Sermon: Scriptural Readings on Pentecost

God’s Word:  Scriptural Readings on Pentecost[1]

(Four to five youth readers)



God’s gift to the disciples at the first Pentecost was new life through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Tongues of flame descended upon the Apostles’ heads and they spoke in a universal language which could be understood to people of all lands and tongues.  The Gospel was proclaimed with power and new disciples were won and baptized into the faith – scripture states, 300 in that one day alone.


Pentecost is a day to open ourselves anew to the indwelling of God’s Spirit, to be renewed and empowered in our faith, to reach out to all kinds of people everywhere – to see the magnificent blending of the themes of mission and evangelism – themes that should be of interest and concern to each of us gathered here today.


Pentecost is an occasion to be open to new things – new ways of praising, celebrating, and sharing God’s presence with us.  So with these thoughts in mind, I invite you to sit back and relax while we share with you some Pentecost readings from scripture – that God’s spirit might dwell in our hearts this day.


Intro:  The search of scripture in understanding God’s spirit takes us back to Genesis – and the divine spirit that has always been seen as a primary agent of God’s activity in the world.  From the first two verses of the first chapter of Genesis:


Reading #1:  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.


Intro:  Indeed, according to Genesis, it was the very breath of God by which human beings were given life.  The Spirit of God breathed into us, giving us existence as kindred spirits of the Divine.


Reading #2:  Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.


Intro:  Those who have been open and attune to God have realized that the Divine Spirit is always and everywhere present.  As the author of one of my favorite Psalms declares, even when we seek to flee from God, his Spirit does not abandon us.


Reading 3:  From Psalm 139:  Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?  Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!  If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.


Intro:  Still, though God never abandons us, we may abandon Him.  By the wrong spirit within us, by hardening our hearts to God, by living in ways that contradict God’s love and truth, we may come to a point where the Spirit of God seems utterly absent.  So, in Psalm 51 we hear this cry.


Reading #4:  Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.


Intro:  Throughout history certain men and women have been particularly receptive to God’s Spirit, allowing the Divine presence to dwell within them and to work within them.  So it was with the Old Testament prophets.  So it was with the one who exclaimed in Isaiah 61: 1-2:


Reading #5:  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.


Intro:  Towards the end of the Old Testament period, however, people began to feel that God’s Spirit was no longer present and active in their world or in their lives.  In the future, perhaps, with the coming of the Messiah or at the end of the world, God might pour out His Spirit again, and into all hearts, all lives.  Joel 2: 28-29 expresses the hope, the longing, and the promise of the future.


Reading #6:  I will pour out my Spirit on everyone:  your sons and daughters will proclaim my message; your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions.  At that time I will pour out my Spirit even on servants, both men and women.


Intro:  And then the time came when something new and promising indeed seemed to be blowing in the wind, and anticipation that the time might be near when the prophecy of Joel would be fulfilled.  Luke 3: 15-16 tells of that time.


Reading #7:  People’s hopes began to rise, and they began to wonder whether John (the Baptist) perhaps might be the Messiah.  So John said to all of them, “I baptize you with water, but someone is coming who is much greater than I am . . . he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”


Intro:  That promised one was indeed coming.  And soon.  He came to John for Baptism.  “And when Jesus was baptized,” the third chapter of Matthew tells us:


Reading #8:  He went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and He saw the spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on Him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”


Intro:  And when that young man, Jesus, returned to His home town synagogue to initiate His ministry, Luke tells us that He chose as his text this passage from Isaiah, telling the people afterward that at that very moment the prophecy was being fulfilled in their hearing.


Reading #9:  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering the sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.


Intro:  But, still, this was just the beginning.  The outpouring of God’s Spirit in this, the dawning of the Messianic age, was not to be only in and upon the Messiah.  It was to be, as Joel promised, for all the people, for all who received the Christ and trusted in Him.  There was still more to come, much more.  But first the earthly mission of Christ had to be completed.  Then, as the end drew near, on the night before His death, the 14th chapter of John tells us that Jesus spoke these words to his disciples:


Reading #10:  I will ask the Father and He will send you another helper, who will stay with you forever.  It is the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God.  The world cannot receive Him, because it cannot see Him or know Him.  But you know Him because He remains with you and will be in you.


Intro:  Following His Resurrection and just prior to His Ascension to heaven, Christ renewed the promise, as we are told in the first chapter of Acts:


Reading #11:  For forty days after (His Resurrection) Jesus appeared to the Apostles many times . . . He gave them this order:  “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.  John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit . . . when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”


Intro:  Then, finally, the promised day arrived, the day of Pentecost, the Jewish festival of spring harvest, fifty days after the Resurrection of Christ.  The second chapter of Acts tells it thusly:


Reading # 12 Acts 2: 1-18 – selected verses:

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

Peter Addresses the Crowd

1417 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy

Intro:  Many wonderful gifts came to the church of Christ with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all Disciples.  It gave them power and energy to share the faith with all the world, to reach out to share the good news of God’s loving presence with all nations, all races, and tongues.  It gave them power to continue Christ’s ministry of healing and compassion.  Most of all, the Holy Spirit of God gave them those beautiful inner gifts which the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5 called the fruits of the Spirit.


Reading #13:  ALL   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.









[1] Author of Readings Unknown, originally used in worship in 1986.  I have done some editing through the years.





Reflecting on nearly forty years of ministry, there are plenty of things I wish had been taught at seminary.   I enjoyed reading the article by church consultant Sarai Schnucker Rice (  who lists many of the usual subjects taught at seminary:


Greek, Hebrew, Old Testament, New Testament, systematic theology, liturgy, preaching, teaching, pastoral care, all the spiritual disciplines, and 2000 years of church history…..”


But what about the administrative skills helpful for any pastor called to actually manage the ministries of a particular church?   Throughout my ministry, I found it was expected that pastors know how to manage the church as an organization. 


Some of the management skills discussed in this article:


  1. Framing the Vision
  2. Engaging the Board and Congregational Planning
  3. Leading the Staff
  4. Managing the Finances
  5. Developing Future Lay Leadership
  6. Creating Space for New Ministerial Leadership
  7. Being the Chief Communicator
  8. Supporting the Board


I would add to this list some additional skills:


 1.  Building Maintenance:   How to handle building emergencies:  leaks, plumbing crisis, power outages, floods and fires. 

 2.  Legal Issues—Risk Management:  


How to respond to an active member who insists on carrying a gun in church?   How do respond to felons or known sex offenders who may wish to join your church?  Child Protection laws?  Misconduct laws?  How to manage people who are disruptive in  worship?  What do you do when someone has a heart-attack during worship?  What do you do when personally threatened?

 3.  Stewardship Development


How to manage annual fund-raising campaigns?  How to manage special capital campaigns?   How to secure grants and loans to help fund programs?  How to manage investments?  Endowments?  Bequests? 

4.  Weddings and Funerals:   How to manage some of the special requests a pastor often gets outside the parameters of what most congregational manuals teach. 


I was once asked to bless a new light fixture outside a church building that had been destroyed by vandals.  Or what do you do when nobody is available at the cemetery to dig the grave?  How do you respond to the family that requests a 21 gun salute outside he church  (when there isn’t going to be traditional interment).  Just a few of the requests I have had to respond to over the years.


Granted, many of these things can only be learned through experience.   The value of Seminary Internships is in learning some of these practical aspects of doing ministry.  What should be taught at seminary?  I also need to ask:  What needs to be taught as clergy grow in their positions? 


Years ago and as a member of the Presbytery of Chicago (early 80’s) we had a Professional Development Committee (under the auspice of the Committee on Ministry).   This committee hosted regional gatherings of small groups of teaching elders in order to discuss tough situations (through case studies) encountered in doing ministry.  These were meetings designed to nurture trust among peers.  I found these meetings helpful in not only dealing with personal/professional issues but also in learning from what others were encountering in their ministries.  While I don’t know if these gatherings continued, I would think this could be a helpful model


This suggestion:  Create your own post-seminary group of colleagues to discuss, as the title in the Rice article suggests in asking:  WHAT SHOULD A MINISTER BE GOOD AT?  


My thanks to Sarai Schnucker Rice for her article.



God is GREAT! God is GOOD!


God is Great.  God is Good.  Let us thank God for our food.   AMEN.


Saw this prayer on FACEBOOK wondering how many people still pray before meals.   The prayer we say in our home is:

Dear Lord we thank thee for thy care and all thy mercies send.  For the food we eat the clothes we wear our health and home and friends. AMEN.


There is value in passing on these prayers from generation to generation.   What other religoius practices do we pass on from generation to generation?

{I am not sure the source of the picture}









Preparing for the 221st meeting of the General Assembly in June


This is painful.   Only one full time black Presbyterian pastor in Detroit with an African American Population in the city of over 82%!   Where are the resources from “connectional” friends in Presbyteries and the General Assembly?  What happened to support urban congregations used to get from General Assembly?   I don’t believe we have a single staff person assigned responsibility for helping urban congregations in doing urban ministry.


The congregation I served in Saginaw, the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, had around 18-20% African American membership.  This is another example an urban church in a predominately black population and I am was a white pastor.  The only black pastor in the Presbytery of Lake Huron is in Flilnt, Michigan.  Again our multi-cultural/urban congregations need more support / resources and black pastoral leadership. 


What are we doing as a General Assembly, specifically and intentionally, in growing multicultural urban worshipping communities?  Isn’t this a goal of the 1001 New Worshipping Communities?   What about support our established urban congregations need to survive?  And yes, we need to find ways to support our black pastors wishing to serve in our cities!


This quote from an article I recommend reading (that elicited my writing this blog):    

Our cities—and the churches in them—are in trouble. In 1960 Detroit had 45 Presbyterian congregations. By 2013 that number had dwindled to 12—and of those 12, only four had full-time pastors.    If we in the PC(USA) recognize that the church is to stand for peace in the neighborhoods of cities like Detroit, how do we explain the demise of African American Presbyterian congregations in the host city for the 221st General Assembly (2014)—a city that is so predominantly African American?

……In a city (Detroit) with such pressing needs, what few Presbyterian congregations there are have been largely unable to afford even the minimal compensation necessary to support full-time pastors. In a city where 82.7 percent of the population is African American, like Jesus and like Betti Wiggins I weep when I sit at a table with the mayor and other leaders seeking a better life for its citizens and realize that I am the only black pastor representing the Presbytery of Detroit. One is a lonely number.


Doing God’s Work

Hold to the Good

For several years I met with a group of Christian and Jewish leaders to discuss how Christians and Jews can talk together about the Middle East. The underlying concern of the Jewish participants was why Mainline Protestant Churches seem, to the Jewish community, to be so unbalanced in their attitudes about Israel. Christian participants wondered why Jews seemed consistently uncritical of Israel. There were eight of us and we met monthly for several years. Some of the conversations were difficult: harsh things were said, some of which were later retracted. We hammered out a statement which delineated some understandings we had established. Two of the most significant were:

1. Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.

2. Christians do hope and expect more from Israel than other states; e.g. Iran, Saudi Arabia, precisely because we value Israel’s democracy, guarantees of civil liberties and judicial processes. American Christians want Israel to…

View original post 591 more words