Sermon for Day of Pentecost Yr B

Day of Pentecost Yr B 23/05/2021

Ps 104:24-34, 35b

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“The life-creating Spirit of God”

Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, breathe your abundant life into these words and into each one of us. Amen. 

Today marks the celebration of the third major festival of the church year, Pentecost. The Jews celebrated Pentecost, which they call Shavuot, an agricultural festival commemorating the harvest of the first fruits brought to the temple. It is also a spiritual festival, wherein the Jews remember God giving them the Torah on Mount Sinai. We celebrate Pentecost, and the word suggests from the Greek Πεντηκοστή, meaning 50, referring to the 50 days after Easter, on which we celebrate the Day of Pentecost. Of course, on this day we focus on the third person of God the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who came upon those first followers of Jesus in a powerful way with wind or breath and fire. So today we will explore a little the Spirit of God’s life-creating presence in our Psalm. 

My NRSV Lutheran Study Bible gives Psalm 104 the following title: “God the Creator and Provider.” The Good News Bible has this title: “In Praise of the Creator.” The Jerusalem Bible gives it this title: “The glories of creation.” The Lutheran Study Bible identifies Psalm 104 as a hymn of praise and a creation psalm (p. 849). 

In verse 24 the psalmist in awe, wonder and reverence writes: “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” The word manifold means: having many different parts, applications, forms, etc., numerous and varied. And, “In wisdom you have made them all;” could be interpreted as a reference to God’s Spirit; reminiscent of the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2, where the Spirit of God is actively moving/creating with God the Creator. 

Isn’t it amazing how manifold God’s works of creation really are—filling the earth and the oceans?! According to the research that the California Academy of Sciences did in 2011, there are about eight million, seven-hundred-thousand species on Earth (give or take 1.3 million). 6.5 million species on land and 2.2 million species in the ocean depths. However, according to research done in 2019, (see the website, scientists estimated the number of species on Earth range between 5.3 million and, get this, 1 trillion. If there were about 1 trillion species on earth—that’s more than the estimated number of stars in the milky way galaxy. Here is another interesting number—roughly 18,000 new species are discovered every year. WOW! Isn’t that amazing! How right the psalmist was when he said: “the earth is full of your creatures.” 

That reminds me of an awe-inspiring experience that I had earlier this past week while I was out for my constitutional, morning bicycle ride. Almost throughout the entire ride, which was one hour, I could hear the sound of Canadian geese flying over me. When I stopped for a brief rest, I looked up into the sky, and WOW! I saw gaggle after gaggle of geese flying over me. That experience reminded me of what an amazing God we have. The creative, life-breathing Spirit of God is at work along with the Creator to create so many different creatures.

The sense of awe, wonder and reverence while enjoying God’s creation has been shared by many of God’s people down through the ages. One such person was Professor Tony Campolo, who tells about going whale watching off the coast of Cape Cod. “Suddenly, says Tony, an elusive humpback whale swam up alongside the boat and poked its head out of the water. For what seemed like thirty seconds this sister of the sea stared directly at me. The encounter took me by surprise. No words can describe the sense of awe and wonder that came over me. For a moment, I was one with God’s creation.”1

Whether we live amid a fertile tropical island or on the slopes of majestic mountains; whether we graze animals on an African savanna or migrate from oasis to oasis in the Arabian desert; whether we fish off the coast of Newfoundland or farm in Alberta; whether we work in congested urban centres or remote rural areas; wherever we live, we can marvel at God’s creative handiwork in creation. 

Yet, sad to say, there are some who do not give credit to God the Creator and the life-breathing Holy Spirit for creating such a wonderful planet. Even though the complexity and beauty of God’s creation is all around us and we are a part of it as well—some people choose not to see God as Creator, and life-breathing Spirit. The evidence is all around them, yet they do not see—which reminds me of another story.

The Amazon River is the largest river in the world. The mouth is 90 miles across. There is enough water to exceed the combined flow of the Yangtze, Mississippi, and Nile Rivers. So much water comes from the Amazon that they can direct its currents 200 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean. One irony of ancient navigation is that sailors in ancient times died for lack of water caught in windless waters of the South Atlantic. They were adrift, helpless, dying of thirst. Sometimes other ships from South America who knew the area would come alongside and call out, “What is your problem?” And they would exclaim, “Can you spare us some water? Our sailors are dying of thirst!” And from the other ship would come the cry, “Just lower your buckets. You are in the mouth of the mighty Amazon River.” The irony and the tragedy around us today is that God, the fountain of living water, is right here and people don’t recognize Him!2

For creation to happen without God would require odds of about ten trillion to one, according to Dr. A. Cressy Morrison. It’s that unlikely! Morrison, a scientist and mathematician, wrote that science has learned a great deal since Darwin’s day, and it all points toward the existence of a Creator. 

Coming back to our psalm again, in verses 27 and 28, the psalmist speaks of all of God’s creation looking to God to provide for them. In fact, you may recognize these verses, which have often been reworked slightly as the following table grace: Blessed are you LORD God of creation; for the eyes of all wait on you, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature. 

The next two verses, 29 and 30, are similar in theme to verses 27 and 28, in that they emphasise that God is the provider of life. Without God’s life-breath Spirit there is death. And: “When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.” Or as the Good News Bible puts it: “But when you give them breath [or send out your spirit], they are created; you give new life to the earth.” Or as the Jerusalem Bible renders it: “You give breath, fresh life begins, you keep renewing the world.” I like the rendering of that last phrase in the Jerusalem Bible: “youkeep renewing the world.” This rendering, I think, in addition to emphasising God as Provider; it also underscores that God the Holy Spirit is actively participating and present in the world. 

That reminds me again of the life-breath of the Spirit. Just as God the Spirit provides oxygen in order to give life to you and I and all other creatures; so the life-breathing Spirit gives us; breathes into us spiritual life by giving us the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit keeps renewing you and I everyday! Therefore, we along with our ancient psalmist and countless other people of faith down through the centuries, right up to this day are able to, in deep gratitude, pray: Come, Holy Spirit, come! “Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!” Amen.

1 J. Howard Olds, “Come, Holy Spirit, Come,” in: <;.

2 James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 242. 

Sermon for 6 Easter Yr B

6 Easter Yr B, 9/05/2021

Ps 98

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Make a joyful noise to the LORD”

In addition to being the 6th Sunday of Easter, today is Mother’s Day. So I thought I’d ask you three questions about mothers. What type of flowers are best to give on Mother’s Day? Chrysanthe-mums. Which movie do mothers like the best? Mamma Mia! Why are there no Mother’s Day sales? Well, because mothers are priceless. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers!

Now to Psalm 98. My NRSV Lutheran Study Bible has two titles: the superscription is, simply, “A Psalm.” The second title is: Praise the Judge of the World.” The Good News Bible gives it this title: “God the Ruler of the World.” The Lutheran Study Bible identifies Psalm 98 as a hymn of praise (p. 849). Hymns of praise celebrate God’s love and grace. They were written for community worship. The original occasion from which Psalm 98 was created may have been God’s deliverance of Israel from some kind of danger or crisis.

As ancient Israel knew; as the church down through the ages knew; as you and I know; music, making a joyful noise to the LORD, is an extremely important and integral part of the community of faith’s worship.

Martin Luther had several significant things to say about the importance of music. On one occasion he said: “A person who does not regard music as a marvellous gift of God must be a clodhopper indeed, and does not deserve to be called a human being, but should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.” On another occasion Luther said: “Whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate, what more effective means than music could you find?”

Then there was that famous quote attributed to Shakespeare, but actually written by William Congreve: “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”

Speaking of Shakespeare, I don’t know if you are aware of this, but Sir Edward Elgar is the composer behind “Pomp and Circumstance,” which was named after a line from William Shakespeare’s “Othello.” Sir Edward composed the song in 1901, and the march was intended for the coronation of King Edward VII. When Elgar received an honorary doctorate from Yale University in 1905, the march was played in his honour as a recessional. Once Yale used the march, other universities began to play the march as well. Eventually it became the trendy thing to do and “Pomp and Circumstance” became forever ingrained in graduation custom.

Speaking of music in relation to schools; here are a few student answers that public school music teachers collected from test questions.

Refrain means don’t do it. A refrain in music is the part you better not try to sing. A virtuoso is a musician with real high morals. Handel was half German, half Italian, and half English. He was rather large. Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. He was so deaf he wrote loud music…Beethoven expired in 1827 and later died from this. When electric currents go through them, guitars start making sounds. So would anybody.1

In Psalm 98, the psalmist exhorts God’s faithful: “O sing to the LORD a new song.” The reason for sing a new song to the LORD is given: “for he has done marvellous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.” So the “marvellous things” may refer to God’s “victory,” God’s deliverance of Israel from some danger or crisis—perhaps it was some kind of military victory.

Of course, for us Christians, during this Easter season, when we think of God’s “marvellous things,” and when we think of God’s “victory,” what comes to mind is God raising Jesus from the dead, and by so doing, winning the final victory over sin, death and the powers of evil.

So important is God’s “marvellous things,” God’s “victory” that: “All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.” Again, from our perspective as Christians, the message of the Gospel, of Jesus’ resurrection, is a “go and tell” message meant for all people. That’s why over the centuries missionaries have preached, and continue to preach, the Good News in Word and deed around the globe. A message of priceless worth.

In verses four to six, the psalmist continues to exhort Israel and us to: “Make a joyful noise to the LORD,” to “break forth into joyous song and sing praises.” It is most tragic that COVID-19 has prevented us from singing in our worship services! Most, if not all of us grieve, and truly miss not being able to sing as we worship the LORD. We look forward, and hope that the time will soon come when it is safe for us to make a joyful noise to the LORD by singing hymns of praise.

The psalmist continues in verses four to six by mentioning that singing was accompanied by musical instruments. Three of them are mentioned—the lyre, trumpets, and the horn.

The lyre was actually a harp, it was a portable rectangular or trapezoid-shaped instrument with two arms, often of unequal length and curved, joined at the top by a cross-piece; the strings were roughly the same length. It was an instrument of joyful celebration, generally used to accompany singing. David, the “sweet psalmist of Israel,” is depicted playing a lyre in a sixth-century floor mosaic at the synagogue at Gaza. In Jerusalem, a lyre with twelve strings connected by an oblique crossbar decorates a brown jasper seal, dating back to the seventh century B.C.

The trumpet was made of metal, either bronze or silver. It was probably a short, straight instrument, with a high, bright tone and a range of only four or five notes. Its early uses are well summarized in Numbers 10:2-10. It was played by the priests, usually in pairs, but occasionally in large choirs (2 Chronicles 5:12-13), and it numbered among the sacred gold and silver utensils of the Temple (2 Kings 12:14; Numbers 31:6).

The horn, most likely the ram’s horn-shophar, is the most frequently mentioned biblical instrument, and the only ancient instrument still in use in the synagogue. It was usually made from the horn of a ram, sometimes softened with heat and straightened or shaped. It was a simple instrument that could only produce two or three notes, and it was used mostly for signalling, especially in times of war (Judges 3:27; 6:34; Nehemiah 4:18-20) or of national celebration (1 Kings 1:34; 2 Kings 9:13).2

In addition, to God’s faithful people singing and playing psalms of praise; the psalmist personifies God’s creation in verses seven and eight; exhorting the sea and its creatures to roar; the floods or rivers to clap their hands; and the hills or mountains to sing together for joy. During biblical times, the sea and floods were viewed as foreboding places; places of danger and chaos. Yet, here in this psalm they ironically praise and worship God by roaring and clapping.

Verse nine provides the reason for human beings and God’s creation to worship and praise the LORD: “he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness [justice], and the peoples with equity.”

New life is possible when God judges the earth. God is able to right the wrongs of the world. Tyranny and oppression are replaced with freedom and justice. Illness and disease are transformed into healing and health. God’s judgement, justice, righteousness, and equity give hope to the hopeless; remove hatred by his love; and surprise us all by defeating the powers of sin, death and evil with his new, resurrection life. So let us continue to make a joyful noise to the LORD—even if it is by humming, until the day comes when we can sing again!

1 David E. Leininger, Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit: Series VI Cycle B (Lima, Ohio: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2008), p. 145.

2 See “Music,” in: Paul J. Achtemeier, General Editor, Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1985), pp. 668-669.