Reflection and Prayers
Call to Worship:
Psalm 104 vv 1-2 and 34
Call Him good, my soul, and praise the Eternal.
I am here to declare my affection for You, Eternal One, my God.
You are indeed great—
You who are wrapped in glory and dressed in greatness.
For covering, You choose light—Your clothes, sunset and moonrise.
When You send out Your breath, life is created,
and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.
This zoom service has as its initial inspiration two services at St David’s, with more than a passing nod to a third. I wrote its first incarnation for the Sunday after Pentecost – Trinity Sunday – and a service which I led at Danygraig church in Risca, with a view to exploring some of the material within the context of Trinity.
The two services at St David’s were first one which Phil led, in which he reflected on the story in Matthew 15 of Jesus and the Canaanite woman and secondly Pentecost itself when Ray led our worship, supported by members of the Independent Office for Police Conduct. These were thought-provoking services, ones in which we were encouraged to think of ways in which our relationships with God adapt and change through time and space – especially for us who are Christians. I believe the services are still online if you missed either.
And then a fortnight ago Claire linked the lectionary reading from Luke 9 cleverly with the story of Moses, and we sang together ‘Moses I know you’re the man’ with its reference to ‘foxes having places to go’ ……but then Jesus and his people are movers and shakers. And I thought – yeh, I can use that too!
The thing that occurred to me was that there was a thematic link of sorts between these services, and particularly so mindful of the movement of the Spirit which marks this season of Pentecost.
I’ve called this thematic link ‘Pentecost Moments’.
Experiencing God in different ways is at the heart of Trinity and in this Season of Pentecost, we focus on how people have experienced God in Spirit. So what I want to do is suggest to you that the story of Pentecost as told also by Luke in Acts of the Apostles is not the only Pentecost – it’s by no means the only time God in Spirit has done her magic. We’ll use Bible examples, but we’ll also use examples from history. Because I want to remind you, and it’s not in any way controversial, that the Spirit is still at work and that we can and will still experience God in this way. What I’ve called a ‘Pentecost Moment’ is a point where something changes, something important happens, some shift in emphasis or direction. And all because of the Spirit.
We’ll wrap our readings up into this zoom reflection; in Church proper we might also have used some music. And we’re going to cover, just two or three minutes at a time, six ‘Pentecost Moments’. Two are going to be Old Testament examples, two will be from the New Testament, and two will be examples from history, one within the living memory of most of us here this morning.
Remember we’re looking for significant moments, moments when we notice a change of direction, a shift of momentum too, moments when the Sprit of God moves and….. well, let’s see.
Our first example – Genesis Chapter 1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good…”
Whether we think of the creation story as true story or allegorical myth, truth wrapped up in story, those who wrote down the Genesis account are very clear that here, God’s Spirit is at the heart of creation. From nothing, to something, from darkness to light, from chaos to order, from simple life forms to the complexities of humanity and human relationships. Here we have our first Pentecost Moment – the first of all of them – and the one with greatest consequence. Genesis also tells us that the light is good, and this then becomes a theme throughout our scriptures and our other Pentecost moments – there’s no getting away from it.
In John’s Gospel, the Spirit is most often called ‘the Spirit of Truth’. Truth and light also go hand in hand – we need that light to see what’s what, and as the writers to the church at Ephesus say “for the fruit of the light is all that is good, is right and is true”.
Pentecost Moment number one: Creation itself.
Our second example comes from Exodus Chapter 3 and, diolch Claire, the story of Moses and the burning bush. Let’s hear a short extract: (Read Exodus 3:1-10)
This is one of those Old Testament stories where God meets a central character and by discussion or by command, changes the individual and sets in train a change in the course of history. But in what way or ways is this a Pentecost moment? I think there are three small things which make it qualify. One is that God comes to Moses through fire – not quite light perhaps, but elemental in essence, and etherial for sure; at the Jerusalem Pentecost, the spirit settles on the disciples as flames of fire. Secondly, God promises to be with Moses in all that he needs to do. This is absolutely the same as the promise given to the disciples, and which we ourselves have inherited. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly too, is that we’ve already agreed that Pentecost moments lead to change; whilst there’s very much more to come in the Exodus story as a whole story-arc, here is the moment when Moses is given the leadership role, the moment when the liberation of the Hebrews is set in motion.
We’ll come back to the theme of liberation later on as well….
But now let’s turn to the New Testament, and first the story which, in part, inspired my thoughts this morning, spurred on by Phil a few Sundays back – the Caananite or Cyrophoenecian woman.
How on earth is this a ‘Pentecost Moment’? There’s no light or fire as such, there’s no wind blowing either. But I think there is a real glimpse of truth here, and truth led by the Spirit as well.
Jesus is tired, is feeling pestered, and frankly, when a Caananite woman comes to him seeking healing for her daughter, Jesus is downright rude in his response. Not only does he declare, as clearly as you like, that he was sent only to minister to the Jews – the ‘lost sheep of Israel’, but Jesus then calls her a dog. As Phil explained, there are some ideas about this passage which excuse Jesus’ behaviour, but I’m not going to try – this is highly offensive.
But then, our Pentecost Moment; the Spirit challenges Jesus himself in the words of the woman, and in that moment, Jesus – God in Christ, no less – changes his mind, changes direction. The daughter is healed, but so too is the relationship between Jesus and his ministry to those beyond the tribes of Israel. This becomes a real prelude to the events of the Jerusalem Pentecost, when the Jesus story really does become one for all nations.
Our fourth Pentecost moment, and second from the New Testament, is perhaps slightly more obvious: Paul on the road to Damascus. (Read Acts 9:1-9)
The story of Paul’s conversion is one which I confess I’ve had found difficult in the past, particularly when challenged by Christian friends who have themselves had ‘conversion’ experiences. Having been brought up in a family where both father and grandfather were Baptist ministers, and where both parental families were steeped in church life, I’ve never known any different; for me, baptism as an adult and active participation in church have been natural and rather obvious progressions. I’ve never had a ‘conversion experience’. True, I’m not a fanatic as Paul was a fanatic Jew, but my understanding of faith is no less part of what makes me as it was for Paul. For many of you, it will be the same or similar, I’m sure.
Saul as he was known is out to get the Christians. Saul sees a threat and persecutes it. Saul is the Pharisees’ henchman. And then, he meets Jesus on the road – the Pentecost Moment – and Saul becomes Paul. We have all the elements here, something mystical, bright light (dazzling to the point of temporary blindness – as someone who suffers from migraine headaches brought on by bright light, I know exactly how this feels, and know exactly why Paul would need to lie down in a dark room to recover). As a direct consequence of this challenge, Paul changes sides; Paul becomes not only a Christian, but one who is convicted to go outside the Jewish world, to preach to the Greco-Roman cultures of the day. More Pentecost. And guess what, he’s still a fanatic, he’s still someone for whom faith defines his very being. But the story in Acts chapter 9 is another one of those turning points, and it’s hard to downplay its importance.
Incidentally, I find the story of Paul less difficult these days. For me it’s an illustration also of how we can continue our relationship with God even if some of the fundamental things we’ve always held to be true are challenged by the Spirit; I’ll come back to that in a challenge to you at the end perhaps, but first, two more Pentecost moments from outside the Bible narratives. Because I think they still happen.
Firstly, what about 31st October 1517? Anyone recognise the date at all? We were not there of course! Well what if I were to say also that this is an account – possibly true, possibly elaborated, much like some of our Biblical material – from Wittenburg in Germany? What now?
Yes, the date when Martin Luther published his 95 opinions on the Catholic Church (possibly pinned to the door of a church, possibly just published) which were revolutionary and which were a major, perhaps the major contribution to Reformation in Europe. It was, of course, a movement which has created splintered protestant and non-conformist expressions of Christian faith – I’m sure that this was rarely the intention of the reformers. All the same, without this moment in history, we would not be here today for sure or if we were, we would not be worshiping in our particular style, led by a lay person and freedom to be ourselves.
How is this a Pentecost moment? Well, I think that it stands up to scrutiny on two counts. One is that change-of-direction moment we’ve been talking about, and the other is this idea of shining light on new truth. Indeed, if the reformation was not a Pentecost moment, then all that has flowed from that moment is, or at least has potential to be heresy. No, we believe such moments to spirit-inspired; we continue to draw on that, to proclaim the truth of the Spirit’s inspiration every time we meet as a church meeting, as a Synod, or as a General Assembly, that our governance is one long series of Pentecost moments in fact!
And finally, this one might surprise you, but I wanted to include a secular Pentecost moment, because I don’t think the Spirit works only with people of faith (though frequently, people of faith aren’t very far away). I almost used the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in February 1990 as my example here (and I think it qualifies) but in the end, I turn again to Germany, and this time, Berlin, in November 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall. (Actually, looking at those dates now, I wonder if the two things are related, in Spirit at least; worth some more thought perhaps).
The fall of the Berlin wall wasn’t simply and only a unification of a country divided by the Cold War. It wasn’t either just the culmination of movements inspired by Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika in Russia either though there’s no question that across Eastern Europe, the fall of communist or pseudo-communist regimes was heavily influenced by the Russian decision to weaken the Soviet Republic Union.
No, the fall of the wall was a hugely symbolic Pentecost moment, when people were inspired to move to freedom. Echoes of Exodus. The people understood that with freedom comes light; with freedom comes the power (and responsibility) to become outward rather than inward looking. It’s light and it’s change of direction. It seems to me to be a clear example of how the spirit of God can and will move, in and through people. That might sound a little trite, or a stretching it a bit when it comes to theology or even sermonising. But ‘God is love, and where true love is found, God is there’. Freedom itself is a loving concept from the off. Oh Yes, God was in the middle of Berlin that night.
So, as I said, a bit of a whirlwind introduction to ‘Pentecost Moments’. Creation, Liberation, Ministry, Change, Progress and back to Liberation again. But one of the things I think we are meant to recognise is that God, Parent, Son and Spirit, is and always will be at work in our lives. So my question this morning: ‘what are our Pentecost moments? What might they be for us as individuals, or perhaps more pertinently, together as Church. In what ways might you be challenged? How might your direction be changed? Where is light shining or wind blowing? What are – what will be our Pentecost Moments, and will we be ready for them?
Oh yes, the Spirit is still working her magic – and in writing that I’m reminded of a phrase which was used during the Pentecost Sunday service, and which seems to be a good way to end. At the start of Pride Month, we were visited by members of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, who talked to us about how they work to change policing attitudes to equality, diversity and inclusion, including gay rights. One of the visitors, Chantelle, not a professing Christian at all – in fact, an agnostic in all respects – said this: “Sometimes we need to move out of our comfort zone and be challenged. When we do so, magic happens”.
With the help of God’s Spirit, Amen!
Loving God, creator from the beginning of time, with us incarnate in Jesus, and our eternal comfort and help in Spirit, we come with our prayers for your world and your people. As we pray, we claim the power of Pentecost, the confidence which we don’t always fully understand ourselves, that in and through our faith in you, we can and shall be agents for change. Positive change, loving change, and life affirming change.
And so this morning, we pray for your people as they still experience Pentecost Moments. We pray for our own church as we continue to consider and discuss the way forward; we pray for our friends at Castle Square. We pray for congregations, denominations, and Christian groups everywhere in their commitment to the good news of Jesus, challenged to be faithful in the face of today’s concerns, and asking what Jesus would have us do to share his love. For we know that though we always move on, though change is part of being human, with you and through you, love is constant.
We pray for those for whom change has been brought on by circumstances.
For those under pressure at work or at home or struggling to get the balance right between both. For those who are without work, or as often, whose employment is poorly structure or inadequately paid. For those who household budgets are under pressure with the rise in the cost of living. We know that these pressures create personal tension and conflict, and that they frequently lead to unwanted or unplanned change.
We pray too for those who are experiencing changes in relationships. For those whose family life is struggling or falling apart. For those whose marriages have fallen apart, or whose relationships have come to an end. For those in conflict with parent or with child, with brother or sister.
We pray for those who are coping and have coped with other life changes. We pray for those who have lost loved ones, and for those continuing to live with illness and disability.
We pray for the displaced, for refugees and those seeking asylum. And for those in areas of the world living with war, with drought and famine, and with threat to their traditional homelands.
Loving God, in our understanding of you, we have learnt that change is part of our created humanity, and part of our relationship with you and with each other. Through all these changes, be with us, we pray, and be with all your people the world over,
For we pray in the name of Jesus