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Sermon and Liturgy for The Fourth Sunday In Lent - Year C
Joshua 5:9-12; II Corinthians 5:16-21, Psalm 32; Luke 15:1-3,11-32
"The Eldest Brother"

READING:  Joshua 5:9-12; II Corinthians 5:16-21, Psalm 32; Luke 15:1-3,11-32
SERMON :  "The Eldest Brother"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-le03sesm 419604

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
   Sources: The Children's Story is based on one for this Sunday as
   found in "Children's Sermon Service Plus", vol. 22, no. 2.  The
   Sermon draws upon our sermon "The Third Son" (see c-le04se) 
   and notes from Dana Carroll, "Come To The Party!" and Ross
   Bartlett "Notes" as posted to TELOS for March 26 1995.  There
   are also citations from King Duncan's "My Younger Brother Gets Away
   With Everything" as found in "Dynamic Preaching" Jan, Feb, Mar

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)

* CALL TO WORSHIP  (based on Psalm 34)
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  Bless the Lord at all times.  
   Let God's praise rise from your hearts and be heard on your lips.
P  When we seek the Lord, he answers us.  
   God delivers us from our fears.
L  Exalt the Lord with me.  Glorify God's holy name.  
P  The Lord is good.  Happy are those who take refuge in our God.
L  The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.  
   God saves those who are humble and contrite in Spirit.
P  The Lord redeems the life of his servants.  
   When those who seek to understand and do his will call upon him, 
   he rescues them from all their troubles.

* INTROIT:  "Holy, Holy, Holy"  (verse 1)                          - VU 315

Gracious God, we gather before you this day for many reasons.  Some of us
seek no more than the peace and the fellowship of this sanctuary.  Some of
us are looking for encouragement as we walk the path that you set before
us.  Others of us are hoping for a word from you - some wisdom - some sign
- that will help us through a period of affliction or show us how to deal
with a problem that we have.  Still others of us are here because we know
that it is the right thing to do - that it helps us and helps our families
to grow together in love and understanding.  Many are the reasons we have
for coming before you at this time O God.  We ask your blessing upon us -
and pray that you will answer the need that is in us through Jesus Christ
our Lord and Saviour.  Amen

* HYMN  "Come In, Come In And Sit Down"                            - VU 395

CHILDREN'S TIME:  "Clean and Fresh"
Object    Dirty Sock, Clean Sock, Soap - All in Separate Bags
Theme     If Anyone Is In Christ, They Are A New Creation
Source    Basis from "Children's Sermon Service Plus", vol. 22, no. 2

Good morning --  You all look clean and bright today.  How many of help
with the laundry at home???   What do you to help????  (collect the
laundry baskets, fold clothes, put them away, etc).  Some of you ever use
the washer???  The dryer???   Most of you help with the laundry in some

Today I brought some socks with me in my bag.  Let's look at them. 
(produce socks in a bag). Better yet - I need a volunteer.... (get one). 
Now I want you to close your eyes and tell me what you can about these
The first one smells awful.  It's been used already and it's dirty and
smelly.  But the second one smells nice and fresh.  I wore both of these
socks.  Why do you think one of the socks smells so horrible and not the
other one????   Right - one has been washed and  the other has not.

How would I get the dirty one to smell like the clean one?  Can I just
wash it in water???  No - I have to use soap to get it to look and smell

The scripture readings today talks about us a bit like we are talking
about this laundry.  It says that when we are in Christ, when we believe
in him and follow him that we are made new.  He gives us a brand new life
each day in him.  A new start.  

That is what the story you are going to hear in Sunday School is all about
- it is about a young man who left his family and his home  went and got
into all kinds of trouble in a far away country.  His life became a real
mess.  But one day he realized that things back a home were a lot better
and he returned there - hoping that his family would help him - and they
did.  His Father hugged him and forgave him and gave him a whole new start
in life. 
So when you feel a bit dirty - when you feel you got everything all wrong
and don't know what to do - think about these socks.  Just as we clean
them up and make them like new - so God will make us new when we go to him
and ask for his help.  Jesus says that if we come to him and live in him
we are made new.  Let us pray... 

   Dear Lord Jesus - we thank you for water and for soap - and for the
   things that make us clean. - Most of all Jesus - we thank you for the
   love that forgives us - - and which hugs us and makes us new - each
   day that we walk with you.  Amen

   Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom
   come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this
   day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive
   those who trespass against us; 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

SONG OF PRAISE:  "The Shepherd"

   The shepherd is the man we know
   who guards his sheep each day.
   And that is how Jesus watches us
   when we're at work or play.
   The shepherd leads his sheep to food
   and shows them where to rest,
   And so does Jesus lead us too,
   and help us know what's best.

- Announcements
- Birthdays and Anniversaries
- Joys and Concerns For Prayer etc.


   (NIV)  Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away the
   reproach of Egypt from you."  So the place has been called Gilgal to
   this day.   On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month,
   while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites
   celebrated the Passover.  The day after the Passover, that very
   day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and
   roasted grain.  The manna stopped the day after they ate this food
   from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but
   that year they ate of the produce of Canaan.

L  This is the Word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God.

RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 32 (Voices United 759 and Sung Refrain)

   (NIV) So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.
   Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 
   Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has
   gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us
   to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
   that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not
   counting men's sins against them.  And he has committed to us the
   message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ's ambassadors,
   as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on
   Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no
   sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness
   of God.

L  This is the Word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God.

* HYMN: "Amazing Grace"                                            - VU 266

A READING FROM LUKE 15:1-3,11(b)-32
   (NIV) Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around
   to hear him.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law
   muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."  Then
   Jesus told them this parable:

   "There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his
   father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his
   property between them. 
   "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set 
   off for a distant country and there  squandered his wealth in wild 
   living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine 
   in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and 
   hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his 
   fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods 
   that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 

   "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's 
   hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I 
   will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have
   sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be 
   called your son; make me like one of  your hired men.'  So he got 
   up and went to his father. 
   "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was 
   filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms 
   around him and kissed him. 
   "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and 
   against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
   "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe
   and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
   Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 
   For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is 
   found.' So they began to celebrate. 

   "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the 
   house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants 
   and asked him what was going on.  'Your brother has come,' he replied, 
   'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back 
   safe and sound.' 
   "The older brother became angry and refused to go in.  So his father 
   went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, 'Look! 
   All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your 
   orders.  Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate 
   with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your 
   property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for 
   "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything 
   I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this 
   brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"

L  This is the Gospel of our Crucified Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

SERMON: "The Eldest Brother"

   O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds
   and the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the
   thoughts we form.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen.  Amen.

The Scribe and Pharisees criticized Jesus, because he ate with sinners.  
And so Jesus told them a story.  The story of what a friend of mine on the
Internet calls the story of "the prodigal family".

That story is very familiar to those of us who have been attending church
for a few years.  Many of us have it heard it several times, read it
several times, perhaps even taught it several times.

It is a very rich story - a story that can be told or examined from a
great variety of views. A story that can be identified with from a variety
of vantage points.

- the one who wasted his living in a foreign land and ended up going from
bad to worse till - at last - he comes to his senses and flees homeward 
hoping against hope that there he can put his life together again - even
if must be as a servant - for he knows that in his father's house even
servants live better than does he.

John Newton - the writer of one of the Church's favourite hymns identified
with the youngest son.

In the year 1779, after a tumultuous life as a sailor, a dissolute life, a
bitter and angry life in which he mocked those who believed in God and
tore down the faith of those who lived decently, he came to his senses and
he gave his life to Christ, and he found in Him a welcome - a love - that
till that time he had only dreamed of.

   Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
   I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.
   T'was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved,
   how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.

us who happen to be parents of children who have gone, or are going, 

Think of the father in today's gospel for a minute.  Think of his pain.
His youngest child - his youngest son has turned out badly.

He loves the child dearly - and what happens?  The lad demands his
inheritance, what he claims will be his when his father dies,and upon
receiving it leaves home and is not heard from again.

We don't know why the father gave in to the demands of his youngest son
for the money.  Loving parents know that children are different. 
It is impossible to treat children exactly the same, because each child is
unique. That makes child-rearing the most complex of all human tasks. 
Doc Blakely once said that no man knows his true character until he has
run out of gas, declared bankruptcy, and raised a teenager. 

Perhaps the father gave in because he figured if he did not his son would
only become more rebellious.  Perhaps he gave in because he did not what
else to do.  

Whatever the reason - I think many of us here today can identify with the
pain that the father must have felt; the pain - the second guessing - the
constant worry -and the constant wondering...

- Will my boy make it?             - Will he survive?   
- Will he become a decent man?     - Will he ever come home?

And so there are people who understand what happens at the end of story of
the prodigal son.
They understand why the father upon seeing in the distance his son
returning home lifts his robes up around his thighs and runs down the road
to meet him.

They understand - and they pray that such a seen might be enacted in their
own lives. That they might be able to embrace their own child
and say to him or her - welcome home.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER SON IN THE STORY?  What about the oldest brother?
How many of us, I wonder, identify with him?

Let me do something for a second - let me take a poll --
How many of you are the oldest child in your family? 
How many first-born do we have? Would you stand? 

O.K., thank you.  Please be seated.  

Now, how many of you were the baby in your family?  
Would you stand, please?  Thank you. 

Now, for those in the first group - the oldest children. How many of you
felt like the baby of the family got away with things you never could have
gotten away with?  Would you stand please?

I am a youngest child - the baby of a family - and for a long time when I
read the story of the prodigal son I didn't really think about the oldest
brother.  But then my father remarried - and I ended up as a the older
brother in a new family - a brother with two younger sisters.  

I do think now about the older brother in the story of the prodigal

The older brother is like a lot of us.  
He gets up and goes to work every day and tries to be responsible.  
Indeed he feels he must be.  It is expected of him.
So you can understand why he would be upset with his baby brother.  

First of all, 
that brat asked for his inheritance early, while father was still alive.  
That was selfish and an insult.  
It was the same thing as wishing father was dead.

And then, it was just like that baby brother to squander it all.  
He never was responsible.  He took it and went away and just wasted it.  
All that money that it had taken our family generations to accumulate.  
He just spent it on sports cars and women and high living.  
It served him right that he wound up feeding somebody's pigs.  
He deserved it.  

But now he comes home.  And wouldn't you know it, Dad throws a party for
him.  He always could get away with murder around here.  Nobody ever threw
a party for me.  Nobody ever appreciated that I stuck around and did what
I was supposed to do.  I didn't waste Dad's money.  I worked hard in the
fields every day.  And do you think anybody ever butchered anything for me
so I could have a party with my friends?  No!  

And who do you think will be the one to be responsible enough to take care
of Dad when he grows old and feeble?  Do you think it will be that brother
of mine?  No.  It will be me.  Because I am the responsible one around

Yes, Dad, little brother can come home - but don't throw a party!
Make him grovel a little.  
He asked to be a servant.  Let him do that for a while.  
He doesn't deserve to wear your fine robes.

Sound familiar?  

It should - because that older brother is that responsible part in all of
us who doesn't like it when somebody else gets something for nothing.

The older brother is that part of us that measures and weighs every deed
for its value - every person for what they have earned or deserve - and
has decided that by comparison we aren't getting the deal we deserve to
get - or that someone else is getting more than the deserve.

It's important today that we understand whom Jesus told the story to that
day long ago in Israel and why he told it.

The tax collectors and sinners with whom Jesus ate are not simply friendly
folk who have been misunderstood.  Publicans were making a good living
taking money from their own people for the sake of the occupying forces. 
Sinners were so designated because their behaviour had gotten them ejected
from the synagogue.   

The Pharisees and other guardians of law and order could see the corrosive
effect of not distinguishing between good and evil people.  

Do the sayings: "birds of a feather flock together" or "evil companions
make evil morals" sound at all familiar?  

Think about it - doesn't forgiving look a lot like condoning?

To Jesus' listeners 2000 years ago,
and perhaps to us today,
the party is what is really offensive in the story.  

Let the penitent return, there's nothing wrong with that.  
Both Judaism and Christianity allow for that. 
But let him return to bread and water 
   not fatted calf and fruit of the vineyard; 
to sackcloth and ashes 
   not to expensive robes and rings and merriment.... 

Those who to whom Jesus told the story of the prodigal family were
responsible people.  They followed the letter of the law.  They did what
they were supposed to do.  And what did they see when they saw Jesus?

They saw a man whom they recognized as a holy man -
   a man whom many said was the Messiah,
   one whom some said was the Son of God,
welcoming sinners and eating with them.  Showing them the honour of his
presence.  Telling them that God loved them.

The Pharisees didn't like that one bit.  
Because those sinners hadn't toed the line.  
Yes, let them come in.  But make them grovel a little.

The Pharisees, in all their super-responsibility were missing the party. 
They weren't getting the message.  They couldn't hear that God had enough
love for them too.

Who are you in this story?  

Are you the older son, jealous that somebody else is receiving God's love?

Are you the younger son, afraid to come home and ask for God's love?  

Are you the Pharisee, so aware of what you have done and what others have
failed to do that you can't enjoy the party?  That you resent your God for
being loving and forgiving?

The youngest Son learned an important lesson while starving in a foreign
land.  He learned about priorities.  He learned that his father was a life
That is something that we all need to learn.  
What our real priorities are in life.  
Where life is to be found - and how good that life really is.

In our lives here sometimes it seems that love is limited. That our
parents, our wives or husbands, or our children, simply don't have enough
love to go around.  But that my friends is not so in the family of God.

In the story that Jesus tells to the scribes and pharisees who resented
his eating with sinners, in the story he told to the oldest brother or
daughter that lives inside our hearts he says:

   "My child, you are always with me.  You are very special to me. 
   Indeed all that I have is yours - understand that - and rejoice with
   me that your younger brother - he who was as good as dead, is alive -
   he was lost - but now is found."

Hear the Good News.  God's love is for you.  
Let your heart soften a little. 
Throw away the things that are blocking you from receiving the fullness of
the love that God is aching to give you - and party a little.

Embrace your brother or your sister.
Welcome them.  Pray for them.  Give thanks for them.
The world won't end if you do.  
In fact it will become a better place for everyone.  Amen.

Loving God - we come before you today aware of how you call us to be like
you - remembering that you made us in your own image - that you entrusted
to us this world and all that is in it- that you gave to us brothers and
sisters - mothers and fathers  people to love and to enjoy and to work for
and pray for.  Help us dear God to remember our own sin before you and how
you forgive it - help us to remember the Cross of Christ - and why he died
upon it.  And make us messengers of your reconciling love, ambassadors for
your kingdom, people who show forth your grace, and celebrate with your
joy......  Lord hear our prayer....

Father and Mother of us all - we pray today for those of our brothers and
sisters who have misused you and the rest of our family.  We pray for
those who have broken their parent's hearts and wounded themselves and
those around them.  We pray that they may return home safe and whole...
Lord hear our prayer...

We pray too O God for other people who are upon our hearts this day....
for the father who is very ill - for the daughter who soon will be
dwelling in your kingdom - for the brother who must face consequences of
his actions - for the sister who is living in a house of fear...  Lord
hear our prayer for these and for those whom we hold before you now in our
hearts and upon our lips... (BIDDING PRAYER)... Lord Hear Our Prayer.... 

Blessed be your holy name O God - on account of your holy and redeeming
love.  Amen.


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) & Prayer of

L  Bless, O God, the offering of these gifts.  Use them in your work.
P  You call us, O God, to a ministry of reconciliation,
   You ask us to reach out to the world around us with your message
    of friendship and peace through Christ Jesus.
   You call us to judge one another by his standards
   and to allow you to make your appeal to the world through us.
   Work in us, we pray, that we may have the heart and mind of Christ,
   and with all our words, thoughts, and actions,
   do what you, in love, have asked us to do.
   We ask it in the name of Christ Jesus, our crucified redeemer.  Amen

* DEPARTING HYMN:  "There's A Wideness In God's Mercy"             - VU 271

* COMMISSIONING (unison):  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we now go
   forth into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the
   body of Christ.

Go in peace - love and care for one another in Christ's name;  
- and may God so bless you 
   that all who see you or hear you feel welcome in your presence; 
- may the Spirit so touch you 
   that others are comforted by your words and your actions, 
- and may Jesus dwell in you so richly 
   that others are drawn to God by you 
this both now and forevermore.  Amen

THREE FOLD AMEN & SUNG BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                - VU 964

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2001 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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