Led by Rev. Ann Inglis
Welcome to our morning worship here in Wardie Parish Church. The welcome extends to those of you here in the Sanctuary and to those joining by Zoom. As always, a big thank you to the people who manage the technology and make the service happen.
I am pleased to be able to tell you that Bob Gemmell is much better. He has been discharged by the hospital and has started driving again. He plans to be back here next Sunday and I am sure you will be pleased to welcome him back.
Let us worship God.
Call to Worship – words from Psalm 69
I have entered deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
I am exhausted from weeping; I thirst as in a desert.
I no longer see the path while waiting for your return.
Hymn 555 – Amazing Grace. Listen here.
Lord God, you are our hiding place and you are our homecoming. We can hear your shouts of joy when you see us returning to you even when you know that we have disappointed you.
And we bring our praise and our thanksgiving.
As we tentatively make our way home you are like a beacon in the darkness. When we drift on the waters of life you are like a lighthouse which we can approach to find safety. When we reach that safety we can find our bearings and plan new journeys.
And we bring our praise and our thanksgiving.
Lord, your love knows no limits or boundaries. When you see us from far off you run to meet us and you greet us with words of welcome and rejoicing.
And we bring our praise and thanksgiving.
We come before you, faithful God, to acknowledge our guilt and confess our wrongdoing.
The Psalmist has sung of your forgiveness and we rejoice to know that we can be counted in the number of those who can come to you repenting and who will receive your word of forgiveness.
We will not conceal our guilt and, in a time of silence, we bring before you the wrong we have done and the good we have left undone.
We give thanks for your mercy and grace and we receive your pardon and rejoice.
Lord of compassion, we return to you like children who have wandered away: we trust in your love and rejoice in your mercy.
Enfold us in your peace so that we may feel that peace in our hearts and know that we are truly at home.
We pray in Jesus’ name and now we pray further in his own words, saying:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.
Children’s talk by Mo Brand
Kids at Wardie this morning talked about a story that Jesus told, about the son who sold his share of his father’s farm he was to inherit and went off to the city intending to enjoy himself. You will also remember that, in the end, he decided it was a big mistake and went back home to beg his father’s forgiveness. Much to his surprise, his father forgave him completely and even threw a party for him. But Jesus did not end it there – he also talked about the eldest son, who had stayed at home. So let’s tell that story:
The eldest son was sorry to see his younger brother leave the farm. Secretly, he may have been a little envious, but was happy with his life on the farm. He knew that, one day, the farm would be his and, now his brother had taken his share, everything he and his father did to build up the farm would eventually be passed on to him. His brother would have no right to any future share, no matter how successful the farm became.
So he worked hard. Occasionally he would wonder what his little brother was doing, but, generally, he was too busy to think much about it. The farm was large and sometimes, at lambing time or when a wolf was on the prowl, he would be out in the fields for days at a time, sleeping under the stars or in a rough shelter.
After a time away, he was returning home. As got close he could smell cooking and hear music playing. He saw a servant and asked him what was happening. The servant said, “Your brother has come back and your father is throwing a party to celebrate because he’s home safe and sound.”
The eldest son could hardly believe it. Why should his brother, who deserted his father and the farm, be treated so well? How was his return a cause for celebration? He was so hurt and angry that he would not even enter the house while the party was going on.
When his father heard that he refusing to come in, he went out to him. His father could see how upset his eldest son was, but begged him to come in and join the party.
The eldest son said, “I’ve worked for you all these years while my brother has been away. Because of my hard work, the farm has grown and prospered. I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me without question. Now my brother, who deserted us and wasted his money in the city, is being given a party. You’ve never done anything like that for me – it’s just not fair.”
His father put his arm around his son and explained: “You, my eldest son, are always here with me and everything I have is yours. Your brother was foolish, but when he went away anything could have happened – he could have become an outcast, he could have been put in prison, he could even have died and been lost forever – but he has come back. He is sorry for what he has done and knows he does not deserve a celebration, but, because he has come back, I want to welcome him and I want you to be pleased for him, too. He was lost, but now he is found. Please come in and join us.”
Do you think he went in? When Jesus told this story, he didn’t say what happened, but he must have told this part of the story for a reason. He was showing us that when we admit our wrongdoing God is willing to forgive us and celebrate. Perhaps he also wanted to show us that sometimes we do not appreciate how fortunate we are and often we take things for granted. It is also true that we can be jealous when other people are more successful than we are, instead of being pleased for them.
It’s hard when the stories of Jesus leave us with questions rather than answers, but it’s good that we are encouraged to think for ourselves and see ourselves in the story. I wonder which part of the story is the one that’s a little bit like you. Can you work out what God would like you to do?
Old Testament lesson: Psalm 32 (NRSV)
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
You are a hiding-place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.
Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Gospel lesson: Luke 15: 11–32 (NRSV)
Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The 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. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But 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! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” So 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. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But 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. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But 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. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But 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.”’
Reflection by Rev. Ann Inglis
Last summer (I mean 2019 when life was “normal”), I was doing pulpit supply here and I told you about how I had taken a book off my shelf which I thought would be useful for my sermon. It was called “Home Tonight: Further reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son”. It was written by Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest who spent many years of his life with the L’Arche Community – a community of people with profound physical and learning disabilities. He wrote many wonderful books including one called “The Return of the Prodigal Son” and the book to which I’ve already referred is a kind of sequel to it. Anyway, I got up VERY early on the Saturday morning to finish it and then I thought I’d better look at the other lessons for the day. I found to my horror that the Gospel passage I was meant to be preaching on that day was “The Good Samaritan”! So, when Paul Mitchell suggested doing four Sundays on parables, and said I could choose my parable, you’ll not be surprised to know that I chose “The Prodigal Son”, or, as I prefer to call it, “The Waiting Father”. Having skimmed through the book again I wish I could just stop now and tell you to go and read it. I recommend it highly. But, here goes with my reflections on it.
Like the previous book, this book reflects on Rembrandt’s painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son” which hangs in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. (Link)
I’ve looked at reproductions of the painting often, but one of the things about it which I had never noticed before is that the two hands of the father, resting on his younger son’s shoulders, are different. One is the hand of a man and one is the hand of a woman. Henri Nouwen sees that as Rembrandt portraying two kinds of love – the woman’s hand gentle and tender, protecting and caring. He sees the man’s hand as showing a love which supports and defends and which also gives freedom.
At the beginning of the book the author invites his readers to be part of the story. He says that the parable itself, and the painting, invite us to participate as one of the characters. I think all of us have elements of both the sons within us. We have competing drives – the drive to belong and to fit in and the drive to allow our deepest, perhaps hidden, selves to rise up. Which of us, whatever our age, has not felt the young adolescent in us urging us to cut loose? Which of us has never felt the desire to test drive the pleasures of life?
While the younger son was at home he must have felt all kinds of discontent and perhaps disillusionment. “Is this all there is to life?” he might have asked. He needed to get away, and, to enable him to get away, he needed money. Now, asking his father for his part of the inheritance was something totally unacceptable – shocking in fact. To do that at that time, and in the society in which they lived, was tantamount to wishing his father dead. That must have been a blow to his father but he doesn’t tell his son not to go. The words are not there in the parable but one can imagine the father saying: “You will be hurt and it will be hard. It will be painful and you might even lose your life, but I won’t hold you back from taking that risk. When, and if, you come back I’ll always be here for you. But I am also here with you in your leaving. We will never be separated.”
That is unconditional love.
No Jew would ever want to find himself feeding pigs but that is what this boy found himself doing. Feeding those pigs far from home and close to despair he knew his life had to change. He’d had friends – or at least he thought they were friends – but when his money ran out they disappeared. A hope was born in him. He would go home. That hope was quickly replaced by shame and fear. I think it must have taken considerable courage to turn and begin his journey home. I’m sure he felt anxious all the way.
Spend some time later today – or any time – imagining what thoughts that young man would have had on the way home. He left home with a swagger. He was an arrogant young man. Now he was lost. He had not yet learnt that he was loved by his father even though he had made mistakes – serious mistakes.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African cleric and winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, wrote: “It is often hard to remember that God loves you just as you are. God loves you not because you are good. God loves you full stop. God loves you not because you are lovable – rather, you are lovable because God loves you.”
It is only when the younger son reaches home that he will discover the real wonder of his father’s love. His father’s love is so great that he is looking for his son and, when he gets a first sight of him, he runs out to meet him. No patriarch of a family back in Biblical times would run for any reason. This was exceptional behaviour.
As we know, it is not only the father who is there when the wanderer returns. His older brother is there too. How often have you identified with the older brother? We don’t really like to identify with him. His most striking characteristic is that he didn’t run away from home. He stayed. From an objective perspective he did everything right. He was the son who didn’t cause any strife for his parents. He had worked hard and he was faithful but he had wandered far away in his mind and heart. This is not a happy young man. He is full of bitterness and resentment. He harboured dark feelings and angry thoughts about his younger brother who had grabbed his share of the inheritance and run off to satisfy selfish desires. He doesn’t talk about his brother. In an attempt to distance himself from his sibling he refers to “this son of yours”.
Resentment is a terrible thing. It can be enormously destructive and I don’t think there is one of us who can truthfully say that we haven’t felt it at some time or another. Resentment is the curse of the hardworking, the faithful and the obedient. It can settle itself in our hearts and cause havoc. It’s a cold kind of anger and is often hidden behind a façade of goodness and holiness. I rather think that the return home from resentment is much harder than the return home from dissipation.
At the end of the parable it seems that the older son never stops feeling full of angry virtue. People like him find it very hard to believe that they might be in the wrong. He has no concept that he is in any way lost. He thinks he has to earn his father’s love, and, my goodness, he’s worked hard at that over the years.
Is there still hope that he might return to the father? In Rembrandt’s painting the older son stands outside the circle of the father’s love – because he keeps himself away from the joy and the celebration. He refuses to enter the circle of love – and he cannot be forced.
The older son feels that life has been unfair to him and I think that is why we find it easier to participate in the story as him rather than as the younger son. He’s worked hard. He’s never caused any trouble. And he’s never been given a party! When the father calls for a celebration he doesn’t want to exclude his older son. He wants him to come in and rejoice at the safe return of his brother. The older son is the recipient of his father’s unconditional love just like his brother.
Both the sons are preoccupied with themselves. Neither is inwardly mature enough to feel a responsibility towards his family. Yet each of them is offered a unique chance to return from isolation into the family fold. The father blesses each of them, offering forgiveness, mercy and unconditional welcome.
We’ve had a chance to consider with which of the sons we find it easier to identify. Before considering whether we can identify with the father, let me say how disappointed I always am when I read this parable that there is no mention of the mother. What must she have felt when her baby left and her husband was hurt by his attitude? Why is she not there at the welcome home? I’d have been out there weeping with a mixture of joy and anger too at all this worry this boy had caused. I’d have been trying to reconcile my sons with each other and to help both of them understand their father. And yet Luke, who says more than the other Gospel writers about women, misses her out. Maybe she was no longer alive. We can’t know.
So, are we able to identify with the father? I think it’s much harder than identifying with either son. And yet, our calling as followers of Jesus is no less than to become the father. Our calling is not only to return home but to welcome people home. It is to wait and, when we see the first sign of someone wanting to come home, to go out and meet them and rejoice. As we grow older – in age and in maturity – we can look at our hands and see that they have been given to us to stretch out to all in need; to rest upon the shoulders of all who come and to offer the blessing which comes from the immensity of God’s love.
It is to that point that our spiritual journey should lead – to the intimacy, safety and acceptance of God’s love for us which alone can enable us to show acceptance and love to others.
I like these words of St. Ignatius which Henri Nouwen quotes in his book:
Son of Christ sanctify me
Body of Christ save me
Blood of Christ inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ wash me
Passion of Christ strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
In your words hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from thee
From the malicious foe defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come to thee
That, with the saints, I may praise thee
Forever and ever.
Hymn 500 – Lord of creation, to you be all praise. Listen here.
Prayers of intercession, by Rob Matthews
Heavenly Father, we pray for your church worldwide at a time when guidance and leadership is so badly needed to confront so many challenges.
We pray for the church here in Scotland and for this parish of Wardie as we travel through both our interregnum period and the Covid crisis.
We thank you for the leadership and wisdom of Ann Inglis, our Interim Moderator, and for our locum, Bob Gemmell. We give thanks for Bob’s recovery from his recent illness and look forward to seeing him back at Wardie next Sunday.
Lord we pray for our country, for the Queen and all those in leadership over us. We pray for wisdom for our governments both in Westminster and here in Holyrood. May they use their authority properly and be guided by your light.
We pray for our local community here at Wardie, especially those who are lonely and house bound. May your church bring them comfort at this time and may we be able to serve them well over the coming weeks and months.
We pray for all students from our community away at university, some away from home for the first time and facing periods of isolation and loneliness due to Covid.
Lord we pray for all those who are suffering illness and those grieving loss. Be close to them and surround them with your love.
We pray for all those working tirelessly to keep us safe, especially healthcare professionals, those caring for the elderly, teachers at our schools, and the emergency services who remain there for us when we need them.
We pray for scientists striving to create a better future for us and particularly those working to develop an effective and safe vaccine to provide protection against Covid and to allow our lives to return closer to normal.
Merciful God, teach us to be faithful in change and uncertainty, that trusting in your word and obeying your will we may enter the unfailing joy and unconditional love of Jesus Christ Our Lord.
Wherever you go from here, whoever you meet on your way,
whatever your hopes and dreams,
Go with the God who loves you and welcomes you home to his heart.
And now go in peace and the God of peace go with you; and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rest and abide with each one of you and all whom you love this day and forever more.