July 22, 2012. 6:00 a.m. Just below Red Rock Dam, a few miles outside Pella. I'd awakened at such an early hour to watch balloons rise and float over the lake. We all waited, scanning the horizon for the first signs of the colorful orbs ascending above the Iowa oaks. Children grew restless. Adults sipped coffee. Without warning, the show began. One balloon, then another, then another, of all sorts of colors, ascended in the distance, and slowly, on the currents of what hardly qualified as a zephyr, they made their way directly overhead. We craned our necks and waved at the pilots. Some of them waved back. As they passed over we heard the whoooooshhh, whoooossh, what sounded like microbursts of mighty winds of the fires that kept them aloft. They came, and they passed, and the oooh's and aaah's of the crowd changed into yawns and arrangements to meet at the Windmill for breakfast.
Fast forward just a few minutes. (8:10 a.m.) Again I stood in a crowd, looking up, not at balloons, but at screens, as another crowd was graced by the Spirit to sing some old chestnuts -- "Blessed Assurance," "In the Garden," and a few others I recall from Bible camps and the Worship and Service Hymnal. Some raised hands, palms heavenward, as they sang. The people of God gathered, and heard the Word preached truly, and were sent out to serve God with passion and hope. The Spirit hovered over us and breathed through the service. On the way out of worship, my wife and I met a couple whose daughter lives just a few miles away from us in New Jersey; a couple we'd met some years ago when they drove my mother back home to Pella. Not exactly a Dutch Bingo (had we kept talking we may have scored something like 12th cousins 8 times removed on my mother's side), but close enough.
Now another few minutes. (9:30 a.m.) Not trying to do "comp time" with the Lord, but since I have friends in another church in Pella, we meandered over to the church I attended while at Central. No screens here, and lots of words in the bulletin (there'd been just an announcement sheet at the previous service), and, to my joyful surprise, a service of ordination and installation of an elder and a deacon. The crowd of the previously ordained huddled at the front of the sanctuary and laid hands on the woman who was being ordained. Now, we were not looking up into the air at all, and the hands of the office-bearers who participated in the ordination were not oriented to the heavens, but downward, to the earth. Here, too, the Spirit was present, but not to lift our heads or hands up, but to anchor the entire body of office bearers -- hence, the whole congregation -- in their service here on earth. Not surprisingly, we scored several partial Bingo's here, too, as colleagues and administrators and professors and near-classmates appeared in abundance. I felt more personally at home there, but no less moved by the Spirit's presence.
Neither at the balloon launch, nor at either of the two services, did we bother to send an invitation to the Holy Spirit. We did not "invoke" the Spirit's presence. At least at the worship services, the Spirit was simply there, as the Word was "rightly preached" and the body of Christ lifted up its collective, in-dwelt heart to the Lord. Perhaps the Spirit blew where it would even on the shore of Lake Red Rock, in the gasping voices of the delighted children as they counted every balloon as it passed.
We need not plead for the Spirit to be present with us in worship. We gather on a Sunday morning with the people of God, not so much presuming upon the Spirit's blessing, but with the full confidence that the Spirit will both dazzle us from above and keep our feet on the ground. The Spirit is with you. You don't have to beg.
Rev. Paul G. Janssen is the Pastor and Teacher of Pascack Reformed Church in Park Ridge, New Jersey, which he has served since 1991.