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An End and a Beginning

A Pentecost Service

The Day of Pentecost is a festival that could easily develop an inferiority complex if its liturgical value were measured by Protestant celebration.

Pentecost, like its first cousins Epiphany and Ascension, passes unnoticed in many congregations. It doesn’t possess the intrinsic “awe” factor of Christmas or the “wow” of Easter. But Pentecost is an amazing holy day. It marks the end of a whole season of resurrection celebration and the beginning (or re-energizing) of Spirit-led, day-to-day, rubber-meets-the-road ministry.

The Revised Common Lectionary readings for the Day of Pentecost, Year C, offer a wonderful juxtaposition of texts. On the one hand is the Old Testament account of the Tower of Babel, where human language was confused by God to thwart the destructive desires of human pride. On the other is the New Testament story of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in Jerusalem, where ethnic and cultural divisions were healed as, by the Spirit’s power, all heard the good news of salvation in their own language.

When Christians gather for worship, we often succeed in masking our self-focus, our pride, and our destructive desires—at least for an hour or so. We also become so accustomed to the “language” of our home congregation that the Word of God can be spoken but not truly heard.

The following order of service preserves the elements and the integrity of worship within the Reformed tradition, but reorders the liturgy to enhance and interpret the Scripture readings. These suggestions are designed for a small congregation with limited resources; however, they can easily be adapted for use in many settings.

As the congregation gathers, let the cacophony of the gathering serve as the “prelude.” The more naturally chaotic and energetic these sounds, the better. For the integrity of the beginning of this order of worship, I suggest that words of welcome, greeting, and announcements be postponed to the close of the service.

Call to Worship: A Litany of Pentecost (adapted from SNC 170)
Over the sounds and conversations of the people gathering let one person from within the congregation begin to pray:
Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of life,
in the beginning of time, you moved over the face of the waters;
you breathe into every living being the breath of life.
Come, Creator Spirit, and renew the whole creation.

One singer moves through the congregation from the side or the back of the sanctuary, singing stanza 1 of “Gift of Christ, from God Our Father” SNC 167 Another person from a different section of the congregation prays:
Holy Spirit, voice of the prophets:
you enflame men and women with a passion for your truth,
and through them, call your people to ways of justice and compassion.
Come, Spirit of Righteousness, and burn in our hearts.

Another singer, entering from another part of the room, joins the first in singing “Gift of Christ,” stanza 2. The two intercessors now interweave these prayers:

Voice 1: Holy Spirit, Spirit of Jesus: By your power Jesus came to bring good news to the poor and release to those held captive;

Voice 2: Holy Spirit, Advocate, Teacher: You speak to us of our Lord, and show us the depth of his love.
Come, liberating Spirit, and free us from the power of sin and death. Come, Spirit of Truth, dwell in us and lead us in the way of Jesus Christ.

A third singer, entering from another part of the room, joins the first two in singing “Gift of Christ,” stanza 3. A third intercessor now joins the other two in these prayers:

Voice 3: Holy Spirit, Wind and Flame: You filled disciples with joy and courage, empowering them to preach your Word and share your good news.

Voice 2: Holy Spirit, Spirit of Peace: You break down barriers of language, race, and culture, and heal the divisions that separate us.

Voice 1: Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life: At the close of the age, all creation will be renewed to sing your praise.
Come, Spirit of Power, make us bold witnesses of your redeeming love. Come, Reconciling Spirit, and unite us all in the love of Christ. Come, Creator Spirit, and make us new creations in Jesus Christ.

All who are able now stand and sing “Gift of Christ,” stanza 4.

Hymn: “For Your Gift of God the Spirit” PsH 416

Confession
Our God, we come in humility,

confessing who and what we are.

We are often unresponsive, for we are afraid.

When your Spirit speaks, we turn deaf ears,

for we fear what you might call us to do.

When your Spirit touches our lips,

we close our mouths,

embarrassed to speak your Word.

When the wind of your Spirit blows,

we close the windows of our hearts,

afraid the breeze will disrupt our ordered lives.

When the fire of your Spirit touches us,

we quench the flame, afraid of the new life it might bring.

Forgive us, O Lord. Amen.

RW 39, p. 33

Sung Response: “Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song” SNC 171
st. 1 solo, all on refrain
st. 2 choir, all on refrain
st. 3 all

Assurance of God’s Grace

The Peace

Reading from Genesis 11:1-9

Worship leader begins the reading by saying the following:
When human beings place our trust in our wisdom, our cleverness, or our vision, our pride of accomplishment and our selfish ambitions soon follow. Listen to the story of a great vision gone wrong. Hear the Word of God.

Hymn “Gracious Spirit” SNC 166

Reading from Acts 2:1-21

Worship leader begins the reading by saying the following:
The followers of Jesus were fresh out of cleverness, vision, ambition, and pride, but they had the wisdom to hear and follow the command of Jesus to wait in the city and pray. Listen now to the extraordinary events that took place the day the Holy Spirit came in power.

Sermon

Prayers of the Church

Offering Hymn: “I Offer My Life” SNC 218

Thanksgiving
We have our treasure in earthen vessels,
but you, O Holy Spirit, when you live in us,
you live in what is infinitely lower.
Spirit of holiness,
you live in the midst of impurity and corruption.
Spirit of wisdom,
you live in the midst of foolishness.
Spirit of truth,
you live in us who are deluded.
O continue to dwell there,
you who do not seek a definable dwelling place,
for you would seek it there in vain.
Creator and Redeemer,
make a dwelling for yourself.
O continue to dwell there,
that one day you may finally be pleased
by the dwelling which you prepared in my heart,
foolish, deceiving, and impure as it is.
from The Prayers of Kierkegaard by Perry LeFevre, University of Chicago Press, 1956

The Lord’s Prayer

Charge and Benediction

“Go to the World” SNC 294
The verses will be sung on our behalf as a solo but the congregation is asked to join with “alleluia” at the end of each stanza.

 

Excerpt

Bulletin Note: Preparation in Worship

In order for the world to go on, God must sustain any goodness—underwrite it, so to speak—because the tendency of the fallen world is to keep falling. The allure of stars for their planets or atoms for one another is a template of love, but the entropy of the galaxies, their tendency to spin away from each another unless gravity draws them together—is an emblem of our mortal state as well. Sin is easy, the default; goodness requires a contrary energy. Strong leaders need very few examples to learn to dominate and destroy. Reining in a tyrant, however, requires enormous effort and sometimes terrible cost: constitutions, diplomacy, massive popular resistance, even armies and ugly wars. Ordinary individuals do not need courses or therapy to become selfish and irresponsible. But for honesty, kindness, and faithfulness to flourish, people need good models and hard work. . . . This is simply the way it is. A child is born crying; only a great effort of love will teach her to smile.

—Debra Rienstra, So Much More
Jossey-Bass 2005, p. 50