Sunday Worship 19 May 2024

Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today’s service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 

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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 19 May 2024

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd Cara Heafey

Welcome and Introduction

Hello and welcome to worship on Sunday the 19th of May, Pentecost Sunday. My name is Cara Heafey, I’m a hospital chaplain in Oxford and an associate minister for  Marston and Wheatley United Reformed Churches.  It’s an honour to be sharing worship with you on this special day.  Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.

Call to Worship

Come, fire of love, warm our hearts.
Come, winds of change, awaken our senses.
Come, Spirit of God, meet us here.

Hymn     Come Down O Love Divine
Bianco di Sienna, public domain. The choir of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney and 
used with their kind permission.    

Come down, O Love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity
mine outward vesture be,
and lowliness become mine inner clothing,
true lowliness of heart,
which takes the humbler part,
and o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong,
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess its grace,
till he become the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.
 
Prayer of Approach

Source of life,
imaginer, artist, and author
of such rich and beautiful diversity,
you have room to hold us all inside your love.
We gather here today to seek you, to praise you,
and to lean into the warmth of your grace.

Spirit of God, you are full of surprises.
Intuitive one, you know the needs beneath our words.
Teach us to pray with sighs, with groans, with silence…
bringing the wholeness of who we are
into the fullness of your redeeming love.  Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Welcoming God,
you invite us into your life-giving presence,
and we come as we are.

You know us intimately:
     our selfishness…
     our stubbornness…
     our apathy.
You teach us that the truth can set us free.

In these moments of quiet,
we bring you our own prayers of confession…

(silence is held).
 
God of grace and compassion, forgive us.
Redeem our failures. Restore our hope.
Love us back to life.  Amen

Assurance of Grace

In Jesus Christ, God makes all things new.
The former things have disappeared.
God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Sisters and Brothers, your sins are forgiven;
be at peace.  Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn     She is the Spirit
John L Bell & Graham Maule  © 1988 Iona Community, GIA Publications, OneLicence # A-734713  Sung by the virtual choir of Devana Parish Church of Scotland, Aberdeen

She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters,
hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day;
she sighs and she sings, mothering creation,
waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.

She wings over earth, resting where she wishes,
lighting close at hand or soaring through the skies;
she nests in the womb, welcoming each wonder,
nourishing potential hidden to our eyes.

She dances in fire, startling her spectators,
waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned;
she weans and inspires all whose hearts are open,
nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained.

For she is the Spirit, one with God in essence,
gifted by the Saviour in eternal love;
and she is the key opening the scriptures,
enemy of apathy and heavenly dove.
 
Prayer for Illumination:

Jesus said to his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

(John 16:12-13a)

Come, Holy Spirit, freshening breeze.
Breathe life into the ancient words of Scripture.
Let our minds bloom open, like petals unfurling.
Kindle within us your dreams for the earth.  Amen.

Reading     Romans 8:22-27

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now;  and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 

Music     Send Forth Your Spirit O Lord / Psalm 104
Sung by the Samoan Catholic Choir, Ashburton, New Zealand  One Licence

Reading     Acts 2:1-21

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 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: ‘People 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.”

Sermon 

It may not get the same billing as Christmas or Easter, but Pentecost is an important time in the Church year. It’s a time when we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the first disciples, as described in the reading we heard from Acts. Many consider this event to be the birth of the Christian church… the moment when a ragtag group of scared, grieving, Jesus-following Galileans get it together, step into their power and begin changing the world.
This is far from being the Spirit’s first appearance in the Bible. She’s been there from the very beginning. In the Genesis 1 creation story, while the earth was still a formless void, she hovered over the surface of dark waters of chaos. In the book of Numbers, she inspires Moses and the elders of the camp to prophesy. In Ezekiel, in a vision, she leads the prophet to a valley of dry bones and restores them to life before his eyes. In the gospels, she shows up at Jesus’ baptism, descending from heaven in the form of a dove. Later, when Jesus prepares his disciples for his coming death, he promises that the Spirit will come to comfort and guide them.

I’ve just been using female pronouns to describe the Holy Spirit, and you may be wondering why. My answer would be, why not? Let’s remember, though, that all our language is limited. It can’t contain God, any more than religion can. All the names and images we use are provisional. Indeed, the Spirit’s MO seems to be to defy containment and open up new possibilities.

Early Christians here in Britain used the image of a wild goose to depict the Holy Spirit in their art and illuminated manuscripts. I think there’s a lot to be said for this idea! Geese are more powerful and bolshy than the gentle dove. They’re noisy and disruptive. In the place where I usually walk my dogs, a footpath that runs between a river and a reservoir, flocks of wild geese often fly low overhead. It’s exhilarating every time. I hear them – a cacophony of urgent honking – before I see them emerge over the top of the hedgerow. Sometimes I can feel the downdraught from the beat of their strong wings.

Picture again the scene described in that reading from Acts… the stirring wind, the voices proclaiming in every language, the raucousness and joyful chaos that startled onlookers, causing some of them to ‘tut’ in disapproval… Yes, a wild goose seems fitting, doesn’t it?

What I love about the Pentecost story… and the work of the Holy Spirit in general… is the radical inclusion. The gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out lavishly, indiscriminately, all over everyone, just as was promised through the prophet Joel. Gender is no barrier. Age is no barrier. Social status is no barrier. Culture, race, language are no longer barriers. Not because they are erased, but because they are all made welcome and provided for. In this glorious moment, there are no barriers. Everyone is able to join in. They get to hear the Good News in language they understand and can relate to. They get a full, VIP, access-all-areas pass to the Gospel. What began as a huddle of believers hiding in an upstairs room has spilled over and out into the street. That’s the unruly, uncontainable Spirit of God for you.

If you carry on reading the book of Acts, you’ll find that the Holy Spirit keeps on overflowing all attempts at control and containment. There’s a great story in Acts chapter 10 about how, while the community of believers were still arguing about whether or not gentiles could be baptised, they notice that they’ve already received the Holy Spirit anyway. We may have our own ideas about who’s ‘in’ and who’s ‘out’ – the Holy Spirit delights in ignoring them.

Sad to say that a couple of millennia later the Christian church still expends considerable time and energy debating where to draw its boundary lines. What a mess we humans make of things. Paul’s words from Romans 8 ring so true: the whole of creation groans in labour pain, just as we ourselves see the state of things and inwardly groan with longing and despair. 
 
Today, I want to suggest – as Paul does – that the Holy Spirit helps us in our brokenness. We see her at work when we make our worship and worship-spaces more accessible. What are the barriers to full inclusion? How can we dismantle them? When we say that “all are welcome,” does this truly reflect the experiences of those who are different from us?

We see the Holy Spirit at work when relationship becomes possible, even when differences had seemed insurmountable. Perhaps, like me, you’ve been present in the occasional spine-tingling church meeting where emotions run high and decisions are costly but conflict gives way to grace and a loving way forward emerges. Those are Holy Spirit moments. Moments where the scales of confirmation bias and tribal loyalty fall from our eyes. Moments where we glimpse our fellow humanity, and the image of God in those we had “othered”.  

We see the Holy Spirit at work when our worship spills out of our buildings onto the streets and into our neighbourhoods. When our Sunday-morning faith spills over into the rest of the week. When belief translates into action. There’s a modern hymn that refers to the Spirit as “enemy of apathy” – what a wonderful description! The Holy Spirit kindles creativity and hope.

Perhaps you’re listening to this and you’re struggling to see where the Holy Spirit is showing up in your church. In the United Reformed Church, many of our local churches are closing. Many of our congregations are ageing. It may be hard to feel hopeful about the future. Just like those first disciples at the end of Acts chapter one, we may be grieving our losses, licking our wounds, fearful, disappointed, confused.

Friends, do not let your hearts be troubled. Our readings this morning speak directly into situations like ours. Jesus promised that we will not be alone. When hope is scarce… When despair overwhelms…. When we don’t know how to pray or what to pray for… the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, “with sighs too deep for words.” I don’t know about you, but I find those words so helpful. I cherish the idea (which is well supported by other Biblical examples) that groaning is an effective form of prayer.

I pray that our Scripture readings today will shift our perspective. We are part of something so much bigger. A world-wide family of Christians. Dysfunctional but beloved. Beautiful in our diversity. Woven together by the wild, uncontainable, and always surprising Spirit of God.

Come, Holy Spirit! Amen

Hymn     Holy Wisdom, Lamp of Learning
Ruth C. Duck, 1995; copyright © 1996 The Pilgrim Press OneLicence # A-734713  
sung by the choir of Upper Clyde Parish Church.

Holy Wisdom, lamp of learning 
bless the light that reason lends. 
Teach us judgment as we kindle 
sparks of thought your Spirit sends. 
Sanctify our search for knowledge
and the truth that sets us free. 
Come, illumine mind and spirit 
joined in deepest unity.  

Vine of truth, in you we flourish; 
by your grace we learn and grow. 
May the word of Christ among us 
shape our life, our search to know.
Joined to Christ in living, dying, 
may we help the Church convey 
witness to the saving gospel, 
bearing fruit of faith today.  

Affirmation of Faith

We believe in a living God,
a God who has not stopped speaking,
who bends the arc of history towards justice.
We believe in a living God.

We believe in God-with-us,
brother in our suffering and victim of our brokenness,
who breathed peace upon his friends,
and promised we will never be alone.
We believe in God-with-us.

We believe in the Spirit of God,
who dwells within and dances between us.
Healing divisions. Defying expectations.
Igniting creativity and love.
We believe in the Spirit of God.

Prayers of Intercession

These prayers have a ‘call and response’ refrain, based on Psalm 104:30…

Send forth your Spirit 
to bless and heal, restore and refresh the earth.

God of love, your creation groans
under the weight of human carelessness and greed.
We pray for forests and glaciers, oceans and rivers,
the air and the soil and the life they sustain.
We pray for communities who are displaced
or endangered by a changing climate.

Help us to restore balance in our lives
and in the ecosystems that hold us.

Send forth your Spirit 
to bless and heal, restore and refresh the earth.

We pray for places that are torn apart by war.
Where conflict is entrenched,
and trauma handed down through generations.
Where children are pulled from the rubble.
Where peace seems a distant, impossible dream.

Send forth your Spirit 
to bless and heal, restore and refresh the earth.

Breath of life, we pray for your Church.
Blow through us like a wild wind:
disturbing our certainties, stirring our hearts,
energising our worship.
Burn in us like tongues of flame:
illuminating truth, exposing injustice,
beacon of welcome and hope.

Send forth your Spirit 
to bless and heal, restore and refresh the earth.
    
Peacemaker, intercessor, advocate,
we pray for our relationships.
Help us to communicate well.
Gift us with language that’s expansive and inclusive.
Make us generous in our listening,
and courageous in confronting our own prejudice and privilege.
Warm with compassion hearts that are hardened by hurt.

Send forth your Spirit 
to bless and heal, restore and refresh the earth.  
Amen.

Hymn     Spirit of God Unseen as the Wind
Margaret Old © Scripture Union Frodsham Methodist Church Cloud Choir.
Accompanied by Andrew Ellams and produced by Andrew Emison  One Licence # A-734713  

Spirit of God, unseen as the wind,
gentle as is the dove:
teach us the truth and help us believe,
show us the Saviour’s love!

 
You spoke to us – long, long ago 
gave us the written word; 
we read it still, needing its truth, 
through it God’s voice is heard. 

Spirit of God, unseen as the wind,
gentle as is the dove:
teach us the truth and help us believe,
show us the Saviour’s love!

Without your help we fail our Lord, 
we cannot live his way; 
we need your power, we need your strength, 
following Christ each day.

Spirit of God, unseen as the wind,
gentle as is the dove:
teach us the truth and help us believe,
show us the Saviour’s love!

 
Blessing

May the Spirit of God
blow through our lives,
unsettling our certainties,
awakening our imaginations,
driving us out into adventure.
    
And may the blessing of God:
Source, Saviour and Spirit
be yours today and always. Amen.

 

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