Week One: The Younger Son

God Gathers Us for Worship

Opening is structured as congregation is accustomed, with emphasis on praise for God's gracious-ness. Suggested hymns include "I Will Sing of My Redeemer" (PsH 479), "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (PsH 501, PH 466, RL 362, 363, TH 164).

God Embraces Us in Grace

Drama: The Wayward, Wanton, and Wasteful Daughter (see p. 24)

Prayer: (sung to the tune of ewing, "Jerusalem the Golden")

O God, how we have wandered
and hidden from your face,
in foolishness have squandered
your legacy of grace.
But now, in exile dwelling,
we rise with fear and shame,
as distant but compelling
we hear you call our name.

And now at length discerning
the evil that we do,
behold us, Lord, returning
with hope and trust to you.
In haste you come to meet us
and home rejoicing bring,
in gladness there to greet us
with calf and robe and ring.
-Words by Kevin Nichols

God Speaks a Word of Grace

Prayer for Illumination

Scripture: Luke 15:11-32

Sermon: "The Younger Son"

Would any of you ever dare to say to your dad, "Drop dead, Dad?" That's essentially what the younger son meant when he said to his father, "Give me the share of the property that will belong to me."

When the younger son rejects his father, he does so in two ways. First, he lets the father know that Dad's more valuable to him dead than alive. He wants the property now that could only come to him upon his father's death. In effect, he's saying, "Die, so I can get on with my life." The younger son rejects his father's life in favor of cold, hard cash.

Beyond that, the son rejects his father's name. If his father had died and the son had inherited, he would have received livestock and land. The land would be the family land, associated with the family name. The livestock would have the family mark upon them. Instead the younger son turns the inheritance into liquid assets that bear no trace of his father's or his family's name. It's a double rejection of his father's life and his father's name.

In a way, it's the story of humanity. Everything we are and everything we have conies to us from God, our Parent: God's world, God's air, God's design, God's crafting of our minds and bodies. Then it's as if we say, "Drop dead, Dad. I'm out of here. This is my world, my life, my gifts. I'm going to find love and appreciation and affirmation on my terms." We turn our backs on the Father's love and try to find our own place and have our own way.

Henri Nouwen, in The Return of the Prodigal Son, makes an interesting point: there is a far country in all of us. As he puts it, "I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Home is the place where I am a son and daughter of God. Home is that unconditional and absolute love of God which says to me, as it did to Jesus, 'You are my beloved son, or daughter."

That's rebellion. And whether we find it in the fleshpots of a far country, or in secret sins close to home, or in gaining the admiration of neighbors or bosses or coworkers or people we think we want to have admire us—each time we turn our back on the love offered to us by God and try to find it somewhere else, we are in the midst of rebellion; we are telling God, "Drop dead. I don't need your love. Just give me cash, or a line of credit will do."

The turning point is the modest sentence, "One day he came to himself." What happens when we find ourselves in a far country, far from God, searching for love and acceptance in remote places? We look in the mirror, and we see ourselves for what we are. Sinners. Poor and needy. Had it good with God, but thought it could be better on our own. Only managed to get ourselves battered and bashed and our spirits bruised. Then, and only then, do we come to our senses and begin the long j ourney back to God. The initial temptation will be to bargain with God, "If I. .., then will you ... ?" But when we arrive back, we find a waiting God, open arms, and the simple fact that we are sons and daughters of God, even though unworthy.

Look at the painting by Rembrandt and compare what you see there with what you imagine the younger son must have looked like when he left his father. The suave and fancily dressed young man with money to burn now wears only a tattered undergarment. The proud head with flowing locks, which once dared ask for an early inheritance, is now the shaved head of a slave. The lively step of the man-of-the-world, which took him far from home, has disappeared, replaced by a weariness that brings him to his knees. The face, which once was turned away and looked longingly towards a far country, is now buried in his father's lap. His back, once arched with pride and self-assurance, now bends in humility and is lovingly caressed by the hands of his father.

Which would you prefer to be: the suave, debonair, so-sure-of-himself young man heading off for the far country with not so much as a backward glance at his father? Or the broken-down wreck in this picture whose eyes close in relief as he buries his head in his father's garments? Your

answer will tell you whether you are leaving or entering the kingdom of grace.

Hymn: "Come, You Sinners, Poor and Needy" PsH 534

God Prompts Us to Respond

This service concludes as the congregation is accustomed, with care to give opportunity for response. The original services closed with prayers of the people, offering, doxology, and final blessing.


For additional material from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, click here.

Rolf Bouma (rbouma@umich.edu) is a pastor at Campus Chapel Ministries, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Reformed Worship 43 © March 1997 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.