URC Daily Devotions Sunday Service for 5th June 2022 – The Revd. Ruth Whitehead

Order of Service

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Daily Devotions from the United Reformed Church
Worship for Pentecost Sunday
5th June 2022

photo credit: Pixabay / pexels.com
 
The Rev’d Ruth Whitehead
 
Introduction
 
Welcome to this act of worship for the Day of Pentecost. My name is Ruth Whitehead and I am a minister of the United Reformed Church, currently serving as Moderator of the South Western Synod. This is a service of Communion – you may like to have bread and wine ready to share.
 
Call to Worship
 
Today we celebrate the coming of God’s Holy Spirit, bringing life, strength and unity!  Let us worship God.
 
Hymn       Let All The World In Every Corner Sing
George Herbert (1593-1633)
 
Let all the world
in every corner sing,
‘My God and King!’
The heavens are not too high,
his praise may thither fly;
the earth is not too low,
his praises there may grow.
Let all the world
in every corner sing,
‘My God and King!’
 
2  Let all the world
in every corner sing,
‘My God and King!’
The Church with Psalms must shout,
no door can keep them out;
but, above all, the heart
must bear the longest part.
Let all the world
in every corner sing,
‘My God and King!’

 

Prayer of Approach, Confession, & Forgiveness
 
Let us pray:
 
This is the day when the Spirit came. We praise you, mighty God, for the Spirit which moved over the deep and helped bring all things into being.
You are our creator, and we love you.
 
We praise you, serving God, that you came to us in flesh in Jesus Christ, teaching, healing, living, dying and rising to show us the deep power of your love. You are our saviour, and we love you.
 
We praise you, empowering God, for the gift of the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus, sent from above to share your power and bring your church to life. You are our inspirer, and we love you.
 
Loving God, We confess to you that we know you have made us in your image,  but we fail in our efforts to be like you.  We destroy when we should create. We curse when we should save. We exploit when we should comfort.
 
Through your Holy Spirit, cleanse us and make us new, so that we may live the love we declare with our lips, as Jesus did. Amen. We pray as Jesus taught:  Our Father…
 
Prayer for Illumination
 
May the Spirit who played at the dawn of time
And who inspired people to declare and write down God’s Word
Bring God’s Word to life for us this day. Amen.

Reading:  Genesis 11:1-9
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Acts 2:1-21
 
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples 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 and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs– in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: `In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.  And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.  The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.  Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ “
 
Hymn       Loving Spirit
Shirley Erena Murray
 

Loving Spirit, loving Spirit,
you have chosen me to be –
you have drawn me
to your wonder,
you have set your sign on me.
 
2: Like a mother you enfold me,
hold my life within your own,
feed me with your very body,
form me of your flesh and bone.
 
3: Like a father you protect me,
teach me the discerning eye,
hoist me up upon your shoulder,
let me see the world from high.
 
4: Friend & lover, in your closeness
I am known and held and blessed:
in your promise is my comfort,
in your presence I may rest.

 

5: Loving Spirit, loving Spirit,
you have chosen me to be –
you have drawn me to your wonder,
you have set your sign on me.
 
Sermon
 
Pentecost – What on earth is going on?
 
We have heard two strange stories – of the tower of Babel and the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The first story sees God mixing up people’s languages and scattering them– the second sees God sending the Holy Spirit to bring people back together again.
I think if we ask the question ‘what on earth is going on?’ we get distracted and maybe even more confused.
You might read the tower of Babel story as a story about human pride being nipped in the bud by God. The people are united in wanting to ‘make a name for themselves’ and build their tower – God comes down and confuses their language and they are scattered and leave off building the city.
 
Try reading the story in this way when your church is next planning a major building project. For whose benefit is that building – is it glorifying God or the fund-raising committee?
 
Or you might find out that Babel is the same Hebrew word that gets translated ‘Babylon’ throughout the rest of Hebrew scripture. Then you might read this story as one in which God condemns the empire of Babylon, and any other power on earth that will impose one language on an occupied people.
 
Try reading the story in this way as you hear news of invasions and occupations. Or, nearer to home, ask whether your church is taking the right steps to open up to many language and cultures.
 
Or in a third understanding, you might remember that God tells Noah and his sons, just 2 chapters earlier in Genesis, to spread out and fill all corners of the earth. This settling and building and being entirely monocultural and static is contrary to God’s will.
 
Try reading the story in this way when you are wondering whether you have the energy to change, or move, or re-think church.
 
But if instead of ‘What on earth is going on?’ we ask ‘What is God doing?’ – especially ‘What is the God of love doing?’ we might read the story differently.
 
I think I had always read this story as a rich myth which explains why there are so many languages on earth – but I have long been bothered by the idea that God is peeved at these uppity humans and their tall tower, and decides to punish them with diversity and confusion and many different languages. How can they possibly get along, let alone organise themselves into building something worthwhile, if they don’t even speak the same language?
 
And yet, watch a group of little children playing when they come from different cultures and speak different languages, or when they are too young to have much language…they cope, they find a common sense of fun and play and concern which supersedes diversity of language. What is God doing?
 
What is the God of love doing? – What if we read the story assuming that God is not peevish and irritated, but loving and wanting the best for people. There is a whole rich world to enjoy, and it feels like the human tribe – just speaking one language – has got stuck. “Let’s build a tower and make a name for ourselves”, they say. You can imagine the planning committee saying ‘when we’re gone, people will see the tower and know we were here – in fact we could put a plaque on it. We could raise money by inviting people to have their names on a brick…’.
 
The God of love doesn’t want people to get trapped in projects and small-mindedness: God wants people to be fruitful and multiply and explore the whole earth. Maybe the mix up of languages was meant to make people curious about the world, embracing diversity and wanting to explore and expand their horizons.
 
The God of love does not want uniformity and oppression and narrowness…
 
…and so we come to the events of the Day of Pentecost.
 
What on earth is going on?
 
That’s the question on the lips of the crowd of ‘devout Jews from every nation’ living in Jerusalem. They hear the disciples speaking about God’s deeds of power – in their own languages. This is not an example of people speaking in tongues – a common language of love which has to be interpreted by another – there is diversity of language here, not commonality.
 
So what is the God of love doing?
 
God is enabling the message of love, shown in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to be shared with everyone and anyone. God’s love is not for one people, one language, one place – it is for everyone and everywhere, and the Holy Spirit provides the energy and equipment for the Good News to be shared.
 
God’s love is meant to be messy, diverse, varied, prodigal…it is for scattering and sharing and for sharing in a million different ways.
It seems that the message of the tower of Babel and the message of the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost are not opposites at all, where one scatters, and the other brings back together.
 
The God of love, like the sower in Jesus’ parable, continues to broadcast the Good News as far as can be.
 
And the God of love empowers the young church with the Holy Spirit, to go and tell all the world about the love of Jesus.
 
And the God of love continues to empower the church to be the messy, diverse, varied people who will be united in purpose – to invite everyone to the feast of life.
 
For the sake of the world God loves, Amen.
 
Affirmation of Faith
 
We believe in God, whom Jesus called Father, who created all things in love. We believe in the Holy Spirit, who was with God the Father from the beginning who co-created the universe, and holds it in being.
We believe in Jesus Christ – one with the Father and the Spirit –
who came to live a human life  and gifted the Spirit as comforter and guide. We believe in God who is three in one who was and is and is to come. Amen.
Offertory of Gifts
 
Almighty and most merciful God, out of the fullness of your gifts we bring before you this bread and this wine, our gifts and our lives.  Blessed be your holy name forever, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
 
Hymn       The Spirit of the Lord Revealed His Will To Saints of Old
G W Briggs (1875 – 1959)
 
The Spirit of the Lord revealed His will to saints of old;
their heart and mind lips unsealed His glory to unfold.
Amid the gloom of ancient night they hailed the dawning Word,
and in the coming of the light proclaimed the coming Lord.
 
2 The prophets passed; at length there came to sojourn and abide,
the Word incarnate, to whose name the prophets testified;
and He, the twilight overpast, Himself, the Light of light,
as man with man, revealed at last the Father to our sight.

 

3 Eternal Spirit, who dost speak to mind and conscience still,
that we in this our day, may seek to do our Father’s will,
to us the word of life impart, of Christ, the living way;
give us the quiet, humble heart to hear and to obey.
 
Communion
 
Prayer of thanksgiving
 
Lift up your hearts.  We lift them to the Lord.
 
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
 
We offer you thanks, Creator, Saviour, Giver of Life.
From the beginning you have made yourself known:
the heavens proclaim your glory and the earth sings your praise.
In wisdom you made all that is and you bless us with earth’s fruitfulness.
You are merciful and gracious, and abounding in love.
Yet from our first days we have disobeyed your will.
Long ago you called to yourself a people
to shine as light to guide all nations to your presence.
You led them to freedom; you revealed to them your Law
and taught them through your prophets.
Finally you sent your promised Son, Jesus Christ,
who shared our human nature and understood our weakness.
Born of Mary, he showed forth your love by word and sign.
Therefore with all your people in heaven and on earth
we say the triumphant hymn of your glory:
 
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.
 
He sought the unloved and the lost and welcomed all who came to him;
he taught us lessons of forgiveness
he brought us healing for our sickness,
and showed us how to live according to your will.
For this he was rejected, for this he endured grief and sorrow,
for this he gave himself up to death upon the Cross.
But you broke the power of sin and death and raised him to the heights,
that through the blood of his Cross and by the gift of the Holy Spirit
everything in earth and heaven might be reconciled to you.
The Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed took bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said:
 
‘This is my body which is broken for you.
Do this is remembrance of me.’

In the same way he took the cup also after supper, saying:
 
‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
 
Let us proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
 
Come, Creator God: renew the face of the earth;
come, eternal Saviour: remake us in your likeness;
come, Holy Spirit, transform these gifts:
that Christ may be known to us in the breaking of the bread and that we may be strengthened to serve him in the world. May we on earth be one with all Christ’s people, and, when all things are complete,
be raised up to be with him, with all those for whom we pray this day
and with all your faithful servants in the heavenly places,
the homeland which we seek by faith, and where Christ reigns in glory,
with you, Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever.  Amen.
Sharing of bread and wine – music – I Come With Joy Before My Lord by Brian Wren, sung by the AMC Men’s Choir.
 
Post Communion
 
God of a love stronger than death, you have given us new birth into a living hope through the gift of your Son.
God with us, like a mother you have fed us with yourself
and strengthened us for journeying ahead.
God of truth and power, you take our weakness and our sin
and refashion us by grace.
Gracious God, may the love which bids us welcome at this table gather all your children into one, in your eternal presence, whole and free at last. Amen.
 
Hymn       The Spirit Lives To Set Us Free
Damien Lundy 1978
 

The Spirit lives to set us free,
walk, walk in the light.
He binds us all in unity,
walk, walk in the light.
 
Walk in the light,
walk in the light,
walk in the light,
walk in the light of the Lord.
 
2: Jesus promised life to all,
walk, walk in the light.
The dead were wakened by his call,
walk, walk in the light.
 
3: He died in pain on Calvary,
walk, walk in the light.
To save the lost like you and me,
walk, walk in the light.
 
4: We know his death
was not the end,
walk, walk in the light.
He gave his Spirit to be our friend,
walk, walk in the light.
 
5: By Jesus’ death
our wounds are healed,
walk, walk in the light,
the Father’s kindness is revealed
walk, walk, walk in the light.


6: The Spirit lives in you and me,
Walk, walk in the light;
His light will shine for all to see,
Walk, walk in the light.
 
Blessing
 
May the Spirit comfort you in your sorrow
strengthen you in your weakness
empower you in your uncertainty
and enable you to speak to God’s love to all you meet
and may that same love of God – creator, saviour and inspirer –
be with you all, evermore. Amen
 
Sources
 
Offertory of Gifts from Worship from the URC order 1, all other material by the Rev’d Ruth Whitehead. 
 
Let All The World In Every Corner Sing – George Herbert (1593-1633) BBC Songs of Praise
Loving Spirit – Shirley Erena Murray © 1987 The Hymn Society (admin. Hope Publishing Company, 380 S Main Pl, Carol Stream, IL 60188)  Scottish Festival Singers, Ian McCrorie (Conductor), John Langdon (Organ)
The Spirit of the Lord Revealed His Will To Saints of Old – G W Briggs (1875 – 1959) unknown Seventh Day Adventist Choir on YouTube.
The Spirit Lives To Set Us Free – Damien Lundy 1978 Kevin Mayhew Ltd, Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk performed by the Frodsham Methodist Church Cloud Choir, accompanied by Andrew Ellams and produced by Andrew Emison and used with their kind permission.
 
Opening Organ Piece: Fugue in G Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (organ of The Spire Church, Farnham – 2020)
Closing Organ Piece: Toccata from Suite Gothique by Leon Boëllman (organ of St Thomas-on-The Bourne, Farnham – 2016)
 
Both pieces played by and received, with thanks, from Brian Cotterill http://briancotterill.webs.com
 
Thanks to Shree Morrisey, Esther Watson, Marion Thomas, Rhona Newby, Graham Handscomb, Kathleen Haynes and Diana Cullum-Hall for reading various spoken parts of the service.

Where words are copyright reproduced under the terms of Barrhead URC’s CCLI licence number 1064776,
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