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)