May 31, 2020 – Day of Pentecost
A message from the Rev. Bob Smith
Welcome to the season of Pentecost, with the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. The text we always read for this Sunday is from Acts 2, which begins with these words, “When the day of Pentecost has come, they were all together in once place. And suddenly…” everything changed for them.
It’s a great passage, but that first line might just give us pause, and underline for us the fact that we are not all in one place… still. Our isolation from one another stretches on, and our church doors are locked, but indeed we can be given hope through the Spirit who makes us one. And we can find some connection through these elements of our worship over the internet. We give thanks for that, and for those who help to put these resources together each week.
May the peace of Christ be with you,
Rev. Bob Smith
Book of Praise – 386 “Come down, O love divine”
- video with on-screen lyrics. The sung lyrics differ in a few instances from the hymnbook.
- Words by Bianco da Siena (ca. 1350–1399); translation by Richard Frederick Littledale (1833–1890). Music by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958).
Prayers of Adoration and Confession, Lord’s Prayer
Great God, we praise and adore you for the gift of your Holy Spirit, who was there in the beginning at creation, sweeping the emptiness and bringing the universe to birth; who brought about the greater creation, when the Word was made flesh for us in Jesus; and who came to disciples like fire and a wind, so that the power in their lives was then God’s power. Send your Spirit into our midst now, we pray, so that our worship and our lives would give praise and glory only to you, O God who made us, who came to us in Christ and who empowers us for faithful living, one God forever.
God of fire and wind, holy and powerful, mighty and mysterious, we are drawn by your Spirit to this place. As we gather before you even as we are still apart, we are aware of how unworthy we are to be in your presence. We have ignored your word. We have rejected your gifts. We have failed in your work. Ignoring the truth of Pentecost, we continue to exclude those who are different from us. We divide our loyalties. We divide our hearts. We doubt your power in us. Let your Spirit release us from our sins, and fill us with faith and courage, so that we might live into the promise of this day, and receive the fullness of what you have prepared for us all, in Jesus Christ. Hear us now as we pray together in the prayer Jesus taught us:
Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon and the Peace
Friends in Christ, hear the good news. Paul writes, “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. Everything old has passed away, see everything has become new.” Receive the new life God has assured us in Christ, and be thankful. Amen.
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
(And also with you.)
Acts 2:1–21 <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible
Christian Education Coordinator Laura Alary has recorded a video on YouTube, and writes in preface:
“This week I am reading The Day When God Made Church by Rebekah McLeod Hutto (Paraclete Press, 2016). Although there are really two versions of the story of Pentecost—the familiar one from the book of Acts and the more subtle version in the gospel of John, when Jesus simply breathes the Spirit into his disciples—both use the imagery of wind/spirit/breath.
I’ve chosen to read outdoors so the wind can be a bit of a presence in the story. Even better would be going outside and finding your own way to celebrate with the wind: blow bubbles, make your own pinwheel out of paper, create some prayer flags and write words or draw pictures on them! Or maybe just go for a walk by the lake, feel the breeze, and wonder what you might do with the gift of the Spirit.”
Who dares to try to explain the Holy Spirit?
It all sounded so calm, so reasonable, so comfortable,
when Jesus talked about sending an Advocate — (John 14:25–27)
the King James Version even uses the word ‘Comforter’ here.
“The Spirit will be with you;” says Jesus,
to teach you what you need to know
to remind you of all that I told you
and of all the wonderful times we had together.
to bring you my peace,
so you don’t need to be troubled or afraid.”
Doesn’t that make you feel good all over,
like you’re stretched out beside a swimming pool
with a good book and a cold drink,
and without a care in the world?
And just a few weeks later
when the Holy Spirit makes its appearance
it’s almost like they want to run for their lives.
This doesn’t sound like what Jesus was talking about —
a sound like the rush of a violent wind,
tongues of fire resting on each of them,
Whatever it looked and felt like —
and Luke, the author of Acts,
must surely have been at a loss
trying to find words to describe the indescribable,
figuring out how to bear witness
to the crazy things that were happening —
I don’t think any of them had the slightest idea
that the unleashed power of the Holy Spirit
would look, sound, feel like… this.
At the very least,
you have to wonder what was really going on,
if the reaction of outsiders was that they were all drunk.
And when was the last time you were accused of that
bumping into a friend as you leave church on Sunday?
The day is Pentecost,
often referred to as the birth of the church,
the day when the Holy Spirit arrived in all its power,
and set the people of God on fire,
to take on the world.
Originally it was a Jewish festival, Shauvat
which marked the conclusion of the season of the barley harvest.
It was also called the Festival of Weeks,
because it was celebrated a week of weeks,
or 49 days, after Passover.
So, counting Passover, the festival was on the 50th day
which in Greek is Pentecost,
the name given to it by Greek-speaking Jews.
People were in Jerusalem for Passover a few weeks ago
at the time when Jesus was arrested and crucified.
And they are in Jerusalem again for the Festival of Pentecost
when the Holy Spirit shows up.
For us as Christians
this is another day
we have borrowed and re-interpreted from Judaism.
And it is while they are together for the festival —
good timing there —
that they get a crash course in Holy Spirit power.
The wind blows in,
fire dances on the heads of each of them.
people who should not be able to understand… do,
and the church is born.
A transformation takes place
in the hearts of Jesus’ followers.
The American theologian and preacher William Willimon observes that
“there is no better proof that Jesus was who he said he was
than the before-and-after pictures of the disciples
they were dense, timid bumblers
who fled at the least sign of trouble.
And after, they were fearless leaders;
they preached powerful sermons;
they healed the sick and cast out demons;
they went to jail gladly,
then sang hymns until the walls fell down.
How does this happen?
Well, the Holy Spirit happened,
and a power was set loose in them,
that is still driving the church.
What’s striking about this picture?
Well, an out-of-control spirit,
wind, fire, noise,
strange utterances in foreign languages.
As much as Jesus prepared them for it,
the disciples have no idea what is going on.
This is completely unexpected,
completely beyond them.
Just imagine that for a second,
something really unexpected,
something truly transformational
happening at church
Odd, isn’t it, that we have so tamed the Spirit in the church
that the last thing we expect
is that it might even show up,
shake us up a bit,
blow us around,
and set us on a new course
Well, back to Jerusalem…
the disciples may not have known what they were saying
but the crowd that gathered did.
Devout Jews from all over gathered for the festival
are standing in the doors and windows
listening to a bunch of Galileans
telling about the power of God
with each one hearing in their own tongue
so that no one is left out.
It baffled them all, speakers and listeners —
it’s at this point that drunkenness is suggested as an explanation.
That’s how out-of-control things were.
But with everyone miraculously on the same wave length,
Peter steps up and preaches a barn-burner of a sermon.
Remember, this is the Peter,
maybe not the brightest of the bunch
always ready to say something,
but often being completely off-base.
Here, he has figured out what is happening,
seizes the moment.
and calmly stands up to explain:
“I’ll tell you what’s happening here,” he says,
“This is what Joel the prophet was talking about
when he declares that God is saying,
‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people,
your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your young men shall see visions
and your old men shall dream dreams.
even upon slaves, men and women
in those days I will pour out my Spirit
and they shall prophecy…
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
“You know this because you’ve heard it before,” Peter continues.
“It looks like this:
wind like the wind that revived a valley of dry bones,
fire like the fire that led Israel through the desert,
tongues like the tongue at Babel, only backwards,
bringing understanding and not confusion.”
Think about it.
It’s as startling today as it was when Peter preached his sermon.
and that means everyone—
not just the people like us,
not just the ones who speak our language,
or who hang out in our favourite spots,
not just those who have a seminary education,
or any education for that matter,
not just the ones who think and act and vote
and even worship,
just like we do.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved.”
Do you get the implications, the power,
of that statement?
Wow, a really spirit-filled church
is going to be a wild, unruly place
if all those people are going to get in —
but it will be a place filled with life
if that kind of community can form
around honest speaking and open listening.
Imagine, real listening and real understanding
not misleading people or speaking fake news,
not insisting on our own way,
not talking to dominate or silence another
but to find common ground, unity, communion,
held in one by a common connection to God.
And what about that
pouring out of the Spirit on all people
as if there’s lots of spirit to go around?
That means young as well as old,
woman and men together,
slaves alongside free people.
And not just speaking and listening,
but with all of them prophesying, and having visions and dreaming,
and maybe trying something new and unfamiliar
and not always clinging
to the way we’ve always done them.
For Presbyterians, known for religiously following
Paul’s directive to the Corinthian church:
“all things should be done decently and in order,” (1 Cor 14:10)
all this is pretty close to heresy.
Doesn’t the Holy Spirit know the rules,
or how we do things here?
Hasn’t the Holy Spirit read the Book of Forms?
But maybe that’s our problem.
Imagine… if the power of the Spirit
were truly unleashed in the church —
if we would really let ourselves trust in something outrageous,
give ourselves to those new unpredictable ideas,
and take the risk of going wherever it leads us.
Luke tells us that 3,000 souls were baptized that day.
That day when the church was born
and when a dozen timid and uncertain disciples
received power from on high
and proceeded to turn the world upside down.
And what happened in that room in Jerusalem
soon spread to Athens, and Rome and Alexandria
It spread across nations, across cultures, across centuries.
Because of what happened
on that day of power and confusion,
that day when people who could not speak the language
could still understand
that the Lord about whom Peter continued to speak in his sermon,
is worshiped today
in every language spoken on the earth.
Sure the Spirit is sometimes gentle comfort
that soothes our weary souls.
But other times it is more like a whirlwind,
unsettling and frightening.
Yes, the former is a great solace and encouragement
but if we want a real renewal in the church today
the latter might be where we need to stand
and see where it takes us.
Have we tamed,
have we domesticated the Holy Spirit?
I wonder what it would look like
if we really unleashed its power in the church today.
American Episcopal preacher Alan Jones says:
“Only a fool would pray for the Holy Spirit.
Only fools for Christ do.
The Spirit is most present to the church today
in the unpredictable,
in the place of risk,
and in those areas
over which we have no control.”
Or as Annie Dillard observed,
in her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk:
“Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists
on a packaged tour of the Absolute?…
Does anyone have the foggiest idea
what sort of power we so blithely invoke?
Or, as I suspect,
does no one believe a word of it?
The churches are children playing on the floor
with their chemistry sets,
mixing up a batch of TNT
to kill a Sunday morning.
It is madness to wear ladies’ velvet hats to church;
we should all be wearing crash helmets.
Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares;
they should lash us to our pews.
For the sleeping God may wake someday and take offense,
or the waking God may draw us out
to where we can never return.”
Based on Hymn 400 “Spirit of the living God” in the Book of Praise hymnbook (p 520, Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1997). Music: Daniel Iverson (1890–1977). © Birdwing Music, 1935, 1963. All rights reserved. Used by permission of CMC Ltd. This arrangement: copyright © 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Music recording by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
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Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope
Hear us, O God, as we pray that through the gift of your Spirit you would renew our world in our day, with your grace and mercy.
Life of the world, you breathed life into the flesh you created, bringing to birth a church and empowering for work in your name. Now, by your Spirit, breathe new life into the children of the earth. Turn hatred into love, sorrow into joy, and war into peace.
God of peace, you desire the unity of all Christians. Set aflame the whole church with the fire of your Spirit. Unite us by your Holy Spirit to stand in the world as a sign of your love.
God of compassion, through your Spirit you supply every human need. Heal the sick, and comfort the distressed. Befriend the friendless, stand with those who are alone, and help the helpless.
Source of peace in our lives, O God, your Spirit restores our restless spirits. In our labour, give us rest; in our temptation, strength, and in our sadness, your consolation. We give thanks, O God, for your servants who have gone before us, and pray that their devotion and faithfulness would be a guide and inspiration for us as we give ourselves to following in the steps of Christ.
God of the church, as we and all your people, struggle with how best to be faithful in a time of living through a pandemic, remain close to us, we pray. Help us to reach out to one another in our separateness, keep us positive and hopeful as we try to follow the directions of our leaders, and show us how to support those who are most vulnerable in these times. And may we live, as always, in the confidence that you are with us, and present to us when we most need to lean on you.
O God, at Pentecost, you sent your Holy Spirit to the disciples, filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel; empower us with that same Spirit, so that we may know your presence, and have courage to be your witnesses and to draw all people to you. May the boldness of your Spirit transform us, may the gentleness of your Spirit lead us, may the gifts of your Spirit be our strength, now and always. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Book of Praise – 399 “Spirit, Spirit of gentleness”
- video with on-screen lyrics; one minor difference in the text from that in the hymnbook.
- Words and music by James Keith Manley (1940–)
- Recorded at St. Andrew´s Evangelical Lutheran Church; Ames, IA, on May 1, 2011.
Commissioning and Benediction
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all, now and forever.
© Copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church