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Liturgy For A Celebration of Pentecost

Servetus Society
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, Maryland
Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Servetus Society at UUCF is a chapter of Unitarian Universalist Christians.  Michael Servetus (1509 or 1511-October 27, 1553), was a Spaniard martyred in the Reformation for his criticism of the doctrine of the trinity and his opposition to infant baptism; he has often been considered an early unitarian.  Widespread aversion to his death signaled the birth in Europe of religious tolerance, a principle now more important to modern Unitarian Universalists than antitrinitarianism.

Pentecost is perhaps the first festival appropriated from an ancient tradition to serve the purposes of the new Christian Way.  We celebrate “the Church’s birthday,” and proclaim“Christ is our Passover,” but what does that really mean?

Pentecost is the Jewish Festival of Weeks, which takes place fifty days after Passover – and Passover, as we know, is the commemoration of an archetypal deliverance from oppression and injustice.  So Pentecost – fifty days after Passover – is really about life after liberation.  In Leviticus, we find that the Hebrew people were directed by the priests (God’s representatives) to make holy offerings of grain, bread, lambs, and incense.  The purposes for the ritual sacrifices were for sin – for which a goat was sacrificed –  and for well-being – for which two male lambs were sacrificed.  This seems to be a very practical acknowledgment of what usually happens in normal human civilization after liberation is accomplished.  Pretty soon, we get back to the usual failures and fights.

But, once the ritual sacrifices are done and all is well again between God and the people, it’s party time, and work is forbidden.  Just in case the people might forget why they were liberated in the first place, the priests made it clear that “when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.

In the midst of a holiday, certain that sins have been forgiven and that future well-being is assured, the people remember that God’s kingdom, God’s reign, God’s imperial rule, means that God’s people live in distributive justice-compassion.

Reading:    John 20:19-23
Liturgist At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, first given by John’s Jesus, descends in tongues of flames on the Christian community gathered in Jerusalem.  They are empowered to tell the story of Jesus – the new, sacrificial paschal lamb – in every language of the known world.[Light Chalice] Liturgist The imagery of fire represents the outpouring of the presence of sacred being and of creative power.  Fire transforms, destroys, purifies, enlightens, inspires, and protects.  But post-modern, “first world” people have no experience or appreciation for that kind of power.  In order to live with and through the Pentecost fires – whether of ancient commitment and sacrifice, or of the certainty of a transformational message – would-be prophets must remember that fire does not care what feeds it.  Fire can be fed by injustice as well as justice-compassion.  Perhaps that is why the ancient Priests were careful to remind the people to leave something for the poor and for the alien seeking hospitality in a hostile world.

Psalm 104:24-35
Hymn     Eli, Eli

Acts 2:1-21
Hechos 2:1-4
Français Actes 2:1-4

MEDITATIONHere’s Some Holy Spirit Sea Raven, D.Min.
1 Corinthians 12:3-13

What is missing from most Christian Pentecost celebrations is a sense of purpose, ownership, liberation, and commitment.  Theologically, Jesus’s death and resurrection supposedly replace any need for a “scape-goat” as a sacrifice for sin, and reconciles humanity with God’s realm of distributive justice-compassion.  But sin, and guilt about sin, continues to plague church-goers, as though Jesus’s death and resurrection didn’t really do the trick.

Jesus’s life and teachings illustrated a profound one-ness with a mysterious, non-interventionist,kenotic god, in a realm of radical fairness, inclusiveness, and distributive justice-compassion.  When we identify with that kind of God, and commit to that kind of covenant, it is possible to experience a sense of integrity, not just within ourselves, but rippling out from ourselves to encompass all of God’s creation.  That is what I would call a transformed life.  When we get in touch with that, we can access the power to address systems of injustice.

In his lengthy letter to his community in Corinth, Paul makes the point that Jesus’ execution was a sacrifice; in the translation from the Scholars Version: “the Anointed died to free us from the seductive power of corruption,” which is the force that seems to impel us toward the unjust systems that seem inevitable in civilized societies. But post-modern Christians are separated from God’s realm, unable to open our eyes and ears and look and listen.  Most of us have no personal stake in the conditions in which we live, or in which we observe others to be living.  We have reduced “sacrifice” to an “offering” of money.  We are unable to act with personal power.

Paul uses two intimate metaphors to show the Corinthians (and us) how to get in touch with that personal power, and continue to live in opposition to that disabling, seductive, corruption.

The first metaphor is the human body.  The second metaphor is food and drink that nourishes that body.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:3-13, “There are different gifts, but the same power of God, and there are different kinds of service, but the same Lord, and there are different activities, but the same God makes them all effective in everyone.  Some expression of God’s power is given to each of us for the benefit of all. . . . Just as the body has many parts and all of the parts, even though there are many of them, are still parts of one body, so is the body of the Anointed” – the body of Christ – the community.

Paul then says, “For we were all baptized by the same power of God into one body, whether we were Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and we were all invited to imbibe the same divine power.”  That word the scholars use – imbibe – carries with it a sense of taking in, of allowing that divine power to infuse every aspect of our being.

For Paul, the lord’s supper – the ritual community meal that became the defining action in Christian worship – was a symbol for the transformed life that was filled with the spirit of Christ, and assured the establishment on earth of God’s covenantal rule.

So now we have two images to contemplate as we move into a time of prayer and meditation.  The first is the image of fire – that transforms, destroys, purifies, enlightens, inspires, and protects.  The second is the image of water – that like fire – transforms, destroys, and purifies, but also provides nourishment, comfort, and transportation.

Liturgist: Let’s chant the words from the Taize Community “Come and pray in us, come and visit us, Holy Spirit.” Let’s chant it a few times, and see if you can just close your eyes and remember the words.  Then we will have a time of prayer – you may pray aloud if you wish.

Chant:    Vieni Spirito Creatore

One: The Eucharist is heart food from the cosmos – the “mystical body of Christ” and the Cosmic Christ or Buddha nature found in all beings in the universe – to us.  Christ is the light of the world, which we now know is made only of light. Flesh is light and light is flesh.  We eat, drink, sleep, breathe, and love that light.

All: The Eucharist is also our hearts expanding and responding generously: “Yes we will” We will carry on the heart-work called compassion, the work of the cosmos itself.  (From Matthew Fox Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh (Harmony Books, New York, 1999) p. 271.

One: The cup of God’s gracious benefits that we consecrate means that we are involved in the blood of the Anointed. . . . The bread that we break means that we are involved in the body of the Anointed. . . That there is one loaf means that we who are many constitute one body, because we all partake of the one loaf (1 Corinthians 10:16-17, Scholars Version).

One: Lift up your hearts
All: We lift them up to God
One: Let us give thanks for the spirit of wisdom and understanding, which gives us courage in the struggle for justice and peace.
All: Thanks be to the Spirit of Life, and Light.

Institution (1 Corinthians 11:23b-26, Scholars Version)
One: On the night when he was handed over, the lord Jesus took bread and after he gave thanks he broke it and said, “This means my body broken for you.  Do this to remember me.”[Break Bread] And in the same way he took the wine cup after the meal and said, “This cup means the new covenant ratified by my blood.  Whenever you drink this, do it to remember me.”[Pour Wine] So every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you are proclaiming the death of the lord until the day when he returns. . . . All who eat and drink recognize that the community is the body of the Anointed.

One: The gifts of God for the People of God
All: Thanks be to God.

HYMN: Gather the Spirit

BENEDICTION (Isaiah 55:12-13)

One: For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Men: Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
Women: Instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
All:        And it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

All: We extinguish the flame, but not the light of truth and justice that lights our way until we meet again.  Peace, Shalom, Amen, Hoh, Blessed be.

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