Rembrandt`s “Return Of The Prodigal Son” 1668

Rembrandt`s Return Of The Prodigal Son, was painted in 1668, near the end of his life. It is a truly astounding work of art. The original is a large painting 8’ by 6’, on display at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, but even the print in our lobby conveys that which is almost inexpressible.

The painting is, as the title says, about the Return Of The Prodigal Son. And like the parable’s younger son, I often want “my due” and I want it now, so I can control and manage it, and while I will likely not lose it all on “loose women” and end up feeding pigs – that desire for control can drive me far into a distant country where I don’t hear God and I certainly don’t allow Him to guide me.

Henri Nouwen in his reflection on this painting writes

“… As long as we live within the world’s delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in “the distant country”, leaving us to face and endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled…
It’s almost as if I want to prove to myself and my world that I do not need God’s love, but I can make a life of my own, but I want to be fully independent.” (p43)

“The farther I run away from the place where God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the beloved, the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations of power games of the world… The world around me becomes dark. My heart grows heavy. My body is filled with sorrows. My life loses meaning. I have become a lost soul.” (p47)

This loss of everything brings me to what is left – my identity. Maybe not rock bottom – but my very bedrock. It is then that I might (or I can finally) hear His voice, ever so faintly. And so I recognize myself as the younger son, needing to return to God, to be reborn (again and again) in Him, to receive the mercy He is waiting to give me. But I cannot enter into God’s joy or easily accept His mercy when it is presented to me if complaint engulfs me.

And I also see that I am the elder brother too. I am not poor, hungry, or persecuted. I am not marginalized. I am public with my faith – so have I already received my reward? Is there a place for me with God since I am not wretched, poor and outcast? The parable says “yes” I am with God, always. Perhaps I need to rest in that and be open, loving and caring for other “children” that need to be welcomed or welcomed back.

“… let God, whose unlimited, unconditional love melts away all resentments and anger and makes me free to love beyond the need to please or find approval.” (p83)

I learn that the father loves both sons, and His love is not divided into “more and less” for them. Living in a world of compassion, how do I let others (my partners, children, friends, family) know that they don’t just get a portion allotted to them? They get what I can give and what they are willing to receive – there is no measurable depth or worth of this kind of love. It is pure grace and gift, whether it is from God, parents, spouse, sibling or child or from me.

When I recognize this, I see where Nouwen is leading me – to be the Father. I must become like the Father. As a parent, I see this naturally but could never quite put it to words, especially when accused by my kids of favoring one over the other.

“No father or mother ever became father or mother without having been son or daughter, but every son and daughter has to consciously choose to step beyond their childhood and become father and mother for others. It is a hard and lonely step to take… but it is a step that is essential for the fulfillment of the spiritual journey.” (p121)

To know and feel called to serve others, yet not to have received the mercy of God myself leaves me handicapped, not fully-equipped to do the very service I feel called to.

“I have to dare to carry the responsibility of a spiritually adult person and dare to trust that the real joy and real fulfillment can only come from welcoming love those who have been hurt and wounded on their life’s journey, and loving them with the love that neither asks nor expects anything in return… [Otherwise] who is going to be home when they return – tired, exhausted, excited, disappointed, guilty or ashamed? Who is going to convince them that, after all is said and done, there is a safe place to return to and receive and embrace? If it is not I, who is it going to be?” (p132)

Nouwen says the painting could just as easily been called The Welcome by the Compassionate Father. In the painting, the father’s hands are the true central point. The light and the eyes of others focus on those hands. The left hand is masculine while the right hand is more feminine. So the character “is mother as well as father” (p94) – welcoming, holding and caressing the son. The painting is about the father’s love for both of his sons. Many people live with feelings that they are not worthy of love, or they wonder whether others truly love them. Many suffer from loneliness. The father of the prodigal son though, invites us to experience joy, which can be more difficult than experiencing sadness or frustration. Joy, like gratitude, is a choice.

“It requires choosing for the light even when there is much darkness to frighten me,
choosing for life even when the forces of death are so visible, and choosing for the truth
even when I am surrounded by lies” (p108).

We are called to be as compassionate as God is. We are called to follow Jesus’ example as a son: “the younger son without being rebellious” and “the elder son without being resentful.” We are also called to grow into spiritual fatherhood – this means both father and mother, masculine and feminine. All of that is easy to say but very difficult to live. To be compassionate means we do not compare ourselves to others and we are not competitive either.

Nouwen finds three major traits in a compassionate father: grief (“the discipline of the heart that sees the sins of the world” (p121), forgiveness, and generosity. The father said to the elder son: “All I have is yours.” Nouwen adds: “There is nothing the father keeps for himself. He pours himself out for his sons” (p122). Spiritual fatherhood is “the radical discipline of being home.” There is something foundational about the father being home, where the father waits and the transformation from son to father takes place in an individual.

Reading the Psalms

At OCC we believe that we need to immersed in the scriptures, we need to be reading the scriptures.

Starting June 10 we are reading through the Psalms…
you can get a printed copy at the OCC Welcome Centre
or you click on the link to download a pdf copy of the reading plan: Reading the Psalms
As usual, our reading plan is for 5 days a week, giving you a couple of days a week to catch up.

The Psalms express a wide range of emotion: thanksgiving; praise; lament; celebration; judgment; and wisdom.
In the Psalms, we find honest, sometimes brutal, expressions of the heart.
They are not a string of sentimental platitudes or religious propaganda.
No, the Psalms express the highest joy and the deepest sorrow; they plead with God, shout at God, and beg God for forgiveness. They lift up virtues and righteousness, and strongly condemn the ugly abuses people sometimes carry out. The Psalms tell of some of the attributes of God; the history of God; humanity’s great potential; and the darkness of human depravity.

As you read and reflect on the Psalms, let the words resonate in you. I find that reading the Psalms aloud helps me to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the psalmist’s longings for God. And because the Psalms are so expressive, I find the Message an excellent version to use for reading the Psalms.

If you want to listen to the Psalms sung, there is a group out of Australia called the Sons of Korah (you can check them out on YouTube). They are known for putting the Psalms to music, the lyrics for their songs are taken almost verbatim from the Psalms. Several psalms are introduced as being by the Sons of Korah: Psalms 42, 44–49, 84, 85, 87, and 88.

Lego Party

What a great time at the OCCKids Lego Party on 25 May
This Sunday, 2 June, we will show some highlights from the afternoon
Thank you to everyone who made it a great time.
A big shout out to Pastor Brent for all the planning.

Walk & Pray

The prophet Jeremiah recorded God’s word to his people in exile
seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:7

We are not in exile, but we are still called to seek the peace, the prosperity, the shalom, the flourishing of the city.

While it is true we can prayer anywhere, there is something powerful about praying on location.

This Sunday night – 2 June 2019 – 6:30pm – we are going to walk through the downtown part of city doing exactly that. As we pray, Orillia will prosper and we will prosper.

Join us as we walk and pray.

Prayer Ministry Training

God demonstrated his love to us by sending his son, Jesus.

Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom in very practical and real ways.

The Holy Spirit is in us to demonstrate the Father’s love to those around us – our neighbours.

We are invited and, if we follow Jesus, are commissioned to be agents of this love – to be people who expand the Kingdom of God where we live, work and play. Praying for others is a huge part of this.

We invite you to consider taking our Prayer Ministry Training sessions.

The first of these is being held Sunday, 2 June @ 5pm in Theatre 1 at OCC

Upside Down Kingdom – week 1

We start our series The Upside Down Kingdom by looking at Luke 14:1-14.
Here we see that the Jesus way…
the way that Jesus announces…
the way of the Kingdom…
really is upside down.

To live and love like Jesus means that we take our cues from him, not from our world.

And this is especially true around who we value, who we count as important and less important, who we ignore.

The call to follow Jesus is a call to be different than our world. It’s a new way of living and loving.

To help us do this we encourage you to follow the scripture reading outline. As we engage the Scriptures and see
our stories in the story of Jesus and his upside down kingdom, use the guideline below to help you reflect. You might want to use a journal to help you.

Read: Read the Scripture passage slowly. Don’t rush. Pay attention what stands out for you and what questions get stirred up. Read it again.

Reflect: What does this Scripture say about who Jesus is and what his kingdom is like? What does it say about what it means to be a disciple, follower, apprentice of Jesus? What is the Spirit saying to you (and to OCC) through this Scripture?

Pray: Listen to what God is saying to you through this Scripture and respond to God in prayer. What do you want to say to God? What do you want to ask God? Pray your thoughts, desires, feelings, needs, worries, hopes.

Live: What is one way you can live into what God is saying to you through this Scripture? How will you “get into action” by practicing trust and obedience?

the upside down kingdom

Over the next few weeks, we are exploring what it means to live in the upside down | right side up kingdom of God. We will be examining money | sex | power | hospitality | forgiveness | & other aspects of living in the Jesus way.