be always mindful of Proverbs’ wise counsel:  “Do not steal from the poor or oppress the needy, for the Lord will take up their case.”  In this holy hour, may we know the happiness which flows from being generous people.  Grant us courage to oppose those in high places who sow injustice.  Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Proverbs 22)

Call to Worship:

Those who trust in God are like rock-solid Zion Mountain.

Nothing can move it, a mountain you can always depend on.

Like the mountains encircling Jerusalem,

God encircles God’s people – always has, always will.

Be good to your good people, God,

To those whose hearts are right!

God will round up the backsliders,

Corral them with the incorrigibles.  (Psalm 125, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for our UBC church family, this beloved community that truly does not play favorites, where all are welcome and none who gather here are unimportant.  Especially today, we give thanks for the students just now discovering our fellowship.  May they come to know us as a safe, sheltering place during their student days in Chapel Hill, a gathering of folks where they really matter, a comforting company eager to offer gifts of hospitality on the good days and the tough times.  We consecrate this school year in the name of our Galilean Lord, who taught us how to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by James 2)  

Prayer of Confession:  Lord, forgive us the spiritual arrogance that silently, relentlessly informed our smug majority-status upbringing in churches often unwittingly captive to their Southern culture.  The words of Jesus’ brother James carry the sting of truth:  “God has chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom, but you have dishonored the poor, showing favoritism among yourselves as evil-minded judges.”  We church folk are too often unaware of and inattentive to the needs of poor people, resulting in a professed faith that is in fact dead on arrival.  What good is it if we say we have faith, but do nothing to show it?  James was right:  “Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it?”  Have mercy, we pray.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by James 2)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news:  Even as James urges us to “speak and act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom,” he insists that mercy overrules judgment.  Jesus’ example shows us the way, as when he dared disobey cultural norms by healing the young daughter of a Greek woman who made no claim of sharing his faith or being his disciple.  Orthodoxy aside, Jesus commended her courage and healed the girl, one of many such heretical interventions that set the religious authorities against him and marked him for death at the hands of a humorless Roman state threatened by his popularity among the common people, especially the poor.  No wonder he gave strict orders not to report his miraculous healing power.  Thanks be to God for sending us a messiah intent on being followed, not merely admired!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by James 2 and Mark 7)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “In order to be delivered from the demons of racism that hold our society hostage, we have to name things clearly.  This is the first step toward full healing.”                                                                    - LaDonna Sanders Nkosi, pastor of The Gathering Chicago

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Thank you, Lord, for another sabbath, another opportunity to join friends and newcomers on this strategic corner where faithful pilgrims have gathered for nearly a century.  May we honor the Baptist freedoms long celebrated here, especially the autonomy of all believers, guided by your Spirit,  to interpret scripture for themselves.  Help us breathe deeply today of the pungent Hebrew love poetry in the Song of Songs, not taming it, watering it down, or reducing it to a boring, G-rated shadow of itself.  May our worship remain free and true to you, our passionate Creator.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Song of Songs 2)

Call to Worship:

My heart bursts its banks, spilling beauty and goodness.

I pour it out in a poem, shaping the river into words for the king:

God has blessed you so much!

Ride majestically on the side of truth.

Ride for the righteous meek.

May you love the right and hate the wrong.*(from Psalm 45, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, we give you thanks for the opportunity worship allows us to hit the re-set button.  In the midst of a culture too given to hurtful speech, help us be quick to listen and slow to speak, especially when we’re angry.  We have an inflated sense of our own opinions, which we feel obliged to foist unbidden upon others.  In this holy hour, may we heed the wise candor of Jesus’ own family member, James, urging us to be doers of your word and not hearers only.  May our devotion to you show itself in our care for immigrants, orphans and widows, the powerless poor whom we find it so easy to ignore, for we make this appeal in the name of our Galilean Lord who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by James 1)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, when we confuse legality with justice.  How sad when folks claiming to be followers of Jesus get more upset about preserving man-made statues than they’ve ever been about Jesus’ crucifixion, history’s most evil event, which was entirely legal and carried out by certified officials of the state.  How disgusting when those we look to for leadership within our beloved university and in the legislative corridors of power in Raleigh lack the courage to denounce human slavery as a sin, even if our ancestors did fight to preserve it.  How your heart must break when, out of one side of our mouths, we extol our hero Moses for setting your children free from Egyptian bondage, while from the other side of our mouths we debate restoring a symbol of white supremacy to its perch, doubling down on the original sin of its initial placement.   Lord, we have lost our way as a nation, and we stand convicted by Jesus’ words:  “You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.”  Have mercy on us, we pray.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 7)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for the first step toward forgiveness is willingness to turn and go the other way from evil.  True enough, as Jesus reminded his disciples, prophet Isaiah charged “This people  honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me.”  Jesus agreed, adding “It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come, and they contaminate a person in God’s sight.”  But that contamination need not be permanent, as Jesus modeled for us when in his agony on the cross he forgave the thief on the cross beside him, and even interceded for those who were crucifying him, crying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”   Even now, Jesus is pleading our case before God’s throne, loving us despite our evil thoughts and actions, holding on to us even when we push him aside and choose hate over compassion for other sinners no more deeply flawed than we.  Thanks be to God for tempering justice with mercy, choosing grace over laws, loving us no matter what.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 7)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “White supremacists aren’t patriots, they’re traitors.”    - Senator John McCain

Student Sunday, August 26, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, as our beloved alma mater beckons us return to Chapel Hill for another school year, we echo King Solomon’s wise request: “Listen to your servant’s prayer, hear our cries and watch over us“ as we celebrate the priceless tradition of intellectual freedom for which this great university is known.  We invoke Solomon’s wise entreaty as leader of the Hebrews, imploring your mercy upon “the immigrant who comes from a distant country, revering you because of your reputation for justice.”  Lord, listen to your children praying, send your Spirit in this place, send us love, send us power, send us grace.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Kings 8 and the poetry of Ken Medema)    

Call to Worship:

What a beautiful home, God of the Angel Armies!

I’ve always longed for a place where I could sing for joy to you!

How blessed are those whose lives become roads you travel,

Winding through lonesome valleys, cool springs, pools brimming with rain!

Listen, God, open your ears:  I’m praying!

Look at our faces, shining with your gracious anointing.

One day spent in your beautiful worship place

Beats thousands spent on Greek islands!

God, you are so generous in your glorious gifts.

You don’t scrimp with your traveling companions! (Psalm 84, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, thank you for being present with us, not in bronze statues memorializing slave-holder religion and white supremacy, but through your liberating Spirit moving among us!  As with apostle Paul, we need spiritual armor to protect us against powers of evil in high places, forces of cosmic darkness embodied in earthly authorities.  We rejoice in the replacement of fallen Confederate muskets with your belt of truth, faith’s shield of justice and the powerful sword of Holy Spirit.  Help us “stay woke”  through prayerful conversation with you, so that when we open our mouths we become ambassadors of the gospel’s secret plan for setting the captives free, in the name of our Galilean Lord who taught us how to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Ephesians 6)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, when our timid response to your unwavering demands for justice mimics the early disciples:  “This message is harsh.  Who can hear it?”  Your message is still harsh, and we’re still trying to dodge it, through bureaucratic dissembling and administrative cowardice.  You hear our whining, and you respond just as you did to their grumbling: “Does this offend you?  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life, yet some of you don’t believe.”  You knew even then who would betray you, and you know even now who among us lacks the courage to speak truth to power.  Scripture records the bitter truth, that when the moment of testing came many of your disciples turned away and no longer accompanied you.  Your words still sting:  “No one can follow me unless the Father enables them to do so.  Do you also want to leave?”  Some of us probably do.  Have mercy on our gutless mediocrity.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 6)

Assurance of Power:  Take heart, for even when we lack the courage to follow Jesus amidst the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, God’s steady love endures, stubbornly offering us another chance to be found faithful, enabling us to follow once more.  Thanks be to God for the beloved community of UBC that surrounds us in worship, all of us deeply flawed and thirsty for God’s flowing love to quench our dry spirits. Here we gather Sunday after Sunday, ”the clean and the unclean, the wild and the tame, sly young foxes and impossible old cows, hawks and doves, wise and silly, seeking shelter from the blast and hoping to find safe harbor at last.”  Simon Peter speaks for us all:  “Where else would we go, Lord?  You have the words of eternal life.”*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 6, William Shakespeare and Frederick Buechner)

Thought for a Student Sunday:  “Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought life would like, and learn to find joy in the story you are actually living.”   -  Rachel Marie Martin

Sunday, August 19, 2018

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

Call to Worship:

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

God’s works are worth a lifetime of study,

God’s generosity never gives out.

This God of grace and love keeps the ancient promise,

Establishing truth and justice,

Never out of date, never obsolete,

So personal and holy, worthy of our respect:

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 24, 2018

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

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

Call to Worship:

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

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

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

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

Their feet all tangled in the net they spread.

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

The wicked bought a one-way ticket to hell.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Father's Day, Sunday, June 17, 2018

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

Call to Worship:

I pray God answers you on the day you crash,

Putting you out of harm’s reach.

Exclaim over your offerings, celebrate your sacrifices;

Give what your heart desires, accomplish your plans.

Help is coming, an answer is on the way,

Everything’s going to work out.

Let other people polish their chariots and groom their horses;

We’re making garlands for God, our God.

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

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

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

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

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

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