Rev. George Miller
Psalm 104:1, 14-35
“Playful God ”
May 23, 2010
Today is Pentecost Sunday. It’s a day to celebrate the unexpected, playful side of God.
Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the universal church, when the Holy Spirit poured down upon a gathering of folk, causing playful unexpectedness to sweep across the land.
And since this is a birthday, we have what you expect at any birthday gathering: music, which we’ve already heard, refreshments, to be served after worship, and since no birthday is complete without laughter, here’s a joke, courtesy of Highlands Today:
There’s an old saying that drinking doesn’t make you fat, it makes you lean- lean against the bar, lean against the table, lean against the chair.
Because Pentecost is about the unexpected, I thought we’d forgo with the traditional reading of Acts 2, and instead read from Psalm 104, which as you may know, is my favorite Scripture.
As an A-type personality, I love the sense of order. As a foodie, I love the wine and bread references. As an ecotheologian, I love that it’s a hymn about God’s gifts to Creation.
Last week we heard a quote from Alice Walker that said “Helped are those who find something in Creation to admire each and every hour. Their days will overflow with beauty... ”
This Psalm has plenty to admire, from gushing springs to singing birds to a giant sea monster playing in the ocean. Wonder, joy and beauty overflow from this song.
And to make sure we do not miss the point, this is the first place in the Book of Psalms in which the words “Hallelujah!” appear.
Hallelujah means “Praise the Lord” and every time I read this Psalm I find another reason to say those words.
With each stage of life I enter into, I return to this Psalm and it reveals something new, much the way an Emily Dickinson poem or Shakespearean play does.
Lately, I have noticed that this Psalm is not only a very A-personality type of song , but a very Alpha-centric one as well.
As one writer stated, Psalm 104 shows Creation as a sense of achievement, in which everything depends on the authority of God. Another word for authority is alphaness.
This Psalm shows God as the alpha of all alphas.
God is the alpha who cares for all, no matter how big or small, seemingly important or seemingly inconsequential. Birds to lions, humans to fish, all creatures matter to God.
God is the alpha who makes sure every living things has a home. Birds have the trees, goats have the mountains.
God is the alpha who provides and protects. The donkeys have water to drink. The cattle have grass to eat. The coneys have rocks to hide in.
God is the alpha who makes sure everything has a job to do. Lions hunt by night, humans work during the day.
But perhaps most importantly, this shows God as an alpha who makes sure everything has fun.
Yes, protection, food, work and a place to call home are important, but none of that matters if there’s no fun and frivolity involved.
Check out vss. 25-26, perhaps my favorite lines in my favorite scripture: “Yonder is the sea, great and wide...There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.”
What is Leviathan? Leviathan was the name of a giant creature that lived in the sea. It was a monster to be feared and respected.
Different scriptures and scholars give different views of what Leviathan is, but when you hear that word, you are to think big, you are to think bold, you are to think of the most alpha of all the alpha sea creatures.
Some would say Leviathan was a giant crocodile. Voracious and violent. Think of the crocodile in “Peter Pan” with it’s taste for human flesh, who with a tic-tic-tok of a swallowed alarm clock sends Captain Hook fleeing in fear.
Some would say Leviathan was a ruthless shark, a serial killer who swims the sea. Think of the movie “Jaws” with its daunting music and Chief Brody saying “We need a bigger boat.”
Authors and artists have rendered Leviathan as a giant whale. The mightiest of mammals. Think Moby Dick and the epic battle between Captain Ahab and the great white whale.
Regardless of what Leviathan is, crocodile, shark or whale, it was huge, it was scary, it was chaos. It was to be feared.
But listen to what vs 26 does: Leviathan? That thing that humans are so scared about? Guess what? God created Leviathan to sport in the sea.
“To sport” means “to play” or “to frolic” or “to amuse.” In others words, that giant monster, the one you’ve been so afraid of...? It’s God’s pet, God’s plaything. It’s a creature God created solely for fun and amusement.
In other words, great big alpha Leviathan is God’s great big...rubber ducky.
Think of the theological significance of that. It means the ocean is God’s great big bathtub and Leviathan is God’s water toy.
Just imagine: God, like a child, sitting in a tub, bubbles in hair, giggling, laughing away, playing with the world’s largest rubber ducky!
In Psalm 104 God is Alpha above all alphas, even the dreaded Leviathan, but Psalm 104 also gives an image of God we rarely stop to think about: God at play.
This is a God who laughs, God who has fun. Go back into the Psalm and you’ll see that sense of enjoyment. There’s God drag racing clouds and riding the wind like a Harley (vs. 3). There is the music of birds singing from the trees.
And just to make it clear, verse 15 cinches the deal: God is responsible for the wine we drink and the cosmetics we wear. How awesome is that?
God is not just the Alpha who provides what we would consider the essentials, but God is the Alpha who makes sure we have fun, relax, look and feel beautiful.
As John Calvin wrote, verse 15 is a sign of Creation’s abundance of joy.
Now, last week we got a little serious, talking about the vulnerability of God and Christ crucified. Those are part of what Christianity is about. But they are not the only parts.
As Psalm 104 reminds us, God is also a playful God, appreciating a good song, a shining face, and a time to play with rubber duckies in the bathtub.
And if God enjoys that, we can allow ourselves time to enjoy that to. That not everything has to have a purpose, not everything has to be so serious, that not everything has to be so goal orientated.
Home, food, safety and work are all important, but what do they matter if at the end of the day you can’t relax or splurge a little on your self?
I myself am still learning that. In fact, it has been nature, in particular my cat, Martin Isaac, that has been reminding me of how much I should be practicing what I preach.
For example, on Tuesday I came home from church, revving to work on this sermon. But when Martin greeted me at the door with a great big meow, I knew I needed to give him some playtime.
So with Beyonce on the stereo, he chased after a fake mouse on a string, jumping off and onto sofas and chairs. Afterwards he went outside, sniffing the trees, eating the grass, hiding in the bushes as he watched the birds at the feeder.
I didn’t get to work on my sermon that day, but I did get to sit back and watch one part of God’s creation find joy in and interact with many other parts of God’s creation.
And good thing too because in those moments of joy, the Spirit and I were most connected, allowing the sermon to be created when it was ready to be written.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. It’s the birthday of the church. It is the time when the Spirit of God broke in to do something new, something playful.
May we also find that playfulness inside of us. May we be unafraid to tell a joke, dance, share a good meal, perhaps even fill up a bathtub with some Mr. Bubble or Calgon and ease into it with a glass of wine, and our own rubber ducky.
In conclusion, I’d like to share with you something that recently took place on Molasses Reef, off Key Largo.
There was an atheist deep sea diving. He surfaced on the Reef and began swimming back to his boat when he saw a shark behind him.
So the atheist starts swimming faster and faster but when he looks back he sees the shark heading towards him. He’s scared to death and screams out “Oh God! Save me!”
Suddenly time is frozen still and a bright white light shines from above. The voice of God says “Aren’t you an atheist? Why do you call upon me when you do not believe in me?”
Knowing he can’t lie the man replies, “Well, that’s true. I don’t believe in you. But can you make the shark believe in you?”
The Lord replies “As you wish.”
The light retracts back into the heavens and the atheist looks back to see the jaws of the mighty leviathan start to close down on him, when all of a sudden, the shark stops and pulls back.
Shocked, the atheist believes he has been saved as the huge beast closes its eyes, bows its head and says “Hallelujah and Thank you Lord for this food which I am about to receive. Amen.”
Thanks be to the Spirit for making all things new, thanks be to Jesus who enjoyed wine and time spent with friends, and thanks be to God who is playful and limitless in joy.
Amen and amen.