Sunday Service 5.23.2021

GATHERING MUSIC

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE Barbara Donohue, liturgist
O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others
Open my ears that I may hear their cries;
Open my heart so that they need not be without succor;
Let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of
the strong,
Nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
And use me to bring them to those places.
And so open my eyes and my ears
That I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for
thee.

Alan Paton, South Africa, United Methodist Hymnal #456

PRELUDE Promenade Mussorgsky

CALL TO WORSHIP
Come like fire and kindle love in our hearts
Come like wind and breathe life into our frames
Come like water and flow through our souls
Come like the earth: sustain and nourish our being.
MUSICAL REFLECTION Come, O Spirit, with Your Sound

Union Harmony , 1836

SCRIPTURE LESSON
Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us
in the reading of Holy Scripture.
Our hearts and minds are open.
Acts 2: 1-21
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among
us, for the word of God within us.
Thanks be to God.

SERMON Pentecost: A Superspreader Event Rev. Kim P. Wells

Who knew about a superspreader event until the covid pandemic? But now we know. We know of those events where that covert, unseen, unsmelled, undetected covid virus snuck in, through respiratory passages, and infected one person after another. And this happened repeatedly at church events like choir practice. Most of a church choir struck down. An elderly member of the choir dying. And at large, mega church services, with hundreds of people worshiping, singing, praying, and spreading the virus. It happened at weddings and funerals.

People came together for spiritual nourishment and instead found themselves not healed or cured but infected.

And then there were other superspreader events, like press conferences, and political rallies, and sports events.

This little virus, now we know, airborne, unseen, extremely powerful, attacking life after life after life. Filling hospitals and clinics. Devastating families and nations. Creating vast political, economic, and social disruption. Spreading. Multiplying. Virtually ubiquitous.

In its own way, Pentecost is a kind of superspreader event. Something unseen emerges and erupts to great consequence. But the outcome is to the good. It is healing and hopeful.

The story starts in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. The followers of Jesus have been told to go to Jerusalem and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. So, there they are, a small group, hidden away upstairs, on lock down, waiting. Afraid. Feeling endangered by the same forces that killed Jesus.

Now it is 50 days after Passover, after the crucifixion. Fifty days that must have seemed like
eternity for the small, scared band of hicks waiting in the big city. Would the Holy Spirit ever come? The time has arrived for the Festival of Pentecost, a Jewish harvest festival 50 days after Passover, celebrating the first harvest of the season. Jews from around the world came to this celebration of abundance and thanksgiving. But the Jesus followers are still sheltering in place. Still afraid of the threat outside.

And then we have this wonderful story of how they suddenly heard a sound like the rush of a mighty wind. We know that sound, we Floridians, familiar as we are with hurricanes. And then they see something that looks like a tongue of fire on the head of each person. No one was left out. And we are told that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages. Finally, the day they had been waiting for!

In the multicultural crowd, everyone hears in their own language from what one commentator describes as these “unlearned Galilean laborers mistaken for colorful inebriates. . .” [Benjamin J. Dueholm, The Christian Century, 5.5.21, p. 21]

Here are these followers of Jesus, the crucified, who were scared and sheltering in place in an upstairs room, now out on the streets speaking forthrightly in many languages, making a scene, making what John Lewis would call, ‘good trouble.’ Empowered by the Spirit, they come out of hiding preaching a message of reconciliation and forgiveness and hope
to a crowd that surely included people who only weeks before had been among those shouting, ‘Crucify!’ Here are Jesus’ beloved friends declaring a message of love, compassion, and understanding. We don’t hold this against you. We offer you God’s eternal love, mercy, and grace.

These disciples who had been scared and embittered and angry because their leader was killed could have come out swinging. Hostile. Accusatory. Vindictive. But these followers of Jesus are transformed. And as it turns out this Spirit-filled group isn’t just laughed off as a crazy spectacle. At the end of the day, the story tells us, over 3,000 people have been baptized. It has been a superspreader event of love, good will, acceptance, new life, hope,
transformation, and reconciliation.

And the superspreading did not stop there. It spread from that ragtag band in a backwater rural colony from country to country and people to people resulting in Christianity becoming largest religion in the world. We are here today because of those superspreaders who came before us.

Pentecost, with the flames and wind, reminds us that we, too, have been gifted with the Holy Spirit. It’s not a matter of choice. It’s not something earned or deserved. It’s simply something that’s given. In the Acts story, the wind and the flames touch everyone. There is no singling out. And it is not something that can be controlled. The message is clear: The Holy Spirit is at work in us. It is empowering us to be witnesses to the Divine Love that we see in Jesus. And this witness is desperately needed today. We are needed to be superspreaders of love, of goodness, and of justice. Our world needs this kind of impact and energy from a positive source.

Now in the Pentecost story, the pouring out of the Spirit indicated the coming of the last days with better days ahead. As superpreaders, we are needed to herald the last days of racism, of an extractive economy, of addiction to fossil fuels. We are needed to declare the last days of legally sanctioned obscene greed. We are needed to proclaim the last days of the death penalty, and threats to Jews and apartheid for Palestinians. We are needed to announce the last days of sexism, white privilege, industrial pollution, homophobia, and compulsive consumerism.

The world is desperate to hear this message. We are needed to be superspreaders of universal love, the sacredness of all life, and reverence for the natural world that will hail a new tomorrow.

The world is aching for this message. To hear this declaration. To be transformed by hope in a different kind of future for the planet.

Last week I participated in a secular webinar about claiming your power and removing the obstacles that block you from exercising your full power to love and to make a difference in the world. It was interesting to see how many people are searching for this kind of direction. And to hear their stories. What I found interesting is that they seem to have no idea that the church exists as a community of spiritual support and formation and discernment to help tune the ear to the call of Divine Love and how you can be a superspreader of Good News for all of creation. There was no mention of religion or church in this presentation even though the leader calls his home base a ‘temple.’ It was very interesting. I felt like here are these hungry people. And we in the church have food. And they don’t know that it is here for them. There’s a big disconnect. And last week, Claire Stiles and I met with a Florida friendly landscape designer about the church grounds. She told us that she is in a Facebook group of young parents in St. Pete and at least once a week someone asks if anyone can recommend a church to go to where their kids will get the basic values of love, peace, sharing, helping others, etc. without all the ‘garbage’ like hell and condemnation of gay people and creationism. Claire and I raised our hands. We know a church like that. Then the landscaper asked, “Are you willing to have new people come to your church?”

The point is, people are actually looking for this. Looking for what we have to offer in the church. Looking for the message of hope and transformation and reconciliation that has been entrusted to us.

We are needed to be superspreaders. Outloud like the disciples in the Pentecost story. Or covertly like that nasty little virus. But we are needed to spread the message of universal love and grace. We are needed to display reckless abandon in our witness to Jesus who never condemned homosexuality or weighed in on abortion, but did command love of enemy and an end to violence.

We are needed to speak out. Infected by Divine Love, we are needed to spread it! Offering words of hope, love, connection, and reconciliation – superspreading in all of our different forums like Twitter, Facebook, What’sApp, Instagram, Facetime, Zoom. Speaking out in person, on the phone, with a megaphone, through a mask, in an email, on paper. We have all of these different modalities to use to declare the powerful message of love which can create a new future for us and for those who will come after us.

And we can start right now. I’m going to ask you to do something that we don’t usually do in church. I’m going to ask you to get your phone out if you have one with you. Yes, your phone. And I want you to send a message of hope, love, encouragement, or comfort. You can make a Facebook post or send a Tweet. You can think of someone you know who is having a rough time and send a personal message. But right here, right now, we can be superspreaders.

Sharing love and compassion and hope. . . Would anyone like to share the message that they sent? Several people responded.

Friends, this is not the time to be timid or shy. It is a time for boldness. Courage. Speaking out. Lifting up. Challenging. Inviting. Affirming. There is a world hungry, aching, desperate for this Good News. Looking for a way forward; an on-ramp to community and connection to one another and to the natural world.

The flames of the wildfires will rage again in a few months. The winds of the storms and hurricanesahead will howl calling to us to step up. Have an impact. Act boldly.

Here in this sacred sanctuary this morning, we hear the whispers of the wind, we see the flickering of the flames, the red of the Holy Spirit captures our attention, and we know that grace, mercy, and justice are our lifeline. Love is our protection. So let us be superspreaders of the Good News of the gospel of Divine Love.

Amen.

UNISON READING Jan Berry, adapted
Infectious Spirit of God,
bursting with brightness of flame
into the coldness of our lives
to warm us with a passion for justice and beauty
we praise you.

Infectious Spirit of God,
sweeping us out of the dusty corners of our apathy
to breathe vitality into our struggles for change,
we praise you.

Infectious Spirit of God,
speaking words that leap over barriers of mistrust
to convey messages of truth and new understanding,
we praise you.

Infectious Spirit of God,
flame
wind
speech,
burn, breathe, speak in us;
fill your world with justice and with joy.

MUSICAL INTERLUDE Fire of Justice, Fire of Love HKJ

Lakewood UCC Choir Virtual Performance

MISSION STATEMENT
The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the
Church Universal is to:
• Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our
world.
• Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
• Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.

MORNING OFFERING
Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the
plates on the altar.
Offertory Renew Your Church White
Prayer of Dedication Jean Vanier
How can we live and love as Jesus did, except through the
mysterious gift and power which he gives through his Spirit,
so that we become his face, his hands, his heart and body?

PREPARATION FOR PRAYER Nocturne #21 In C Minor (posthumous)

Chopin

COMMUNITY PRAYERS- SAVIOR’S PRAYER
Holy One, our only Home, hallowed be Your name.
May your day dawn, your will be done,
Here, as in heaven. Feed us today, and forgive us
As we forgive each other. Do not forsake us at the test,
But deliver us from evil. For the glory, the power,
And the mercy are yours, now and forever. Amen.

*BENEDICTION After a prayer of St. John of Damascus
To we who are but black cold charcoal
grant, O Lord,
that by the fire of Pentecost,
We may be set ablaze.

*POSTLUDE Jig Fugue Buxtehude

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