I am going to put breath into you and you will live.Ezekiel 37: 5
Hymn 584 Like fireworks in the night
We use many images to speak of the Spirit
to try to grasp your amazing, awesome presence and power with us
It is like a dove
gentle, comforting, bringer of peace, builder of peace, anointer, enabler
It is like a rushing wind
full of power and energy, seen by what it does
its impact on the world round about
it ruffles feathers, it sweeps away staleness and lethargy
it brings newness and freshness, it creates movement
It is like fire
it burns up the dross, the things in our lives that do not have worth
of which we are not proud, of which we are ashamed
it purifies, it refines, and like a flame it blazes in our lives
filling us with new life, new hope, new energy
it lets your love and goodness be seen at work in our lives
it shines into all the dark places of the world
and lets others see your goodness and truth
Whatever the image, you have sent your Spirit upon us
to change us, renew us, make us different, make us Christ-like
to empower us to be your instruments for change in the world
Send down your Spirit upon us now, on this time of worship
that our praise and thanks may rise up to you
that we may hear and respond to your word
that we may find healing and renewal
that we may be inspired and empowered
to go out and bear witness to our Risen Lord
Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen
All age time (for ages 0-100)
In pre-Covid days, at the end of the month, we used to ask who had had birthdays or anniversaries, and we’d sing ‘Happy Birthday’. We aren’t allowed to sing in church currently, and we only have a fraction of our usually congregation present – with the young folk meeting on Zoom. So we haven’t been doing birthdays and anniversaries as before.
But today is a special birthday – it’s the church’s birthday. Not Riverside’s, not St Andrew’s, not West Kirk’s, but the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’s birthday. It’s like the Queen’s Official Birthday, the date changes year on year, but there is a formula for calculating it (seven Sundays after the first Sunday after the full moon after the first new moon, after the Spring Equinox – easy isn’t it?)
Why is it regarded as the church’s birthday? Because the Book of Acts tells us that it was on that day, when many people were gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish Feast of Shevuoth (which originally marked the end of the wheat harvest, and was extended to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses at Mount Sinai) that God gave the followers of Jesus his Spirit to guide and direct them: the disciples became Apostles, the followers became leaders, and they began proclaiming the Good News.
It’s a birthday. We can’t sing. We can’t do the all-important birthday ritual of eating cake. We can’t play party games. (Or at least not until we get home) But we can ask God for his guidance and help in being ready to share the Good News about Jesus
Acts 2: 1-21
Hymn 194 This is the day
Many people are wary about being asked to do today’s reading, in case they stumble over the names of those Roman provinces. It may be that the author of Acts liked the rather poetic sound of the names put together. However the list also fits in with the structure of the book (if we picture an audience whose geography is limited to the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East):
- before he leaves them, Jesus tells the disciples that they are to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth
- Acts aims to tell how that is carried out
- it begins with stories of the church in Jerusalem
- after the stoning of Stephen the community scatters throughout Judaea and Samaria, and some are in Lebanon and Cyprus, some in Antioch and Damascus in Syria
- initially only those from a Jewish background joined the followers of Jesus, but we hear of various non-Jews join the group, including someone from Ethiopia (which could be a general term for anywhere in Africa South of Egypt)
- much of the book tells of the journeys of Paul through Cyrus, modern Turkey and Greece, to Malta and Italy, finishing in Rome
But that leaves some gaps – from Libya in the West to modern Iran and Iraq in the East – and those gaps are mentioned in today’s reading.
The message about Jesus spread quickly through the Eastern Mediterranean, and outside sources suggest that within 10 years of Easter there were sizeable groups of Christians in Rome itself. However that rapid growth brought challenges and difficulties that the church still has to live with:
- even before new people joined there were some strong personalities among the Apostles. There seem to have been differences in religious and political views, and they clashed with Jesus and each other
- the wider circle came from a mixed background, from Nicodemus to Mary Magdalene – and again they may not have been shrinking violets
- some of the new arrivals, like James ‘the brother of the Lord’ were more conservative in their views, some maybe even more conservative
- then there were Stephen and Paul who were more radical, and probably others more radical than them
- the early converts were Jewish by background, but there were plenty of divisions within the Jewish community: political, religious, social and economic. There were big cultural divisions too: some were militantly nationalist and hated everyone else; some had absorbed the culture of the Eastern Mediterranean and were pro-Roman in their outlook; some had absorbed the culture of Iran and Iraq and were anti-Roman
- Gentiles started to join the church. Some Jews hated any and every Gentile, some were more friendly – and the same was true the other way round. Some Gentile converts had been familiar with Jewish customs and moral stances, others were not, and knew only the moral structures of the pagan society around them
- add to all this the difficulty of communicating in a world without the technology we take for granted, reliance on hearing stories told by the Apostles (it took nearly two generations for the books that make up the New Testament to appear), the lack of formal training, it’s a wonder that the church survived at all. Maybe if you visited churches in far flung places like Ethiopia, Libya Cyrenaica, Parthia, Pontus or Malta you might have spotted a few differences in how they worshipped and what they taught.
It was a very diverse church, struggling to work out what it believed and how to hold itself together. That it did pull through is testimony to the hard work of its leaders and the power of the Spirit to draw them together, guiding and inspiring them.
If the first century church was diverse, so is the twenty first century one, even just thinking about Scotland in general and Dumbarton in particular:
- members vote for different parties in elections, and hold different positions on the independence/union and remain/leave divides
- each congregation has people with different religious experiences and understanding of their God and their faith
- people have different views on topics like drinking, smoking, swearing, sex before or outside marriage, gambling, parking on double yellow lines, not declaring all income to the tax people etc. They may or may not look to the Bible for guidance on any of these
- and then you can add in the wide variety of different ethnic, social and economic backgrounds too
We shouldn’t really be surprised: the church has always included great variety, and it’s only to be expected when the world is made up of individuals all different from each other. We shouldn’t expect everyone to be a kind of clone to each other, and it’s probably not what God wants either. He seems to prefer us all to be different, but recognising that we have complementary skills and experiences that will fit well together in a team.
The world struggles to accommodate its variety, so it’s probably not surprising that the church does too. But when we are together as the church, there is a big difference. As on the day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit is with us, to draw us together, to find the things we have in common, the skills that complement each other, to work through the various issues that divide us – but always keeping us grounded in our faith in Jesus, and always drawing us closer to him as our Lord and our Saviour.
Prayers for others
We live in a world where many people
live uncomfortably with uncertainty or doubt
Where will the next meal come from?
How secure is their job?
Will peace come back?
Will they be able to return home?
Will the captive be set free?
Will they or their friend or loved one be well again?
Can they believe what they are told in the media,
by the authorities?
How much is propaganda, or ‘fake news’?
You are a God who cares.
You are a God who strives for truth, for justice and for peace
And so we bring you our prayers for those in need.
we pray for all who are ill,
those who look after them
and those who worry about them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one
those who are worried about home, work or money
a friend or a relative
those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters
those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home
those who long to live in peace and safety
those who have fled from their homes seeking safety
We pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
We pray for you church
the worldwide church
the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord
be with all who face difficulty with family, neighbours or the authorities
for being followers of Jesus
be with all who are seeking to find new ways of sharing your love and Good News with others
We pray for the General Assembly in its meeting this week
for Jim Wallace the Moderator, all conveners reporting to it
and all commissioners making decisions
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn 594 Come Holy Spirit come
With unflagging zeal, aglow with the Spirit,
serve the Lord,
And the blessing of God Almighty.