Worship May 31, 2020
Feast of Pentecost
Focus: “Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.”
—N.T. Wright, 21st century
Call To Worship:
Even after the resurrection, when the disciples
were weighed down with worry,
Jesus assured them that they were not alone:
“The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send
in my name, will teach you everything,
and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
Even after the resurrection, when the disciples
were burdened by their fears,
Jesus calmed their troubled hearts:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.”
Even after the resurrection, when we struggle
with our faith,
Jesus blesses us with comfort and hope:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace
I give to you.”
Especially after the resurrection, when our souls
are dry and barren,
the Holy Spirit blows through our lives,
bringing us new life. Alleluia!
Opening Hymn: Spirit of the Living God
Perplexing, Pentecostal God,
you infuse us with your Spirit,
urging us to vision and dream.
May the gift of your presence
find voice in our lives,
that our babbling may be transformed into discernment
and the flickering of many tongues
light an unquenchable fire of compassion and justice. Amen.
Readings: Acts 2:1-21, John 20:19-23, Litany for Pentecost
A Litany for Pentecost
L: On the day of Pentecost, followers of Jesus gathered, including many women:
All: Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, Salome, Susanna, Joanna, the Canaanite woman and her daughter, the Samaritan woman, Philip’s four daughters, Peter’s mother-in-law, women who had been healed and touched by Jesus and many, many more.
L: As the Spirit fell upon them, all hearts were opened and they began to prophesy:
All: Some used the utterance of wisdom, another the gift of knowledge, others became healers and interpreters. All used their gifts for the common good. In the presence of the Spirit, in the power of love, they proclaimed a vision of God’s shalom.
L: Today, we remember the women and men of history who have been moved by the Spirit to proclaim and live out God’s Vision of peace with justice:
(Let us reflect quietly on the names of men and women who have worked for a better world to honor)
L: On this day, let us lift up the names of those in our own lives who have witnessed to us the power of love and the Spirit.
(Let us lift up the names of those who have nurtured our lives and educated us in faith)
All: May your daughters prophesy justice and your sons dream peace!
L: Let the Spirit come upon us as we go about our ministry together, today and always.
Prayers: Hush Now in Quiet Peace
Closing Hymn: Every Time I Feel the Spirit
The God who made this amazing universe
is creating you anew every day.
Jesus Christ, the resurrected One,
offers you peace that never dies.
The Holy Spirit is setting your hearts on fire—
right here, right now.
Go in peace, and be transformed,
that you may change the world. Amen.
Go In Peace:
Freedom and Responsibility in the Age of COVID-19 — Ken Murray
Lament: A Day to Mourn — Jim Wallis, Sojourners
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 whole 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. Acts 2:1-4 (NIV)
On a hot summer day, an electric fan can really help to keep us cool. How does a fan help to keep us cool? That’s right, it keeps us cool by blowing air. I think I will turn the fan on now. Do you see any air coming out of the fan? Well, if we can’t see the air, how do you know the fan is working? There are several ways we can tell that this fan is working.
One way that we can tell that the fan is working is that if we tied some bright red streamers on the front of the fan, we could see them blowing. Even though we can’t see the air, we can see the air blowing those streamers. That is one way we know the fan is working.
Another way we can know that the fan is working is that we can feel the air from the fan blowing against our faces. We can’t see the air, but we can feel it.
Finally, we know that the fan is working because we can hear the sound of the air and the rattling sound of the streamers as they blow. We can’t see it, but we can hear it.
Today is a special day which many churches celebrate. It is called the day of Pentecost. Here is the story of how it all began.
The Bible tells us that on the day of Pentecost, Jesus’ followers were all gathered together in one place and God sent the Holy Spirit to give them the power to teach others about Jesus. Now, they couldn’t see the Holy Spirit, so how did they know the Holy Spirit was there?
The Bible says that they knew the Holy Spirit was there because they could hear the sound of a mighty rushing wind coming from heaven. They couldn’t see the Holy Spirit, but they could hear the sound of the wind just as we can hear the air blowing from this fan.
Then the Bible tells us that they saw what seemed to be flaming tongues of fire that came and rested on their heads. They couldn’t see the Holy Spirit, but they knew that the Holy Spirit was there because they could see the flaming tongues of fire just as we can see these red ribbons on our fan.
Finally, the Bible tells us that they knew the Holy Spirit was there because they could feel a sense of power. When they were filled with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit gave them the ability to speak in languages that they didn’t even know, so that they could tell everyone about Jesus. They couldn’t see the Holy Spirit, but they could feel power in their life just as we can feel the air from a fan.
The Holy Spirit is still with us today. We can’t see the Spirit, but we can feel it sometimes deep in our hearts, we can see it moving in our life, and we can feel the power of its presence guiding us through each day. (Sermons4kids.com)
Loving God, we thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to be our teacher and guide. Help us to listen and learn how to live our lives in the ways Jesus taught his followers. Amen.
Our Readings For Today
2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
2:2 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.
2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.
2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
2:14 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.
2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.
2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
2:17 ‘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.
2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
20:19 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.”
20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Living with Faith in the Face of Fear
by Rev. Paula Norbert
Despite the good news of the resurrection, the early followers of Jesus were very much afraid and uncertain of the way forward in the time following Easter. They had lost their teacher and spiritual leader. There was division and anxiety all around them. They were understandably afraid because their friend and teacher had just been executed by the government. They didn’t know whom to trust and yet, as they gathered that day, the Holy Spirit blew into their lives to inspire them to move out into the world and share the wisdom and faith they had embraced. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but as the reading from John promised, the Advocate, their helper, would be there to empower, comfort, encourage, and strengthen them in the days ahead To claim the same gifts today, we need only give our fears to the Wind, and open our lives to be transformed. Let us pray, Holy God, you spoke the world into being. Pour your Spirit to the ends of the earth, that your children may better understand our responsibility to one another, and our divisions may be healed by your word of love and righteousness. Amen.
Fear is a very powerful emotion. It can paralyze us and it can dominate our thinking such that we are literally unable to think clearly, unable to act. We are obviously living in pretty fearful times. It’s not that most of us are paralyzed by fear, but I think it’s lurking out there somewhere. Many people have been experiencing vivid dreams of anxiety and fear; they are seeing all types of threats in their dreams as we all try to process the times in which we live. This virus is an invisible threat, but it is real indeed for those who have been sick or are sick and for those who are caring for them.
Over 100 years ago, we know that the flu pandemic claimed millions of lives. People moved out of the cities to the countryside to escape the threat, or so they hoped, much as people did during the plague in Europe, centuries ago. And yet, like today, there were the heroic caretakers: the doctors and nurses who did not leave but chose to stay, despite their fears, to care for the sick and dying. I came upon a wonderful story in the New York Times in late March about a group of young nuns in Pennsylvania. The author had stumbled upon the story as she was doing research about her grandmother who was born in that time.
Writer Kiley Bense wrote, “In early October (of1918), the Red Cross warned that Philadelphia did not have enough nurses to treat and minister to the sick, whose numbers were growing rapidly. “The nursing forces of the city have been depleted by the war. There was a serious shortage in many of the hospitals before the epidemic broke upon us,” an official cautioned. “Now it is a matter of life and death.” It was in this tense atmosphere that the archbishop of Philadelphia called on nuns in his diocese to leave their convents and take up posts caring for the sick and dying across the city.”
She continued, “Although most of the nuns had little experience of the outside world and no medical training, 2,000 sisters answered the archbishop’s call. They signed on for 12-hour shifts, navigating the unfamiliar streetcar system through a city made still with fear. Dressed in white gowns and gauze masks, the sisters treated patients who represented a cross section of Philadelphia: immigrants from Italy, Ukraine, Poland and China; black families, Jewish families, and the city’s poorest, its orphans, its homeless and destitute, all in need of care.
They tended to stricken men, crammed 30 to a ward, with the dirt from their factory jobs still smeared on their faces and hands. Hallucinating patients tried to climb out of windows, tore at the bedsheets, threw glass tumblers at their nurses and begged God for mercy. In private homes, the sisters found parents dead in their beds while their hungry children cried in the next room. “The windows were closed tightly, and we felt we could taste the fever,” one nun recalled later.
They washed linens, served hot soup and mixed medicine. They brought water, ice, blankets and comfort. “The call ‘Sister’ could be heard every minute during the night,” one remembered of her hectic shifts. Another spoke about her initial trepidation on her first day: “I was struck, at first, with a fearful dread, for I never came in close contact with death but once in my life. But realizing what must be done, I quickly put on my gown and mask, and being assigned to the women’s ward, I began my duties.”
By the epidemic’s end, 23 of the sisters had died from the flu, joining the more than 12,000 Philadelphians who were killed in the six short weeks of the outbreak’s peak. In November 1918, the commissioner of health in Pennsylvania recognized the sisters’ work. “Without the services rendered by these good women many additional lives would have been sacrificed,” he wrote, noting his “sincere appreciation.” In December, the mayor of Philadelphia thanked the sisters for their help during the flu’s worst season. “I have never seen a greater demonstration of real charity or self-sacrifice than has been given by the sisters in their nursing of the sick,” he said, “irrespective of the creed or color of the victims, wherever the nuns were sent.”
(The New York Times, March 20, 2020, We Should All Be More Like the Nuns of 1918, By Kiley Bense)
We are seeing similar responses today of countless people who have been willing to risk their own health and safety to care for others in so many ways, and especially in the hospitals and nursing homes where people are very sick. Some of the medical professionals and other first responders have died because of their exposure to the virus and yet, people keep showing up for work, keep caring as best they can for the sick and dying. Their commitment to caring for the most ill, their dedication to their profession to the health of our nation, is beyond inspiring. They have found a way to overcome fear and move forward in the belief that they can and will make a difference. I trust that the Spirit of God is with them, whatever their beliefs.
Sadly, much like the flu pandemic of 1918, the most vulnerable, those who live in poverty, people of color, those with underlying health conditions and the elderly are all suffering in disproportionate numbers. We know that those who must show up to work to feed their loved ones are often those who make the lowest pay in the meat packing plants or as nurses aides or in other fields. And in other countries, in Brazil for example, this virus is ravaging communities where the conditions are so impoverished that there is no safety net, no masks available, and little access to any form of health care.
We passed a tragic milestone this week as we now that more than 100,000 people in our country have died. In a separate document, I will be sharing a piece written by the editor of Sojourners, Jim Wallace, who has invited faith leaders around our country to observe a National Day of Mourning, of Lament, on Monday, June 1st. The Union Church bells will ring at noon, along with church bells around the nation that day. May we all pause and reflect on the lives lost and pray for their loved ones.
On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God rushed in to empower many people to do something astounding: communicate with one another in a way that could build connections. Bridges were built and crossed in a moment, and the differences among them, instead of dividing, provided an amazing experience of the great power of our Creator to bring us together in love and hope. Beyond the differences of nationality and language that may have kept them apart, there was a powerful unity that was experienced by those who were there. Some were not really sure what it all meant, but the disciples felt it deeply and it enabled them to be open to the movement of the Spirit and believe with their hearts and minds that a new day had arrived and that the Spirit of the Living God would be with them always. May we be mindful of the work of the Spirit in our lives; may we feel empowered and encouraged in the days ahead, and may we hold onto the hope of a new day arriving one day very soon.
Freedom and Responsibility in the Age of COVID-19
by Ken Murray
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
We live in strange times.
All but the very oldest of us have never lived through a pandemic as virulent and wide-spread as the COVID-19 virus. Most of us are stunned by how quickly this virus has affected our daily lives and the lives of people around the globe. Six months ago, life was pretty much business as usual. There were plenty of problems in the world, to be sure, but many people were prospering and expecting that prosperity to continue. And then a previously unknown coronavirus emerged in China. At first it was mildly concerning, but it was not considered an emergency. As a result, the planning that should have kicked into high gear did not. In our globalized world with lots of travel, the virus spread quickly to the point that it is now found all around the world. It is also unusually easy to transmit, unusually infectious and, for many, lethal. And thus, the emergency began.
Belatedly, in most places, the public health response got going. Researchers turned their attention to the virus and possible treatments and vaccines. After initial snafus, production of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers ramped up. Lacking clear guidance from the federal level, most state governors put in place emergency restrictions to try to stem the tide of transmission. Hospitals in some communities became overwhelmed. Businesses had to change the way they operated or suspend operations altogether. Unprecedented numbers of people lost their jobs, at least temporarily. Congress did act with unusual speed to provide benefits to help relieve the financial pressure, but the aid was slow to get to those who needed it most. A sense of panic arose with all the uncertainty. How long would this go on? How will it affect me and my family? What is going to happen?
It was not a surprise that frustration and opposition to the public health restrictions began to build. At first it was sporadic. Later, it morphed into public protest rallies.
As I watched news clips of these protests two themes seemed to emerge:
- Frustration with the economic disruption that came about with the public health restrictions that had been put in place. This I understood. My son, Ben, is a restaurant worker whose restaurant was closed. Fortunately, he was able to get unemployment compensation to help tide him over until the restaurant, itself, got a Payroll Protection Plan loan and could put the staff back on payroll. But not everyone was so fortunate. Lots of people did not get assistance in a timely manner, or at all. Rents and mortgages went unpaid. Other healthcare concerns went untreated. Businesses went under. There was no certainty that all the jobs lost would ever be restored.
- A second theme was the loss of personal freedom caused by the restrictions that were put in place. People in the news clips said things like, “Who does the government think they are to tell me that I have to wear a face mask?” Or, “I am young and healthy, so why should I have to wear a mask or keep away from the beach?”
The question of personal freedom bears a closer look. We pride ourselves on the personal freedoms that are available in our society. In normal times we have been able to pretty much go where we want and do what we want. We can look for new jobs, choose where we want to live, travel to places we want to see and generally live as we want to live, within certain broad limits. It is a priceless part of our heritage.
But with great freedom comes great responsibility.
In our Christian faith, we try to follow Jesus, who teaches that the highest commandments are to love God with all our heart, all our mind and all our soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our Union Church covenant references this commandment as a guide to how we live and serve together.
What does it mean to love our neighbor?
It means learning to see beyond the tips of our noses. In our philosophy and in our behavior, we must learn that we are all inter-connected and what we do affects everyone else.
I have often used the image of concentric circles to visualize this. The small inner circle is us as individuals. It is human nature to think of this inner circle first. But we are challenged by the gospel to continue moving outward…
- To the second circle, which is our family.
- To the third circle, which is our social group.
- To the fourth circle, which is our neighborhood.
- To the fifth circle, which is our community.
- To the sixth circle, which is our state.
- To the seventh circle, which is our nation.
- And to the eighth circle, which is our planet.
We cannot focus just on the inner circle alone, or even the inner few circles. We are charged by the gospel to love our neighbor, and people in all the circles are our neighbors.
What does this mean in relation to COVID-19?
I find it frustrating, in this time of pandemic, to hear people say that they do not need to or should not have to abide by the restrictions that have been put in place. I want to say to them,
“People, it is not just about you. It is about you and everyone else. You may think you have a right to think only about yourself, but you do not have a right to engage in behavior that endangers other people. And that is what you are doing by not following the public health restrictions, because, by not following scientific public health guidelines, you are risking contracting and spreading the virus to others. And it might well prove fatal to them. Love your neighbor. Obey the guidelines. Stay with the program, which is, after all, temporary. It is the Christian thing to do.”
Generally, I do not say this out loud. But it is what I believe, based on my Christian faith. The parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s gospel provides the foundation for my belief. A lawyer, a student of the Jewish law, wants to test Jesus, so he asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus turns the test back on the man and asks him what is written in the law. The man replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells the man that he has answered correctly. But the man follows with another question, more troubling. “And who is my neighbor?” And Jesus answers with a story about a man who is robbed and beaten on the road to Jericho. In doing so, Jesus challenges the lawyer to look to wider circles of concern, beyond just himself, beyond just his family, beyond just his class, beyond just his social group, beyond just his co-religionists, to the wider circle of humanity. By this story we are challenged to do the same.
COVID-19 poses many challenges. It challenges our healthcare system. It challenges our health. It challenges our patience. It challenges our good will. It challenges our set ways of thinking. It challenges our behavior. It challenges us to be concerned about the welfare of all. It is a monumental challenge. But these are challenges we can meet if we remember that we are all in this together and faithfully endeavor to think of the people in the wider circles and what we can do to help and protect them, and then behave accordingly. And if we try, God will help us.
I look forward to seeing you, my Union Church family soon. In the meantime, please take care of yourselves and others, in a spirit of love and concern. May God bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you and give you peace.
Lament: A Day to Mourn
By Jim Wallis, Sojourners
We must stop. We must weep. We must mourn. We must honor. And we must lament.
verb: to feel, show, or express grief, sorrow, or regret, to mourn deeply
noun: a crying out in grief: wailing
As we pass the horrifying milestone of 100,000 American deaths to the coronavirus, we’re using the hashtag #Lament100k to urge people to pause — to lament. Of course, the sentiment falls short. As a friend said to me, we can’t abbreviate all these lives; we have to try to feel all one hundred thousand of them.
One hundred thousand people is 500 plane crashes with 200 passengers on board each one (there have only been 33 airplane crashes with 200 or more fatalities in world history), 33 times the number of deaths on 9/11, two sold-out baseball stadiums, 25 filled National Cathedrals, nearly the number of U.S. soldiers killed in World War I, and almost 15 times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. If a COVID-19 memorial were built today and no one else in the U.S. died from the virus, it would need to be almost twice the length of the Vietnam War Memorial wall to fit the names of all those our nation has lost.
One hundred thousand neighbors, friends, and family — grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, even children — are now all dead from COVID-19.
It is a marker we must not pass by quickly or easily. We must stop. We must weep. We must mourn. We must honor. And we must lament, which is to feel and bear great grief and sorrow, and reflect upon it.
To pray for the healing of the nation is to go even deeper than our horrible sickness; we must also see the national brokenness and signs of hope the virus continues to reveal. Our suffering has been painfully racially disproportionate, but our healing must be in unison. To lament means more than weeping and mourning; it also includes regret — to ask why this happened, to understand that it didn’t have to be this way, that we could have been better, smarter, fairer, more compassionate and just.
As we mark the death of 100,000 people in the U.S. from COVID-19, an unprecedented group of 100 national faith leaders — from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions, representing major denominations, national faith-based organizations, local congregations, and millions of people of faith across the country — are acting together. We have decided to mourn the dead and pray for healing in our respective worship services on May 29, 30, and 31. And together, we look to federal, state, and local elected officials to observe Monday, June 1 as a National Day of Mourning and Lament, a time marked by moments of silence, lowering of flags, interfaith vigils and prayers, ringing of bells, and civic memorials.
This unity across our faith lines and differences within our own traditions has been amazing to see and blessed to experience. To come together in our churches, to reach out to our Jewish and Muslim friends, and to appeal to our elected officials with a national hunger for a day of mourning and lament has been a deep encouragement and sign of hope for me.