March 27, 2022 – Fourth Sunday in Lent
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Call to worship
One: Come, let us celebrate the forgiving, reconciling grace of God.
All: For once we were lost and far away…
One: …now we have been found and welcomed home.
All: God’s grace comes to meet us while we are yet a long way off.
One: Come, let us celebrate the forgiving, reconciling, grace of God.
“God of the sparrow” (Book of Praise 1997 Hymn 307).
Prayers of Approach and Confession, Lord’s Prayer
Loving God, in this time of worship may we be found and may we find a place called home, a place where faith holds us and grace renews us, a place where we are taken in and loved unconditionally, a place where our questions are allowed and our anger is heard and our needs are recognised and our pain is held and our names are known. May this time of worship be that place, this community, this group of travellers and doubters and companions on the way. And loving God, homecoming God, may we make this a home to all who still seek a place of grace filled sanctuary and gracious welcome.
Gracious God, sometimes we have created an agonizing space between us and you, a rift we have created by demanding our share, the distance between us as we flee to a far country, the resentment we hold when things don’t seem fair, our refusal to join your party. Forgive each selfish request, each step away, each bitter thought, each joyless rejection. Forgive us, and show yourself to us, the waiting parent, coming to meet us while we are yet a long way off.
We pray in Jesus’ name and continue to pray as he taught, saying together:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
your kingdom come, our will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.
Declaration of Pardon
The Rev. Frederick Buechner describes the grace of God as something like “Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.” Thanks be to God for God’s amazing grace.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
The Life and Work of the Church (Announcements)
There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” For the younger son, this would be ? of the estate. For the father, this request was insulting. There were laws providing for the possibility of the father distributing his property while he was alive. Under certain circumstances a son could be granted possession of his inheritance with the understanding that he would work the farm for the benefit of the family until his father died. But those conditions and assumptions are not at work here. The younger son wants to possess his inheritance, convert it to cash, and leave the farm and family. His request was tantamount to saying to his father: “Drop dead.”
The younger son wants rights without responsibility. He wants freedom without commitment to relationships. It is, sadly, a common attitude today, but was not so common in Jesus’ time. The younger son’s attitude is offensive to the values and standards of the time. He wants his future without waiting. If a test of maturity is being willing to delay rewards, the younger son fails the test.
Who would have expected the response of the father, “He divided his property between them.” The father surrenders his rights. His commitment to relationships is greater than his claim to the freedom to own and manage his property. He risked his own future by entrusting his living to his sons.
What does the younger son do? He travels to a far country, where he can enjoy his freedom and romp his way into his new future.
Five things rob him of all that he had bargained for:
- He squanders his wealth. The Greek word used here for wealth is ousia, ‘being’, meaning he squanders his being.
- He spends everything he owns.
- A severe famine leaves him destitute.
- He works for a gentile, feeding pigs, which are totally unclean.
- No one gives him anything. He is cut off.
When he comes to his senses, when he faces the reality of where he has come from, and where he is now and how he came to be there, the idea of being well fed like his father’s servants looks like a pretty promising prospect. His confession of sin, his admission of unworthiness, and his offer to hire on as a servant are crafted into a well-rehearsed speech. Now rather than debate whether this is true repentance or pure self interest, we might want to ask ourselves if there can be any “true repentance” among us, any pure turning around, turning to God. Is there any turning around so untouched with self-interest or bargaining that it needs no grace to be acceptable?
And grace explodes in our faces as we watch the meeting of the father and the son. It begins with the father running to meet him, “while he was still a long way off”. I love those words. How many of us are still a long way off? The father was watching and waiting. To spare his son any humiliation from the taunts of the villagers because of his conduct, the father humiliates himself by doing what no father at that time would do. He runs in public to meet his son. He throws his arm around his son and kisses him, totally public signs of reconciliation, before the son has the chance to deliver his prepared speech. When the son does speak, he doesn’t even get around to offering to be one of his father’s hired men Did the son change his mind about that part of the speech? Or did his father not give him the opportunity to say it? It doesn’t matter. It makes no difference. What matters is that the father has received his son back. The relationship of father and son is restored, not by the bargaining of the son, not by anything we can do, but by the grace of the father.
Then we see the signs of how complete this restoration was. The best robe would have been the father’s robe. The ring was a sign of restored authority and responsibility. The shoes are the sign of a son, not a servant. The killing of the fattened calf was a sign that the whole community was invited to celebrate the restoration of the relationship. The unexpected, extravagant display of grace in restoring his son is, in his father’s own words, “Let us have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” God in Christ loves a party, a party that celebrates the restoration of life to the dead and of the recovery of a relationship with the lost.
The shadow that approaches from the field is cast by the older brother. He and the fattened calf are the only beings who are not happy with the way things are. We have not heard of him since verse 12, “So he divided his property between them.” With two-thirds of his father’s property deeded to him, he has worked hard and been responsible. And as he approaches the house, he becomes aware of some music and some dancing. He asks one of the servants what is going on. Upon hearing that his brother has returned and that this party is in his honour, the older brother is livid. Honouring the one who took off! And to add insult to injury it is his part of the inheritance that is paying for this party!
He refuses to join. But the father, just as he has run to meet the younger son, again takes the initiative, comes out of the house to plead with his older son to join the party. And just as the younger son claimed his rights without responsibilities, the older son asks about his rights, because he’s been slaving all these years, and he refuses to take responsibility for welcoming his brother home.
The younger claimed his freedom without commitment to relationships. Now the older brother wants freedom from any relationship with his brother. He calls him “this son of yours”, not “my brother”.
The younger son sinned against his father and was welcomed home into a restored relationship with his father. The older son “slaved” for his father and sinned against him without leaving home. But the grace of the father is extended to both as he pleads with his older son to join the party. The generosity lavished on the son who was lost outside the household is now extended also to the son who is lost within the household. The father’s love knows no limitations.
The story stops without being finished. How do you finish it? Would you have the older brother staying out or going in? In our relationship with God, where do we fit in? Are we the younger brother, or the older brother? If you are anything like me you have probably been both at various times in your lives, and maybe you are one of them right now. In any case we are being invited to join a party. How will I finish the story? How will you finish the story? Are we willing to open ourselves up to the amazing grace of God?
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of being present at Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Dedication of our Gifts and Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope
Whether we give in the offering plates at the doors, or through PAR, or bring our cheques to the office during the week, we give in grateful thanksgiving for all that God has given us. In the upside-down world of the gospel we measure our wealth not by what we have, but by what we can give away.
Let us pray:
Gracious God you have given us so much and it is because we recognize the gifts you have given to us that we give to bless your creation, to further your work. May our offerings be used diligently that your love may be known widely. Bless our offerings for the food bank. As we dedicate our gifts we offer ourselves too. Take and use us that our hands may reach out in service and our feet may walk the paths of reconciliation and our words may be words of peace.
Holy God, as the younger son spent prodigally, in abundance, so you spend your grace prodigally, casting it everywhere, like the sower with the seed in another parable Jesus told. We give you thanks, you, the one of prodigal grace. We give you thanks for the promise of spring, the gift of life, the gift of new life. We thank you for all the blessings of life, for family and friends and love abundant. We thank you for our home in this worshipping community, the people around us, for the leadership here from Rev. Chuck Moon and the Session. We thank you for the gift of music, for Rachelle and the choir. For all your gifts, we give thanks.
In these stressful times of disease and war we pray for the world. We pray for the people of Ukraine and Russia, we pray for peace in Ukraine. We pray for those who have been displaced, who seek safety and shelter. We pray for children who are frightened, and parents who are doing their best to care for them. We pray for peace in Ukraine.
We pray for those who are immune compromised as things begin to reopen in our city. Help us to care for each other, to keep each other safe.
We pray for students and teachers, for health care workers, for those who work in essential services, for those of us struggling with the economic hits of the pandemic, those of us struggling with mental health, those of us struggling to get out of bed in the morning, those who mourn the loss of a loved one, or a relationship, or a way of life. Lead us through the trials, the suffering, the challenges and struggles, the tired time, the despair and bleak places. Lead us back to you and your abundant grace. Be with those who cry out or cannot sleep, who seek release. Comfort them with your abundant grace. Fill us with hope, sustained in your mercy, upheld by your Holy Spirit in your prodigal grace. Transform us in our brokenness, so we can be made whole, and in wholeness, may we be the hands and heart of Christ, in whose name we pray. AMEN.
“God of the sparrow” (Book of Praise 1997 Hymn 307).
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15: 13)
- “Go Now in Peace”. Words by American educator, lyricist and composer Don Besig (1936–) and American lyricist Nancy Price (1958–). Music by Don Besig. Words and music copyright © 1988 Harold Flammer Music, a division of Shawnee Press.
- Performed by Rachelle Risling (keyboard) and the GCPC Senior Choir. Audio and video production by Rachelle Risling.
- Audio and video recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Copyright © 2022 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated 2022-04-01 – Removed One License permissions. No One License permissions needed this week as service was not recorded for re-use or live-streamed.