Day of Pentecost, Year A
Day of Pentecost, Year A
Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Today we celebrate the birthday of the church; the feast of Pentecost; when God sent forth the Holy Spirit upon the first generation of Christians gathered together in Jerusalem from various nations. Today is an appropriate day for us to focus on “the third person of the Trinity,” the Holy Spirit. In today’s psalm, we are given a picture of the creativity, the present activity in creation, and the breath of the Holy Spirit.
Today we learn from our psalm that the Holy Spirit is very creative. God’s Spirit, says the psalmist, created a wide variety of creatures for the earth and sea; a fascinating number of species of creatures in all shapes, colours and sizes. Does the Holy Spirit’s creativity not astound us, as we ponder the intricate nature of all creatures?
John Macintyre, speaking at the Edinburgh Festival on art of religion, spoke of Pentecost as “wholehearted expression of the almost unlimited imagination of God.” That’s a great thought. The Holy Spirit is an experience, let loose in the church and in the world, of the imagination of God. 1
The Holy Spirit’s imagination and creativity is written large in the world and in the church. As a privileged people, having received the Holy Spirit, we too are given the gift of creativity and imagination. God’s creative, imaginative Spirit works within us and is the true author of humankind’s works of art, literature, and music, and more.
Think for a moment about the artist, Vincent Van Gogh, for whom each stroke of the brush was an incisive graphic gesture. His painting Wheatfield and Cypress Trees, is a superb example. Both in terms of colour and movement it is quite different from traditional rural scenes that suggest order, calm, and permanence. In Van Gogh’s work both earth and sky show an overpowering turbulence, the wheat field suggests a surging scene, the trees shoot up from the ground, the hills and clouds are in motion.
The ecstatic movement in Van Gogh’s work stems from his own faith in a creative force animating all forms of life. His work, especially in his most productive years, represents the blooming of a sensitivity that first led him to become a pastor to the poor. Of his own work he said, “I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize.” 2
The creativity of God’s Spirit wishes to work within each of us and express itself in and through us too; in order that “something of the eternal” might be revealed to one and all. Maybe it’s your turn to paint that masterpiece, compose that symphony, write that novel, or employ your creative juices in a host of ways that you’ve never attempted before! Go ahead and let the Spirit’s creativity take wing, you may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome!
In verses 30 and 31 of our psalm, we are given a couple of other insights into God’s Spirit. In verse 30, speaking of the creative activity in the world, the psalmist says: “When you send forth your spirit, they are created.” The “they” here refers to the creatures of earth and sea, described in the previous verses. The psalmist goes on to speak of the present activity of the Spirit like this: “and you renew the face of the ground.” In other words, this renewal of the earth seems like an ongoing, ever-present activity of the Holy Spirit; it is not a once and only activity of the Spirit. Then in verse 31, the psalmist appeals to God with the following concern for creation: “may the LORD rejoice in his works.” If the Spirit renews the earth and the LORD rejoices in creation, and regards it as “good” according the creation story of Genesis chapter one; then it follows that creation is to be treated with respect and care, and not treated trivially or abused by us humans. Or, to put it another way, the Holy Spirit is the author and leader of the environmental, ecological movement. The Holy Spirit cares deeply about what we do or fail to do to the earth. If all of us were to take our biblical vocation as stewards seriously, we would repent of our exploitative, abusive behaviours and attitudes towards our planet.
During the last fifty years the activities of humankind have inflicted serious damage on the life-support system of…planet earth. The people in the rich nations, with their enormously wasteful life-style, have been responsible for this damage in a way that people of the other two-thirds of the world have not. …Western Christian civilization has caused this cosmic havoc in pursuit of a particular style of life. Ironically, the part of the world we have known as Christendom may plunge the whole of humanity into universal doom.
It is difficult to appreciate the full meaning of the eco-crisis. In most civilizations, Mother Earth has always presented to humans a numinous quality (mysterium tremendum, fascinans) because of her mysterious ability to create, heal and sustain life. Has the feeling of the numinous engendered by our planet gone from human souls? The damage we are inflicting is cosmic in scale. It is feared by some to be irreversible. If the Holy Spirit is the protector of creation as Genesis 1:2 suggests, this must be the human sin against the Holy Spirit which cannot be forgiven (Mark 3:29). Our attitude and action towards the natural order must be changed. The majority of humanity living on the earth today do not threaten the well-being of the planet; the challenge comes in full force to the Christian population of the economically developed Northern hemisphere. 3
The Holy Spirit continues to take delight in God’s creation, to renew it, and calls on us to share in a similar activity as stewards by caring for the long-term well-being of our planet; by living more with less; by choosing to live a more simple lifestyle that others may have an adequate share in the resources of our planet; by walking or riding a bicycle or taking public transportation, and driving our vehicles less; by working for and purchasing alternatives that are more environmentally friendly; by recycling materials instead of throwing them away; by holding large companies and corporations and governments more accountable for the future well-being of the earth’s resources; and in a host of other ways.
It is interesting that the manner in which all creatures of earth and sea are created and renewed is by the very breath of the Holy Spirit. In verse 30 of our psalm, the word used for “your spirit” can also be translated as “your breath.” The Holy Spirit is God’s breath of life. The Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life, filling all living creatures with life, energy, and movement. We are dynamic, not static creatures thanks to the life, energy, and movement blown into us by the Spirit’s breath. This is truly a gift of joy for us as we think of and are grateful for how these things take shape in our everyday world. Without the Holy Spirit’s breath, we would not be alive physically or spiritually. The Spirit’s breath breathes on us every day to preserve and renew our lives.
Cardiac Pulmonary Resuscitation is a means of reviving persons who have experienced drowning, heart attack, or chocking. It is a life-saving procedure in which mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is an extremely important element. The ability to use the breath to restore life is central to CPR.
The breath as a life-giving gift is a common biblical metaphor. Jesus employs the “breath” in the Gospel According to Saint John to convey the giving of the Spirit. Jesus, in chapter 20, literally “breathes on” the disciples in order to convey the Spirit.
His “breath” enlivens the disciples to do the will of God so that they may be able to undertake the mission of the Church. Indeed, the Spirit accomplishes this act of empowerment as well as giving the authority to lead the new community of faith. In short, receiving the Spirit places a person under the responsibility to share that Spirit with others both within and without the church. 4
This Pentecost, may the Spirit of God fill each of you with creativity and imagination; may the Holy Spirit’s activity of renewing the creation be an inspiration for us to be better stewards of our planet; may the Spirit’s breath of life breathe into us all, filling us with new energy to serve our LORD in the church and the world.
1 Cited from: Wm. H. Willimon, Pulpit Resource Vol. 26, No. 2, April, May, June 1998 (Inver Grove Heights, MN: Logos Productions Inc., 1998), p. 41.
2 Cited from: Emphasis, Vol. 25, No. 1, May-June 1995 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., 1995), p. 37.
3 Cited from: Kosuke Koyama, “The Eucharist: Environmental & Ecological,” in: The Ecumenical Review, Vol. 44, No. 1, January 1992 (Geneva: World Council of Churches), p. 80.