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    May 03, 2020

    The Breath of the Spirit

    The Breath of the Spirit

    Passage: Acts 2:42-47

    Speaker: Rev. Vivian McCarthy, Pastor

    Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity.

    Online Worship Fourth Sunday in Easter

    Sunday May 3, 2020 10 am

    Call to Worship;

    L:  The disciples met the risen Christ as they went about their daily tasks – eating, fishing, preparing a meal.

    P:  We have gathered because we too want to know the presence of Jesus among us.

    L:  We gather around tables, to know him in the breaking of the bread.

    P:  We will return to the world, seeking to know and make known his presence there.

    ALL: Glory be to God, Creator, Christ, and Spirit of life, in whom we live and move and have our being.  Amen.

    Hymn  Spirit of Faith Come Down UMH #332

    Spirit of faith, come down, reveal the things of God,
    and make to us the Godhead known, and witness with the blood.
    'Tis thine the blood to apply and give us eyes to see,
    who did for every sinner die hath surely died for me.
    No one can truly say that Jesus is the Lord,
    unless you take the veil away and breathe the living Word.
    Then, only then, we feel our interest in his blood,
    and cry with joy unspeakable, "Thou art my Lord, my God!"                                    

    Unison Prayer

    Incarnate God, You are the one who comes to us in Jesus Christ.
    Holy One, You are the one who comes to us in the Holy Spirit.
    Lord of Earth and Heaven, You are the one who calls us to recognize you today and  every day as the Holy Mystery and Grace-Giver.
    Gather our hearts and minds this day so that we may worship you individually and collectively, feeling your presence and abandoning everything else to offer our praise to you.  Amen.

    Scripture John 20:19-23

    19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

    Hymn Breathe on Me, Breath of God UMH #420 Verse 1 only

    Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew,
    that I may love the way you love, and do what you would do.


    Scripture Acts 2:42-47

    42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.

    Meditation  Listen

    Today I want to offer a brief introduction to our new worship series for the next few weeks entitled simply, The Holy Spirit.

    Back in the fall, when we were focused on Paul’s call and ministry, several questions emerged about the Holy Spirit, so I wanted to share some thoughts about the activity of the Spirit during this time leading up to Pentecost.

    A moment ago, Barbara read a portion of the scripture that we read two Sundays ago.  On the evening of the resurrection, Jesus appeared in the room where the disciples gathered, breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” commissioning them to continue his work of forgiveness.

    Receive the Holy Spirit.  You know, we always celebrate the birthday of the church on Pentecost, and we even read a portion of that story today – which we’ll get to in a minute. 

    • What if the birth of the church happened over a period of time?
    • What if the birth of the church had to grow, like a child in its mother’s womb or a seed in the ground before it could burst forth on the Day of Pentecost.
    • What if “receive the Holy Spirit” was the beginning of that growth process in a new way?
    • What if all of Jesus’ teaching over the last 3 years needed space to be nurtured so it could grow into a much fuller understanding of his ministry seeping into the prepared ground of the hearts of the disciples so the movement could become something more than what one teacher could accomplish alone?
    • And what if it took that kind of growth in order for the church to become something that was more than the sum of the individual followers?

    In very basic terms, the Holy Spirit’s role in the Trinity is functional.  As God’s function is Creator and Jesus’ function is Savior, the Holy Spirit’s function in the simplest of terms is Sustainer, Comforter and Power-Giver – the person of the Trinity that continues to give us breath – day by day, moment by moment.  It is the breath that gives life to the church as a whole.  There are also dimensions of the Spirit’s work that are intensely personal. 

    However, when the Spirit was experienced on the Day of Pentecost, giving birth to the church, the communal dimension of the Spirit’s work became known.   God the Spirit gave birth to a new entity.  The community that had been gathered around the teacher became a living, breathing entity – you could even say that it became the living Body of that teacher, no longer singular individuals in the sense that they lived their lives separately and apart and privately. 

    The church became a life together.  Together they examined the stories and read the scriptures and searched their hearts.  There was accountability and support.  This life together was the focus of their lives individually.  The life together shaped what they did and how they did it.  Together they experienced a power that was transformative.

    The church as community – the life together – is an organism, not an institution.  It is a body – the Body of Christ in the world.  And it is the Spirit that gives it life.

    Pentecost wasn’t the only time that the Spirit has birthed/breathed something new into the followers of Jesus!   Often throughout its history the church has experienced rebirth – times when the Spirit’s power has been expressed, giving the church and the people of God  new awareness and purpose – times when the gifts of the Spirit are evident and effective in new and amazing ways. 

    Individuals may certainly experience intense moments when the Spirit is evident.  But the first act of the Holy Spirit was communal in bringing the church not just to life but infusing it with purpose and power.

    In the introduction to his book, Holy Spirit and Community, Bishop Kenneth Carter, Jr., wrote: 

    If we are to sustain our lives as followers of Jesus, two realizations will soon become apparent:  We cannot do this in our own strength, and we were not intended to make this journey alone.  We discover the good news in the provision of two of God’s greatest gifts to us:  spirit and community. [1]

    So first, the Holy Spirit creates the community of faith and works in and through the community of faith.

    In my own experience, I have seen the Spirit speak – or maybe a better word is work – when the community gathers.  I often have said to our church’s leaders that I believe that the Holy Spirit works in the middle of the table – when the people of God offer their best thought and inspiration as we work together, the result is usually far more powerful and faithful than if the thought and inspiration comes from one individual.  The Holy Spirit takes those thoughts and individual reflections and makes something new and more powerful.  The life of the church depends on that Spirit-Work! 

    Understanding that the Spirit is at work in the work of the church requires us to understand first, that the church – the Body of Christ – depends not on the wisdom or creativity or skill of one person.  Rather, the life and gifts of each member of the Body are essential to the life of the whole.  The Body of Christ is communal.  This also means that every single member of the Body has an essential role in sharing the Good News.   Let’s be very clear.  What each member has to share is a gift from God – it is not the achievement of the member but gift, often  present in that person from birth but also often a gift that springs from a life open to the shaping of God.

    The second thing is that the Holy Spirit is not under our control.  Bishop Will Willimon and Dr. Stanley Hauerwas put it this way:  Life in the Spirit, Christian discipleship, is rightly construed as life out of our control because we live by borrowed breath.[2]  In other words, we offer who we are and what we have been given back to God and allow the Spirit to breathe life into our meager offerings, gathering and mingling the gifts of the Body to make something new and rich – and filled with the energy and power of the Spirit of God. 

    Maybe the thing is, we have to give what we have with abandoned and be willing for the Spirit to take control.  Borrowed breath – measured and delivered by the Spirit. 

    Hymn Holy Spirit, Rain Down  Natalie Grant  CCLI License 101999


    Holy Spirit rain down, rain down. 
    Oh, Comforter and Friend, how we need Your touch again.
    Holy Spirit rain down, rain down.
    Let Your power fall, Let Your voice be heard,
    Come and change our hearts as we stand on Your Word
    Holy Spirit rain down
    No eye has seen, no ear has heard
    No mind can know what God has in store
    So open up heaven, open it wide
    Over Your church and over our lives
    Holy Spirit rain down, rain down. 
    Oh, Comforter and Friend, how we need Your touch again.
    Holy Spirit rain down, rain down.
    Let Your power fall, Let Your voice be heard,
    Come and change our hearts as we stand on Your Word
    Holy Spirit rain down

    Love Feast[3]

    The scripture text from Acts that we read today reminds us that when the church was born, “the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.”    When we “break bread” together as a church in our worship, we remember that Jesus invited folks to his table as part of his ministry, not just at the Last Supper and that shared meals were central to the early church.  So we wanted to create a way for all of us to break bread together with whatever we have at our homes as we shelter in place. Indeed, what we’ve asked you to do is to prepare your favorite “comfort food!”

    Those who are online may use the chat feature to share what you have prepared.  I want to share at least a few of your comfort food menus – from emails and Chat, too – would a few of you like to share what you have prepared for today? 

    Jesus used the parable of a great banquet to which all people are invited in order to talk about what the family of God looks like. He said, “Go to the highways and back alleys and urge people to come in so that my house will be filled.” He often invited the most unlikely guests to his meal-times, confounding the disciples. In this way, he was encouraging a deep love and connection beyond social norms. He knew that we humans need connection and inclusion. Jesus comforts us, saying “you have a place at the table” and Jesus challenges us to make sure we are doing the same–that all people know they are welcome in our hearts, in our homes, in our churches–even if we can’t physically be with each other right now.

    It is difficult in this moment not to be near some of the people we love and might be worried about. Take a moment and say out loud [or send them by chat] the names of people you wish were right there next to you at your table today.  I’ll ask for prayer requests in a few moments.

    Jesus is no longer physically on earth, yet every time we gather around a table and we call him to mind, he is present with us in Spirit. And so too, our loved ones are with us. Let this be a comfort to us.

    We also want to call to mind, the people for whom we have specific prayer requests, people we cannot name, and people whose names we do not know. But we know they need our prayers and God’s comfort.


    For those who are sick and recovering

    For those who have lost loved ones

    For those who are caring for loved ones who are sick at home

    For those who are caring for persons in medical care

    For those who are separated from loved ones

    For those who are feeling alone and isolated

    For those who are helping and are so very tired

    For those who are struggling to find friends, food, and comfort

    For those who are afraid

    I invite you to take a deep breath on behalf of all those we do not know and cannot call by name. As we do so, we know that God knows who needs our prayers and the Spirit, Breath of God, is blowing from within us outward as a Spirit of Compassion and Presence. [pause to take a couple of deep and audible breaths]

    Blessings at the table are part of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Indeed, Jesus adapted his Jewish ritual blessing spoken before and after meals. He asked us to remember him whenever we break bread and raise a cup in thanksgiving.

    This is why we call our communion prayers the “Great Thanksgiving.” In this feast of love and comfort, we can call to mind things for which we are deeply grateful. Let’s pause for a moment so you can silently name things that you are grateful for in this moment.

    And so I invite you to raise your plate and a glass of whatever you are drinking, and let us bless it in this way, repeating after me there at home.  I will say a line and then pause for you to say it after me:

    Holy Comforter…

    We gather in your name…

    invited by Jesus…

    bound together with your Spirit…

    in union with each other…

    Feed our bodies and our spirits…

    with your comforting presence…

    so that we might be your comfort to others…

    Bless this food…

    and break open our hearts…

    Bless this drink…

    and pour out your love…


    As you pass and fill your plates, I invite you to imagine what extravagant love looks like as you reach across the social distance to loved ones, to friends, and even acquaintances or strangers.  [Whom do you see at your table right now, even though they are not physically present?]

    Now as we begin to share in the feast, let’s sing a brief hymn.

    Closing Hymn Be Present At Our Table, Lord


    Be present at our table, Lord.  Be here and everywhere adored;
    thy creatures bless, and grant that we may feast in fellowship with thee.



    And now may you shelter not only in place, but in peace. May the peace and comfort of Christ be present with you now and forevermore.  Amen.


    [1] Kenneth H. Carter, Jr. Converge Bible Studies:  Holy Spirit and Community.  Copyright © 2015 by Abingdon Press.  All rights reserved.
    [2]Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, The Holy Spirit.  Copyright © 2015 by Abingdon Press.  All Rights reserved.  Page 46.
    [3] Comfort Food:  A Feast of Love by Dr. Marcia McFee; ©