Worship Helps for Lent 4

Artwork: The Return of the Prodigal Son
Artist: Giovanni Francesco Barbieri

The lost son returns impoverished to his father's home. His father is genuinely happy to see him and does not mind that the son has wasted his share of the inheritance. This early work of Guercino shows the moment when the son receives a fine set of clothes.
Worship Theme: Today we see the sincerity of our Savior’s love. God’s mercies are always waiting for us. God is anxious to forgive us. He pleads that we come to him and be saved. Such constant and free forgiveness doesn’t make sense to human logic. But God’s ways are greater than our ways. If his grace weren’t so great, it couldn’t cover all of our sins. We rejoice in God’s amazing grace which always gives forgiveness for all sins!

Old Testament: Judges 10:6 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him, 7 he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, 8 who that year shattered and crushed them. For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead, the land of the Amorites. 9 The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin and the house of Ephraim; and Israel was in great distress. 10 Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD, "We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals." 11 The LORD replied, "When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, 12 the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? 13 But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. 14 Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!" 15 But the Israelites said to the LORD, "We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now." 16 Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD. And he could bear Israel's misery no longer.

1. After the Lord gave the Israelites peace and rest, they went back to their old ways. List the seven different gods they worshiped. How did the Lord punish them?

2. What advice did the Lord give the Israelites when they complained to him?

3. Why didn’t the Israelites follow this advice?

Epistle: James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

4. Carefully work through each of James’ short statements in verses 7-10. How do each of these statements flow out of submitting ourselves to God?

Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. 13 "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20 So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate. 25 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' 28 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' 31 "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"

5. What do we learn about God’s grace from the “prodigal”son?

6. What do we learn about God’s grace from the “faithful” son?


Answers:
1. See the list in 10:6. Because they did this, the Lord oppressed them through the Ammonites and the Philistines.

2. The Lord told them to ask the gods they worshiped to help them.

3. The Israelites knew the Lord alone could deliver them. Otherwise they would have first gone to their gods for help. How ironic. The Israelites worshiped false gods, but really didn’t believe they would help. Why, then, did they worship these other gods? It all goes back to the sinful flesh. The flesh hates the true God and will worship anything but him. The sinful worship practices associated with idol worship are very appealing to the sinful flesh.

4. Everything begins with submission to God. Then we flee from the devil. We purify our hearts so they are not filled with lust. We repent of our sins of fighting and quarrelling and humble ourselves under God’s will.

5. We learn that our sins do not nullify God’s grace.  “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20).  God gladly receives and forgives every penitent sinner, no matter how many or how terrible our sins.

6. We learn that we cannot earn God’s grace by our faithful service.  It is given to us freely in Christ, and is always ours though faith (v 31).  Therefore, we should not be offended when God gives His grace freely also to another, no matter how notorious a sinner we might consider them to be.


Putting your faith into action
Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, told to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, is a poignant reminder to us of God our Father’s unconditional love. As the father in this parable gave his younger son his share of the estate, welcomed him back after his sin-filled adventures, celebrated his son’s becoming “alive” again—we are reminded of the many times that we have felt unforgivable after some of our indiscretions. As children we probably experienced sinful envy towards brothers, sisters, friends, or television celebrities who seemed to receive better treatment, better “toys” than we were given. We can call upon God for help, and he is there for us—unconditionally. We ask ourselves, “How can God ever forgive me for what I have done?” But he will, and does, unconditionally with love! And God is prepared to offer this unconditional love to EVERYONE! As people of God we are to imitate Christ, including showing this kind of unconditional love to others. We are to respond to God’s love by loving others—unconditionally.


A reading from the Book of Concord for Lent 4
I advise and exhort with warning and threatening, restraint and punishment, the children should be trained early to shun falsehood. They should especially avoid the use of God’s name to support falsehood.  For where children are allowed to do as they please, no good will result.  The world is worse than it has ever been, and there is no obedience, no loyalty, no faith, but only unbridled people.  No teaching or reproof helps them.  This is God’s wrath and punishment for such lewd contempt of this commandment.
On the other hand, children should be urged to honor God’s name and to have it always upon their lips for every-thing that may happen to them or come to their notice.  The true honor of His name is to look to it and call upon it for all consolation.  Then the heart by faith gives God the honor due Him.  Afterward, the lips give Him honor by confession.
This is also a blessed habit and effective against the devil.  He lies in wait to bring us into sin and shame, disaster and trouble.  But he hates to hear God’s name and cannot remain long where it is called upon from the heart.  Many terrible disasters would fall upon us if God did not preserve us by our calling upon His name.  I learned by experience that often great suffering was immediately averted by calling on God.  To confuse the devil, I say, we should always have this holy name in our mouth, so that the devil may not be able to injure us as he wishes. – Large Catechism, Second Commandment (paragraphs 69-72)

Hymns for this Sunday: 304; 379; 384; 388; 397


379  Amazing Grace—How Sweet the Sound
1  Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see.

2  The Lord has promised good to me; His Word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be As long as life endures.

3  Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.

4  When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we’d first begun.


Text: John Newton, 1725–1807, st. 1-3, abr.; John P. Rees, 19th century, st. 4.

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