Worship Service for Sunday 12 June 2011
Year A Pentecost – Red
Call to worship (Based on Psalm 104)
How great are your works, God!
How wonderful the things you have made,
How precious your gift of life
How amazing that your own Spirit continues to sustain all that lives
How great are your works, God!
Hymn Together in Song 474 Gather us in
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
on the day of Pentecost,
your Spirit rained down on your people
in tongues of fire -
and gave them courage to face
the people who had rejected them and had rejected Jesus.
Your Spirit gave your people the courage
to spread the Good News to enemies and strangers
to make them friends,
to bring them into your church.
With great signs and wonders – Your Spirit
revealed your truth to the world
and many were changed
most of all, the frightened people
who had gathered behind locked doors.
Today we give you thanks for Pentecost -
thanks for your Spirit at work in the world,
in the church, in our own lives.
We give you thanks that
because your Spirit is always with us,
we never have to face life, with all its challenges and difficulties, alone.
We confess today
that we're not satisfied
with the gift of your Spirit with us.
We'd rather Pentecost happened again -
that we could see the great signs,
and witness the miracles for ourselves.
We'd much rather that,
that accept that your Spirit is already with us
already giving us all that we need
to share your word with others.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Numbers 11: 24-30
Imagine....close your eyes if you like, and imagine... You are part of a religious movement, one which challenges the authority of the religious and political leaders around you. That challenge makes you appear to be a dangerous sect. It's not that what you believe is really so outrageous, but you are a threat to the way things are.
Your movement challenges authority by presenting a new picture of God – a God of love more than rules, a God of mercy more than retribution, a God of justice for all, not just those who are especially deserving. That doesn't seem to be threatening to most people – but those in power do so by setting which rules must be followed, and who is most deserving.
Your leader was taken away and killed by the religious and political authorities. Those responsible for spiritual well-being and those responsible for peace and justice colluded against him.
It is a confusing time, members of your group reported over and over again that they had seen him alive – but then he had announced he had to leave and was gone. No-one saw him any more.
You know that those who killed him want to wipe out the movement he began. There is no-one you can trust, not your friends, not your family, possibly not even the members of your own group – even your leader was betrayed by a member of the group.
And there are crowds growing – people from all over the world are in town for a festival, and the streets are crowded with more and more possible enemies.
So you meet, in a locked room with the rest of the group. You're a strange group: high class, low class, men, women, kids, political zealots, tax collectors, pharisees, fishermen, prostitutes, people who would never choose to be with each other, who don't appear to have anything in common. You are together because of the one thing you share – each of you has in some way found that the group's leader has touched your life.
So you pray together to the God your leader taught you to worship. A God of love, and of mercy. Yet the whole time you are praying, you are listening, listening for a knock at the door – a raised voice among the voices of the crowd outside – any sign they've come for you.
Open your eyes. Be yourself again....
What I've asked you to imagine is the situation Jesus' followers were in, as they met to pray at Pentecost.
Like the Passover Pentecost was an ancient festival, going back to Old Testament times. Pentecost is the Greek term (meaning fifty); you would have also heard of it called in the Old Testament, “The Feast of Weeks”. It was seven weeks and one day, or a “week of weeks” after the Passover.
At Passover, when people had gathered in Jerusalem to worship, Jesus had been betrayed, killed, and had risen again. Since then he had appeared to the disciples several times, and then the ascension had happened, Jesus had left them again.
As the next major Jewish festival brought people back to Jerusalem to worship, and drew the crowds back to Jerusalem, the group of very frightened disciples would have been left wondering what was going to happen to them next.
Jesus had promised them the Holy Spirit, another helper or companion or advocate, but they did not know what to expect that would actually mean, and the promise must have seemed a long way away, when they were in hiding and afraid.
It's important to realise just how frightened these people would have been to be able to understand what was so amazing about the Pentecost event.
The dramatic signs of wind and fire might capture our imagination. But there were two much greater miracles of Pentecost.
The first is that, on receiving the Spirit, the disciples were enabled to speak in a wide variety of languages. This wasn't necessary to make themselves understood – in the Roman Empire, Koine Greek (the language the New Testament was written in) was the common language – everyone understood it. But if you think back to the Old Testament, one of the symptoms of people distancing themselves from God 0 the incident with the tower of Babel – was the wide variety of human languages – people distanced from each other, unable to communicate to understand each other.
So, in the event of Pentecost, that whole division was symbolically, undone. People could understand – not just because they knew the common language, but they heard in their own language, their first language. God was, with the help of this group of people, reaching beyond the boundaries between people.
The really big miracle of Pentecost was this: they went out into the crowded streets and preached.
Think back a few weeks to Passover Peter: He followed on Maundy Thursday night to the High Priest's house, to find out what would happen to Jesus – which was pretty brave. But when he was challenged, he denied even knowing Jesus and fled – not quite so brave.
Then there's Pentecost Peter. He starts the day where he left off at Passover – afraid, cowering in the locked room. Then the time comes when he and his friends are challenged, accused of public drunkenness, and he has to either spell out his allegiance or run and hide again. And he stands up. He tells the truth about Jesus to the crowd he's been hiding from.
This is the big Pentecost miracle – suddenly all of these frightened, helpless people, have the courage and strength to go out into those streets, to the people they were most afraid of, and preach the good news of Jesus Christ.
The signs of wind and fire on their own might have been quite spectacular – but they would have been fairly meaningless if that was where it ended. The speaking in strange languages was probably quite spectacular, but that would have been meaningless if that was where it ended...
The amazing thing about Pentecost, was that the Holy Spirit was present with this group of people and so transformed them that they were able to do what they could never have done on their own.. They were able to disregard their fear for their own safety, and work to share the news of Jesus Christ, and to work to build God's reign on earth.
Sometimes we speak and act as if the Holy Spirit had left – as if that same strength and courage those early disciples found, wasn't available to us. Or as if they were somehow special people who had gifts and abilities we don't.
The truth is that they were ordinary people, no different from us. They felt the same fears and anxieties that we do. The had the same worries that we have.
The only thing that made them special was the way God worked through them. God's Spirit, acting in them, allowed them to do extraordinary things.
I was in a Bible Study group in another parish once, when someone asked why we don't go to church each Sunday, expecting God to do new and exciting things... the only answer the group could come up with was that if we did expect it, God probably would.... and we might not be ready for the consequences.
And of course, there are consequences. Many of the people who were in that room on Pentecost day, were killed as a consequence of what they said and did following on from Pentecost.
We're not likely to be killed for our faith but sometimes we act as if we were. Sometimes we're afraid to speak about, to live out, our faith in ways that other people might notice. We lock ourselves away in our own little room, keeping our faith and its importance to our lives hidden.
We act as if we're afraid.
We act as if we're afraid.
What the Pentecost event tells us is that there is nothing in this world (or beyond it for that matter) stronger than the Spirit of God living with us.
If we are open to God's Spirit, God can work through us, just the same as those earliest disciples, and we can find in ourselves a strength and a courage which is not possible on our own.
Hymn Together in Song 412 God sends us his Spirit
Prayers of the People
Jesus said “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,
and let the one who believes in me drink..
Out of the believer's heart
shall flow rivers of living water.”
We pray for a world -
thirsty and dehydrated
A world in which children die
for lack of food or clean drinking water
A world in which a few people seem to have so much
compared to the many who don't have enough to survive.
We pray for a world
needing the life-giving water of the Holy Spirit.
Quench the thirst of the world with your Spirit, we pray.
We pray for a world -
apathetic and tired
A world which has seen so many needs
and has given up trying to meet them all,
A world which has seen too much violence,
greed, corruption and injustice
and can no longer imagine things being otherwise.
We pray for a world
needing to be fired by the Holy Spirit.
Fire and inspire the world with your Spirit, we pray.
We pray for ourselves
your people, the body of Christ in this world.
We too, have become hardened to the needs around us,
our televisions have brought it all so close,
that nothing shocks or dismays us any more.
Soften the hardness of our hearts
help us once more to see the face of Christ
in the face of the person in need.
Fill us with your Spirit,
that we might be empowered
to be your presence in the world -
that living waters would flow forth from us
to bring peace, hope, and healing to your world.
Prayer points from newsletter....
Service of Holy Communion (Uniting in Worship)
17 HYMN/SONG Together in Song 537 Let us talents and tongues employ Hymn Together in Song 407 Breathe on me breath of God