Service for 23rd May 2021

Extracts from the Pentecost Service for 23rd May 2021 by
Revd. Jan Adamson

Introduction

Good morning and welcome to this Sunday service for Pentecost, coming to you from West Lothian in Scotland.

Prayers of Approach, Confession and the Lord’s Prayer

Loving God, whether you come to us in the unexpected or the familiar, we are glad of your presence.
We want to live well in the life you have given to us. We long to experience the fullness of your love.

Whether you come to us with a challenge to take risks or the offer of comfort, we welcome you into our lives.
We want to understand more about you. We long to experience the fullness of your grace.

Loving God, whether you come to us like a rushing wind or on a quiet breath, we reach out to you.
We want to enjoy the gift of your Spirit. We long to experience the fulness of your power.

Merciful God, forgive us when as individuals, or as a church we limit your love and hinder the healing work of your Spirit. May we not be restrained or restricted in our faith but be agents of reconciliation, praying that your saving grace goes out into every corner of the world, to your glory.

In repentance and in faith, receive the promise of grace and the assurance of pardon: To all who turn to him, Jesus says: ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Thanks be to God

The Lord’s Prayer
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, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen

Hymn: Come Down O Love Divine
Bianca di Sienna c1350 – c1434

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 shortcomings
weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong,
with which the soul will long,
shall far out pass the power
of human telling;
for none can guess His grace, till
we become the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes His
dwelling.

Reading Acts 2: 1 – 13

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.”

Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending
Charles Wesley 1707 – 1788

Lo! he comes with clouds descending,
Once for favoured sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia!
Alleluia!
Alleluia!
God appears, on earth to reign!

Those dear tokens of His passion,
still his dazzling body bears;
cause of endless exultation
to His ransomed worshippers,
with what rapture,
with what rapture,
with what rapture,
gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, Amen! let all adore thee,
High on thine eternal throne;
Saviour, take the power and glory:
Claim the kingdom for thine own:
O come quickly!
O come quickly!
O come quickly!
Alleluia! Come, Lord, come!

Sermon

For many years we lived in a village, not far from the M8 in Central Belt Scotland. It was an all-electric village with no other source of energy which was prone to very regular power cuts. In order to cope with this and rather than purchase and fuel a generator, we opted for battery-pack power which could be charged when there was electricity and yet be there for us when we were disconnected from the National Grid.

Over the years we became very resourceful in ensuring that we retained some form of energy, enough for a warm drink, food and a tad of warmth. All- in-all, it worked! This resourcefulness to stay connected became
beneficial back at Christmas as together with our neighbour, we changed from running external Christmas lights from mains electricity to rechargeable battery packs.

All went well in the beginning, we managed to keep up the recharging and every night the lights sparkled. However, once the weather turned even colder, we began to draw lots as to who was going to venture out to change the batteries, as the cold weather, was affecting the packs. If we left it for a night, we could watch the lights gradually fade away into darkness. Visible evidence of the necessity to
ensure all stayed connected.

Which brings me onto reflecting upon Pentecost. The disciples had been preparing themselves to receive the Holy Spirit that Christ had promised them, here they were, gathered together in one place when tongues of fire seemed to rest on them filling them with the Holy Spirit and speaking in differing tongues.

In reading Acts 2 we soon discover that the church in Corinth is arguing again! So much for the unity to which Paul had been hoping for. Perhaps as we hear the story of Pentecost we too long to see the drama re- enacted in our churches today. We may have expectations of something overwhelming, a drive towards proclamation, a sudden unity or connectedness just as described in this passage. The source of the church’s power is the Spirit of God. That where God’s spirit is there is unity and a concern for reaching out to others.

There is a deep longing in the human heart to be heard and understood, which is why we need to let our conversations with each other develop into a deeper understanding of each other, of our real joys and sorrows and of what God is doing and saying in our lives. AND at the same time, show our neighbours in the wider community and across the world that we are listening to what they have to say to us. To do that, we need to stay connected. Connected to each other. Connected to God.

I return to Christmas just past, when I received a box in the post. This box contained a packet of coffee, shortbread and tablet. A gift from Peedie Kirk on Orkney (The only URC permitted to open during the lockdown of mainland Scotland). This box had been sent to all ministerial colleagues, and with the reference to staying in touch and connected together through the sharing of a coffee. Through staying connected, in one way or another, might give us all the energy we require to keep strong and shine our beacons of light in our various communities.

The Spirit flowed through the disciples so that they were able to express themselves uninhibitedly and it is the Spirit that removes the blocks to a full and natural expression of what lies in the depths of our hearts – that of the Good News of Jesus Christ. But all this leads me to pose several questions:

Are we prepared to let the Spirit work within us so that we can shine with the truth? Can we allow the Spirit to come and go freely?
Can we allow the Spirit to awaken our God-given gifts and demonstrate the gospel through our natural hospitality?
As we live through these challenging times, how can the church portray the love of God and the good news of Jesus in a new way for a new generation?

The source of vitality or energy in the life of a healthy church is our faith in God as revealed in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. We may all express this differently, but we could easily become like the fading Christmas
lights, if we do not want to serve God or one another, as by service to God and one another we find a renewed sense of eagerness and enthusiasm. In a healthy, brightly lit church, faith is not assumed, it is
spoken about, witnessed through our actions and interpreted as central to the task of the church in the community.

At the time of preparing this service the UK is dealing with an enormous vaccination programme the outcome of that being the gradual easing of the lockdowns of the past year. For us in the United Reformed Church it signals the beginning of re-establishing our church life. Some churches will have taken the difficult decision to close completely, others to reassess their activities and church life.

What may have been ‘normal’ or ‘traditional’ before COVID 19 may now not be so appropriate post-COVID. But what we have proved during this past year is our resourcefulness in staying connected, whether that be through Daily Devotions, Sunday Devotions or the various on-line local services. We also have proved that our faith lives on through this pandemic, that despite feeling weary, we’ve put our trust in God, allowed our batteries to be topped up and ready for the energy needed in order to be receptive to the Spirit at work in our lives and in the life of the church.

On this day of Pentecost, we are being called to use our God-given gifts and to be receptive to the Spirit at work in our lives, so that together we can serve God, serve one another and help people to experience God’s love.
And so I end this reflection with this blessing:

Blessing

Blessing that undoes us:
On the day you are wearing your certainty like a cloak and your sureness goes before you like a shield or like a sword, may the sound of God’s name spill from your lips as you have never heard it before.

May your knowing be undone. May mystery confound your understanding.
May the Divine rain down in strange syllables yet with an ancient familiarity, a knowing borne in the blood,
the ear, the tongue, bringing the clarity that comes not in stone or in steel but in fire, in flame.

May there come one searing word – enough to bare you to the bone, enough to set your heart ablaze,
enough to make you whole again.
Amen