Whitsun Creation Service

St Frideswide’s , Osney

Eucharist on Sunday 19th  May  2013 [Pentecost]

Revd. Professor  Martin Henig


Acts 2: 1–21; Psalm 104:25-36; Romans 8:14-17; John 14: 8–17

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen


Whit Sunday, to use the familiar English designation for this Sunday, marks both the culmination of  the long Easter season and the beginning of  what we in the British Isles consider to be summer. Until recently this festival which celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was linked to a public holiday, and certainly it  comes at a moment when we are ready to  begin enjoying  the outdoor life, whether in a park or garden or in what we consider to be the setting of wild nature, though in fact our fields and hedgerows, pastures, woods and rivers, hills and seashores all display the hand of humankind, whether beneficent or otherwise. And this was to an extent true even in the Mediterranean world of 14th century BC, especially in the well-tended landscapes of the Fertile crescent, in Mesopotamia and in Egypt.

And yet Ancient Wisdom discerned that the spirit which gave life originated  not from humans, but from God. This is expressed eloquently and with passion in Psalm 104 which, for me, is one of  the most important and remarkable texts in all Scripture though the thoughts it expresses were stated (in all probability later) in Genesis chapter 1, which is closely based on it, as well as in the Book of Job.[1] It may not even be Hebraic in origin but in essential derives from the Amana period in Egypt for, as John Day points out, it bears a striking likeness to the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaton’s  hymn to the sun  [or Aton] .[2] Of course the Creator has now become the Hebrew YHWH rather than Aton, but the thought remains the same.

The psalm of course deserves to be read in its entirety, slowly and meditatively. God made everything that there is. He alone is the source of all life and the author of  its sustenance. It is depressing that in most writings, even in Holy Scripture, the human beings responsible for them, place their own species first and seem to ignore other animals, as it were acting as both judge and jury. Where is God in this self interest? Where is the rest of Creation?  In this wonderful psalm (very remarkably) human beings play only a subsidiary role, no greater than those of the myriad other creatures God has made. When they venture on ships in the mighty ocean, those frail vessels simply bob around on the surface as playthings for the great whale, Leviathan, not as so often viewed with dread but simply as one of God’s creatures. Thus we do well to meditate on how we live in accordance with  the harmonious vision of Akhenaton (if it was he who  conceived the hymn) and the psalmist who rendered these thoughts into Hebrew verse for use in the liturgy of the Temple, itself  regarded as a microcosm or an analogue of Creation. [3]

All Creation is fed by the Holy Spirit, that inevitably provides a link with both the Father and with Christ. For, as today’s Gospel clearly  proclaims, Christ is in the Father just as the Father is in him, and so he is inevitably at one with the Creator, just as he  has an intimate connection with the Spirit. This is of course essentially the Trinitarian doctrine to which we all ascribe and which is the special theme for next Sunday, Trinity Sunday.

At another level, throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus taught in the light of this Creation Gospel, remembering that God was responsible for  the birds and the flowers as well as for human beings. His many diatribes against excessive wealth can be read as warnings against greed and a selfish attitude of mind  that takes it for granted that we are free to grab whatever we like from the world’s resources, for our own benefit.

However sublime, ancient Temple theology and early Christian Trinitarian doctrine are, they may seem rather remote from our concerns today. However, both in fact have a very real relevance to what we are doing, what we are celebrating today, not just the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles at the time of  a major Jewish agricultural festival but the descent of that same Spirit on Robyn through baptism. She will receive the gift of the Spirit in the water of baptism at the font  just as Jesus himself received it through the ministrations of John the Baptist in the river Jordan, and the Spirit was seen to descend on him in the likeness of a dove, inevitably reminding us of that dove released by Noah from the Ark. Indeed Pentecost was from early on, associated with the covenant which God made with Noah and all creatures.[4]  Robyn, you are not only being accepted into the Body of Christ, which is the Church,  but inevitably  you are thereby becoming  a valued part of the Salvation history of all Creation.

With parents who are both faithful to God and, I know, care very passionately about the environment, this is an especially notable event, because Robyn you will be nurtured in the understanding that there is a real relationship between faith and a duty of care for God’s world. We have been entrusted with a very precious charge, to serve all our fellow creatures and not to dominate them, to cherish them and not to exploit them. We must never take the world, God’s world, for granted.

Too often, even amongst those who call themselves Christians, a craving for wealth, for domination, for power has replaced hymns of praise. The voice of the psalmist has been silenced, his harp laid aside. We see governments, including our own, making a virtue of expanding our impact on a fragile environment under the guise of growth, building on the countryside without constraint, mining and burning fossil fuels without a thought for the morrow. The streams from which the wild asses used to drink are dried up, and, indeed, the wild asses are no more and the fir  trees in which the stork built their nests are felled and the storks have vanished from our land. We have clear-felled the rain-forests in the Tropics without any thought for other creatures which have lived there for millennia, and yet we still wonder  what God thinks of us and of  our actions!  We have treated the seas as our dustbin, and destroyed complete ecosystems by our damaging trawling methods, littering the seabed with dead and dying fish. The leviathans, such as are left, are deafened by the noise of the engines of our ships, but so many of these intelligent, sentient creatures have been hunted and cruelly killed with harpoons.

Herman Melville’s great novel Moby Dick, though published in the middle of the 19th century,[5] presents the unvarnished facts on the cruel practice of whaling. But it does more. Captain Ahab, his name taken from that of the wicked ninth century BC king of Israel, husband of Jezebel, declared war on a great white Sperm whale, who in the end can be seen as a supernatural force, even an allegory of  our God, who ultimately destroys him and all his crew.

For we will inevitably face judgement just as did Captain Ahab, dragged down to the very depths of the unforgiving Ocean, for the way we have treated  God’s world, both spiritually and in practice. We are in danger of spiritual and moral bankruptcy,   because greed, cruelty and exploitation inevitably blunt sensibility and deaden and destroy the capacity to love upon which our salvation entirely depends; we face practical disaster in that if we injure a finite world, by destroying natural resources which God has provided for every one of his creatures, we will bring about  great trouble for ourselves, and perhaps even precipitate our own extinction, alongside that of other species.

I cannot promise that a few drops of oil and a shell or two of pure water will save the world, but for you, Robyn, these are sacred reminders of the only power that stands between humans and the self-regarding sin that regards might as right. And so, Robyn, baptism rightly understood links you-as it links all of us – to the Christ, Creator and Servant of all that is and all that shall be, in this world and for all of eternity.


+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen


[1] Especially chapters 38-41

[2] J.Day, Psalms (1992),41-2

[3] Margaret Barker, Creation. A Biblical vision for the Environment (2010)

[4]  Genesis 8:20-22

[5] Date of first publication, 1851