Year C Lent 4
Sunday 31 March, 2019
Ipswich Central Uniting Church
Lighting the Christ Candle
In the past couple of weeks,
we’ve seen the darkness
we’ve seen evil wear an Australian face
we’ve seen what people like us can do
if we allow the darkness of hate to engulf us.
Here’s the good news.
We don’t have to live in the dark.
We don’t have to allow hate a place in our lives.
Jesus is the light of the world,
His light can dispel the darkness.
We light the Christ candle
as a reminder of the light of Christ with us.
Hymn Together in Song 684 Love will be our Lenten calling
Call to Worship (Psalm 32 Responsive)
Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
and whose sin is put away!
Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
and in whose spirit there is no guile!
While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,
because of my groaning all day long.
For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and did not conceal my guilt
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”.
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble;
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.
You are my hiding-place; yu preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
“I will instruct you and teach you =in the way that you should go;
I will guide you with my eye.
Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding;
who must be fitted with bit and bridle or else they will not stay near you.”
Great are the tribulations of the wicked.
But mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.
Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord;
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.
Hymn: Together in Song 155 O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder…
Prayer of Adoration and confession
Gracious God, we thank you for this new morning,
for our time together, as a church family,
as your family.
We thank you that Sunday by Sunday,
you call us to celebrate
your new creation in Christ.
This is a day for new beginnings,
and we thank you for the many times
you allow us, out of your love,
to begin anew.
We confess that we have sometimes turned away from your love
We confess the times we have gone our own way,
trying to live our lives apart from you.
We confess the times we have compared ourselves with others,
and believed we were “better” or more deserving than others.
Holy God, we know that whenever we turn back to you,
you run to greet us with open arms.
You welcome us home and invite us into your family once more.
Help us when we are on the wrong path,
show us of our need of your love
and help us to turn back to you.
Help us to know when we have become self-righteous
and think we deserve all the love you give us.
Give us the humility to know the undeserved gift of your love.
In Jesus’ name, we pray.
Declaration of Forgiveness:
… our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!
Passing the Peace
The peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Hymn Together in Song 129 Amazing Grace
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God
We’ve all heard this story before. So let’s look at it a little differently, put it in a modern context, in case it tells us something new when we hear it in a new way.
As you listen, you might realise that you in some way relate to one character in the story or another. Certainly, the people who Jesus told the story to originally ought to have seen themselves somewhere in it.
Once, there was a family with a Dad and two sons.
Dad was a businessman, who employed a lot of people, and had pretty much all the trappings of wealth. He really loved his family, and dreamed of a future in which his sons would share the business he’d worked so hard to build up.
The older son we’ll call John, for the sake of something to call him. John was a hard worker. He’d earned his business degree studying nights, while working full-time for his Dad during the day. On weekends he did overtime, or did extra study, rarely taking out time for himself.
The younger son, who we’ll call Bob, had dropped out of school at the end of grade 10 and made the most of being a rich kid - endless parties, drinking and drugs.
John was a high achiever, and a workaholic. If asked why he would only have been able to say he wanted to do a good job. Perhaps if pressed, he would have said he wanted to make his Dad proud of him.
Bob was lazy, wasteful and lived a self-destructive lifestyle. If ever asked why he would probably have said something about enjoying life- about not wanting to be as boring as his brother. Perhaps, in a more thoughtful mood, if indeed he had one, he might have complained about not being able to measure up to the expectations of Dad, or the example of John. Since he could not be perfect, he would not try at all.
But really the question “why” has no answer. People are too complicated, their lives too confused, for there ever to be a conclusive reason why.
So there was no reason given when Bob, on his 18th birthday, announced he didn’t want to go into the family business. Since he was supposed to inherit a share when the Old Man died - he’d rather take the cash value now instead.
Dad gave no sign his heart was breaking as he cashed in some investments, and borrowed money against the business, and gave a large sum of money to Bob.
John resented Bob who always seemed to get everything his own way. He couldn’t understand how Dad could give in to Bob .
When Bob announced he was leaving home, and didn’t plan to return, John was relieved. It may have been at great cost, but the business had been freed of a major liability. John and Dad could get on with business together, without the problems Bob caused.
Dad worried about Bob. He didn’t try to stop him. But he waited every day for news of his youngest son.
Bob went as far from home as humanly possible. He set up home in a city in a foreign country. It soon got about that he had plenty of money, and he quickly found that he had plenty of new friends. He could buy anything it occurred to him to want, and his want s were great - and his friends were always there to help him out.
Nothing much lasts for ever, and the money ran out, very shortly followed by Bob’s friends.
He found himself alone and on the street. To make money to survive he did what it took to make money on the streets. Neither law, nor morality, nor personal dignity figured in his understanding of life any more. He lived outside of them, and he could not count on them to protect him.
Then one day, as his spiral into self destruction had dragged him lower than ever in the past, he awoke in a laneway with injuries he couldn’t account for- and the most astounding realisation. Even the cleaners who worked nights in his father’s office building had a better life than he had. They could always afford food and a roof over their heads.
For the first time in his life he developed a definite goal. He would go home. He knew he couldn’t expect his father to accept him back after the way he’d behaved, but perhaps his father would still care enough to give him a low-level job, maybe as a night cleaner. That way the family wouldn’t have to see him, and he could avoid the shame of facing them each day.
In a while, Dad heard the news he’d been waiting for. Bob had been seen hitching rides in their direction. He was coming home. Dad called the caterers to organise a party with no expenses spared. He organised fresh clothes, and had Bob’s old room repainted. He even set out along the road himself, driving out along the highway to pick up the hitch hiker.
As Bob got in his father’s car, he tried to explain his plan to work as a night cleaner. He couldn’t get a word in , however , as his father exploded in joy at seeing him, and told him all about the party planned at home.
The dazed Bob went into the party as John arrived home from the office, and wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Hearing that Bob was home, he was furious. Dad went out to calm him down. John finally said all the things he had thought and felt for years, how hard he’d worked, how little he’d got - how Bob had wasted everything and always seemed to get so much.
Dad listened quietly to the outburst, then said quietly, “I know you work hard. You’re always here with me, and I’m glad of that. You share everything I’ve got, and one day it will all belong to you. We’re always together. But your brother, was lost and we’ve found him again. It is as if he’d come back from the dead. That’s something to celebrate.”
Dad went back into the party and left John to decide what he would do.
Jesus never told a story just for the sake of telling a story, so what is this one about?
Some pharisees had accused Jesus of eating with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus didn’t deny it, because the accusation was completely true.
He had been associating with sinners, tax collectors, foreigners and even women. He’d been seen with such people in public, and he’d even gone into their homes to eat with them and talk with them. Jesus was a very odd character for a holy man of his era.
These people Jesus had been spending his time with were like Bob, like the Jewish boy who’d been reduced to feeding a gentile’s pigs. They were the outsiders - the people who didn’t seem to measure up, who weren’t good enough, who were unacceptable. The unacceptable people came to Jesus had he accepted them with joy.
He didn’t question them about how they lived their lives. He loved them.
When their lives changed it was in response to Jesus’ love.
The scribes and pharisees who were criticising Jesus for his choice of associates, might have seen themselves in John, in the older son who’d done everything right.
They weren’t bad people. In fact, they were especially good people. Their entire lives were about being good. They went to great extremes to be good. It must have stung that Jesus, who was being called a prophet, kept choosing to be with unacceptable people instead of them.
Now here’s the thing, the reason I asked you to consider whether you might relate to one character or another in the story.
John in the story, the pharisees who accused Jesus, were working so very very hard to be perfect, in hopes that would make them right with the Dad, with God.
The trouble is, being good doesn’t earn God’s love. You can’t be that good - because God is perfect, and humans just can’t be perfect. You can’t achieve that. We all fall short. It doesn’t mean they weren’t loved - just that they were tying themselves in knots trying to achieve the impossible.
Bob in the story, the unacceptable people who came to Jesus and found acceptance, knew they weren’t good enough. They knew they weren’t in a position to judge anyone. What they discovered was grace - that God loved them completely even though they had utterly failed to deserve it. It was the discovery of grace that enabled people to respond and to change their lives for the better, to put God first, and show love for others.
Jesus left the pharisees with the same decision as the older brother in the story had. Would they celebrate that these outcasts had come to Jesus and discovered God’s love for them? Would they keep being resentful?
And what about us? Do we try to earn God’s love? Do we see seek to follow rules and think we can be deserving of some favour from God by being better than others?
Or, do we know we will never measure up, and simply accept God’s love in Jesus as a free gift? Then out of gratitude for that, do we seek simply to respond with love for God and others?
Hymn and offering All Together Now 4 Father Welcomes All his Children
Prayers of the People
Holy God, we pray for the lost in our society,
Those who have tried to gain rights and freedoms, only to find the freedom they sought cost too much
Those who separated themselves from home and family, only to find that separation often includes isolation
Those who tried to show they could survive on their onw, nonly to find a vast gulf between living and merely surviving
Those who had no choice, but were cast out of home and away from safety, and cope in whatever way the can.
Those who have become victims of the world in which we live, and have no power to find a safe place for themselves.
Those who thought they found a safe haven, but proved to have found a false sense of safety
We pray for those who have never been lost
Those who take home, friends, family, food and even church for granted, and those who treat them as a right, not appreciating the gifts of your grace.
Help us, as your people, to be the path that guides your lost children home to you, and not a barricade to keep them away.
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 697 All the sleepy should have a place…
Sending forth of the people of God
Filled with the light of Christ,
you are the light of the world.
Go out into the world, to show love and light
and help to dispel the darkness wherever you go.
And may grace, mercy and peace
from God the Father, God the Son
and God the Holy Spirit be with you now and always.
Repeat refrain of TIS 697 - Make love happen…