Inspired by Celestial Fire
'Inspired by Celestial Fire'
A service for Pentecost Sunday, live from Emmanuel Church, Didsbury, south Manchester.
With reflections from Debra Green OBE, founder of 'Redeeming Our Communities', which seeks to transform neighbourhoods by bringing together community groups, churches, the police, the fire service, local authorities and voluntary agencies, aiming to reduce crime and disorder.
Service leader: Andrew Graystone
With the Manchester Chamber Choir
Music director: Richard Tanner
Accompanist: Jeffrey Makinson
Producer: Simon Vivian.
Emmanuel Church Didsbury, 19/05/13
This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.
It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.
Radio 4 Opening Announcement:
BBC Radio 4. It’s ten past eight and time now for Sunday Worship which, on this Pentecost Sunday, comes live from Emmanuel Church, Didsbury in south Manchester. The service, which is led by Andrew Graystone, begins with the hymn; Be still, for the presence of the Lord.
MUSIC Be still for the presence of the Lord (Evans arr Hughes)
ANDREW Good morning and welcome to Sunday Worship for the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost marks the day when the Holy Spirit overwhelmed the first Christians, appearing in a rushing wind and tongues of fire. It’s often celebrated as the birthday of the Christian church, and the start of the church’s mission to the world.
With me, here in Emmanuel Church is Manchester Chamber Choir. And a little later, our preacher Debra Green OBE, is going to tell us about some of the ways the Holy Spirit is at work today, reshaping and revitalising communities across the UK and the world.
So let’s pray together.
Holy Spirit of God, all life comes from you. Interrupt us and bless us as we meet this morning, just as you overwhelmed the disciples on the first Pentecost. Blow through our weariness. Enliven us and connect us and shake us from our complacency. Above all, help us to worship you with our voices and our hands and our hearts. We ask it in Jesus’ name.
MUSIC Come down O Love Divine (Down Ampney)
ANDREW We’re living in the most “connected” era in history. More than two and a half billion people[i] around the world now have internet access – that’s more than a third of the world’s population[ii]. When Africa and the Indian subcontinent catch up – and they are already well on the way to doing so – it will be possible for almost anyone on the planet to contact anyone else online.
The hyper-connectedness that human beings are beginning to experience in the digital era is just one further expression of the deep inter-connectedness of all of creation that Christians call God’s Holy Spirit.
The late Bishop John V Taylor described God’s Holy Spirit as “The Go-Between God” who confronts each particle and each person with “the beckoning reality of the larger whole”. It’s the Spirit who enables and embodies communication at every level of the cosmos – from making atoms and entities interact, to giving human beings the desire to live in community.
Without the Spirit, present from the creation of the world, Christians believe human beings would be unable to communicate, to recognise each other, to work together and to love each other. The Spirit is the “and” between you and I, and it’s by the Spirit alone that we can feel connected to God and know God’s love.
The Bible passage we’re about to hear, from the second chapter of the book of Acts, describes the first outpouring of the Spirit on the newborn church. The followers of Jesus – about 120 of them by this stage - were all together in one place, when suddenly they were overwhelmed by the Spirit.
One of the first things they discovered was that the Spirit enabled them to understand each other in ways they couldn’t before.
READER When the day of Pentecost came, the disciples 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 tonguesas the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? [Yet] we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last
days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
ANDREW The outpouring of the Spirit changed everything. I’m guessing that Peter and the others didn’t really have a plan. Though we know that they quickly started to organise themselves practically. Impelled by what they had experienced they got to work: speaking about Jesus, and praying, and feeding people, and giving things away.
From that first experience the Holy Spirit has continued to pour out, onto the community of Jesus’ followers and cascading beyond them, to saturate the whole world. And when the Spirit comes in force, Christians still find themselves impelled in various ways to speak about Jesus, to pray, to feed people, and to give things away.
One person who has seen the effects of that is Emma Gaze who runs a youth café just around the corner from this church
EMMA The Holy Spirit has impacted my life greatly and is the reason I do what I do today. As a former school teacher and now the Youth Pastor at Ivy Manchester Church, I’ve always had a heart for young people - a passion that God placed in me and the Holy Spirit has developed.
But this vision is not only for youth who attend church. Many young people are struggling with issues such as loneliness, low self-esteem, behaviour issues, lack of confidence, bullying and family problems and would never step into a church. So, a year ago, to try and combat some of these problems, I started The ROC Café, an after-school youth club at Parrs Wood High School in Didsbury.
The Cafe provides young people with a safe place to go to meet friends, chill out and develop community together. It’s also a place where they can learn life-skills which help with things like confidence. Activities include workshops which help to develop self-esteem and tackle issues that are affecting the young people.
Of course, there are lots of simple stories where just being a positive presence in the community can bring change to people’s lives. One girl from a broken family background, who was really struggling with her confidence, has grown so much that she’s now part of the team who lead the project. One young person who was being bullied has made new friends and has even joined the Christian Union we run at another time during the week and seems so much happier. Another young person described the project as ‘the living room I don’t have at home.’
The Holy Spirit inspires me to do this work and I am so happy to see the effects both inside and outside the church in the lives of those I love to serve.
MUSIC I will sing with the Spirit (Rutter)
ANDREW In a moment, we’ll hear from our preacher Debra Green who is the National Director of Redeeming Our Communities – a charity that links people in the churches and civic agencies to work together for social transformation. But before then, let’s hear our second Bible reading.
Eight hundred years before Christ the prophet Isaiah spoke about a figure who would come to save the people of Israel. Isaiah calls him The Servant of the Lord. In this passage from Isaiah chapter 61 the Servant speaks directly about the work he is coming to do. With hindsight, Christians believe this passage is describing Jesus, who identified himself as the Servant of the Lord when he read from this passage in his first public sermon at Nazareth.
BIBLE The Spirit of the
Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendour.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
DEBRA In the spring of 1904, a young Welshman named Evan Roberts began to wake nightly to pray for his nation, drawing strength in his faith from the Holy Spirit.
For many years, Roberts had worked as a collier in south Wales. But, having begun training for the Methodist ministry and speaking at gatherings, Roberts’s influence in the Welsh Revival grew to such an extent that he’s been credited with being one of the main inspirations to many tens of thousands coming to faith in Christ. "I felt ablaze with a desire to go through the length and breadth of Wales to tell of the Saviour," he once said.
The Revival resulted in a dramatic change in the nature of Welsh society itself which, in the words of Prime Minister David Lloyd George, “[rocked] Welsh life like a Great Earthquake”. Public houses became almost empty. Men and women who used to waste their money getting drunk were now saving it, buying clothes and food for their families, and supporting their local communities. And not only drunkenness, but stealing and other offences diminished so that often a magistrate would come to court and find there were no cases for him to hear.
So what inspired this change in the lives of so many? Well, for me the answer is contained within the event we call 'Pentecost'. As we heard in our first reading, the scriptures say that as the followers of Jesus were gathered in one place, a power from on high descended upon them. All of a sudden, there were big, measurable changes. Things looked and sounded different. Some outsiders even questioned the sobriety of those gathered together.
God’s Holy Spirit had been breathed on the disciples and his Church was born – a Church commissioned there and then to spread the good news of the gospel to all nations in all generations.
MUSIC If ye love me (Tallis)
DEBRA Thomas Tallis’s motet setting words of Jesus: “If ye love me, keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may bide with you for ever, ev'n the spirit of truth.”
And that Spirit of Truth which came to those early followers of Jesus is still with Christians now, creatively working through His followers to make God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
So how do we begin to experience the blessings of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Well, in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he writes about the fruit of the Spirit being “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. If we, as followers of Christ, can live with these words engraved on our hearts then we can be sure that “the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord” is on us.
And, more than this: our second reading this morning, from the prophet Isaiah, provides practical examples of how we as Christians can go about expressing these fruits of the Holy Spirit. We’re called to proclaim the Good News of God’s saving grace so that the world can be released from the darkness of the tomb into a glorious new resurrection light. We’re called to comfort the broken-hearted and all who mourn. And the Holy Spirit inspires us to rebuild and revive our ancient communities.
Echoing Isaiah’s commission and empowered by the Holy Spirit, Jesus went on to express the mercy and love of God in practical acts such as feeding 5000 hungry people, healing many sick, and turning water into wine at a wedding feast.
Such great miracles of the Spirit, are probably beyond us. But we are able to bring about many smaller miracles in the lives of those around us, as we seek to express God’s love today. In these days of austerity, such expressions of care as food banks, debt counselling projects and street pastors, which are springing up all over the UK, are perhaps the beginnings of a new revival inspired by the Holy Spirit.
I can personally share with you that the Holy Spirit has challenged us in this same way through the work of Redeeming our Communities - or ROC for short - a charity that I formed back in 2004 in the city of Manchester. Our work has now spread into nine cities and many parts of the UK where we’re finding solutions to social needs with real results such as reduced crime. As we heard earlier from Emma, young people are finding fresh hope through Christian initiatives inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit.Like those first disciples, we can do nothing in our own strength - only by the power of God through the Holy Spirit. So can I encourage you to invite the Holy Spirit to walk more closely with you, even as you worship with us today? Invite you to know the power and liberation that comes through living in His strength rather than in our own? Encourage you to see, hear and do things through God's Holy Spirit that won’t just change you, but, like Evan Roberts in 1904, could change a whole nation and beyond…
MUSIC Sent by the Lord am I (Nicaraguan traditional)
ANDREW There’s nothing better for the Christian than complete commitment and obedience to God in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. But it often comes with a real cost. As a result of his work in the Welsh Revival in 1904 Evan Roberts was within two years a broken man suffering from depression and exhaustion, his ministry had taken such a toll on him. God can use us through success, and through brokenness and failure.
In most Christian traditions, baptism is offered as a public sign of God’s grace and acceptance. Now, like many people, I can’t remember my own baptism. I was only a few weeks old, and the promises that were made, were made on my behalf. At this time of year many churches invite us to renew our baptismal promises, using words similar to those from the baptism service. Even if you haven’t been baptised, you might like to acknowledge these responses in your heart as we reaffirm our commitment to Christ and our part in his mission on earth.
ANDREW So I ask you, do you turn to Christ?
ALL I turn to Christ.
ANDREW Do you repent of your sins?
ALL I repent of my sins.
ANDREW Do you renounce evil?
ALL I renounce evil
ANDREW May almighty God deliver us from the powers of darkness, and lead us in the light of Christ to his everlasting kingdom.
ANDREW Those who follow Christ are called to worship and serve God in word and deed. Will you commit yourself to this life?
ALL We will, with God's help.
ANDREW Will you forgive others as you are forgiven?
ALL We will, with God's help.
ANDREW Will you seek to love your neighbour as yourself, and strive for peace and justice?
ALL We will, with God's help.
ANDREW Will you accept the cost of following Jesus Christ in your daily life and work?
ALL We will, with God's help.
ANDREW With the whole Church will you proclaim by word and action the Good News of God in Christ?
ALL We will, with God's help.
ANDREW Without you God, we can do nothing. With you, there is nothing we cannot do. Come Holy Spirit. Fill us and equip us and inspire us in every way.
MUSIC Veni Sancte Spiritus (Taize) (Under prayers)
ANDREW Come Holy Spirit; let nothing be unchanged.
Wake us from our complacency.
Help us to pray with passion and to serve you as you deserve.
MUSIC Veni Sancte Spiritus (Taize)
Come Holy Spirit; infuse us with energy and vision.
Strengthen those who are tiring in the battle against injustice and oppression:
Come Holy Spirit; grace us with hope and comfort.
Strengthen those whose lives are overshadowed by illness or pain;
Come Holy Spirit; fill us with peace and joy.
Strengthen those who live in the shadow of war and violence;
Come Holy Spirit; give us your love and courage.
Strengthen us to transform our communities, as we ourselves have been transformed.
ANDREW Loving God,
We ask for the assurance of your Spirit in our daily lives:
And the transforming power of your Spirit in our communities.
In Jesus’ name. Amen
MUSIC Veni Sancte Spiritus (Taize)
ANDREW And so we join together in the prayer which Jesus taught us:
ALL Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be 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 trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
ANDREW From that amazing first Pentecost to this glorious Spring day the Spirit of God has been spread everywhere, so that no-one is beyond her reach. Look carefully at our post-Pentecost world and you may recognise the pouring out of the Spirit – not only in the church but also in the wider community.
As our service draws to a close we ask again for God’s Spirit to overwhelm us as she did at the first Pentecost. O breath of life, come sweeping through us.
MUSIC O thou who camest from above (Hereford)
ANDREW Don’t resist God’s Holy Spirit. Instead let the Spirit of God join you, connect you and transform you. Let the Spirit reassure you of God’s love and fill you with Godly confidence. Let the Spirit give you signs of hope – prophecies and dreams, tiny miracles and wonderful events in unexpected places.
And may the blessing of God Almighty, Father Son and Holy Spirit be with us today and always. Amen.