Uniting together, Caring for all, Seeking God

Service Sheet 31st May 2020

Uniting Church Sketty and Clydach Methodist Church

‘Worship from Home’ for Sunday 31st May 2020 (Pentecost)

Prepared by Rev Leslie Noon

Prepare for worship

Wherever you are sitting, at whatever time of day, with whatever emotions you are currently carrying, take a few moments to become aware of God’s Spirit within and without.

Opening prayer

Come, Holy Spirit, fill us with your peace.

Come, Holy Spirit, unite us in our worship.

Come, Holy Spirit, raise us by your power.

Come, Holy Spirit, come now.

Introduction

Today is Pentecost!  Often a day associated with dramatic experiences of the Holy Spirit – and indeed our reading from Acts will remind us of this.  But the experience of the Holy Spirit is not always dramatic.  Sometimes it is quiet.  It’s why images as well as words are so helpful when we picture the Spirit – for we can have the image of breath, as well as the image of fire.  Our first hymn uses the image of breath.

Hymn:  Breathe on me breath of God (StF 370)

Sing or read these words or listen here

Readings:  Genesis 11: 1-9 and Acts 2: 1-21

Our OT reading is a timeless, universal mythological story of division and separation.  In this story there is NO unity in diversity.  By contrast, the NT reading functions as a reversal of this – even though there is diversity of language, there is unity in the Spirit.  In this reading people truly ‘hear’ each other and God.

Reflection: 

Pentecost has, all too often, been seen simply as a personal experience that allows the individual to enter some kind of ‘spiritual elite’.  How often have we heard the question ‘have you been saved?’, with the somehow expected answer being one of personal euphoria, a specific moment of personal enlightening.  Indeed, the Pentecost experience has even been used as the basis for separation and division of one group from another.

That is sad, and indeed quite possibly misses the point of what happened in Acts.  Because, as we see there, it was the presence and the coming of the Spirit that enabled the disciples to understand the people around them, to truly hear what they were saying.

And so it is in every community, every neighbourhood and every church, that God’s Spirit is at work when people are enabled to ‘speak one another’s language’ – to welcome and serve one another, and to work together to serve those who most need help and compassion. 

This isn’t as ‘sexy’ perhaps as being able to ‘speak in tongues’.  But it is nonetheless a valid experience of being ‘filled with the Spirit’. 

When God’s Spirit fills us, we find ourselves being ‘sent’ to serve others.  We find ourselves seeking to bring peace and reconciliation between people.  We find ourselves seeking to understand those who are different from us.  We find ourselves reaching out to those who are marginalised, excluded or rejected.

And so rather than ‘lifting us up’ above others into a group that is somehow favoured by God, Pentecost ‘pulls us down’ to connect with those that we would never naturally have the strength or inclination to relate to.

Here then is the call of this Day – to open ourselves to God’s Spirit, in order that we may be sent to bring God’s life, God’s grace and God’s love to others.

Pentecost is not a moment of personal bliss, or simply an experience that can be enjoyed in some sort of euphoria.  The evidence of a Pentecost Church is not so much particular gifts or experiences, but the life, grace and service that the Church brings to the world.

We are filled with the Spirit, not for our own sakes, but for the sake of the world that God loves so dearly.  And so the challenge for us today in the circumstances in which we find ourselves is this:  when we ‘go back’ to church after the pandemic is over (whenever that might be and however that might be), what activities will we engage in that serve those who need to experience God’s presence and activity through human hands?  How is God’s Spirit equipping and calling us?

A reflective way into prayer

Sit very still and become aware of your breathing.
As you breathe in, think of God.
As you breathe out, think of the world.
Repeat this at least three times.

As you breathe in now,

give thanks for the peace the Spirit brings.
As you breathe out, pray for peace in the world.
Repeat this at least three times.

As you breathe in,

receive from God what he has for you.
As you breathe out, ask what you should do.
Repeat this at least three times.

Keep a few moments of quiet and conclude:
Come, Holy Spirit, come now.
Amen.

To End

Here is a verse of another hymn, not one in our hymnbook, which comes from the Salvation Army tradition and is by William Booth.  It uses imagery very different from our first hymn, reminding us that we need such contrast to fully grasp towards the experience of the Holy Spirit.

O God of burning cleansing flame
Send the fire
Your blood-bought gift today we claim
Send the fire today
Look down and see this waiting host
And send the promised Holy Ghost
We need another Pentecost
Send the fire today.  Send the fire today.

An Alternative Image

How would you visually portray the Holy Spirit? 

A more unusual piece of art, from the Methodist Art Collection, by Dennis Hawkins (1925-2001), Oil on wood (old school desk). “The descent of the Holy Spirit, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, marked the birth of the Church, and is represented by an intense circle of white light, painted on the top of an old school desk. In this way Hawkins represents the success of the Church penetrating

unlikely nooks and crannies and dark corners throughout the world and illuminating them with the light of the Holy Ghost.  The traditional iconography of Pentecost was tongues of fire, but instead he chose to use the circle or sphere. He saw it as a numinous object, mysterious without beginning or end and all-embracing, an ideal symbol for the coming of the Holy Spirit.”

A prayer of blessing

Come, Holy Spirit, fill my home with peace.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with love.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill my life with your presence.

Amen