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Call to Worship.... The Journey Begins ...

L  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

C Come, let us turn to the Lord, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.

L  “I will lead the blind by a road they do not know. I will turn the darkness before them into light.”

C You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

L  “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

C He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

L  “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

C Oh, send out your light and your truth; let them lead me. In the path of your judgments, O Lord, we wait for you.

*Hymn of Praise           318                  When We Walk with the Lord (Trust and Obey)

Invocation        (the Lord’s Prayer)       Father, we praise  you that we have received peace through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to the grace in which we stand, and reconciliation in your sight.  Be with us as we pray

Turn to the Lord ... Abide With Me

Turn to the Lord; repentant, seek his face,

For God abounds in steadfast love and grace.

They shall not perish who in Christ believe,

But everlasting life they shall receive.

Responsory Psalm ... Psalm 32:1-7, 10-11

L  Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

C Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

L  While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.

C For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

L  Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity.

C I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

L  Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you.

C At a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.

L  You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble.

C You surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

L  Many are the torments of the wicked,

C but steadfast love surrounds those who trust the Lord.

L  Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Special Music                Be Thou My Vision       B.Huling, S.Noel – North Kingstown

Our  Offering to God


Prayer of Dedication                 Just as our worship of you, O God, is not confined to this place, so also our praise is not limited to certain times and places.  Accept our offerings that we bring as a witness to your Spirit, who dwells in all that we do.  Use what we give so that others may come into your presence with joyful songs of hope and thanksgiving.

Take Up Your Cross ... O dass ich tausend Zungen

Take up your cross and walk, believing,

This Lenten road our Savior trod,

His help and steadfast love receiving,

The blessings of the Son of God

Freely and graciously bestowed

On all who walk this Lenten road.

Take up your cross, your burden bearing.

This road you need not walk alone.

Christ is beside, the burden sharing;

His yoke is light, his mercy known.

Your Savior eases ev’ry load

Of those who walk this Lenten road.

Take up your cross and follow Jesus;

This is the way your Savior leads,

Where from our sin and guilt he frees us;

His blood for sinners intercedes,

Opens the way to heav’n’s abode

For all who walk this Lenten road.

*Hymn of Prayer                      448                  Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

Pastoral Prayer            O Lord, we have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and are not worthy to be called children of the heavenly Father. Greedy, we have grasped for your goodness as if it were our right. Dissatisfied, we have turned our backs and wandered every one to our own way. We are not even worthy to be called your servants. We have no claim on your goodness.

But you, Lord Jesus Christ, are prodigal in your giving. The forgiveness you offer us by faith in you is more than we could ever deserve. We look at ourselves to discover a ring on our finger, a robe to cover our disobedience, and sandals on our feet—all signs that we are children of the heavenly Father, welcomed into the family of the faithful.

Help us to receive that blessing with true joy, and to live our lives in humble gratitude, welcoming our brothers and sisters as we ourselves have been accepted. Move us to deal with them in love, and to serve them as you have served us.

And when at last our work on earth is done and we turn toward our source, welcome us into the Father’s home, where there is a table prepared for us, and where—like you and with you, our faithful Companion—we will live forever.

*Hymn of Praise                       277                  Jesus My Lord Will Love Me Forever

Scripture Reading.. Luke 15:11-24

11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 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. 13 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. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 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. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 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! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 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. 21 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.’ 22 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. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

Message  THIS LENTEN ROAD                   The Road Home

I’m going to turn the parable of the prodigal son on its ear today. In its normal reading, we place OURSELVES in the character of the prodigal son. But today, for our consideration, I’m going to place JESUS—who himself “humbled himself to death...even death on a cross”—in that rather humiliating position.

     But to set the scene we need to remember that the son seems unconcerned with the exact amount he receives _ for he apparently converts all he can into cash and is on his way "abroad" or "to a distant country" within "a few days." The story is quite veiled about what this younger son actually does with himself and his inheritance once he reaches this distant place. What the NRSV calls "dissolute living" sounds somewhat darker and more insidious than the equally correct translations of "asotos" as "extravagantly" or "as a spendthrift" or "recklessly." At this point, no particulars are given, no secrets divulged, about how the younger son actually became parted from his money.

The boy's fortunes go from bad to worse. Just as his money runs out, hard times hit everybody. This son is not completely without gumption, however, for facing certain hunger and poverty in one place, he moves on ("went" here denotes a change of place and situation) and "hired himself out" to one of the local landowners. The young man's position now reflects the lowest form of servitude - a temporary hireling, working not for wages, but only for the food he needs to survive. Apparently, the food provided by his new master was both scarce and dismal. He finds himself envying the pigs for having the tough, bland carob pods to feed on.
The prodigal son left the wealth and comfort of his father’s home to undertake what would prove to be a perilous and painful journey.  So did the Son of God.

     The difference is that Jesus knew exactly what he was leaving—the wealth and comfort of his Father’s home, the joy and majesty of heaven—and he knew exactly how perilous and painful the journey would be, that he would be “despised and rejected” and eventually put to a horrible death.

     The prodigal son didn’t know any of what lay ahead. All he knew was that he wanted his share of the inheritance (which would not normally be his until after his father had died), and to be on his way to a good time.

     Jesus was on his way to a bad time, willingly. In the Garden of Gethsemane he would pray about it in wrenching agony, his sweat falling like great drops of blood on the ground. “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” It was not possible, Jesus knew.

     The prodigal son knew that too. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your child. Let me take on the role of a servant.”  It is only the extreme desperateness of his situation that finally brings this son to consider returning home. Going back to his father's house was not his first option - his first choice had been feeding the pigs of a Gentile for a handful of food. The son decides to return home and throw himself on his father's mercy.  The role of a son in the family was no longer an option; he had forfeited that role.

     Jesus had not. All the way to the Garden of Gethsemane he remained a faithful and obedient son: “Not my will, O Father, but thy will be done.” Jesus acted in accordance with his Father’s will. The prodigal son didn’t.

     There is one glaring and terrible similarity. Jesus left the wealth and comfort of heaven to dwell with…pigs! To dwell with us who wallow in the filth of our sinfulness; to dine on the slop that we crowd and fight over … and to face the fate of barnyard livestock, waiting to be butchered so that others might be able to go on living.

     True, Jesus knew that his heavenly Father—who had called him “my Beloved” at his baptism—would be waiting to receive him when his obedience was complete (something the prodigal son could not know, of course—could never expect or anticipate—since he had been disobedient).

     So here is a picture for us to ponder this Lent: Jesus Christ, the holy, sinless Son of God, here in the pigpen, with us—where we deserve to be … but he does not.

     And here, in the shameful squalor of this pigpen, Jesus has an idea. “Let us get up and go to our Father.” “We can’t do that,” we reply, “not looking like this; not covered with this slop and filth we have gotten ourselves into; not after what we have done in turning our back on our Father, wishing him out of our lives, and running away. We can’t go back like this!”

            “But I can,” says God’s true and obedient Son. Covered with our filth, convicted of our sin, sharing our shame, Jesus nonetheless does not disown us (as we have disowned our Father). “Let us get up and go,” Jesus says. “Follow me!” And he leads us down this Lenten road, the road he walked with us, the road he walked for us, the road he now makes possible for us to dare to walk—because he has gone before us to confront the Father.

     “But we have sinned against heaven and in your sight,” we cry. “We are no longer worthy to be called children of God.”

     “But I am worthy,” Jesus replies—Jesus, covered with our pigpen filth; Jesus, mocked and beaten and crowned with thorns; Jesus, condemned and crucified—Jesus, like that, leads us down this Lenten road toward home.

     And it is him the Father sees from afar, and runs to meet and greet. And through him, we are shown exactly what kind of Father we’re dealing with—what sort of Father we have—who runs down the road we walk, runs toward his filthy children (not away from us), who embraces us, and is prodigal (that is “extravagant” and “lavish” and even “wasteful”) with his RICHES.

     “Father, into your hands I commit my life,” Jesus prayed from the cross. And now we watch those fatherly hands embrace him … and us, who have come with him. “Follow me,” he says as he leads us to the banquet prepared. And, unlike the prodigal son, we learn what it is like to have an older Brother waiting to welcome us home—one who even paid for the party!

*Hymn of Response                 417                  What a Fellowship, What a Joy Divine

*Sending forth

L  “I have taught you the way of wisdom,” says the Lord. “I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered; and if you run, you will not stumble.”

C Christ himself suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in his steps.

L  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Closing Stanza ... Abide With Me

Turn to the Lord; repentant, seek his face,

For God abounds in steadfast love and grace.

Oh, hasten homeward with a hopeful prayer;

A father’s welcome is awaiting there!


Animating Illustrations

A letter to Dear Abby complaining about the church's asking for money drew this response from Bob Whitmore of Eugene, Oregon. Mr. Whitmore sent in a clipping for which he had no author, only a title: "Is the Church Costing Too Much?"
"Last Sunday, another golfer sank the last putt on the 18th green and received a check for $50,000 for four rounds of golf, plus an automobile for himself and one for his wife. This week, the papers reported that a certain popular singer will receive $100,000 per week for her current singing engagement. Americans spend, annually, more on dog food than on church contributions. It is not unusual for an individual to pay more for his country club membership than he gives to the church. Is the church costing too much?
"Let me share an experience with you. On June 2, 1940, a little girl was born to us. She cost us money from the moment she was born. As she grew from babyhood to girlhood, she cost even more _ her dresses and shoes were more expensive, and we had to have the doctor through all those childhood diseases.
"She was even more expensive during her school and teen years. She needed long dresses to go to parties. When she went to college, we discovered, along with other parents, that all college expenses are not listed in the catalog. Then after graduation, she fell in love and married. She was married in a church wedding and that, too, cost a lot of money.
"Then, five months after her marriage, she suddenly sickened and within a week, she was dead. She hasn't cost us a penny since the day we walked away from her grave.
"As long as the church is alive, she will cost money. And the more alive a church is, the more money she will cost. Only a dead church, like a dead child, is no longer expensive.
"Think it over. Is the church costing too much?"
A prodigal church, like a prodigal child, is better than a dead church.

Truth exists, only falsehood has to be invented.
_George Braque

Truth is completely spontaneous. Lies have to be taught.
_R. Buckminster Fuller

If you can't say something good about someone, come over here and sit next to me.
_Oscar Wilde

It is better not to know the way of truth than, after knowing it, to turn back.
_Alan of Lille

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