Welcome & Notice about Offerings
Greeting and Acknowledgement of Country-
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. And also with you.
We acknowledge the Turrbal and Jagera people, the first inhabitants of this place, part of God’s good creation.
We honour them for their custodianship of the land on which we gather today.
Call to Worship –
Come Spirit! Storm at creation, life-breath of Eden, blaze in the desert,
rage of the prophets, song of the exiles – Come Spirit!
Come Spirit! Stirring in Mary, dove over Jordan, doubt in the desert,
upstart in synagogue, upset in temple, oil of anointing, agent of healing – Come Spirit!
Come Spirit! Servant at supper, Sigh in the suffering, Gasp at Golgotha, Glimpse at the tomb, seed in the doubting, Song in the rising.
Come Spirit! Chorus at Pentecost, Call to apostles, Healer of nations,
Hope for eternity. We celebrate you who are both gift and call to your church and your world.
Come Holy Spirit! Come!
Wind of God, present since before Creation, fall on us now. Whisper to us. Shout to us. Comfort and guide us. Revive our own spirits to love and serve.
Open our hearts to make this day one of celebration and joy that unites us in fellowship, love and compassion for all. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
HYMN– TIS 411 Filled with the Spirit’s power (© Hope Publishing Co. Used by permission CCLI licence 217268; R. Peacey 1896-1971)
1.Filled with the Spirit’s power, with one accord the infant church confessed its risen Lord: O Holy Spirit, in the church today
no less your power of fellowship display.
2.Now with the mind of Christ set us on fire,
that unity may be our great desire;
give joy and peace; give faith to hear your call,
and readiness in each to work for all.
3.Widen our love, good Spirit, to embrace
in your strong care all those of every race:
like wind and fire with life among us move
till we are known as Christ’s, and Christians prove.
Scripture Readings- Acts 1: 1-21
Prayer of Confession-
God, you speak to each of us with such intimacy, such knowing, and yet we can be uncertain as to know how to respond. When we are deafened by the noisy demands of our life,
Open our ears to your voice.
When we are blinded by routine and the habits of everyday,
Open our hearts to search deeply for you in all things.
When we are held hostage to misunderstanding and twisted truths,
Open our minds so we may grapple with what walking the way of Christ truly means.
When we are called to tell the story of your goodness and grace,
Embolden us not to shrink from our calling for we ask in your name, Jesus. Amen
Words of Assurance
The Spirit is at hand, ready to come amongst us speaking words of encouragement and mercy so that we become a people bearing God’s Good News for all. In Christ’s name I remind you: our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God.
Scripture Reading – Ezekiel 37: 1-14
Sermon – by Garry Jennings, Trinity College student at St Lucia UCA in 2021.
“Mortal, can these bones live?”
God’s question to Ezekiel presents the classic literary device of the trick question. Ezekiel stands in front of valley littered with whitened, dry bones. As far as human bodies go, this is about as dead as it gets. There’s no coming back from this one, and no hope to be found in the parching sun overhead. Yet God asks Ezekiel whether he thinks there’s any hope for them.
On my veranda at home there’s a frangipani cutting that I recently re-potted into a larger pot with potting mix and water and everything. The methodology seems right, but the problem is that when it comes to gardening I have comprehensively no idea what I’m doing. From my point of view, only God knows whether that leafless stick is going to spring to life again.
Ezekiel may be described as many things, but he’s not an idiot. He quite happily asks the Lord to answer his own question. His response of “Lord, you know,” does a few things. Firstly Ezekiel avoids having to answer the question. The obvious answer to give would be “no.” But Ezekiel knows something is up.
Or maybe it’s deeper than that. Maybe Ezekiel’s faith in God stretches far enough that believes without having to see it that God can bring a field full of dead bones back to life. Or maybe he just really wants to believe it.
Ezekiel lived and preached among the Jewish people who were in captivity, in exile in Babylon, so a message from God that there was still hope, that God would restore his people, that he could bring life to a field of dead bones, was no small matter for Ezekiel or for the people he was preaching to.
We can only imagine the fervent joy in Ezekiel’s voice as he speaks the word of God to the valley and urges the bones to rise to life, joining themselves together to become human bodies again.
Of course it’s not by accident that the lectionary pairs this Old Testament reading with the account of Pentecost.
At this point in Israel’s history, of course they are living under occupation by the Roman Empire. On top of the ever-present threat of the Roman soldiers, the disciples are also living in fear of the Jewish authorities, who had already gone so far as to have Jesus killed. Sure, he came back to life as he promised he would, but that was weeks ago. And sure, he ascended to Heaven and promised to empower them with the Holy Spirit, but that was ten days ago and they’ve been in hiding in Jerusalem ever since. They’re a persecuted group in a subjugated country and their leader has left them. There’s no sign of the power from on high that they were waiting for. But they are still gathered together, praying eagerly and waiting for the promised Comforter to come.
And yet, as Ezekiel shows us, it’s not enough for them just to be gathered together. Ezekiel preached to the dry bones and they were formed into human bodies again, but there was no life in them. In the same way, the disciples were all gathered together and praying, but the confidence and boldness that would characterise their ministry to come, wasn’t there yet.
What was missing in both cases was the breath of the Spirit.
The word for this life-giving breath in Hebrew, some of you may know, is ruach. It means a few different but related things. In English it can be translated as breath, or as wind, or as spirit or even as a more nebulous idea of a life-force. So there’s some very significant word-play going on in the Ezekiel when he is instructed to call to the four winds to come and put breath in their mouths to let them live. It’s all the same word: Ruach. It’s the word that is used in the beginning of the creation story, when the spirit, or breath, or wind of God is hovering over the waters, just before God says “let there be light.” And it’s the word that is used at the pinnacle of the creation story when God forms humanity out of the clay and then breathes life into them. And it is this same breath of life that blows across the valley of reanimated bodies and causes them to rise to life and stand on their feet, a vast multitude. It’s a powerful motif that is used many times in the Old Testament.
So the imagery would have been as clear as day to the first century Jews when the Spirit came upon them with sound of a rushing wind. As someone with an academic background in linguistics, what excites me about the imagery is that the same paradigm is going on in Greek, the language in which Luke wrote Acts. Now of course, the word isn’t ruach, but it’s the Greek word pneuma, which in Greek also means wind or spirit.
We can see that in English today, tools or machinery that are pneumatic are operated by air pressure, but it’s also the word for Spirit and at theological college if you’re reading or arguing pneumatology, you’re getting involved with theories or theologies of the Holy Spirit.
So the gathered believers are called to be the Church –the Body of Christ – and the sound of a rushing wind is that body taking its first big deep breath in.
Whichever language you’re coming at it with, Hebrew, Greek, English, or something else, the important point to note is that it is the Spirit’s breath of life that brings the renewal. It’s not created by Ezekiel or Peter, and it’s not brought about by worldly efforts or in response to any worthiness or righteousness we might imagine ourselves to have. It’s important to have a leader who can call the dry bones together into the right shapes. It’s important that we, like the disciples, be gathered together in prayer and expectation, but as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of John, the Sprit blows where it will, and we hear the sound of it, but we don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going.
For this community gathered today, we are a community in need of renewal.
I won’t be so insolent as to suggest we’re valley of dry old bones, but we are a community that has committed itself to seeking a time of revitalisation and –dare I say it – revival. So it’s important to remember where the driving power behind that renewal is coming from. It’s certainly not coming from me, and it’s not going to be coming from Mandy Smith either, as much as we all look forward to her joining us in this undertaking.
It was Ezekiel’s role to draw the bones together and to get them ready, but it wasn’t his role to breathe new life into them. It will be Mandy’s role encourage, to motivate, to mobilise and to prepare the community for the renewal to come, but it will be the Spirit – and only the Spirit – that will breathe new life into the dry bones and bring them to life.
It was the disciple’s role to meet faithfully in prayer, to wait with expectation and to be ready to move when the promised Helper arrived. But they were just a room full of scared bullied misfits until the Spirit transformed them into the Church, the embodiment of Christ’s presence on Earth.
It’s our role to be praying for our community, getting ready to respond to Mandy’s leadership when she arrives, but more importantly to be praying and preparing our hearts and lives for the coming of the Spirit to breathe new life into our community. With that in mind, let’s pray.
Hymn TIS 421 © World Council of Churches, Geneva
Where the Spirit is, there’s freedom Where the Spirit is, there is life
1.Not by the word can our freedom be nourished,
Not by our things, only by Spirit
Practice, my children to live by the Spirit Drop all your masks! Take freedom’s clothing!
Where the Spirit is, there’s freedom Where the Spirit is, there is life
- Wounds will be healed, eyes will be opened,
Imaging God, reflecting Jesus
Practice, my children, to live by the Spirit. Heaven is here! Time made eternal.
Direct deposit to ‘St Lucia Uniting Church’ BSB: 334 040 acct#: 553 842 259 (St George Bank) Please mark it OFFERING with your name (optional)
Prayer for others –
Let us pray for the church universal on this Pentecost Sunday. Gracious God, you are Lord of the church wherever people gather in the name of Jesus to praise you and thank you, to ask for your forgiveness or to ask for your help. Send your Holy Spirit into the hearts of each worshipper today that they may feel your presence and know your guidance for their lives. We pray especially for the divisions among churches. We know it is a result of human pride and envy, of distortion of power and refusal to be under the authority of others. Heal our distorted vision, lift us up when we feel oppressed, and humble us when we demand our own way is best. On that day of Pentecost so many years ago, you enabled the people in Jerusalem to hear and understand the preaching of Peter and the apostles. Give us that same gift of understanding as we listen to one another. Grant us love to forgive those who have hurt us and patience to survive those who refuse to forgive us. Let the nations at war with one another – physically or economically or politically – discover the truth in what their opponents are suggesting as ways forward to end conflicts. Grant them the grace and humility to offer a peace plan that respects the dignity of all and preserves our fragile society. Open our minds now to work with you in overcoming this world pandemic of Covid. Comfort those who are ill and those who are overwhelmed with caring for them. Let your Spirit strengthen and inspire our work for your kingdom this week for we ask in the name of Jesus who taught us to pray: The Lord’s Prayer-
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.
HYMN– TIS 413 Holy spirit come confirm us (William Brian Foley 1919-)
Holy Spirit, come confirm us in the truth that Christ makes known;
we have faith and understanding through your helping gifts alone.
Holy Spirit, come console us, come as advocate to plead, loving Spirit from the Father, grant in Christ the help we need.
Holy Spirit, come renew us, come yourself to make us live:
holy, through your loving presence, holy, through the gifts you give.
Holy Spirit, come possess us, you the love of Three in One, Holy Spirit of the Father, Holy Spirit of the Son.
May the Spirit of God,
Co-Creator, Re-Creator and Sustainer,
stir in your hearts, minds and souls, a vision of new creation in which you are invited to take part.
Go now with the blessing of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit with you all, evermore.
Amen Amen Amen
Resources used in this service include Words for Worship year B May 23 2021 by MediaCom (subscription of Rev Dr Elizabeth Nolan) and The Abingdon Worship Annual 2020 edited by Mary Scifres and B.J. Beu, Abingdon Press, Nashville USA (owned by EN) and Uniting in Worship People’s Book by Uniting Church Press (JBCE) 1988 Melbourne and The Australian Hymn Book multiple copies owned by the St Lucia Uniting Church congregation. Copyright license 217268.