Reflection – 23 May 2021

Here’s my reflection for Sunday 23 May.

If you’d like to join in our online worship follow this Zoom link. https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85061262911?pwd=SjFoODcvOVdFZUhTengxRVRkNzJPUT09

I am preaching this week – our worship session starts at 11.00 British Summer Time.

Mark

Sunday 23 May 2021 – A Reflection

 When the day of Pentecost had come,

            they were all together in one place.

            And suddenly from heaven there came a sound

            like the rush of a violent wind,

            and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

            Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them,

            and a tongue rested on each of them.

            All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.


Come Holy Spirit,

            fill the hearts of your faithful people;

            and kindle in us the fire of your love

Opening Prayer

Let’s pray:
Father, thank you that we are able to be here together this morning with our friends.
We invite Your Holy Spirit to move freely amongst us.
Come dwell in each of our hearts.
Equip us, challenge us, comfort us, teach us.
Inspire us as we learn more about your ways.
Father, as we meet now may we behold Your beauty and encounter your grace.
We ask all this in the wonderful name of Jesus.

Amen.


The Lord’s Prayer

As it’s café service here’s the quiz. They are lists of ingredients for cocktails

1Peach puree, Prosecco 
2Mint, White Rum, Sugar, Lime, Soda Water 
3Coconut Cream, White Rum, Pineapple 
4Whisky, Vermouth, Bitters 
5Grenadine, Tequila, Triple sec, Orange juice 
6White Rum, Sugar, Lime 
7Gin, Vermouth, Campari 
8Coffee, Vodka, Cola 
9Vodka, Peach Schnapps, Cranberry juice 
10Vodka, Gin, Tequila, Rum, Triple sec, Lime, Cola 

Answers start with these letters (but not in this order!):

B, BR, D, LIIT, M, M, N, PC, SOTB, TS

The answers are at the end. Have a go if you’d like to.

What has a list of cocktail recipes got to do with anything?

Any suggestions?

Well none of them would amount to much without the spirit!

And today is Pentecost.

Here’s or first song – Lord Send Down your Spirit

Though I wage war within
My broken heart cannot begin
To understand who You are
And how You love me

Lord send down Your Spirit
Let me receive Your peace
Lord send down Your wisdom
Let my trust in You increase

Though I fail to believe
My wandering heart longs to see
And comprehend who You are
And know Your mercy

Draw near to us
Come dwell in us
We invite You Jesus
(REPEAT)

Lord send down Your Spirit
Let me receive Your peace
Lord send down Your wisdom
Let my trust in You increase

Now I think one of the great things about being in a free church is that no-one can tell us what to talk about. We don’t have to do what everyone else is doing.

But there are some times of the year when it is expected that we toe the line.

One’s Christmas.

Another one’s Easter.

And the final example is Pentecost – or Whitsuntide as we used to call it.

I think that on those very important festivals it’s by and large expected that the preacher will talk about the subject at hand. Although I can certainly remember forgetting it was Pentecost one Café Church Sunday a few years ago. It’s more difficult to forget it’s Christmas or Easter.

So today I’m going to be somewhat orthodox and talk a bit about Pentecost. But I also want to talk about another festival that was 10 days ago. 10 days ago many churches celebrated the Accension.

Let’s have the first two of the three Bible readings today. The first one from the end of the Gospel of Luke just after that wonderful story about the Road to Emmaus.

Luke 24:33-53

They didn’t waste a minute. They were up and on their way back to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and their friends gathered together, talking away: “It’s really happened! The Master has been raised up—Simon saw him!”

Then the two went over everything that happened on the road and how they recognized him when he broke the bread.

While they were saying all this, Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you.” They thought they were seeing a ghost and were scared half to death. He continued with them, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over. Look at my hands; look at my feet—it’s really me. Touch me. Look me over from head to toe. A ghost doesn’t have muscle and bone like this.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. They still couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It was too much; it seemed too good to be true.

He asked, “Do you have any food here?” They gave him a piece of leftover fish they had cooked. He took it and ate it right before their eyes.

Then he said, “Everything I told you while I was with you comes to this: All the things written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms have to be fulfilled.”

He went on to open their understanding of the Word of God, showing them how to read their Bibles this way. He said, “You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations—starting from here, from Jerusalem! You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses. What comes next is very important: I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you’re equipped with power from on high.”

He then led them out of the city over to Bethany. Raising his hands he blessed them, and while blessing them, made his exit, being carried up to heaven.

And they were on their knees, worshiping him. They returned to Jerusalem bursting with joy. They spent all their time in the Temple praising God. Yes.

And then this from the beginning of the Acts of The Apostles.

Acts 1:6-11 (The Message translation)

When they were together for the last time they asked, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?”

He told them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”

These were his last words. As they watched, he was taken up and disappeared in a cloud. They stood there, staring into the empty sky. Suddenly two men appeared—in white robes! They said, “You Galileans!—why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky? This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly—and mysteriously—as he left.”

Talk 1

Now we probably know that the book of Luke and the book of Acts were both written by the same person. Whether his name was actually Luke isn’t clear – but it is clear that the author is the same because he starts Acts by referring to the first volume of his book.

So what we have here is a bit like the bits at the start of television shows when it says ‘Previously on…’ Luke starts his second book be recapping what happened at the end of his first one. The story of the Accension of Jesus.

The reason I want to talk about this is that it’s a really strange story. But it’s also a very important thing that the story is doing.

You see there’s a bit of a problem. Jesus has been dead, but then he’s been alive again. He’s been resurrected. Now there are clear indications that the resurrected Jesus was different to the pre-Easter Jesus. He appears and disappears in locked rooms, he isn’t recognised by people who saw him. But it’s equally clear that he’s got a body. He eats fish. He lets people touch him.

But Jesus has also let it be known that he won’t be around for ever. In fact he’s said that he’s got to leave before the gift of the Holy Spirit that has been promised arrives. And by Pentecost the bodily Jesus is no longer on the scene.

So the problem Luke has is this – where has Jesus gone?

The answer is clear – he’s gone to be in heaven.

Now a common picture of how the ancients thought of Earth, Heaven and Hell is this

With Earth in the middle, Heaven above and Hell below

We still use that type of language don’t we?

Someone who’s died is ‘looking down on us’?

The creeds talk about ‘descended into hell’

Luke, and the people he’s writing for, probably saw the universe like this picture. If Jesus is going to heaven he’s got to go up – to ascend. Problem solved.

But of course we all know that the universe doesn’t look like this. You don’t get to heaven just by going up. There’s no ‘stairway to heaven’ as Led Zeppelin put it.

I promise I’m not being sacrilegious in saying this – but you wouldn’t have got to heaven by clinging to Jesus’ feet as he went up.

Here’s how Salvador Dali depicted the scene:

So what did happen? – I have no idea. Just the same way as I have no idea how the resurrection happened, or what the precise nature of the resurrected Jesus was.

To me the ascension story is, like a lot of things in the Bible a story, a metaphor, an attempt to explain the inexplicable using images that can’t possibly ever tell the whole story.

Does it matter? Not really. But I think it does matter that we realise that this is what these stories of the ascension are – just that – stories to try and help us to understand.

We’re left with a mystery. And that is absolutely fine. What matters is the certain knowledge that we have that God was made known to us through Jesus and continues to be present with us through the Holy Spirit.

We’re having a bonus song today. Thanks very much to Beryl for pointing me to this song by Willie Nelson. It’s called Pass it On. It’s not religious as such but I think the lyrics have a very fine message for us all.

I can see indifference is the sign of the times
Seems to me compassion’s gettin’ harder to find
But if everyone would help just one and that one helps another one along
Like a fire that’s burning low, every log would make it grow, so pass it on

Pass it on to a brother who may need a helping hand
Pass it on to a sister, it may give her strength to stand
Love and kindness make a flame known by many different names
So pass it on, pass it on, pass it on

People say I’d like to help but I can’t get involved
And anyway I’ve got problems of my own I haven’t solved
Someday when we learn that no-one’s strong enough to make it on their own
I just hope there’s someone there who will take the time to care and pass it on

Pass it on to a brother who may need a helping hand
Pass it on to a sister, it may give her strength to stand
Love and kindness make a flame known by many different names
So pass it on, pass it on, pass it on
Pass it on, pass it on, pass it on

Talk 2

We’ll have our final reading now

Acts 2: 1-13

When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were blown away. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;
Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia,
    Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
    Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene;
Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes;
Even Cretans and Arabs!

“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”

Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”

As it’s Café Church Sunday it’s time for you to do some of the work.

Just one question to discuss – What do you think this passage is telling us that’s relevant to today?

You might like to make a few notes before you read on.

Some brief thoughts from me about the question I posed:

  1. It’s not all down to Jesus. As we heard earlier Jesus was no longer physically present on Earth. His job was done. He’d taught some wonderful lessons to the people he came into contact with. But they were all in one geographical area and at one time in first century Palestine. The Holy Spirt empowered his followers then, and it empowers us now, to spread that message of Jesus in new places and in these times.
  2. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Those followers of Jesus really weren’t anything special. Ordinary men and women. Just like me and you. But they were being entrusted to be the ones that would spread that message around the world. They did a good job didn’t they?
  3. The message is for everyone. But it’s important that we communicate the message in a way people can understand. And that might be different for different people. I’m not talking here about different languages but about communication more generally. If we are going to let people know about God, about Jesus, let’s try and talk to them using thoughts and methods that are appropriate to the 21st century, not that are stuck in ancient modes of thought (like the understanding of the location of heaven and hell we looked at earlier, or that are frozen into practices of being church that were useful in the nineteenth century but that probably have outlived their usefulness now.

Time for Prayer

Today on Pentecost Sunday we offer ourselves

to work with you Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

not just in our homes and in our local church,

but we promise to step out of our comfort zone,

to pray and to support your mission to the

unreached.

Enlarge our vision of the world we pray

and give us the strength, love and wisdom

to reach all nations, peoples and tribes

in your name and for your glory.

Amen

Our final hymn is I will sing with the Spirit by John Rutter.

I will sing with the spirit
I will sing with the spirit
Alleluia, alleluia
Alleluia, alleluia
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

I will sing with the spirit
I will sing with the spirit
Alleluia, alleluia
Alleluia, alleluia
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

and I will sing with the understanding also
Alleluia, alleluia

and I will sing with the understanding also
Alleluia, alleluia

and I will sing with the understanding also
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

I will sing with the spirit (sing aleluia sing aleluia with the spirit)
Alleluia, alleluia
Alleluia, alleluia
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Alleluia.
Alleluia.

Finally we will close by saying the grace:

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

and the love of God

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit

be with us all

evermore.

Amen

If anyone has any questions or comments about the above, or would like to talk to me about it don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Mark Taylor

07954 172823

newarkcongregational@virginmedia.com

Quiz answers

1Peach puree, ProseccoBellini
2Mint, White Rum, Sugar, Lime, Soda WaterMojito
3Coconut Cream, White Rum, PineapplePiña Colada
4Whisky, Vermouth, BittersManhattan
5Grenadine, Tequila, Triple sec, Orange juiceTequila Sunrise
6White Rum, Sugar, LimeDaiquiri
7Gin, Vermouth, CampariNegroni
8Coffee, Vodka, ColaBlack Russian
9Vodka, Peach Schnapps, Cranberry juiceSex on the Beach
10Vodka, Gin, Tequila, Rum, Triple sec, Lime, ColaLong Island Iced Tea

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