July 19, 2009
Scripture: Psalm 104
Sermon Title: “Playful God”
Rev. George N. Miller
Before we begin our message let’s start with a joke: An elderly woman walked into the local church. The usher greeted her at the door and helped her to a seat. “Where would you like to sit?” he asked.
“The front row please,” she answered.
“You don’t really want that,” said the usher. “The pastor’s really boring.”
“Do you know who I am?” the old woman asked. “I’m the pastor’s mother.”
“Do you know who I am?” the usher asked. “No,” she said. “Good,” he replied.
To ensure no one is bored, I invite you to repeat after me: Bless the lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!
On this summer day, surrounded by the beauty of the earth, I’m excited about preaching. I’m excited because this is one of my favorite Scriptures. I’m excited because virtually everything I believe is right here.
Psalm 104, an exuberant song that praises God for all that’s been done in creation. It’s also the first place in the Bible where the word “Hallelujah!” appears.
Joy radiates throughout the text. There’s wonder and delight; play and recreation. We are taken from the heavens to the earth, from the waters to the trees, from the stars to a sea monster that plays in the ocean.
By placing its emphasis on everywhere and anything, Psalm 104 joyfully claims that all of the universe is God’s holy house.
And the Psalm celebrates just what a mighty God we serve; an incredible Creator who set the earth on its foundations, created the oceans and streams, called forth the moon to mark the seasons and the sun to mark the day.
As the Psalmist makes clear, God is not just out there, but right in our midst. And we see how every creature, no matter how strange or terrible, no matter how small or large, all come under the handy work of God.
We hear of the intricate way God created and connected everything. The rivers give drink to the animals and water the trees. The trees become a home for the birds, and from their branches the birds sing their songs.
Grass grows for the cattle. Mountains are home to wild goats, rocks are a place for the badgers, nighttime is for lions to hunt their prey and daytime is so they can sleep.
This is indeed a mighty, mighty God. One who creates and cares for all of Gods creation.
When humans appear in verse 14 we’re seen as another part of creation. When the animals go to sleep, the humans go to work. The same land that grows grass for the cattle is the same land that grows plants for people.
For today, what I want to focus on is the way Psalm 104 portrays not just a powerful God, but a playful God; for throughout the Psalm there is undeniable fun and frivolity.
Yes, God creates things that are necessary and important, but God has also blessed us with unnecessary things that make life worth living and fun.
We are told that oil is a gift from God to make the face shine, that wine was given to gladden our hearts.
Think of the theological claim: God gave us oil for cosmetic reasons so we can feel and look good. And God gave us wine to make us happy. Who would have thought!
Read further along and you come across this verse: “There is the ocean, large and wide, where countless creatures live...The ships sail on it, and in it plays Leviathan, that sea monster you made to amuse you.”
Now that’s the part I find most fascinating. Forget the streams for the trees and the tress for the birds, but here is the claim that God made a giant sea creature for nothing more then to make God happy.
In essence, Leviathan is God’s pet. Or as one writer mentioned, Leviathan is God’s water toy.
This is the image of God being a big kid playing in the bathtub with a rubber ducky!
In essence: God wants to have fun!
What an mighty, mighty God we serve indeed! That God not only creates and provides what we need, but God wants us to enjoy life, and furthermore, God likes to have fun, God enjoys recreation and play.
No wonder this is the first place where the word “Hallelujah” appears!
I love this notion that God likes to have fun. What a refreshing break from the stoic, serious images we place upon God. What a nice break from the fearful God people tend to call upon.
This is a God who can enjoy a good laugh, appreciate a thing of beauty and sit down with a friend over a cool drink.
It reminds me of a line from Alice Walker’s book The Color Purple. In it, a character says “God likes to be appreciated. I think it upsets God if you walk past the color purple in field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
God is indeed a playful God who enjoys beauty. Think of all the things that God has blessed us with that are, in essence, unnecessary. Look at all the colors we have.
The world didn’t have to look like a Crayola box. It could have been all white and grey. But no, we have red and yellows, greens and blues, gold and purple, and not just purple but shades of purple, from plum to violet to lavender.
And we have sounds. Oh do we have sounds! Of rain fall and wind blowing, of birds that sing good morning and ducks that quack.
And music! What would life be like without music. The note of a keyboard, the rattle or maracas, the beat of a drum, the toot of a trumpet, the clapping of our hands, the beat of our heart, the song in our voice.
And the dance. Square dance, line dance, ballroom dance, break dance, ballet, jazz and hip-hop.
And food. Think of it, food does not have to be as wonderful as it is. We could get by on one type of meat, a vegetable and some bread.
But the variety: beef, pork, fish, squash, brussel sprouts, broccoli, oranges, kiwis, tomatoes, whole grain, multi- grain, bagels, rolls.
Fried chicken, Gummi bears and Snapple iced-tea.
There is so much that God has created that we actually don’t need. So much that has been given as a gift, as unnecessary item.
Like good old Leviathan. A sea creature frolicing in the waves, an animal that was created to have fun, amuse God and to make God laugh.
So much that God has created has been unnecessary, but if we look deeper we realize just how necessary they truly are, because they are what helps make life so good.
And through the acts and gifts of creation, God is calling to us and saying “Do you want to play?”
We can be like the schoolyard bully and kick sand in God’s face or we can join in on the fun. So let’s have fun and share another joke:
A Rabbi and a Priest are at the town’s annual 4th of July Picnic. Because they are old friends, they do what old friends like to do: banter.
The Priest begins. “This baked ham is really delicious. You ought to try it. I know it’s against your religion, but I can’t understand why such a wonderful food should be forbidden. You don’t know what you’re missing. Tell me, Rabbi, when are you going to break down and try a piece?”
The Rabbi looked at the priest with a big grin, and said “At your wedding!”
In conclusion, how wonderful that when God created this world, it wasn’t just for you and I, but for the birds and trees, the lions and the grass.
How wonderful that when God created this world there was already a notion of play and fun, of enjoyment and pleasure shared in community.
How wonderful that God created some things, such as wine and sea creatures, for the purpose of bringing joy and laughter, happiness and play for God and for us.
No wonder this is the first place in the Bible is which the word Hallelujah is exclaimed.
Hallelujah to God for being so good!
Hallelujah to God for providing for us all!
Hallelujah to God for wanting to have fun!
Bless the Lord, oh our souls. Bless the Lord! Amen.