The Parishes of Crail and St Ayle
Reflections for the Locked out - Locked Down Church from Peter Neilson
Penticost - 31st May 2020
Good morning and shalom to all my friends in Crail and St Ayle.
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
What a lovely coincidence that the weekend when lock down is being eased is the time when Christians celebrate Pentecost, the day when the locked down disciples were moved from the Upper Room to the market place, impelled by the Spirit of God who was about to take them on a Good News journey from Jerusalem to Judea and to Samaria, and to the “ends of the earth”.
That’s us, 2000 years on!
Pentecost is the Festival marking the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, and the birth of the church to be the new Body of Christ on earth, re-enacting the ministry of Jesus in our place and in our time. Back in the 1940s Professor John Baillie said that every church should do in its parish what Jesus would do if he was here in the flesh. At a time when people are asking what church will be like after COVID, I would settle for that as a starting point.
The Biblical account of this day teems with themes that touch on our times. A slow reading of the whole of Acts chapter 2 will send your mind spinning in all directions. Let me quote our whispering companion on this journey, St Bernard of Clairvaux, at the close of one of his sermons:
Truly if I were to include all that occurs to me in this connection, this sermon would go on too long, and would outrun your patience. (Sermon 6)
Wise man! I will stick with a few reflections and leave the Holy Spirit to teach you what I cannot.
Time to be quiet and wait in his presence with the simple prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Gathering into the Presence of God
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the 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.
Take a moment to sit quietly. Breathe in slowly. Hold. Breathe out slowly. Repeat a few times.
Imagine you are with the disciples in that room.
Listen for the sound of the rushing wind.
This is the very Breath of God.
In the beginning that Breath gave life to the first man of dust.
In Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, that Breath gave hope to the exiled people of God.
In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, that Breath gave the promise of a new life.
Breathe on me, Breath of God.... [Breathe in and out...]
Imagine others who worship with you.
Watch the flames resting on each person.
This is the very Fire of God.
This is the fire of God’s presence that met Moses and Elijah.
This is the fire of God’s purifying holiness that touched the lips of Isaiah.
This is the fire of God’s passionate love that burned in the heart of Jesus.
Rest upon each one, Flame of God. [Breathe in and out...]
Imagine the hundreds of churches across our land
Invite the Holy Spirit to fill them.
This is the very Life of God.
This is the One who floods hearts with wholehearted love for God.
This is the One who creates grace-filled harmony among God’s people.
This is the One who empowers us for bold witness and generous service in God’s world
Fill us with that love, Life of God. [Breathe in and out.....]
And in fellowship with the whole family of God,
near and far, on earth and in heaven,
we pray to Abba, Father:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name.....
Listening for the Word of God
Read Acts 2:1-42 slowly in three sections and pause to reflect along the way.
Verses 1-11 – the coming of the Spirit and the reaction of the people
How did the Gospel come to you in a way you could understand?
Verses 12- 36 – Peter’s explanation of the events and his focus on Jesus
What words or phrases stand out as “good news” for you?
Verses 37-42 – the response of the crowds and the life of a new Christian community
How far does our church mirror this first Christian community?
Reflecting on the Word of God
The Gift of God for all
I wonder if you skimmed over Peter’s reference to the prophet Joel as you were reading through. That passage is a keynote text for the whole of the book of Acts. It is an extraordinary prophetic insight into God’s purposes, far beyond the narrow nationalistic conventions of his time.
The Spirit of God is not to be confined to one people, or to special categories of people – kings, priests and prophets. God’s Spirit is to be poured out on “all people”. The Spirit will touch male and female, young and old, working in both heaven and earth, pointing to a new future called “the glorious day of the Lord”, and opening up the way of salvation to “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord.”
The Spirit is not for the elite. The Spirit is given for all, beginning with the confused strangers to Jerusalem who hear “the wonders of God” in languages ranging from the boundary of India, to North Africa and over to Rome.
And that was only the beginning. The geography of Acts changes from Jerusalem to Samaria, to Damascus and Antioch, across Asia Minor into Greece and Rome. The centrifugal flow of the Spirit is outwards and forwards, to the ends of the earth and to the end of time. God’s embrace is limitless. Peter was to discover that God’s heart was bigger than he had ever imagined.
Where is the Spirit moving the perimeters of our hearts to match the contours of his heart?
The Gift of Imagination
Joel associates the gift of the Spirit with the gift of God-inspired imagination – prophecy, visions, dreams, signs and wonders - the God-given capacity to imagine a new future that is not tethered to our memories of the past.
Many people are trying to predict the future beyond this pandemic, with various shades of optimism and pessimism. Pentecost is a day to pray for that gift of imagination, for visions and dreams, for prophecies and signs – not to revert to our yesterdays, but to be carried forward into God’s future.
Will our society be more content with less, more generous and more connected? Will we value more highly those who do the least glamorous work “on the front line” rather than worship at the cult of celebrity? Will we value our clear skies and fresher air enough to change our behaviours and shift investments to a greener economy? Will the increase in worshippers online, mean a mixed economy of church meeting face to face and digitally? Will the partnerships in community support continue beyond crisis care?
We will each have our own hopes and dreams of a better world. Ask the Spirit to dream God’s dreams in us for a world shaped by Jesus and his Kingdom.
A Colour Blind Future
One of the many tragedies of this time is the number of people of African and Asian backgrounds being affected by this virus. That is particularly so in the USA where COViD-19 is exposing yet again the fundamental racial divide in that country – what has been called America’s “unfinished democracy”. An American friend commented that this is not an “equal opportunity pandemic.” He described the death toll among the poorest communities (mainly African American) as a “holocaust”. [And the 100,000 deaths in USA is half the UK deaths in proportion to population.]
The Pentecost vision of God’s future challenges that divided world. Back in 1906 there was an outbreak of spiritual revival in Azusa Street in Los Angeles, as famous in the States as the spiritual awakening of John Wesley in Aldersgate Street in 1738. The latter gave rise to Methodism; the former to Pentecostalism.
One of the marks of that first Pentecostal movement was that it “erased the colour line” in churches in the Southern States for the first time. Sadly it did not take long before the cultural conventions squashed this expression of God’s new social order. But for a few years the vision of Pentecost was a reality as black and white worshipped together before their one Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He was the new centre. A new world came into orbit around him, repenting into God’s future.
Racism is a cancer that runs deeper than we care to admit. The problem has been reframed by Professor Willie Jennings of Princeton as “the colour of whiteness”. He points out that racism is not only about the White Supremacists rioting in the streets, but where the nicest people live with an unspoken assumption that “white” is normal, natural and the controlling paradigm. That is a Western heresy which finds fertile soil wherever “they” are different from “us”. It is never far from the surface.
Whatever our prayers for the future after the pandemic, we might want to pray for that Pentecostal love that is poured out on “all people” to erase the lines that divide us – locally, nationally and globally.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Responding to God’s Word and God’s Spirit
Come, Spirit of God, upon your church
in our land,
let the fire of holiness burn in her,
let the passion for the lost consume her,
let the love of Christ reshape her.
Come, renewing Spirit, come.
Come, Spirit of God,
draw close to those for whom life is hard,
in the midst of illness or in the face of loss
amidst family crisis or ravages of war.
May You reveal to them your love beyond words.
Come, comforting Spirit, come
Come, Spirit of God, upon our nation,
Grant us a godly vision for our future
in Scotland, in Britain and in the world
May our politicians be inspired by righteousness,
both personal and social,
May our land be a place of goodness and justice for all people.
Come, disturbing Spirit, come.
Eternal God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we celebrate with all who have received Your salvation
and enjoy the ecstasy of heaven.
With them we worship our Saviour
once on a Cross, now on his throne:
who, by his Spirit,
sheds abroad in our hearts
the love of God. AMEN
A Meditation before we Go
Breathe on me, Breath of God
Fill me with life anew
That I may love the way you love
And do what you would do.
Breathe on me, Breath of God
Until my heart is pure
Until with you I will one will
To do and to endure.
Breathe on me, Breath of God
Direct my heart’s desire
Till every part of me
Glows with your holy fire.
Breathe on me, Breath of God
So shall I never die,
But live with you the perfect life
Of your eternity.
[CH4 596 – Edwin Hatch (1835-89)]
Imagine standing with our invisible congregation, blessing one another and our community.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God the Father
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all,