Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Sunday


Opening Prayer
 
O for a thousand tongues to sing sweet praise!
O rushing wild spirit of God
pour out the fire of love upon us!
Unfurl your language upon our lips,
Unlock our minds to embrace all possibility
Unleash our hearts so Your justice flows freely.

O for a thousand tongues to sing sweet praise!
O rushing wild spirit of God
pour out the fire of love upon us!
May your breeze bring health and wholeness,
May your breath heat our resolve,
May your Spirit storm the earth with mercy and grace

O for a thousand tongues to sing sweet praise!
O rushing wild spirit of God
pour out the fire of love upon us!
Set us free from self-doubt,
Make us listeners as we seek awareness,
Shake us awake when we forget our privilege.

O for a thousand tongues to sing sweet praise!
O rushing wild spirit of God
pour out the fire of love upon us!
Amen. Amen. Amen.


Prayer of Confession
Merciful and Loving God, the gift of Jesus’ life in us is visible
in the way we witness to the fruitfulness of that gift.
We know that the fruit of the Spirit consists of love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Yet, so often we put conditions on our love—
and joy and peace are difficult to discern when our words
and actions deny their presence.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and and put a new and right spirit in me. (Ps. 51:10)

By desiring instant results to most things these days,
we confess that we forget what it’s like to be patient.
We find ourselves neglecting the needs of others
because we run out of time to be kind to other than ourselves.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and and put a new and right spirit in me. (Ps. 51:10)

When we persistently make self-centered decisions rather than Christ-centered ones,
our understanding of your goodness and faithfulness is weakened
and our discipleship lacks credibility.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and and put a new and right spirit in me. (Ps. 51:10)

In this aggressive world, it’s easy to believe one can’t get anywhere
by exercising a spirit of gentleness or even self-control.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and and put a new and right spirit in me. (Ps. 51:10)

God of Grace, grant us your forgiveness and your love
so that we may truly care for one another.
Refresh and renew us with the Holy Spirit
so that we are fruitful and vital disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen

Assurance of Forgiveness
Those who are in Christ are a new creation:
everything old has passed away;  see, everything has become new!
All this is from God with whom we have been reconciled through Christ. (2 Cor. 5:17-18)
Thanks be to God!

Scripture

Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"
But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning.  No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:  'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.  And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.  The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.  Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

John 20:19-23
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
 
John 7:37-39
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"
Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Reflections
This week we celebrate the birthday of the Church.  We remember how, in obedience to Jesus, his disciples waited for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be given; we remember how it came, and that it was experienced as something strange and unnatural to those on the outside; we remember how it transformed the fledgling little community of small, uncertain people into a force that would transform nations.

But I wonder how we experience this gift?  How many of us think of this gift of the Spirit as simply a one time event that happened long ago... something we spend too little time seeking to know and experience?  Are we too quick to simply claim the Holy Spirit as mystery, and to not bother wrestling with what it means for us to receive this promised gift? 

I've been looking at our Scripture readings from John these past few days and considering what they have to tell me about this magnificent gift of God.  In John 20, Jesus shows up to meet with his disciples post resurrection and breathes on them imparting the Spirit... giving peace.  In this act we are to be reminded of the Genesis story of God breathing life into his unique, God-imaged, mud creation, giving life.   We should also be hearing the echoes of Ezekiel's vision, prophetically invited wind/Spirit/Breath coming upon the dry and dusty bones of Israel bringing new life... new hope.  These disciples, gathered post crucifixion, had seen their hope die.  They had seen an end to their dreams...  until Jesus shows up.  And then comes the gift: new life!  Peace!  Purpose!  Power!

Jesus comes and renews these disciples, but it is a renewal with a point:  they are sent out to continue what Jesus had started.  "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

Do we know this?  Do we know why we exist as God's Children? 

This is where understanding John's Gospel becomes really important.  From the very beginning of the book, John writes with a single purpose... "so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name." (John 20:31)  And again, "And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth."  (John 17:3)  John writes so that you and I and everyone might come to know (experience) the reality and presence of God, made know through Jesus Christ.  For John, the greatest Sin is disbelief...  it is separation from God.  But belief in Jesus does away with sin: "I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life."  (John 5:24)

I share this because of the problematic verses of our reading today:  "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."  This has been used in the past to create a system whereby a human institution claimed power to act as judge and jury for God (either by condemning actions, or by "forgiving" them.)  Jesus is not appointing the church as his moral watchdog; nor does he commission it to arbitrate people's assets and liabilities on a heavenly balance sheet.  

In John's Gospel, Jesus talks about sin as unbelief, the unwillingness or incapacity to grasp the truth of God manifested in him. To have sin abide is to remain estranged from God... a condition of ongoing resistance. Sin, in John, is not about moral failings; primarily it is an inability or refusal to recognize God's revelation when confronted by it, in Jesus. (Note what Jesus, says, concerning the world, in John 15:22: "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin," see also John 9:39-41).
 
The resurrected Jesus tells his followers (all his followers) that, through the Spirit that enables them to bear witness, they can set people free ("set free" or "release" is a slightly better translation than "forgive" in John 20:23) from that state of affairs. We can be a part of seeing others come to believe in Jesus and what he discloses.
 
Our failure to bear witness, Jesus warns, will result in the opposite: a world full of people left unable to grasp the knowledge of God. That is what it means to "retain" sins ("retain" is the opposite of "set free"). Jesus does not — at least, not here — grant the church some unique spiritual authority. He is simply reporting that a church that does not bear witness to Christ is a church that leaves itself unable to play a role in delivering people from all that keeps them from experiencing the fullness that Jesus offers... 

Maybe you are skeptical about this...  maybe you think I'm playing loose and fast with the words of the text.  Consider this.  Pentecost is related to the Jewish Festival of Shavut... the festival of weeks, or the Spring Harvest.  It was a celebration that mandated that all adult male Jews journey to Jerusalem to make sacrifice, giving thanks for the gracious gift of God in the Harvest.  God uses this fact to demonstrate the outpouring of His Spirit, the beginning of a great and mighty harvest... one that goes far and wide beyond the traditional scope of God's Kingdom.  God waits until the nations gather in Jerusalem to give evidence of God's redemptive work... so that all might recognise the gift of God.  And the Holy Spirit, in his own unsettling way, is what empowers and equips the followers of Jesus to bear witness to all these gathered people... the beginning of a veritable harvest of nations.

There is a very simple question that needs to be asked.  Are we ready to receive God's Spirit afresh?  Are we ready to be equipped to begin the work of bringing in the harvest?  We receive God's gift of peace... but it is to be a gift that propels us into service.  Or else we risk "retaining" the sin/burdens of people... consigning them to misery.

Veni Sancte Spiritus... Come, Holy Spirit... 
 
Prayer:
 
Come, Holy Spirit, Come
Holy One, we are not sure what it would be like
if the Holy Spirit blew through our churches again
as it did on the day of Pentecost.
However, we want to speak the language that you have given,
louder, and more clearly in our lives and church.

So we pray: come, Holy Spirit, come;
pour out your fire of love upon us to be the body of Christ
in a world that is often hurting, hungry, and cynical.

We want to bring the good news to the poor,
heal the broken-hearted, preach deliverance to captives,
bring recovery of sight to the blind and set at liberty all that are bruised.

As your disciples, we pray for all who suffer, are poor,
despairing, burdened, blind and battered.

In your loving breeze,
we pray for health and wholeness for those who are physically ill,
for those who are mentally ailing, for those who are money sick,
for those who are spiritually unwell.

We pray for the healing of your creation, and the renewal of the face of the land.
We pray for those who are thirsty, that they would drink
from your fountain of living waters and never thirst again.

Amen.



Benediction:  A Soft Eyes Blessing

“And all the believers met together constantly,
and shared everything they had….” Acts 2:44

May the god who is community
be with us as we seek to be a community;

may god bless our dreams
and may god shatter our dreams;

may god help us to be real
and to find depth in weakness and brokenness;

may god help us to face and grow through conflict
rather than pretend by being nice;

may we look at each other through soft eyes
and truly respect each other as human beings;

may god help us let go of control
and the need to fix one another;

may god help us discover we are needy in our own souls
and give attention to our own hearts;

may god grant us the gift of an extraordinary love
that flows from the heart of god,
that covers a multitude of wrongs.

 

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