This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on March 27th at 10:30am
Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not able to attend public gatherings. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church.
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“The meaning of life is to see.” (Hui-Neng)
CALL TO CELEBRATION
As we gather at this time, may we recognise and affirm the pieces of possibility, the bits of good we bring, allowing our individual gifts to weave a patchwork of celebration and justice. Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.
WE GATHER FOR WORSHIP
R: We’re glad to come together.
L: In trust, in community
R: We’re glad to come together.
L: In many moods, in many shapes and sizes
R: We’re glad to come together in this Lenten season.
PRAYER OF AWARENESS
Remind us, O Spirit, that life is worth living.
Remind us, O Creator, that the struggle for justice
is worth undertaking.
Remind us, O Mercy, that love and action are one. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation “The Rainbow in our Faces” by Rabbi Arthur Waskow.
We are the generation that stands between the fires:
behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
the flame and smoke that consume all Earth.
It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
but the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different, all of us bearing One Spark.
We light these fires to see more clearly
that the Earth and all who live as part of it are not for burning.
We light these fires to see more clearly
the rainbow in our many-coloured faces.
Blessed is the One within the many.
Blessed are the Many who make one.
In the silence which we now claim, let us be gentle with ourselves. For a few moments, let us release ourselves from a world that is too noisy, too busy, too demanding.
For a few moments, let us release ourselves into the calm, still world that waits to receive us…where the quiet is broken only by sounds of our own making. Within this welcoming quiet, let us befriend ourselves. Let us rest in the gentleness of this moment. (Maintain silence for at least 30 seconds)
WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS
L: Look on us, merciful God, as we really are. Please penetrate beyond our outward show into our true selves, that we may find the courage of self-honesty and repentance, and receive the blessing of forgiveness.
On the sins which we confess and those that we have not yet recognised, Lord have mercy;
L: On the sins that we loathe and those of which we have been too tolerant, Christ have mercy;
R: Christ, have mercy.
L: On the basis of our profound needs, not on our preferences and conditions, Lord, have mercy;
R: Lord, have mercy.
L: Merciful God, saving Friend, by the grace of your crucified Son save us from the evil which has corrupted our lives. Forgive our sins and set us free from their hold on our days. Renew the well-springs of our faith and love, and prepare us to surmount the pressures and temptations that are yet to come. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour. Amen!
L: At morning, noon and sunset, God is available to those who sincerely desire the healing grace of Christ Jesus. Only those who hide away cannot not share the goodness of God’s mercy which falls freely like sunshine and rain. So stand in the open, look up and be blessed. There is Divine renewal in every breath we draw, and in every Bible promise we take to heart, and so I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM THE GOSPELS – Luke 15:1-7; 11-32
15 1-3 By this time a lot of men and women of questionable reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.
4-7 “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.
11-12 Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’
12-16 “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to feel it. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corn-cobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
17-20 “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a prize-winning heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.
25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’
28-30 “The older brother stomped off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours; but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Partying with God”
Noted preacher, Fred Craddock, in a sermon on today’s gospel reading, reminds us that there are things that we do in life that are wrong, not because they are immoral or illegal, but because they are inappropriate. The same action at another time, might be considered fitting.
A father had just presented his daughter, a university student, with a new BMW motorcar. This could be considered simply as a generous gift, except her poor marks from the previous semester had almost had her thrown out of her course. When a friend questioned the appropriateness of the gift of a new car in the wake of her poor academic results, the father replied, “Well, she’s had such a struggle, and she was so upset over last semester. I didn’t want her to take her failure the wrong way, and I thought she needed a boost, so I got her the car.”
There are times and places where such a gift would be …appropriate. But a parent who rewards failure is asking for trouble. It was a generous gift, but at the wrong time.
Our present time is Lent, the Christian season of penitence, confession and sober self-examination. We avoid singing alleluias, we decorate in purple, the colour of repentance, contrition, and we consciously walk in the shadow of the cross.
Here, deep in Lent, is the gospel story of a young upstart ne’er-do-well who ungratefully demands his inheritance, and takes the money into the “far country” where he blows it all on whiskey and wenching. When this prodigal comes slithering home, reeking of beer and pig dung, his father throws the biggest party ever seen in that part of the world.
Now you might say: “I like a good party as well as anyone, and I’m always up for a good blow-out….if it is at the right time in an appropriate context.”
When a prodigal son, or daughter, slinks back into the fold, the homecoming ought to be done in sackcloth and ashes, not in patent leather pumps and a tuxedo. Common wisdom tells us that if you throw a party for a prodigal, he’ll think getting wasted was okay. He’ll do it again.”
You might also wonder: Why tell a story like this in Lent?
Deep in Lent, season of penitence and pain, season of the passion and the cross, there is a party. The church, in its wisdom, forbade the singing of “alleluia” during Lent, so why is this gospel party story now instead of, say, in the Easter season?
We are not the first to ask?
Our question is the same as that of the older brother when he heard the music coming from the house. “What’s going on here? Music? Dancing? Levity? And in Lent? Is this liturgically fitting? Morally appropriate?
It is certainly not inappropriate for a father to welcome back a wayward son; any of us would do likewise. What does not seem fitting, meet or right is this party. The older brother never questioned that his father should receive his hell-raising little brother back into the household. What gets his goat is the party. The older brother asks our question: “What is the meaning of this?”
Luke expends more verses describing the party – shoes, ring, fatted calf, music – than any other aspect of the story. A party! What is the meaning of this?
The meaning of this is quite simply forgiveness. In a number of places in Scripture, the forgiveness of God is rendered as a celebration, complete with party clothes and refreshments. In Zechariah 3:1-10, we are told that Joshua (representing Israel) stands in dirty clothes before God, because of Israel’s sin. An angel of the Lord, says, “Take off his dirty clothes and dress him in splendid robes and put a turban on his head (sound familiar?). You see, I have taken away your guilt.”
“Quick,” says the father in today’s reading, “pull out all the stops, spare nothing in this party for my wayward son. In his sin, he was lost to me. Now he is found. He was in rags. Put him in a robe. He was dead. Now he is alive.” And they began to make merry.
John Wesley, in his commentary on this story says that the word here “implies nothing of levity, but a solid, serious, religious, heartfelt joy.” Poor John Wesley. I’m sorry John, you are wrong. Making merry meant then what it means today. But you can see Wesley’s worry: how do you explain this event to Methodist wowsers? After all, it’s a party! And in Lent! To Wesley, and to many others, the timing seems all wrong. It is inappropriate.
But there’s a heap of partying in Luke’s gospel; much making merry. The shepherd finds the lost sheep and comes home crying “Rejoice with me, come party, my lost sheep has been found.” The woman cries to her neighbours, “Come rejoice with me, the lost coin has been found.” The father says, “This son of mine was lost, and now is found. Let’s party.”
The older brother’s question is the question of the religious establishment, the church’s question, our question, “What is the meaning of this?”
Let’s put this party in context. This chapter of Luke’s good news begins with grumbling, “‘Now even tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to Jesus,’ Jesus’ critics cried. ‘This Jesus befriends sinners…and eats with them!’”
It is appropriate for a man of God to reach out to the lost, to demand that they change their sinful ways, straighten up and fly right. But this one eats with them, parties with them. It is inappropriate.
Jesus replies, “In heaven there is more joy, more partying over one lost child abuser or drug pusher who repents than ninety-nine of the righteous gathered in church during Lent.
He was always partying, eating and drinking with tax collectors and other sinners. He was guest at the table of many a sinner: some religious sinners, some non-religious. The only party he ever threw himself was, interestingly enough, during Lent; on Maunday Thursday to be exact; a meal in an upper room. He never had an appropriate sense of timing.
At that party, after the wine was poured and passed around, he shocked his guests by saying, “This is my blood poured out for you.”
Earlier his critics had said, “The disciples of John the Baptist fast and offer somber prayers, but your disciples eat and drink.” In other words they were saying, ‘We can tell that the disciples of John are religious; they look so miserable, your disciples, on the other hand are always partying.”
Jesus replied, “When the bridegroom shows up for the wedding, do the guests looks sad?”
He came to us. We did not say, “This man’s theology is unorthodox.” We complained, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” He came to us, telling us that the time was full, ripe for revolution. But we said caution is the word, prudence is best, the time is not right for redemption. Ernest Campbell may have been right when he said that biggest problem with western Christianity is that we have a loving Father gospel and an elder brother church.
Finding that his inappropriateness knew no bounds, eventually the people were forced to strip him, mock him, beat him and nail him to the tree. And from the cross he looks out upon us tax collectors, prodigals, whores, teachers, students, white collar, blue collar, self-funded retirees, pensioners….sinners all, and with his last breath, says, “Father, forgive.”
Now, let the party begin.
OFFERING OUR JOYS AND CONCERNS TO GOD
Please let your love flow through us, gracious God, and save the people of this world from the sometimes rampant, sometimes subtle, forces of evil and death. Whenever church councils are in denial about the true health of congregations and the opportunities for outreach: come Saviour Christ and deal with us. Please hear our prayers and strengthen our will to truly love.
Whenever ministers and counsellors are in denial about their own wants, and push for outcomes that suit them rather than the needs of their clients, come Saviour Christ and deal with us.
Whenever ordinary citizens are in denial about the true reasons why indigenous Australians are beset by numerous social and health issues, come Saviour Christ and deal with us:
Whenever the members of the United Nations Assembly are in denial about their lack of costly commitment to the weak, poor and oppressed, come Saviour Christ and deal with us.
For yours is the commonwealth of love, the power that works through the meek, and the glory that from a cross embraces the world, through Christ Jesus who taught us to pray, Our Father….
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
WORD OF MISSION
R: those issues which make a compelling difference, which create the good life for all humanity.
Go your way with a resilient and cheerful spirit.
The grace of Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Spirit will watch over you while are absent from one another.