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The coronavirus lockdown has been a blessing for Church of England clergy who want to re-do worship.

At the end of March, shortly after lockdown began, the Church’s archbishops — led by Canterbury (Welby) and York (Sentamu) — forbade clergy or congregants going into church to clean or check on its condition from praying while they were there.

This did not meet with universal approval from Anglican clergy:

There is a question as to whether this prohibition is actually legal:

Quite!

Not every diocese has adopted such stringent rules, although the congregation are not allowed inside:

Therefore, services are online. Most are live-streamed and require registering as well as being able to access the right platform, in some cases:

I realise that church closures aren’t a huge deal to people who don’t attend church, but for those of us who do, it is. We were brought up to worship and that needs to be done regularly in what we knew as children as ‘God’s house’. That is an entirely different matter from a collective church comprised of people who evangelise when they are not worshipping.

This year, we missed out on worship on the Church’s greatest feast, Easter. We missed Pentecost 50 days later. We missed Trinity Sunday, which was June 7.

Churches might not open in England until July 4. A Conservative MP asked Boris Johnson at PMQs on Wednesday, June 3, if the reopening could occur sooner. He burbled a bit and said he completely understood the desire to worship in church. Personally, I doubt anything will happen before July but am grateful that the MP asked the question.

On May 14, the Church Times reported that some Anglican vicars’ priorities are different to their congregants’ (emphases mine):

Far from rushing to unveil plans for opening up their premises, individual churches showed a marked reluctance this week to embark on any kind of detailed planning. Most acknowledge themselves to be too busy and have simply ‘parked’ the issue of return for the time being.

On May 29, the Church Times had an article about church after lockdown has been lifted:

Such rejuvenation may help to release us from the prison of our church building, which, for many, have become shrines to the past which not only soak up energy and resources, but also perpetuate concepts of division and hierarchy harmful to a mature understanding of who we are.

Right.

So, all of a sudden, after nearly two millennia of gathering to worship in church buildings, we should abandon them. Apparently, those who went before us and have worshipped in churches had an ‘immature’ understanding of Christianity and themselves.

Okay, sure (not).

The article also accuses people who enjoy attending church of:

over-indulgence in churchiness

Wow.

The article advocates a strong emphasis on online services.

Are we supposed to consecrate our own hosts for Communion, too? Probably. Wrong, on so many levels!

This is the cartoon that accompanied the article. How true:

On May 23, Catherine Pepinster wrote an excellent article for the Telegraph: ‘Whisper it, but the C of E might not mind that much if the Covid crisis leads to church closures’.

She provided an insight into Pentecost Sunday, traditionally known as Whitsun, which was May 31 this year:

Could there be a quainter title for a poem than The Whitsun Weddings? Philip Larkin’s 1955 work harks back to a once familiar tradition for church weddings to take place on what was known as Whit Saturday, the day before Whit Sunday. Today, most people will have absolutely no idea that next Sunday [May 31] is Whit Sunday and that it is a Christian feast to equal Christmas and Easter, marking the moment when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles after Christ had ascended to heaven. But this year on Whit Sunday, like Ascension Day which should have been marked two days ago, the churches will be empty as if Whitsun is indeed now a quaint festival, a throwback to Larkin’s England. There will be no choirs, no readings, no congregation.

She has spoken with vicars during lockdown, and the news is not good:

Anglican vicars around the country, from London to Liverpool, Buckinghamshire to Lincolnshire, have been telling me how fearful they are of their parish churches going bust. Reserves are being spent. They know they are storing up more financial headaches the longer they are in lockdown. Nobody has recently crossed ecclesiastical thresholds to carry out any repairs or refurbishment, storing up costly maintenance problems in historic buildings that need regular care.

It was bad even before coronavirus:

Just a few weeks before lockdown, a report with a startling statistic dropped onto the desks of church officials: that the greatest reduction in the Church of England’s stock of churches since the 16th century is under wayStruggling, Closed and Closing Churches  – produced by the Church Buildings Council – said that in the past 50 years 2,000 churches have closed, which is about 10 per cent of the stock. Now vicars fear plenty more could be shut for good.

Yes, the C of E has made loans to churches during this time, but that will not be enough:

Given the Church Commissioners have huge amounts of money tucked away this might be surprising, and they have lent the dioceses £75 million to pay salaries during the coronavirus pandemic. Yet it’s not enough to keep every church going. Liverpool diocese, for example, has already furloughed some of its curates. But it’s the money that comes in via the parishes themselves that normally props up the whole system, especially those dioceses without big endowments. That is what is lacking now.

Bishops, she says, will be eager to get rid of local churches in favour of larger ones requiring transportation to get to:

Some bishops are already saying they will bring forward decisions they have been putting off and will close some churches for good. That will be popular with the accountants – but also with the people in the Church of England who like talking about ‘hubs’ and ‘places of strength’. The jargon is used about a slimmed-down Church of England that focuses on buildings that can house large congregations to which people drive from miles around while everything else goes online.

I fully agree with her conclusion:

a church isn’t just a Facebook singalong. It’s a place that evokes those who went before us and are now remembered in plaques on the wall, in the stained glass, and in the adjoining graveyard. It’s a building that connects us to the present, that acts as the beating heart of a neighbourhood, even for those who do not attend on a Sunday. And if Covid-19 means some churches never re-open, that beating heart will be stilled.

The incoming Archbishop of York denies a Sunday newspaper report that he will begin closing churches. I bet he is considering it:

On June 2, the Church Times posted an article about the delay in reopening churches: ‘If shops, why not churches? Government challenged over restrictions’.

Based on what I’ve written above, I think it’s rather disingenuous to put all the blame on the government.

Churchgoers want an earlier opening than July:

A Savanta ComRes opinion poll commissioned by the National Churches Trust and published on Sunday suggested that the public backed the early reopening of churches and chapels, provided they could maintain social distancing. Forty-six per cent of the adults polled supported reopening earlier than 4 July: a tentative date mentioned at the start of May. This figure rose to 66 per cent among respondents who attended regularly.

At least one Anglican bishop has written to MPs asking for churches to reopen:

In an open letter sent on Monday to MPs whose constituencies lie in his diocese, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, writes: “I hope that you would lobby for an urgent review of the continued closure of our church buildings to individuals who seek solace in such places [church buildings]. . . 

“At a time when tensions run high, I believe that there is a deep thirst for access to churches and cathedrals as places of prayer for people of committed faith, or for anyone who is in search of space in which to find peace.

“I am fortunate to live near to Chichester cathedral. Each day I see individuals peering in through its glass doors. I know from personal experience what pressing and intimate needs find expression in the prayers that they write down and leave behind.

“We urgently need places and experience that build hope, trust, and endurance. The capacity of the Christian Church to engender those virtues through prayer and stillness in its buildings should not be underestimated.” 

Another bishop has been resorting to Twitter. After the daily coronavirus briefing on Pentecost Sunday:

the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, suggested: “I think we should be arguing (a) that it is too soon to open other buildings; or (b) that our churches should be allowed to open alongside them. To suggest that our churches should remain closed while other ‘non-essential’ shops and buildings open is to condone secularism.”

The benefits of prayer were “not generally of such direct economic benefit”, but that did not mean that they didn’t matter, he observed. “The risk to a person sitting quietly to pray in a church which is properly cleaned and supervised is surely not greater than a trip to the supermarket?”

He was joined by Bishop Tom Wright, who wrote in The Times:

Absolutely!

Here’s a Episcopal priest’s view from across the pond in Cincinnati:

You can take a Church Times survey, for a limited time, on the state of the Church in England. It’s got plenty of room for extended replies.

If you love the Church and live in England, please make your voice heard.

Pentecost2Below are the readings for Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Pentecost, the final Sunday in Eastertide, is regarded as the Church’s birthday.

The first Pentecost coincided with the Jewish feast of Shavuot, which explains why there were so many witnesses to the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples, as we will see in the reading from Acts 2 below:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

The following posts have more on this important day in the Church calendar:

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Reflections for Pentecost — a Reformed view

Outside of the Psalm, the readings below have more than one option.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Option One

If this is not read as the first reading, it must be chosen for the Second Reading/Epistle.

This is the dramatic account of the Holy Spirit descending on the 70 disciples in Jerusalem. Many onlookers saw this, as the Jews had gathered for the Feast of Shavuot:

Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Option Two

The Holy Spirit rested upon two men in the Israelites’ camp, and they began to prophesy. Far from silencing them, Moses wished there were more like them. Note that 70 elders received the Spirit, just as there were 70 disciples who received Him at the first Pentecost.

Numbers 11:24-30

11:24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent.

11:25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

11:26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.

11:27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

11:28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!”

11:29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

11:30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Psalm

David praised God’s majesty and power, present in all of His creation.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

104:25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

104:26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

104:27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

104:28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

104:29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

104:30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.

104:31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works

104:32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.

104:33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

104:34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.

104:35b Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Option One

If the aforementioned passage from Acts 2 has not already been read, then it must be read as the Epistle.

Option Two

If the passage from Acts 2 has been read, then this option will be the Epistle, wherein Paul describes the great power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some, e.g. tongues, miracles and healing, were particular to the Apostolic Era, which established the early Church.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

12:3b No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;

12:5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;

12:6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

12:8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,

12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,

12:10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

12:11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

12:13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Gospel

Option One

This encounter between Jesus and His disciples took place just after His resurrection.

John 20:19-23

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Option Two

Jesus spoke these words during the Jewish feast of Tabernacles. Note that John explains the Spirit would not descend until Jesus returned to Heaven, glorified.

John 7:37-39

7:37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,

7:38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”

7:39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Pray for continuing grace so that we may make all use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Have a blessed Pentecost!

Pentecost2What follows are the readings for Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

As Pentecost is the Church’s birthday, the following posts explain the significance of this great feast day:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Reflections for Pentecost — a Reformed view

Pentecost Sunday — May 15, 2016 (John MacArthur explains adoption in the ancient world)

May 20, 2018: readings for Pentecost Sunday — Year B

Justin Welby’s thoughts on Pentecost (2018, Archbishop of Canterbury)

The readings for Year C offer choices for the First Reading and for the Epistle. The account of the first Pentecost from Acts 2 must be read as either one of those.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

The choices for this reading are either Acts 2 or Genesis 11 (the account of the Tower of Babel).

First choice

Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Second choice

Genesis 11:1-9

11:1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.

11:2 And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

11:3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.

11:4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

11:5 The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built.

11:6 And the LORD said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.

11:7 Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”

11:8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.

11:9 Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Psalm

The Psalm praises God, the giver of all good things, the author of all creation, the keeper of His covenants.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

104:25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

104:26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

104:27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

104:28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

104:29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

104:30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.

104:31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works–

104:32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.

104:33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

104:34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.

104:35b Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

As I mentioned above, there are two choices.

First choice

If Acts 2:1-21 was not read earlier, it must be read as the Epistle.

Second choice

Paul tells the Romans that if the Spirit leads them, they are indeed the children of God. This is a short but important takeaway for us and should remind those of us who were confirmed to actively use the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 8:14-17

8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”

8:16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

8:17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Gospel

John wrote down Jesus’s many teachings during the Last Supper. Here is what He says to Philip about seeing the Father and receiving the Holy Spirit.

John 14:8-17, (25-27)

14:8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

14:10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

14:12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

14:13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

14:14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

14:17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

14:25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you.

14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

I hope that everyone reading this has a Pentecost Sunday of prayer and reflection. Let us remember to pray to the Holy Spirit regularly for guidance, wisdom, discernment and continued faith.

The Archbishop of Canterbury — The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby — has a short sermon on the life of Christ and the importance of His sending the Holy Spirit to the disciples on the first Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit not only increased the growth of the Church from a mustard seed to a mustard tree (my words, not Welby’s), He also changed the world. Welby says that during the first few centuries, only Christians took time to help the poor:

I’m hardly the greatest fan of Justin Welby, but this sermonette, which runs just over three minutes, is well worth reading (subtitles) or listening to.

If you’ve been following my Forbidden Bible Verses series on the Book of Acts, you’ll feel the excitement that Welby describes — all thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit.

You can read more about Justin Welby at Heavy. Note the first point in the article, which must have come as a shock.

Pentecost2Pentecost Sunday this year is May 20.

This is one of the most important feasts in the Church year. The posts below explain why:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Reflections for Pentecost — a Reformed view

Pentecost Sunday — May 15, 2016 (John MacArthur explains adoption in the ancient world)

What follows are the Lectionary readings for Year B. Emphases mine below.

If the passage from Ezekiel is read, the celebrant must also include the reading from the Book of Acts:

If the passage from Ezekiel is chosen for the First Reading, the passage from Acts is used as the Second Reading.

The reading from Ezekiel is the famous one about the dry bones, used as the basis for the 20th century spiritual ‘Dem Bones’:

Ezekiel connected dem dry bones, Ezekiel connected dem dry bones, Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones, Now hear the word of the Lord.

This is about the remnant that God brought back to life as the house of Israel:

Ezekiel 37:1-14

37:1 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

37:2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

37:3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

37:4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.

37:5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

37:6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

37:7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

37:8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

37:9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”

37:10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

37:11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’

37:12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.

37:13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.

37:14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.

The passage from Acts relates the awe of the Holy Spirit’s descent at the first Pentecost, which took place during Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks. (Shavuot is also celebrated this year on May 20.) This explains the presence of so many foreign Jews in Jerusalem:

Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

The Psalm proclaims God’s infinite power and majesty:

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

104:25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

104:26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

104:27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

104:28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

104:29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

104:30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.

104:31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works

104:32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.

104:33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

104:34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.

104:35b Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!

The Epistle is from one of Paul’s letters to the Romans, explaining the importance of the Holy Spirit:

Romans 8:22-27

8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;

8:23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

8:24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?

8:25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

8:27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

The Gospel reading recounts Jesus’s explanation of sending the Advocate — the Holy Spirit — to the disciples:

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.

15:27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

16:4b “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.

16:5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’

16:6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.

16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

16:8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:

16:9 about sin, because they do not believe in me;

16:10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer;

16:11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

16:14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

16:15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Note John 16:8, which is something very important for Christians to remember, hence the significance of the Holy Spirit and the feast of Pentecost.

Incidentally, Eastertide ends with this feast.

Pentecost2June 4, 2017 is Pentecost Sunday.

This important feast, where the Holy Spirit descended on the 70 disciples, is the Church’s birthday.

The Book of Acts describes how dramatic and pure the early Church was. The more it was purified, the stronger and larger it became.

Earlier this year, I wrote about two of the passages from Acts which are related to the first Pentecost but were excluded from the three-year Lectionary:

Acts 2:12-13 – Pentecost, the Apostles, disciples, speaking in tongues, accusations of drunkenness, accusations like those of hierarchy for Jesus

The first Pentecost was ordained by God to fit into the Jewish festival of the first fruits. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the 70 with tongues of fire, He enabled them to speak in foreign languages. This signified that the Church was not the sole inheritance of the Jews of the Old Covenant. Rather, it would be open to them and to people of all nations. Therefore, the Holy Spirit enabled the 70 to speak in known foreign languages. The Jews assembled for the Feast of the First Fruits could not understand what was being said and accused the 70 anointed of drunkenness.

——————————————————-

Acts 2:33-35 – Peter, Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon, Jesus the Messiah and Lord

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost, stood up to refute charges of drunkenness and preached his first sermon. He concluded by saying the 70 anointed had received the divine gift Jesus had promised them through God the Father and that David, too, prophesied Christ (Psalm 110:1).

———————————————————–

I have other past posts which discuss the significance of this important feast day:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Reflections for Pentecost — a Reformed view

Pentecost Sunday — May 15, 2016 (John MacArthur explains adoption in the ancient world)

I hope that all my readers have a blessed, happy and contemplative Pentecost Sunday. This is a day on which to give thanks for the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ’s Bride, the Church.

(Comments temporarily off.)

Holy Spirit as dove stained glassOn May 15, 2016, Christians celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, which is the Church’s birthday.

We call it the Church’s birthday because on the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and enabled them to spread the Good News from Jerusalem to Samaria. St Paul, who was not among the original number because he had not yet been converted, later called people to Christ in Asia Minor and Rome. These conversions, accompanied by miracles, are in Acts. Other apostles, such as Sts John and Peter, wrote letters to their converts. St John also wrote Revelation. Christ’s chosen spread the Gospel message far and wide throughout the known world at that time. Not all of it is included in Scripture.

Past posts on Pentecost are as follows:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Reflections for Pentecost — a Reformed view

This year we are in Year C of the three-year Lectionary used in public worship. The Epistle for Pentecost in 2016 is Romans 8:14-17:

8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”

8:16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

8:17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Earlier in Romans 8, we read that we have life in the Spirit. John MacArthur explains:

The Holy Spirit takes us all the way to glory … He does it by freeing us from sin and death.  We saw that in verses 2 and 3.  He does that by freeing us from sin and death through the wonderful work of…imputation, whereby our sins are imputed to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.  He has delivered us from the law of sin of death, because Christ has paid the penalty.

With the Spirit’s guidance, we turn from what is worldly to what is holy (verses 5 – 8). The Holy Spirit must dwell in us in order for us to belong to Christ (verse 9). Even though we have fallen short through sin:

the Holy Spirit maintains our no-condemnation status by empowering us in that new nature for victory.  It is according to the Spirit, verse 13, that we are able to put to death the deeds of the body and, thus, to live. 

This brings us to today’s Epistle which describes our adoption into God’s family through the Holy Spirit. MacArthur has a lot to say about the meaning of adoption, especially in the ancient world during Paul’s time. Paul’s message must have been exciting news to the Romans, as we will see.

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God (verse 14). This explains the importance of receiving the Holy Spirit. The oldest Christian denominations have the ordinance — for Catholics, the Sacrament — of Confirmation. Receiving the Holy Spirit and reaffirming our faith takes us to the point in our spiritual life whereby we recognise He guides us to do what is right and good.

More importantly, however, receiving the Holy Spirit makes us adopted members of God’s family. We can now, with confidence, call Him ‘Dad’ — Abba (verse 15). We recognise Him not as a fearsome Father but as a truly loving one.

When we think of adoption over the past few centuries, it appears to us as a mixed blessing. Orphanages have been and continue to be, in some cases, depressing and brutal places where children wait for parents to come rescue them. Over the past 40 years, psychotherapy has, perhaps mistakenly, encouraged adopted children to talk and write about finding their natural mothers and disparage their adopted families. There is often a tinge of sadness when we discuss adoption.

By contrast, in the ancient world, adoption was a tremendous, positive step for both the adopter and the adopted. It really did mean a new life not only in a family sense but also a legal one.

In ancient Greece, a man who had no sons would seek out a well-bred young man to adopt. The young man would then inherit his adoptive father’s estate and business concerns.

The same custom existed in Rome. A man who had no sons — or sons whom he thought were unsuitable to inherit his estate — went out in search of a young man whom he could adopt. The adopted son had a higher status than the natural sons did.

It was a tremendous privilege to be adopted during that era.

In Rome, fathers had power over their children throughout their lifetimes. They could even kill their sons or daughters. It was legal. Children were under their father’s control — patria potestas — until he died.

MacArthur describes how Roman adoption worked, given patria potestas (emphases mine):

Now obviously this…made adoption into another family very difficult and very serious unless the person was … an illegitimate child or an orphan.  And if a man saw a son that he wanted and that son belonged to another father he had to go through a very formidable operation to get that person to pass out from under patria potestas into his own control.  There were two stepsThe first one was called mancipatio from which we get the word emancipation.  And mancipatio was carried out about a symbolic sort of sale.  If the father would agree to let this son be adopted by another man there was this symbolic sale they went to; they had some scales and some copper and they used this symbolism to carry out sort of a transaction like I’m selling this young man to you.  They did it three times.  Twice the father symbolically sold the son and twice he bought him back and then the third time he didn’t buy him back and the patria potestas was broken.

After the sale there was ceremony called vindicatio and the adopting father went to the Roman magistrate and presented a legal case for the actual legal transference of the person to be adopted into his own patria potestas.  And when all this was complete the adoption was done. 

Adoption in the Roman world signified four things. We can reflect on them the way the Romans who heard Paul’s letter did and relate them to adoption by God the Father through the Holy Spirit. MacArthur says:

First thing that happened was the adopted person lost all relationship to his old family. Everything was gone and he gained all rights to the new family. It’s a beautiful picture of salvation, isn’t it?

Second thing, it followed that he became heir to all the father’s, the new father’s estate. And even if the other children were blood born, it did not affect his rights. He was inalienably the co-heir with them and perhaps even exceeding above them, if that was in the prerogative of the father.

The third thing that happened, according to Roman law, was that the former life of the adopted person was completely wiped out. All his legal debts were cancelled. They were wiped out as if he had never existed. And the adopted person was given a new name and it was as if he had just been born. Sound familiar? When you came to Jesus Christ and were adopted into the family of God, all your past debts were what? Cancelled, and you became a co-heir of all that the born son, the Lord Jesus Christ, possesses.

The fourth thing was in the eyes of the law the adopted person was literally and absolutely the son of his new father. And so, when we were adopted, all these things, no doubt, are in the mind of the apostle and the Spirit, and we know they took place in our adoption. We have cut the cord with the past. We have become co-heirs to God’s kingdom. All the old debts are wiped out and we are absolutely and legally and forever the son of God.

Verse 16 refers to regeneration via the Holy Spirit. MacArthur explains:

Adoption gives us the title to the inheritance. Regeneration gives us the nature of sons and gives us the fitness for that inheritance. Both are important.

This regeneration starts our path of sanctification as the Holy Spirit guides us to do what God wants us to do. We turn away from sin towards accomplishing His will and purpose for us.

Knowing we are full members of God’s family through adoption gives us assurance that we are heirs with Christ, our heavenly Brother. As marvellous as that is, with the promise of eternal life with Him, it also means that we may suffer in this transitory life. We may be called to suffer as He was called to suffer (verse 17). MacArthur tells us:

Suffering is a necessary part of the preparation for glory.

For some Christians this might mean physical persecution or, in the case of death for the faith, martyrdom. For most of us, however, it might mean losing family members or longtime friends. We might find it difficult keeping or finding a job if our managers are set against Christians.

Ultimately, however, we will be glorified as Christ was glorified because we are heirs to the kingdom of God. And the Holy Spirit is with us from now through to life eternal.

MacArthur leaves us with this reflection on the Holy Spirit as Romans 8 describes:

The Holy Spirit frees us from sin and death.  We looked at that in verses 2 and 3.  The Holy Spirit enables us to fulfill the law, verse 4.  The Holy Spirit changes our nature, verses 5 to 11.  The Holy Spirit empowers us for victory over sin, verses 12 and 13.  And then last time, the Holy Spirit adopts us into God’s family as sons, verses 14 through 16.  All of this is the ministry of the Holy Spirit for which we give Him praise and thanks

Now we come to the final point:  The Holy Spirit secures our eternal glory.

In the second half of Romans 8, Paul describes how the Holy Spirit accomplishes His work in us then tells us of God’s everlasting love. These verses are familiar ones:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us?

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

May we reflect on these realities and powers of the Holy Spirit and give thanks, not only at Pentecost but every day.

Let us also remember to pray to the Holy Spirit for daily guidance. He will help us in all that we do.

Holy Spirit as dove stained glassSunday, May 24, 2015, is Pentecost Sunday, traditionally called Whit Sunday.

In the UK, the last Monday in May is Whitsun Bank Holiday. This year is one of those infrequent times when the Church feast coincides with that very weekend.

Pentecost is considered as being the Church’s birthday. The original group of Apostles and disciples were equipped with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, enabling them to preach, teach and heal in the name of Christ. The Church was able to expand during this Apostolic Age, embracing not only Jews but also Gentiles. Although the Apostolic Age ended when the original group left this mortal coil, we, too, receive the same gifts from the Holy Spirit which continue to operate in a quieter though still powerful way. My post from 2010 explains more.

Students of the New Testament know that the Holy Spirit did not come by accident. At the Last Supper, our Lord promised His followers a Helper to enable them to continue His work. My 2012 post has a Lutheran perspective on Pentecost from Martin Luther as well as Pastors Larry Peters and Johnold Strey.

My 2013 post features a Reformed explanation of Pentecost, highlighting a sermon by the Revd P G Mathew, formerly of India. Dr Mathew worked as a scientist before ordination. He is a Reformed (Calvinist) clergyman with three graduate degrees in theology and serves as pastor of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California.

Mathew has another sermon which is apposite for Pentecost, ‘Christ’s Great Commission’. It is particularly apposite for those who feel that our Lord is distant. In the following excerpts, Mathew explains why this is far from the truth (emphases mine):

In John 14:18 Jesus promised his disciples: “I will not leave you as orphans”–meaning as those who are homeless, defenseless, fatherless, and motherless. This is true. He will be with us by his Holy Spirit, and he will be with us always. He will be with us every moment of every day all our days until the end of the age. This means that when we are young he is with us; when we are old he is with us; when we are weak he is with us; when we are strong he is with us; when we are sick he is with us; when we are healthy he is with us; when we are poor he is with us; when we are rich he is with us; when we are attacked he is with us; when we are hated he is with us; when we are beaten he is with us; when we are stoned, as Stephen was, he is with us; when we are martyred he will be with us. He gives grace, doesn’t he? Though we go through the flood and the fire, God will be with us, all the days of our lives …

In Hebrews 13:5 God says “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Then the writer to the Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v. 8). To St. Paul this Christ said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect through weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). And Paul drew this tremendous conclusion: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10). In Philippians 4:13 he declared , “I can do everything through who give me the strength.”

God has given us peace in Christ. He said, “I am with you always”–to bless us, to keep us and to give us peace. And in Luke 24:52 it says the disciples who were timid, fearful, and hiding now returned to Jerusalem with great joy as a result of this blessing. They hid no longer. They went into the temple to praise and worship God. The Lord blessed them and gave them peace. He gave them courage and boldness. Soon afterwards they received the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill the great commission beginning in Jerusalem and going to the ends of the earth. [Evangelist] William Carey was right–the Lord expects the commission to continue until he comes again.

Let us, therefore, use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to further the Gospel, through words when we can and through impeccable example when we cannot.

Holy Spirit as dove stained glassPentecost Sunday follows Exaudi Sunday and is regarded in Christianity as the Church’s birthday.

This is because the Holy Spirit descended on Christ’s Apostles and disciples on that day, as Christ had said in the Gospels.

The following posts explain more about the significance of Pentecost Sunday:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit as dove stained glassSunday, May 19, 2013, is Pentecost Sunday.

Pentecost is the Church’s birthday. With the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were able to go forth to preach, heal and die in the name of the Lord. The Book of Acts carries this dramatic and moving account of the Apostles and disciples in the earliest days of the Church.

Acts 2:1-4 recounts the moment the Holy Spirit descended on them:

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

 1When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Last year’s post excerpted a sermon from a Lutheran pastor which explains the significance of Pentecost and the comfort which the Holy Spirit brings.

This year’s reflections are taken from a sermon by the Revd P G Mathew, formerly of India. Dr Mathew worked as a scientist before ordination. He is a Reformed (Calvinist) clergyman with three graduate degrees in theology and serves as pastor of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California.

The following is from his sermon, ‘The Holy Spirit, Our Helper’, specifically the conclusion, ‘The Spirit’s Effectual Intercession’. Emphases mine below:

The intercession of the Holy Spirit is always effectual. This is because God who examines our hearts knows the mind of the Holy Spirit and what his desire for us is.

God knows our hearts. David said, “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you” (1 Chron. 28:9). He also prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Psalm 139:23).

The prayer of the Spirit is always effectual because he prays according to the will of God in our behalf. The Father is God and the Holy Spirit is God, so there exists perfect harmony between the Father who searches our hearts and the mind of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, we do not always know how to pray in accordance with God’s will in specific situations. But in Romans 8:27 Paul tells us, “According to God [kata theon] the Spirit intercedes for the benefit of the saints” (author’s translation). The Holy Spirit always prays according to the will of God. So the Spirit continually helps us to bear our burdens. His intercession is always effectual because he intercedes according to God’s perfect will. He is our paraklétos, one who comes alongside to help us in all our weaknesses …

Conclusion: We are weak, but God is strong to help us in all our weaknesses. We can rejoice, knowing that we have a number of intercessors.

1. Christ in heaven is interceding for us (Rom. 8:34), guaranteeing our justification based on his blood atonement. His intercession is effectual.

2. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us in our hearts according to the will of God. His intercession is always effectual for our sanctification.

3. God’s holy church intercedes for us. After James, the brother of John, was put to the sword, Peter was arrested and put in prison. The church was interceding for Peter in the house of Mary the mother of Mark (Acts 12:5), and the intercession was effectual. God sent an angel and let Peter out of prison to continue his ministry. Paul says that if one member suffers, the whole body suffers (1 Cor. 12:26). Elsewhere, he says, “Bear one another’s burden and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

May we therefore not worry as we face problems, weaknesses, sufferings, and trials. God the Father is for us, Christ the Son is for us, the Holy Spirit is for us, and the holy church is for us. We are well taken care of, and in his time, the Lord will bring us safely home.

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