United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“Hearing the Spirit”

Rev. Rebecca Migliore
June 4, 2017


       At Pentecost, the people gathered, and the Spirit tore through that gathering—“like a wind,” “as a fire,” and the church was changed.  But ever since then, we have been asking—“What is the Holy Spirit?”  So I thought that we would do a mini whirlwind tour of Holy Spirit imagery found in our hymnal.  Some of these hymn tunes may be familiar to you—and if so, I invite you to join in.  The words will be up on the screens—and I have tried to pick different styles of music, from different parts of the globe. 

We have already used Spirit hymns to Call us to Worship (Spirit of Gentleness… wind, wind on the sea); respond to God’s grace (Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me, Spirit of the Living God), and to punctuate our Scripture Reading (On Pentecost they gathered).

But let’s go way back in the church’s history, to the most famous Spirit chant—called “Veni Creator Spiritus.”  It is a plea to the Holy Spirit to come and make us more than we are.  I am going to sing the original first verse in Latin and then the first verse of the hymn we have (the melody is altered a bit).     

Hymn #278  “Veni Creator” Veni from iphone text—


Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire; thou the anointing Spirit art,
who dost thy seven-fold gifts impart.

The call for the Holy Spirit is ancient, but never-ending.  The Taize Hymn #294  “Within Our Darkest Night,” reminds us that Jesus sent the Spirit to the disciples in the midst of the anxiety and fear and confusion that followed the crucifixion and resurrection.  And so, we can be sure that at all times, especially in our darkest moments, the Holy Spirit is there to burn bright as the light of God.


Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away, never dies away.

Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away, never dies away.



So what are we calling to be with us?  What is this Holy Spirit?  How would we know if we were “face to face” (so to speak) with this third person of the Trinity?  Here are some of the most common images of Holy Spirit: Fire, Wind, Presence, Breath, Dove.  You will notice that often more than one image will appear in these hymns.  With the Spirit, we have to acknowledge that God is not containable in language, nor explainable.  We often think we know who Jesus the Christ is.  We have an image of God: Father, Creator.  But Spirit—through Spirit, we get a glimpse of the Three in One, the God who appears as a burning bush to Moses, and traveled with the Israelites and a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  The God who could not be seen “face to face.”  This is the awesome One.  God.

We start with a hymn that reminds us the Spirit is given as a replacement for Christ’s presence—and appears as a FLAME, FIRE.

Hymn #290 “O Day of Joy and Wonder!”  (FIRE)

. O day of joy and wonder! Christ’s promise now fulfilled: the coming of the Spirit that holy love has willed.  Our Lord in human body to mortal eye is lost,

yet comes in flame upon us at blessed Pentecost.


Next let’s travel around the world to Singapore and New Zealand where the mighty WIND of the Spirit creates this lovely, lilting Hymn #292 “As the Wind Song”  (WIND).  Shirley Erena Murray sees this wind, something we cannot “see” and yet know is there, as the force that “brings life and power to the world.”  It is a declaration as powerful as Jesus’ “every time you eat this bread, and drink this cup” (to remember him every time we sit down at a meal).  So, every time we see the “wind song” in the trees, the stirring of the breeze, we should remember how the Spirit wafts through our lives.

1 As the wind song through the trees, as the stirring of the breeze, so it is with the Spirit of God, as the heart made strangely warm, as the voice within the storm, so it is with the Spirit of God…

Never seen, ever known where this wind has blown bringing life, bringing power to the world, as the dancing tongues of fire, as the soul’s most deep desire, so it is with the Spirit of God.


But we know that the Spirit isn’t always gentle with us—nor do we want it to be.  At times, we need a jolt of energy, we need to take leave of our senses, we need to let go of all the boxes we have constructed about how the world works.  In times like those, the “sturdy” Welsh hymn tune Ebenezer, along with words by Janie Alford, a Presbyterian layperson and poet, express our plea that the Spirit continue to work in us and through us, “that God’s love shall be made known.”


Hymn #280 “Come, O Spirit, Dwell Among Us”  (PRESENCE)

1 Come, O Spirit, dwell among us; come with Pentecostal power; give the church a stronger vision;

help us face each crucial hour.…

Built upon a firm foundation, Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone, still the church is called to mission

that God's love shall be made known.





Spirit is an ancient image.  From the very beginning—as told in Genesis, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.  From the very beginning of creation, Spirit, in the form of breath, animated mud, and made us human.  God’s breath, God’s Spirit is so powerful that the prophet Ezekiel talks about God breathing on ancient bones and bringing them back to life.  This breath, and that life, is not just literal, but figurative.  For we can live, and move, and have our being, and yet be dead, lifeless, as good as a pile of bones.  We need God’s breath to help us, in the words of the familiar hymn, “that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.”


Hymn #286 “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” (BREATH)

1 Breathe on me, Breath of God; fill me with life anew,

that I may love what thou dost love,

and do what thou wouldst do.










We end where we started, asking the Holy Spirit, this time in the form of a dove to come and “kindle a flame of sacred love in these cold hearts of ours.”  That dove is also an ancient symbol.  For in the story of Noah, when the remnant of humanity was adrift on the water of new creation, waiting, hoping, for land to appear, they knew they were truly saved when they sent out a dove, and it didn’t return, for it had found a place to stay.  Just so, God sends out the Holy Spirit, in search of those who are open to learning, growing, changing, living as God intended.  With God’s help, may it be so for us.  Let us conclude by singing “Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove.” 


Hymn #279  “Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove”  (DOVE)


1 Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,

with all thy quickening powers;

kindle a flame of sacred love

in these cold hearts of ours.