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Greetings. This is a service of worship for May 31, 2020, Pentecost Sunday.
Sentence and Votum (Psalm 124:8)
Because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ [Galatians 4:6, NRSV]
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Collect for the Day
Let us pray:
God, who at this time did teach the hearts of your faithful people, by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit; grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in your holy comfort. Amen.
Let us pray, as Jesus taught, saying:
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Let us praise God with words from Psalm 68. [68:4-10, NRSV]
Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds—
his name is the Lord—
be exultant before him.
Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a parched land.
O God, when you went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain
at the presence of God, the God of Sinai,
at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
you restored your heritage when it languished;
your flock found a dwelling in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
A reading from the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. [2:1-11, NRSV]
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.’
Here ends the reading.
On Pentecost, which we commemorate today, the Holy Spirit descended upon the assembly, forming the new Christian church. That alone should attract our attention. But delving into its meaning offers further rewards.
Pentecost was a pre-existing Jewish pilgrimage holiday, and so it makes sense that a global representative group would be present in Jerusalem, and others besides. The Jewish holiday, Shavuot, is still observed. Originally, it marked the wheat harvest. That’s no small thing to celebrate, particularly this year of sourdough and banana bread, and difficult grocery store runs and price increases. I can imagine the wheat harvest being an emblem of the provision of life itself. Jesus certainly made the connection, as we pray “give us this day our daily bread.” Bread is shorthand for what we need; the harvest, the means of receiving it. But Shavuot’s meaning spread to become a commemoration of bestowing of the Law to Israel, thus its religious importance. I’m sure the participants that Pentecost — the Greek alternative name — got the parallel of the descent of the law and the descent of the spirit in their own time.
But let’s not wallow in that common Christian habit of contrasting law and spirit, so often to the denigration of Jews; rather, look at both law and spirit at their best: as a way to know the will of God, and do it. And at Pentecost of all holidays, clarity of understanding is of highest importance. “‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” How is the spirit of God calling you to? What it is empowering you to do?
If God’s promises do not speak to you in a way that you can understand them, then you might think that those promises aren’t made for you. Which is why we must be careful to consider our message to others: what we say and how we say it. We Christians have our own culture, folkways, custom and jargon, or rather many sets of these. And the more we want to distinguish ourselves from other Christians, or from others in the society, the more tempted we are to use distinct, even obscure, ways. A former sign of good preaching, for instance, was the “stained glass” voice which was supposed to suggest other-worldliness or piety, but now would just seem odd. Or worse, using prayer as a weapon, as in the phrase “I’ll pray for you” from someone who’s clearly angry or adversarial.
And yet we can also lose our way by surrendering to the local, dominant culture and using its ways. I want to overcome the violence, delusion and cruelty that our culture assumes is normal. We need a new and renewing language of the spirit, and to make the connections with the global church, and with the historic church to give us the perspective and moral force to not be co-opted. Doing that, and still being understood by people who have no experience or interest in either, is a difficult, but essential balancing act. Failing to do so makes the life-giving way of Christ’s church into a kind of cipher, useful only to a diminishing, self-referential few.
Let the Pentecost blessing come upon us, so that we may have a clear, empowered, holy and loving way of speaking — and the capacity to receive the same words from wherever they come.
Let us profess our faith:
We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.
We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.
We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.
Let us pray:
You who called us out into your marvelous spirit, bind us in one fellowship with the helpers of humankind that we may be children of the spirit. Take from us the love of ease and the fear of power, and show us the simple things that we can do to help our neighbors. Brighten the daily rounds of tasks that we have undertaken and are tempted to neglect; make us faithful to the trust that life has put upon us; hold us to the humblest duty. Prepare our hearts in sympathy to be partners in suffering with the weak, partners in eager service with the strong. Reveal to us the wavering ranks of those that are struggling upward, that we may cheer and support our comrades unknown. Remove from us the love of glory and the thirst for praise. Give us in weariness refreshment, and in struggle peace; but when we are idle, send chastisement, and when we are false, send fear, to bring us back to you. By your love restrain our censorious speech and teach us to commend; by your wisdom enlighten our plans and direct our endeavors for the common weal. Give us the vision of that bright city of God on earth where all shall share the best in thought and deed, and none shall harm or make afraid; and establish thou the work of our hands upon us, yea, the work of our hands, establish thou it. Amen. [Adapted from Unity Hymns and Chorales.]
God of all nations, we pray thee for all the peoples of thy earth: for those who are consumed in mutual hatred and bitterness; for those who make bloody war upon their neighbors; for those who tyrannously oppress; for those who groan under cruelty and subjection. We pray thee for all who bear rule and responsibility. We ask you to teach humanity to live together in peace, no-one exploiting the weak, no-one hating the strong, each kindred working out its own destiny, unfettered, self-respecting, fearless. Teach us to be worthy of freedom; free from social wrong, free from individual oppression and contempt, pure of heart and hand, despising none, defrauding none, giving to all, in all the dealings of life, the honor we owe to those who are your children and heirs, wherever their home on our common earth. Amen.
Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen. (1979 Book of Common Prayer)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all forevermore. Amen.
For more information about these services, visit revscottwells.com. The portions of scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version.
This is Scott Wells. God bless.