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Worship, Prayer and Bible Study Resources

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C, Purple

Opening Verse

Prodigal son picture

Now there is rejoicing in heaven; for you were lost, and are found; you were dead, and are now alive in Christ Jesus our Lord. Abide in peace. The Lord has put away all your sins.

- Book of Common Prayer

 
Collect Prayer
First Reading:
Second Reading:
Gospel Reading
Commentary:
Meditation:
Hymns for this week
Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead :

Prodigal RembrandtIntroduction

The reading from Luke which we know as the 'Prodigal Son' is one of the most profound teachings of Jesus. It gives to us a glimpse of that forgiveness which is found in God as parent. As no human parent can fail to forgive, so too God forgiveness is not limited by the human capacity to sin.

Opening Verse of Scripture    Isaiah 66.13

As a mother comforts a child so will I comfort you, says the Lord.


Collect Prayer for the Day—Before we read we pray

Merciful Lord, you know our struggles to serve you: where sin spoils our lives and overshadows our hearts, come to our aid and turn us back again; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Common Worship Shorter Collect

Merciful Lord, absolve your people from their offences, that through your bountiful goodness we may all be delivered from the chains of those sins which by frailty we have committed; grant this, heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake, our blessed Lord and Saviour, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.  Common Worship  

O God, rich in mercy, you so loved the world that, when we were dead in our sins, you sent your only Son for our deliverance. Lifted up from the earth he is light and life; exalted upon the cross, he is truth and salvation. Raise us up with Christ that we may walk as children of Light. We ask this through Christ, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, holy and mighty God, for ever and for ever. Amen.   Methodist Worship  

 

First Bible Reading Joshua Chapter 5:9-12

Joshua Chapter 5:9-12 Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." So the place has been called Gilgal to this day. On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan.

Second Reading 2 Corinthians Chapter 5

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (This is the word of the Lord -- Thanks be to God)
 

Prodigal SonGospel Reading Luke Chapter 15:1-3 & 11b-32

Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him.
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Then Jesus told them this parable:

"There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.
He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' "But the father said to his prodigal son and fatherservants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate. "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"

Post Communion Prayers

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Saviour gave his back to the smiters and did not hide his face from shame: give us grace to endure the sufferings of this present time with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Commentary

prodigal son in maze The Prodigal Son

Now that Luke's parable of the "Prodigal Son" has become so well-known and well-loved by the church, it is hard for us to imagine the kind of shock waves this story would have sent through the "large crowds" (Luke 14:25) that were following Jesus and listening to him preach and teach. In fact, as Luke sets the scene for this parable, it seems Jesus may purposely be testing the boiling point of the increasingly disturbed scribes and Pharisees who were keeping a close eye on Jesus' growing popularity. The parable of the lost son and the welcoming father vigorously confirms the grousing of these legalistic, fundamentalist scribes and Pharisees when they complain, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them" (15:2).

Immediately preceding this parable , Luke tells two other parables of "lostness". In 15:4-7, the parable of the "lost sheep," and in 15:8-10, the parable of the "lost coin" introduce themes also found in verses 11-32. The main message speaks of the joy that is felt when one lost sheep, one lost coin or one lost son is found again and welcomed back into its fold, purse or family. All three of these parables serve as Jesus' response to the nasty grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes described in 15:1-2. Jesus' attitudes and actions toward "tax collectors and sinners" is the problem. He not only welcomes them to his congregation; he also welcomes them to his table. The straight-laced righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes found Jesus' behaviour quite suspicious, even scandalous. They could never condone social contact with such "sinners."

The roots of our term "prodigal" come from the Latin prodigere -- meaning to "drive forth or away" or to "waste." It can be interpreted as either extravagant wastefulness or liberal generosity. So while Luke himself does not call the younger son a "prodigal," the term certainly suits the actions this young man took when he "squandered his property." The son's rapid fall is made as complete and catastrophic as possible. Luke's language here is coarse and colloquial when he describes how the son would have loved to eat the disgusting food he was giving to the pigs. Working for a Gentile and playing servant to swine was the bottom of all possible Jewish barrels.

In verse 17, Luke's phrasing of how the young man "came to himself" is one of the few Semiticisms in this parable. It literally means "to repent." The father's impetuous forgiveness of the approaching son in verse 20 may appear to offer the boy forgiveness without repentance. But the son had already privately voiced his change of heart and mind. All said, however, the father's welcome and forgiveness (the embrace and the kiss) occur prior to the son's confession.

The robe, ring and sandals (v. 22) the father has the boy decked out in are all marks of the son's fully restored place of honour and authority in the household. The killing of the "fatted calf" symbolises a truly special and festive occasion. As noted earlier, however, the elder son is not yet a part of this celebration. In fact, apparently he does not even learn of it or of his brother's return until after he has finished his day's work in the fields (vv. 25-27).

The elder son's anger is instant. The confrontational tone he takes with his father is neither respectful nor obedient (vv. 29-30). He even refuses to acknowledge his blood relationship to his brother, identifying him only as "this son of yours" (v. 30).

Like all good parables, the prodigal son story cannot be contained by just one explanation. The narrative takes its meaning and strength from the fact that it IS a parable, a story, and as such invites others to participate in it. Fittingly, Luke's story closes with a typical parabolic ending -- which is to say "no ending." We leave the confrontation scene between father and son before hearing the son's response. It is the reader, therefore, who must provide the final reply to the father's invitation to rejoice and join the party.

 

Meditation

Prodigal Rembrandt paintingIn many churches in England, Lent 4 is celbrated as Mothering Sunday, perhaps we should ask where the mother was in this story?

In a study I did at church looking at the Lord's Prayer and people were very happy to speak of God as 'Mother' recognising that God is not male or female like us, but must hold together the natures of male and female that have been created. How many people here this morning feel comfortable to speak of God as Mother?

The following is excerpted from the late Henri Nouwen's short book The Return of the Prodigal Son based on his contemplation of Rembrandt's great painting of the same name which hangs in The Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Gentleness, strength, firmness, kindness, balance, and awareness of the other are some of the themes of this book. Sounds like Jesus' approach to me, and it's very helpful, I think, in the often heated and needed debate about inclusiveness in every aspect of life and relationships. Perhaps it all does begin with the hands. The painting may be viewed on the Web at the Web Museum site.

"Often I have asked friends to give me their first impression of Rembrandt's Prodigal Son. Inevitably, they point to the wise old man who forgives his son: the benevolent patriarch. "The longer I look at 'the patriarch', the clearer it becomes to me that Rembrandt has done something quite different from letting God pose as the wise old head of a family. It all began with the hands. The two are quite different. The father's left hand touching the son's shoulder is strong and muscular. The fingers are spread out and cover a large part of the prodigal son's shoulder and back. I can see a certain pressure, especially in the thumb. That hand seems not only to touch, but, with its strength, also to hold. Even though there is a gentleness in the way the father's left hand touches his son, it is not without a firm grip. "How different is the father's right hand! This hand does not hold or grasp. It is refined, soft, and very tender. The fingers are close to each other and they have an elegant quality. It lies gently upon the son's shoulder. It wants to caress, to stroke, and to offer consolation and comfort. It is a mother's hand.... "As soon as I recognised the difference between the two hands of the father, a new world of meaning opened up for me. The Father is not simply a great patriarch. He is mother as well as father. He touches the son with a masculine hand and a feminine hand. He holds, and she caresses. He confirms and she consoles. He is, indeed, God, in whom both manhood and womanhood, fatherhood and motherhood, are fully present. That gentle and caressing right hand echoes for me the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Can a woman forget her baby at the breast, feel no pity for the child she has borne? Even if these were to forget, I shall not forget you. Look, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands."

 

Who was at fault in this story?

I am sure that you will all feel able to identify with one or more of the characters. Each one of us is a child, some of us are brothers or sisters and some of us are also parents.

The young prodigal.

Clearly he must have been at fault. He left the family without a care in the world for anybody other than himself. Of course this does not mean that it is wrong to leave home! Indeed many parents will tell you how important it is for children when they have reached an age of independence to leave home. They must fly the nest and establish their own lives. Children must leave their parents and not expect to be carried all their lives. How many children are caught in a trap with parents who want them to stay and 'care' for them, and how many parents are caught caring for children who should have been shoved out of the nest to learn and made to face up to their responsibilities and learn to fly on their own.

But for the prodigal it wasn't just about leaving home, it was about dodging responsibilities, avoiding work and having a good time. He wanted his money and he wanted it now, not so that he could go and learn a trade, set up in business and develop his own independence. The money was all about easy carefree, living. He is an arrogant young man who insults his father (give me what I could have if you were dead!), leaves home to make his fortune (familiar enough then and now), and then hits rock bottom, especially as a Jew ending up in the piggery. He came to his senses in a sort of repentance, but is was hunger and need which drove him back to his father.

John Newton—who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace back in 1779 certainly identified with the younger son—the son who wasted his inheritance -in this way. As a young man he left home and went to sea - and there lived wildly and free. Like many people who abandon God, he was highly critical of the Christian faith, and spent much time tearing down the faith of the people he met as he went from place to place. It was only in later years that he realised that he had wasted his young life, and indeed not only wasted it—but in all that time he had been offensive to God and to all God-fearing people, and like the young prodigal, he repented and sought, in humility and in submissiveness to serve God for the rest of his days. His resulting experience of God's forgiveness, of God's grace, is not only described well in the emotion packed words of the song he wrote, it is also to be found in his epitaph, an epitaph he himself wrote shortly before his death in 1807 He describes himself and his experience of God this way:

"John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and libertine, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy."

Indeed many people have had Newton's experience of the love of God - they have discovered no matter how far they have fallen, no matter what they have done, and no matter how intensely they have turned away from and rejected God, that God remains faithful to them, and indeed longs for them to return. They have discovered that God through Christ, indeed preserves, restores and completely pardons - and like Newton they rejoice in it and submit their lives thereafter to Him

The older brother

Well obviously he was at fault. He was resentful at 'slaving away' whilst the other brother was out enjoying the high life, and how could the father welcome the little idiot back! So he does what many children do to their parents, he tells tales, rubs it in and makes the father fully aware of the sins of the other brother. The father is told about the 'prostitutes,' this is surely an attempt to turn the father against the son, bring the loving father up against the full enormity of the crimes committed which the father had indirectly paid for!

We all have the propensity to be resentful and jealous and the older brother is a wonderful example of behaviour which is just all too common.

The father

yes, even the father, is guilty of crimes in this episode. He is a best weak in his response to the son, no he could not stop him from leaving but he perhaps should have done more to make it less easy for the young man to walk off. But there is a greater sin than passive compliance. Neither son appears to know or understand that the father loves them. The young prodigal appears to be genuine and sincere in believing that he can return as a servant. The older brother believes that he has been a slave all along, using that word to describe the work that he has been doing for the father. No wonder that he is so resentful and bitter. Had he been more secure in the love of the father, then perhaps he would have been less critical and more accepting.

The Bible is full of families at war, Cain and Abel, Joseph and his brothers, even the family of Jesus look to take him away because they thought he had lost his mind. In this poor father we perhaps see echoes of ourselves also. Surrounded by people whom we do not know how we should love. Treating them in ways which are not helpful and failing to demonstrate our > feelings.

Jesus' hearers would have gasped at the image of the father running, a strong cultural taboo in that society. ." In another shocking gesture the father orders the son clothed in a robe, ring and sandals. Far from being welcomed as a servant, the son is restored to family dignity and given the signet ring to act with the father's authority. The son as a free person wore sandals, while slaves went barefoot. A spiritual that the slaves sang in hope of freedom went 'All God's children got shoes; all God's children have travelling shoes'?"

Conclusion

And so this family is no different from any other. The truth is that in all family problems there is normally a shared responsibility for what goes wrong. Yet the father is to be praised. For it is he who breaks the cycle of mistakes and recrimination. He holds out to both children the prospect of forgiveness and a new start. He will not allow past mistakes to dictate the shape of future family life. We do not know how this story will end. Will the prodigal go off again and show his repentance to be shallow and meaningless? Will the older son be supportive and helpful or simply perpetuate sibling rivalry?

We all need to learn this lesson. Some members of our families may not want to be forgiven, they may not be prepared to go even half way so that you can run and welcome them. They may be simply returning home so that they can plunder more of the family larder. Your family may be troubled by addicts who are desperate to fuel their addiction and nobody is safe from their crafty schemes, and you have to protect vulnerable children. Christians must be very wise if they are to encounter the forces of evil which surround us.

Yet we must not let the past infect the future, or else we become prisoners to past sins. How many relationships could and would be restored if we only said sorry, forgave others and moved on. Today is a good day to break the chains of the past and allow a fresh start. The father does not know the mind of the son, that he has repented, so it is not about loving people after or if they have repented. The father, not knowing anything but that the son is coming, abandons cultural norms of fatherly dignity and runs to embrace son.

The message is basic: if God is prepared to risk making a fool of himself to welcome back the lost, if it means that much to him that he is prepared to just forgive and forget the past, then we had better learn to have the same generosity of forgiveness.

Hymns

  1. Glorious things of thee are spoken

  2. Tell out my soul

  3. Hosanna & O give thanks

  4. Now thank we all our God

  5. God is our strength


Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

representation of prayer as seed growing

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian. If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die.


Motherly God, in whose arms are held all who cry out to you. Teach me to open my heart, my home, even when I have little to give to make room for all your children and give them space to grow. Dear Life, Christian Aid, 1998

Today, we give thanks for the ministry of women, poured out in abundance in the unnamed and unsung lives of countless women, mothers and daughters and sisters, wise women and healers and teachers, farmers and factory workers and weavers, alone and together, in prayer and in action. And we remember the women who have loved us, led us, inspired and moved us in the service of Jesus and of one another, giving thanks especially today for mothers everywhere and for our own mothers. Nurturing God, we give thanks for women who minister in raising families; in offering hospitality, and in the creative work of motherhood. So we pray for the valuing of parenthood, the encouragement of its gifts, and the discovery of joy and beauty amid its challenges. Amen

Mothering God who loves us passionately, we thank you for this love. We thank you too for the love of mothers for their children everywhere. Where being a mother is hard give wisdom and strength; where it is a joy and delight give hearts of thankfulness. For those for whom this day brings sadness because of the loss of a mother, or motherhood, bring comfort. And may the church as mother show forth your love to all We pray in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, who knew the care of his mother Mary. Amen

For mothers. Lord Jesus, you know well the blessing an earthly home can bring: Receive our thanks for all the love we have received in our homes, especially from those who have nurtured us from our earliest years. Hear our prayers for mothers everywhere, that they may never lose heart nor ever be taken for granted, but receive from their children the honour and love you showed to your mother, Mary, even as you were suffering on the Cross. Bless and keep them all, for your love's sake. Amen

For those in need Remember, O Lord, all those in need: people with no good food or proper clothes,
no home of their own, or no work to do; those who have neither family nor friends and no knowledge of the your love. Supply their needs. Bless those who try to help them and bring us all to trust in you.  We ask this is Jesus' name. Amen.

For those who live alone God our Father, we ask you to bless all who live alone, those who have lost their partner in marriage, those who have never married, those whose families are grown up and away from home and those who have outlived other members of their families and many of their friends:
Be with them to assure them of your love and of their value to you every moment of their lives, and enable them to rejoice in the fellowship of your Church on earth and in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Additional Resources
 

 

Prayers for Sunday

Forgiving God, we thank you for welcoming us, your wayward children, into your kingdom of peace and justice again and again. We are astounded with your patience and generosity in your dealings with recovering sinners like us. We seek your help in removing the spiritual roadblocks from our lives that keep us from moving closer to you, Lord, on the highway of life. Renew us and guide us, O God.

Life is full of celebrations and challenges. You are with us, O Lord our Companion, through it all. Our burdens seem looming and diverse: declining health, cancer, heart disease, A.I.D.S., mental illness, financial problems, family discord, and more. Yet our blessings also are many; anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, homecomings, life giving relationships, early spring blossoms, and the Enduring Love of Christ Jesus. You know our concerns Healing God, even before we speak them. You have felt our agony through Christ and we are encouraged to know that you walk with us through all of life’s trails and tribulations.

Loving God - we come before you today aware of how you call us to be like you - remembering that you made us in your own image - that you entrusted to us this world and all that is in it- that you gave to us brothers and sisters - mothers and fathers people to love and to enjoy and to work for and pray for. Help us dear God to remember our own sin before you and how you forgive it - help us to remember the Cross of Christ - and why he died upon it. And make us messengers of your reconciling love, ambassadors for your kingdom, people who show forth your grace, and celebrate with your joy. Amen.

Father in heaven, bless all mothers and those who look after us in our daily lives. Make us grateful for their goodness and thankful for their care. Help us to respond to them in loving obedience; following the example of Jesus, your Son, our Lord.  Amen.  Prayers for children

Hymns for Sunday

  1. Praise to the Lord
  2. Love divine
  3. Now thank we all our God
  4. Blessed assurance;
  5. Amazing Grace
  6. To God be the glory

 

Mothering Sunday Resources

If a child lives with criticism,
HE learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
HE learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule,
HE learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame,
HE learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with tolerance,
HE learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement,
HE learns confidence.
If a child lives with praise,
HE learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness,
HE learns justice.
If a child lives with security, HE learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval,
HE learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship,
HE learns to find love in the world.

May God inspire all parents and grandparents, teachers
and carers who nurture our children. May we all by our Christian conduct provide good examples which may lead them to follow Christ.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Mothering Sunday


We thank God for giving us others to share in our lives:
For parents, and the love which brought us to birth:
We praise you, O Lord;
and bring you thanks today.

For mothers who have cherished and nurtured us:
We praise you, O Lord;
and bring you thanks today.

For fathers who have loved and supported us,
We praise you, O Lord;
and bring you thanks today.

For brothers and sisters with whom we have shared our home:
We praise you, O Lord;
and bring you thanks today.

For children and their parents:
We praise you, O Lord;
and bring you thanks today.

For other relatives and friends, who have been with us
in our hopes and joys and times of sadness:
We praise you, O Lord;
and bring you thanks today.

For all who first spoke to us of Jesus, and have drawn us
into the family of our Father in heaven:
We praise you, O Lord;
and bring you thanks today.
Help us to live
as those who belong to one another,
and to you, our Father, now and always. Amen.

A Prayer of thanksgiving

For the mothering of mothers
and the mothering of fathers
for the mothering of others:
 

Mother God,
we give you thanks
For those who act as midwife to our hopes,
for those who nurse us through our pain,
for those who nurture, strengthen and guide us:
 

Mother God,
we give you thanks
For those who gently push us from the nest,
for those who welcome us home,
for those who become our family,
for the motherhood of the Church:
 

Mother God,
we give you thanks
 

Mothering Sunday Blessing

May the Lord who brought us to birth by his Spirit,
strengthen us for the Christian life.

May the Lord who provides for all our needs
sustain us day by day.

May the Lord whose steadfast love is constant as a mother's care,
send us out to live and work for others.

And the blessing of God Almighty.
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be with you and remain with you always. Amen.

 

A Hymn for Mothering Sunday

Our Father God in heaven

Our Father God in heaven
    On whom our world depends,
To you let praise be given
    For families and friends;
For parents, sisters, brothers,
    A home where love belongs,
But on this day for mothers
    We bring our thankful songs.

 What wealth of God’s bestowing
    For all the world to share!
What strength of heart outgoing
    To children everywhere!
Our deepest joys and sorrows
    A mother’s path must trace,
And earth’s unknown tomorrows
    Are held in her embrace.

 How well we know the story
    That tells of Jesus’ birth,
The Lord of heaven’s glory
    become a child of earth;
A helpless infant sleeping,
    yet King of realms above,
who finds in Mary’s keeping
    the warmth of human love.

 Our Father God in heaven,
    To you we lift our prayer,
That every child be given
    Such tenderness and care,
Where life is all for others,
    Where love your love displays:
For God’s good gift of mothers
    Let earth unite in praise!

Mothering Sunday; the Virgin Mary
7 6 7 6 D
Suggested tunes: WOLVERCOTE or
CRUGER or ST. THEODULPH

 

1 How great the debt we owe
To those who love us most;
They give us birth, and help us grow,
And rarely count the cost.

2 To make us feel secure
They lose their life in ours;
And what they mean to us is more
Than we can say with flowers.

3 How can we measure love?
Yet treasure it we must
For what God gives us from above
Is held by us in trust.

4 Then let us vow today,
As those who know love's worth,
To love, to worship, and obey
The Lord of all the earth.
 Tune Franconia