Worship for May 23, 2021
You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and prayers for this week.
You can find this week’s Children’s Time video here.
Scripture: Acts 2: 1-21
Music: Holy Spirit Come Into Our Lives; Spirit, Open My Heart
When the resurrected Christ had left them, he had promised the disciples that the Spirit of God would be with them. Yet, the beginning of today’s lesson finds them standing in the middle of a chaotic marketplace of languages and customs – surrounded by people, yet feeling alone. Where was this Comforter Jesus promised?
And then, the most fantastical thing happened: a gust of wind, tongues of fire, each person suddenly understandable to each, and everyone united in heart and mind.
On the surface, today’s story could be seen to suggest that there are times when the Holy Spirit is with us and times when she is not; so that God’s presence and our being understandable to each other is an infrequent miracle. And of course, there are times when we feel very much alone; times when the church seems to be disconnected from the rest of society; times when we feel overwhelmed by the work to be done in the face of fear and despair.
When this story of Pentecost was first shared among early Christians, the reassurance of God’s presence was just what they needed. Jesus had promised that he would return, and had made it sound like that would be soon. Yet, sixty years later, when this story was first recorded, he apparently still hadn’t – at least not in the way his followers expected. The story of Pentecost serves as a kind of reminder that God is present, working within and among us, even when we can’t see that clearly.
At a time when life is uncertain, when we have experienced great change and loss, it’s good for us to hear that. We may not be praying for the Holy Spirit to arrive in a gust of wind and tongues of fire alighting above every person gathered for worship (although if it did, I can guarantee a spike in attendance for at least a month or two). Underneath the pyrotechnics of Pentecost, however, is a deeper story about people becoming understandable to each other – people united in heart and mind.
In contrast to the strangeness of the event, the Christian writer Frederick Buechner once wrote that the idea of “spirit” today is more often associated with team sports, as “school spirit,” or “team spirit.” The largest gatherings of people for religious experiences are in the stadium, or at the tailgate party. And, to be fair, I’ve been to enough Red Sox games with my father, a Yankee fan, to know how sweet it is to join a stadium of people to cheer for my team (especially when the game we’re attending is in New York and the Sox are winning).
Large gatherings like this generate a lot of energy. There is certainly a spirit, a sense of belonging, even of transcending the ordinary, that we can experience when sharing in such an experience. There is also a shadow side to these entertainments, which is that most of our shared experiences like these aren’t altruistic; we’re customers. Be it sports, music, even high art, entertainment is also business.
The Spirit we hear about at Pentecost, though, the Spirit whose presence we seek and share together, the Spirit so dramatically revealed at Pentecost, is the same Spirit that hovered over the waters of Creation; the same Spirit that was breathed into Adam and Eve; that inspired the prophets; and that blesses our baptism and our community.
This Spirit is breath and life, wit and wisdom, conviction and grace. This Spirit is nothing less than what we call God: the abundant and eternal source of Life and Love, which makes sacred our personhood, our relationships, our work and our play. She is the same Spirit that, in smaller moments of Pentecost throughout all life and history, helps us to see and hear clearly our neighbours. She equips us with different gifts, calling us to see the life that surrounds us as a precious gift.
When we seek and share this Spirit, we are seeking something that is beyond us that yet sustains us – something larger than our community yet essential for it. When we seek and share God’s Spirit, we seek the transformation of the world through healing and humility.
This Spirit makes all life sacred, blessing the whole of creation and our whole of selves, in all our beauty and brokenness. We feel this sacredness in the birth of new life, and in giving thanks for a life that has ended. We experience the Spirit’s healing not as we have our sense of belonging confirmed, but as we come to new understandings of those whom we have judged or forgotten.
So that to be united in heart and mind is not to be made the same – to all cheer for the same team, as it were – but to become understandable to one another through empathy, justice and love. Amen.
You call us together, as your people and as your church, to share the Good News of your kingdom vision for all life, and to join our hands and voices to the same, by the inspiration of your Spirit, for the mending of the world.
We call upon your holy presence, God of Love – Sophia, Shekinah, Great Spirit – as we pray for your people and your world.
For the people we hold in our hearts today: our families, friends and loved ones,
we pray for your gift of grace, Holy One, and for the guiding presence of your Spirit.
For the sick, the lonely and those suffering loss; for those living with mental illness or struggling with addiction; we pray for the Spirit’s gift of compassion, and the courage to be a companion on the way.
For those who are unemployed, unfulfilled in their work, or who face the challenge of working at home; we pray for the Spirit’s gift of hope, and the strength to offer true friendship.
For those who, even in this time of plenty, still go hungry and thirsty; for those pushed to the margins and silenced by poverty and despair, we pray for the Spirit’s gift of mercy, and the faith to act on God’s promise for all.
For peacemakers and justice-seekers, and for the victims of war they strive to help we pray for the Spirit’s gift of peace, and the resolve to advocate for justice. Today, we remember especially our Palestinian sisters and brothers – people who have too long suffered under occupation and fear. We continue to oppose the injustices that we see and we pray, O God, that peace with justice will prevail.
For the gift of being brought safely to this day and the for the promise of abundant life,
we give thanks for your gifts, God of Life and Grace. Guide us as we share your love with your world. Help us to choose ways that honour the dignity of your people. Bless us as we go from this place.
We ask it in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us when we pray to say, Our Father…