Tag Archives: Pentecost

Pentecost reimagined

So there they were – a load o’ fowk fae aw o’er, staunin’ aboot.

Suddenly – and a kid yous not – wheech! A hoolie swep in and they were bamboozled.

Then there wus somethin like tungs o’ fire that nipped them.

“Wtf!” they said. “We’re fae Govan, Carantyne, Easterhoose, Drumchapel, Brig’toon, and everywhere north, sooth, west, east – some fae oot o’ toon a the gither…… an’ jeez….. we can a un’erstaund whit these f***ers are sayin.”

Some said – och, come on, they’ve been on the bevvy!

Then big Pete says tae them, “Haud yer wheesh! Ma pals arenae pished. Come on! It’s only 9 in the morn!”

(voice from the crowd: “Av bin neckin’ Bucky since a got up at 6!”)

So Rocky gies him the eye. “Shut the f up! Am gonnie tell yous about a different kinda bevvy – this wan is cried the Spirit whit was prophesied by that auld guy, Joel…. ken? No, Billy Joel, mind.”

And he starts to explain.

(Interrupted by someone in the crowd: “spirits?! Wha can afford them wi’ the new unit prices? Hell, White Lighnins gone up fae 4 quid tae 10! Ffs!”)

But big Pete carries oan- and yous no whit the rest of the story is……….


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A Sermon for Pentecost

Genesis 11 verses 1-9

Acts 2 verses 1-21


In days lost in the mists of time and myth, the people of the world got above themselves, overreached themselves, and attempted to scale the heights that, we’re told, were the domain of the Almighty.

Their God was angry with them; furious at their wicked ambitions, and raged against their Tower that attempted to pierce the very fabric of his heavenly dwelling.

So…. he brought them crashing to the ground and muddled and confused their language, so that they couldn’t communicate with each other.  Now, instead of unity, there was a Babel of confusing voices.


Pieter Bruegel – The Tower of Babel

We move on….. in the early years of the third decade (CE), many people from all over the known world, speaking in different tongues, were together in Jerusalem for a type of Harvest Festival.

Suddenly, something remarkable happened.  And they turned to each other, saying “…these Galileans. How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?……

…..They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”  (“The Message” paraphrase)

below: “Descent of the Holy Spirit” by El Greco



Come now to the middle of last Century…… and to the former East Berlin:

The Communist authorities – to “get one over” the West during the Cold War – built a giant television transmission tower, which rose magnificently above the skyline of that sector of the City.  Built to impress and to provoke envy.

Just below the summit of this tower was a revolving restaurant.

What a spectacular structure it was – intended to be a showcase to annoy the West.

However, a design fault turned it into a bit of an embarrassment; whenever the sun hit the structure at a certain angle, the tower had the appearance of a huge shimmering cross!

Frantic attempts were made to repaint the tower – to blot out the cross – but with little success.

In Jerusalem in 32/33 or thereabouts, those in authority thought that they could blot out the Christian movement which was being built up, following Christ’s crucifixion.

They didn’t, of course, succeed.

Instead it grew spectacularly…….

…..beginning on that day of wonder and amazement: Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised, “zapped” the Apostles gathered in the Holy City……and transformed them.

This rag-bag of rather disorganised human beings were touched by Heaven itself.  Changed from a disparate bunch into a single body of witnesses which we now know as the Church.

Today we celebrate a birthing – that of a new community – with one thing in common: a mutual love of Jesus Christ.

What a hodgepodge collection of odds and ends of folk they were.

Look at the roll call from the 1st chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles:  amongst them a “Rock” who crumbled under pressure, a so-called “Son of Thunder” such was his fiery temperament, a man who had doubted, a former tax collector, a freedom fighter….. members of Christ’s family who probably were still puzzled as to what this was all about, a clutch of women who were essentially viewed as second class citizens….. oh, and poor Matthaias, drafted in to replace Judas Iscariot, and who was probably wondering what he’d let himself into.

But they were a group, a fellowship, a new community of believers – and that transcended any barriers that might have separated each from the other.  Congregated through their love of Jesus, bound together by the Spirit.

Look around you today – look at the person in front of you, and behind, and across the aisle.  You’re all different.. with different backgrounds…of different ages…and so on.  But part of the same Body.

We, whoever we are or wherever we come from, are united, drawn together through our common love of Christ.




Note this too (@ verse 4)  “They were ALL filled with the Holy Spirit”


There’s nothing exclusive or discrimatory about that precious gift.

{it annoys me when looking at some of the Pentecostal, fundamentalist, literalist and independent congregations whose “pastors” – usually a married couple – have been especially “anointed” –  claiming to have been especially “touched” by God. This anointing allows them to hold a God-ordained authority amidst a group of believers and to give a greater blessing to their opinions.  And many of them make a lot of $$$$$ out of their divinely appointed and approved status. “Touched by and infused with the Spirit” – you know the kind of thing?!!}

Those gathered that momentous day in Jerusalem, were, each and every one of them, brought together, understanding what God had in store for them.  Now, theirs was a common language, the language of faith, trust, and belief in the might of God who knows no boundaries, and who has no favourites – no, not even the specially “anointed” leaders of some contemporary gullible flocks.

So…it’s an old story, overlaid with symbolism and metaphor.

Today, with the General Assembly starting in six days time, where is the fire, the zeal, the enthusiasm that drove the Church for centuries?

You know, when I was ordained in 1974, the Kirk had about 1 million members.  Looking at the latest statistics (31 December 2015), I see that we’re down to something like 363,500+. That’s some drop in numbers.

I remember – sometime in the late 1980s, a guest speaker at my then Presbytery (Lothian) charting the probable decline in membership numbers.  He said – to great guffawing – that Edinburgh Presbytery (adjacent to that of Lothian) would have no members by 2029, and would effectively disappear; a pause…..”And you’re next in 2030!”

Why are we in retreat?  I wish and pray that I knew (and I’ve pored over many church-sociology books). Are we being sidetracked by matters that, though important, will eventually sort themselves out, such as SSM, Biblical interpretation (very much tied in with the first), too manyv buildings (the C of S has £millions in its property portfolio.) and so on.

Instead of “being Church”, should we not be “doing” Church?  Feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, reaching out to the marginalised?

Only the Spirit will guide and draw us together in a common cause – whatever God decrees that to be.

We began this morning with a TV tower in the former East Germany.  It’s usually the tradition on this Pentecost Sunday to refer to another tower – that of the Tower of Babel

Genesis tells us that prior to the construction of this tower, all people could communicate, insofar as they spoke the same language.  God, we are told, “muddled” all this up, because of the people’s “pride”

Would it not have been better if all people who on earth do dwell understood each other, with a common tongue? Aye, but this is the interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, to make sense – in their limited way – to describe why we all speak in different tongues.

Whatever, this interpretation of what happened on the day of Pentecost reverses the situation – quaint and metaphorical it may appear.

OK – what of us today?

We are people of the Spirit.  Big deal!  What do we do with it?

How do we put it into practice?

Here’s something that may sum it up…

Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War diary:

“of all the forms of charity and benevolence seen in the crowded wards of the hospitals, those of some Catholic Sisters were the most efficient

“I never knew whence they came or what was the name of their Order

“More  lovely than anything I have ever seen in art…are the pictures of those modest Sisters, going on their errands of mercy among the suffering and the dying

“Gently…yet with the courage of soldiers..they went from cot to cot….They were veritable angels of mercy”

Our kind of revived witness?  Pentecost calls us from separation into community; from selfish individualism into fellowship with everyone.

It’s this kind of witness that the Holy Spirit has called us……are we – together – hearing its call?





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PADEREWSKI (an old illustration for Pentecost Sunday)




There is a delightful story about a mother who bought a ticket to a concert by Paderewski, the great Polish pianist.  She took her five-year-old son with her hoping the experience would encourage him in his own young efforts at music.

She was delighted to see how close to the stage their seats were.  Then she met an old friend & got so involved talking to her that she didn’t notice that the wee laddie had slipped away to do some exploring.

When eight o’ clock arrived – the time for the performance to begin – the lights dimmed, the audience hushed to a whisper, and the spotlight came on.

Only then did the woman see her five year old on the stage, sitting at the piano, innocently picking out ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’

She gasped in total disbelief.  However, before she could retrieve her son, Paderewsski walked onto the stage.  Walking over to the piano, he whispered to the boy ‘Don’t stop!  Keep playing’

Then leaning over the youngster, Paderewski reached out his left hand and began to fill in the bass.  A few seconds later, he reached around the other side of the boy, encircling him, and added a running obbligato

Together, the great maestro and the tiny five-year-old mesmerised the audience with their playing.  When they finished, the audience broke into thunderous applause.

Years later almost all those present forgot the pieces Paderewski played that night, but no one forgot ‘Twinkle Twinkle little star’

That image of the great maestro and the little boy at the piano makes a beautiful image of the Holy Spirit and the Church.  It provides a lovely image of how the Holy Spirit unites the Church to make beautiful music.

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, just as Christ had promised when he said:

 ” I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth…he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you…  I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.” (John 14, vv 16-17, 26, 29)

Going back to the image of Paderewski and the five-year-old, we see that – to some extent – the boy resembles the disciples.

When Christ departed from their midst, they were like children; their knowledge of God & how to spread God’s kingdom was terribly deficient – like, if you like, the boy’s knowledge of music.

And the great pianist – if we can use this image – resembles, if you like, the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples, encircling them with love, whispering encouragement to them, and transforming their feeble human efforts into something beautiful.

There is a lesson here for us, I believe.  We look at the world and see so many problems that need to be addressed.  We look at our talents and see how inadequate they are in the face of these problems.

It’s here that we need to recall the image of the little boy and Paderewski

Musically, the little boy’s skill was minimal.  Nevertheless, Paderewski built upon it and turned it into something beautiful – something that completely mesmerised the sophisticated audience that gathered in the hall that night.

In a similar way, the Holy Spirit can take whatever we have – no matter how small – build upon it, and transform it into something powerful and beautiful.

That is the good news of Scripture.  This is the good news we celebrate on this day of Pentecost.  It is the good news that Christ has sent upon his church the promised Holy Spirit.

We are not alone.  The Holy Spirit is leaning over us, taking our small contribution, and transforming it into something that we never dreamed possible.

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June 3, 2014 · 22:30

Some Jokes

A minister, a priest and a rabbi went for a hike one very hot day. They were sweating profusely by the time they came upon a small lake with a sandy beach. Since it was a secluded spot, they left all their clothes on a big log, ran down the beach to the lake and jumped in the water for a long, refreshing swim.

Refreshed, they were halfway back up the beach to the spot they’d left their clothes, when a group of ladies from town came along. Unable to get to their clothes in time, the minister and the priest covered their privates and the rabbi covered his face while they ran for cover in the bushes.

After the ladies wandered on and the men got dressed again, the minister and the priest asked the rabbi why he covered his face rather than his privates.  The rabbi replied, “I don’t know about you, but in my congregation, it’s my face they would recognize.”

A minister woke up Sunday morning and realizing it was an exceptionally beautiful and sunny early spring day, decided he just had to play golf.

 So. . . he told the Assistant Minister that he was feeling sick and convinced him to preach for him that day.  As soon as the Associate left the room, the minister headed out of town to a golf course about forty miles away.  This way he knew he wouldn’t accidentally meet anyone he knew from his parish.  Setting up on the first tee, he was alone.  After all, it was Sunday morning and everyone else was in church!

  At about this time, Saint Peter leaned over to the Lord while looking down from the heavens and exclaimed, “You’re not going to let him get away with this, are you?”  The Lord sighed, and said, “No, I guess not.”

Just then the Minister hit the ball and it shot straight towards the pin, dropping just short of it, rolled up and fell into the hole.  It Was a 420 Yard HOLE IN ONE!  St. Peter was astonished.  He looked at the Lord and asked,

“Why did you let him do that?”  The Lord smiled and replied, “Who’s he going to tell?”

A minister, was anxious to get home to his family after several days absence. He was travelling just over the speed limit when he was pulled up by a police officer who was unimpressed by my father’s explanation. “A minister, eh? How would you like me to preach you a little sermon?” “Skip the sermon,” he replied with a sigh. “Just take up the collection.

A Somerset parish magazine tells how Methodist ministers from the Welsh valleys were distressing the older members of the chapel by the length of their sermons. On one occasion an elderly man asked the minister, “And what is the subject of your sermon this morning?”. “The milk of human kindness,” replied the minister. “Condensed, I hope,” said the parishioner.

THE new minister was touring the Parish, getting acquainted with his parishioners. At one house a feminine voice from inside asked, “Is that you, angel?”  The minister hesitated for a moment and then replied, “No, but I happen to be from the same department.”


A parish priest had a flair for the dramatic. He got the idea of having a pigeon released from the belfry on Pentecost just at the moment when, on the church steps in front of the procession of worshipers, he would say, “Come, Holy Spirit!”  Pentecost came, and the sacristan put a pigeon in a bag, went upstairs to the belfry and waited. When the priest pronounced the words, nothing happened.  A few seconds later, we heard a voice from the belfry, “It’s stifled!”

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Toruń, church of St. James, Descent of the Hol...

Toruń, church of St. James, Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) painting, early 16th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia With this action, the American Revolution was launched and a new nation was born. It is ironic that on that very day King George III made this entry in his diary: “Nothing of any importance happened today.”

On the day of Pentecost, in the year A.D. 30, 120 followers of a man named Jesus were gathered together in Jerusalem. Suddenly the Spirit of God filled each one of them and marked them with tongues of fire. On that day the Church was born. But no historian of the time saw anything significant in that event.

Those followers were just a handful of rather ordinary men and women, Yet through these ordinary people God built a Church which has lasted now for over 2,0000 years.

In less than 300 years, that small, insignificant Jewish sect became the official religion of the entire Roman Empire and today the Church of Jesus Christ circles the globe and numbers some one billion members.

How did they do it? What happened to those  followers in the year 30 A.D. on the day we call Pentecost? Those  followers came in contact with the Christian’s unknown God.

They came in contact with God’s Spirit, or the Holy Spirit. For many Christians the events of Pentecost, the events of God’s spirit coming to this earth is like what King George said on the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, “nothing of any importance happened today.”

Pentecost  is  a major festival of the church year – just as important as Christmas, just as important as Easter, but for some unknown reason, this festival in the church year goes by almost unnoticed. Why is that? Maybe the Holy Spirit is our Unknown God, also.

Maybe because we have a difficult time getting a handle on the Spirit of God. Maybe, we don’t understand what exactly happened on this day. And maybe, talk about the Spirit is not so enthralling as talk about a baby born in a manager, angels singing in the heavens, gifts being passed about and shepherds tending their sheep on quiet hillsides.

But, this festival, this holiday is very important for the life of the church, for your life and my life.

The Spirit of God is not something we should fear, nor something we should ignore, but the Holy Spirit is God’s presence in this world.

It is the same presence that was moving over the face of the earth when God created this world in which we live. It is that same presence that took the form of a baby born in a manager in Bethlehem, it is the same spirit of God that walked the earth for 33 years, teaching, healing, proclaiming the love of God for all people. And now, today, it is that same spirit that is with us, it is God’s spirit alive and well on this earth, working through his people, the church, to bring his love into the brokenness of this world.

It is this Spirit that comes into our lives, into the church to allow us to spread God’s message of love to all people. It is this Spirit which points not to itself, but to Christ. It is this Spirit which allows us to point not to ourselves, but to Christ. It is this Spirit which makes the church, the Body of Christ, the most unique organization on the face of the earth.

We are part of  a global enterprise. We have branches in every country in the world. We have our representatives in nearly every parliament and board room on earth. We’re into motivation and behaviour alteration.

We run homeless shelters and orphanages, publishing houses, and nursing homes. We care for our clients from birth to death.

We perform spiritual heart transplants. Our original Organizer owns all the real estate on earth plus an assortment of galaxies and constellations. He knows everything and lives everywhere. Our product is free for the asking. (There’s not enough money to buy it.)

The church is the most amazing organization in the world! And we are part of it, not because we did anything, but the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, makes us holy and keeps us in the true faith

pentecost-simonmarshSimon Marsh – Artist

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Christian Hairstyles (by “Derek the Cleric”)



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April 10, 2013 · 08:43