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Sunday Service, 7th June 2020

Opening prayer

Living God, beginning and end, giver of food and drink, clothing and warmth, love and hope; life in all its goodness – we praise and adore you.

Jesus, Wisdom and Word; lover of outcasts, friend of the poor; one of us, yet one with God; crucified and risen; life in the midst of death – we praise and adore you.

Holy Spirit, storm and breath of love; bridge-builder, eye opener, unseen and unexpected, untameable energy of life – we praise and adore you.

Holy Trinity, forever one, whose nature is community; source of all sharing, in whom we love and meet, and know our neighbour; life in all its fullness, making all things new – we praise and adore you.

Holy God, faithful and unchanging; enlarge our minds with the knowledge of your truth, and draw us more deeply into the mystery of your love, that we may truly worship you. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God, world without end. Amen.

From the Baptist Union of Great Britain publication – Gathering for Worship

Hymn 112 God, whose almighty word. Listen here.

Scripture Readings  

John 14: 16–17 (NRSV)

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You will know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

Ephesians 4: 7–11

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

‘When he ascended on high he made
captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.’

(When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

Sermon by Rev. Robert Gemmell: The Church Unleashed from Lockdown

I have been amazed at the numerous parallels that have been suggested between our present predicament, living as we are with the coronavirus, and the period following the resurrection of our Lord and the coming to the disciples of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The believers were in lockdown behind locked doors, fearing for their lives. Restrictions were “partially lifted”, allowing seven disciples and our Lord to meet for breakfast by the shores of the Sea of Galilee. There may be more parallels to draw as we continue to see the easing of our lockdown – time will tell. I hope you enjoyed the service last Sunday morning led by the Moderator. I certainly did, before switching over to listen to Ann conducting worship from Queensferry and Dalmeny which I found equally inspiring.

Our annual celebration of Pentecost may have come and gone. Once again we focused our minds on what we have come to call the birthing of the Church, the coming in power of the Holy Spirit to the believers. What a terrifying, but at the same time enriching, experience it must have been for the disciples and the followers of Jesus.

What I would like to do in the weekly sermons over the next five weeks is to look at ‘the young church in action’ – to borrow a phrase from J.B. Phillips, the English Bible scholar, translator, author and clergyman. Call it cherry picking if you like but I suggest that we focus on a few of the many incidents from the Acts of the Apostles.

Depending on your theology, or maybe even on the denomination to which you belong, the emphasis of the sermon on Pentecost Sunday would probably have varied considerably. Certainly a common denominator would have been the coming of the Holy Spirit in power to those early believers: “Suddenly there was a sound from heaven like the rushing of a violent wind, and it filled the whole house…” to quote J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase.  From that starting point – views would probably then diverge – I have heard a number of Pentecost sermons with a very strong emphasis on, for example, the necessity for each of us to have a further and personal filling or baptism of the Holy Spirit – the need for each of us to have and use the ‘gift of tongues’ – all related to teaching supposedly centred on Pentecost. It is not my intention to focus on these issues. I will leave that for discussion within home groups.

I want to begin by acknowledging the power exerted by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, enabling Jesus’ followers to embark on a lifetime’s mission of service. However, my focus today is not so much on the power of the Holy Spirit as on some of the attributes of the Spirit.

First of all, Scripture, I suggest, presents the Spirit as a source of comfort. “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper/Counsellor/Comforter.” Think for a moment of incidents, moments in our lives when we have been aware of the comforting touch and presence of the Holy Spirit – in times of loss – loss of loved ones but also for some loss of employment, for others loss of dignity, loss of confidence, loss of memory and health.

Surely it was to help us deal with and work through these darker moments of life that Jesus made this special plea to the Father for a helper, counsellor, comforter to come alongside us.

Our blest Redeemer ere He breathed his tender last farewell
A guide, a comforter bequeathed with us to dwell.

A further attribute is that of the Spirit being the teacher of truth. “He is the Spirit who reveals the truth about God.” And in the words of our second hymn:

You came to interpret and teach us effectively
All that the Saviour had spoken and done. (Christopher Idle)

I am sure we can all look back to our school days and to particular teachers who had the extraordinary ability to ‘light up’ their subject for us and carry us with them to new vista and to a new understanding.

The Holy Spirit has been given to us, to open up the word of God for us, as we turn to the historical record of the Old Testament, in the inspiration we find in many of  the Psalms,  or the practical challenges presented by the prophets, the grace and salvation contained within the Gospel message, the teaching of the Epistles, even the mysteries that confront us within the Book of Revelation. Although I must admit I wish the Spirit would help me in dealing with and making sense of some of the passages especially the ones that I would describe as the killing fields of the Old Testament.

The Holy Spirit is also portrayed as the giver of gifts. “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them.”

You came with your gifts to supply all our poverty
Pouring your love on the Church in her need.

Lists of spiritual gifts are to be found in some of Paul’s Epistles – Romans 12: 3–8, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4: 7–11. Within these passages we are assured that we are all recipients of a spiritual gift, we are told that there are, for example, different ways of serving but it is the one Lord who is served, we are informed that the Spirit gives one person a message full of wisdom while to another the same Spirit gives a message full of knowledge… It is one and the same Spirit who does all this, giving different gifts to each person.

One important factor underlined by Paul is that no one particular gift is more important within the life of the Church than any other. Preaching, teaching, must be laid alongside gifts of administration and hospitality.

One other important reminder is that these gifts are given not to boost our personal egos but for the benefit of all and for the good of us all. I don’t think it is a coincidence that in the following chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he points out that: “I may be able to speak the languages of men and of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching, I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets, I may have all the faith needed to move mountains but if I have no love, I am nothing.”

Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost, taught by thee we covet most
of all the gifts at Pentecost, holy heavenly love.
(Christopher Wordsworth, Hymn 627)

The final attribute of the Holy Spirit I would like to focus on is that of a provider of fruit. The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, goodness and kindness, faithfulness, humility and self-control (Galatians 5: 22).

You came with your fruit for our growth to maturity
Richly refreshing the souls that you feed.

I see the gifts of the Spirit as attributes that we are given. However, when it comes to considering the fruit of the Spirit I see the process as more of a partnership with the Spirit. We are encouraged by the Spirit, but the process also involves perseverance, hard work and graft on our part.

I am sure we can all point to particular spiritual fruit that we dearly wish the Holy Spirit would help us develop within our lives as we grow towards Christian maturity. And I am   sure we are aware of particular fruit sadly lacking in our lives. If only I could become more patient, show more love and live my life with a true sense of humility.

May our lives be open to the prompting, leading and encouragement of the Holy Spirit as we acknowledge and use the gifts given to us, as we grow in grace developing  the fruit of the Spirit and remembering that the same Spirit is available to us at all times, as our source of comfort, the one who is there to lead us into all truth.

I believe John Bell’s hymn “She sits like a bird” is a celebration of the attributes and person of the Holy Spirit. Here is the last verse:

For she is the Spirit, one with God in essence,
gifted by the Saviour in eternal love;
and she is the key opening the scriptures,
enemy of apathy and heavenly dove.

Hymn – Spirit of holiness, wisdom and faithfulness (Blow the wind southerly). Listen here.

Prayer of thanksgiving and intercession

In long summer evenings when light lingers and sunsets have time to deepen from light pink to deep red – we offer You our thanks and praise.

We remember and hold before You people in your world where the fading of the light brings not only darkness but sadness, worry and discomfort. May they know Your light.

These are particularly difficult times for many. The global pandemic, civil unrest, division among neighbours, injustice and economic concerns overwhelm many. Minister to their needs, we pray.

We thank you for those caring for the sick, for leaders mindful of the needs of all within their community, for those who provide essential services and for those seeking unity and fairness for each and every individual. Help us to care for the world around us, for the people of today and the generations of tomorrow.

Ever-creating, ever-loving, ever-encouraging God, we offer You our deep thanks. Use our gifts, talents and skills in the world so that our lives may tell out Your praise, and where possible aid those who we have remembered before You today.

May our words, our actions and our thoughts change this world and change the lives of those around us and around the globe for the better.

Hear our prayers, we ask through Jesus Christ, our loving Saviour.

Amen

The Blessing