God Gathers Us for Worship
Opening is structured as congregation is accustomed. Songs should be celebrative. Include the song "And Jesus Said," by Gloria Grindall and Joy Paterson (see RW 41, p. 32). Include prayers of the people in this section.
God Invites Us to a Party
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture: Luke 15:1-32
Sermon: "It's Party Time!"
It is by way of explaining his "partying" behavior that Jesus tells the wonderful stories of Luke 15, culminating in the parable of the prodigal son. There are two basic factors that tie all three of the stories of this chapter together: finding what is lost and then having a party when you find it.
"Celebrate with me," says the shepherd. "I have found my sheep that was lost. Let's party!"
"Celebrate with me," says the woman. "I have found the coin I lost. Let's party!"
"Celebrate with me," says the father. "This son of mine was lost and now is found. Let's party!"
God's desire to have a good party is an attribute of God we sometimes miss. We miss the spirit of wild joy that leaps in God's heart, the sheer exuberant gladness of the Creator and Redeemer of the universe. God wants us to know that at the end of the day, at the end of the journey from the far country, at the end of our struggle with resentment, there is a pure celebration of joy awaiting us, an eternal party of gladness and praise. No tickets needed. Everyone is invited.
There is an alternative to celebration. It is called cynicism, and as Christians we face the choice between cynicism and joy every day. Face it, we can stay cool while being cynical. We can be amusing.
It keeps the world at arms' length. As Henri Nouwen points out, "Cynics seek darkness wherever they go. They always point to approaching dangers, impure motives, and hidden schemes. They call trust naive, care romantic, and forgiveness sentimental. They sneer at enthusiasm, ridicule spiritual fervor, and despise charismatic behavior. They consider themselves realists who see reality as it truly is."
Cynicism is not spirituality. Granted, until we look hard at the mess in ourselves and in the world, our joy will be the superficial partying of the passengers on the Titanic. But a spirituality that looks at the world in the light of the kingdom experiences follows what the psalmist is talking about in Psalm 126: "Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy." The end of the world is not doomsday but a party day.
God's party is no ordinary party. It is not made possible by our own wishful thinking, our own sheer determination to think positively, as if we could. It is made possible by Jesus Christ, who by his death and resurrection guarantees the blessed conclusion of human history. His death on the cross, by which he banished forever the power of sin and death and hell, is our ticket out of cynicism and into joy. Jesus is the occasion for joy.
If the kingdom of heaven is a party then the main event is the banquet of communion. For here we meet Jesus, broken as bread, poured out as wine. Come and celebrate, meet the Lamb who was slain, who turns the insipid water of our lives into wine, who transforms his own funeral into a banquet, who convinces us that life is better than death and that joy is the serious business of heaven. If you believe this, then say yes! and come with joy to meet your Lord.
Hymn: "I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord," st. 1 -4
PsH 311, PH 507, RL 534, SFL 64
We Accept God's Invitation to the Feast
Let us feast this glorious day on Christ the Bread of
The word of Grace has purged away the old
and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed.
Christ is our meat and drink indeed.
Faith lives upon no other!
Hymn: "Lift Up Your Hearts unto the Lord" PsH 30, SFL 63
Prayer of Consecration
Offering of Thanksgiving
Closing Hymn: "I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord," st. 5
For additional material from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, click here.