Welcome (1 Corinthians 12:3-7)
No one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Preparation: Make me a servant
Call to Worship (Psalm 104:24-35
O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it. These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground. May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works– who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD. Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!
Blessed the Lord my soul
Call to Worship (Psalm 104:24-35
Gracious and merciful God, we come in praise and worship. In your love, through Your Son, you forgave us. By this forgiveness we are recreated anew. In joy of being forgiven, we sing praise to your glory. On this day, send us the Holy Spirit, Turn this worship from the demonstration of faith in you to an act of love that gladdens your heart. All these we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Scripture Reading: John 20:19-23
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."
For Christians, Pentecost is a very special day. However, Pentecost is not unique to Christians. Jews also celebrate Pentecost. They call it Shavuot. Jews count 50 days from the first day after Passover. Christians count 50 days of Easter. For Jewish groups, Shavuot is the festival of harvest. This was a real big deal for the people of Israel. They came out of Egypt as slaves. They spent 40 years wandering in the desert. After they entered into the promised land they began farming. Their first harvest was a joyful occasion as the settlers in the promised land. With joy, on the 50th day after the Passover they celebrated God’s blessings by bringing the harvest offering as they worshipped God.
As the tradition tells us, Jesus ascended to heaven on the 40th day of Easter. He taught them in those 40 days that God would send the Holy Spirit soon. On the Pentecost something dramatic happened to the disciples. As they were instructed by Jesus, they were staying in Jerusalem. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on them. With the Holy Spirit the disciples were able to speak in tongues. In this passage, speaking in tongues meant that people who spoke different languages could understand what the disciples were saying in their own languages. In other words, each disciple spoke a language of the hearer regardless of the abilities of disciples to speak or know these different languages.
The real significance of the Christian Pentecost is that it is the beginning of Christian witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Up until then, those who followed Jesus had no other purpose than following Jesus and being his disciples. Each one had his or her own motive. However, generally, those who followed Jesus had an idea that Jesus would be the Messiah they waited for. With Jesus’ death on the cross, this belief was shattered. As we discussed last week, things were very murky and confused after the resurrection. The disciples did not know what to do with the resurrection.
What changed on Pentecost? For the disciples, everything changed. When the Holy Spirit came to them, they suddenly spoke in ways that they knew God’s purpose in Jesus Christ. They came to witness clearly that it was God’s will that Jesus came, died on the cross and was resurrected. From the very beginning, this statement was very controversial. Many people did not believe it. Even today, people still argue that Christians made up this story of Jesus in order to start a new religion. Some Christians also think that resurrection and the coming of the Spirit are mythical stories that are not important to us today.
What is Pentecost for us today? Is it as meaningless as any ancient myths? Or is it something that we continue to celebrate as a very necessary and crucial part of Christian faith? Some Christians ignore it while other Christians argue it as the most pivotal event. In other words, some can live without it and others cannot live without it. Whose position is right? Does our faith truly depend on our stance on Pentecost as the event that shaped Christians? Does our faith mean much if we do not point to Pentecost?
In the reality of everyday life, like all events including Easter and Christmas, Pentecost is another seasonal marker that turns our attention to God’s will. Often we tend to conflate these signposts as something more or less than they are. At Pentecost, we give God thanks for the wonderful blessings we enjoy because God demonstrated God’s love in history. Indeed, at Pentecost, once again, God showed God’s faithfulness to the world by sending the Spirit to Jesus’ disciples who began the task of witnessing or sharing the Gospel with courage and strength to everyone without fear.
Christians understood Pentecost in many different ways. The coming of the Holy Spirit has been one of the most mysterious events in the life of Christians after their time with Jesus. We can certainly speak about how wonderful it is to receive the Holy Spirit and how we can speak in tongues. We can get excited about all kinds of miracles and the way the Holy Spirit guards and guides us. We can list many incidents where without the Holy Spirit things would not have happened. We can encourage others to receive the Holy Spirit, too.
The question, however, is not about receiving the Holy Spirit and showing to others that we have the Holy Spirit with us. To begin with the Holy Spirit is not something to possess. It is something we are possessed by. Those who are filled with the Holy Spirit may speak in tongues or do other supernatural things. Doing all these otherworldly things do not necessarily indicate that your life is led by the Holy Spirit by the way. The Holy Spirit does not always make people to be at peace, to be rich, or to be blessed. Indeed, there are many stories about people in the Bible where the coming of the Spirit put them in mortal danger.
What we see in Acts 2 where the coming of the Holy Spirit changed the disciples is that they suddenly became danger to themselves. They no longer feared authorities. They began preaching about Jesus in ways that people in authorities could throw them in Jail. Soon we will see in the later chapters of Acts, people like Stephen were put to death because they were filled with the Spirit and began to bring the Gospel of Christ fearlessly. Being filled with the Spirit did not benefit their earthly existences.
What does it mean, then, for us to be filled with the Holy Spirit? These early disciples began witnessing Jesus as the one from God and one sent to the world to save the world. For us, there is a mark that witnesses Christ in ways that are often overlooked and forgotten about what it means for us to receive the Holy Spirit or be possessed by it. Of course, the stereotypical image of the people filled with the Spirit is to convulse and speak in tongues. But, though those strange behaviours might be possible ways of displaying the Holy Spirit, there is something that is more crucial than speaking in tongues or convulsing violently on the floor.
For us, receiving the Holy Spirit or being possessed by the Spirit is displayed to others in forgiveness. Jesus in Gospel John speaks to us, “if you forgive sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” That is, being in the Holy Spirit comes with this heavy responsibility of being stewards of forgiveness. The world can experience God’s grace of forgiveness when we forgive them. Having this responsibility to forgive or not to forgive, however, does not mean that we are off the hook when we do not forgive others. Our sins, too, are on the hook. If my friends or neighbours who are Christians do not forgive me, then, I carry my sins and are burdened by them.
This stewardship of forgiveness is what is so dramatically different from speaking in tongues and bringing God’s miracles. Forgiveness restores humanity by resetting human relationships. Instead of judgements, punishments and destruction in relationships, by forgiving, we bring reconciliation and restoration. In places of anger and despair, forgiveness brings back love, hope and faith. Yes, as stewards of forgiveness, we can forgive or withhold or retain forgiveness. We can bring healing through forgiveness or continue hurt by not extending forgiveness.
There are many ways Jesus taught us to forgive in order for us to be forgiven. For us to seek forgiveness, we forgive first. Also we learned from Jesus that we seek forgiveness. Even in the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. On this Pentecost, let us remember that receiving the Holy Spirit is shown through our stewardship of forgiveness. We can be the agent of the Holy Spirit by bringing forgiveness or withholding forgiveness. Remember again our prayer: Forgive us of our debts/sins as we forgive our debtors or those who sinned against us. To forgive is to be forgiven. To refuse to forgive is to be burdened with our own sins.
O everlasting and ever-present God, You are with us from the beginning and beyond time. Your love sustains and nurtures us. We flourish in your presence.
On this day, as we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit on all those who believe and follow your Son our Lord, we thank you for your grace and mercy. By your grace we find our lives fully blessed in spite of all the difficulties. By your mercy we continue to receive your forgiveness as we confess our sins.
We pray for the world. Because people are unable to forgive each other and share your blessings with one another, our world is suffering wars, crimes, corruption, and unimaginable oppressions. The powerful are abusing their privilege exploiting the weak. Your blessings are being used as weapons to hurt the poor, hungry and thirsty. Your love is misused to put fear and terror in those who are meek and mild. By the Holy Spirit, O God, open our eyes to see the evil that is being unleashed in this world. Open our hearts to be on the side of those who are oppressed, broken and marginalized.
We pray for our country. Because we are unable to see your way of forgiveness, we turn our eyes and ears away from the sufferings of our neighbours. Instead of sharing our blessings and their burdens, we become selfish, protecting our own self interests. Your grace that affords us this wonderful life becomes at best tools to enrich our own lives. Send us the Spirit to awaken our selfish minds and spirits. Open our ways of thinking and being to witness your Gospel by loving others as ourselves.
We pray for our church, those who gather here Sunday after Sunday. We thank you for your generosity. You send us those who need help and wisdom. You send us those who require your love. You send us those who are seeking ways to flourish in life. For all those whom you entrust to us to share your love, we thank you. We ask that you will continue to bless us with your love. Fill us in ways that we can fill the needs of those who come to us. Help us to help those who come to glorify and enjoy you. Open the hearts and minds of those who come to us to receive your love. Open the hearts and minds of those whom you love so that they may share your love with all those whom you entrust to us.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Next Sunday, June 4, we are celebrating communion. As we partake in communion, it is important for us to remember how God through Christ loved us. Please prepare your hearts, minds and spirits. Come and join us.
June Birthday Lunch
Next Sunday, after the service, we are celebrating with everyone who has a birthday in June. Come and join us.
June BBQ Potluck
On Friday, June 23, at 5 pm we are inviting everyone to join us for Year Ending BBQ Potluck or Beginning of Summer Season BBQ Potluck. We will have BBQ ready. Everyone is encouraged to bring whatever delicious food they like to share on that day. Everyone is welcome. Bring your friends and family.
Lord the light of your love is shining