Sunday, June 3, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, be patient with us as we dare attempt once more the audacious prospect of holy worship.  Like the boy Samuel who kept confusing your divine call with mere midnight sleep-talk ramblings of old man Eli, we are often too quick to dismiss your urgent summons toward servant ministry opportunities as just a passing thought, a whimsical musing.  Hold us closer, magnificent Creator, as we submit to your bidding this disquieting hour.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Samuel 3)

Call to Worship: 

God, I’m an open book to you;

Even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.

You know everything I’m going to say

Before I start the first sentence.

You formed me in my mother’s womb.

Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

You know me inside and out,

You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit.

The days of my life all prepared

Before I’d even lived one day.

Cross-examine and test me, Lord,

Then guide me on the road to eternal life. (Psalm 139, selected verses, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that following you is not like studying for final exams, where all the pressure is squarely on our shoulders.  How renewing to recall we’re supposed to proclaim not ourselves, but Jesus.  How freeing to remember we are only earthen vessels, entrusted by you with the great treasure of your good news, not dependent upon our own strength but imbued with your unspeakable power.  Troubles can’t crush us, depression doesn’t mean we’ve been abandoned, being knocked down isn’t the same as being knocked out, because on this side of the empty tomb we carry Jesus around within us.  Our bodies may be slowly dying, but you keep beaming life without end into our eternal souls, just as promised by the Savior who taught us how to talk to you, saying … (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 2 Corinthians 4)

Prayer of Confession:  Lord, we’re not getting any younger.  The pain and the hunger keep driving us on, reluctant to let you love us the way Jesus tried to love us.  Meanwhile, a skeptical world looks on with a jaundiced eye, convinced we are a bunch of rules-driven Sabbath keepers, though Jesus made it clear Sabbath was created for humans to savor, not intended as a dreaded day of rigid laws to be piled high on our weary shoulders as we continue running against the wind, afraid to trust you for our safe-keeping.  Forgive our foolish ways, we pray.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 2 and the poetry of Pete Seeger, the Beatles and Eagles)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, for I have life-giving news:  The same Jesus who dared healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath is moving among us this very moment, urging our rebellion against dull, boring worship long on guilt and short on redeeming love.  The same crucified Jesus thought by his small-minded tormentors to have been silenced by a state-sanctioned  death penalty is as alive and present as when he walked through wheat fields on the Sabbath, breaking rules and munching grain as he went.  Thanks be to God for Jesus’ audacious irreverence and his refusal to let the tiny political and religious minds of his day get him down!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 2)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “Write your blessed name, O Lord, upon my heart, there to remain so indelibly engraved that no prosperity, no adversity shall ever move me from your love.”         - Thomas a Kempis, medieval German priest

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  Lord, when the cynical world sees us celebrating Pentecost, they may say we’re dreamers … but we’re not the only ones. May we, like the early disciples, be dazed and confused by the constant audacity of Holy Spirit’s dance among us, breaking down walls with an unfettered joy that spills over into the weariness of the everyday.  Help us dance our faith like there’s nobody watching and love the unlovely without fear of rejection. Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts 2 and the poetry of John Lennon)

Call to Worship:

What a wildly wonderful world, God!

You made it all, with Wisdom at your side.

All the creatures look expectantly to you,

To give them their meals on time.

The glory of God, let it last forever!

Let God enjoy God’s creation!

Oh, let me sing to God all my life long,

Sing hymns to my God as long as I live!  (Psalm 104, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that our life is more than merely an extended dress rehearsal for death.  Though we do wonder about life beyond this life, and often yearn for the day our bodies will be set free from illness and pain, we want to be fully present in every moment you give us, patiently hopeful for those things we cannot yet see.  When we struggle with prayer, hardly knowing what we should even say, your Spirit sweeps in to earnestly plead our case, defending us with sighs too deep for words.  Search our hearts, Lord, as did the Galilean carpenter among his befuddled disciples when he taught them to pray, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Romans 8)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for consistently missing the second coming, and the third, and the thousandth, all those daily occasions when your Spirit revisits us and we are too distracted to notice.  Forgive us our stubborn obsession with triumphalist, Hollywood-esque notions of your return, complete with smoke, trumpets and special effects.  We so cleverly ignore your stark warning of how your Spirit will “show the world it was wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment,” too dull to recognize that sober reprimand being played out in the daily foibles of our self-appointed leaders, bumbling and mumbling and stumbling their narcissistic way toward destruction, consistently wrong about everything, with all of us in mute, sheep-like complicity following merrily along.  Have mercy, we beg you.  Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 15)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news!  Jesus’ expectations of our collective wisdom are apparently mercifully low, as when he told his closest followers prior to his ascension “I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.”  No they couldn’t, and neither can we, and God loves us anyway.  It has never been up to us to completely understand or perfectly enact Jesus’ instructions, only that we be willing to follow him, willing to learn how to be fishers of hurting souls, willing to show mercy and dispense grace to all the lonely people yearning for hope.  That’s all.  Thanks be to God, that is enough!* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 15)

Thought for a Pentecost Sabbath:  “People are more than the worst thing they have ever done.”      - Sister Helen Prejean, O.S.J., anti-death penalty activist

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:   Thank you, Lord, for the contrasting images of this Mother’s Day/Graduation Sunday, when we reward measurable academic progress even as we marvel at  immeasurable maternal love. Guard us from reducing Jesus’ ascension to mere levitation magic, ignoring his stern directive to wait patiently “for what the Father had promised,” insisting it isn’t for us to know the eternal plans you have set for us.  May our worship amount to far more than “standing here, looking toward heaven,” as we invoke Holy Spirit’s power to guide our steps.  Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts 1)

Call to Worship: 

Clap your hands, people!  Shout joyfully to God!

Because God is the great king of the whole world.

God subdues nations and chooses our inheritance;

Sing praises to God!

God sits enthroned, with the leaders of all people gathered around,

Because the earth’s guardians belong to God. (Psalm 47, Common English Bible)    

Morning Prayer:  We cannot stop giving thanks to you, Lord, when in our prayers we remember mother-love.  Grant us “enough light from the eyes of our hearts” to show others the sort of hope our mothers instilled within us, the hope of your call upon our lives.  As this election year unfolds, with human greed and political intrigue ratcheting up mistrust and fear among us, help us reclaim a sturdy, resilient faith in your powerful grace, “far above every ruler and authority and power,”  allowing us to shut out the chaotic chatter of dark forces stalking Caesar’s hallways, seeking whom they may devour, for we make our appeal in the name of the Galilean who strikes fear in the heart of the deep state through words he taught us to pray, saying … *(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Ephesians 1)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for squandering Jesus’ example of opening minds through his explanation of scripture, when we so often have manipulated scripture to close our own minds.  Eager to gain the religious upper hand through our selective misuse of the Biblical narrative, we rush about frantically, desperate to defend our entrenched doctrinal position and claim the theological high ground, meanwhile ignoring Jesus’ counsel to “wait until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”  Because we are not willing to wait for a word from you, Lord, we have nothing worthwhile to say when we do speak, so a hurting world finds it easy to ignore us.  Have mercy on our babbling superficiality.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 24)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, all who are more prone to panic or withdraw than pause and reflect.  If you yearn to get off the frantic busy-ness merry-go-round this world wrongly labels “self-actualization,” take comfort in Jesus’ promise:  “I’m sending to you what my Father promised, and you will bear witness when Holy Spirit comes upon you.  There is nothing more authentically Christ-like than pressing the pause button, rethinking your assumptions and reimagining what is possible.  When you do, you will realize you were always waiting for this moment to arrive.  Thanks be to God for the chance to come down from your fences, come to your senses and open the gate to genuine peace of mind.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 24, Thomas Friedman, Paul McCartney, Glen Frye, and Don Henley)

Thought for an Eastertide Sabbath:  “In each pause I hear the call.”     -  Ralph Waldo Emerson, American transcendentalist

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  God of mystery, power and compassion, may your Holy Spirit descend upon our hearts in this sacred hour.  We give you thanks this day for the commitment and influence of Paul Yoder in his years  among us in college ministry at University Baptist Church, and we pray your blessings upon him as he continues to follow your lead into further discipleship in your name.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts. 10)

Call to Worship: 

Sing to God a brand-new song.

God has made a world of wonders!

God made history with salvation and remembered to love us, a bonus.

Shout your praises to God, everybody!

Let loose and sing!

Strike up the band!

God comes to set the earth right.

Fill the air with praises to God,

With everything living on earth joining in.

God will straighten out the whole world! (Psalm 98, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, help us not get all tangled up over Trinity language, confused about the identities of Father/Son/Holy Spirit and how they interact, tripping over where one begins and the other ends.  Thank you for the early church’s  witness to the mystery of your divine essence, experienced in three reliable ways:  Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.  May we never get lost in the cosmos of ephemeral religious imagery, but remain grounded in scripture’s abiding assurance that Holy Spirit is simply Jesus’ spirit lingering among us, and that Jesus’ spirit was God in person,  all the same Presence, all the same truth.  Thanks be to God for keeping it real, most starkly in the Galilean who taught us how to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 John 5)

Prayer of Confession:  Have mercy on us, Lord, as we careen about inside our little religious circles, so proud we have chosen Jesus as our Savior, convinced we would have been a friend of his if we had lived during his time on this earth.  Comforting though that smug reverie may be, it’s likely not  true.  After all, Jesus couldn’t have said it much more bluntly:  “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  We’d like to pretend we don’t know what he had in mind, but there it is, lurking just before the bit about being his friends:  “Love one another just as I have loved you!”  As in selling all our stuff and giving the proceeds to the poor?  As in welcoming the immigrant at our door?  As in forgiving our enemies ‘til the cows come home?  As in being willing to suffer and die on behalf of the voiceless poor? Sorry, Lord, but we were hoping for a little cushier assignment.  Maybe next life.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 15)

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news, all you whose best offer to Jesus so far is a very conditional love.  In the first place, as Jesus made uncomfortably clear, “You didn’t choose me, I chose you.”  In the second place, you were chosen not in some ancient Jewish version of a beauty contest, but for a particular task, “to go and produce good fruit.”  The best news?  It was Jesus who appointed you and goes before you into every opportunity for sharing his love with a hurting world.  Jesus never sends us without first spiritually equipping us for the task.  Not a bad deal, eh, to hear Jesus promise “my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete.”  Thanks be to God that Jesus is willing to call us his friends and eager to grant us a joy we’ve never known!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 15)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins, not our minds.” - Susan Sparks, comedian and pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church, NYC (on the “young earth” perspective)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Prayer of Confession             

Forgive us, Lord, for hearing only what we want to hear and disregarding the rest, as when we unfairly consider Psalm 22 only a baleful lament, a reciting of our mistreatment at the hands of others, the haunting agonized cry made forever infamous by Jesus’  plea from the cross:  “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Worse yet, our unfair and partial consideration of this ancient song wrongly informs our own prayer habits. Our default mode when we pray is our penchant for cataloguing misfortunes, nursing our wounded pride,     rehearsing the scorn heaped upon us by adversaries.  What we call prayer is often little more than holy whining, ignoring the fuller   dimensions of your divine grace that imbues even our darkest hours.  Have mercy on our misuse of these sacred words, we pray. Amen.**                                                                                        - inspired by Psalm 22 and the poetry of Paul Simon

Assurance of Pardon                                                                                                                         

Take heart, all whose prayers tend toward self-indulgent mourning. Lament is a necessary and healthy component of prayer, lacking which our entreaties to God would founder in sugary sweet irrelevance. God cannot comfort us if we cloak our brokenness and deny our grief. But lament without hope is not a true reflection of Biblically-informed prayer, and Jesus’ choice of Psalm 22 in his desperate       suffering on the cross served then and now as code words pointing to that Psalm’s ultimate shout of victory over pain, humiliation and death. Indeed, only when our frail souls feel “poured out like water,” just when “a company of evildoers encircles us like dogs,”         precisely when “trouble is near and we are scorned and despised by others,” at that very moment is God most near, not hiding but hearing when we cry, ”ruling over the nations, proclaiming deliverance to a people yet unborn.” Thanks be to God for speaking to us not in partial-Psalm sound bites, but through the full expression of the matchless Hebrew Psaltery!**                         - inspired by Psalm 22


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

Women's Sunday, April 15, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  We give thanks on this Women’s Sunday, Lord, for special women in our lives.  “Some have changed - some forever, not for better -  some have gone and some remain.”  All these women have their places in crucial moments of our lives that have gone before, some are dead and some are living, some have shown us the face of Jesus, some have loved us through darkness and pain, some have helped us change our hearts and lives.  In our life, we’ve cherished them all for their particular incarnation of God’s grace.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts 3 and the poetry of Paul McCartney)

Call to Worship:

When I call, give me answers, God. 

Take my side!

Now I’m in trouble again:

Grace me!  Hear me!

Look who got picked by God!

God listens the split second I call.

Complain if you must, but don’t lash out.

Build your case before God and wait for God’s verdict.

Why is everyone hungry for more?

I have God’s more-than-enough, more joy in one ordinary day.

At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep,

For you, God, have put my life back together. (Psalm 4, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Lord, help us not to worry about what is yet to be.  Instead, free us to marvel at the kind of love you have given us, a love that calls us your children!  May we not be discouraged when the world doesn’t recognize us, because the world didn’t recognize Jesus our Lord, either.  We take comfort in scripture’s reminder that “it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be,” though all around us chaotic voices demand we embrace their frenetic schedules and their dark vision of what lies ahead.  Grant us the unfettered courage of a child, resolved to “make sure no one deceives you,” for we pray as our Galilean Lord taught us, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 John 3)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for being just as afraid in the face of unfolding terror as were your first disciples in the wake of your crucifixion.  If you suddenly stood among us this morning, we too would likely think we were “seeing a ghost.”  We shrink from your invitation to “touch me and see,” for fear we would then have no choice but to follow you and make disciples in your name.  We much prefer to gather in your name every Sunday as members of the Jesus admiration society, with no real intention of drawing others into the beloved community of believers we claim means so much to us.  Have mercy, we pray.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 24)   

Assurance of Pardon:  I have good news!  Jesus has spelled out for us the point of his suffering, death and rising from the dead on the third day: “A change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins to all nations.  You are witnesses of all these things.”  May our changed hearts, ennobled lives and willingness to “forgive others even as you have been forgiven” combine to show a broken world what newness of life looks like in person.  Thanks be to God for the privilege of being called as witnesses on Jesus’ behalf!*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Luke 24)

Thought for a Sabbath Day:  “Real courage is when you know you’ve licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”      - Harper Lee, American writer 

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)

Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  On this “great gettin’-up morning”, God of dangerous wonder, help us navigate Easter’s spiritual mine field.  Years of church tinkering have reduced resurrection to a quasi-magic carnival, shrinking the broad power of Jesus’ miraculous life to fit the narrow parameters of  one unknowable, mysterious moment. Help us reclaim apostle Paul’s truth that “God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another;  whoever worships God and does what is right is acceptable to God.”  In this worship hour made holy by the sturdy pilgrims gathered here and God’s hovering angels drawing near, may we faithfully proclaim the message of peace Jesus embodied, as we continue his work of “doing good and healing everyone oppressed by the devil.”*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Acts. 10:34-43 and the poetry of James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones.)

Call to Worship:

Thank God, because God’s love never quits.

God’s my strength, my song, my salvation.

God tested me, pushed me hard,

But God didn’t turn me over to Death.

Swing wide the righteous gates!

I’ll walk right through and thank God!

God has bathed us in light.

O my God, I lift high your praise.*(Psalm 118, The Message)

Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that we don’t have to squinch our eyes, tap our heels together three times and try very hard to believe every impossible creedal tidbit imposed upon us across the ages, in order to be saved.  We rejoice that faith is not some one-time propositional transaction on which our eternal deliverance hinges, but a fluid, organic process in which we are being saved, as apostle Paul insisted.  Like him, “we are what we are by God’s grace, and God’s grace has not been for nothing,” as we confess anew whenever we recall the One who died, was buried, and rose on the third day, teaching us along the way how to talk to you, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by 1 Corinthians 15)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for fearing the spiritual darkness all around us, when in fact darkness should remind us that followers of Jesus are meant to be the light of the world.  Just as Mary Magdalene came to Jesus’ burial site very early in the morning bearing spices to anoint his dead body “while it was still dark,” we so often move about our daily routines as though we still hadn’t heard that what Mary found was an empty tomb signaling the miracle of resurrection. Like Mary, we allow today’s cultural chaos to render us tearfully immobile, as though the anti-Christ powers-that-be “have taken away our Lord, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.”  Have mercy on our distracted souls, wandering about as though Jesus had never lived.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 20)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, terror-struck though you may rightfully feel in a nation where it is easier to buy an automatic weapon than a pack of cigarettes.  Jesus is still waiting and watching just over our shoulder, patiently biding his time until we turn to see him, even if like Mary we mistake him for the gardener.  Indeed, he is just that, a constant gardener of our soul’s soil, pruning away the dead growth choking our spirits, watering our parched and weary hearts, tenderly nurturing our fearful selves with life-giving hope.  Just as with distracted Mary, Jesus will call us by name if we’ll give him a chance, bidding us come and follow him and promising he will never leave us or forsake us.  Thanks be to God for walking and talking with us, telling us we are his own … forever.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by John 20)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Prayer as We Gather:  We all love a parade, Lord, but sometimes we forget why we’re marching.  On this Palm Sunday, draw us in the Spirit’s tether to the tasks you have to fulfill for our time, as when Jesus sent two disciples to fetch the donkey that would carry him to Jerusalem and crucifixion:  “Go, untie, bring.”  Simple enough.  But that simple obedience set in motion Holy Week’s ineffable misery and mystery.  On this Palm Sunday, we join the parade of Jesus’ followers wise or simple who through their own toils, conflicts, and sufferings have learned who he is.  We want to learn, too.  Amen.* (Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Mark 11 and the writings of Albert Schweitzer)

Call to Worship:    

Give thanks to God, because God is good.

God’s love never quits.

Thank you, God, for responding to me;

You’ve truly become my deliverance!

The stone the masons discarded as flawed is now the capstone!

This is God’s work:  We rub our eyes, we can hardly believe it!

This is the very day God acted –

Let’s celebrate and be festive! (Psalm 118, The Message)


Morning Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for allowing us the same advantages of education you granted prophet Isaiah, for the same purpose, “ to respond to the weary with a word that will awaken them.”  May we see ourselves as attorneys well prepared to argue your case before a cynical world. Open our ears to your summons, so we don’t cut and run or hide our face from the insults sure to come when we are found faithful to our crucified Lord.  Grant us tender hearts to defend the voiceless poor and a stony courage that speaks truth to power.  When we stand together, “who could condemn us or bring judgment against us?”  Thanks be to God for bidding us take up the cross and follow the Galilean carpenter who taught us to pray, saying …*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Isaiah 50)

Prayer of Confession:  Forgive us, Lord, for completely abandoning Jesus’ servant attitude, so poignantly sketched by apostle Paul: “He emptied himself by taking the form of a slave, becoming like human beings.” Tortured on the Roman state’s favorite mode of capital punishment du jour, his broken form draped in lurid humiliation for all the leering world to see, Jesus endured the cross.  We, on the other hand, with our addiction to accumulation and our preoccupation with image, are far too full of ourselves to consider even briefly any disciplined self-emptying.  Have mercy on our Facebook profile-obsessed psyches, we pray.  Amen.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Phillipians 2)

Assurance of Pardon:  Take heart, distracted accolade seekers:  There is no statute of limitations on spiritual attitude adjustment.  This very day, this priceless moment, you may “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.”  The attitude-adoption process is as wide open as Jesus’ loving arms, waiting for you to accept his embrace and emulate his life.  God knows our hearts, sees our every weakness, our desperate hunger to be recognized, yet God still stands ready and eager to honor our turning toward the way of the cross.  After all, as Paul faithfully notes, it was in response to Jesus’ obedience that “God highly honored him  and gave him a name above all names.”  Thanks be to God, our Creator still honors obedience, as you will see if only you’re willing to give it a try.*(Mitchell Simpson, inspired by Philippians 2)