Year C, LENT 4

 

Luke 15: 1-32                          (Sermon 1: “The Prodigal Father”)

                                                                        (Sermon 2: “Two Lost Sons”)

2 Corinthians 5: 16-21

Joshua 5: 9-12

Psalm 32

 

PREPARATION

 

The mercy of the Lord who comes to seek and save the lost,

be with you all.

And also with you.

 

God is too immense for the universe to contain, yet is closer to us than anything or anyone else.

God is nearer than our heart beat, closer than thoughts and feelings.

God is pure perfection, perfect beauty, yet is not disdainful of our imperfect lives and fragmentary praise.

God is our light and salvation, joy of the heart’s desiring.

 

OR ¾

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

And also with you!

 

If any one is in Christ there is a new creation,

old things have passed away, the new has arrived!

Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, you loving people,

 

From now on, we don’t look at people as hopeless humans,

Christ has changed all that.

Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, you loving people,

Shout for joy, all you who are sincere in heart.

 

Let us worship God.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Wonderful God, you are light and love and joy! Please, once more, open our hearts and minds to the hospitality of your house. Set us free from narrow vision and miserly love, that with the wonder of those who are freed by your Spirit, we may worship you through all facets of this hour of praise. Though Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

I will get up and go back to my Father and say: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no longer fit to be called your child. Please make me one of your hired labourers.”

 

Let us return to our God, and make our confession. Let us pray.

 

Loving God,

There is enough evil within us to dampen our confidence;

Sometimes there is enough doubt in us to swamp our faith.

 

Some days there is enough weariness in us swamp our hopefulness.

There is enough apathy within us to smother our compassion.

 

Yet, thankfully there is also enough hunger in us to keep us unhappy.

And enough discontent in us to make us return home to your love

 

God of our Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.

Amen. Have mercy on me a sinner.

 

God of monumental  patience and of prodigal mercy, forgive your people their numerous sins, have pity on our pride and folly, lead us to the fountain of your grace, and wash us thoroughly from all that defiles us. Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer.

Amen!

 

ABSOLUTION

 

Jesus told us: “Then the Father said: Bring quickly the best clothes for him, and put a signet ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, and kill the fattened calf, and let us eat and celebrate, for this my child was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.”

 

My friends, welcome back home. This fellow Jesus, and his remarkable household, welcomes sinners and even eats with the likes of us!

 

Thanks be to God.

 

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            God’s Generosity

 

Dear God,

you are so kind and generous!

.

Thank you

for being like mums and dads

who love us all the time,

not just when we are nice

but also when we are nasty.

 

We know we are just kids,

but if you can help us

to be more kind, like Jesus,

then we can make a happier home,

school, and world.

 

Please?

Start right now, will you?.

Amen!

                        Ó  B D Prewer 2003

 

PSALM 32

 

It is a happy person whose wrongs are forgiven,

whose sins are put away for good.

It is a happy person who is not blamed by God,

and whose soul hides no deceit.

 

When I kept it all to myself I was a waste of space,

I was miserable all the day long.

By day and night, your hand seemed too heavy,

I was as withered as a paddock in summer.

 

Then I let it all come out to you,

keeping nothing to myself,

saying: “I confess my sins to God,”

and you took away all my shame.

 

May God-lovers bring their troubles to you,

pouring out their pain like flooding waters.

We will not be drowned but be kept safe,

surrounded by shouts of salvation.

 

God will coach and enlighten you for the best,

the eyes of the Counsellor will look into yours.

Don’t be like a brumby or wild donkey,

untamed by any bridle and bit.

 

Wicked people will suffer countless troubles,

but believers are embraced by God’s love.

Celebrate your God, all you loving people!

Shout for joy, all you sincere souls!

                                                                                    ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

LOSERS AND FINDERS

 

A foolish creature

this wandering sheep,

            face to the stubble

            chasing the next nibble,

then by its own stupidity

            gets bleatingly lost.

 

A much bartered thing

this silver coin,

            ever passed around

            from hand to hand,

till by someone’s carelessness

            falls hopelessly lost.

 

A selfish man

this younger son,

            cares not a fig

            plays “Mr Big,”

and by his wilfulness

            is tragically lost.

 

A prodigious Lover

this Holy One,

            seeking the least,

            saving the lost,

and with no pride at all

running to meet a fool.

                                    ©  B.D. Prewer 1993

 

COLLECT

 

Your love, Holy God, is a searching, finding and celebrating power. Help us trust you and be infected with your love. Then, in celebrating your love, encourage us to be carriers of this holy infection to those dispirited people, for whom life is more like a duty than a delight, or a desperate grab for pleasure rather than a joyful celebration. Through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen!

 

SERMON 1: THE PRODIGAL FARMER

 

Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32

 

This is the real thing. The story we know as the “Prodigal Son” is quintessential Jesus. It sums up his life, his ministry, his God.

 

I cherish this parable. After reading it thousands of times and more it still has the power to touch me profoundly. In this territory, on the farm of that remarkable Father, I know I am in genuine Gospel country, my true homeland.

 

This morning I invite you to take another look at the two sons in the context of that homeland and that farmer of prodigal generosity

. 

Some of you may find yourself reflected in one son, or the other. I suspect that there are bits of both of them inside you.  I would like to think that you have also stood on the ground owned by this wonderful

father.

 

THE YOUNGER SON

 

I know how this fellow felt. He wanted to make a clean break from parental control, to be his own person, to chose his own friends, to experience life in a broader context.

 

So with big dollars (obtained most selfishly) in his hand he set out to see the big world, far from “the bush” where he was brought up.

 

Can’t you identify with that son’s desire to leave the parental establishment? We parents mean the best for our offspring but we can be rather smothering.  Even when a person is fifty years old, a mum and dad can tend to treat you as a child or adolescent. They fuss too much, they wish to exert their influence, they interfere (all for the best reasons of course!).

 

A little space between parents and adult offspring can be a substantial relief to the offspring; and is some cases a relief to the parents, let me add!.

 

However, in the parable, the younger son was not up to the opportunity. He did not handle his freedom well. He was too desperate for new experience and to liberal with his cash.  Drinking mates became the substitute for friends, and prostitutes a surrogate for love.

 

Like so many who misuse their freedom, he fell a long way; until he was broke, and ended barely surviving on a pig farm, living among the pigs as a swineherd. To a Jew, a swineherd was a most disgusting occupation. Pigs were despised and their meat forbidden. There, living with the swine, all his self-respect was stripped away. He was a useless, filthy, degenerate fool.

 

We may not have ended up among the pigs (well not the four legged ones anyway) but each of us has been failed and fouled by our quest for the wrong things. We end up far from where we expected to be, not shiny and happy but discontented and sometimes disgusted. Self respect can fall down into an emotional equivalent of the pig-pen.

 

Then, by the grace of God, you come to yourself. All is not lost.

 

THE ELDER SON

 

What about the elder son of the farmer?  I reckon many of you can also identify with him.

 

Here is a bloke who has loyally laboured at his duty, year after long year.

 

Big brother did not make a song and dance about it, did not ask for fancy rewards. He just knew what should be done and did it. Summer and winter, day and often into the night, loyally giving his best.

 

Of course he would have liked a break. Of course he thought about distant cities, golden beaches, relaxation, parties and pretty women. But he pushed that to the back of his mind and got on with his duty. The country depends on blokes like him.

 

Then his wastrel brother, who had treated Dad shamefully, cleared out and disgraced the family with his sordid exploits, came home sucking up to poor old Dad.  And what does the old man do? Runs down the drive to meet the young stinker, gives him new clothes, fancy rings, best leather shoes, and throws a big party with music and dancing..

 

The elder son refuses to attend.  I can empathise with that. I sit with him outside in the dark muttering my discontent

“All these years I have served you well, did not complain, never faltered, yet you never once threw a party for me! Now this.....this......son of yours.... has come crawling home, and you lay all the goodies on for him!  Dad, I ask you, what does love and loyalty mean?  Does it count for nothing?”

 

Oh yes! After all the church councils and committees I have attended in my life, when I could have been home with my family, or out with my wife enjoying a concert or show, I know you very well, elder son!   And I reckon most of you do, also.

 

THE FATHER

 

Then there is the third character, the parent. With him it is harder for me to identify because my ways are not often his ways, and my loving patience falls far short of his.

 

From our normal way of seeing things, this farmer r goes over the top. His whole performance was prodigal, unwise, extravagant. He is prodigal in his generosity. He was plainly asking for anger from his faithful, elder son.

 

To start with, why at the beginning did he let the younger son receive everything he wanted? That much freedom and money and responsibility is too risky. That’s not being a good parent, surely?

 

Let him go if the young chap wants to. That’s fair enough. But make him pay his way and find out for himself the value of every dollar.  To hand over half the inheritance into the young bloke’s slippery hands seems ridiculously indulgent and irresponsible.

 

Then think about what happened later, when the young chap came slinking home smelling of pigs. Dad’s behaviour is again prodigal. All that undignified running down the lane to meet him,  that hugging and half-laughing and half-crying. This Dad seems more like some mums I have known than fathers.

 

By all means, cordially welcome the young fool back, give him a bath and some clean clothes. Give him a strong lecture. Inform him you will give him a second chance. If he proves himself reliable he can stay on and work for wages.

 

But be prudent, take it slowly. Hold back the new suit, don’t hand over the signet ring (in our culture more like the credit card) and don’t even think about a party until junior proves himself worthy to be treated as a member of the family again.

 

But wait, there is more (to quote a certain TV add).This father ignores the teaching of the Bible. The advice given in the Book of Proverbs. He even disobeys the religious law, which in Deuteronomy 21: 18 says that a son like this one, “a glutton and drunkard, should be taken before the elders of the village and then sentenced to death by stoning.”

 

The puzzle of this prodigal farmer continues even further. When in the evening big brother arrives home from crutching sheep or pulling turnips, the father does not run out to meet him. Belatedly, hearing that son senior is home and not very happy, dad goes out into the darkness and begs him to join the party.

 

In fact, that is where we leave the story of the father. Not with the younger son dancing, but out of the party with his good but surly son.  That’s wrong too; by all the decencies of Jewish law and custom, the angry son should swallow his pride, say ‘yes sir” and obey. In that Jewish society, to disobey a father’s request was to publicly dishonour the father. This Dad should have pulled rank and severely reprimand him. Instead, the old man remains out in the night, pleading with an angry child.

 

WHAT KIND OF A PARENT IS THIS?.

 

So, on this fourth Sunday of Lent, we come to the final questions.

 

What kind of a enigmatic parent is this? One who give us dangerous freedoms? Who permits us to damage our lives rather than be forced slavishly  into moral living? Who entrusts us with possessions we might not be not capable of handling wisely? Who when all is selfishly squandered, runs to meet the sinner? Who welcomes the wastrel to a party table? Who stands in the darkness with good people who cannot cope with free grace being lavished on the unworthy?  Who is this unexpected, prodigal, undignified Dad?

 

And what is our response to such a prodigal Love?

 

I suggest again that if we look carefully, we may discover that there is within our characters bits of both the younger and older brothers. In fact, within us there may be a tension between the two; a sibling rivalry.

 

Both sides of our nature must deal with a God who does the unexpected and extravagant thing.  A God who supersedes all our ideas of justice and shakes our self righteousness.  A Divine lover who runs and leaps for joy when an apparently worthless sinner comes home. A Holy God,  who still stands in the darkness with a very respectable but recalcitrant, sinner.

 

This Person welcomes sinners and eats with them.

 

But not all are willing to join him at the feast.

 

 

SERMON 2: TWO LOST SONS

 

Luke 15: 1-32

 

The Gospel today is a story about a remarkable father whose lost his two sons:

            One was lost in a foreign country through his own self indulgence.

            One was lost at home, trapped in his own self righteousness.

 

This parable gets a mixed reception.

On one hand this parable of “The Prodigal Son” is openly praised, on the other hand it is covertly resented by many people. For some it contains the essence of the Gospel, for others it threatens to undermine their personal goodness.

 

AN UNDERLYING UNEASE?

 

The resentment is not usually openly admitted.

 

After all, how do you go about publicly criticising Jesus? However, a friend of mine who was serving in his first parish, in a large wheat growing region, was disconcerted by the mumbling he set loose when he first preached on this parable.

 

 (Maybe among farmers there are numerous “elder brothers” who have loyally stayed with the  7-day-a-week responsibility of the farm, while other brothers have quickly opted out and taken up life in the bright lights of the city. Maybe when the city siblings return home for a visit, Dad and Mum make quite a fuss over them.)

 

In my own pastoral experience as a preacher, this under-current of resentment was best expressed by one earnest woman, who after I had preached on this parable, said to me in a quiet but surly tone: “I don’t think Jesus ever really understood the elder brother.”

 

 (Maybe among life-long members of the same congregation, who serve on committees, do good works, give significant financial support, cater for special events, and rarely miss a Sunday’s worship, there is a strong feeling that they are not appreciated. Hence they resent the fuss made over newcomers and converts, or even the farewell speeches of appreciation made to members who after a mere few years move on elsewhere.)

 

GETTING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE

 

Is the welcome to the prodigal son overdone? Let us try and get things in perspective.

 

In the parable of the prodigal son, all the parental fuss is made over the younger brother’s return home. He seems to get the full deal: hugs and kisses, tears of joy, new clothing, new shoes, a signet ring, and one wow of a party!

 

What about the elder brother? Who amongst us cannot feel sympathy for the elder brother as he returns home at evening after yet another’s hard day’s toil, to find the party in full swing?

 

Feel for him we well may, but does that mean that Jesus did not understand the elder brother? Does it suggest the parable is lopsided and ill advised?

 

Of course not.

 

I would argue that Jesus did really understands the elder brother; understands him better than the fellow understands himself.

 

Did you notice that stuff about being a servant?

 

Do you recall that the younger son, while in the far country and was reduced to being a swine herd, decided to go home and ask to be taken on as a servant? Focus on this word servant. It seems that what the prodigal son now saw as the only servile status open to him , that of a menial servant, was in fact the status the elder son had already chosen for himself.

 

The son who stayed at home said :

 

“All these years I have served you, and never disobeyed your wishes, and you never rewarded me with even a party and a young roast kid to eat. But for this so called son of yours, you have even killed the fatted calf.”     

[Please understand that in those days, meat was not a common item in the diet. It was reserved for very special occasions. Young, prime beef was a very rare thing indeed!]

 

The stay-at-home brother had a slave mentality.

 

He saw obedience and hard work as the way to justify himself. By long hours of toil he expected to earn

his father’s approval. He thought he deserved some acclamation.

 

But he had “lost the plot.”

 

It appears that he was oblivious to the fact that he was, from the very beginning, the much loved child of loving parents. He never realised that as a son he did not have to earn his father’s love. It was there. It was given. It was free. It was abundant.

 

Maybe we fall into the same trap in the church?

 

Maybe we start to measure our Christian status, or worth, by the good things we do rather than by God’s abundant love of us? Maybe we serve like slaves? Rather than throwing ourselves happily into God’s work, simply as a part of loving and being loved?

 

I have an uneasy feeling  about this.

 

No matter how many times we Protestants have lectured about “justification by faith” rather that “justification by works,” it is the latter that covertly takes over our outlook. We think to earn our place in the kingdom. We measure our status, and that other church members, by output rather than by God’s input of saving grace.

 

It is not enough to know chapter and verse about “justification by faith.” It is not sufficient to get our theology right. We need to jettison our efforts to be righteous by any creed we believe, or duties we perform for the church. “By grace we are saved through faith; and even our faith is not our doing, but is a gift of God.” Grace; God’s free, redeeming love for us all is the bottom line.

 

As for the younger son?

 

he did not realise the depth of love that was always awaiting him. In his shame and misery, he surmised that his father would have annulled his status as a son. On his return home, he must have been as stunned as any! Overwhelmed with wonder as the father ran to meet and hug him! Speechless as he was clothed with new garments and welcomed into his old home amid celebration. 

 

I said “speechless’ not as a metaphor but as the actual situation. 

 

Before he left home, and while in the far country, he had words at his commend. As he returned home he rehearsed suitable words. Even as he saw his father running to meet him, he had plenty of words ready to utter. But as he was embraced by the unconditional the love of the father, there were no words. None were possible, because none were even remotely adequate.

 

 In the face of such love all words are abysmally inadequate. In the rest of parable we hear not one more word from his lips.

 

THE FULL OUTCOME REMAINS UNKNOWN

 

I think is extremely poignant that in Jesus’ parable the final outcome is still unknown.

 

We are left with the father, out in the darkness, pleading with his self righteous elder son to come into the light and love and join the party. Did he? It’s not stated.

 

To join in the fun is extremely difficult for a person with a slavish mentality.

 

It is hard for those who believe they have fully earned the father’s rewards. As long as grace is free to all, the hard working servant of religion will feel badly done by, and will reckon that neither the father, nor his spokesman Jesus Christ, really understands him. Some may stay out in the shadows and cold for a long time.

 

Even during this season of Lent, some may undertake disciplines for the wrong reason.

 

They do it with a slave mentality, rather that as the happy children of God who freely choose to identify with Jesus in his discipline and suffering.

 

That is a crying shame!

 

So much grace awaits us,

so much hospitality wants to embrace us!

 

O taste and see that the Lord is good!

 

 

THANKSGIVING

 

God, you are our God and we are your children. We give you thanks for all that you have done for us, and for all that you are to us.

 

We bless you for the beauty, fertility and diversity of the earth, for the star-filled sky and the roaring seas.

 

For the wonder of our existence; as self-conscious creatures, a bit like you, able to call each by name with respect and affection.

 

For those who especially love a cherish us, not only when we are being lovable but even when we are awkward and unkind.

 

For those who directly or indirectly serve our welfare, all women and men whose names we may not know yet who whose influence enriches our lives.

 

We bless you for the man called Jesus who came among us full of strong, overflowing compassion and unrelenting truth.

 

For your Presence in his word and deeds, and for  the liberating and healing influence of his suffering, death and resurrection.

 

We bless you for the church called into existence by the risen Christ, and for the Holy Spirit enthusing our faith and inspiring loving deeds.

 

For our deathless fellowship with all those loving servants of Christ who have gone before us and surround us like a vast crowd of supporters.

 

Therefore, with angels and.......................

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

  * for 2 voices

 

God our motherly Father, our brotherly Saviour, our sisterly Spirit-Friend, we ask that in our prayers and in the ordinary affairs of each day, we may exhibit your generous spirit to other people.

 

We pray for the millions of homeless people whom we will never meet but whose predicament we see on the TV.

Please bless those humanitarian agencies who attempt to care for them, and all who give generously to support their work.

 

We pray for unwanted or destitute people in our own country, from Darwin to Port Arthur and Port Headland to Byron Bay.

Please give both wisdom and a generous spirit to Federal and State Governments, and strengthen the welfare ministry of churches.

 

We pray for any among us here today, who with dignity and courage are secretly enduring misfortunes or ongoing worries.

Please give your peace and healing to them, and keep us sensitive, that we may recognise a cry for help if it comes our way and respond generously.

 

We pray for neighbours or workmates, and for those familiar but nameless faces we notice each day in train or bus, elevator, bank or supermarket.

Please bless each according to their need, and without any prying or self importance on our part, make us ready to help in the hour of need.

 

We pray for all the bewildered, lost souls;  for young folk hitting out,  puzzled adults who find that neither career nor family satisfy their deepest need, sour elderly folk who are jealous of the faith and happiness of others.

Please gather the lost into your loving arms, and help each of us to treat awkward, prickly people with the generous respect that you have for each.

 

Loving Saviour, seeking the lost and the unlovely,

we worship you.

Caring Spirit, enabling the weak and the meek,

we worship you.

Holy God, generous beyond all calculation,

we worship you.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Get ready to go well.

On the good days give thanks to God,

            in your bad days, give thanks to God. 

Neither think too highly of your achievements

             nor put yourself down as useless.

You are a child of God, sufficiently beautiful, and sufficiently flawed,

            to warrant the costly grace of the crucified Lord.

Go your way with a resilient and cheerful spirit.

Amen!

 

The grace of Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Spirit, will watch over you while are absent from one another.

Amen!