FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT

SUNDAY 27TH MARCH 2022

OPENING SENTENCE

You O Lord are my hiding place.

HYMN

COLLECT FOR PURITY

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen
.

SUMMARY OF THE LAW

Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

The first commandment is this:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.”
The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
There is no other commandment greater than these.

Amen. Lord, have mercy.

CONFESSION

God is love and we are God’s children.
There is no room for fear in love.
We love because God loved us first.
Let us confess our sins in penitence and faith.
God our Father, we confess to you
and to our fellow members in the Body of Christ
that we have sinned in thought, word and deed,
and in what we have failed to do.
We are truly sorry.
Forgive us our sins,
and deliver us from the power of evil,
for the sake of your Son who died for us, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

ABSOLUTION

God, who is both power and love,
forgive you and free you from our sins,
heal and strengthen you by the Holy Spirit,
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.

LENTEN PROSE/KYRIE
sung by Dougie Byers

COLLECT

Almighty God,
grant that we, who are weighed down by our sins,
may be relieved and encouraged by your grace;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen

PROCLAIMING & RECEIVING GOD’S WORD

FIRST READING
Joshua 5:9-12
read by David Kerr

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

The Passover at Gilgal

While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the Passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

SECOND READING
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
read by Kate Lidwell

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

GRADUAL HYMN

GOSPEL
Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32
read by Reverend Steven Ballard

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St Luke chapter 15 beginning at verse 1

Glory to Christ our Saviour

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So, he told them this parable:

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother

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 traveled 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.’

Give thanks to the Lord for his glorious gospel

Praise to Christ our Lord

SERMON

As you know Mothering Sunday is traditionally celebrated in churches on the fourth Sunday in Lent. Its origin dates back hundreds of years in the UK, when people were encouraged once a year, to return to their home or ‘Mother’ Church. It is worth noting that children as young as ten could go away from home to work as servants and so on this Sunday it was a time of great rejoicing when the children came home to their mothers and fathers and then accompanied them to their local church- to their Mother Church. So Mothering Sunday was all to do with returning to your Mother Church. It was a Sunday of great welcome. Children and family members were warmly greeted and welcomed back to their families and to their church family, the Mother Church.

The idea of the Mother Church came from the Old Testament. At one time Mothering Sunday was called Laetare Sunday. The word Laetare is Latin, and it means rejoice. It is associated with the words from Isaiah 66.10 which says Laetare Jerusalem ‘Rejoice with Jerusalem” This verse speaks of the love for Jerusalem and Jerusalem was of course the original ‘Mother Church’.

There is a significant difference between Mothering Sunday, and ‘Mother’s Day’. Mother’s Day is an American celebration that was instigated in 1914 as a holiday on the second Sunday in May in the US, after a campaign by Anna Jarvis to recognise the important role of mothers in society following the death of her own mother. Initially the wearing of a white carnation and a proclamation from the House of Representatives honoured mothers. The commercialisation of the day rapidly grew despite Anna Jarvis’ opposition to it.

Mothering Sunday as we know it today in the UK, and across the Anglican Communion, is a bit of a mix, whilst it still holds on to the traditional idea of coming home to the Mother Church, increasingly it is about giving thanks for the important role of mothers in our society.

So today Mothering Sunday is celebrated in churches across the nation, giving thanks for the Mother Church and praising God for the love and care of mothers.

Increasingly churches are aware that this day is for many a day of great rejoicing, but for others it is a day of great sorrow and so great sensitivity is required as we welcome people to church this Mothering Sunday. There are myriad of reasons why for some people this day is particularly hard. There are of course those who have suffered infertility or miscarriage and the great pain that carries. Others have lost their child and the memory of their lost child is very raw. Others are downhearted for they have never known their mother, whilst others hold shocking memories of an abusive mother. Some people are single and would have longed for the opportunity to have children. So, with all the sensitivities that surround this day, how does the church as a family hold the traditional idea of Mothering Sunday and the more modern understanding of Mother’s Day together?

Personally, I think it comes down to the fact that we are all children of God, and God is our perfect parent, with fantastic maternal and paternal gifts. As our parent, God welcomes us into his presence, into his house, the Mother Church, and reminds us that we are much loved and cherished by him.

We see God’s love and compassion as well as his parental gifting in today’s gospel reading. God as parent is deeply concerned for his two sons. Like the mothers and fathers years ago he too welcomed his son coming home. I was struck recently by the statement of welcome by Nicola Sturgeon to the people fleeing Ukraine, when she said Scotland welcomes you. It was warm and inviting, showing a wonderful hospitality of heart. Although the circumstances are very different, the father in the gospel reading offers his son warmth and hospitality of heart. To understand fully the joy of his son’s homecoming we need to know the pain of the son’s leaving. The evangelist Luke tells this story so matter- of- fact that it is difficult to realise fully that what is happening here is an unheard-of event: hurtful, offensive and contrary to the venerated tradition of the times.

The Son’s manner of leaving is tantamount to wishing his father dead. For over fifteen years a scholar Kenneth Bailey had been asking people from all walks of life from Morocco to India and from Turkey to the Sudan about the implications of asking for his inheritance while the father is still living. The answer has always been emphatically the same. The conversation runs as follows: Has anyone ever made that request in your village. NEVER. Could anyone ever make such a request? IMPOSSIBLE. If anyone ever did what would happen? His father would beat him. Why? The request means he wants the father to die. Kenneth Bailey goes on to explain that the son not only asks for the division of his inheritance, but also for the right to dispose of his part. After signing over his possessions to his son, the father still has the right to live off of the proceeds as long as he is alive. Here the younger son gets and thus is assumed to have demanded the disposition of the inheritance to which he had no right until the death of his father. The implication ‘Father I cannot wait for you to die’ underlies both requests.

The son’s leaving is therefore much more than the empty nest syndrome, it is an offensive act. It is a heartless rejection of the home in which the son was nurtured and a break with the most precious tradition carefully upheld by the larger community for which he was a part.

When Luke writes “and he left for a distant country”, he indicates much more than the desire for the young man to see the world. He speaks of a drastic cutting loose from the way of living, thinking and acting that has been handed down to him from generation to generation as a sacred legacy. More than disrespect, it is betrayal of the treasured family values of family and community. The distant country is the world in which everything considered holy at home is disregarded.

Can we identify with the younger son… probably not in the physical going off to another country, but maybe in our spiritual leaving home? Spiritual home is the centre of our being where we hear God’s voice say- you are my beloved and on you my favour rests. These words reveal our true home, our real dwelling place and yet I and you have probably drifted into the distant country. When we move away from our spiritual home in God and from his unconditional love and seek unconditional love elsewhere then we move from our true home in God into the distant country. At issue here is the question- to whom do I belong… to God or to the world? Henri Nouwen writes that many of our daily preoccupations suggest that we belong more to the world than to God.

Henri Nouwen writes a little criticism can make me angry, a little rejection can make me depressed. A little praise raises my spirits, and a little success excites me. It takes very little to raise me up or thrust me down. As long as I keep about asking- do you love me? Do you really love me? I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with if’s. The world says yes I love you, if you are good looking, intelligent and wealthy. I love you if you have a good education, a good job, good connections. I love you if you produce much, sell much and buy much. There are endless if’s hidden in the world’s love. These if’s enslave us, since it is impossible to adequately respond to them all. The world’s love is always conditional.

As long as I am looking for my true self in the world of conditional love, I will remain attached to the world- trying, failing and trying again. So, we are like the prodigal son every time we search for unconditional love away from God- we have moved into the distant country. It is almost as though we would like to prove to ourselves and to the world that we do not need God’s love, that I can make a life of my own, I can be fully independent. Beneath it all is the radical rebellion of the younger son. The further I run away from the place that God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the beloved and the less I hear that voice, the more I get entrapped in the world and its voices of conditional love.

The younger Son discovers all too quickly the voices of the world’s conditional love are empty and he is left in a distant country desolate and lonely. The son’s return home is full of ambiguities. He is travelling in the right direction but what confusion. He admits that he is unable to make it on his own and confesses that he would get better treatment as a slave in his father’s home than as an alien in distant country. There is repentance but at this stage at least it is a self -serving repentance that offers the possibility of survival. His view of God here is of a harsh judgemental God. It is this kind of God image that makes us feel guilty and worried and calls from us these self- serving apologies. While the reality is quite other; God wants to restore us fully to himself without recriminations, and wants to restore us to full sonship but so often it is us that insist otherwise and settle for being the hired servant. Receiving forgiveness requires a total willingness to let God be God and let him do all the restoring, healing and renewing.

The younger Son comes eventually to that place and receives the generosity, forgiveness and kindness of the father. We see in God the father the maternal qualities of concern and anxiety for his son in his continual looking out for his return. We see the father’s compassion in the way he confirms and consoles his son in his loving embrace. Not only does the father forgive without asking questions- but he cannot wait to give him new life, life in abundance. So strongly does God desire to give life to his returning son that he seems impatient- nothing is good enough- best robe, a ring and cloak to honour him as his beloved son and restore him as heir.

There is great joy, welcome and celebration in the father’s heart and in his actions on his son’s return. This is our God, our parent, who has these wonderful maternal qualities that we celebrate this mothering Sunday and who invites us as his children to imitate his forgiveness without questions being asked, to show his compassion and his joy to others. As we are made in his image, he longs that we emulate and resemble him in our love and compassion so that we might bring glory to his name and to his church. Amen

NICENE CREED

We believe in one God,
the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true
God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living
and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord,
the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.
with the Father and the Son,
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen

Gracious God,

on this Mothering Sunday
we thank you for our Mother Church.
We thank you for St John’s
for the faith and worship shared over the generations,
for teaching that has inspired
and for the wonderful fellowship shared.
For the blessings that this church and others
has brought to our lives, we are most grateful.

Hear us

Hear us, good Lord

Gracious God,

we think today of those gifted
with the responsibility of motherhood.
We pray for mothers the world over
recognising both the joys and demands they experience,
the privileges and pressures, hopes and fears
pleasure and pain that motherhood entails.

Hear us

Hear us, good Lord

We pray for single mothers,
bearing the responsibility of parenthood alone,
struggling sometimes to make ends meet.
Grant them the emotional, physical and financial resources they need.

Hear us

Hear us, good Lord

We pray for mothers who have experienced heartbreak
whose children were stillborn, injured,
or killed through accident or assault,
or struck down by debilitating disease or terminal illness.

Hear us

Hear us, good Lord

We pray for those who are denied the joy of motherhood
for one reason for another.
We think of all who endure the trauma of infertility,
prevented on health grounds from risking a pregnancy,
or unable to establish a relationship
into which children can be born.

Hear us

Hear us, good Lord

We pray for those who foster or adopt children,
those who long to do so but are denied the opportunity
and those who for various reasons have given up their children
and who are haunted by the image of what might have been.
Grant them your strength and support.

Hear us

Hear us, good Lord

We pray for those who long to discover their natural mothers,
those who have become estranged from them,
those whose mothers have died
all for whom Mothering Sunday
brings pain rather than pleasure
hurt rather than happiness.
May your love enfold them always
and remind them that you are their loving parent.

Hear us

Hear us, good Lord

We pray for everyone this Mothering Sunday
for their role in nurture and in caring
and for their willingness to exercise
their maternal side as well as their paternal side
in their relationships with children and others.

Hear us

Hear us, good Lord

Gracious God, you possess
the maternal and paternal natures within you,
May we who are made in your image,
celebrate these natures within ourselves
and reflect your maternal and paternal love to others.

Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together

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.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Do not bring us to the time of trial
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.

HYMN

BLESSING

May Christ give you grace to grow in holiness, to deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow him; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.