‘The Church’s Birthday’ – 31st May 2020 – Pentecost

Pentecost Sunday Live-streamed service

For Pentecost, St Mary's live-streamed a service for the first time.  If you would like to watch the whole service, click on the video link to the right.  If you would prefer just to read the text of the readings, prayers and sermon for this Sunday, they can be found below.

Whilst lock-down restrictions are still in place, we hope to live-stream a service on a monthly basis; eventually we hope to be able to live-stream services from the church building.

The Readings

Acts 2.1-21

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.’

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

John 20.19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

The Sermon
By Joe, a Reader at St Mary's

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

My Goddaughter’s birthday was the 6th May; like many others this year she had a lockdown birthday. I’m lucky enough to be able to stay in touch with her and her family by technology, but it’s still strange.

Pentecost is a special day in the Church calendar; indeed, it’s often called the ‘birthday’ of the Church where we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to Peter and the disciples. Given that we’ve had Lent and Easter in lockdown, there seems to be a suitable symmetry that we should also experience a lockdown birthday for the Church.

When we think about Pentecost, what comes to mind? For me it’s the power of the Spirit, further proof that God keeps His promises, the growth of the Church.

And this year I’ve had something else bought to my attention. God is not confined by our worldly limitations or expectations. The incarnation of Jesus takes place not in a palace, but in a stable in an unfashionable part of the Empire. And after death, a grave cannot hold Christ. Our God is one who delights in surprises.

The reading from Acts tells of what happened when the Holy Spirit descended upon Peter and the disciples. It’s worth remembering how we got to this point. Jesus had shared with the disciples ‘The Great Commission’ – we hear it in the Gospel according to Matthew:

“Go and make disciples of all nations baptising them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you till the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19 and 20)

Now, at the time, despite the disciples having spent a couple of years with Jesus in his Ministry all day, every day, I think that they must have taken a sharp intake of breath and thought to themselves ‘big job’. At this time Jesus’s Ministry had taken in a tiny fraction of ‘all nations’, and I’m sure that the disciples were wondering how they were expected to do this.

They received a hint after Jesus was resurrected, when he was eating with them one day. In Acts 1, Verses 5-8, Jesus tells the disciples that they are not to leave Jerusalem, but that they should stay in the city until they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit from God. They were, in effect, told to wait.

The apostles had had some of the gifts of the Spirit already; they’d been able to cast out demons, and heal. But the full power of the Spirit was yet to be given.

And when they received this gift, they would have the power that they would need to be able to carry out the job given them by Jesus – to “be his witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.”
Jesus told them that in a few days, they would be baptised with the Holy Spirit.

And so it was on the morning of Pentecost, at around nine o’clock, that the gathered disciples were visited by and filled with the Holy Spirit – baptised with the Holy Spirit, as we hear in the reading.

I love the description; there is a sound ‘like’ a roaring wind, and divided tongues of the Holy Spirit ‘as if of fire’ settle on the heads of the disciples. It’s a wonderful description because it is full of uncertainty – Luke is describing being visited by a person of the Trinity! It’s bound to be hard to describe!

We hear that the disciples were now FILLED with the Holy Spirit – this is the baptism with the Spirit that Jesus had spoken of – and the first gift of the Spirit that we see manifested allows the disciples to speak of God’s power to all the gathering crowd – and for the crowd to hear the words in their own language. The first new gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples is to allow them to communicate more clearly – eminently useful to preach God’s word to people from all over the known world.

Of course, there were people who didn’t believe – who thought that this was some sort of drunken tomfoolery that the disciples were engaged in. But over the following days, the Holy Spirit continued to work wonders through the disciples – a sermon preached by Peter – who only 2 months before had denied Christ after Jesus’s arrest at Gethsemane – resulted in the baptism by water of 3000 people; after John and Peter healed a paralysed man in the Temple grounds, another 2000 people were baptised.

The work of the great commission had started; the Church was growing; in a few short days after Pentecost, the Church had grown from a hundred or so souls to over five thousand baptised believers – new disciples for Christ.

But let’s just step back. What had the disciples been doing BEFORE the arrival of the Spirit? They were full of what they had witnessed in the time after Jesus’s resurrection. In Chapter 1 of the Book of Acts we read that they gathered together ‘in prayer and supplication’ to wait for what had been promised them by Jesus before His ascension. I can imagine that they spent time discussing and meditating on everything that had happened in their lives in the previous three years with Jesus.

They were not out and about preaching; they were waiting. They were isolated from their fellow citizens at this time – a rather large extended ‘family’ group, spending time praying, contemplating, and reflecting upon how their lives had been turned upside down.

Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?

I think this year’s Lent and Easter were closer to the experience of the Apostles than any I have experienced. And I think the period since Easter – a period of continued isolation, expectation of better things coming, fear and uncertainty – must at least be a little like the experience of the Apostles as they awaited the Spirit.

The Spirit, thank the Lord, is with us; we may have felt a little distanced from our friends and families in recent weeks, but the fact that God is with us is well worth celebrating this Pentecost. Henri Nouwen’s pointed out:

“But solitude and silence are for prayer. The Desert Fathers did not think of solitude as being alone, but as being alone with God. They did not think of silence as not speaking but as listening to God.”

This Pentecost season – perhaps more than any other in recent history – we need to listen to God and take the gifts of the Spirit we have - love, patience, joy, kindness, peace – and give them to others. It’s been a strange time when expressing love has meant that we stay away from people. But we still have our tongues; we have phones, computers, video conferencing, letters, emails, bellowing over garden fences. We are still challenged to bring the Gospel to the world, and, despite everything, we still have a somewhat easier job of it than the first followers of Christ had.

May we all have a blessed – if rather strange - Pentecost.


The Prayers

We pray for God to fill us with his Spirit.

Generous God,
we thank you for the power of your Holy Spirit.
We ask that we may be strengthened to serve you better.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the wisdom of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to make us wise to understand your will.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the peace of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to keep us confident of your love wherever you call us.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the healing of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to bring reconciliation and wholeness
where there is division, sickness and sorrow.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the gifts of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to equip us for the work which you have given us.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the fruit of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to reveal in our lives the love of Jesus.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the breath of your Holy Spirit,
given us by the risen Lord.
We ask you to keep the whole Church, living and departed,
in the joy of eternal life.
Lord, come to bless us,
and fill us with your Spirit.

Generous God,
you sent your Holy Spirit upon your Messiah
at the river Jordan,
and upon the disciples in the upper room:
in your mercy fill us with your Spirit,
hear our prayer,
and make us one in heart and mind
to serve you with joy for ever.

The Lord's Prayer
Being made one by the power of the Spirit,
as our Saviour taught us, so we pray

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.