Children’s author Dick King-Smith wrote these sweet little words which I heard often as a child, particularly when I sat down to meal times with the day’s dirt still all over my hands:
“Patience is a virtue, virtue is a graceDick King-Smith
Grace is a little girl, who would not wash her face”
This month, as the weather warms and the days lighten, we explore the notion of grace and the significance of God reaching out to us with the desire for close relationship despite our dirty hands and stubborn hearts.
<a candle is lit>
Here we gather,
as brothers and sisters in Christ,
as sons and daughters handmade by God
and sustained by the breath of Spirit
– with and within us.
Here we gather,
as those who are sometimes hard of heart
and harder of hearing,
but full of hope
that in this moment we may know God’s grace
and see God smile on us
and welcome us home.
Hear this word of grace:
most precious daughter,
flesh of my flesh and heart of my heart,
how I have yearned to be the arms you run to;
to wrap them tightly around you
and whisper tear-choked into your ear:
‘There is nothing that can keep you from my love –
no unspoken thing too big, too small
to dampen my longing
to laugh and dance and feast and sing
and work and love and rest and eat
and be …
… just be with you.
I’m sorry you’ve felt the need to stay away so long;
that you’ve thought yourself unworthy, unwelcome, unforgiven.
In my eyes
I hope you see only compassion
for the things that have hurt you,
for the times you have chosen wrong,
for the desperate, aching need to know you are loved.
In my embrace
I hope you feel how much you have been longed for,
how much you are my delight, my joy,
as my heart beats against your own.
In my welcome
I hope you believe you are at home;
that though you felt dead and distant,
you are alive and well;
that though you felt lost and alone,
you are wanted and found.
most precious son,
flesh of my flesh and heart of my heart,
I will never let you go.’”
On this Father’s Day we open ourselves up to a familiar story from the gospel of Luke (15:11-32) that goes like this:
Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them.
Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living. When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything.
When he came to his senses, he said: ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ So he got up and went to his father.
While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. Then his son said: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ They began to celebrate.
Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. The servant replied: Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’ Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. He answered his father: ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’
Then his father said: ‘Son, 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. He was lost and is found.’”https://www.samford.edu/worship-arts/files/celebrating-the-work-of-god.pdf
Take a moment to think about/talk about how this story might be about grace. Who needs it? Who receives it? Who gives it?
Author of the Message, Eugene Peterson wrote:
Grace is an insubstantial, invisible reality that permeates all we are, think, speak, and do. But we are not used to this. We are not used to living by invisibles. We have work to do, things to learn, people to help, traffic to negotiate, meals to prepare.
When we need a break, there are birds to watch, books to read, walks to take, a cup of tea to drink, maybe even a chapel to sit in and meditate for ten minutes or so. But these so-called “breaks” are not what we call the real world, the world in which we make a living, the world in which we make something of ourselves. They are brief escapes from it so that we can go back to the “real world” refreshed.Eugene Peterson, Practise Resurrection
The story of the prodigal son is a story about grace.
It’s about the generous self-giving of a father who gives his youngest son his fair share of the inheritance (before he is dead, I might add) and sets him free from the life and land that he has grown up in to make his own way in the world – because that is what he wants to do.
It’s about the undeserved sacrifice of the ring, the best robe, the fattened calf through which the father not only expresses his uncontainable joy at his son’s return, but establishes firmly for all that his son is still his son – no matter where his choices may have led him.
It’s about a father’s love that brings us to our senses when we’ve wasted all our resources and we’re knee-deep in the mud and muck with the pigs and nothing has satisfied the deep emptiness in our souls.
It’s about that moment when we know who to turn to, when we begin to make our way home – certain of the mercy and forgiveness and fairness that we will find; only to be surprised by the warmth and the intimacy and the extravagance of the father’s embrace.
It’s also about those moments when we place ourselves on the outside of the celebration – so envious of what the father seems to be doing for others that we can’t see the gift: that he has always been with us and everything he has is ours.
It’s about refusing to be moved by the invisible, standing our ground in the real world of work, making our case for control, and feeling so justified in our anger that we miss out on the music of the Divine inviting us to participate in the dance that transforms death into life and the lost into the found.
Grace: an act of God without precedent that makes it possible for us to participate in a new reality through the generous, sacrificial self-giving of Jesus and not through any goodness or effort or great intentions of our own.
Grace: it’s everywhere to be experienced, but hard to take hold of for a people so accustomed to doing rather than being. So I invite you, to stretch out your hands in this moment and to sit in the silence with them still and empty as you ask God to give you what you need for this day.
<silence is kept>
Thank you God,
for the many gifts that you have bestowed on us
so freely and so generously;
for the eternal inheritance that you have made possible for us
in dwelling among us,
hanging on the tree,
and rolling away the stone
so that your Spirit may flow with healing graces
and present with us now –
in our lives and at our tables.
We celebrate with feasting
that once we were dead,
but now we have new life
who gathered with his disciples
around a table in an upper room,
took a loaf of bread,
offered a blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them saying:
“Take. Eat. This is my body given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
We put on robes of rejoicing
for once we were lost,
but now we are found
who took a cup of wine
when the meal was finished, saying:
“This cup is the cup of life,
sealed with my blood for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Drink from it all of you,
in remembrance of me.
We reach out with empty hands
in earnest desire to receive the grace we need
for this and every day
whose body and blood binds us together
in the warm and compassionate embrace of God,
and Holy Spirit.
As we rise from these tables,
knowing the grace of God which holds us fast,
fed with Christ as we make our way home,
and full of the Holy Spirit,
may all we meet in the week that lies ahead
find our Father
in the way that we welcome,
the way that we share,
and the way we forgive.
And the blessing of God remain with you,
this day and always.