Sunday Service 28th May - Pentecost
Call to worship
Hymn 600: Spirit of God
Time for all
Hymn 664(MP): The Spirit lives to set us free
Reading: Joel 2: 23-32 Gil
Hymn 586: Come Holy Ghost
Prayer of Dedication
Hymn 466: Before the throne of God above
Ordination and admission of elders
Caroline Wright, Colin Anderson, Terence Goddard, John Lamond
Hymn 616: There’s a spirit in the air
Welcome to our reflection for 28th May.
Today we celebrate Pentecost.
It was a Jewish celebration of meaning.
The Jews celebrated Passover, the time when they were freed from slavery, then fifty days later they celebrated Pentecost, the giving of the Ten Commandments.
So first they were given freedom, then later, the understanding to know what to do with that freedom, in their case create a just society based round the love of God.
Equally Christians celebrate Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the celebration of freedom from past mistakes and the chance to have a fresh start, then fifty days later we celebrate Pentecost, the giving of the guidance of the Spirit, our working out what to do with that new freedom, create a life of hope and justice for all based round the love of God. And we will reflect on that after our reading from Gil...
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I haven’t used the usual reading for Pentecost today.
Instead I have used the reading that Peter uses on the day of Pentecost.
You see on the day of Pentecost the disciples were meeting together and they had had the emotional rollercoaster of Easter.
The death of Jesus and the pain and hurt of that, then the resurrection of Jesus and the uncertainty and weirdness of that.
And they had been meeting together trying to work out what it all meant.
They would have seen the death of Jesus as like the death of the lamb at Passover.
When Moses gave the people a way to escape death and start their freedom from being slaves in Egypt.
Jesus death was the way of people to escape the death they are heading towards because of all their mistakes.
It is like we are born with this sand in our hands, and as long as the sand stays in our hand then we have life.
But as we go through life we get more and more tired, make more and more mistakes, and the stress of holding onto the sand gets too much, and it just slips through our fingers bit by bit.
And each grain that escapes feels like another part of us is dying.
And Jesus comes along and tells us it is ok to let it go, to stop trying to hold on to something that is beyond us, and open our hands to the freedom to do life.
But if we are given freedom then what are we to do with it?
And for fifty days the disciples had been meeting and wondering about that.
Do they go back to their old jobs?
Do they still worship in the Temple?
And as they get close to Pentecost they realise that just as Moses didn’t just give the people freedom, Moses then through the Ten Commandments gave them purpose and meaning, to create a just society...
so Jesus, so God, wasn’t just giving them freedom, he was giving them freedom to create something better in their lives.
A freedom to be generously open to the possibilities of life with God and with others.
That radically changes the hearts of the disciples.
Up till then they had been hiding in the upper room, scared that what had happened to Jesus might happen to them.
Now they were out there preaching to people that they too could find freedom from their past mistakes and have a new beginning.
When people accused the disciples of being away with it, being drunk, Peter then gives a speech using this passage from Joel and saying that this day is the fulfilment of what Joel was saying.
‘I will pour out my spirit on everyone; your sons and daughters will proclaim my message; your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions.’
And that got me wondering, why this passage.
Of all the passages of his scriptures, why does Peter use one from such an obscure prophet?
So time for a test.
What book of the Bible is before Joel, and what book of the Bible is after Joel?
Would you know?
I couldn’t have told you. I had to look it up.
For the record it is Hosea that is before Joel, and Amos that is after it?
Most of us probably couldn’t tell you the last time, if ever, we read the book of Joel.
There are some folk in my congregation that in the past would boast that they have read the whole Bible.
But if I asked them about any significant bits of the book of Joel they probably wouldn’t; be able to mention any apart from the passage that was read today.
And to be honest it was probably the same in Jesus day.
There were far more memorable passages in the scriptures, far more meaningful passages to remember.
So why use this passage?
Because it’s not just about what is said that matters, it is about when it is said that matters.
The book of Joel happens after a great disaster.
A plague of locusts have swarmed and devastated the harvest.
It would be a time of great uncertainty.
Families could starve to death if there is no food.
Countries could become politically unstable.
With no food, money has then to be used to buy food, so now there is no money to pay for standing armies, so the country becomes vulnerable to invasion by neighbouring forces.
How were people to react to this?
Was this a punishment from God?
But for such a country wide disaster what kind of wrong had been done to deserve such a punishment?
Was it a political alliance that God was angry at, that the people put their trust in superpowers like Egypt rather than God himself?
Was it a lack of faith from the general population that had caused God’s wrath, a chasing after greed or other gods?
Was God demanding the change of political leaders or demanding more worship from the people?
What the prophets said next would be very important.
Would they condemn the political leaders?
Would they condemn the spiritual leaders?
Would they condemn the people as a whole?
And let’s be honest, in the past and in the future the prophets would condemn all of those groups.
But Joel is unusual in that respect.
He doesn’t condemn anyone.
There is a call to repentance, but only in the sense that the people have been so overcome by their plight that all their lives are focused on the disaster in front of them.
And Joel is asking them to turn again towards God.
If they can turn again towards God then they can once again find hope.
Just now all they have is the fear of what has just happened and the fear that it could happen again.
2016 was a defining year for me.
It was when I discovered, not only that I had had a heart attack, but in fact that I had had two heart attacks.
You might find this strange, but as someone brought up in Glasgow, which has one of the worst death rates due to coronary health in the world...I had never really thought about heart attacks.
I knew in my head that people had heart attacks, I had visited plenty of people in hospital that had had heart attacks, and yet I had never worried about having one myself...or if I had thought about it, it was something that would happen in the future at some point.
I never felt any of my heart attacks.
So the chances are if I was to get another one I would never feel that either.
Yet, for a few years after the diagnosis, if I felt a muscle twitch anywhere near my chest, I wondered, ‘Is this another heart attack?’
Now psychologically that is a perfectly understandable reaction.
And that is what the people were going through.
The locust attack had been one of the most frightening things that could happen to them, and having happened once, having experienced that once, there was no guarantee that it couldn’t happen again.
As an ex microbiologist I knew of the frequency of pandemics.
We knew that we were well overdue one in 2020.
The World health Organization had been warning us for years that we should be prepared for one.
Yet COVID-19 caught us completely by surprise.
Here’s the thing, how sensitive are we to the next one?
I am sure that if we were hearing of news reports of a new influenza strain hitting New Zealand, or a new Sars strain hitting Africa, that there would be a heightened level of anxiety that would creep into our hearts.
That is perfectly understandable.
These people had been hit with a plague of locusts and they were terrified that they might return.
They were closing themselves off from others, storing what they had, hiding what they had from neighbours and friends.
Looking at their neighbours suspiciously, as a threat, as someone they couldn’t trust.
They were looking at their political leaders in the same light; they couldn’t be trusted, they were only looking after themselves, they were quite happy to sacrifice the people as long as they were all right.
And in the midst of this Joel gives them another option.
remember that God is watching over us,
remember God cares for us,
remember God is there to help us.
if we can remember that, if we can let God’s spirit into our heart, then we need not be afraid.
If we can be open to God, then we could start being open to others.
Open to caring again for the ones we love and are close to us.
Open again to people who had been our neighbours for years and had watched our children grow and celebrated with us and we had celebrated with them.
Maybe with time even be open to the stranger, the person we don’t know who might be in need.
All that was possible if we remembered God’s care and that if we felt secure in that care; then we could be secure in reaching out to others.
That is what had happened to the disciples.
Sure they had survived the death of Jesus.
But what were they to do now?
Protect themselves from that happening to them?
Or be open to God and let his spirit in them help them be open to others?
And this Pentecost that same question us there for us.
We have survived a pandemic better than most churches out there.
We have survived a presbytery plan better than most churches.
And both events, to be honest, have been stressful and scary.
But what do we do now?
Do we huddle together and protect ourselves from others?
Look suspiciously on other churches, are they only going to use up our resources, resources that we might need if further struggles come?
Keep our distance from the needs of our community; can we afford to give them resources that we might need in the future to survive?
Keep our distance from friends and neighbours, because we need to think of ourselves first?
Is that the kind of people we want to be, is that the kind of church we want to be?
Or are we going to live in hope?
Remember that God is with us, that he has helped us through the past,
given us the resources and strength to get through the struggles of the past,
helped make us resilient to the problems that we have faced,
and living with that spirit,
will we be generously open to the help God gives us,
and generously open to the people God puts in our lives?
The miracle of Pentecost, was that the disciples took the risk to remember God, and that changed the world.
We can take the same risk if we want to...
Let us pray
Forgive us because we get so het up in the name Pentecost.
It confuses us and perplexes us and often has no meaning for us.
Remind us that Pentecost is a place of reflection, a place of resilience and hope.
In a world of division, hatred and injustice, Pentecost is time when we can remember that your love and spirit are for all.
That your love and spirit are beyond every language and culture,
transcending all genders and ages, bigger than all nationalities and empires.
In a world where there are the privileged and the disadvantaged, divisions of race and culture and religion, that Pentecost is a reminder that we are all one under your hands of care; that your love can transform the darkest night into the most glorious of days.
Remind us though, that your love can only transform the world, when we allow it to transform our lives.
That it was the change that happened in the hearts of the disciples that changed the world that they lived in.
So give us the courage to accept your hope and love and care into our own lives, that others may see and have hope for themselves.
This we ask in Jesus name. Amen