Sunday, December 3, 2017

Morning Prayer:  So many dear people who have enriched our lives, Lord, so many tender mercies extended to us when we least deserved them, how can we keep from thanking you when we remember all those who have decorated our lives with their toil and your grace?  On this first Sunday of Advent, we cling to hope, stubbornly holding fast to apostle Paul’s promise:  “God is faithful, and you were called by God to partnership with God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,” whose light within us prompts us to pray …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 1)

Prayer of Confession:  Have mercy, Lord.  We’re up to our old shenanigans again, extrapolating from morning headline’s craziness a myopic spiritual amnesia indulging the tired notion of imminent destruction.  We’ve always been more fascinated by the Bible’s dark side, with its murmurs of stars falling and planets shaking, than by its hopeful visions of your Son coming with great power.  Forgive us for fearing North Korea more than we trust you.  Amen. *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 13)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for woe-is-me theology is nothing new, and Jesus’ wise counsel still holds:  “Nobody knows when that day will come, not the angels and not even I.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.”  So, what’s the worst that can happen?  Nothing God can’t handle.  It’s only our grim attachment to material things, our grown-up toys, that fuels our fear and stokes our hysteria.  Now is a good time to do as Jesus commanded:  Stay alert, and be about the King’s business!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 13)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Prayer as We Gather:  If ever we needed a shepherd and a safe place, Lord, it is now.  We’re here this holy hour because you beckoned us, sought us, rescued us from all the places we were scattered. Bind up our wounds, strengthen us where we are weak, grant us thankful hearts for all your protective mercies.  Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Ezekiel 34)

Call to Worship:

Bring God a gift of laughter,

Sing yourselves into God’s presence.

Know this:  God is God.

God made us, we didn’t make God.

We are God’s people, God’s well-tended sheep.

Enter with the password:  “Thank you!”

Make yourselves at home, talking praise, thanking and worshiping God.

For God is sheer beauty, all-generous love, loyal always and ever.*(Psalm 100, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, give us just enough.  Just enough wisdom to withstand Caesar’s hollow, tweeted folly.  Just enough revelation to know there are brighter days ahead.  Just enough light to glimpse the hope of your claim upon us.  Just enough memory to recall a cross and an empty tomb, from which emerged One who is “far above every ruler and authority and power named not only now but in the future.”  Just enough courage to follow that voice calling us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Ephesians 1)

Prayer of Confession:  Have mercy, Lord.  With no help from Harry Potter, we have created dandy little Invisibility Cloaks all by ourselves.  We employ them daily, a nifty strategy by which people and circumstances unpleasant to us simply disappear from our sight:  the poor, the hungry, the sick, the homeless, the imprisoned.  Poof!  Racial prejudice, religious bias, sexual misconduct by those in high (and low) places, they all vanish from our mind’s eye, nudged aside by the mindless minutiae inhabiting our smart phones and laptops, twitter and facebook.  And because we don’t see those people, we don’t see you.  Forgive us, we pray. Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 25)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for our consignment to eternal punishment is not yet a done deal.  Right now, this very day, we are invited by Jesus himself to “receive good things from my Father,” allowed to “inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the world began.”  How?   By giving food, offering a quenching drink, welcoming a stranger, providing clothing, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoner.  Not a shabby offer, right?  So what are you waiting for?  Take Jesus at his word, and get on with it!* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 25)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Prayer as We Gather

In this holy hour, O God of Deborah, Hannah, Sarah, Elizabeth, Mary and Phoebe, we gratefully invoke the spirit of scripture’s audacious women. May their infectious courage inspire the mothers, wives and daughters of our own age to defy the ancient evils of subjugation and sexual exploitation. As across the ages you have laid low the mighty through the surprising defiance of those they considered helpless prey, so in our own day may the voices of former victims, no longer bullied into silence, swell to a relentless chorus sweeping their abusers from positions of power and authority. Thank you for Jesus’ example of how women should expect to be treated by the men in their lives. Amen.  - inspired by Judges 4 and words Jesus spoke concerning mercy and judgment

Call to Worship  (for women and girls only)                                                      

Heaven-dwelling God, we look to you for help.

Like a maiden attending her lady, we wait and watch,

Holding our breath, awaiting your word of mercy.

Mercy, God, mercy! We’ve been kicked around long enough,

Kicked in the teeth by complacent rich men,

Kicked when we’re down by arrogant brutes.        - Psalm 123, The Message

Morning Prayer                   

Thank you, Lord, for these bracing days of growing resistance to the old ways of snide chauvinism and sanctioned locker-room banter among grown men who should long since have been shamed into knowing better. We rejoice in the early church’s assurance that “the day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night.” When so many boorish buffoons in high places seem determined to usher us into a new Dark Ages, we savor apostle Paul’s reminder: “You aren’t in darkness, brothers and sisters, you are children of light, so stay woke!” May every smirking dose of sick religious fundamentalism still infecting our culture be rebuffed by Paul’s counter-punch: “God didn’t intend for us to suffer God’s wrath, but to be set free through Jesus, so continue encouraging and building each other up, just like you are doing already.”  We of UBC’s beloved community promise to do just that, as directed by the Galilean who taught us to pray …                                                               - inspired by 1 Thessalonians 5

Prayer of Confession                                                                                         

Forgive us, Lord of bounteous plenty, for living so cautiously, fearful and shriveled in spirit, as though you were a God of scarcity unequal to the evil challenges of the day. Too often we have behaved precisely as the timid, calculating servant Jesus derided for playing it safe with possessions entrusted to him by his master. Like him, we have hidden our spiritual gifts far away from a world urgent for us to invest ourselves in speaking for the voiceless poor. Worst of all, we cloak our ‘fraidy-cat laziness by casting you as “a hard man who harvests where you haven’t sown and gathers crops where you haven’t spread seed.” What a gutless cop-out!  Have mercy, we pray. Amen.                                                                    - inspired by Matthew 25

Assurance of Pardon                                                                                         

I have good news! Jesus’ primary teaching intent is not to threaten God’s foreclosure on our evil laziness, but to encourage and inspire us toward the radical confidence that God will take care of us if only we risk living in faith. Truly, it is no secret what God can do, doing for us what has been done for others: pardoning us with arms wide open. God is far more eager to entrust us with joys beyond our imagining than to punish our recalcitrance. Jesus delights in showing us a God who can’t wait to celebrate with us. Accept God’s invitation to the dance, release your fears to the winds, and join the party of redeemed, flawed sinners invited to the Kingdom banquet!      - inspired by Matthew 25 and the poetry of “the singing cowboy” Stuart Hamblen

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Prayer as We Gather:  Here we are, Lord, the latest generation of desperados needing to come to our senses, come down from our fences and open the gate to you before it’s too late.  Like the Israelites waiting to cross the Jordan River into a land you promised them, we crane our necks to catch Joshua’s reassurance:  “The living God is among you.”  Staunch our fearful cynicism just as you stopped the Jordan’s flow that day, assuring Joshua “I will make you great.”  How foolish of us to trust that promise from anyone but you. Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Joshua 3 and the poetry of Glen Frey/Don Henley)

Call to Worship:

Oh, thank God, whose love never runs out.

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

Some of you wandered for years,

Looking but not finding a good place to live,

Half-starved and parched with thirst,

Staggering and stumbling, on the brink of exhaustion.

Then, desperate, you called out to God.

God got you out in the nick of time;

God put your feet on a wonderful road,

So thank God for marvelous love and miracle mercy!*(Psalm 107, The Message)


Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for all around us in this UBC congregation we see reflections of the first Christians, mirroring what apostle Paul joyfully modeled, the “efforts and hard work, night and day, like a father treats his own children.”  What a joy, what a privilege, to be part of a beloved community that “accepts God’s word and welcomes it for what it truly is.”  We sense your wonder-working power among us, receiving it “not as a human message, but as God’s message, continuing to work in you who are believers.”  Thank you for the miracle emerging from within this faithful fellowship, living saints daring to follow the Galilean who bids us pray … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by  1 Thessalonians 2)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, our hearty feasting these past 2,000 years at the sumptuous banquet called hypocrisy.  How we have relished each opportunity to pillory the Pharisees and other religious experts of Jesus’ day.  What easy targets they provide, our glib jabs falling gleefully upon their heads, our condescension a heady brew further distilled by our joy over what we have deemed Jesus’ complicity in our disdain for them.  In our rush to attain moral superiority over these long-dead theological scholars no longer able to defend themselves, we have conveniently dismissed Jesus’ stern defense of their piety, misdirected though it may have been.  Worse still, we have doubled down on our own guilty pleasure in the very folly for which we have happily damned them: arrogant public displays of orthodoxy, unquenchable thirst for praise in the marketplace, desperate need for titled credentials.  Our selfie-intoxicated culture opens us up to precisely the derision Jesus leveled at them.  Have mercy on our vacuous, fragile egos. Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 23)

Assurance of Pardon:  Do not despair, for even amidst his reprimand of our vaunting hubris, Jesus holds out this graceful insistence:  “All of you are brothers and sisters, and all who make themselves low will be lifted up.”  Thanks be to God for such stubborn hope as Jesus extends to the most dysfunctional, damaged pretender among us.  Even now, in this very moment, we may choose the nobler path of servant ministry to a hurting, self-loathing world.  What a Messiah-blessed opportunity is ours, to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 23)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, may Holy Spirit  disengage us from  staid everydayness.  Craft us into visionary vessels like exiled John on the island of Patmos, whose pungent, poetic ramblings have befuddled  dull orthodoxy’s gate-keepers these two millennia past.  Amidst the crescendoing chaos of our national governance, steady our resolve with confidence that “victory belongs to God,” our enthroned and sheltering Shepherd, who remains unthreatened by the babbling tweets of a reckless anti-Christ spirit set loose upon the earth.  May it one day be said of us, as John observed of faithful saints in his own day, “these people have come out of great hardship, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”  Amen*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Revelation 7)

Call to Worship:

I live and breathe God, who freed me from my anxious fears.

When I was desperate, God got me out of a tight spot.

Open your mouth and taste how good God is.

Who out there has a lust for life?

Embrace peace, don’t let it get away!

God picks up our every moan and groan.

Is anyone crying for help? 

God is listening, ready to rescue you.

The wicked commit slow suicide;

They waste their lives hating the good.

God pays for each slave’s freedom;

No one who runs to God loses out.*(Psalm 34, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  On this All Hallows sabbath, Lord, as we lovingly recall those UBC saints who this year have slipped the bonds of earthly care and now see you face to face, we are joyful with scripture’s assurance that we, no less than they, “shall be called God’s children.”  May we not be troubled that “it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be,” despite culture’s neurotic infatuation with long-range planning, along with religion’s obsession over what heaven will be like.  Instead, we embrace the promise that “when God appears, we will be like God, and will see God as God is.”  That will be enough, Lord.  That will be enough.  In the meantime, we pray as Jesus taught us to pray, saying … “*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 John 3)

Prayer of Confession:  Have mercy on us, Lord.  Although most people desperately want to be happy, not many think happiness can be found in church.  We church folk know better, because Jesus told us who would truly be happy, “people who are hopeless, grieving, humble, merciful, pure in heart, peace-making, insulted and harassed because of me.”  Forgive us for failing to do the one thing that could bring abiding happiness  to neighbors, fellow workers, classmates and family members:  Invite them to church, where they can experience the joy of our risen Lord in a welcoming, compassionate family of equally flawed fellow saints  Forgive us for keeping your beloved community a selfish secret.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 5)

Assurance of Pardon:  Hear the good news:   Jesus urges us to “be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven,”  as Charlie Adams, Dina Bray, Frank Fearrington and Pat Vincent now know first hand.  May God help us, each time we remember them, to emulate their best spiritual gifts and embody their most positive Christian witness, thus drawing others of your children into the loving embrace that is the body of Christ.  Thanks be to God for their lives and our second chances to be found faithful!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 5)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Prayer as We Gather:  We shuffle in for worship, Lord, heedless of the debt we owe Martin Luther and other reformers who defied corrupt church power 500 years ago. Like Moses before them, the scrappy Reformation leaders “knew the Lord face-to-face.”  May this holy hour replicate among us their fierce loyalty to Holy Spirit’s battle cry, and may we never take for granted the privileges of a free church in a free state. Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Deuteronomy 34 and Luther’s 95 “Wittendberg Theses”)

Call to Worship:

God, it seems like you’ve been our home forever;

From “once upon a time” to “kingdom come” – you are God.

So don’t return us to dust, saying “Back to where you came from!”

You’ve got all the time in the world;

A thousand years or a day, it’s all the same to you.

Are we no more to you than a blade of grass,

Springing up with the rising sun,

Cut down without a second thought?

Teach us to live wisely and well!

How long do we have to wait?

Surprise us with love at daybreak; then we’ll skip and dance all the day long.

Let your loveliness rest on us, confirming the work we do! *(Psalm 90, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for the gift of humor, that keen sense of the ridiculous upon which all reformation is grounded.  Thank you for Martin Luther’s wry confounding of humorless church orthodoxy, his quick wit mirroring Jesus, who thwarted the Pharisees’ treachery so thoroughly “from that day forward nobody dared to ask him anything.”  Renew in us the fiery Anabaptist tradition of lampooning pompous religious and political pretenders, giving us voice once again to proclaim “The Emperor is wearing no clothes!”  Grant us a relentless will to pull down the mighty from their thrones, as did the peasant Messiah who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Matthew 22)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for abandoning apostle Paul’s example of “not trying to please people” and “never using flattery.”  Most of our conversational social lubricant is premised on precisely those two false foundations, without which the small talk of our daily banter would be rendered mute.  We wear ourselves out trying to please people for the sake of our own pitiful self-promotion.  We exhaust ourselves grasping for words of false praise in our desperate quest for advancement among the equally shallow talking heads all about us.  We profess admiration for reformers such as Martin Luther, but we would not for a moment abide such piercing irony as his within the fragile circles of spiritual lightweights we call the church.  Have mercy on us, we pray.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Thessalonians 2)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for there is good news embedded in Paul’s admonition to the early church:  “God continues to examine our hearts.”  Unlike some stern taskmaster of a professor who returns our final exam with an unassailable failing grade, God insists on continually injecting grace into our compromised lives.  We struggling believers, no less than the courageous apostle himself, have it within ourselves to be “as gentle as a nursing mother caring for her own children.”  Thanks be to God for the privilege granted us as followers of Jesus, “to share not only God’s good news but also our very lives because we care so much.” *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Thessalonians 2)  

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)