March 27, 2022

Prayer of the Day

God of compassion, you welcome the wayward, and you embrace us all with your mercy. By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace, and feed us at the table of your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

Joshua 5:9-12

9The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

10While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Psalm 32

1Happy are they whose transgressions | are forgiven,
  and whose sin is | put away!
2Happy are they to whom the Lord im- | putes no guilt,
  and in whose spirit there | is no guile! 
3While I held my tongue, my bones with- | ered away,
  because of my groaning | all day long.
4For your hand was heavy upon me | day and night;
  my moisture was dried up as in the | heat of summer.
5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not con- | ceal my guilt.
  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” Then you forgave me the guilt | of my sin.
6Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in | time of trouble;
  when the great waters overflow, they | shall not reach them. 
7You are my hiding-place; you preserve | me from trouble;
  you surround me with shouts | of deliverance.
8“I will instruct you and teach you in the way that | you should go;
  I will guide you | with my eye.
9Do 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.”
10Great are the tribulations | of the wicked;
  but mercy embraces those who trust | in the Lord.
11Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice | in the Lord;
  shout for joy, all who are | true of heart. 

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.] 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3So he told them this parable: 11b“There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”

He Qi – The Prodigal Son, 1996

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

“There was a man who had two sons.” This week another pastor said that with that one line, we may lose our audience, so familiar is Jesus’ parable. In fact, this parable was part of our youth group gathering discussion a few Sundays ago and one of our eighth graders rattled off the entire story for me, noting how often it was taught in Sunday School. 

Is there a new way into this well-known story of Jesus’? All week, I have been singing the lyrics to an old folk song my stepbrother used to sing while playing his guitar:

“I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world below
There is no sickness, no toil, nor danger
In that bright land to which I go

I’m going there to see my Father
And all my loved ones who’ve gone on
I’m just going over Jordan
I’m just going over home”

The best version I found on YouTube was a recording by Johnny Cash, best because it’s Johnny Cash. I could not find anything in a quick search connecting this song with the Parable. But I did read that some have suggested the song was derived from an 1816 German-language hymn. To me the song conjures up Old Testament images of making it to the Promised Land along with Jesus’ parable about the gracious father welcoming his son home.

This is the third lost parable in a series. All of them have perhaps been inappropriately named by scribes and people trying to include helpful headings in bibles. And yet, The Parable of the Lost Sheep is not about the lost sheep. All the sheep ever did was get lost.  The parable is about the passion of the shepherd who lost the sheep to find the sheep.  His passion to find is what drives the parable.  

Consequently, it isn’t the younger son’s lostness, wasting all his money on wine, women and song in the far country; and it isn’t the elder brother’s grousing and complaining and score keeping that stands against him. What counts in the parable is the father’s unceasing desire to find the sons he lost—both of them—and to raise both of them up from the dead.

The parable begins with the shameful acts of the younger son.  He rejects the value of family solidarity. He also demands his inheritance before his father’s death. But the father does not exercise his patriarchal authority. He does not demand that his younger son give up his plans. The older brother is silent.  

The inheritance that the younger son demanded would have been a portion of the family’s land holdings. After selling the land, he left home. He used the money from the sale to support a disgraceful lifestyle. Jesus’ audience would have been shocked by all of this. Theirs was a land-based economy. Jewish families held on to the ancestral lands. But it was also a question of religious belief. Jews considered their ancestral land holdings to be God’s gifts to their families.

The turning point of the story is a crisis in a foreign land. A famine strikes the land where the younger son was living. He squandered his wealth, and he has no resources to help him survive the famine.  

Jesus gives us a glimpse of just how far away from home the younger son is. The younger son humiliated himself by working for Gentiles as a swineheard. Moses was clear that swine are not kosher. No good Palestinian Jew would be caught dead near pigs. To top it all off, he could not even ease his hunger with the food he gave to unclean animals.  

The son had one hope. The only way he could survive was to return to his father’s house as a hired hand. He knew he could not reclaim his status as a son. Now can you hear him singing:

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world below
There is no sickness, no toil, nor danger
In that bright land to which I go

I’m going there to see my Father

The actions of the father were most unexpected. Remember that he had been shamed by the younger son’s actions. Normally he would have disowned the son.  Instead, we hear that the father was waiting for his son’s return. We get the sense that the father had in fact kept vigil, praying for the day his boy would return. Like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep or a woman rummaging for her misplaced coin, the father remained hopeful that the seeds he had once sown in love might yet be harvested in the return of his child.

As soon as he saw his son, he ran out to meet him. He had been publicly shamed by this child. Yet he kissed him, gave him a robe and ring, and threw a party. This was completely out of character. The feast the father arranged was necessary to repair the damage caused by the son to his neighbors. They would have regarded his behavior as undermining traditional values and setting a terrible example. The banquet served to ease the younger son back into the good graces of the neighbors.

The economy of such love and grace surprises and offends us. It is so extravagant.  The ways of the world suggest that yes, the son might be welcomed home. It would have been reasonable—a ration of bread and water in answer to his great sin. But in the economy of God, rejoicing for the return of a child is simply not enough.  Joy must be made all the more complete by abundance: the best robe, the finest ring, the fatted calf.

While the banquet was going on, the elder son reappeared in the story. He was consumed by jealousy and resentment. But the father reaches out to him, just as he reached out to the younger son. The older son was in danger of becoming just as lost as his brother. So, the father abandoned his guests, a breach of etiquette. He reaches out to persuade the older son to rejoice at his brother’s return.  

As Jesus tells it, the father does not get all censorious with the elder brother. And he does not defend the younger brother. Instead, he shifts his way away from both brothers. The father turns attention to his own love and bounty. There is plenty to go around, he says. No one will run short. “All that is mine is yours.”  

This is not your younger brother’s party so much as it is my party, the party I throw for many.  I am on the lookout for my loved ones. The reconciliation between the father and younger son did not occur because of what the son did. The reconciliation happened because of what the father did.  

The older son is having none of this. For now, at least, he is full of resentment and self-righteousness. He flat out rejects his Father’s love. This son is lost too. In a few chapters, Jesus will have his conversation with the rich young many who wants to inherit eternal life. We never hear what happens to that young man. Some of us hold out hope that in the end, he sold his possessions and followed Jesus. Likewise, Jesus does not tie up this parable. He leaves room for the older brother to change his mind. Jesus always leaves room to change our mind, to change our words, to change our hearts, to ultimately change our actions. It can be at once infuriating and the one thing that gives true hope and life.

Maybe, in the end, the older brother will give up his resentment and self-righteousness and sing:

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world below
There is no sickness, no toil, nor danger
In that bright land to which I go

I’m going there to see my Father

Maybe someday the older brother will join the Father’s party too.

Behind the parable is the truth about God and God’s kingdom. We are all lost. We are all mired in sins of sensuality and greed and self-referential resentment. We are all hip-deep in pig slop of envy. Before we knew it, God reached out in the people of Israel and then in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. God raised us up and called us home.  

It is just not about you or me. It is not about my sin or your sin. It is about God and god’s life-giving love and mercy and abundant life. Over and over God’s stretching; searching, healing love finds someone and call that person back home.  But that does not mean there is less for the rest of us. It means there is more.  More wine.  More feasting. More music. It means another, and now bigger, party. 

In Holy Communion we eat and drink to this Jesus who reveals the heart of God to us. We eat and drink to his ministry. We eat the body of Christ that we might inexplicably become the Body of Christ. You are what you eat. We eat and drink this feast that rich and poor, black and white, male and female, prisoner and free, conservative and liberal, younger and older, might all be welcomed into that incredible party God is throwing without end.

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Drawn close to the heart of God, we offer these prayers for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

A brief silence.

Jesus formed the disciples in the ways of extravagant mercy and profound welcome. Lead your church to be a community marked by forgiveness, hospitality, and celebration. Send us to transform a world plagued by fear and condemnation. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

You make the land to produce a harvest that sustains your entire creation. Equip farmers and farm workers who till the soil. Nourish the earth with ample rainfall and abundant sunshine. Heal grounds tainted by pollution or misuse. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Countries are divided and leaders often harbor grudges. Reconcile nations that experience conflict (especially). Act quickly to bring an end to war. Anoint peacemakers trained in the art of diplomacy and foster a spirit of collaboration among political rivals. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Your people cry for help in times of distress. Resolve disagreements among family members. Save those experiencing financial hardship. Hear our prayers for those who are sick or grieving (especially). Console us with the promise that everything can become new. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Your love comes to us when a table is set and a feast is prepared. Bless the feeding ministries of this congregation (especially). Bring an end to hunger in our community and around the world. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

We pray for the people of Ukraine, and for our sister churches of Eastern Europe. Kindle in the hearts of all your children the love of peace, and guide with your wisdom the leaders of the nations, so that your the earth will be filled with the knowledge of your love. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

The one who was dead is alive again. We give thanks for those who have died, confident that steadfast love surrounds them. Shelter them in your love until we are gathered at your heavenly banquet. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Accept the prayers we bring, O God, on behalf of a world in need, for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

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