Liturgy Lessons: June 4, 2017 (Pentecost Sunday)
Call to Worship: Acts 2:1-8; 14-21
Hymn of Praise: O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#164, vss. 1-4)
Call to Worship (cont.): Acts 2:22-28
Hymn of Praise (cont.): O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#164, vss. 5-6, repeat vs. 1)
Confession: based on Acts 2:38-39; with “The Spirit’s Work” from Valley of Vision
Hymn of Supplication: Breathe on Me, Breath of God (#344)
Assurance of Pardon: Based on Ezekiel 36:24-28 & 2 Corinthians 1:20-22 (responsively)
Song of Assurance: Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest
Tithes and Offerings: “My Father’s World,” Kids Choir
Sermon: Casey Bedell
Meditation: Abana (The Lord’s Prayer, for our fallen brothers and sisters in Egypt)
Supper: Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart (#338, vs. 1,3,5); Jesus, Master, Whose I Am (Morton)
Assurance of Peace: John 14:18-21; 25-27
Song of Thanksgiving: There is a Redeemer
Benediction (Romans 15:13)
By Malcolm Guite
Today we feel the wind beneath our wings,
Today the hidden fountain flows and plays.
Today the church draws breath at last and sings,
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire, air, and water,
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker,
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order,
And every word spells freedom and release.
Today the gospel crosses every border,
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace.
Today the lost are found in His translation,
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every nation.
The English word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word pentekostos, which means fifty. Fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples. It was a historic and miraculous day that could be described as the birthday of the church. This Sunday, we give a liturgical “nod” to this watershed event in Christian history, and in so doing we join other brothers and sisters around the globe who are also commemorating the unleashing of the Holy Spirit and celebrating his empowering of the church to reach the world with the gospel. The Holy Spirit helps us confess and equips us with supernatural gifts (1 Cor. 12:3-11); The Spirit helps us pray and intercedes for us (Rom 8:26-27); He guides us and empowers us to live like Jesus (Gal 5:22-25); He unites us as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Clearly we would be lost without the presence and power of the Spirit of God. Indeed, it is the very breath of life (Gen. 1:7). And so, we pray for this Spirit to breathe life into our liturgy, for without him all the songs, words, and prayers are but an empty shell. Come Holy Ghost, creator blest, and in our hearts take up thy rest. May you bless our hearts with all your force and friendship, your strength and stillness, your pulse and peace.
“O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”
Text: Charles Wesley (1739)
Tune: AZMON, Carl Gläser (1828), arr. By Lowell Mason (1839)
On Pentecost Sunday, May 21, 1738, the Holy Spirit lit a flame in the heart of the greatest English hymnwriter in history. Charles Wesley recalls that while he was awaiting his brother John’s arrival, he found his heart was “strangely warmed.” He wrote of the account in his journal:
“I waked in expectation of His coming. At nine my brother and some friends came and sang a hymn to the Holy Ghost. My comfort and hope were hereby increased. In about half an hour they went. I betook myself to prayer, the substance as follows: O Jesus, thou hast said, I will come unto you; thou hast said, I will send the Comforter unto you. Thou hast said, My Father and I will come unto you, and make our abode with you. Thou art my God, who canst not lie. I wholly rely upon thy most true promise: accomplish it in thy time and manner…Still I felt a violent opposition and reluctance to believe, yet still the Spirit of God strove with my own and the evil spirit till by degrees he chased away the darkness of my unbelief. I found myself convinced, I knew not how or when, and immediately fell to intercession.”
After meditating on Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit into the heart of the believer, Charles Wesley experienced a Jacob-like wrestling match, during which the darkness of doubt was chased away and the gift of faith was given. This beginning spark that was kindled eventually grew into a bonfire. With his eyes opened and his heart illuminated by the gospel, Charles Wesley became the most prolific hymn-writer the world has ever seen. For the rest of his life, verse after ceaseless verse poured from him at every occasion. Imagine Niagara Falls being funneled through a firehose, and you will begin to have an understanding of the gush and rush of poetic inspiration that Wesley experienced every day of his life. Artists often talk about the moment of inspiration. C.S. Lewis spoke of being “pregnant with book,” and other famous writers have described authorship as “taking dictation.” Michelangelo used to say that the image was hidden in the stone, he just had to reveal it. Puccini described musical composition as an “awakening”. Charles Wesley was awakened by the love of Christ, and with the Holy Spirit constantly exhaling into his mind and heart, he had to express or else he would explode! On the first anniversary of his conversion, Charles wrote of this compulsive desire to release all the praise and gratitude in his heart. The following are the first seven stanzas of his original 18-verse hymn, “O for a thousand tongues”:
Glory to God, and praise and love, be ever, ever given;
By saints below and saints above, the Church in earth and heaven.
On this glad day the glorious Sun of righteousness arose,
On my benighted soul he shone, and filled it with repose.
Sudden expired the legal strife; ‘twas then I ceased to grieve.
My second, real, living life, I then began to live.
Then with my heart I first believed, believed with faith divine;
Power with the Holy Ghost received to call the Saviour mine.
I felt my Lord’s atoning blood close to my soul applied;
Me, me he loved – the Son of God, for me, for me he died!
I found and owned his promise true, ascertained of my part,
My pardon passed in heaven I know, when written on my heart.
O For a thousand tongues to sing my dear Redeemer’s praise!
The glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace!
Pentecost Sunday, 1738, was a powerful and transformative day for Charles Wesley, during which the Lord extravagantly deposited His Spirit into the hymnwriter’s heart. Charles drew from this deep well of inspiration, and for generations the church has been enriched by the abundant treasure of impassioned hymns that poured from his pen. Included in the links below is a wonderful meditative version of this hymn by Gary Chapman, who encourages us to recall and remember that time when, wooed by the winsome ways of the Holy Spirit, we first fell in love with Jesus.
“Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart”
Text: George Croly(1854)
Tune: MORECAMBE, Frederick Atkinson(1870)
This hymn, based on Galations 5:25, was composed by the Irish preacher, poet, novelist, and journalist George Croly. It was published in his 1854 collection, Psalms and Hymns. Well-suited for Pentecost, this hymn is a deep, devotional plea for the Holy Spirit’s presence and power to overwhelm the heart of the believer. There are traditionally five verses, but we will be singing only three (vs. #1, 3, 5). As a devotional aid to this hymn, I have provided suggested Scripture references below to read before the singing. There are a few things about this particular tune that are worth highlighting. First, it passes what I call the “hum test.” The merit of a melody can often be proven if it can stand alone. Is the tune winsome and memorable when hummed without accompaniment or harmony? Or, does it need to be propped up by other musical or technological devices? Second, notice how each 4-bar phrase of this hymn leads into the next. The music propels forward as the phrases bleed into one another, especially in the last 8 measures. It gives the whole piece a sense of spontaneous overflow, or a sense of restlessness that is only quelled in the very last note. But, true to the Spirit’s surprising and unpredictable nature, the final note is not what you might expect. The hymn tune ends on the fifth of the chord, not the root, as if to suggest that we are left in a more elevated place than when we started. It also leaves the singer with a more open-ended feeling, which reminds us that the work of God’s spirit is ongoing. The final verse of this hymn has long been one of my favorites. The singer pleads for there to be “one holy passion filling all my frame; the baptism of the heav’n-descended Dove, my heart an altar, and thy love the flame”. The original text uses the word “kindling” instead of “baptism.” The language and metaphor of fire have long been associated with the Holy Spirit, and Scripture tells us that “tongues of fire” were displayed at Pentecost.
We are using this hymn as an introduction to our time of Communion, asking that the Holy Spirit aim our affections back toward Christ, and away from competing passions. In so doing, we echo the prayer of Clement of Rome from the year 100 AD:
“O God Almighty, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Grant that we may be grounded and settled in your truth by the coming down of the Holy Spirit into our hearts. Fill up in us what is wanting. AMEN.”