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 phys.org), 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: <https://sermons.com/sermon/come-holy-spirit-come/1442591&gt;.

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

Random thoughts on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, and 25 years after Tiananmen Square

Remembering Tiananmen Square 25 years ago

Remembering Tiananmen Square 25 years ago

This week the world—except, ironically the official government and military of China—remembers the 25 year anniversary of the tragedy that was Tiananmen Square. I can still recall in my mind’s eye the tanks rolling into TS and that infamous televised news report of one brave pro-democracy demonstrator challenging the aggressive tank. Of course, we all know who won in that encounter. The Chinese government and military managed to successfully and cruelly kill or arrest and imprison many of the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators; disperse the masses; and forbid any further gatherings to advocate for democracy on Tiananmen Square.

So here we are, 25 years later, and the more things change, the more they stay the same—especially for all peace-loving, pro-democracy Chinese citizens. The family members who lost loved ones during the pro-democracy demonstrations are unable to properly remember and mourn their dead in public. Moreover the Chinese authorities have placed gagging orders on them and censored the media as well—continuing their policy to forget that the pro-democracy demonstrations on TS even happened, and hoping that all Chinese citizens will do the same.

At precisely this juncture in the history of China the Holy Spirit enters the scene. The Holy Spirit is working and alive in the life of the church in China, with millions of members. Moreover, I believe it is the workings of the Holy Spirit who is spurring the ordinary citizens of China to be so bold as to advocate for those who lost their lives at TS or who have been locked up in prisons ever since they were arrested 25 years ago. The Holy Spirit is also at work helping these folks to remember and mourn those who died—witness the over one-hundred thousand strong vigil in Hong Kong. As much as the Chinese authorities would like to forget and tell lies about the tragedy of TS 25 years ago, the Holy Spirit is working in the lives of the people to keep the truth alive and to continue to instill in the Chinese people hopes and dreams for a better, more democratic society in the future.

Many of the Western democratic nations adopted a “free trade” policy with China with the hopes that it would lead to a liberalizing of human rights and freedoms. However today that policy does not seem to be working. The old guard and the old pro-communist ways of suppressing democracy remain as much intact today as they did 25 years ago. The West also seems to continue to be too soft and mum regarding the violation of human rights in China.

Perhaps as we celebrate Pentecost this year in the free world, we can remember China in our prayers; that the wind and fire and rivers of living water, i.e. the Holy Spirit, would act in powerful ways to bring about the changes leading China into a freer, more democratic society.

Pentecost Scribbles

Pentecost Scribbles

The Holy Spirit symbolised by dove and fire are depicted here in my recent scribbles. I call them scribbles as opposed to works of art because I’m not a trained artist. I turn to scribbling as a pleasant activity, which has value in and of itself. If the finished scribble is of any significance, well it’s likely more by accident than design—perhaps the work of the creative Holy Spirit through this earthly vessel.

Holy Spirita

Holy Spiritb