Broadway Christian Church · Columbia, Missouri
The Worship of God · May 27, 2012
Based on Psalm 104:24-34
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
God is clothed in majesty,
wrapped in light like a garment.
God stretches out the heavens like a tent,
spreading beams of energy over the waters.
Let clouds become chariots
and wind the wings of the Spirit!
Let us pray:
By the streams of the earth
You water every living thing,
and by the streams of your love
our hearts are bathed in your eternal presence.
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth, thro' all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art,
And make me love thee as I ought to love.
Responsive Pentecost Prayer
Nick Larson and Congregation
Spirit of God, we have gathered together in this place, to pray,
and to make ourselves ready for your coming.
Give us faith,
that when you come like the wind,
though we do not see you,
yet we may hear what you are saying to us
and discern your movement.
Give us courage, that we may not fear the tongues of flame:
let all that is unworthy, impure, and sinful be burned from our lives.
May we know that it is love that burns so brightly
and love that strips away our sin.
Give us an open mind, Lord, that the truth You bring may make its home with us:
truth to set us free,
truth to guide us and inform us,
truth to lead us in the way of your will.
Give us an open heart, Lord
that we may seek all people for your realm,
and set no limits to the proclaiming of your word.
Holy Spirit, with the whole church we wait for you
in every place and in every generation.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Please join me as we pray together the words that Jesus taught his first disciples, saying…
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
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.’
“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know ? ”
(Fire or Fire?)
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre –
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
These words from T.S. Eliot’s The Little Gidding (IV) always intrigue me, especially when they butt up against Pentecost and Baptism.
I am not certain Eliot had Pentecost in mind when he penned these words. But I find it hard to believe that he didn’t. He was a churchman familiar with the seasons of the church year. The symbol of the descending dove is always related to the Spirit, conspicuous at the baptism of Jesus. The language of flames and tongues and wind all come from the Pentecost story.
Eliot says that the Spirit shatters the air, setting our world on fire, and when that happens, we have to jump into one fire or the other, the fire of our existing world or the fire of the Spirit, from pyre into pyre, from fire into fire.
Many years ago, when my parents were living outside of Springfield, MO, they had built their dream home. One night, they smelled smoke. The house had caught on fire, and it was not a little fire. They escaped in the middle of the night, out into the snow and stood in the front yard, as the little, rural fire department could do nothing, and watched it go up as a great pyre. As I was a young adult and already out of the home, I remember hearing that story so many times. The one image I took away from that as they told and retold the story was the dramatic exit, the escape, leaving the house. That’s what you do, of course, when the place is burning – you run away from it.
And that’s why the language of fire or fire, pyre or pyre strikes me as so very strange. There’s not one fire any of us can remember running into. And yet, says Eliot, the shattering of the air by the Spirit causes us to choose one fire or another. Unlike my parents heading out of the fire, we have to head into the fire. But what fire is he talking about?
Fifty days after the resurrection, the disciples of Jesus were waiting in Jerusalem. It was the festival of Pentecost, a great pilgrimage festival that commemorated the giving of the Law at Sinai. Jews from the entire known world converged on the holy city. And that’s when it happened, the moment of fire or fire.
Like great wind and great fire, symbols of God’s Spirit, the presence alighted on each one as though tongues of flame. The experience of the Spirit was so universal that it transcended even barriers of language and culture. Each one present heard the other one as though in their own language. In a real sense, the Pentecost miracle is not one of speaking but of hearing. Can you hear me now? Yes, I can hear you.
After Peter told the story of Christ, we are told that the people were cut to the heart. They asked what they should do, which is a very good question. “We’ve had this experience of God, so now what?”
What Peter told them was to repent (to turn around) and be baptized, to experience the forgiveness of sin, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
You see, the first mystery is that we have to choose fire or fire; to be consumed by everything in the world or consumed by the Spirit. You have to choose and, unlike my parents who ran out of the fire, have to head into the fire of God.
The second mystery is how fire leads to water, because the fire of the Spirit leads to the waters of baptism. We free-fall into the water, because that is exactly what is required to become a new being, to pass through the birth canal, as it were, to die in order to get born.
How paradoxical it is to talk about walking toward the fire of the Spirit in order to find life and plunging into the water of baptism to find death, and then life again! Yet together, they tell the story of our faith – life and death, death and rebirth. Fire to fire. Be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ!
Thanks be to God. Amen.
As our young people have prepared for their baptisms, they have studied the Disciples Affirmation of Faith. This Affirmation comes from the Preamble of the Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It provides an outline of our confession, the essentials of the faith. Though we do not consider it a creed, which requires ascent, some test of fellowship, it does provide a way to give voice to the faith that is within us. It is a tool to articulate, explain, and teach the faith. And now we invite you to stand and join our baptismal candidates in reciting the Affirmation. It is in the classic question and answer format of traditional catechisms. We call it the Little Catechism.
Q: What is our good confession?
A: We confess that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of the living God,
and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the world.
Q: What shall we do with this confession?
A: In Christ's name and by his grace,
we accept our mission of witness
and service to all people.
Q: What is the source of life?
A: We rejoice in God,
maker of heaven and earth.
Q: What makes divine and human relationship possible?
A: God’s covenant of love
which binds us to God and to one another.
Q: What is the sign of our entrance into the one body of Christ?
A: Through baptism into Christ,
we enter into newness of life
and are made one with the whole people of God.
Q: How is God with us in our living of the faith?
A: In the communion of the Holy Spirit,
we are joined together in discipleship
and in obedience to Christ.
Q: What symbolic action stands at the center of our worship?
A: At the Table of the Lord,
we celebrate with thanksgiving
the saving acts and presence of Christ.
Q: How are we called into discipleship?
A: Within the universal Church,
we receive the gift of ministry
and the light of Scripture.
Q: What is the purpose and end of Christian faith?
A: We yield ourselves to God
that we may serve the One
whose kingdom has no end.
Blessing, glory, and honor
be to God forever. Amen.
A Prayer for the Baptized
Almighty God, You are God indeed, the God of all. You are God of our comings and goings and strivings, and you are God of all that we cannot master or manage, force or control. You are God of our hopes and dreams, our scheming and our plans, but you are also God of all we attempt to wall out, to wall in, to force-feed, but which bleeds through and around anyway. You are Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, the front and the tain of the mirror.
We encounter you, God, buried and risen, in the waters of baptism, both when we enter them and when we stand witness, inside the margins and outside of them, too. God in death and burial, but also God of birth and new life, God of joys beyond loss. In receiving your gift of baptism, we ask you to continue to teach these individuals to be your wide-scattered gifts, nimble navigators of boundaries and barriers, both those which wall up life and those, which nourish and sustain life.
We ask this in your name, the loving, the just, the merciful, the one God everlasting, in Jesus the Christ, and in the overflowing comfort of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And now, remember your baptisms. Remember the Lord of the Table around which we gather. Remember to whom you belong, and where he is leading you. So, we pray in his name. Amen.