The chosen hymns for this week, There’s a sound on the wind and Here is love, vast as the ocean can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 31st May.
Help us in this time of ‘One day, but not yet...’
One day we will be able to hug our families, but not yet.
One day we will be able to stand beside folk, waiting to get on a bus into town, but not yet
One day we will be able to go to see a football match, or go to the cinema, or go to the theatre or a concert, but not yet.
One day we will be able to go for a walk and not automatically cross the road if someone comes the other way, but not yet.
One day things will get back to normal, but not yet.
Forgive us, for we so often have used this time to cut ourselves off from others, rather than see the ways you could bring us together.
We give thanks for all the Zoom quizzes and the Whatsup messages.
For all the dropping off food at the door of neighbours and friends and family.
For all the phone calls and writing letters and emails just to check up on folk.
May we use this time to reflect on the gifts that we have been given...
For the time we have to show care and concern.
For hearts that have the chance to reflect on the needs of others and ourselves.
For the chance to take those walks and see how the season is changing, and wonder on how we could change.
Walk with us during this journey of uncertainty, help us to see that you don’t wait to be with us one day, but are with us today.
Show us the possibilities, the wonders and the gifts of this day.
This we ask in Jesus name
I want you to think of your favourite passage from scripture.
Got it in your head?
I can nearly guarantee that we won’t be using it today.
And yet this is meant to be one of the most important passages in the whole Bible.
From Acts 2: 1-21
I have been thinking a wee bit about Pentecost.
This is meant to be one of the biggest days in the church calendar; many theologians call it the birthday of the Christian church.
And yet if you were to ask most ordinary church folk to give their top five Bible readings, I doubt this passage would be in many of their lists.
Christmas readings would be there, Holy week readings would be there, resurrection readings would be there.
There would be some of the Psalms like he 23rd Psalm, The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want...
There would be part of Paul’s letters to the early church, like his passage in 1st Corinthians that talks about love, Love is patient and kind, it does not keep a record of wrongs...
There would be some passages of hope, like the miracle passage when Jesus heals the woman who has been bleeding for over 12 years, or that great passage when the woman caught in adultery is given forgiveness, and passages that inspire us like the young shepherd David fighting and defeating the giant Goliath.
But this passage probably wouldn’t be in most people’s lists of favourite passages.
And it got me wondering why.
If this is such an important passage then why do we avoid it or ignore it so much?
I think it is because we don’t relate to it.
Most of the time when we read the Bible we put ourselves in the scene; subconsciously we become part of that story.
For instance, when David fights Goliath we see ourselves as David, the underdog, but with God’s strength we can be victorious, so the passage gives us hope. For if David can defeat overwhelming odds in his life, maybe with God’s grace so can we.
But we don’t do that with this story, we don’t relate to the disciples and what the disciples do.
Let me give you a modern day example, I will tell you a story and you think of which character in that story you would be...
There is a Christian sitting on a plane seat by the window.
This non-Christian walks down the aisles of the plane and sees the seat beside the Christian is empty.
‘Is this seat saved?’ asks the non-Christian.
The Christian at the window seat says, ‘No, but you can be if you believe in the Lord Have a seat and I’ll tell you how he saved me.’
Now which character do you relate to in that story? I bet it’s the non-Christian.
Can you imagine that scene happening to you?
I’m a Christian and if someone said to me what that guy said I would be looking at my watch and thinking, ‘How long is this flight going to be? Surely they must be another seat on the plane I can go to.’
And that’s the problem with this passage from scripture.
You have all these disciples who have been hiding, scared for weeks.
Scared that because Jesus was tortured and crucified for what he believed, that the same could happen to them.
Then something weird happens to them; there are winds and flames and suddenly all these disciples are out in the streets speaking strange languages.
We don’t see that kind of thing happening to us, we would probably be terrified if it did happen to us. So we put it down to something weird that happened to weird people and has nothing to do with us.
We might even feel angry at God that he would expect us to be like this, or guilty that maybe there is something wrong with us that we should act like the disciples but don’t want to act like that.
So we avoid the passage completely.
Which is a shame because I think the passage is important.
As I said earlier, it is so important that theologians call it the birthday of the church.
Think about that. Theologians believe that this is the moment that the church really started.
Why not Easter day when Jesus rose from the dead?
Wouldn’t that seem like the start of a new beginning?
Well let’s look at what a birth is.
And in particular I want to talk about a very specific birth; the birth of my first child.
I can tell you exactly what that birth was like, the hours before the birth, the hours after the birth. It was a defining moment in my life because it was the moment my world changed.
Everything else, everybody else in the world carried on as normal as if nothing significant had happened, but in that moment my whole world changed, or rather how I looked at the world changed.
No longer was I just responsible for me.
No longer could my wife and I go swaning off on a holiday whenever we liked.
No longer could we live our lives as if no one else mattered.
No...everything we would do would be different, because of this bundle of crying in my hands my world had been turned upside down.
My perspective changed.
I now had responsibility for this child.
Decisions I would make would help that child feel hope and joy or love...or sorrow and guilt or shame.
I now had the power to inspire or discourage.
If that’s the sudden change in perspective that I faced as a father, how much more was it for my daughter. She went from being nice and cosy and warm in her mum, to being thrust into a cold and hard and very different world.
Birth, and rebirth, is that, it is that complete change in perspective; that sudden realisation that life will never be the same.
That is what happened on the day of Pentecost.
Jesus may have risen on Easter Sunday, but nothing had changed for the disciples. They were still frightened of the world. They were still frightened about what would happen to them.
They were still terrified about all the things in the world that could hurt them.
They were still concerned about what others thought of them,
how they would judge them or think about them
or mock them or humiliate them
or be jealous and insecure of those that they thought were better than them.
And on this day that changed.
They looked at things differently.
Instead of Jesus’ death being a sign of humanities hate, of how far people will go to keep us down,
it became a sign of God’s love, of how far God would go to save us.
Instead of the tomb being a sign of the power of death and how much we should fear our mortality,
it became a sign of the importance of life and how much we should celebrate all the potential we have.
Instead of our life being something that is a great responsibility that can overwhelm us, life is seen as a gift from God to be enjoyed.
With the Spirit of God inspiring them, they could choose to live life as children of God who are dearly loved and who enjoy the gift of life that God has given them.
It was such a wonderful insight that they couldn’t help but share that truth with others.
And now that truth is ours to consider.
For too many of us we have lived the last wee while in fear.
We have lived our lives avoiding those we love and care for; being scared to express ourselves.
We have been living our lives as if everyone we meet is someone to be feared, because they might bring illness, or even death, into our lives.
It has been a very dangerous perspective that has seriously damaged the mental health of so many people.
Maybe we condemned ourselves by the phraseology we choose to live by.
We decided to socially isolate when all we needed to do was physically isolate.
Instead of keeping a short distance away so we didn’t spread or catch an infection, we cut ourselves off totally from people, especially people we loved and cared for.
But if today teaches us anything, it teaches us that we can look at life differently.
We can see that we are not isolated; we are the beloved children of God.
We can see that life is not to be feared, it is a gift to be enjoyed.
We can see that instead of shutting ourselves off from others, we can share our life with others in so many ways.
It is a new beginning, like starting afresh, like being born.
And now it is our choice to make; how are we going to choose to live?
As if life is to be feared, or as if we are truly loved?
Let us pray.
And in our prayer we will have moments of silence where you can give your personal concerns to God
Spirit of God,
You came upon a group of frightened, disorganized, anonymous men and you let them see life differently.
Their lives could be lived by the burning flame of hope rather than the darkness of fear.
Their lives could be lived by the unpredictable, uplifting winds of love, rather than the crushing pressure of suspicion.
We pray for all of those that need that hope, need that love just now;
For all in places of leadership; from those trying to organise our ever changing response to the Covid-19 pandemic, to those trying to organise the restart of their businesses.
All those that run groups for youth, for pensioners, for those that run support groups, and even those that guide religious groups...give them the wisdom that they need at this time.
For all of those that have responsibility of care for others.
All the professionals in the NHS and care Homes, all the families and neighbours who are watching over those that they love...give them the perseverance that they need at this time.
And for all of us that are struggling with life just now, struggling with the constant worry and uncertainty that pervades our waking moments and unsettles us in our sleep...give us the trust that you watch over us with strong hands of care and compassion.
All these prayers we ask in Jesus name
Thank you for being with us today, either on the video or on the telephone.
Remember you can ask the church to pray for people you care about through the web page.
Until next time...
May the God of the edges meet you where you are.
May the God of peace bless your inner strife.
May the God of love be the balm to your wounds.
May the God of life be ever beside you.