4th Sunday in Lent

March 30, 2025

Lectionary Texts

Joshua 5.9-1: The wilderness wanderings ended, Israelites settle and eat food that they have raised on the land; the manna ceases.

Psalm 32: When I was not honest about my sin it ate at me, but when I confess, I am forgiven. God, you protect me and guide me.

2 Corinthians 5. 16-21: If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. The ministry of reconciliation.

Luke 15.1-3, 11-32: The parable of the lost sons

Preaching Thoughts

       Today’s texts touch on the theme we heard last week: our hunger for God, reflected in the manna and then the Israelites’ locally grown food, and in the younger son’s hunger in Jesus’ parable.

2 Corinthians

       From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view. We see everyone through God’s eyes. Everyone: friends and neighbors, the annoying co-worker, the struggling student, the criminal, the homeless, the terrible politician, even ourselves. We see everyone as God’s beloved, redeemed people, who may or may not see themselves that way or act like it. Everyone is someone who God is seeking in love… like the father in Jesus’ parable
       “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” The way Paul says it, “there is a new creation” means the person is made new, but also all of Creation is made new—there is a new one now! Everything has been made new.
    “We are reconciled to God through Christ.” God is not reconciled with us; we are the ones needing to be reconnected. Though our relationship with God is broken and messed up, God has a perfect relationship with us anyway—and draws us into that relationship in Christ. God wants to heal our broken relationship with God. God does this in Christ and his forgiveness. Changed by such love, we extend that reconciliation to others, too.
      For our sake God made Christ to be sin
      who knew no sin,
      so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God.

In interpreting “God made Christ to be sin” avoid suggesting that God planned the crucifixion. We planned the crucifixion. It’s our sin and injustice, not God’s scheming. But God acts in the crucifixion with grace, by entering into our broken state with us. In the crucifixion we see what separates us from God: we see our sin. And yet in what appears to separate us from God, God stays connected with us in love. We are the subjects of God’s good relationship, and so we “become God’s righteousness.” (Remember righteousness doesn’t mean obedience to laws; it means right relationship.) Despite our bad relationship with God, God, in loving grace, makes our relationship good anyway. Just as Jesus was sinless but treated as if he were sinful, we are treated as if we are righteous: we are given a perfect relationship with God. By God’s grace in us we not only receive God’s righteousness, we are God’s righteousness!

We sometimes preach that we shouldn’t be like the younger son… but in fact we are the younger son, recklessly wasting God’s grace. God takes us in anyway. No matter what. No one, no one at all, is “not good enough.” This is a story about truly unconditional love.
       Unfortunately many preachers paint the younger son as the bad one, and ignore the older son. Both of them are equally at fault. This is a parable of two lost sons. The older son distances himself from his father just as much as the younger son. (In fact at least the younger son comes to apologize and attempt some kind of reconciliation with his father; the older son doesn’t.) Note the parallels:
• Both sons have, in a sense, run away, and the father has to leave his home and go out into the field to welcome both sons back inviting them both to the feast. (In fact we assume the younger son assents; so far the older son has refused. Hm…)
• The younger son intends to say “treat me like one of your hired servants.” The older son says “I have worked for you like a slave.” The father has to overcome both son’s image of themselves as slaves rather than children and heirs.
• Both sons also distance themselves from each other and the family. The younger son runs away physically; the older son runs away emotionally. He says “that son of yours” and the father has to correct him: “this brother of yours.”
• The younger son doesn’t seem to be motivated by love for his father, but hunger. The elder son doesn’t seem to want his father’s love, but, despite the fact that he has everything the father has, complains, “you didn’t give me even so much as a goat.” Both of them don’t want the father’s love—just his stuff. How much of our “faith” is really just wanting stuff from God? (Blessing, healing, good luck, forgiveness… it can all be selfish if it isn’t aimed toward loving God and neighbor.) This a story about turning to God in love instead of self-interest.
       The younger son is usually the focus of our preaching; but the climax of the story is not in his return but the older son’s reaction. Like him we easily assume we are the “good people” who have obediently followed the rules and been good Christians, and we deserve more of God’s grace than “those bad people,” whoever we think they are. We are like the older as well as the younger! This is a story about how, for God, there is no “deserving,” but only love.
       The word “prodigal” does not mean disobedient, but recklessly extravagant. The younger son has certainly wasted his wealth in extravagance, but so has the older son. Even though everything the father has is his, that generosity is wasted on a resentful, self-centered son. It’s the father who is prodigal with forgiveness and mercy. Independent of our deserving we are given grace like the manna that sustained the Hebrews in the desert.The story is not about how we ought to be like one son or the other, but an invitation to be like the father, extravagantly generous with love, forgiveness and mercy.

Call to Worship

1. [Or may be used as an invitation to communion.]
Leader: God of love, when we wander away
it is your grace that calls us back to you.
All: You receive us with mercy, and we give thanks.
Loving Christ, when we are lost and lonely in a far land,
you accompany us in love, and guide us home.
You receive us with grace, and we give thanks.
Holy Spirit, your joy in us calls us, blesses us, and revives us.
We celebrate, for we who were lost are found! We who were dead are alive!
By your invitation we come to your table to feast in joy.

Leader: Loving God, giver of Creation, we turn to you.
All: Beloved God, Mother and Father of us all, we thank you.
Christ our brother, you bring us home to God, and we praise you.
You give us to one another, and so we praise you.
Holy Spirit, your love burns in us for all the world.
You make us beloved kin, and so we open our hearts. Our love is your praise.

Leader: Glory be to you, O God of all Creation.
All: Thanks be to you, O Christ, for our salvation.
Though we have wandered, you he welcomed us.
Though we have separated ourselves, you have joined us.
Gather us into your love, and change our hearts, so that we shall love others.
Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Amen.

Leader: God, we are hungry for you.
All: We have lived on the manna of your grace, and we thank you.
Sometimes our hunger is deep and unmet.
Like the “prodigal son” our spirits are starving for your grace.
So we come to you, to the abundance of your table.
You welcome us, and you feed our souls.
We feast at the banquet of your grace.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

God of love, we hunger for your grace. When we distance ourselves from you we long for your embrace. We have sought many things, but we were truly hungry only for you. Receive us, lonely and weary, bless us with your mercy, and feed us your grace. Amen.

God of love, speak your word to lead all who are lost and seeking the way. Speak your healing word to all who are hurting and alone. Speak your reconciling word to all who are not at peace. Speak your life-giving word to us, and bring us close to you. Amen.

Merciful God, though we turn away from you, still you are near; you claim us and embrace us and bless us. Bring us home and speak to us. We turn to you to hear your word, to receive your grace, to become again your faithful children. Amen.

Gracious God, you are the loving father who gives us life, the strong mother who guides us in this world. We hear many voices that call to us, that would lead us stray. We come now to hear your voice alone, to return to the home of our hearts in you. Speak to us, claim us, name us, and bless us as we listen for your living Word. Amen.

Gracious God, we who have wandered return to you. We come to surrender to the embrace of your love, to enter the house of your mercy, to feast on your Word, and to be made again part of your loving family. Change our hearts, so that we may become more like you. Amen.

Gracious God, your truth is our home, and your love is our place of deepest belonging. We want to come home to your love. Open our hearts to find welcome in your Word, to receive your love, and to become again glad members of your holy family. Amen.

Listening Prayer

Loving God, you are our home and our belonging;
you are our parent and our provider.
We do not live by bread alone
but by your every word.
We hunger for your grace.
We come to you.
Receive us. Feed us.
Make us your new creations.

Prayer of Confession

Gentle God, we have wandered away from you,
from your love, and from what gives you deepest delight in our lives,
so our lives become hollow and hungry, lost and lonely.
We return to you.
Receive us, accept us, forgive us, nourish us and bless us.
May we always be yours. Amen.

Gentle God, your love for us is perfect.
But we confess that our love is small and feeble;
we withhold it from you and from others
Forgive us, restore us, and fill us again with your Spirit,
so that we will love more perfectly
in the spirit of Christ. Amen.

Response to Confession

[Psalm 103.8-14]
Leader: God is merciful and gracious,
All: slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
God will not always accuse,
or keep fierce anger forever.
God does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is God’s steadfast love toward those who turn to God;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far God removes our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Holy One has compassion for those who fear God.
God knows how we were made, and remembers that we are dust.


Psalm 32, a paraphrase

How blessed we are that you forgive us so completely!
       We know our sinfulness—
       yet you treat us as if we had none.

When we try to deny our brokenness
the wound eats us up from within.
       But when we get honest with ourselves, and with you
       and confess the failure of our love,
       you forgive us!
You forgive us entirely!
So we learn to trust you deeply, and we turn to you.
Despite our distress, the flood of anxiety won’t reach us.
       God, you are a safe place for us, a shelter from trouble.
       You enfold us in songs of healing.
You say, “I will lead you in the way you should go.
I walk with you; I see you from the inside out.”
       Oh, folks, do you hear this? Rejoice in God’s love!
       Sing thanks. Belt it out for the Beloved!

Response / Creed / Affirmation

We love and trust you, God, creator of all things. You have made all people in your image. You are our home, and the loving parent of all humanity.

We follow your Christ, who embraced all people, who created hospitality for all who are rejected, and who by his grace made a place for us and for all in the Household of God. Though he too was rejected and killed, he was raised again, and in his resurrection creates a place for us in eternal life.

We live by the power of the Holy Spirit, who joins us into one household, one people, one Body. By the power of that Spirit we devote ourselves to the hospitality of Christ, to welcome the outcast, to serve the poor, and to live lives of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation, in order to embody resurrection, for the sake of the healing of the world. Amen.

Invitation to Communion

God of grace God, we have wandered away from your love,
but you receive us with gentle mercy.
We have turned from your grace,
but you come to us again and again,
and enfold us in the welcome of your heart.
By your grace, we who are lost are found;
we who were dead are alive again!
Let us come in to your house, then,
and feast upon your grace and delight in your joy.
Gather us in your loving arms, O God,
and transform us by your grace.

Leader: Blessed God, in the spirit of compassion you have called us here.
All: Creator God, loving Father, life-giving Mother,
you are the home of our souls.
Crucified and risen Christ, you are the brother who walks with us on all our roads.
You are our Way, and our homecoming.
Holy Spirit of love, you are the wisdom deep within us that leads us.
You lead us out, and you bring us back.
You strengthen us in departing, open our hearts us in our journeys,
and guide us in our returning.
We come now to you: to your grace, to your love for us,
and to your celebration of our unity.
We thank you, God, and we come gladly to your table.
Receive us, nourish us, and make us yours once again. Amen.

Eucharistic Prayer

Go here for musical responses to the Eucharistic prayer—Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation and Amen—set to familiar tunes suitable for Lent.

[The body of the prayer may be read responsively by the pastor and congregation or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Blessed are you, O God. You have created us in your image,
claimed us as your children, called us as your people,
and embraced us in your holy Covenant.
Though we wander from you and turn away from your grace,
your steadfast love is faithful;
when we are lost and alone, still you are with us.
You forgive our sin and restore us to ourselves;
and you reconcile us to yourself and to each other.
Therefore you call us to this feast to celebrate our new life in Christ.
For we once were dead and now are alive;
we were lost, and now are found.
And so with all your people on earth we praise you with one voice:

Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and love,
all Creation shimmers with your presence.
Amazing and beautiful! You save us!
Blessed are they who come in your love.
Amazing and beautiful! You save us!
       [or other version]

Blessed are all who come in your name, and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
With love and forgiveness he taught and healed,
he ate with sinners and embraced the lonely.
He set us free from our judgments
and invited us to the table of your grace,
where all are included, and all are one, and all are beloved.

[… The Blessing and Covenant …]

God of love, in this meal we hear your gracious word:
“You are always with me, and all that I have is yours.”
In humility and gratitude we offer ourselves as a glad gift,
in union with Christ’s gift to us,
as we proclaim the mystery at the heart of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the Body and Blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ.
At this table God, you set a feast of joy, for we are again whole.
You unite us, neither sinner nor righteous but family.
Fill us with your gracious love, to accept and embrace all,
to forgive and to welcome all, as beloved family.
May our lives be a feast of joy for your grace,
offered to all the world in the spirit of Christ.

            [sung or spoken]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

God, we thank you, for you are the source of our life,
our home, our womb, our earth.
We are your family, and kindred with one another.
When we deny our kinship, when we run away
from you or from one another,
you gather us back and bring us to the table of your joy.
Therefore with all the family of Creation
we sing your praise with one voice.

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who was brother to the wandering, and kin among the hungry.
He embraced us with your love and forgiveness,
and gathered us as one around the table of your grace.

     (The Blessing and Covenant)*

As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
In this meal we who were lost are found;
we who were dead are alive again;
we who were apart are brought together.
Therefore in thanks we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
fed by your love, made whole by your grace,
made one with you and with each other,
one with all people and with all Creation,
kindred in your Spirit.
May all of life be a celebration of your love.
May we gladly invite all who wander or are hungry
to the feast, in the name and the love of Christ.

          (sung or spoken)

* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer after Communion

Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You have fed us at your table with a joyous feast, receiving each of us as we are, delighting in our presence, and making us all one family. Send us into the world to seek and welcome others, and invite them to feast at the table of your grace, in the name of Christ, to your delight and glory. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear audio clips, on the Music page)

Always New (Tune: Gift of Love [“The Water Is Wide”]
                                or Tallis’ Canon)

O God, you make me always new.
Each breath I breathe is life from you,
a gift of love that sets me free.
Beloved, breathe new life in me.

O Christ, you call me to new birth
like God’s creation of the earth,
to leave the things I’m fastened on
and walk into the rising dawn.

O loving Spirit, live in me.
Forgive my sin and set me free.
Give me new birth, life from above,
that I may live in your deep love.

God of Mercy (Original song)

God of mercy, you forgive me,
may I myself forgive.
Now confessing, I ask your blessing.
By your grace I shall live.

God, heal my sin, brokenness deep within.
Too often I bear pain I make others share.
Set me free from what I have been.

God of mercy, you forgive me,
may I myself forgive.
Now confessing, I ask your blessing.
By your grace I shall live.

You are gentle with me; gentle I learn to be.
You touch me and heal; deep in my soul I feel
burdens gone, and I am free.

God of mercy, you forgive me,
may I myself forgive.
Now confessing, I ask your blessing.
By your grace I shall live.
By your grace I shall live.

Into the Light (Original song)

God, I come into the light of your mercy and grace:
may I receive your forgiveness, your loving embrace.
You know my brokenness better than I, and my sin.
You love me perfectly, setting me free once again.

All of myself I now humbly bring into your light:
wash me, renew me, forgive me and set me aright.
God, I surrender myself to your life-giving love:
may I be born by your Spirit, anew, from above.

God, you have loved us so much that you even would give
Jesus, your Son, the Beloved, so that we would live.
Help us to live so we bring your good news into sight.
Help us to trust in your grace and come into the light.

Kindred (Tune: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling)

God, we bring our gifts, rejoicing in your love, your love so great!
For you call us to your table,* all as one, to celebrate.
Though we turn away, you hold us. We who once were dead now live.
Blest, received, adored, forgiven, now in gratitude we give.

Joyful, then, we come to feast on all the gifts that you provide,
reconciled as holy kindred, celebrating side by side,
by your grace, O Father, Mother, loving enemies as friends,
freely blessing one another, share your joy that never ends.

* [In a service without communion: “For you call us all as kindred…”]

Make Us Merciful (Tune: Fairest Lord Jesus)

Merciful, gentle God, prodigal with grace and love,
calling your children through your pain:
forgive as we confess. Heal all our brokenness,
so we may never leave again.

Gentle and gracious Christ, loving Lord and brother,
you walk with us though we turn away.
Here in your sweet embrace, fill us with your deep peace,
that we may live your gentle way

Spirit, enfold us now. May our hearts grow wide and kind,
loving, no matter what others do.
Help us receive and bless, steadfast in gentleness.
Lord, make us merciful as you.

Prodigal Grace (Tune : Amazing Grace)

As once a wandering son, disgraced, was welcomed home anew,
as Christ was raised, so by your grace, we have new life in you.

In joy for one once dead, who lives, a banquet you prepare.
We bring the gifts the Spirit gives, with all the world to share.

Forgiven, reconciled as one, we answer to your call,
to serve in love with Christ, your Son, to share your love with all.

Return, My Soul (Tune: Finlandia)

Return, my soul, from all your hungry wandering,
your fearful search for comfort and control.
Let go my grasp of things apart from God,
for God alone can heal and hold my soul.
Return to God, for God alone will love me,
and give me life, and bless and make me whole.

Return, my soul, from all the things that dull me,
that soothe my sense, but leave my sin in place.
My broken heart, return from tricks and bargains;
turn to the One who meets me face to face.
Return to God. Each moment turn again;
receive unending love and life and grace.

I turn, O God, to you who love with patience.
You walk beside me, though I cannot see.
You are my life in dry and weary deserts,
my spring of life that flows eternally.
I turn to you, from false desire and grasping,
and letting go, I find that you hold me.

Your Will Be Done (Original Song)

Father, take my willfulness.
I surrender it to you grace alone.
Mother, be my willingness.
I can only ask: Your will be done.

Jesus, take my brokenness.
I surrender it to you grace alone.
Jesus, heal my brokenness.
I can only ask: Your will be done.

Spirit, take my empty hands.
I surrender them to you grace alone.
Spirit, with my empty hands
I can only ask: Your will be done

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