Alive to the Spirit at Neland Church was a season of focusing our lives and worship on the Holy Spirit. Using six biblical pictures—wind, breath, down payment, seal, dove, and fire—we explored and experienced the Spirit’s presence and work through sermon, song, dance, visual arts, writing, and prayer.
This service was the culminating event in a year of worship renewal focused on God’s powerful and intimate presence with us through the Holy Spirit. We used scriptural “pictures” of the Holy Spirit to give shape both to our conception of the Spirit and our hopes for what the Spirit can accomplish in our lives and in the world. We began with a teaching series on the images, and then the congregation responded through the collaborative composition of new music, poetry, artwork, and devotional materials, which were printed in a booklet (see sidebars for a few examples). At Pentecost, we celebrated the coming of the Spirit by revisiting each image through Scripture, meditation, and song. A choir sang the original compositions created for this occasion. After the service, people were invited to view the artwork that the congregation had created.
Prelude: “Phantasy on Holy, Holy, Holy” (Post)
Call to Worship: “Come Holy Spirit” CH 332, SNC 165, WR 127or “Ven, Espíritu Santo/Come, Come O Holy Spirit GSW 24
Scripture Reading: The Story of Pentecost, Acts 2
God’s Greeting and Mutual Greetings
The Spirit Comes as a Dove
Scripture Reading: Genesis 8; Matthew 3:16
After the flood of judgment, a dove brings Noah the sign of new creation—an olive branch. It’s a sign that judgment will not be the final word. God makes a place for us again, and he makes a promise: never again! He hangs his bow of judgment up in the sky.
A dove descends on Christ as his ministry begins. It too is a sign of new creation and of judgment not being the final word. Because Christ has come in our flesh and stands in the place of sinners, judgment will not be the last word. There will be new creation, a place for sinners like you and me in God’s newly cleansed world. It’s the Spirit, in the form of a dove, that brings us this good news.
Song: “Spirit, Working in Creation” PsH 415
The Spirit Comes as a Seal
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:13; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22
A seal is a commonplace item. We put seals on things to indicate ownership: “This is the property of_________ ______ .” Or we put a seal on a package to prevent tampering: “Do not open if seal is broken.” Sometimes an official document will have a seal to indicate authenticity. All these uses are behind Paul’s usage of the term when he applies it to the Holy Spirit and believers. God’s Spirit says: “You belong to God! You are under God’s protection!” And the Spirit’s presence in your life is God saying to you, “This adoption is real!”
“Sacred Seal” (see below)
“Take, O Take Me As I Am” SNC 215, SWM 227
Christ set his imprint on my heart
the Spirit’s sacred seal.
His name on me my life secures,
his purposes reveal:
He means my life to guard and keep,
and this his guarantee—
No one may harm what bears his name
the Master’s property!
What grace that I belong to him,
marked as his very own.
I’m sealed unto redemption’s day,
by order of the throne.
Text: Len Kuyvenhoven, Tune suggestion: WINCHESTER OLD (PsH 215)
The Spirit Comes as a Down Payment
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 5:4-5
Seal and down payment—when the apostle mentioned one he always had to bring up the other. It make good sense! The seal is a protection as you await a promised inheritance. You need a seal because you don’t yet have what God has promised, and you need to be kept for that time.
But that’s not the whole story, because you already have a down payment: the Holy Spirit. So while you do not yet have the wealth of heaven, you do have the riches of the Spirit. You don’t have the resurrection body—but you do have the resurrection power of the Spirit within you. You don’t have the unmediated glory of God before you, but you do have his intimate Spirit within you. A down payment is a pledge that there is more to come.
“The Down Payment” (see below)
“Holy Spirit, Truth Divine” PH 321, PsH 423
“For Your Gift of God the Spirit” PsH 416, TH 339
The Down Payment
Since God’s own hand has fashioned me
to him my all is due.
Then purchased by Son’s costly blood
new life I owe him, too!
And now he gives me even more,
down payment’s been received—
his Spirit poured into my heart
when I his word believed.
The One whose word is always true,
whose promises are sure—
has given further guarantee,
my future is secure.
Each sacred syllable of pledge,
each promise finds its “Yes!”
His Spirit is my guarantee
he will my future bless.
Text: Len Kuyvenhoven, Tune suggestion: ST. ANNE (PsH 170)
The Spirit Comes as God’s Breath
Scripture Reading: Genesis 2:7; Exodus 15:8-10; Ezekiel 38:7-10; John 20:10-22
How do you breathe air into someone else? It looks like a kiss. Humanity’s creation was a moment of incredible tenderness, incredible intimacy. Our life is a gift from a God who stoops to kiss his creation to life through his Spirit. Breath plays a role in the most important story of deliverance. Moses sings of the breath of God blowing a path through the Red Sea on to freedom’s shore.
All this comes together in the story of the resurrected Christ appearing to and breathing on his disciples. The life of the flesh is one kind of life. But now through Christ we have been given the breath of the Spirit—a power for life that overcomes decay, sin, and death.
“O Holy Spirit, by Whose Breath” PsH 426
“Breathe On Me, Breath of God” CH 343, PH 316, PsH 420, TH 334, WR 461
The Spirit Comes as Fire
Scripture Reading: Acts 2:3; Romans 12:1
The image of God’s presence as fire is found throughout the pages of Scripture. The image vividly portrays God’s holy presence—a consuming, refining, or illuminating presence. All of these facets are present in the image of the Holy Spirit’s descent on the disciples at Pentecost.
Another common reference to fire in the pages of Scripture is its role in taking a sacrifice and delivering it to God. Here too it fits what happens at Pentecost. Cleansed by the work of Christ, we have become a living sacrifice, holy and accepted by God!
“The Fire” (see below)
“Spirit of the Living God” CH 389, PH 322, PsH 424, SFL 184, TH 726
O Spirit of my gracious Lord,
here is my one desire:
That you would take all that I am
and with your Spirit’s fire—
receive what is on altar laid,
ignite with holy flame.
I offer it—a sacrifice—
to glorify your name.
Text: Len Kuyvenhoven, Tune suggestion: RESIGNATION (PsH 550)
Musical Offering: “Veni Creator Spiritus” (Smith)
The Spirit Comes as the Wind
Scripture Reading: John 3:8; Acts 2:2
The picture of God’s Spirit as wind conveys something of the sovereignty and mystery of God’s presence in our world. We don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. But there is no mistaking its reality and its power. By this power God changes the course of history and the church is born. By this power he will relandscape the earth to his design and purpose.
“Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow” PH 131, SNC 169, WR 333
“Sopla Fuerte/Blow Wild and Blow Freely” GSW 35
On the long road of longing
oh my soul
I am not my own.
Not my own,
but belonging to the one
who made me
and saved me.
Not my own
but in my belonging
my own self grows
The holy Ghost
has pressed a seal
on my soul
to mark my belonging—
to claim me
known and owned.
Twelve years old, I plunked down
twenty dollars to stake my claim
to a shiny black pair of hockey gloves.
Beyond my means, I had just learned the joys
of layaway, scrabbling together the cash
that marked those beauties as mine.
But possession was a long way off.
Two-fifty an hour makes but small dents
in a bill of a hundred and twenty. So
the drudgery of cleaning stalls and feeding calves
was now laden with an eschatological
economy, as the gloves patiently waited.
Or did they wait impatiently, perturbed,
distressed, longing to be played, hymning
their own rendition of “How long, O Lord?”
Donny at DJ Sports must have thought them
abandoned and forgotten, yet another
casualty of futile greedy dreams.
He couldn’t know all the jealous ways I already
considered them mine, imagining myself
dropping them in a flamboyant flourish.
—James K. A. Smith
Crackling, blazing flame
consuming, engulfing light
have your way with me.