“With so many things being said about who God is… God of love, God of faith, God of the poor, God of the second chance, etc., I wonder…
“Is God green? (That is, does he manifest ecological concern?)”
Those are part of my notes for a sermon I preached in September 1991, right before I went to Philadelphia to attend seminary. I decorated the page with my signature drawing: a long-haired duck wearing a headband and a necklace with a Celtic cross. (I was inspired by the comic book character Howard the Duck, who was trapped on Earth from another dimension.)
At the time, I was a member of an Assemblies of God congregation. I didn’t hear questions like, “Is God green?” asked very often back then. Actually, I wonder how many times that was asked in Presbyterian churches! (Understand, I’m not thinking about the literal question, “Is God green”?!)
When you think about it, it’s a ridiculous question. Does God care about the environment? From start to finish, the scriptures testify to it. In Genesis 1, from a creation in which every part is called “good,” to Revelation 22, the final revelation of a holy city in which nothing accursed will be found, a city in perfect harmony with all that is.
Last week was Ascension Sunday. We remember the Lord Jesus Christ, “who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things” (Ep 4:10). The ascension means that Christ is everywhere, filling all of creation. (Ascension is one of my favorite days in the year!)
We sing God’s glory throughout the Psalms. We praise God in creation in hymns, like “Let All Things Now Living.” Here’s something from verse 2:
“By law God enforces. The stars in their courses, / The sun in its orbit obediently shine; / The hills and the mountains, The rivers and fountains, / The depths of the ocean proclaim God divine.”
And of course, there is the incarnation, the coming into flesh which is the meaning of Christmas. God enters into humanity enfleshed in the body of Jesus. We can also see a kind of incarnation at work roughly 13.8 billion years ago, when the universe came into existence, when God’s “good” creation got its start.
There are endless ways to imagine God’s care and love of creation.
Unfortunately, we often fail in our call to be stewards of creation. In my notes on that sermon, I lamented, “Human sin has affected the creation.” That’s putting it mildly! We seem to go out of our way to trash creation. We pollute and pound and pummel the earth. We poison land and sea and air and everything within them. We do unimaginable violence to God’s creatures with whom we share this world.
Dystopian nightmares, resulting from our destruction—are they really so far away? We must be insane.
We see in our text in Romans 8 how creation groans. There clearly are other meanings besides our contribution to that. The primary meaning speaks of liberation from death and decay, the promise of resurrection spreading to all things. Still, we have more than our share in being the architects of that suffering.
I still remember, to my great shame, the poor little slug that had the misfortune of moving into my sight on a hot summer day. Magnifying glass in hand, I tortured my little friend with the heat of the sun focused on its slimy body, knowing it couldn’t escape that tiny yellow dot bringing it incredible agony. I could claim as mitigating circumstances that I was just a kid, but I still knew it was wrong. Unfortunately, that’s not the only time I’ve played a role in making creation groan. There’s my confession of sin.
(My confession of sin notwithstanding, I did promote a green message with my lunchbox which had on it the logo of the ecology flag!)
However, as I just said, our misdeeds are not front and center of our scripture passage. The apostle Paul speaks of the present suffering as giving way to something wonderful. The groaning of creation is not simply suffering, but a groaning of labor pains. Something is about to be born. Something is slowly at work, beginning to take shape.
Why should this be a text for Pentecost? What does it say about the Holy Spirit?
The gospel text in John presents the Spirit as coming to us to serve as our Advocate, our Helper. The Spirit “will guide [us] into all the truth” (16:13). The Spirit will speak words from the Father.
And of course, on the day of Pentecost itself, the Spirit descends like a mighty wind, filled with fury and flame. The disciples are “filled with the Holy Spirit and [begin] to speak in other languages,” other tongues (Ac 2:4). The Spirit prompts bold words of praise about the glories of God.
I remember hearing someone say the Holy Spirit is the silent member of the Trinity. Those who have worshipped with Pentecostals or Charismatics would find that difficult to believe!
Having said that, the apostle Paul does indeed portray the Spirit as a silent power within creation, as a silent power within us. He says, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (v. 26). Words no longer do the job. They lack intensity; they lack passion.
My sermon title speaks of “a green Spirit.” Why green? One answer is pretty obvious, since I’ve been talking about creation, the environment, our interaction with it. The Spirit inhabits creation, going all the way back to when the Spirit was moving over the face of those primeval waters.
Green also speaks of growth. This is intertwined with the movement from the slumber of winter to the rejuvenation of spring. In our part of the world, things have been getting greener and greener. (Along with the increasing pollen, which plays its role!)
An idea shot through our passage is that of hope, which the Holy Spirit produces. Creation has been “subjected to futility,” it’s been held back, unable to achieve its true glory. That might be true, but it’s been done in the hope, as said earlier, of being “set free from its bondage to decay” (vv. 20-21).
The late Lutheran pastor and professor Sheldon Tostengard commented on hope (or perhaps the lack thereof?). “Society’s hope for the future is by no means guaranteed these days… [T]his age can truly be called an age of hopelessness…” There’s a cheerful assessment!
Still, he draws solace from St. Paul. “While our hope is patient, as patient as that of the seafarer who knows that in the morning the lights of home will appear on the horizon, our hope is by no means resigned. Hope is infectious, a strange and deep optimism which takes all groaning and travail absolutely seriously, and yet rejoices. Let it be said of us Christians in these times that we are known by our hope.”
What does Paul mean when he says, “we do not know how to pray as we ought”?
Again, looking at this as a scripture for Pentecost, one writer says, “Our calling is to join the Spirit in caring for the creation and praying for faithfulness in a world that both serves and threatens creation with technology.” We need help in using our technology in creative, and not destructive, ways.
We need help in not drowning in plastic! It can take up to 50 years for a styrofoam cup to decompose in a landfill. Plastic bottles can take up to 450 or 1000 years to biodegrade. And plastic bags! Besides the problems on land, when they get to water, they are a hazard to creatures who think they’re food.
I love the Fiji Water commercial which has a little girl doing a voiceover proclaiming, “Fiji Water is a gift from nature to us, to repay our gift of leaving it completely alone.” Meanwhile, we’re hearing Pacific Islanders singing a song of praise and joy.
As I say, we need the Spirit’s help, the one who leads us into all the truth. We’re told, “The ranks of those who respond to the Spirit’s sighs are never overcrowded, but because it is God the Holy Spirit who silently, ceaselessly works, there is hope.”
We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Holy Spirit does. And “the Spirit intercedes for [us] according to the will of God” (v. 27).
May we be filled with a green Spirit. May we be filled with a spirit that calls us to love and care for creation. May we be filled with a spirit that grows within us and urges us to grow. May we be filled with a spirit that inspires us with hope and enables us to spread that hope into the world, into our planet, into time and space itself. May we be filled with a spirit that knows our infirmities and leads us to pray and to be.
May we be filled with a spirit plunging us into the love of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
 Sheldon Tostengard, “Light in August: Romans 8:18-39,” Word and World 7:3 (1987): 318.
 F. Dean Lueking, The Christian Century, 114:15 (7 May 1997): 447
 F. Dean Lueking, 447.