GOD IS SPIRIT, AND HIS WORSHIPERS MUST WORSHIP IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH. (John 4: 24)
WELCOME TO OUR PENTECOST COMMUNION WORSHIP.
OPENING HYMN: – SPIRIT OF GOD, unseen as the wind, gentle as is the dove: teach us the truth and help us believe, show us the Saviour’s love. (=CHORUS)
You spoke to us, long, long ago, gave us the written Word: we read it still, needing its truth, through it God’s voice is heard: + CHORUS …
Without Your help we fail our Lord, we cannot live his way: we need Your power, we need Your strength, following Christ each day: +CHORUS … (Tune: The Skye Boat Song)
LET US PRAY:
ALMIGHTY AND LOVING GOD, we gather today as those joined by Your Holy Spirit. We come remembering Your ancient promise to send Your Spirit upon all people, young and old, male and female, Jew or Gentile. We come remembering that first Pentecost when Your Spirit was given to the apostles, renewing their faith and transforming their lives. We come, reminded of the constant work of Your Spirit, inspiring, guiding, challenging and refining us. Almighty God, Spirit of Truth, come as You promised and reveal to us more of the way of Christ. Come and fill us with deeper faith and greater love. Give us Your Word and inspire us with new vision and purpose, and breathe Your power into our lives. Almighty and loving God, open our hearts and minds and souls to Your Spirit, and so equip us to live as Your people, not just today but every day, our lives reflecting Your glory and proclaiming Your love. Move within us, we pray, to the glory of Your name, and for the blessedness of Your Church, here and everywhere, through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
OLD TESTAMENT READING: – PSALM 139: 7-10.
WHERE CAN I GO FROM YOUR SPIRIT? WHERE CAN I FLEE FROM YOUR PRESENCE? IF I GO UP TO THE HEAVENS, YOU ARE THERE; IF I MAKE MY BED IN THE DEPTHS, YOU ARE THERE. IF I RISE ON THE WINGS OF THE DAWN, IF I SETTLE ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE SEA, EVEN THERE YOUR HAND WILL GUIDE ME, YOUR RIGHT HAND WILL HOLD ME FAST.
NEW TESTAMENT READING: – JOHN 3: 1-8.
NOW THERE WAS A MAN OF THE PHARISEES NAMED NICODEMUS, A MEMBER OF THE JEWISH RULING COUNCIL. HE CAME TO JESUS AT NIGHT AND SAID, “RABBI, WE KNOW YOU ARE A TEACHER WHO HAS COME FROM GOD. FOR NO- ONE COULD PERFORM THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS YOU ARE DOING IF GOD WERE NOT WITH HIM.” IN REPLY JESUS DECLARED, “I TELL YOU THE TRUTH, NO-ONE CAN SEE THE KINGDOM OF GOD UNLESS HE IS BORN AGAIN.” “HOW CAN A MAN BE BORN WHEN HE IS OLD?” NICODEMUS ASKED. “SURELY HE CANNOT ENTER A SECOND TIME INTO HIS MOTHER’S WOMB TO BE BORN!” JESUS ANSWERED, “I TELL YOU THE TRUTH, NO-ONE CAN ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD UNLESS HE IS BORN OF WATER AND THE SPIRIT. FLESH GIVES BIRTH TO FLESH, BUT SPIRIT GIVES BIRTH TO SPIRIT. YOU SHOULD NOT BE SURPRISED AT MY SAYING, – YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN. THE WIND BLOWS WHEREVER IT PLEASES. YOU HEAR ITS SOUND, BUT YOU CANNOT TELL WHERE IT COMES FROM OR WHERE IT IS GOING. SO IT IS WITH EVERYONE BORN OF THE SPIRIT.”
The circumstances of Pentecost are both significant and symbolic. Pentecost means “The Fiftieth”, and another name for it was “The Feast of the Weeks”. It was so called because it fell on the fiftieth day, a week of weeks (7) after Passover. At least as many people came to the Feast of Pentecost as came to the Passover. That explains the list of countries mentioned in the Book of Acts; never was there a more international crowd in Jerusalem than at the time of Pentecost. The Feast itself was significant for two reasons: it had a historical significance, commemorating the Giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. At the same time, it had an agricultural importance: at Passover, part of the first crop of barley was offered to God as a prescribed sacrifice, meanwhile at Pentecost two loaves of barley bread were offered as a Sacrificial Gratitude for the safe gathering in of the harvest. This included God’s real Harvest of the Souls. Please keep this in mind, as we turn our attention to Jesus and the Spiritual Harvest of a Pharisee called Nicodemus.
NICODEMUS WANTED TO MEET PRIVATELY WITH JESUS. Nicodemus belonged to the Jewish religious elite. His name means “Winning People.” He was rich, intelligent, thoughtful, and eager to sustain the religious and national pride of his people. But Nicodemus came to Jesus, not really alone. He came representing His colleagues in the Pharisee religious establishment. He expressed in fact their concern. They were closely watching Jesus. They wondered, were intrigued, and were troubled by what they saw and heard. They represented the Jewish orthodoxy in their religious practices. They perceived Jesus as a challenging and dangerous figure with apparent blasphemous behaviour. We cannot exclude the possibility that Nicodemus might have come to Jesus well intentioned, wanting to help Him to change his rhetoric about the Kingdom of God, to tell Him that the situation around Him was becoming dangerous and that the accusation of blasphemy might result in capital punishment. But, as Psalm 139 defines these kind of situations, he was unable to go or flee from the presence of the Spirit. Pentecost is the revealed way of how God works through the power of His Holy Spirit in the lives of people who access Jesus day or night, at any time.
FAITH BEGINS WITH A GUIDED APPROACH BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. Nicodemus initiated the conversation with Jesus. He approached Him respectfully, in a susceptible way, – Rabbi, we know You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs You are doing if God were not with Him. From his whole human and religious experience this affirmation denotes true receptivity, taking him far beyond the pragmatic practice of his Law-regulated religiosity. But Jesus’ answer was not what he expected: – No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he/she is born again. Nicodemus was stunned and confused. He expected a “first-hand” description of Jehovah whom he humbly worshipped; but instead, Jesus was talking about REBIRTH. He wanted a debate on the truth behind the Invisible God whom he so devotedly worshipped, but the Lord spoke rather about a deep change to his own identity. The crucial religious questions facing us have little to do with ecclesiastical legalism or “virtual reality”. These matters are but symptoms of a more crucial question: – WHO AND WHAT DEFINES MY LIFE?
Once, a childhood-friend of mine, confessed to me that he was deeply interested in Christianity, and if I could “prove” to him that God exists, he would be ready to take up full church-membership. Sadly, my answer must have been very disappointing for him because he never ever spoke to me again on this matter. My answer was, and will always be, to everyone like him, – I cannot intellectually prove the existence of God, but there is a SPIRITUAL PROOF possible: BELIEVE first, and God Himself will give you all the proofs you need or ask for. The key question to the “Nicodemus-es” is this, – Where do you find yourself rooted, and identified, and how are you in in mind, heart, and spirit when you treat, serve and love others? (My friend is a medical GP doctor, and a highly esteemed person in his community).
I think that one of the major problems of our 21 century’s society is the weakened SPIRITUALITY of many of the people. Everything seems knowledgeable, approachable, answerable; people are tempted to believe that everything has an “intellectual” reason and understanding. We need to realize that the composition of our lives contains both the physical and the spiritual, and that the spiritual dimension is our coordinator. With, or without God in it. Curiosity is not enough for our sinful nature to regain the “Lost Paradise.” Jesus says that there is only one way back to God, and that is to be born from above. The Bible says that Faith is a Gift of God. Jesus’ answer is clear, we have to be born by the Spirit. Re-created in the pattern of the first Creation, where the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. This process is called SALVATION through FAITH in Jesus Christ. Paul describes it in detail: – If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Spirit says,” Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10: 9-13).
THE BATTLE IS ALWAYS BETWEEN THE “FLESH” AND THE SPIRIT. This is why the Holy Spirit had to have a visible and spiritual impact on the apostles, enabling them to give the Word of God with power. FAITH is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11: 1). As a ruler of the Jews, Nicodemus embodied a belief that had gone astray. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9: 13-14). Nicodemus came from a religious system which installed a belief that it is possible to do things for God, to please Him, so with meticulous law-keeping and sufficient correct sacrifices God’s attitude could be changed. In fact, Jesus was pointing to the conflict between what man can do for God to achieve salvation , and what God has done for us to be saved. To turn around this fatal conceit, Jesus described here the nature of REPENTANCE. The way how Jesus and John the Baptist used it (Matthew 3: 12), Repentance is a radical spiritual action, as John simplified it: – Stop sinning! But this is one of the most impossible requests possible for humans to surrender the self and give up the idea that there is an innate goodness within that recommends us to God. We need the Power of God (His Spirit), and Jesus’ Atoning Sacrifice (The Lord’s Supper) to be able to apply for forgiveness and Salvation through God’s Grace. Jesus uses several images in His teachings to describe this to His disciples. He talked about a “wide gate and a broad road” that leads to destruction, and a “small gate and narrow road,“ that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7: 13-14). The requirement for discipleship, – if anyone would come – to follow Jesus, is to deny oneself, take up His Cross, and follow Him (Matthew 16: 24). In the process of Spiritual Salvation, we must remember that the cross was the instrument of death, and in this instance death itself. So when we remember – in the Holy Communion – the Death of the Lord, we prove our readiness to be Saved through His Death.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Saviour, and whosoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life. Today is the Day of the coming of the Spirit of God. We are here to worship the Lord, to meet with Christ, to give thanks for all the benefits of being called the children of God. How desperate are we to receive the assurance of God, the AMEN? – IT IS TRUE AND SURE, THAT GOD WILL MUCH MORE ANSWER OUR PRAYERS THAN WE EVER THINK OR IMAGINE. May be, the Spirit of God is just trying to prompt us, to receive it, through Communion with Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. Think, and pray about it, right now, before you take the elements. AMEN.
LET US PRAY:
HOLY SPIRIT OF OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, we welcome You again – opening our minds to Your presence, our hearts to Your love, and our lives to Your purpose. Breathe upon us, fill and encourage us, and send us out in the service of Christ. For Your presence at work within us and in Your world we praise You. You are always moving, daily seeking to lead us into the truth, constantly striving to break through the walls we erect against You. You can deepen our faith, enrich our experience, strengthen our commitment, and enlarge our vision, yet time and again, we allow a lack of expectation to frustrate Your purpose. Come gently as a dove, as we pray for all who long for peace, and all who have lost sight of what peace really means. We think of those who have contracted Coronavirus, and are unable to believe that they will be healed. For those who’ve lost confidence in science, vaccines, doctors, and even in Your healing power. We pray for those who mourn loved ones and have developed a prejudice towards everything, and those who still have a positive attitude towards containing this Pandemic. We pray for the poor and the hungry, the homeless end the refugee, the sick and the unemployed, the downtrodden and the oppressed – these and so many others, who yearn for a new beginning, and opportunity to start afresh. May their prayers be answered, and their hopes realised. You changed the lives of the Apostles and of countless people throughout history, just as You are changing our lives today, each renewed through Your sovereign power. Change and help our world in all its need, so that it may enjoy hope and peace, healing and harmony, that all may come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Be with Your Christian Church Universal, with our Church of Scotland in this time of our General Assembly, and the presbyteries and parishes. Bless everyone in our congregation, our loved ones wherever they are, and hear our prayers for all those whom we now name in our hearts … through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN …
CLOSING HYMN (CH-334): – HOLY SPIRIT, EVER LIVING as the Church’s very life; Holy Spirit, ever striving through her in a ceaseless strife; Holy Spirit ever forming in the Church the mind of Christ; Thee we praise with endless worship for Thy fruit and gifts unpriced.
Holy Spirit, ever working through the Church’s ministry; Quick’ning, strength’ning, and absolving, setting captive sinners free; Holy Spirit, ever binding age to age, and soul to soul, in a fellowship unending Thee we worship and extol.
JUST AS YOU RECEIVED CHRIST JESUS AS LORD, CONTINUE TO LIVE IN HIM, ROOTED AND BUILT UP IN HIM, STRENGTHENED IN THE FAITH AS YOU WERE TAUGHT, AND OVERFLOWING WITH THANKFULNESS. (Colossians 2: 6-7) AMEN.