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The Call to Worship
Come, Holy Spirit! Ignite our hearts with joy and confidence!
ALL: For God has done wondrous things for us.
Come, Holy Spirit! Fill us with the power of the rushing wind that we may faithfully serve you in all that we do.
ALL: For Christ has called each of us and blessed us!
Come, Holy Spirit! Be with us today.
ALL: Help us to boldly work for justice.
(based on a prayer found at https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/3845/worship-connection-pentecost-2013)
For the Spirit of Peace that calms our mind and stills our life, we give you thanks.
For the Spirit of Love that touches hearts and reaches out, we give you thanks.
For the Spirit of Joy that lifts our soul and gives us faith we give you thanks.
For the Spirit of Power, that gift of grace to show your love to the world, we give you thanks.
(Based on a prayer found at: https://www.faithandworship.com/prayers_Pentecost.htm#ixzz3b40UXpib )
The Acts of the Apostles (2.1-4, 12-13, 15)
When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place.2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak. 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”
14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 [Peter stood and shouted], “These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning!”
A reading from the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 12.4-11)
There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 and there are different ministries and the same Source; 6 and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. 8 A word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, 9 faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit, 10 performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another…different ways of speaking to another, and the gift of interpretation to another. 11 All these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what each person is meant to have.
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Great Balls of Fire!
Today is the church’s celebration of Pentecost. Some refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the church. And while this may be convenient for those who compile the church year it’s not quite the case. The Christian church as we know it did not happen on a particular day. What we know as the church continues to evolve even during my lifetime and perhaps is going through its most radical change during this particular time in history.
The people that were gathered together on this particular day very probably were Jews commemorating the festival of Shavu’ot. Shavu’ot means the Festival of Weeks. It happens at the time in the spring when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple. Shavu’ot calls attention to the giving of the Torah by God on Sinai. The festival that Christians call Pentecost occurs at the same time of the year as the Jewish festival of Shavu’ot.
Our text from the Acts of the Apostles indicates that some seemingly miraculous or supernatural things occurred on that day. Some fundamentalist Christians believe that the references speaking in mystical “tongues.” What I believe happened that day was that each person was able to hear the teaching in their own language. And they were therefore able to understand more deeply. I suspect that it was a large crowd that had come from many places. And I believe that what happened was that those who could understand and speak more than one language or dialect simultaneously translated the teaching into a second language or dialect.
My colleague Rev Dr Durrell Watkins spoke about what that kind of thing might look like today. He says that the story illustrates that speaking different languages does not divide people, rather it unites them. “At Pentecost each person hears their own language… it’s a new way of hearing, it’s a new experience. It’s sort of like the first time you hear the gays and lesbians are part of God’s creation, that they are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake, that they are the beautiful, rich, and intentional diversity of God’s creation. That is a new tongue and we are hearing it in a way that we can receive it, in a way that we can understand it.”
When we focus on the bizarre events of the day we miss the point. The wind, the miraculous languages, the rushing wind, and the tongues of fire can distract us from the real point of what is happening in the story. These things are metaphors; they are not the literal manifestation of these things. Again as Dr. Watkins says, “The point of Pentecost isn’t indoor wind, floating flames or miraculous linguistics…The point is the passion and commitment of the early church leaders not the imaginative way that Luke tells the story of their energy or wind, their passion or fire, or the story of their willingness to speak in ways that will help people embrace hope in their own context.”
This is a story, like many biblical stories, that describes what is happening in the context within which the story is written. This story attempts to put words and images to an amazing experience experienced by a community of people and described by one person. We don’t need to fight about what really happened or whether the events recorded are real or imagined. It’s important to remember that metaphor and allegory are very effective ways of communicating complex things.
What might people two thousand years from now say about our community here in Second Life? Maybe they will describe us a traveling through space to be together. Maybe they will describe our communication as telepathic. What is sure is that what is happening here will be described as a new thing, a way of being church that is different than before.
One thing I know for sure is that praying here with you each week is a real experience for me. I feel loved and supported by each of you and I hope you feel the same. It’s a leap of faith, even for me to consider that all of this is made possible by 1’s and 0’s in a world of computers. The holy Spirit will use anything at her disposal to help people connect, communicate, and pray together. And I for one am so happy that I live in this digital age so that I can come here each week and enjoy being with you. We are the church. Thanks be to God. Amen.