Order of Service
Piano prelude: Capriccio – W. A. Mozart (1756 – 91)
Call to worship
We come together, separately in our own homes,
united by our faith in our creator God,
And whose presence is with each one of us.
Through our risen Christ we are drawn into God’s love.
We ask that each of us will be empowered by the Holy Spirit
To inspire and enrich this time together.
Tune: Hereford – S. S. Wesley (1810 – 76)
O thou who camest from above,
the pure celestial fire to impart,
kindle a flame of sacred love
on the mean altar of my heart.
There let it for thy glory burn
with inextinguishable blaze;
and trembling to its source return,
in humble prayer and fervent praise.
Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
to work and speak and think for thee;
still let me guard the holy fire,
and still stir up Thy gift in me:
ready for all thy perfect will,
my acts of faith and love repeat,
till death thine endless mercies seal,
and make my sacrifice complete.
Charles Wesley (1707-88)
Prayers and Lord’s prayer
We gather in our own homes in the name of Jesus on this the Day of Pentecost
to worship in the power of the Spirit.
We bring our gift of prayerfulness and listening
May our gifts be united to honour you,
May each of us receive from you that which we need.
We pray that you will endow us with patience and perseverance
To find contentment in this when our usual routines and pleasures are restricted.
We thank you for our friends and families, blessings that so often we take for granted.
Help us to have, from this experience, more care and concern for those who never see family,
For those who have no family to see, for those who are permanently alone.
We pray for all who seek to comfort them.
We pray for all who work to attend to the health and wellbeing of our communities.
We come to you with all our differences, with all our hopes and dreams.
We pray that in the midst of all our plans and aspirations
We will allow You to be at the very centre of our lives,
For through You we will find true fulfilment and joy.
We thank you Father God that your love is unconditional;
your gifts are offered with measureless generosity;
your peace is all-encompassing.
We are sorry for times
when we have put conditions on our willingness to care;
when we have kept what we have for ourselves and refused to share with others;
when we have failed to seek peace and have caused discord.
Forgive us; restore us; renew us by your Spirit of life.
We will always praise you.
Father, Son and Spirit.
We ask all these our prayers in the name of Jesus who taught us when we pray to say
Our Father . . .
Introduction to the themes
So here we are! Pentecost Sunday. The climax of the Jesus story. The Church Birthday. A day of celebration.
The story of the day is well known, but it’s like anything else that’s familiar – it’s not quite that familiarity breeds contempt – it’s just that we always know the outcomes – over the years we’ve absorbed it all and the element of surprise now usually evades us.
The trouble is we tend to read the gospel story in bits – which never quite gives us the extraordinary thrilling quality of the events which lead over and over again from crisis to climax, every one of them building up the whole story of astonishing events.
It is just the final three years of Jesus’s life into which so many things are crammed. Three years in the company of the men he has chosen, or, as he says in John 17, given to Him by God to be His disciples. His team.
In our lives as individual Christians and as a team in our churches, we need an acceptance that we contribute in different ways, according to our skills, for the good of the whole. And making that commitment a priority. Not giving up when for one reason or another we decide we don’t want to do that anymore. But going on for as long as we are needed and retiring gracefully when we see there is someone more able and willing to take on the task. That’s the only way as Christians we can live our lives. Not allowing the most awful of circumstances to interfere with our commitment to the Lord.
Each one of us has a valuable contribution to make to the working of the whole. Each of us has talents, gifts and graces to bring to contribute generously to our communal life as the Church of God.
As we celebrate again the birthday of the church let us remember all those who have gone before and rededicate ourselves to the service of the Lord, each of us doing our ‘bit’ in the power of the Spirit towards fulfilment of “The Great Commission “, the task set for us all by our Lord. “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in”- Bingley, Idle and Headingley – “and to the uttermost part of the earth”.
Reading Acts 2: 1 – 21
Piano interlude: Prelude in G – A. Scriabin (1872 – 1915)
Reading John 7: 37 – 39
Have you ever been lost for words? Perhaps when you have encountered some amazing sight that has taken your breath – and your words away and you are so moved emotionally that all you can do is stand in awe and wonder. We often say of some incident – I was speechless. Think of those moments as you encounter this story.
In the previous chapter Luke has described the Ascension when Jesus had commanded the eleven disciples to stay in the city. Luke tells us that they had stayed together and also assembled together with the other followers of Jesus, who at that time numbered about a hundred and twenty.
In one gathering Peter informs them of the death of Judas Iscariot, and they decided that someone should be elected to make up the number of the disciples to twelve. Twelve was a significant number in their society- a reminder of the twelve tribes of Israel. After prayer, they draw lots and Matthias was elected.
So, they were awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised. They had no idea what was to come nor when it was to happen. There must have been much discussion about what and when to expect. They must have been wondering if it had already happened and they hadn’t noticed it. Or if it had happened to the others and they had been missed. Of course when the Spirit arrived on the day of Pentecost the experience was such that they could not have mistaken what happened and it happened to them all at the same time.
Pentecost is a Jewish Feast Day that occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, 50 days after the Passover, and has a double significance. It marked the all-important wheat harvest in the Land of Israel and it commemorates the anniversary of the day when God gave the Torah to the nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai. It was a time when many Jewish pilgrims from all over the known world assembled in Jerusalem to celebrate the day. Farmers brought the first fruits of their harvest into the city.
Look again at the writing in the section from Acts Chapter 2. Here Luke is trying to describe the indescribable, the scene in Jerusalem at Pentecost as the disciples received the Holy Spirit and the promises Jesus had made are honoured. In verses 1-3, he describes the events of that Pentecost and then then from verse 4 onwards he goes on to describe the meaning of Pentecost.
The disciples were all together “with one accord” – friends, companions and co-workers of Jesus. There was unity amongst them, when, honouring the promise which Jesus made – His promise not to leave the disciples comfortless – the Holy Spirit arrives. It is an amazing spiritual moment. The arrival of power. Luke describes it in terms of power sources that were familiar to him and to the disciples, presumably recounting the story of the event as told to him by the disciples. They speak of Wind. Fire. Living flames.
Luke uses the Hebrew and Greek words – wind, spirit, breath.
Wind is indicative of an unseen power; we only recognise its presence by the noise it creates and by the effects that it has.
Fire burns, it destroys, but it cleanses. It is used in the refining of metal. Heating to burn away the dross, the rubbish and to refine the finest of metals, iron, bronze, gold and silver. The suggestion here is that the fire symbolises the destroying of all the human failings in these men that they may be purified to be fit for the service of the King of Kings.
Whilst the Holy Spirit is described in Acts as ‘wind’ and ‘fire’, in the passage we read from John, Jesus uses the analogy of water. All three of these elements can be unpredictable, disruptive and hard to control. Those who experienced what was taking place in Jerusalem were astonished. They had no inkling of what the Holy Spirit’s arrival predicted by the prophet Joel and Jesus would entail.
Whatever else the Holy Spirit does, it comes to renew and fill the life of the Christian believer with the power of God. It is an Indwelling Spirit, to enable the Christian believer to be Inspired and enabled to live a life of dedicated discipleship and service. It cannot be experienced at second hand; it is a personal experience – a personal transformation. The disciples – the first disciples and Jesus’ disciples down through the ages – are changed from being ordinary to being extraordinary.
The Spirit is an Initiating Spirit: it compels action. As soon as the disciples received the gift, they didn’t stand around congratulating each other and continuing in their holy huddle. They went out to tell, to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. They began to share their faith, to preach the gospel “as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
No loss of words here – they are empowered. No more sorrowful fearful hiding indoors – they went out. They spoke out, boldly and loudly. No shame. No hesitation. They were imbued with certainty that Jesus was Lord, He had conquered Death and He had with the coming of His Spirit equipped them to begin the task of preaching the message to all the peoples of the world.
Peter, who preached what was arguably the first sermon, used the Scriptures to explain what was taking place. He and the other disciples were utterly transformed. Transformation means complete and utter change.
On the Day of Pentecost, with the transformation of the disciples, the entire mission of the church was initiated. And the mission of renewal and revival at any time down the succeeding centuries since is only achieved when the power of the Spirit is at work.
In verse 11, Luke tries to summarise the effects of preaching to the crowds of people outside, people drawn to Jerusalem for the Festival. It is reckoned that there were 14 or 15 different cultural groups there who all heard Peter preach, but astonishingly each heard him preach in their own language. It was a clear sign of the Holy Spirit’s unifying power – bringing together people from different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities.
So, the Holy Spirit is not only Indwelling, it is not only an Initiating Spirit that directs the work of mission, it is also an Interpreting Spirit.
Remember the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis? It is the story of how the people were scattered because they were separated by barriers of language but now (by the power of the Holy Spirit), what was being said, astonishingly, could be recognised by everyone.
All preaching is used by the Holy Spirit to speak to individuals, but as always the choice to believe or not is a personal choice. God does not compel us to accept Him, He has given us that freedom. Listening is not sufficient. We have to understand what God is saying to us and accept or reject the Gospel message.
In 2020 whilst we might extol the merits of having diverse congregations in our churches, in practice many local congregations struggle to make the ideal of unity and equality a reality. What is it that holds us back, are there ways we might find to overcome such barriers? Have we got any ideas, led by the Spirit of how can we work to ensure our churches are as inclusive and unified as possible?
One of the results of the lock down and the closure of Churches has meant that many church groups have been using on-line methods of sharing worship, Bible Studies, Discussion groups and Junior Church worship. A wonderful unintended consequence of this has been that many people, lapsed Church goers and the unchurched have shared in these broadcasts. They have been able to join in without the anxiety that many people feel, of going into a church which for them is an unfamiliar place and way out of their comfort zone.
Whatever the reasons for people seeking out such programmes, it would seem that in this time the Holy spirit has been at work and we can only pray that the opportunity this awful virus has created, will be used to bring more outsiders into the church when our churches are open again.
Pentecost, tells of when the Holy Spirit filled all those gathered people. They spoke in their own voices and languages and were put right with God through Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit of God. The central message of Pentecost was the conviction that all people are beloved of God, all people are redeemed in Jesus, and all people, all people, are welcome in God’s Kingdom.
Can we learn from this? Can we hold up a hope of heaven that welcomes everyone? Can we believe in a God that big?
Before the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples they were well meaning, well intentioned, incompetent and bumbling failures. Just like you and me. But when they had received the Holy Spirit they were transformed. They had power, dynamism, charisma, they changed the world. And the promise to you and me is that we can have that Spirit too.
Tune: Down Ampney – R. Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958)
Come down, O Love Divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardour glowing;
O Comforter draw near, within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
Let holy charity
mine outward vesture be,
and lowliness become mine inner clothing;
true lowliness of heart,
which takes the humbler part,
and o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
And so the yearning strong
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess its grace,
till he become the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.
Bianco da Siena (d. 1434)
Tr. R.F. Littledale (1833 – 90)
Holy Spirit of peace, we pray for homes and nations as we fight this pandemic.
Pour out your breath of truth and integrity upon national leaders,
that people may listen to each other with confidence
May we all respect each other; care for and honour each other.
Holy Spirit of hope,
we pray for those who live in despair;
For those whose lives have been blighted by illness or loss of loved ones
by the pandemic, by the hurricane.
For those who can see no purpose in their lives;
For those who cannot see a way ahead;
For those who feel completely alone..
Holy Spirit of unity, we pray for your Church,
for its ministry to the faithful;
for its mission to the world.
May the Spirit of Pentecost breathe upon all your people
That we may witness to the world telling of the comfort and love that you offer.
God of wind and dove and fire, speak freedom, peace and change
over lands divided by war and by creed.
Speak refreshment, assurance and warmth
over lives afflicted by exhaustion and illness.
Speak integrity, humility and challenge
over churches crippled by fear and finances.
Speak calm, gentleness and comfort
over lives broken by grief and loss.
Speak power, anointing and healing
over each one of us,
That there may be new beginnings,
and a catalyst for change.
God of hope, heal us and restore us
that we might know your power in our lives.
Where things seem to be one big tangle of pain and unhappiness,
Intervene with your saving love;
Where people are in conflict or locked in a stalemate,
release them from the cycle of war;
Where your name is outlawed and your children are forced to hide,
Break through their darkness and be God-revealed to them;
Where despair takes centre stage and depression and anxiety sharpen their claws,
fill those situations with unexpected peace and joy.
God of all time and of every place: may the earth be filled with the knowledge of you,
and may your light flow over the world like a covering,
bringing protection from the darkness and from the evil that often frightens and wounds us.
In the name of our Saviour we pray.
Tune: Truro – Thomas Williams in Psalmodia Evangelica (1789)
Thanks be to God, whose Church on earth
has stood the tests of time and place,
and everywhere proclaims new birth
through Christ whose love reveals God’s face.
Thanks be to God, whose Spirit sent
apostles out upon his way;
from east to west the message went;
on Greek and Roman dawned the day.
Thanks be to God, whose later voice
from west to east sent back the word
which, through the servants of his choice,
at last in every tongue was heard.
Thanks be to God who now would reach
his listeners in more global ways;
now each will send the news, and each
receive and answer it in praise.
Thanks be to God, in whom we share
today the mission of his Son;
may all his Church that time prepare
when, like the task, the world is one.
Caryl Micklem (1925 – 2003)
© Alison Micklem
Reproduced with permission.
Closing prayer and Benediction
May the power of the Spirit challenge you.
May the peace of the Spirit comfort you.
May the presence of the Spirit enable you to live in love and service in the name of Christ.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all, evermore.
Piano postlude: Fugue in D – J. C. Kellner (1736 – 1803)