Welcome to worship for this 4th Sunday in Lent, landing on March 27, 2022! We are blessed by your presence here with us!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. The bulletin will have the full order and words of worship (with your response in bold), the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon manuscript. The sermon can also be found on this page below the video.
For an enhanced worship experience at home, you are encouraged to have some elements in your space. You may have a lit candle for the whole service and can extinguish it at the end of the sending hymn, and you may have something small to eat and drink for communion. Further instruction on communion will be given during the service.
May God’s endless grace and love be apparent to you, this day and always!
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit open our minds and bodies to the recreating power of your Word, that we might see the world through the mind of Christ and live in the grace that you so lovingly give in Jesus’ name. Amen.
And just like that, Spring Break is over. For those of you who might not have known, Spring Break for the public schools grades k-12 (which our kids are in) started two weeks ago and now it’s already finished, which makes sense seeing as how Spring Break only lasts two weeks. But it felt much faster than that as I don’t think the kids are ready to wake up early tomorrow for school since they’re probably still asleep right now. And this fluidity in how time moves makes me think of my upcoming Sabbatical, that while I’m looking forward to it, I know that before I even know it I’ll be back… and I haven’t even left yet.
But isn’t that how life is? We look forward to something, we get really excited and think it’ll be the ultimate joy, the anticipation we feel has us in the clouds and we think once we’re there, once we’ve made it, life will be awesome, like that will be our “happily ever after”. Be it Spring Break or a Sabbatical, or a vacation or a promotion, or maybe it’s a new relationship or a higher stage in that relationship. Or maybe it’s something more tangible like a new piece of technology or a toy or something that you’ve had your sights on for a while. Whatever it is, we’ve all had something that we really looked forward to, something we really longed and yearned for, something that we thought would change our lives for the happier forever, but when we got there, it was more… meh.
Don’t get me wrong, I know there usually a “honeymoon” stage so to speak, especially in a marriage when you have your literal honeymoon, but after some time passes, either the highly anticipated trip ends, the new piece of technology or toy gets old, obsolete, or maybe even breaks, and the relationship has become so familiar that it just doesn’t do it for you like it did before. I’m not saying that everything that brings us joy is meaningless, but there is a saying out there that starts with “all good things…”
and I’m sure you all know how the saying “comes to an end” (see what I did there?).
And if we can learn anything from this and even in this pandemic, it’s that life never lets up. Once we’ve achieved whatever it was we wanted to achieve, gained whatever it was that we wanted to gain, got to wherever it was we wanted to get, there is always something else that either gets in the way, ruins it for us, or reminds us of exactly that, life just doesn’t let up. It’s like it’s never enough, we can never have enough, we can never get enough, sometimes it feels like we can never be enough. Life just doesn’t give enough and we are left unsatisfied.
We see this in the parable that we get in today’s gospel lesson. This parable of the Prodigal Son or however you want to call it, speaks a lot to this “not enough” mentality. This story, as familiar as it is, has a lot of life not letting up and not turning out the way it is supposed to and how people are disappointed because of it. Every member of this small, somewhat dysfunctional family in the parable had some sort of expectation that life owes them roses, but instead life had a different idea and gave them thorns instead.
Again, we’re familiar with this story, we know who the characters are and what they’re about. At least, we’ve heard the typical interpretations before. We’re the younger son who messed up but faithfully repented and the father is God who looks over the horizon for the hopeful return of the younger son and runs out to forgive him when he sees him and the angry older brother of course are those good-for-nothing Pharisees who just aren’t very fair, you see. A very familiar story for sure, and there’s a reason why it’s one of the most, if not the most, popular parables of Jesus. It’s a wonderful example of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Except this time around for me, I heard the story a little differently. I don’t know if it’s because of where I am in life, how this pandemic has been treating us, or just me trying to find something new to say about this oh so familiar text, but I don’t see this story as an allegory of God forgiving sinners and others who think that it’s unfair, rather I see this as a story about us. Just us. We are the younger son, yes, but we are also the older son. And not just that, we’re the father as well.
I know, super confusing. But hear me out, what I mean by this is that each character in this story can be representative of any one of us at any given time. The point is that each of them had an expectation, and each were disappointed. Just like what happens to us.
Life didn’t let up, and life didn’t give enough.
The youngest son’s early inheritance wasn’t enough and he spent it all too quickly and had to eat with the pigs. The older son didn’t think his father’s appreciation was enough as he felt like he was wronged by his brother’s party. The father just wants his sons to be happy but he can’t seem to please either of them enough for them to not to hate his guts. It’s like a lose/lose/lose situation.
Sort of like how we find ourselves sometimes.
Our jobs aren’t always enough because we want more and more money because the things that we have now aren’t enough. Our relationships aren’t enough because we aren’t happy all the time or we find that we need to work on ourselves more than we want to. Our lives in general aren’t enough because it doesn’t let us live in total anarchy and do whatever we want whenever we want. We look forward to all these things that we think we’re entitled life to give us but somehow we keep ending up in disappointment.
And that is the point of this parable. We’re all disappointed. We all feel let down. Life doesn’t seem like it’s enough. But when we look at this oh so familiar parable with the not-so-familiar parables Jesus pairs it with, then we sort of start to see what I mean. The story of the woman who loses one of her ten coins and rejoices in recovering it, and the shepherd that loses one of a hundred sheep, and has a feast when it returns. Both disappointed in not that great a loss, but also almost ridiculously overjoyed at not that great a gain either.
So while there is disappointment in life not being enough, there is also great joy when we see that actually, life is enough.
See too often we’re like the younger son thinking that his riches upon riches aren’t enough or the older son thinking that his father’s endless love isn’t enough, but stepping away from it, we can see how both are actually amazing blessings that we can be thankful for. The woman was disappointed in losing her one coin because suddenly just 9 coins aren’t enough. But upon finding just that 10% of her wealth back, she learns to appreciate the fact that she has any coins at all. And the shepherd who lost just 1% of his flock is overjoyed at the reuniting and reconciliation with the one and how his flock is whole again.
So I see Jesus responding to the not-so-fair-you-see Pharisees in their grumbling about him welcoming the so-called sinner with these parables saying that we needn’t worry about the fairness of God’s grace, for there is plenty to go around for all. I see Jesus telling all who might complain about life never letting up that perhaps if we shift our perspective a bit, that while yes life throws us a number of curve balls, we can also see that we continue to have a lot to be thankful for. I see Jesus reminding all of us whenever we think that we don’t have enough, that God overflows our cups of blessing with an abundance of love, mercy, and forgiveness.
And so I believe this is especially poignant for us in Lent, this time in which our spiritual discipline calls us to fast, to reflect, and to repent. That instead of lamenting the giving up of something that we love or thoroughly enjoy, we can be thankful that we even have something to give up to begin with. Instead of grumbling about how we don’t always get what we want, we can rejoice in the times that we do get what we want. Instead of wallowing in our sorrow about how life isn’t enough, we can joyfully remember how God totally is.
As we approach the end of this season of Lent, may we continue in our self-reflection and repentance, that we might be reminded always of God’s unending and steadfast love. Thanks be to God. Amen.