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