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Music Prelude -- What Wondrous Love is This CP 400
Welcome to our service this fourth Sunday of Lent whether at home, travelling or with us in our sanctuary home.
Acknowledgment of the Land
We acknowledge that we are committed by Treaty to share this land in a spirit of respect and generosity. We know that those of us who are settlers have not done so in much of the past. We have learned from The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of that sad history, and we continue to learn today with deep sadness what happened in the residential schools and through the Indian Act that oppressed First Peoples and prevented them from continuing in their culture as self-sufficient communities. In this Lenten time, we confess our need for reconciliation and a renewed understanding of what “Treaty” really means.
Opening Hymn 628 CP O Love How Deep
Collect Loving God, your Son Jesus Christ, wept over Jerusalem. Today, we weep over Ukraine, where war wounds the lives of innocent people. We weep for those uprooted from their homes and lives. We weep for those cowering in basements. We weep for those who have witnessed death and destruction on their streets. We weep for those separated from parents, from children, from spouses and siblings. We are amazed at the resilience of people seeking to comfort those in need and so we pray for Governments opening up borders so that Ukrainians can have safe passage. We pray and give thanks for churches and individuals providing food, clothing and shelter. We pray for medical workers ensuring that shattered bodies are put back together again. We pray for ordinary Russians demonstrating and voicing their disapproval of the military actions in Ukraine. May the Holy Spirit give us the willpower to turn our tears into action. May we, through our words, prayers and example pursue the things that make for a just peace in the world today and especially in Ukraine. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.
Extinguishing the Candle in the fourth Sunday of Lent
Meditation: This Sunday morning, I invite you to take three deep belly breaths, slowly, and then centre yourselves and be at Peace, opening to the Holy One.
We come as we are, exhausted by 2 years of losses and isolation, frightened by the threats to our war-torn world from fearful men. We worry for our families, our elders, children and grandchildren… for our world and for our future on Creator’s gift of this beautiful blue globe. Remind us Holy One, that your promise is --- All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well. God calls to us in a low, urgent voice. Listen. Jesus is being drawn to Jerusalem. What is God calling you to do?
As we extinguish this light, we acknowledge God’s words of assurance… all will be well, as the darkness and pain gives way to hope for justice, generosity and love which will overcome the shadows of greed and fear.
(A candle is extinguished.)
Together we pray:
Loving God, as we journey through this holy season of Lent, may we be open to your presence. Give us the strength to make the changes that are needed in our lives and the courage to take on the work of transforming the world. Amen.
Song: CP 179 Verses one and 6(e)
First Reading A READING FROM THE BOOK OF JOSHUA 5:9-12 Second Reading
A READING FROM THE SECOND LETTER OF PAUL TO THE CORINTHIANS 5:16-21
Gradual Hymn: CP 606 There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
Gospel: THE HOLY GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO LUKE 15:1-3, 11B-32
The Gospel of Christ - Thanks be to God.
The Prodigal Son (and his Father and his Brother)
With thanks to Kenneth Bailey’s wonderful study titled
The Cross and the Prodigal
So, we are now on the fourth Sunday of Lent and we get to read one of the archetypal stories of all time… the Prodigal. We have heard it so often… a selfish, angry and lazy younger son, who is entitled to one-third of his Father’s estate under the laws of the day, persuades his dad to give that to him and the process fractures his relationship with his dad. It was an astounding amount of wealth, which he quickly turned into cash, and off he goes. He has a grand old time, but like others who run out of their money through bad choices, or bad luck, or any other myriad of causes, becomes broke. He hits bottom… has to sober up, feed the pigs (don’t forget, they are unclean, so if he wasn’t already unclean he sure is now.)
So as a last resort, he goes home planning a story of remorse,” please dad please… one more time, I’ll never do it again, I’m really sorry dad, I’ve let you and mom down, I’ll be good just let me learn a trade and I’ll pay you back….”
But it doesn’t happen that way.
So let’s go back into the story and pay close attention to how Jesus sets it up. We know the kid is a bad actor, and we know he comes to grief and semi-starvation. But hear again what he says to himself….
“How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!
Well, first of all, he isn’t really dying…he’s hungry and the work he has is not exactly wonderful…feeding pigs. But wait, isn’t that what farmers do? Feed pigs, cows, chickens. It’s easier work now than it used to be, at least here in Canada. But it still is hard work, which, as the saying goes that I heard more than once in my youth “never hurt anyone.”
Anyway… the younger son heads home with his tale of woe. Villagers see him coming and tell his dad, who drops everything and runs out to meet him. The village must have been astounded. They expected the usual ritual of humiliation in such cases of a son deeply embarrassing a father, called the “Kezazah. The son knows this will happen, and is ready to speak anyway, saying…”Father forgive me…. Blah, blah, blah. But to his astonishment, he never gets a chance. His dad runs up and greets him, long robes flapping, shushes him, kisses him, calls for a robe, plans a great feast and is joyous at his son’s return. Reconciliation begins. But is the story over? Not by a long shot.
Enter a furious, hurt and equally astonished older brother who, after all, is the majority rightful heir all that is left of the family wealth. The rest has already been washed down the drain by his foolish brother, yet here is a feast going on. He demands his father come out of the feast and talk to him, another humiliation of the father in the village culture. He rants at his dad.. You never even let me have a party with my friends… unfair…. Un Fair…. UNFAIR!!!!
And it is… really, really unfair. It was unfair from the beginning, when the father let himself be talked into raising cash for his son; cash to which he was surely not entitled, and which the father suspected already was not going to be well spent. The son wasn’t going to buy land, or set up a trading business… he just gathered all his portable belongings and took off.
It was unfair to the first-born son, 1/3rd of whose inheritance had been given away to a selfish, grumpy teenager. It was unfair when the son came home and there were no immediate consequences for his selfish actions and choices. It was just as unfair as I thought when the RCMP celebrated the ending of a blockade by saying that no one was hurt, and no charges were laid. “What? No charges when they blocked trade, hurt businesses, and defied the law… what’s to celebrate? Why didn’t you do your job, enforce the law and at least issue some tickets?” That’s what I felt at the time… Perhaps one or two of you might have felt the same?
Most of us think about much of our lives “transactionally”. The easiest example is the transactions of buying and selling. We exchange money or sometimes work for a return. Learning to fly, I got paid $25.00 a week plus flying time. That was a transaction in both money and work. We set up transactions with our kids all the time. “Here’s your allowance…make sure you clean your room, or there won’t be an allowance next week”. With our partner… “I’ll do the washing while you take out the garbage”. We use transactional language when we are angry or hurt. “I did this for you and you didn’t do a thing…not fair!”
A lot of our lives is about “fair”. The driver who cuts you off… not fair. The person who tries to jump the queue “not fair”.
But that’s the thing. The father’s reaction is not fair, not at all. Not to his older son, and not to the prodigal. It likely sets bad example to the workers and family friends… not only not fair, but not wise either. How will the prodigal ever learn? If we were psychologists, we might even say the father was “enabling” his son’s bad behaviour. The Father’s response in the parable upsets the natural order of things. Jesus’ audience were villagers. They would have been totally baffled. They knew what was to be expected when a son was disobedient or rude.
Jesus is telling us that the old order is done away with; that God’s love is not transactional. This is astounding news. But what about the covenant? Covenants are clearly transactional. You do this and God will do that. You screw up and God will punish you. The story of the Prodigal sons turns all that conventional wisdom on its head. But God’s Love, Jesus says, is not transactional. God’s Love is not transactional. That is scandalous; foolishness for any thinking adult. But that’s the story… forgiveness and celebration, love unconditional, until and unless we choose to separate ourselves. But Love’s always waiting, waiting, hoping, waiting, waiting, waiting.
If we are worried that there have been no consequences, think about the terrible price the father has already paid; worried, wondering if his son is even alive. Think about the son, who loses all that he has, all the relationships that sustain life, and is reduced to feeding pigs, and coming home to work out his repentance in the face of the unbelievable love of the man he so badly hurt. Oh yes, there were consequences, just not in the way we usually think of them.
However, this story does not have an ending. Most of my life, I thought it did…
After all, the prodigal is welcomed home, relationships are restored and there’s a great feast. But Jesus leaves the story without an ending. The older son is estranged from his father. He has been rude, petty and focused on “Not Fair”. He has nothing but contempt for his brother. Now the Father suffers the broken relationship with his other son.
Yet once again, his Father debases himself, comes out from the feast, begs his son to repent and return. The villagers would be astonished. First the Father forgives a wastrel son, and does not require anything. Now he debases himself again, begging his other son to be reconciled to his brother, but fails; at least this time he fails.
But surely, that is Jesus’ point. The older son is at least equally important in this story. He is the unreconciled… He is the one that once again the grieving Father awaits, in hope of another day, and another chance for reconciliation, for the triumph of Love.
Affirmation of our Faith:
We believe in God,
who when there was nothing
planted the seeds of life in all creation,
and breath in the clay of human life.
We believe in Jesus Christ, eternal seed of life
who entered the deaths of our existence,
trod deeply into our earthiness,
took into his body all our painfulness
and lifted it into the victory of love.
We believe in the Holy Spirit
who waters our grief with her tears,
nourishes in us the buds of life,
and tenderly cherishes our growings
until they break forth into the fruits of hope and faith.
(The glory of blood, sweat & tears by Dorothy McRae McMahon, p. 81)
Prayers of the People
One: You keep us waiting.
You, the God of all time, want us to wait for the right time
in which to discover who we are, where we must go,
who will be with us, and what we must do.
All: So thank you...for the waiting time.
One: You keep us looking.
You, the God of all space, want us to look in the right and wrong
places for signs of hope, for people who are hopeless, for visions
of a better world that will appear among the disappointments
of the world we know.
All: So thank you...for the looking time.
One: You keep us loving.
You, the God whose name is love, want us to be like you -
to love the loveless and the unlovely and the unlovable;
to love without jealousy or design or threat;
and most difficult of all to love ourselves.
All: So thank you...for the loving time.
One: And in all this, you keep us.
Through hard questions with no easy answers;
through failing where we hope to succeed
and making an impact when we felt we were useless;
through the patience and the dreams and the love of others;
and through Jesus Christ and the Spirit, you keep us.
All: So thank you...for the keeping time,
and for now and for ever. Amen.
(from Iona Community Worship Book, 1988 in Bread of Tomorrow, p.p. 14-15)
The Peace of Christ be always with you
Response: And also with you.
Offertory Hymn: 403 CP Let all things now living…
Prayer over the Gifts God of mercy and compassion, your Word calls us home to faith and love. Accept all we offer you this day, in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.
The Lord Be In You
And Also in You
Lift up your Hearts
We lift them up to the Holy One
Let us give thanks to God our Creator
It is always right to love and serve God, the Holy One.
Therefore we join in the chorus of praise that rings throughout eternity, with angels and archangels, prophets and martyrs and all the holy women and men of every age and culture. Together with them we magnify you as we sing…
Holy, Holy, Holy, God of power and might , Heaven and earth of your glory are full. Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is one who comes in the name of the Lord, Blessed is one who comes in the name of the Lord
Holy, Holy, Holy, God of power and might , Heaven and earth of your glory are full. Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest.
O God, from before time you made ready the Creation. Through your Wisdom, your Spirit moved over the deep and brought to birth the heavens: sun, moon, and stars; earth, winds, and waters; growing things, both plants and animals; and finally humankind. You graced us with freedom of heart and mind.
You took us, and taught us to walk in the way of peace. And though you led us with compassion and love, we wandered far away. Yet as a mother cares for her children, you would not forget us. Time and again you called us to live in the fullness of your love.
The world had waited long in pain and hope, when you acted anew in Creation. In order that we might see and know the riches of your grace, Jesus of Nazareth was born and lived among us, suffered and died, and rose again, to lead us into eternal life. He gave to us the Spirit, the wellspring of strength, to help us carry the Good News to all peoples.
Spoken Together Eternal God, we remember that on the night of betrayal and desertion, Jesus took bread, and broke it. Then likening the bread to his own body about to be broken, he gave it to his disciples, saying, "Do this in remembrance of me."
After supper, Jesus took the cup; and after giving you thanks, he likened the wine to his own blood about to be spilled, and gave it to them, saying, "Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." Mystery of Faith Celebrant: Therefore let us proclaim the mystery of faith: People: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Consecration Celebrant
Gracious God, we ask you to pour out your love and blessing upon these gifts of bread and wine. Through them make us mindful that your Spirit who broods over the whole of Creation dwells also in us. Through this meal make us the Body of Christ given to the world you have made. Draw us, O God, to your heart at the heart of the world. For this we offer to you all that we have, and all we are, giving you thanks for the gift of Jesus Christ; through whom, with whom, and in whom, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, O mighty God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Lord’s prayer (Cameron)
Prayer After Communion Giver of life, you enlighten all who come into the world. Fill our hearts with the splendour of your grace, that we may perfectly love you and worthily praise your holy name, through Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.
The Doxology: (together)
Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine, Glory to God from generation to generation, in the Church and in Christ Jesus, now and forever. AMEN
The Blessing, (together)
And may the Blessing of God our Creator, Jesus our teacher and healer, and the Spirit of Wisdom, our companion be with us all, now and forever.
Closing Hymn: One More Step Along the World I go.
Go Now in Peace, build our community, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry and know that God is with us as we journey.
Response: Thanks be to God
I have to say that the story of the prodigal comes pretty close to home for me. My dad’s father was killed in 1916 in WW1. He was an officer and left a small amount of money to his two kids to enable them to go to school. Instead , dad took his share, went to England, bought a motorcycle and toured England, doing goodness knows what, came home broke in 1930 or so, and went as a deckhand on the Great Lakes in the depths of the depression at a wage of $1 a day, food and a bunk. When WW2 broke out, he immediately enlisted. I have no idea whether he apologized to anyone, but I do know that his sister went to U. of T. and was deeply angry at my dad till the day he died.