Sunday, October 22, 2017

Prayer as We Gather:   As we assemble ourselves on this Sabbath morning to worship you, O God of unflinching help, we echo Moses’ appeal to you:  Show us your ways, remember us, go with us. Hide our souls in the cleft of your sturdy rock of deliverance, cover us with your hand, shield us from our own dark motives, lift us up to be your fearless witnesses.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Exodus 33)

Call to Worship:

God rules.  On your toes, everybody!

God towers in splendor over all the big names.

Strong King, lover of justice, you laid things out fair and square;

Foundation stones of just and right ways.

Moses and Aaron prayed to you, God,

And you answered them.

You spoke from the pillar of cloud,

And they did what you said; they kept the law you gave them.*(Psalm 99, The Message)   

Morning Prayer:  Like apostle Paul, we give thanks to you, God, whenever we mention our beloved UBC community in our prayers.  As with the earliest disciples, all around us we see servant ministry that comes from faith, effort that comes from love, perseverance that comes from hope in our Lord Jesus, who taught us to pray, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Thessalonians 1)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, when we mimic the crafty religious leaders of Jesus’ day who used words to trap him. Quibbling over whether they should pay taxes to Caesar, their truer motive was to trick Jesus into incriminating himself.  Two thousand years later, we remain just as conflicted as they, equally timid in standing up to the powers of the state, equally baffled by Jesus’ blunt demand:  “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” How disgusted you must be when we are more passionate about our allegiance to our national flag than to the cross of Christ. Have mercy, we pray.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 22)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for even as Jesus’ detractors tried to entrap him, they unwittingly spoke the truth about him:  “We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism.”  Thanks be to God for sending such a Savior, who never ceases nudging and encouraging us toward an unwavering allegiance to the truth that makes us free, even if it first makes us miserable!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Prayer as We Gather:  Here we are, Lord, sliding into the Sunday morning pew one more time, as prone to spiritual whiplash as the children of Israel in their fickle plummet from triumphant Egyptian exodus to cringing wilderness membership in First Church of the Golden Calf.   Grant us hope this day, and help us stanch our fearful descent into despairing, chaotic behavior unbecoming a follower of Jesus, our unruffled Lord. Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Exodus 32)


Call to Worship:

O give thanks to God, for God is good;

God’s steady love endures forever.

Who could possibly repeat all God’s mighty acts?

The people who uphold justice and do what is right are truly happy!

Remember us, God, visit us with your saving help,

Like our ancestors whom you spared.

They acted wickedly, forgetting how you saved them in Egypt.

They deserved your destructive anger,

But you relented when Moses rose to their defense.

Visit us with that same compassion as we worship you this holy hour.*(inspired by Psalm 106)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, when we hear apostle Paul urging us “Don’t be anxious about anything,” it seems easier said than done.  Our world appears to us so much more complex and hostile than his, viewed from across two thousand years.  But his counsel to focus on what is admirable rings true even now, surrounded as we are by so much that is negative and critical.  Make room in our hearts, we pray, for those things Paul commended to us:  whatever is true, right, pure, lovely, worthy of praise.  For we pray as Jesus taught us, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Philippians 4)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for so closely resembling the indifferent wedding guests in Jesus’ parable.  Again and again you invite us to take part in your unfolding banquet of plenty, speaking to us through your messengers of grace, your couriers of mercy, but we choose the ways of scarcity, as though there were not enough food and love and forgiveness to go around.  We hoard your blessings to ourselves, clutching them tightly lest others of your children should ask to share them.  Have mercy on us, and spare us from your justice-stoked wrath.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 22)

Assurance of Pardon:  Have no fear, weary sojourners, for it has pleased God to extend pardon to us when least we deserve it.  Across our compromised lives and diminished compassions, God’s hearty invitation rings out:  “Invite everyone to the wedding party, both evil and good!”  Thanks be to God for such forgiving grace, in a world where all are invited to the banquet, but few choose to respond.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 22)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Prayer as We Gather:  As we assemble ourselves for worship, God of mysterious grace, offer us the twin counsel you offered Moses on Mt. Sinai:  No gods before you, no need to be afraid.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Exodus 20)

Call to Worship:

God’s glory is on tour in the skies,

The revelation of God pulls our lives together.

The life-maps of Godare right,

Showing the way to joy.

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

Keep us from thinking we can take over your work.

These are the words in my mouth;

Accept them when I place them on the morning altar.*(Psalm 19, The Message)

Morning Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of both heaven and earth to declare the glory of your Name. With all the rage, anger, shame, blustering, and downright foolishness swirling about our daily lives, it is good to remember that which is truly important. By your law and reason, we are given purpose in following Christ Jesus, and for that purpose how can we have any other response but to praise you along with the creation you made to delight in? In the words of the Psalmist, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” Let us thank God in the prayer given to us by Jesus of Nazareth himself when he taught his closest friends and followers to pray:*

“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, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” *(Paul Yoder, inspired by Psalm 19)

Prayer of Confession: Forgive us, God when we so often mistake religious zeal for worship, and constant work for the Christian life. The culture we take part in now is just as the apostle Paul’s was in his time of writing, with no time or appreciation given to those who humble themselves to serve others. We are told every day the only way to make anything of ourselves is to yell the loudest, stomp hardest, and run the fastest, or we’ll be left behind. Paul writes to remind us that all these things he once counted as the greatest gain, he now counts as naught but loss in Jesus’ eyes. Protect us from ourselves and our own races and desires, and point us in the direction of true life, rather than the pale shadows of it here on earth. These things we humbly ask for, and pray.* (Paul Yoder, inspired by Phil. 3:3-14)

Assurance of Pardon: Take heart, little flock, for the Lord our God has made himself known to us and has given direction to the children he loves. He has given us freedom, and a chance to take part in the life he has planned for us. The Commandments on Mount Sinai were given in order to prepare those who heard and lived them out to have life, and have it abundantly. We all too often fail to notice the freedom these laws give, foolishly hearing only the “thou shalt not” opening to each statement. Rather, how wide and open is God’s love for us that he did not tell us what we must always do, but rather only gave a list of those things that are to be avoided. The rest of how to live out the Christian life is up to us, and praise God for the freedom he has given us in his love!* (Paul Yoder, inspired by Ex. 20:1-17)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Prayer as We Gather:  Some things never change, Lord, as when the children of Israel argued with you during their wilderness wanderings, demanding of Moses “Is the Lord really with us or not?”  Though surrounded by your bounty,  we often act as people of scarcity, fearful and living in dread, our actions announcing  we’re not sure whether you’re with us or not.  Grant us the leader-spirit of Moses, to “go on ahead of the people” as you guide us toward New Consecration Sunday’s call to courageous financial stewardship.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Exodus 17)

Call to Worship:

Listen, dear friends, to God’s truth,

Bend your ears to what I tell you.

I’m chewing on the morsel of a proverb,

I’ll let you in on the sweet old truths,

Riddles from days long gone,

Stories we heard from our ancestors.

We’re not keeping this to ourselves,

We’re passing it along to the next generation:

All about the praise due to God,

For the marvelous things God has done.*(Psalm 78, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for apostle Paul’s inviting the church to become a world-changing adoption agency, “adopting the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.”  All around us are people hungry for “any encouragement, any comfort in love, any sympathy,” and you allow us the grace to “with humility think of others as better than yourselves.”  How grateful we are that you enable us “both to want and to actually live out” your good purposes, as Jesus guided us when he taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Philippians 2)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for coveting the wrong sort of authority.  We long to be seen as leaders commanding respectful compliance in workplace, family settings and church life, when more often than not we come across as merely demanding obedience, not earning a following.  We’re no better than the religious leaders of Jesus’ day,  who resented his obvious popular appeal and insisted “Who gave you this authority?”  We cringe at his refusal to lower himself to the level of their petty jealousy, seeing ourselves in their childish squabbling over how best to trap him.  Save us from ourselves, as Jesus’ stern rebuke buffets our control-obsessed psyches:  “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you.”  Frankly, we were hoping for a classier set of fellow travelers.  Have mercy, we pray.*(Mitchell Simpson,  inspired by Matthew 21)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, all who fret more over Washington’s latest tax reform charades than our sustained inability to replicate Jesus’ healing miracles.  You can still rise in Jesus’ estimation to the level  of pardoned prostitutes, if only you heed his call to “change your hearts and lives.”  We stand amazed in the presence of love so amazing, so divine it lifts us above our need to dominate others, granting instead the only authority a follower of Jesus ever has, the authority to extend healing forgiveness to every person in our lives.  Thanks be to God for such heaven-blessed esteem!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 21)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Prayer as We Gather:  We blush, O Lord, at our close resemblance to the griping children of Israel, freed from Egypt by your mighty hand but pining for their former lives in bondage where “we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread.”   May this holy hour find us no longer slaves to our belliesor captives to technology, instead made grateful through worship for the daily manna you shower upon, blessings beyond number meant to be shared with a hungry, hurting world. Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Exodus 16)

Call to Worship:

Thank God! Pray to God by name!

Tell everyone you meet what God has done!

Sing songs to God, belt out hymns,

Translate God’s wonders into music!

Live a happy life, keeping your eyes open for God,

Be alert for signs of God’s presence.

Remember the world of wonders God has made,

The miracles and just verdicts God has declared.*(Psalm 105)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, in our efforts to honor apostle Paul’s summons to “live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel, standing firm and united as you struggle to remain faithful,” keep us from confusing faithfulness with brittle intransigence.  Amidst the stale air of distrust and name-calling in the public square, where so few occupy the thoughtful middle ground of compassionate understanding, grant us grace to show the world what taking a firm stand for Jesus looks and sounds like.  May they know we are Christians by our love, seeing in us a striking family resemblance to the Galilean who taught us to pray, saying...*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Philippians 1)   

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, when we respond exactly as did the laborers in Jesus’ parable who, having been on the job from early morning, resented those workers who arrived later but received equal wages.  “Why, my family has been a part of this church for decades, and we’ve never done it this way before,” we whine.  “I’ve served as chair of this committee for years, and no newcomer could possibly know what I know,” we protest.  “I like the old hymns better than those new choruses,” we grumble.  In the face of all our passive-aggressive resistance to change and resentment of recent arrivals on our congregational scene, Jesus responds as before:  “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me?  Or are you resentful because I’m generous?” Have mercy, we pray, on our small-minded territoriality.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 20)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news, all you who long to be free from your stingy, feverish need to control others.  The eternal God has come to us in Jesus, the only person who ever shunned the urge to control other people’s hearts, minds, or behavior, consistently refusing to reduce God’s kingdom to a merit-based hierarchy.  Though his generosity flies in the face of consumerism’s rewards and tenure tracks, Jesus holds out to us our last, best hope for reversing the business model’s malignant imprint on the church.  Thanks be to God for breathing into the beloved community of believers a wild spirit of untamed generosity!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 20)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Prayer as We Gather: We marvel, God of wind, rain and eerie silence, as Hurricane Irma replicates ancient Israel’s Exodus narrative. Like an upper level steering current, your messenger, shrouded in a column of cloud, “moved from in front of Israel’s camp and went behind them.” Like the waters of Tampa Bay emptying into the Gulf, exposing land normally covered in water, so “the Lord pushed the sea back by a strong east wind, turning the sea into dry land, forming a wall on their right hand and on their left.” Just as “the Lord jammed the Egyptian’s chariot wheels so they wouldn’t turn easily,” so even now you are confounding the evil scheming of empires in ways yet to be revealed. May this holy hour find our confidence in your mighty power’s timeless truth renewed and strengthened, though your undimmed plans for our deliverance remain for now cloaked in mystery. Amen.              - inspired by Exodus 14

Morning Prayer: Lord, awash in the twittered babble of petty tyrants’ saber rattling at home and abroad, as the current crop of tin-pot despots fret and strut their hour upon the stage of history, we take comfort in scripture’s old victory cry: “The Lord is my strength and power, a warrior whose strong hand shatters the enemy!”  Here and now, Lord, we enlist as soldiers of the cross, bearing  weapons forged not of steel but of overcoming love.  Quell the rage and mental instability of those who seek to divide and conquer through fear. Blow your winds of reconciliation and peace among us so we might unite and conquer through our risen Savior, “foremost in holiness, worthy of highest praise,” he who taught us to pray, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Exodus 15)

Prayer of Confession: Forgive us, Lord.  As though by some unseen cultural osmosis, we have absorbed uncritically that stubborn old lie: “Everybody needs somebody to look down on.”  We have clung to that vintage self-deception across our lives’ multiple horizons, from academia’s obsession with advanced degrees to fiercely debated sports teams rankings to churchly pecking orders to that most gladiatorial human arena, familial insecurities.  Apostle Paul’s blunt scolding of Rome’s earliest Christians upbraids us as well: “Why do you judge your brother or sister, why do you look down on them?  Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” Silence our theological arguments, our need to feel superior to those we perceive as weak in faith. Have mercy, and make us more eager to get our own house in order than to demean the spiritual house of another. Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Romans 14)

Assurance of Pardon: I have good news! Just when our capacity to love appears crippled by our unwillingness to forgive, Jesus steps alongside us on the path, breathing into our hearts the daring vision of a limitless capacity to forgive, arming us with the will to believe it possible. We do believe, Lord, we just need for you to help us where belief falls short. May each new day find within our hearts a wider space for compassion, as we release others from the death grip of old resentments, the curse of wrongs not yet forgiven. Thanks be to God for trusting us toward a greater benevolence than anything to which our actions have heretofore borne witness.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 18)



Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Prayer as We Gather: Remind us, Lord, how you schooled Moses in the details of proper worship preparation long before the actual events of Israel’s exodus from Egyptian bondage.  Show us that  thoughtful worship planning still matters.  Keep us from trite expressions of praise, self-serving religious entertainment substituting for stunned silence in the mystery of your glorious presence. Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Exodus 12)   

Call to Worship:
Sing to God a brand-new song,
Sing God’s praise in the assembly of the faithful!
Let all Israel celebrate their Sovereign Creator,
Let Zion’s children rejoice in their King!
Let them praise God’s name in dance;
Strike up the band and make great music!
Let the faithful break out in praise,
Shouting the high praises of God.* (Psalm 149) 

Morning Prayer: Thank you, Lord, that on this side of the cross we are under no obligation to anyone, unburdened by any debt except to love each other as you love us.  We welcome apostle Paul’s counsel not to quibble or fret over individual commandments, but to love our neighbors as ourselves, confident that love fulfills your law.  Help us rid ourselves of actions belonging to the darkness, cloaking ourselves instead in the weapons of light, clothed in the grace of Jesus himself, who loved us so well he even taught us how to pray, saying …* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Romans 13)

Prayer of Confession: Forgive us Lord, for ignoring Jesus’ directions.  When we feel wronged by another, rather than seek them out in private, respectful confrontation, we tend to sulk and stew over our ill treatment.  We allow our hurt feelings to fester, often confiding in some third party, enlisting them in our antipathy toward the wrong-doer instead of going to that person and honestly addressing our grievances.  We find it easier to launch a bitter counter-attack than seek reconciliation in Jesus’ name.  No wonder we are often so anxious.  Have mercy on our self-serving reticence.  Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 18)


Sunday, September 3, 2017


Prayer as We Gather: God, cultivate in us the same curiosity that drew Moses toward a bush inflamed but not consumed.  Speak to us through our daily encounters with your mysterious fire, drawing us closer to your unfolding will for our lives.  In this holy hour, anoint us with your inquisitive Spirit so we may respond as Moses did:  “Let me check out this amazing sight!”  May we never fear the bright heat of your claim upon us.  Amen. (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Exodus 3)

Morning Prayer: O God of unflinching justice, just as when Simon Peter resisted Jesus’ calm prediction of his coming crucifixion, so we too incur Jesus’ swift reprimand when we get in the way of his Kingdom strategy.  Our tame, well-intentioned efforts to make Jesus respectable to a cynical culture only serve as stumbling blocks to his radical agenda.  Help us shun tame equivocation in favor of fearlessly taking up the cross,  saying no to self, and following the only person able to bear our sorrows and forgive our transgressions, teaching us along the way how to pray, saying …(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 16)    

Prayer of Confession: Forgive us, Lord.  If apostle Paul were our professor for Christian Ethics 101, most of us would flunk.  We fall embarrassingly short on so many of his requisite expectations of us - showing love, hating evil and holding on to what is good, beginning with members of our own families.  Not only do we resist the enthusiastic, Spirit-fired serving of our Lord, grounded in prayer and a cheerful hope, we are slow to “contribute to the needs of God’s people and welcome strangers into your home” and reluctant to “bless people who harass you and cry with those who are crying.”  We especially resent Paul’s stinging rebuff, “Don’t think that you’re so smart!”  Who knew loving others, including providing them affordable health care, could be so complicated?  Apparently Jesus did, when he summoned us to care for “the least of these.”  Amen. (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Romans 12)

 Assurance of Pardon: Take heart, for apostle Paul doesn’t leave us with no way forward, urging “If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people; don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, but leave room for God’s wrath.”  In the midst of circling dysfunction at the highest levels of national leadership, we rejoice in the apostle’s call to courage:  “Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.”  Thanks be to God for such a Christ-like call to arms! (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Romans 12)


Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Prayer as We Gather:  Thank you, God of new beginnings, for the Class of 2021, with their “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”  Born on the cusp of a new century, they have never known as their reality many of the constants we of earlier generations took for granted as permanent.  As we learn from each other, we rejoice in the unifying truth central to all generations:  “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”  Amen.  (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Psalm 124 and the poetry of Thomas Chisholm)

Morning Prayer:  Same song, different verse, God.  As with our spiritual forebears, the immigrant children of Israel who suffered as slave laborers in Egypt under a king who had never known Joseph or your promise to his  Hebrew descendants, so today we cringe under leaders clearly unacquainted with God’s fierce, compassionate care for the voiceless poor.  In our shared immigrant status as Americans, may we never denigrate the stranger at our door or “look at them with disgust and dread,” as the Egyptian masters despised the Hebrew children whose lineage includes Jesus, our Jewish Lord, who would never have tolerated forced human bondage or statues erected to honor those who defended it.  We stand with our liberating Lord, who died at the hands of the state for his willingness to speak truth to power, and who loved us so well he taught us how to pray, saying…(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Exodus 1)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for dismissing apostle Paul’s encouraging counsel to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.”  Instead of being transformed into living, breathing bearers of other peoples’ burdens as Jesus directed, we have found it easier to erect cold statues of bronze and stone, defiantly conforming to an evil, stubborn defense of our fear-stoked past.  In this holy place this very hour, we repent of every hidden bigotry, every sinister thought by which we have tacitly endorsed the evils of human slavery.  Help us remove graven images erected in homage to a lost Confederate cause, replacing them in our hearts with the memory of our Savior bleeding and dying on cross in solidarity with every child of God hemmed in by hatred and violence.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Romans 12)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, living statues of God’s redeeming grace, for there is good news.  Even as Paul was chastening us “not to think of yourself more highly than you should,”  he reminded us that God “has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you.”  We who are followers of Jesus need fear no evil regime, for “we are one in the body of Christ and we belong to each other.”  God has granted us different spiritual gifts with no strings attached, calling us out to passionately lead, embodying a cheerful mercy as we go marching onward.  Thanks be to God for such a Savior and such a compelling calling!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Romans 12)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Prayer as We Gather:  Calm our hearts, Lord.   Amidst the encircling daily chaos of broken promises, we crave apostle Paul’s joyful assurance:   “God’s gifts and calling can’t be taken back.”  May this holy hour find your promises renewed, your claim upon our lives strengthened.  Amen. *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Romans 11)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, God, for drawing on a larger canvas than our truncated vision.  As with patriarch Jacob’s son Joseph, the detested young dreamer sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, may we see in the patterns of our lives a grander plan than we could ever muster on our own.  Unveil your mysterious grace, traced through the everydayness of ourcluttered schedules and screens-tethered hypnosis.  Free us to see ourselves as instruments of your reconciling love, not mere pawns of some distant deity detached from human suffering.  Strip away the old grudges and resentments infesting our memory, and draw us closer to the precious bleeding side of our risen Lord, who loved us so much he gave us words by which we appeal to you, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Genesis 45)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, our exaggerated pride in our own intelligence, the inflated estimation of our verbose opinions.  Curb our sharp tongues with Jesus’ reprimand:  “It’s not what goes into the mouth that contaminates a person, but what comes out of the mouth from the heart:  evil thoughts, false testimonies, insults.”  Help us tone down the bitter, destructive, increasingly coarse publicdiscourse spewing from the highest corridors of power.  Have mercy on the pitiful insecurities in which our most cruel words fester, and help us to be better than our emotionally crippled, self-appointed leaders. Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 15)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news!  God is eager to transform us into instruments of mercy, as evidenced by the changed mind and softened heart of Jesus himself, whose initially curt rebuff of a pesky mother pleading for her daughter’s healing finally gave way to his tender, curative blessing.  We have it within ourselves to be just such reluctant healers, replacing intemperate judgment with a caring touch and a trusting heart.  Thanks be to God for such a hope!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 15)