Sunday, Feb 28, 2021

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Welcome and Announcements (2nd Sunday of Lent, Feb. 28, 2021)



Thank you for being part of a faith community of care, compassion, grace and love.

This year, we are celebrating Lent in a creative way. Since it is best for us to keep the physical and social distancing, we are doing our best to care for those who are vulnerable as best as we can. We are continually supplying Saturday Lunch Takeouts. We have expanded to help people in other ways as well. We are helping people to find ways to stay inside during the cold weather. We are sharing our worship with as many people as we can. We have been distributing our worship services.You can help by not only helping us with desserts, but also informing us who can use some spiritual support if you let us know.. To this mission project for this Lent season, so far, you have shared $450. Thank you.

One main part of our Lent observance is by sharing together some Lent Reflections on every Wednesday. We are emailing them. We are also printing them and distributing them along with Sunday worship materials. If you would like to share it, simply forward it to someone who might enjoy them.

We are also asking you to let us know how we can serve our friends and neighbours. We need all your help. During the month of March, we will be praying for everyone whom we can support. Please, let us know.

We need your prayers for many of our own members. Please keep in your prayer the following members: Andy Paterson, Bob and Isobel Norminton, Bob and Virginia Ward, Carol Heatherington, Donna Ainslie, Doris Race, Genevieve King, Rev. Gordon Hastings, Harold and Betty Jolley, Hugh McKeown, Judy Sibley, Kathleen Mason, Kyle Sibley, Peggy McCarthy, Phyllis Banks, Rita Peters, Sylvia Fenton, Wayne and Eva Tannahill.

Our Christian love and deepest sympathies are shared with Winnie Dell’s family as they grieve the death of Winnie. She passed away peacefully on Friday morning at home. Please pray for Rick, her brother, and Winnie’s family.

Hymn of Preparation: I cannot come



Call to Worship



Faith is a gift of God constantly renewed in Word and Sacrament and in the shared life of God’s people. It is trust in God. By faith we receive very life of God into our lives and joyfully discover that God knows, loves and pardons us. In this faith, let us come and worship God!

Hymn: I come with joy



Opening Prayer



O Lord our God,
How sweet it is for us to be in your presence. Our hearts are filled with joy and love that flow from you. We come knowing that you extend your welcoming arms to us. We come even though we are not yet fully ready, approaching this holy time in humility. Be glad. Receive this worship in ways that our witnessing of your great work glorifies you this day and many days yet to come.

In gentle patience, fill us with your Spirit. Restore us to fullness of who we are created to be. Make us yours so that we may share your love with neighbours near and far. Today, with your Word, recreate us as the new creation in Christ Jesus our Lord. In his name we pray. Amen.

Offering (Anthem: Give Thanks)



Offering Prayer



In thanksgiving, we bring ourselves before you, O God. Because our lives flow from your love, we bring these gifts as small offerings signifying our commitment to your ministry here in this part of your vineyard. Receive them. Bless them in ways that many of our neighbours will be blessed by your steadfast love. Through the use of these small gifts, may your love flourish among all those who are struggling in this world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Scripture: Luke 15:11-24



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.

Sermon: Joy of the father
Try this video format of sermon today. You will not have to scroll down as before. However, if you prefer the usual way, you can skip the video and click audio and follow as usual below the video.



For those who want the usual way, here is the sermon:



This parable of the prodigal son is so famous that it needs no introduction, interpretation, or explanation. Most human beings would act just like this father in the parable. The question is: why does this simple story overwhelm us with joyful emotion?

Spring is coming and soon birds will return. A pair of robins will build its nest on their usual spot under the overhang of our porch. There will be eggs, then, chicks. Last two years were sad. Two years in a row, after chicks left their nest, I found some of them killed in the backyard and eaten half way. I buried at least four chicks that way. There was a prowling killer on the loose. I suspect it might have been a neighbour’s cat. Well, there have been many predators stalking at night. I often kept watch until I went to sleep, ready to catch any animal harming the chicks. I found myself getting very attached to these chicks and did my best to keep them safe. After burying those carcasses, I heard chirpings of parent birds and felt sad especially when you would hear the desperate sounding chirps. For the rest of summer days, when I heard the mother robin chirping to call chicks, I would look out to make sure that the ones that escaped those dangerous predators were still there. With attention you can hear the difference in chirpings between parent birds and chicks when they are together at the end of the day.

As we can hear joys in those chirping birds, we can feel the joy of the father in the parable in our bones. With embrace, he takes action, “Give him a warm bath and put good clothes on him! Go and pick the best calf! Let’s invite people and have a celebration!” Servants running this way and that. Father grinning ear to ear. How about his mother? Was she happy to see him too? Was she jumping with joy? From the parable, we can conjure up all kinds of exciting activities as the house comes alive with busy activities. It is a happy day indeed.

It is just like any other day. Again, a sorrowful father gazes out to see. He has been looking out from his front door everyday, just in case. For the last few years, everyday, he would return into the house with a big sigh. On this day, in our minds’ eyes we can see the father scanning the horizon, seeing a figure appear like a speck. Like any other day, he pays little attention because so many times a person turned out to be someone else. Then, as the speck of a person gets larger and larger, he strains his eyes more and more. He recognizes something familiar about that person walking towards him. Could he be? Is this day the day? His mind races through his memories matching those steps and contour of the man. Suddenly he finds it. His heart begins to beat faster and faster. His eyes welling up. Then, he runs. He runs as fast as he can. It’s his son. The one he has been waiting for. Every morning he would look out just in case. Today, he sees him.

For others, he is just a homeless beggar, torn and dirtied up clothes after spending days in pigs’ sty, thin and mal-nourished, unkempt hair growing wildly, with sunken eyes full of hunger and dejection. He looks dangerous. He looks wild. His appearance demands caution.

The father sees none of that. He only sees his son whom he has been waiting for. He does not see the disheveled hair, malnourished thin body, dirty and torn clothes, sunken eyes. He sees his son. Everything on and about him puts people off and makes others cringe away from this small figure. The father, though, sees through all those barriers and recognizes his son. Those thin scrawny fingers, baked in mud feet, darting hunger filled eyes shout at him to say, “I am home, Dad!” The son may say, “I have sinned against God and you, father!” The father hears, “I am home, Dad! I am home!”

Oh! The joy! Wash him! Put the best clothes on him! Invite friends! Let the welcome home party begin! Bring him out so that all the neighbours can rejoice the return of my son!

This exuberance, certainly, demonstrates the father’s outward joy of welcoming back the son. Just like the one time party, however, this expression of joy dissipates as the time goes on. Soon everyone forgets what it is to have the son back in the regular humdrum of life. Somehow, when the after-party hangovers are long gone, the story of father’s joy becomes nothing more than one of those “remember when…” stories. Yet, the point given through the parable is that this joy lasts for Christ and God. This is not simply a moment in life to be remembered by the joyful father for a little while, but it connects us to the joy of eternal, the joy that lasts forever, the joy that always is.

This same parable scene is drawn by the Dutch master, Rembrandt.

(By Rembrandt - 5QFIEhic3owZ-A at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22353933)

In this picture you see father expressing joy very differently. Here, the joy is more sedated and calm, full of intimacy as he caresses the kneeling son. The artist brings out this embrace of the father and son as if the time is standing still. This is not going to be a fleeting moment. This is what whole eternity is about: the communion of the father and the son. There is no rush. There is no interruption insisting that the son needs bath, the father needs to instruct his servants on the party plan. A simple togetherness in which the son clings to the father and the hands of the father feeling the son’s presence, the presence that is life, revealing the eternal togetherness.

There is almost a sorrow on the face of this father. The long waiting seemed to have worn him down. His eyes seem closed as if he is praying--praying the thanksgiving prayer that he is now holding his son in his arms. Yet, his hands are gentle and firm as he enfolds his son in his arms. We find no rejection of this prodigal son, no rebukes on what his son has become, no anger against the son for the misdeeds, and no stern judgment being a wretched human being wasting life. If anything, this father seems relieved that the long wait is over. How else can one depict the eternal welcome that springs from the love that is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Rembrandt expresses this joy of eternal as the eternal moment of quiet and everlasting. It lasts forever, always alive and real. Do not the hands of the father look as if he wants this moment to last forever? He does not want to stop gently embracing and caressing making sure this son has really returned to be part of him as he becomes part of his son.

There is the third kind of joy that we often turn away from because our emotions cannot contain the joy of enteral. It wells up from our hearts overpowering us with tears. At the end scene of the movie, Empire of the Sun, the son who was lost during the war and spent time in a Japanese prisoner’s camp is among many war children being reunited with their families. The son bears all the scars of having been lost on his face in his demeanor. He looks stunned, lost, and bewildered. While other children seek their parents, he moves slowly, not knowing what to do. His mom and dad finally see him. As if he is trying to figure out if his life is real, he touches his mother’s hand and hair, then, an embrace. He is making contact as if he is in a dream.


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In this, there are no shouts of joy. There is a very slowly glowing recognition filled with all the sadness of lost love, relationship and time between the child and parents. As they clutch each other, the mother and son hold so tight as if not to lose each other again. This clining embrace is the eternal now--love realized and displayed as life. Finally, the togetherness that shows the glimpse of eternal communion.

In all three of these ways the joy of communion between a child and her parent points to how joyful we understand our communion in Christ means. The communion table is a place of union where brokenness is erased and those who sit around the table are made into one. The most painful state of being is the broken relationship between the creator and the created ( parents and their children). That brokenness signifies the shattered love because one is severed from the other. Communion is not possible to be experienced in this fractured state. The coming together of the child with the mother, the son with the father, the created with the creator heals the brokenness restoring the love that was, is and will always be.

Communion is the state of being for us and Christ our Lord in life eternal. Communion is the victory over death: shattered relationships restored in love; love experienced as unending joy. It is no wonder that the father’s hands gently receive and hold the kneeling child that the mother’s hands tightly clasp and grip the returning son. This joy brings unconditional acceptance over rejection, grace over punishment, healing over painful suffering. So the shouts of gladness; embracing in love; and overflowing with tears of life!

Sunday worship is to be the experience of this joy. In worship we are in communion with God who created us, through the Son who redeemed us, by the Holy spirit who binds us to our Lord. Sunday worship is the glimpse of this joy breaking into this very mundane and spirit crushing life so that all may be restored to the Way, the Truth and the Life. This eternal joy is expressed as we rejoice together, praise God together, fellowship together, share in meals together, but also share the pains and sufferings of all of us in Christ as one body.

Sadly, we fall a lot short of this vision of communion on Sunday morning worships. When was the time you saw everyone in your church putting on a party for a lapsed Christian returning? When did you expectantly look out with the searching gaze of God’s love for one who left the church in hope of seeing the person return? When did we welcome those who walk in wearing dirty clothes, homeless and hungry on behalf of our God welcoming God’s own children?

This joy of eternal, being revealed in everlasting communion, becomes the true mark of Christian community when others can see the love of this father displayed through us. Joy becomes the experience of loving embrace when others can feel the squeeze of that mother’s arms refusing ever to let her child be lost to her, when those who reenter the sanctuary and kneel before God who loves feel those firm, gentle, welcome the touch of God’s hands on their backs as they are embraced. All who are in communion, live in this joy of God holding us in those welcoming arms always, without ceasing, forever and ever. Yes, every time we gather In worship in Christ’s name, we are constantly held in this welcoming embrace by God. Yes, we witness God’s joy. We become part of God’s joy.

Prayer



O loving God,
How can we thank you for your unconditional welcome when we come to you? How can we show our gratitude for patiently waiting until we come to our senses? How can we bless you for your limitless embrace? Though we are unable to repay your love in kind, we bring our prayer knowing that in your mercy you hear our prayers.

So many are lost to you because we try to live a safe and secure life. We put our efforts in building life that will benefit us first. We often care little for all your creation. We use and exploit your creation without being good stewards. We leave destruction as we move onto plunder more. Change our hearts, O God. Open our eyes so that we may see our evil deeds.

You have given us the gift of life in order that all may come to love and live fully as you intended. Yet, in pursuit of our own selfish desires, we have shattered the life you have given us and remade our lives according to our goals for riches and power. Blindly we make our lives more broken. By the Holy Spirit, set us free from our own sins in ways that we may seek to be healed and find the gift of life you have given us.

We come bringing our concerns. As our politicians plan ways for us to be safe, so many more people are still being overpowered by death. Many are continually dying because of the virus, of cancer, and of other diseases. Many are unable to cope with this fear filled life and are getting deeper and deeper into addictions and depressions. Many in the world are choosing death over their pain filled lives. Fill us with your love to find hope again and to walk the ways of faith in order to regain the life of meaning, purpose and truth.

Be with doctors and nurses among us. Walk with all our personal care workers, staff at caring/medical institutions. Guard the essential workers from ills. Protect all those who are in very vulnerable situations. Give your presence to all those who are struggling with illnesses, especially those who are suffering mental illnesses in this time of isolation.

We also pray for ourselves. Keep us focused on your love. May we never lose our courage to love you and our neighbours. May we always follow your Son our Lord in all matters of this life. Make us yours in ways that we will always share your unconditional welcome with all those who are returning to you. Give us wisdom to know how to share your good news of forgiveness and unconditional acceptance of all your children.

O God, we pray for our church family. We lift up before you the following names: Andy Paterson, Bob and Isobel Norminton, Bob and Virginia Ward, Carol Heatherington, Donna Ainslie, Doris Race, Genevieve King, Rev. Gordon Hastings, Harold and Betty Jolley, Hugh McKeown, Judy Sibley, Kathleen Mason, Kyle Sibley, Peggy McCarthy, Phyllis Banks, Rita Peters, Sylvia Fenton, Wayne and Eva Tannahill. Bless them and give them strength each day as they do their best to be loving and caring.

We pray for Rick who lost his sister, Gary (son), Susan (daughter) and the rest of Winnie’s family. May you be with them as they grieve so that they will be the witnesses to the resurrection life to which all of us are called.

All these things we pray in your Son’s name. Amen

Hymn: Joyful, Joyful



Benediction