May 23, 2021
Order of Worship:
Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, one of the high feast holidays of the church calendar! Pentecost marks the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Church, and we mark it once again with a familiar story. May the Spirit open our hearts to the lessons of the Word:
- Before Pentecost became our Christian feast day, it was just the Greek name of the Jewish festival Shavuot. The ‘Festival of Weeks’ was prescribed in Jewish law (Leviticus 23:15-22) as a harvest celebration for the first-fruits offering. It’s appropriate then that we also talk about the Holy Spirit as the giver of all blessings – not just spiritual gifts, but the sustainer and breath of life (Psalm 104). When you consider the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25), which gifts are you most thankful for in your life? Which early vegetable or fruit have you eaten this season (ripe strawberries come to my mind!) that you are grateful for? How does an early harvest also give you hope for the harvest that is still to come through the growing season?
- The disciples have remained in Jerusalem, just like Christ told them to in the ascension story we read last week (Acts 1:4). “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (verse 1). But they aren’t the only ones in the city. Shavuot was one of the three pilgrim festivals, so Jews from all over the known world were there – just read the list in verses 9-11! While it was primarily a harvest festival, because it was calculated by counting out seven weeks from the Passover, tradition also grew up around Shavuot being a time to celebrate the giving of the Torah at Sinai. This moment, when Israelites received the Law, was understood to be the moment when God made them “one people” (Exodus 19:5-6). What unites us today? In a time when so many people talk about what divides us, how do we see ourselves held together as the Body of Christ?
- Even though we are all united in the Spirit, God doesn’t deny our differences and diversity. Rather, they are celebrated in the first moments of the Church as people from every nation can hear the good news “in their own language” (verse 6). Some commentators would talk about Pentecost as a reversal of the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11; but rather than returning all people to one uniform language, the Spirit grants the apostles the skills to preach in every language! How can learning about the faith in different languages and cultural contexts deepen our belief? How do we celebrate and value the different perspectives we’re given in the Church today?
- Peter famously begins his sermon by quoting from Joel (those of you who were part of our church last summer will remember a long series on this prophet!). “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” (Joel 2:28-29 & Acts 2:17-18). Prophesy, dreams, and visions aren’t things many modern thinkers put much stock in, perhaps because we don’t understand them. But how many times can you remember God coming to someone ‘in a dream’ in scripture? [It’s a lot!] It makes sense that the Divine might come in the mysterious realm of our dreams, when we are asleep and our defenses are down, when we are more open to the fantastic and unlimited by the usual rules that govern our reality. Visions and dreams are something the people of God should take seriously. What have you been dreaming lately? What dreams do you have for our church or our community? How do you share these with others and start to shape them into reality?
- While there will be other celebrations on the Church calendar, this is the last “High Holy Feast Day” for a long while. As we enter the season of ‘Ordinary Time’ we mark each week as the ___ Sunday after Pentecost (from 2nd to 25th this year). The coming of the Spirit is also our call to a time of discipleship and growth, like the ongoing harvest season through the summer and fall. We stay connected to the Spirit’s presence in quieter ways than “rushing wind and tongues of flame” (verses 2-3). How will you nourish your faith in the ‘ordinary’ coming days? How will you carry and witness to the story of Pentecost in your daily life?
May the Holy Spirit bless and keep you in the days ahead!
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Maggie Rust