Worship Resources for March 27th, 2022—Fourth Sunday in Lent

Revised Common Lectionary: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Narrative Lectionary: Jesus and Pilate, John 18:28-40 (Psalm 145:10-13)

When the Israelites arrived at the promised land, they kept the Passover in Joshua 5:9-12. God had provided manna in the wilderness, but on that day, they ate the produce of the land and the unleavened bread they made. The manna ceased the day they arrived, but now God provided through the land for the people, a continuation of God’s promise.

Psalm 32 is a song of thanksgiving for healing and forgiveness. The psalmist acknowledges their sin before God, recognizing that they kept silent when they should have come clean, for their whole body was distressed by the weight, the anxiety. Now, they know the power of God’s forgiveness in their life since they have confessed. The psalmist instructs others to follow the way of God, to not be constrained by the wickedness of sin but to remain faithful to God and know the steadfast love that heals and protects.

Paul declares that the old has become new in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. The old way is the human point of view, understanding death as final and Christ as a human being. Now, knowing Christ resurrected, all are a new creation in Christ. God reconciled the world through Christ, who bore our sins, and now sin has no hold on those who are faithful.

As Jesus taught people, including sinners and tax collectors, some religious leaders grumbled about it. In Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Jesus tells a parable (there are two other parables, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, in the verses omitted). A man had two sons, one of whom demanded his inheritance early and squandered it, ending up at the bottom of the barrel, feeding pigs and hungry enough to want to eat from the pods he fed the pigs with. He came to himself, knowing that if he went back to his father as a hired hand it would be better than the situation he was in. He rehearsed his speech, to confess that he had sinned against heaven and against his father, but before he could even say it, his father ran outside, filled with compassion, wrapping his arms around him and kissing him. The son gave his confession, but his father ordered the servants to bring a robe, a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet, and to kill the fatted calf. The older son was livid, but the father stated they had to celebrate because this younger son who was lost had returned. To the older son, he reminded him that he was always with him, everything he had belonged to him. This may have been a nod to the religious leaders who grumbled—they already knew God, but didn’t understand why Jesus taught sinners and tax collectors, for they desired to turn back to God, but some religious leaders had turned them away.
A note: it’s always a good reminder to remember that Jesus was not at odds with all Pharisees (see Luke 13:31-35) and that he was probably closest to the Pharisees in belief and practice.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Jesus’ encounter with Pilate in John 18:28-40. Jesus was brought before Pilate very early in the morning. Pilate wondered why they had brought him, what charges they had against him. The community leaders state simply that Jesus was a criminal and they wouldn’t have brought him unless he was. The leaders wouldn’t kill Jesus, but they wanted someone else to do it. Pilate then asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews. Jesus replies with a question of his own—is Pilate really asking this, or did the others put him up to it? Pilate replies with a rhetorical question: “I’m not a Jew, am I?” Jesus responds that his kingdom is not of this world. This back-and-forth continues, with Pilate questioning, “So you are a king?” Jesus’ response: “You say I am a king.” Jesus continues with, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” and Pilate responds, “What is truth?” This conversation convinces Pilate in this moment that there is nothing he can charge Jesus with. He asks the crowd gathered if they want him to release Jesus as part of the custom on Passover or someone else, and the crowd chooses Barabbas, a member of the insurrection.
A note: as much as the Gospels sometimes paint Pilate in a more innocent light, he is the one who held all the power in these locations. He could have released Jesus, but instead sentenced him to die on the cross. Even with the anger of the crowd, he had the military power, and chose to use his power in this way.

The verses of Psalm 145:10-13 sing of the glory of God’s reign, making known all of God’s mighty deeds. God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and God’s reign endures through all generations.

Some scholars have changed the title of the parable from the Prodigal Son to the Forgiving Father, because it is about the father’s actions that change everything. It is about the father rejoicing when his son recognized that there was still something better ahead of him than behind him, that turning back was better than wallowing in misery. The older son could not understand why the father would accept the younger back after what he did, and it felt like a punishment to him. Yet, it is also about that younger son and his “coming to himself.” When we remember who we truly are as a child of God, it doesn’t matter what we have done, but what God has done, and what we are doing and what we will do that can change the course of everything. And that older son: at some point, we are that older son, too, who have tried to abide by the father in everything and yet somehow it never seems enough.

Sometimes we want those who did go astray to be punished, like the older son upset at the younger son’s treatment and forgiveness by the father, though we can’t admit we’ve gone astray ourselves. In John’s account of Jesus before Pilate, perhaps some of the community leaders wanted Jesus punished because they’d longed to draw close to God and understand God’s reign in a way Jesus did but didn’t dare to under Rome’s rule. But it goes back to the parental figure. God provided for the people of Israel, and even though they went astray, God continued to provide for them and fulfill the promise. Paul states that in Christ we are a new creation, like the prodigal son—everything has become new. God is always there, waiting, with abundant love, and God’s reign endures forever.

Call to Worship (from 2 Corinthians 5:16-17)
We regard no one from a human point of view,
For we no longer view Christ that way.
If anyone is in Christ,
There is a new creation.
Everything old has passed away
See, everything has become new!
Come, worship our God,
Who makes all things new!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that we have resisted the transformation necessary to become who You intended us to be. We have declined Your invitation to change our ways, we have denied Your commandments to repent and turn back, we have reacted violently to stay the same. Forgive us for refusing to follow Your ways that call us into renewal. Call us into repentance, to come to You with the knowledge that we must change, and the courage to be transformed. Guide us into the work of nonviolent resistance that challenges the world’s systems of oppression rooted in keeping the status quo. You are the one who makes all things new, for You have made us into a new creation, through Jesus Christ. May we be made new again, and may we be part of a new revolution of love. Amen.

As the seasons change, so do we. We learn and grow and shed what has held us back, letting what needs to return to dust decay, so that the greenness of new life may flourish. God is restoring our hearts and making us new. God loves you, so much. Know the fullness of God’s steadfast love in your life. Let go of what has held you back and embrace the new life in Christ. Go forth, knowing you are forgiven, loved, and restored. Amen.

God Who Provides, we give You thanks in these changing seasons. In the southern part of our world, the harvest has come, the fruits and vegetables are gathered, and we are reminded how You provide for us from the earth You made. In the northern hemisphere, spring is coming, and the new shoots are arriving, reminding us that You are the bringing of life out of death. In all seasons, we are reminded of Your abundance in our lives. Too often we live in a scarcity mindset. The world we made promotes the idea that we must have more than others to be satisfied, that there is never enough. The world tells us that we must have more than another to be successful, to have wealth and power over others. Your earth, however, teaches us that there is always enough, and to let go when there is more than needed. As You provided manna in the wilderness, and the first fruits when Your people arrived in their land, so You have provided for us. May we take only our daily needs, and give what is leftover to those with none, until all have enough to eat and are filled. May we know Your abundance is always with us. We give You thanks, Creator God, giver of life. Amen.

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