Rev. George Miller
May 24, 2015
What brings happiness?
Last week, Psalm 1 talked about folk who are like trees replanted by the streams in which they bear much fruit.
What brings happiness?
Is it all work? Is it all play? The money we make; the items we buy? The experiences we have? The people we know?
What brings happiness?
In St. Paul, MN there is a Salvation Army in which three volunteers and a chef named Jeff Ansorge feed the hungry and homeless.
Jeff’s been cooking for nearly 30 years, with a degree in the culinary arts. For 12 years he was at the Capital Grille in Minneapolis, where a 24-ounce steak cost $48.
He was the executive chef with a staff of 17, making $80,000 a year. He thought he wanted it all- a big house, fancy cars, but nothing satisfied. They just caused big bills, high debts and deep depression.
So, after a time of reflection, Jeff applied to 10 different non-profit organizations and was hired by the Salvation Army as head cook of their soup kitchen.
Now instead of serving dry aged steak he’s serving salmon, ribs and stews for free.
Instead of making $80,000 he’s earning about a third.
Instead of wearing a chef’s hat and apron, he wears comfortable blue jeans and a t-shirt.
Now, Jeff finds himself happy, doing what he loves- giving back to the community. Instead of drowning in debts and things, he is thriving in freedom and opportunities.
I admire people like Jeff. People who have the ability to replant themselves, to figure out what it is that makes them happy, and to be an active participant in Creation; God’s Kingdom right here on earth.
There is something to be said about those like Jeff who are facing a spirit crushing existence and find a way to stop, evaluate where they are and to walk away, if that is indeed what is best for them to do.
Not everyone has the strength to do that; not everyone has the ability.
Who here could leave behind an $80,000 a year job to make $27,000, and be OK?
But Jeff did. The depression, the despair- he walked away.
Which got me to thinking- that is one thing we cannot say about God. We cannot say that God walks away, can we?
We can say there are times when it feels like God is distant. We can say there are times when it feels like God is out of reach.
But to say God has walked away- that is virtually inconceivable.
For example, in today’s Psalm, God is ever-present. We see God active in the art of creation- stretching out the heavens like a tent, making springs of water gush forth, having the moon mark the seasons.
Now, There are those who theologically think that once God created the world, God walked away, leaving everything and everyone to fend for themselves.
But Psalm 104 celebrates God for giving food, opening a hand filled with good things, and sending forth a spirit that creates and renews.
Ever present; never absent.
Even when things seemed hopeless and the people were enslaved in Egypt; even when they bore the harsh whip of Pharaoh, God was there, hearing their cries, knowing their tears.
Even when the people sinned, creating a golden calf out of gold and worshipping it as an idol, God did not walk away, God was there.
Even when they turned on his Son, God did not walk away. Even when they ignored the teachings of Jesus, refused to set him free, and nailed him to the cross, God did not walk away.
That’s amazing, when you think about it.
When Adam ate the apple, when Cain killed Abel, when the Israelites worshipped the golden calf, God could have walked away.
When David killed Bathsheba’s husband, when Jonah refused to go to Nineveh, when the people refused to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with the Lord, God could have walked away.
When Judas betrayed Jesus, when Peter denied him, when they sealed Jesus in the tomb, God could have walked away.
…And perhaps God should have…but God did not.
In fact God did the complete opposite of walking away- God breaks right on in, and that’s what we celebrate today during Pentecost.
With every reason imaginable for God to walk away from humanity, God breaks in- call it a crash of rushing wind, call it flames of fire, call it divided tongues-
the Holy Spirit of God breaks into the moment and falls upon the disciples, falls upon the people, falls upon the world and gets things started anew.
Pentecost is a chance for us to be reminded how God did not walk away, but God breaks into our very existence and fills us with breath, fills us with life, fills us with spirit.
Why? So we can become a bit more pious? Perhaps?
So we can become better people, giving back and watching over others? That would be great.
So we can see visions and dream dreams? Why not?
But today, I look back upon the words of Psalm 104 and see something else at play.
It’s a song about how God creates, how the spirit of God gives life to all creation.
Within the verses are elements of ecology in which birds and trees and streams are interdependent on one another and on God.
Within the verses are elements of economy in which the gifts of God allow cattle to grow, wine to be produced, bread to be made, and oil to be used as a beauty product.
But there is also something else within these verses- a sense of playfulness.
It’s no secret that Psalm 104 is my favorite psal; 26 is perhaps my favorite verse.
In it, the singer points to the sea, deep and wide, and says “Look- there go the ships, and there is Leviathan splish-splashing in the water.”
Leviathan was a mythical, enormous, colossal creature back in the day. He was their Jaws, he was their Godzilla, he was the alligator in Lake Placid.
Leviathan put fear into the heart of mighty men, the ultimate Right Shark, but here, in Psalm 104, look what he becomes- a pet, a toy, a rubber ducky for God.
He becomes Left Shark dancing with Katy Perry during the Superbowl half-time show.
Leviathan sports in the ocean, he plays in the sea, he frolics, he has fun, and according to Psalm 104, that’s his entire purpose.
Which stands to reason-does everything about God have to be so serious?
Does everything about God have to be about sin and redemption, does everything have to be about scorn and loss, does everything have to be about nail marks and crowns of thorn?
Or can we allow time for our faith and our worship to be about play? About the excitement that the Holy Spirit of God can break on in and make people jibber jabber?
Does everything have to be about well-planned worship with polite pauses, mission programs we have to raise funds for and committees to be chaired?
Or can we also embrace the thought that at times folk can be so filled with the breath of God that outsiders may think they are caffeinated with something besides coffee?
Does everything about our faith have to be about feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and healing the sick?
Or can we also allow room for the idea that sometimes all God may want to do is to take off his tie, put on a bathing suit and wade into the water to play with Levi, the wonder fish?
Today is Pentecost- a day to recall that happiness is not based solely on what we earn, or what we do.
Today is Pentecost- a day to recall that time and time again, God could have walked away but chose not to.
Today is Pentecost- a day to recall the in breaking of God via the Holy Spirit in which rhyme and reason are cast aside.
Today is Pentecost- a day to recall how the breath of God not only created this world, but renews this world.
Today is Pentecost- a day to realize that God too wants to have fun; that God also has a spirit of play.
Today in Pentecost- let us remember and let us celebrate that we are replanted in Christ, we are renewed by the winds of the Holy Spirit and we are each welcome to frolic with our God.
Amen and amen.
***Jeff’s story appeared in Tampa Tribune Dec 1, 2013, courtesy of the Associated Press***