Manifold Works of God – Sermon for Pentecost Sunday (Psalm 104)

Mount Shasta from the north

Psalm 104:24-34

“O Lord, how manifold are your works!” Through God’s Wisdom, “all things bright and beautiful” are being created, and all God’s creatures depend on God’s Spirit for sustenance. This is true also for the new creation in Christ. So, with the Psalmist “I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.”

The connection between the 104th Psalm and Pentecost is subtle, but the Psalm’s witness to the work of the Spirit is there. It’s there in the references to God’s Wisdom and God’s life-giving breath. It’s there in the presence of the Spirit through whom God renews “the face of the ground.” The Spirit comes not only on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit’s presence gave life to the church, but the Spirit has been present since the beginning of creation.

We hear this word about the renewing presence of the Spirit during a pandemic and while the nation is faced with the question of what true justice and equality before the law look like. The Psalm calls on us to give praise to God for the glory of God’s creation. Like other Creation Psalms, it invites us to look around and see the evidence of God’s wisdom in creating the earth and all that dwells on it. That includes George Floyd and all who are unjustly treated by society, including the police. We hear the joyous message of the Psalm at a moment of trauma for a family and for a nation.

With this on our minds, we pick up the song of creation in verse twenty-four of the Psalm. It begins by giving praise to God for the creation of the seas and its creatures, including Leviathan. According to the Psalmist, God created Leviathan to “sport in it.” If, as we suspect, Leviathan is really a whale, think of how whales seem to play in the ocean by jumping out of the water and then crashing back to earth.  They bear witness to the glory and majesty of God, who creates the earth through God’s Holy Wisdom.

We can trace the activity of the Spirit in creation back to Genesis 1, where we read that the Spirit or Wind of God swept across the waters as creation began to unfold, bringing with it a diversity of habitats and life itself.  It’s this same Spirit, this same breath of God, that swept across the church on Pentecost, empowering and renewing God’s servants so that they could proclaim the good news of Jesus. Part of that good news is the call to make use of the Gifts of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). Part of the common good involves caring for the environment in which we live.

May we celebrate today the work of the Spirit in creation by recognizing, in the words of Steven Parrish, how Psalm 104 “revels in the diversity of life on earth and contends that God’s gift of breath is for the well-being of all and is not the exclusive privilege of a select few.” Parrish points out that what is true here with creation is true with “God’s gift of the Spirit in Acts 2,” which “doesn’t eliminate diversity but enables understanding among myriad of peoples.” So, here in Psalm 104, the “divine provision of water and food, dust and breath, makes possible the harmonious workings of the whole” [Feasting on the Word, p. 13]. Isn’t that a word of hope we need right now, as racial tensions bubble up in the midst of a pandemic?

May we take some time today to ponder the glories of God’s creation that come into being through God’s Spirit, which is God’s “Holy Wisdom.”  Consider how Patrick Michael’s hymn, “Holy Wisdom,”  answers the question: “Who comes from God, as Word and Breath?” The answer is  “Holy Wisdom.” This question is followed by another:  “Who holds the keys of life and death?” The Psalmist reveals that when God takes away the breath of life creatures return to dust, but when God sends forth the “spirit, they are created.” The hymn reflects this message by inviting us to sing  “Mighty Wisdom. Crafter and Creator too, Eldest, she makes all things new; Wisdom guides what God will do, Wisest One, Radiant One, welcome, Holy Wisdom.” [Chalice Hymnal  258].

While the congregation gathers this morning in homes, we can ponder the manifold works of God. We can ponder the witness of creation to the glory of God. Each of us has a place or places that speak to us. It might be the sea, the mountains, the desert. I find it interesting that the Psalmist points us to the sea because the people of Israel weren’t a seafaring people. In fact, they feared the sea and its monsters. Nevertheless, the Psalmist celebrates the “sea, great and wide,” where ships ply and Leviathan plays.

Since it’s still fresh in my mind, I think of the beauty of the Alps, which I viewed in person for the first time in September. I think of  the grandeur of Mount Shasta, which is more like the mountain that smokes referenced here in Psalm 104. Both kinds of mountains declare the glory and majesty of God. The same is true of the doe and her fawn I spied in the backyard the other day. What a pleasure it was to watch this young fawn awkwardly walking with its mother and even nurse, reminding us that even as the death toll rises during this pandemic, life continues to emerge.  For this, we can give praise to God.

We gather this morning to celebrate the manifold works of the “author of the new creation,” whom we ask to come and “anoint us with your power.” Today we ask the Spirit to come and “make our hearts your habitation; with your grace our spirits shower.” [Paul Gerhardt, “Spirit, Come Dispel our Sadness,” CH 253].  Then, as the Spirit falls on us, we can raise our voices in praise to God, saying “Bless the Lord, O my soul. Hallelujah.” (Ps. 104:35b JPS).

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, 
Michigan
Pentecost Sunday
May 31, 2020