This Sunday, we mark Pentecost, one of the church’s most important festivals. We celebrate the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out on all kinds of people from every nation under heaven. Our readings today describe that event and we explore what Pentecost means now, for us and for our church.
Call to Worship
Most powerful Holy Spirit
and subdue us.
where the ordinary
is made glorious,
and glory seems
with the brilliance
of your light
HYMN 583 Spirit Divine, attend our prayers
God’s Spirit is approaching
Through time, across continents, soaring over creation
God’s Spirit is speaking
Whispering and comforting, roaring and challenging
God’s Spirit surrounds us
Beyond touch, warmly embracing
God’s Spirit transforms us
Making our horizons wider
our faith stronger
our hopes possible.
Like flickering embers dancing into flame,
you revived those who looked for you,
inspiring their speech and startling onlookers.
And your Spirit nurtures us still,
a gathered people at Pentecost,
moved to celebrate, free to be ourselves,
glad to meet God and open ourselves to the world around us.
Spirit of the living God
we confess that we have not always listened to your promptings.
We have not always responded in faith to your urgings.
We have not always recognised and acted on your call to transform the world into the place you dream it to be.
Forgive us and transform us into the people you invite us to be,
Blow among us, Spirit of God,
fill us with your courage and care,
take us on a journey of love!
Rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, we pray as our Saviour taught us:
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.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
John 15: 26-27; 16: 4b-15
(Jesus said) ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, “Where are you going?” Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.’
Acts 2: 1-21
When the day of Pentecost came, they (the disciples) were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’
Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
‘“In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
HYMN 522 The Church is wherever God’s people are praising
Grant, O Lord, that in these words, we may behold the living Word, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Have you ever heard people in the church say “It’s aye been…” as they contemplate even the mere suggestion of a change in the way we do things? I have to say that I have never myself heard those exact words in Craigmillar Park or even come across people who won’t change anything though I remain a bit bruised by the adverse reaction the Kirk Session received when we tried to get people to sit more closely together at Communion a few years back. Maybe we are more resistant to change than we would like to think.
If so, we are not alone: Jesus’ disciples were much the same. If you were in church last Sunday, you would have heard a reading from Acts chapter 1, the verses immediately preceding today’s reading from chapter 2. Do you remember? The last few verses describe how the inner core of disciples realised that, after the death of the traitor Judas, their numbers had dropped to eleven instead of the twelve chosen by Jesus. It does not seem to have occurred to them that they could continue with 11 or even appoint 13 or more. They decided they needed a twelfth person so that they had the same number as before – it had ‘aye been’. After praying for guidance, they decided to use the traditional old-style method of selecting that person. They cast lots, as happens rather frequently in the Old Testament as a way of choosing a person or course of action. Matthias was duly elected and everything settled down into the same pattern of behaviour. You can perhaps imagine that they then set aside time to consider what they should do next, discussing and agreeing the best course of action (much like a Kirk Session of today).
And then all their careful plans were blown apart by the Holy Spirit a few days later. A sound of rushing wind, tongues of fire, the sudden ability to speak in new languages, a multitude of new converts to the faith (3,000 on day one , it says later in the chapter). So much for tradition, plans and for thinking that they were in control of events. One minute they were sitting in a house, the next they were outside facing a bewildered crowd and with a fine opportunity for witnessing to the truth about Jesus. The disciples should not have been surprised. After all, Jesus himself had warned them that the Spirit would come, as we heard in the reading from John’s Gospel.
God had done a new thing, and the lives of the disciples were, once more, turned upside down.
Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit was first poured out upon all kinds of people, from all over the known world, is sometimes known as the birthday of the Church. Birthdays are often a chance to look back on life: contemplating your successes if you are lucky, perhaps instead wondering where the year went and what you have achieved. We in the Church of Scotland often look back – to the glory days of the 1950s perhaps, when virtually every household in the land went to church on Sunday mornings and the pews were full. Or perhaps even further back to the founding of our denomination in the 16th century when the church virtually ran the country, for good but sometimes also for bad. Our General Assembly is happening this week. If it were not for the impact of Covid, we would be seeing tradition unfold as usual on the Mound: splendid uniforms, trumpet fanfares, ladies in hats, bows back and forwards as the Moderator moves around. Most of that will not be happening this year; what’s ‘aye been’ will not be, this year. Instead, the church will be contemplating the urgent need for change as membership levels plummet and so too, inevitably, does the number of ministers. That change will affect us all, in Craigmillar Park, Reid Memorial and in churches and congregations the length and breadth of the country. It may well feel as if our lives in faith are turned upside down, perhaps just as the disciples felt on that first Pentecost.
Remember though what happened then. God had done a new thing, yes, but he did not leave his followers alone while they wrestled with that challenge. The Holy Spirit did not suddenly descend and then half an hour later ascend back to heaven, leaving the earth; he remained with the disciples inspiring them, prompting them, equipping them, empowering them – and we know that this resulted in the building of a worldwide movement of believers. Jesus promises, in chapter 15 of John’s Gospel, that the Holy Spirit will guide us all into the truth. That guidance, that support, that breath of life, remains on earth for us, all of us, today.
No, what’s ‘aye been’ will not do us any longer. Like the disciples, we cannot remain in a small room with eleven or twelve others and merely hope that things go well. We need instead to open our hearts and listen for the Holy Spirit, we need to dream dreams and see visions, and we need to be as brave and as trusting as the early disciples were, looking forward, not back, as we try to work out what the Spirit is guiding us towards.
God is still doing a new thing, in Scotland as elsewhere. The established order is being overturned and it is undeniably scary. We are not, however, alone. Pentecost reminds us that the Spirit is still at work in the world and that it is still empowering us to speak about Jesus and God’s love, revealed for all in his life, death and resurrection, whatever structures we find ourselves in. Let’s abandon our attachment to what’s ‘aye been’, let’s open ourselves to the renewing and refreshing wind of the Holy Spirit and let’s look forward with confidence, with faith, to what lies ahead.
We can be Pentecost people: are you ready for that challenge?
wrap your dove wings around us,
spark your bright flame within us,
blow your refreshing wind among us,
so that we can be
your Pentecost people today.
And may the creator pursue us,
the saviour dance with us,
and the spirit sing in us,
On the day when we celebrate the birth of your church we pray for her work across Christ’s world, in places we know and in places which are only names on a map to us but which you have in your heart. We bring before you the work of CrossReach, our own church’s social care service, and ask you to hold the staff and service users – adults with addiction issues, older people with complex care needs, children and families – in your hands. We pray also for the work of Bethany and Fresh Start here in Edinburgh, toiling to ensure that all our fellow human beings have a roof over their heads and a return to dignity and hope in their lives.
We pray for the church in Scotland, for the Church of Scotland and all denominations that share in our dreams and visions in our cities, towns, villages, countryside and islands. Especially today we pray for those meeting in General Assembly. May they be guided by the Holy Spirit and discern God’s will for the church’s future and her witness. May they be as brave and bold as the early disciples, and may we too feel encouraged and inspired by your Spirit as we face the need for change.
At this time of tension in Palestine and Israel we pray for those caught up in the seemingly endless cycle of violence in that land where your Holy Spirit first appeared. We pray that the Spirit might return to modern Jerusalem, inspiring leaders and politicians to dream a dream of peace and justice for all. All-powerful God, we pray for a new thing in that troubled corner of the world.
Gentle God, in the life of Jesus your healing touch was felt. As we remember those who are ill or troubled in our own communities we pray that you may grant them healing and peace. We bring before you those who have lost a loved one in recent days: we pray that they may know your love and be comforted. In a moment of silence, we remember those whom we know personally who need your help and your peace: be with them, we pray.
Father God, who knows each one of us by name, we pray for ourselves. Grant us the burning desire to carry out your work in the world so that all may know the Good News, and grant also that we may develop the gifts, the energy, the resources to fulfil our dreams and visions. On this day of Pentecost, we pray for courage to change what we have always done and to move forward in faith into a changing church.
We ask these things in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ
Song: Come, Holy Spirit, by John W Peterson
May the Spirit
who hovered over the waters when the world was created,
breathe into us the life he gives.
May the Spirit
who set the church on fire on the day of Pentecost,
bring the world alive with the love of the risen Christ.
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore.
This service was prepared by Pauline Weibye, Session Clerk at Craigmillar Park
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Call to worship is from the Northumbria Community.
The prayer of approach is adapted from the Pentecost Great Thanksgiving of the Methodist Church.
Aspects of the prayers and reflection adapted from the Church of Scotland’s Weekly Worship resources.