Sunday 31st May, Pentecost

As a community separated by a virus but drawn together by faith, we worship today:

  • Many of us are praying at 10am every Sunday
  • BBC1 10am: Pentecost Celebration: A live service marking the festival from Gorton Monastery in Manchester, with a small, socially distanced group from the city’s King’s Church leading a celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Music includes In Christ Alone, Build Your Kingdom Here and His Eye Is on the Sparrow.
  • Songs of Praise (1:15pm)
  • Revd Graeme Holdsworth takes Holy Communion at 6pm, in his study on behalf of our community
  • Morning Prayer is said every day

Who is in charge?

Today’s Collect Prayer and Bible passage are read for us by Ali. The Bible passage is from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-21, found on this website, or in your favourite Bible translation.

Faithful God,
who fulfilled the promises of Easter
by sending us your Holy Spirit
and opening to every race and nation
the way of life eternal:
open our lips by your Spirit,
that every tongue may tell of your glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord

Ali Baxter reads the Collect and Bible for us

A transcription of the Sermon for those who prefer to read…

In the last days God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young shall see visions and your elders will dream dreams.” Peter applied these words to that Pentecostal morning, when all the followers of Jesus were in one place.

These ‘last days’ also apply to us today: because we live in the gap between the death and resurrection of Christ, and his promised return in glory… so, is it possible that the Holy Spirit might come upon the followers of Jesus again today? Is it possible that our young people will prophesy, and our elders will dream dreams?

The church is on the brink of something we cannot possibly understand; Bishops and Archbishops are talking about change, and it is easy to see why: for a long time, we have witnessed fewer people worshipping regularly on a Sunday, and in addition, our church communities are vulnerable to this virus. The Government may hope to reopen places of worship in July, but how many people will be there when we do? Many of our regular worshippers could still be in isolation at home and some people talk to me of being afraid to leave their homes even if they were allowed to.

Do you, like me, look to those in authority for the answer? Who is in charge anyway?

  • Do St James’ and St Bartholomew’s belong to the Church of England and the Diocese of Leeds?
  • Or belong to the Vicar, the Churchwardens and the PCC?
  • Does the church belong to the people of the village?
  • Or to the people who worship there?

Or does the church belong to God? Is it actually God’s Church, and if so, what is God going to do?

Our church buildings are beautiful, sacred, spiritually holy places of prayer and have been passed down to us as a heritage to protect. But we, the church, belong to God. As we think about returning to our buildings, remembering that there has been a long slow decline in numbers before this pandemic, perhaps now is the time to ask the question… what is God going to do? What does God want of his people?

We need a vision for the future of our churches. We need our elders to dream dreams, we need our young people to prophesy. We need the Holy Spirit to inspire us with hope and joy for the future. Without the Holy Spirit we’re just a bunch of people meeting in an expensive historic building and to the rest of the world we are irrelevant. We become guardians of a lifeless building for future generations.

With the Holy Spirit, we may actually look like drunkards to those outside the church… but that is only because we will be filled with the joy of life in all its fullness. We will be blessed with insights into God’s great plan for us all. We will have good news to share with our friends and neighbours.

We will be looking to reopen buildings as soon as we can – even though this may be difficult and potentially impossible. Many of those who normally volunteer are self-isolating and on top of that, we are just everyday folk – we’re not experts in managing buildings during a pandemic. We will need new ways of gathering that keep the virus from spreading between us.

We can’t return to normal even if we want to, so is now the time to ask; what could the church look like? Thankfully, we don’t have to solve that problem alone. God is in charge, so what are God’s plans for us? What do you think God’s plan is? Will our young people prophesy? Will our elders dream dreams? What is the vision God will give us for the future of our churches?

If you want my prophesy: I know that God has brought me to you for a reason, an answer to prayers, both yours and mine. My prayers have always been:

  • That I may be a blessing on the world around me.
  • For Churches to grow in the knowledge and love of God
  • For more people in our communities to be set free from fear, liberated by the love of God for each of them personally – and hopefully to join us in celebration of that liberation.

If God has answered our prayers, look to see the Holy Spirit moving among us, listen for the voices of those who God has inspired. The apostles at Pentecost had no idea what was about to happen, and when God acted – experts thought they were drunk. Change is coming, but with God in charge, we have no need to be afraid.

Pray today for the Holy Spirit to speak to our church, to guide us and to teach us. Pray for the gifts of the Spirit, and with God’s blessing, perhaps the people of Slaithwaite and Marsden will look with awe at us and say, “they are filled with new wine”.

May the peace of the Lord be always with you.

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