Reflections, Prayers, & Music


Courtesy of Rev. Susan Pfeil

The Day of Pentecost

United Congregational Church, Norwalk, Connecticut

May 31, 2020

 

(Acts 2:1-21 NRSV; Joel 2:28-32 NRSV)

 

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, “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.’ (Acts 2:1-21 NRSV) (Joel 2:28-32 NRSV)

 

**

John 20:19-23 (NRSV)

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the

sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:19-23 NRSV)

The Day of Pentecost

“Spirit Poured Out”

Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)

Rev. Susan M. Pfeil

 

God’s Spirit Poured Out- Today, if we were together in church, we would wear red. And our paraments would also be red to remind us of the tongues of flame which settled on Jesus’ followers as they received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. We know that the disciples were instructed to remain in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit in the next few days. Jesus said, “…wait there for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4 NRSV). So, 120 believers were gathered in Jerusalem (1:15). And the men and women were praising God. “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers” (1:14). There was a spirit of expectation, of awareness, of longing for a power greater than themselves to accept them and dwell with them since Jesus’ physical presence was no longer with them.

 

Acceptance— One of the greatest gifts Jesus gave to this diverse group of followers was his loving acceptance of them in all their humanity. Jesus accepted Peter with all his passion (Luke 22:33 NRSV); Thomas with his insistence on touching Jesus’ wounds (John 20:25 NRSV), and his mother and the beloved disciple with their immense grief (19:26-27). On Pentecost the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out for everyone, people of all ages, men and women across the spectrum of human life. God’s abundant acceptance and love need only be received with gratitude and shared with humility.

 

Shavuot- In the Hebrew tradition Pentecost would have been recognized as the Feast of Weeks, Shavout, when people would bring their first barley harvest into the Temple for consecration (Brown, 283). This year, Shavout was recognized from sundown, Thursday, May 28th - Saturday May 30th. Years ago, a Rabbi friend of mine, Rabbi Emily Korzenik explained how this agricultural festival was also associated with the time when God gave the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai, approximately fifty-eight days after the Passover or Pesach (Korzenik). The festival of Shavuot was the second major pilgrimage holiday for the Hebrew people. The revelation of the Torah to the Hebrew people encamped in the desert at the foot of Mount Sinai has its parallel for Christians in the Day of Pentecost. Just as the gift of Torah brought God’s Presence alive to Jewish people, the Holy Spirit brought about the birth of life energy to the emerging Christian church (Brown, 284).

 

Tongues, as of Fire— What was the impact of the Day of Pentecost on the followers of Jesus? 120 believers were assembled in Jerusalem. They had followed Jesus’ instructions given before his ascension to “wait there for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4 NRSV). As they waited together in one place, God’s Spirit was announced by a wind that suddenly swept through the entire house where they were worshiping. A divided tongue of fire rested on each of the assembled (2:2-3). The symbols of wind and flame were not a new sign to these believers. It reminded them of the fire and smoke as Moses went up to God on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. After all, these believers were also in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot! In Jerusalem, no less than at Sinai, these believers felt God’s power in those moments.

 

Each Their Own Language— And they began to speak in a new way that was heard and understood by many of the visiting pilgrims to Jerusalem. Simple Galileans, followers of Jesus, were heard speaking native languages of visitors from Greece, Rome, parts of Asia, or Egypt (2:7-11). Those speaking foreign languages were not timid in these moments. What was happening? Bystanders made the assumption that these people were drunk! But Peter stood up and said, “Indeed, these are not drunk... for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel” (2:15-16). Apostle Peter was quick to recognize this revelation as the fulfillment of prophecy from the Prophet Joel. Joel had said that there would be a time when God’s Spirit would be given to all people, not just the Israelites. This powerful Spirit would fall upon young and old alike, upon slave and free, men and women together. This time of visions and dreams would also be a time of tremendous upheaval in heaven and on earth and all who called upon God’s name would be saved (2:17- 21). Peter taught the crowd assembled that this energy, which had so filled the 120 people, was none other than the living Spirit of Jesus Christ, both Lord and Messiah, who had just been crucified during the Passover festival a little over 50 days ago (2:36). With the celebration of Pentecost, the life of the Christian Church began. This is the day when the Christian Church was born. Pentecost is a day for celebration. This is a day for being awake and being bold to find ways to use our gifts to be in mission for the needs of our church and needs across the globe.

 

Given to the Community— The Spirit is not given to an individual but is given to glorify God though individuals working together within the body of Christ. Aesop’s Fable, “A Bundle of Sticks” describes how much stronger individuals are when they relate to one another in community.

 

The Bundle of Sticks— Aesop’s Fable

An old man on the point of death summoned his sons around him to give them

some parting advice. He ordered his servants to bring in a [bundle] of sticks, and

said to his eldest son: "Break it." The son strained and strained, but with all his efforts was unable to break the bundle. The other sons also tried, but none of them was successful. "Untie the bundle," said the father, "and each of you take a stick." When they had done so, he called out to them: "Now, break," and each stick was easily broken. "You see my meaning," said their father. [“There is strength in unity.”] (Aesop’s Fable)

 

We can apply the lesson of this fable to serving God as part of a community contrasted with relying only on one’s strength. Relying only on one’s strength can leave us tired, resentful and ultimately, isolated from others. When individuals join together to do God’s work, they will not be broken but will be able to learn from one another and use their best gifts and value the gifts in others as well. So, the coming of the Spirit launches the apostles into an adult faith community of believers who are connected, through the Spirit, not only to each other but with the centuries of tradition that have come before them, and with the promise and fulfillment that lies ahead of them.

 

Receiving God’s Spirit- The Spirit of God can be received but not be contained or limited by a few. The Spirit has always been with us from the beginning of time across the saving history into the present day. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2 NRSV). The Spirit

brought life at the beginning of time and the Spirit brings life to us today.

The Spirit Alive Today- Where do we see the Spirit alive today? We have been created “in God’s likeness” and have been given “unfathomable freedom” (Alter, 115). How do we receive God’s Spirit and work in the mission with the Holy Spirit? I believe we receive God’s gifts as we continue in covenant with the worshiping community, the church, both local and global. The creativity and energy of the Spirit has drawn people together in record numbers to worship during the social isolation of Covid-19, using Zoom, or streaming, and other aspects of the internet, including email and our own webpage. Sometimes awareness of the larger church at worship helps to strengthen our faith! We get a new perspective of the God who helps us to remember that we are unconditionally “accepted by a power that is greater than [we are]” (Migliore citing Tillich,177). What a blessing such awareness can bring to us. For those of us who may be very competitive, we don’t have to prove ourselves to anyone because we have reached the mark with God through Jesus in whom lies “the basis of our dignity, our worth, our human rights, and our human responsibilities” (Migliore, 177). On this Day of Pentecost may we know we are fully accepted by God, not because of what we have done but because of who God is, and because we are invited to receive God’s love poured out in the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

References:

Aesop. “The Bundle of Sticks.”

https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/35/aesops-fables/376/the-bundle-of-sticks. Retrieved May 26,2020

Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books, 1981.

Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to The New Testament, New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Korzenik, Rabbi Emily. Conversation May 9, 2008.

Migliori, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Grand

Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991.

 

**

Pastoral Prayers for The Day of Pentecost, May 31, 2020

 

Almighty God,

at the Feast of Pentecost

you sent your Holy Spirit to the disciples,

filling them with joy and boldness

to preach the gospel;

empower us with that same Spirit

to witness to your redeeming love

and draw all people to you;

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

(Adapted from Day of Pentecost, Prayer of the Day, Book of Common Worship Presbyterian

                Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1993, p. 339)

 

**

 

Litany for Pentecost: A

 

 

Holy Spirit, Creator,

in the beginning you moved over the waters.

From your breath all creation drew life.

Without you, life turns to dust.

 

Come, Holy Spirit!

 

Holy Spirit, Counselor,

by your inspiration, the prophets spoke and acted in faith.

You clothed them in power to be bearers of your Word.

 

Come, Holy Spirit!

 

Holy Spirit, Power,

you came as fire to Jesus’ disciples;

you gave them voice before the rulers of this world.

 

Come, Holy Spirit!

 

Holy Spirit, Sanctifier,

you created us children of God;

you make us the living temple of your presence;

you intercede within us with sighs too deep for words.

 

Come, Holy Spirit!

 

Holy Spirit, Giver of life,

you guide and make holy the church you create;

you give gifts—

            the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

            the spirit of counsel and fortitude,

            the spirit of knowledge and piety,

            the spirit of the fear of the Lord,

that the whole creation may become what you want it to be.

 

Come, Holy Spirit!

 

True and only Light,

from whom comes every good gift:

Send your Spirit into our lives

With the power of a mighty wind.

Open the horizons of our minds

by the flame of your wisdom.

Loosen our tongues to show your praise,

for only in your Spirit can we voice our words of peace

and acclaim Jesus as Lord. Amen.

 

(Adapted from Day of Pentecost, Litany for Pentecost A, Book of Common Worship Presbyterian

                Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1993, pp. 340-341)

 

**

A Prayer for This Time of Covid-19

 

Our hearts and minds continue to be thankful for:

our first responders— police officers, fire fighters, EMS teams, chaplains and crisis telephone staff at hospitals, and for all first responder families.

We pray for the scientists and medical experts across our world monitoring the

movement of illness and death related to Covid-19, and for the development of   a vaccine to protect all of us.

We ask discernment for all our leaders at the national and state levels, as they assess

and implement re-entry protocols in our towns and cities.

We ask God’s protection for the safety of families and friends, many of whom have been

separated from us for weeks now, as well as those who live together with us.

And we pray heartfelt condolences for all those whose loved ones have died during this

unprecedented time, asking that the memory of the beloved will remain in our hearts forever.

We pray all this in gratitude in the name of our loving Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

**

 

Charge and Blessing

 

Go out into the world in peace;

have courage;

hold onto what is good;

return no one evil for evil;

strengthen the fainthearted;

support the weak, and help the suffering;

honor all people;

love and serve the Lord,

rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

(See 1 Corinthians 16:13; 2 Timothy 2:1; Ephesians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:13-22; 1 Peter 2:17)

 

**

 

Courtesy of David Thomas Organist

 

 

UCC – MUSIC FOR PENTECOST

 

2. Choral setting by William Harris 1883-1973

Sung by the Girls and Men of Norwich Cathedral Choir

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFmtpDQ1eyA&;list=TLPQMjgwNTIwMjDweJavy44t7w&index=4

 

 

 

 

SOPRANO SOLO

 

My Heart Ever Faithful from Cantata 68 (for Pentecost) J.S. Bach 1685-1750

 

Words:  Christiane Mariane von Ziegler (Librettist)

My heart ever faithful, Sing praises, be joyful, Thy Jesus is near;
Away with complaining, Faith ever maintaining, My Jesus is here;
My heart ever faithful, Sing praises, be joyful, Thy Jesus is here!

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBlXvUT9sEA&;list=TLPQMjgwNTIwMjDnoEunpC6wvg&index=5

 

 

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