Call to Worship (From Psalm 103 - responsively)
Bless the LORD, my soul;
all my being, bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, my soul;
and do not forget all his gifts,
Who pardons all your sins
and heals all your ills,
Who redeems your life from the pit,
and crowns you with mercy and compassion,
Who fills your days with good things
so your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Bless the LORD, my soul;
all my being, bless his holy name!
God of Amazement and Wonder, you have been preparing the way for us throughout time. You sent people like the prophet Joel and the apostle Peter to guide our spiritual journey. On this day of Pentecost, we celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes confused but often in awe, we watch the everyday miracles experienced all around us. All things are possible with you, O God. We trust that this offering will foster the miracles and the possibilities that you have in store
for this church community. We await with hearts already filled in amazement and wonder at your ways. Come Holy Spirit, come! Amen.
Luke 23 38-43
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
(In my last retreat at Manresa, we were given these words to chant:
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.)
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Acts 2 1-4, 14-16
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
14…Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
And 500 years earlier from
Joel 2 28-30, 32
The Day of the Lord
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved;
And on that day, 3000 were baptized.
Lord, we are in your presence. You have kept your promise to be with us through all our days. We need no flames, no wind, no gift of tongues to remind us that without you, we are like dust in the wind. We are like ashes after the fire. We are wordless in the wonder of your holy gifts. We remember by all your works that our souls will never die, that all we have to do is to call on you. Lord, we are not worthy to come under your roof. Speak but the word, and our soul will be saved. Amen.
The Soul of Man Never Dies
Those of us who have stated “I believe,” instinctively know that when we break the bonds of this earth, we pass on to another domain. This domain - whatever we choose to call it - heaven, the other side, eternal reward, and so on - we can pretty well conclude, is beyond physical description. And I think that’s the way it should be. I would be suspicious of any physical description that claims to be factual. After all, we can’t see our soul, we can’t even describe it. Why should we be able to describe the soul’s final abode?
But yet, we do have tantalizing hints that our soul is there, that heaven is there. Let’s just not get too dogmatic about it. The soul makes its presence known in unexpected ways. In the deepest pit of utter despair, the soul will still receive whispers from God. And it will pass them on. Just when we think all is lost, that there is nothing beyond, that there is, after all, only what our senses tell us, just when we think that, we are surprised by God. And we become aware that, the soul of man never dies.
Approximately 1986 years ago, but who’s counting, a man named Yeshua was put to death like a common criminal by the Roman authorities. That he wasn’t a thief or a murderer, or anything else, didn’t seem to matter to the religious and political power elite. He was deemed to be a threat to the empire and its minions, the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
As he was hanging on the cross, the one thief who hanged with him had sudden inspiration. He asked Jesus to take him into his kingdom, and Jesus acknowledged him and accepted him. He told him that on that same day he will join him in Paradise. How could he make that promise and fulfill it after the crucifixion? Because the soul of man never dies.
So, that was the end of that, right? I mean, the man is dead, what more can he do to upset the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome? His followers went underground or had scattered. The people stopped agitating. And despite the darkness and earthquake that damaged the temple after he died, the movement died with him. And yet? And yet? The soul of man never dies.
The disciples kept meeting periodically, but they were afraid. The didn’t know what to do without their leader, Yeshua. Perhaps they felt deserted. Perhaps they couldn’t quite believe the promises they had been given by their Lord, that he would never desert them. They were, after all, practical men, fishermen, tradesmen, tax collectors for the most part, but still unwilling to let go of their dream.
It was with all this in mind that on the day of Pentecost, which is from the Greek meaning the 50th day, 50 days after Christ’s death, that some kind of miracle happened. The bible says tongues of flame appeared over the heads of the disciples, they felt a rush of wind, they spoke in tongues.
Well, whatever happened that day, it resulted in the greatest miracle the world had ever experienced. 11 apostles and 100 or so disciples cast off all fear and began to spread the good news, that Yeshua, Jesus Christ is alive and with us to this day, because the soul of man never dies. Many of these disciples became martyrs. Their numbers multiplied and multiplied until, by sheer weight and strength of spirit, the Roman Empire succumbed to their message, that the soul of man never dies.
In the Holocaust, 6 million of God’s chosen people were murdered by Hitler and his Nazi Party. Entire villages, entire families, entire histories of a harmless people were reduced to ashes, were sent ignominiously to their deaths.
What did not, however, die was hope. What did not die was faith. What did not die was love. What did not die was the soul of man. The Holocaust exemplified the enormous extreme of evil that humans can inflict on each other. Yet, Israel exists. Hitler and his killers do not.
As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it, “Jewish faith is not about believing the world to be other than it is. It is not about ignoring the evil, the darkness and the pain. It is about courage, endurance and the capacity to hold fast to ideals even when they are ignored by others.” The soul of man never dies.
We all know the story of Saul, who persecuted early Christians everywhere he found them. When, very suddenly one day on the road to Damascus, he was struck blind, and he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul went into a deep depression, and his only sustenance became the power of prayer. You might say, Saul had been travelling the wrong road for a long time. But his soul refused to keep taking him that way. In the Acts of the Apostles, Act 9, we find Ananias visiting Saul - or Paul - and he says to him: “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
And we know the rest as the history of how much of the early church was formed. Even though Saul had a mandate from Rome to persecute Christians, God through the Holy Spirit, set him on the right path. God communicated to his soul which would not die.
In 1964, my step-brother, Attila, visited us in Montreal. He had not seen his father, my step-father, since we had left Hungary, 15 years earlier. Attila was raised by his mother in a communist country. Communism did not tolerate religion or religious pursuits. Communism was an atheistic philosophy. And my step-brother succumbed to that teaching. When I asked him what his thoughts were about God, he shrugged it off. He said he only believed what he could experience through his five senses, “What else is there?” he asked. I suggested there is imagination and there is spirit, or soul. He did not find my words persuasive, so I let it be. He was my brother. And we were both young, in our twenties.
In 2007, over 40 years later, we visited my step-brother in Budapest. He was now the Dean of Geography of the University of Miskolc, a city in northern Hungary. His huge office was like a mock-up of Indiana Jones, complete with exotic souvenirs of his geographic travels, complete with an ancient, real human skull.
Well, Attila took us on a tour of Budapest, including places I remembered from childhood. St. Stephen’s cathedral which included the mummified hand of the saint-king, was foremost on our places to visit. As we walked past the huge bronzed doors and entered the magnificent sanctuary, I noticed my brother touched the marble bowl that contained the holy water, crossed himself, and genuflected. This man who had never received any religious training in childhood, finally acknowledged his creator. The soul
of man never dies.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Special Music #1 -
The Soul of Man Never Dies.
(Stewart, Norm, Rob)
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And now may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. And may God give you His peace in your going out and in your coming in, in your lying down and in your rising up, in your labor and in your leisure, in your laughter and in your tears… Until you come to stand before Jesus in that day in which there is no sunset and no dawning. Amen.
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