Sunday Worship – 19th May 2024 – Pentecost

(All our songs this morning are from Singing the Faith (StF) numbers will be given where available)

Welcome to our Sunday Service, today shared on paper across our circuit and with the congregation at St Andrews Methodist Church and led by Rev Pat Malham one of our Circuit Supernumerary Ministers.

Click on the blue links to follow them for bible readings and associated links

Opening words

Come, Holy Spirit, the wind of God, the breath of life.
Come, Holy Spirit, our advocate, our counsellor.
Come, Holy Spirit, teacher of wisdom, reminder of Christ.
Come, Holy Spirit, granter of forgiveness, giver of peace.
Come, Holy Spirit.

Song – StF 372 – Come down, O Love divine

Prayer of praise

God, the light of your Spirit has fallen us,
you have placed the gift of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
Like tongues of fire it has renewed and restored us.
In our rising and our sleeping,
in our working and our playing,
in our joys and in our sorrows,
your Spirit’s brightness has dispelled the darkness;
in our loving and caring,
in our touching and our listening,
in our thoughts and in our actions,
God’s Spirit has brought life out of death.  

Prayer of confession

God, you have placed the Holy Spirit in our hearts,

forgive us for the times we have deliberately resisted the Spirit’s work
and for the barriers we create within ourselves,
barriers that resist your healing work and prevent us moving toward wholeness.
Forgive our self-centredness, our anger, our fear of change, our lack of trust in your love.

Forgive us, for the barriers we create between us and you,
barriers that separate us from your love and the assurance of your salvation.
Forgive our busyness, our independence, our desire to go our own way.

Forgive us, for the barriers we create between us and each other,
barriers that separate us from neighbours near and far and inhibit mutual love and care.
Forgive our resentment of others, our love of control, our indifference to the poor.

Life giving spirit, God’s advocate and guide, have mercy on us. we pray.

Assurance of pardon

Glorious God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

you forgive us and love us.
We go into this day knowing your Spirit dwells within us.
May your Counsellor make us wise and help us understand what it means to know you.
May the Spirit’s fire ignite our hearts so that we understand the hope of being chosen by God.
May we discover the glorious blessings we share together with all God’s people. Amen

Song – StF 370 – Breathe on me breath of God

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Acts 2:1-24


Pentecost Sunday is one of my favourite days in the church year for a few reasons. 

One reason is that as child it was a day to wear my new dress and walk with everyone through Hartlepool and it was always sunny. And then there was a party in the church grounds with cake and ice cream. And there was fizzy pop –  something we never had at home.

The second is a bit silly, but I love the words in today’s reading from Acts. Any day you can talk about Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Cappadocia and residents of Mesopotamia has to be a good day? I remember as a teenager, one of the first times I was ever asked to read in church I had this story. Now you’d have thought it would have put me off for ever but it didn’t. I love this kind of ridiculous moment in the church where we expect people to pronounce names of ancient cultures that just don’t come up much in conversation. And all those who will have read it this week will have done well because as my minister said, ‘Say the names with confidence and no one can tell you that you’ve got them wrong.’

Most importantly, I love Pentecost because today is the birthday of the Church. This is one of the turning point in the story, the day God’s people are sent out into the world.

At the beginning of the reading, God’s people are gathered together, and they’re waiting. They’ve been through a lot. Just a few weeks ago they were on top of the world as Jesus entered the capital city of Jerusalem and was greeted by crowds shouting hosanna, but then he was arrested and killed. A few days later he rose again, and he’s with them for a while, teaching and eating with them, then he ascends into heaven, leaving them with instructions to go be witnesses to God all over the world. It’s a big assignment, and he really doesn’t tell them how to do it.

And we’re often asking the same question. How, exactly, are we as this small group of people, supposed to make disciples of the people on our street, let alone the whole world? A few more details or at least a strategic plan might have been helpful!

Maybe, as they waited, they were doing just that – making a plan. Sometimes we act as if we think that Simon Peter was really good Methodist; he called a committee meeting of the disciples to talk about whether or not they ought to start a Church. They discuss that for a while, and then James proposes that they start a Church,  John seconds the motion, and they vote to start a Church. So they start a Church in Jerusalem. Well I summarise, if they had been good Methodists, it would have probably taken many more meetings!

But I don’t think that was the case. I think they were still simply hiding. They’re afraid, probably feeling a little abandoned, and most of all, I think, they’re just confused. Jesus is alive, but now he’s gone? Now what? What’s next?

Earlier, before he was arrested, Jesus had promised them he wouldn’t leave them alone. He promised to send them an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to help them, to teach them, to keep reminding them of all he’d said to them. But I don’t think they had any idea what that meant. They’re waiting in Jerusalem because Jesus told them to, but they don’t know what they’re waiting for.

And then comes Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit shows up. In this Pentecost story, these timid, incompetent, ordinary people, these followers of Jesus who’d abandoned him in his hour of need, who’ve been hiding for weeks, these people transform into apostles, messengers, carrying the good news to everyone. Something extraordinary happens: They encounter the Holy Spirit.

The same Spirit that was blowing over the waters at creation, the same Spirit breathing into Adam at creation, the same Spirit Jesus promised to send to his disciples as their helper and advocate, is at work.

And when it shows up, it makes quite an entrance – violent winds and tongues of fire, and then out the disciples go. Something had happened, something so dramatic a crowd gathered to watch and listen and everyone who truly listens gets the message.

We’re familiar with this story, so we lose how odd all of this is. But look at the reactions of the people in the crowd as they try to figure it out, we read “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”The people watching get that something’s happening here, but they have trouble really understanding and believing God is involved. They certainly don’t expect God is starting the church with these kind of people, in this way.

It’s the same kind of questions people ask over and over in the Bible, because God keeps working in unexpected ways and through unexpected people. The Pentecost story challenges our expectations of how God works.

These people, Jesus’ apostles, are not educated elites; these are people from a backwater part of a small nation dominated by a conquered empire. No one rational should choose them to spread a message around the world. These are timid followers, filled with doubts, feeling abandoned by their leader… until the Holy Spirit comes and fills them with courage and the words to say. Then they start preaching and proclaiming, and by the end of the chapter, this brand new church has grown by over 3,000 people.

And those are just some of the gifts the Holy Spirit brings. As Paul explains later to the Corinthians, the Spirit has gifts for everyone. Some get to do miracles, some get to heal. Some get to speak in tongues, others interpret, some serve behind the scenes, others play music, some make food. All of God’s gifts are for the common good. The people in the crowds at Pentecost aren’t speaking the same language, nor do they all have the same gifts. The Spirit doesn’t make them all the same; the Spirit reveals the Gospel to them as they are in that moment. The Holy Spirit shows up in diversity.

I don’t know how much diversity of languages there are in Bradford North Circuit  or among the people reading this but we are a diverse group of people and we have many different gifts, many different skills and interests.

That diversity is a big part of this Pentecost story too. Right from the start, from the moment the Church begins its mission, there is diversity. There are people who speak in different ways, who share the Gospel in unique ways. Everyone gets to be involved, even foreigners and the people who look and act differently.

Peter quotes from the prophet Joel to explain what’s happening. When God’s Spirit comes, Joel says, your sons and daughters prophesy, young men see visions, old men shall dream dreams. Even the slaves — the lowest of society, both men and women — get the Holy Spirit. Pentecost says God can work through anyone!

Even if the Holy Spirit chooses to work through people like this, I can imagine the onlookers wondering, “Is this really what God’s work looks like?” Can the Holy Spirit really work like this?

There’s a tradition in some ancient cathedrals and churches of having “Holy Spirit Holes.”

A Holy Spirit hole is a hole in the ceiling of the building that gets opened just once a year at Pentecost.The tradition is to release doves into the sanctuary, representing the coming of the Holy Spirit. Later in the service, people on the roof would dump buckets of rose petals to float down onto the congregation, like tongues of fire.

I love the chaos and the unpredictability of that image. I suspect birds flying around the churches causes some problems. We need to remember, the Holy Spirit is not predictable. God isn’t tame. Rose petals wouldn’t fall exactly where you want them. But at least in theory, I love those images pointing out the unpredictably of how God’s Spirit moves.

In reality, sometimes I think we’re closer, at least I am, to the good, religious people who had come from out of town to celebrate the Jewish festival of Pentecost, the festival of booths. They didn’t know what to make of these radically excited disciples. They were different; they behaved oddly. They weren’t normal. Shouldn’t God be working in some more established way, through the official channels? I like to have a bit of control and to know what to expect.

I don’t think cutting a hole in the roof of your church for Pentecost would go down well especially with the property steward, but the next time we try some new idea, remember that sometimes when the Holy Spirit shows up, bystanders think the church people are drunk. Remember this when we hear about God doing things we’re not quite sure of!

Even the disciples are surprised at what God is up to. At Pentecost, they start to realise this whole Jesus thing is way bigger than they thought. At the beginning of the story, they all fit into one room. By the end of the day, there are over 3,000 of them. The Spirit messes with the way we’ve always done it, or the way we expect the future to look. The Holy Spirit is disruptive, even today.

Perhaps that’s the most important message to us that we need to be ready and we need to ask, ‘What is God up to? What is the Holy Spirit doing among us and through us?’

Pentecost tells us God is no longer confined to Jerusalem, or to the people who had walked and talked with Jesus. God is not confined to the people who grew up in the church attending Sunday School. Those Holy Spirit holes in the cathedrals shouldn’t really be there to let the Spirit into the church; they should be to release the Spirit into the world.

Fire and violent wind are such a good images for Pentecost, because the Holy Spirit is wild and goes where it pleases. We can’t control what God is doing. All we can do is trust and give thanks for this gift. All we can do is notice God at work and get involved, because God is on the move in our world, in our community, and in our lives, we all, whoever we are. need to be alert and be ready to join in.

Come Holy Spirit!  Amen.

Song – StF 7 – God, who made the stars

Prayers of concern

Eternal God, we thank you for the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost
and for the invitation to all people to take part in God’s work of love.

We remember all those who are not filled with joy.
For those whose lives are broken by distress
those in debt, unemployment, unsure of what the future will bring
and those excluded by the communities in which they live.

For those whose lives are broken by fear: fear of persecution, fear for their lives
and those fleeing from the destruction of their communities.
For those whose lives are broken by anger
anger that leads to violence and hatred, and the division of communities in which they live.
For those whose lives are broken by pain
pain of past hurts and injustice, pain that stops trust that brings communities together
For those whose lives are broken by illness, illness that affects bodies, minds and souls
those who feel the pain of exclusion and the pain of isolation

God of healing gently touch all for whom we pray.
Bring warmth and comfort, life and wholeness,
restoration into fractured lives and souls
and may our gifts join in your dance of healing and hope,
bringing your love, your peace and your hospitality to others
in the way we live and in the joy we show.
By your Spirit’s grace, we pray. Amen.

The Lord’s prayer

Song -StF 398 – There’s a Spirit in the air

Closing words

Go out into God’s world filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Let love guide our actions. Be ready and spread the peace of Christ and remind everyone you meet that each one of them is a beloved child of God. Amen.

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