Reflections on Pentecost

Reflections on Pentecost

Liturgy Lesson: June 9, 2019 (Pentecost)
Call to Worship: Is. 61:1-3, 10-11
Prayer of Invocation
Opening Hymn: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (#529)
Confession/Assurance of Pardon: Ezekiel 36:24-28 & 2 Corinthians 1:20-22
Hymns of Assurance: O Great God; O For a Thousand Tongues (#164)
Reading of the Word: Luke 11:1-4
Gloria Patri (#735)
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin, “Praying to a Friend”
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: Come, Holy Ghost; Born by the Holy Spirit’s Breath
Closing Hymn: There is a Redeemer

Born by the Holy Spirit’s Breath
(Based on Romans 8)

Born by the Holy Spirit’s breath
Loosed from the law of sin and death,
Now cleared in Christ from every claim
No judgement stands against our name.

In us the Spirit makes His home
That we in Him may overcome;
Christ’s risen life, in all its pow’rs,
This all-prevailing strength is ours.

Sons, then, and heirs of God most high,
We, by His Spirit, “Father” cry;
His Spirit with our own now shares
To frame and breathe our wordless prayers.

One is His love, His purpose one:
To form the likeness of His Son
That those He called and justified,
Shall reign in glory at His side.

Not death, nor life, nor pow’rs unseen
Nor height, nor depth can come between;
We know through peril, pain and sword,
The love of God in Christ our Lord.

– Timothy Dudley-Smith, 1989

This week is Pentecost. 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. Pentecost was a historic and miraculous day that could be described as the birthday of the church. It was a glorious morning when God interrupted the gathering to perform a spontaneous and spectacular mass Spiritual-baptism. The second chapter of Acts gives record of a Spirit-led impromptu worship service that resulted in the conversion of three-thousand souls. The people had probably all just gotten comfortable in the pews when God performed the ultimate call to worship. The wind picked up and…

“…filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:2b-4)

Can you imagine what the opening hymn sounded like that after that? Something like liquid lightning had been poured out and it was literally “O for a thousand tongues” in every known dialect. Many foreigners heard and understood, but to some it looked like drunken revelry. Then Peter stood up and delivered an all-time great sermon for the spectators. He drew a line from the prophet Joel to king David and then to Jesus, proclaiming the gospel with such force that the people were “cut to the heart.” Then, in a moment that would make Billy Graham envious, Peter gave this altar call:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

That promise extends to us. We who were far off in our sin have been gathered from the north and the south, the east and west to gather at the Cross and worship our Redeemer together. We do so under the intoxicating power of the Holy Spirit. On Sunday our service will be saturated with Holy Spirit language, although it will all be in English (unless He decides otherwise). We will sing two hymns by Charles Wesley, whose heart was “strangely warmed” on Pentecost Sunday in 1738, and who spoke of the Holy Spirit often in his hymns. His words will be on our lips:

“Breathe, o breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit, let us find the promised rest.
Take away the love of sinning; Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty.”

– “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

And, this classic text which so obviously suggests Pentecost in the opening line. Wesley wrote this on the anniversary of his conversion:

O For a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise
The glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace.
My gracious Master and my God, assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad the honors of Thy name.

– “O, for a Thousand Tongues

During our time of communion we will sing a 1,000-year-old hymn text (“Come, Holy Ghost”), side by side with one written only 30 years ago (“Born by the Holy Spirit’s Breath”). In doing so, we honor the Holy Spirit’s presence and power, which is ever-ancient and ever-new. We will close our service by singing these simple, trinitarian words of gratitude:

Thank you, O my Father, for giving us your Son,
And leaving your Spirit ‘til the work on earth is done.

– “There is a Redeemer”

Come and join us this Sunday, and come with eager expectation. Our Presby-costal service may not seem as spectacular as that fiery flash-mob in Acts 2, but I assure you the Holy Spirit will be there, and He will be doing His thing, which is everything.

To honor the beloved third person of the Trinity, I am going to focus on Him for the rest of this liturgy lesson, and not the hymns themselves. This is fitting, because the Holy Spirit is the great Artist and Author of all the church’s creative output throughout history. He is literally the creator spiritus, who brings order from chaos. This is the Counselor or Paraclete (my 8-year-old daughter calls Him the “parakeet”). J.I. Packer describes Him this way:

“The Paraclete, from the Greek word parakletos (meaning one who gives support), is a helper, adviser, strengthener, encourager, ally, and advocate. For all who have come to faith since Pentecost morning, the receiving of the Spirit is a full new-covenant blessing. All capacities for service that subsequently appear in a Christian’s life should be seen as flowing from this initial Spirit-baptism, which vitally unites the sinner to the risen Christ.”

Clearly, we would be lost without the presence and power of the Spirit of God. Indeed, He 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.

In honor of Pentecost, I invited some old friends for a round-table discussion on the relationship of the Holy Spirit to our worship. These were passionate souls with much to say and corralling them was a challenge. But all in all, it was a fruitful and in-depth dialogue. Below I offer you a transcription of a small part of that discussion.

Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390) started us off:

Look at the facts: Christ is born, the Spirit is his forerunner; Christ is baptized, the Spirit bears him witness; Christ is tempted, the Spirit leads him up; Christ performs miracles, the Spirit accompanies him; Christ ascends, the Spirit fills his place. Is there any significant function belonging to God, which the Spirit does not perform?
Faith Gives Fullness to Reasoning: The Five Theological Orations of Gregory Nanzianzus

No, Greg, there isn’t. And, as such, wouldn’t you agree that the Spirit should be adored and worshiped along with the Father and the Son? And isn’t it the Spirit himself who makes all right worship possible? John, what do you have to say about this?

A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.
– John 4:23-24

Yes, John, we are all concerned with truth here, or else we would not have come. And I recall your account of Jesus’ words that told us that the “Spirit would guide us into all truth”. But I’m curious about what you mean by worshipping “in the Spirit,” and the function of the Spirit in our worship. I wonder what this sort of worship will look like?

This one time I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!’
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.
– Rev. 4:2-11

Wow! This is a beautiful witness to the glory of the Lord Jesus. It seems to me that the Spirit’s purpose in giving you this vision was to stir you to worship the risen Christ, or at least be caught up in that amazing heavenly liturgy. It must have been pure delight to see this. Mr. Edwards, what do you have to say about this testimony?

It appears that the Holy Spirit is the holiness or excellency and delight of God, because our communion with God, and with Christ, consists in our partaking of the Holy Ghost (2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Cor 6:17; 1 Jn. 3:24) The oil that was upon Aaron’s head ran down to the skirts of his garments. The Spirit, which Christ, our head, has without measure is communicated to his church and people. The sweet perfumed oil signified Christ’s excellency, and sweet delight.
– Jonathan Edwards, 1703-1758

Sweet delight indeed! Paul, would you say that it is even sweeter than wine?

Yes, let us not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
– Eph. 5:17-20

Thank you, Paul. We will try to do that when we gather on Sunday. If some of your other God-breathed writings (Rom. 8; 1 Cor. 14) are any indication, then this Spirit that fills us will enable and empower us to worship as we ought. What a gift this is! Mr. Athanasius, you have been quiet and patient this whole time. Would you care to comment on this incredible gift of the Holy Spirit?

Yes, it is through the Spirit that we are all said to be partakers of God. For it says: ‘Know ye not that ye are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.’ If the Holy Spirit were a creature, we should have no participation of God in him. If indeed we were joined to a creature, we should be strangers to the divine nature inasmuch as we did not partake therein. But, as it is, the fact of our being called partakers of Christ and partakers of God shows that the unction and seal that is in us belongs, not to the nature of things originate, but to the nature of the Son who, through the Spirit who is in him, joins us to the Father.
– St. Athanasius, 296-373 AD

What wondrous thoughts! We partake of God. He dwells in us as in a temple. And we are brought into the Trinity’s holy huddle to share in the nature and the love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Well, gentlemen, that makes me want to sing! Let’s join our voices together in this 10th-century Latin hymn.

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
And in our hearts take up thy rest;
Come with thy grace and heav’nly aid
To fill the hearts which thou hast made,
To fill the hearts which thou hast made.

O Comforter, to thee we cry,
Thou heav’nly gift of God most high,
Thou fount of life, and fire of love,
And sweet anointing from above,
And sweet anointing from above.

O Holy Ghost, through thee alone
Know we the Father and the Son;
Be this our firm unchanging creed,
That thou dost from them both proceed,
That thou dost from them both proceed.

Praise we the Lord, Father and Son,
And Holy Spirit with them one;
And may the Son on us bestow
All gifts that from the Spirit flow,
All gifts that from the Spirit flow.