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“God’s Rubber Ducky”

A sermon by Sid Burgess for Edgewood PC, Birmingham, AL
Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010

Text: Psalm 104

“On Pentecost, we celebrate the event of the Holy Spirit descending upon the faithful, allowing them to both speak and to be understood by a host of people from every nation. With tongues of fire and a great rushing wind, the Spirit opens the mouths of the disciples and (tunes in) the ears of the gathered crowd.” God’s judgment at the Tower of Babel, scattering the proud, is overcome, at least for this sacred moment. On Pentecost, “God’s Word transcends all of the great human barriers—language, culture, race, nationality.” And that is not all. Psalm 104 is included in our scripture readings on this festival Sunday to remind us “that human beings aren’t the only creatures in God’s realm.” Psalm 104 tells us that “God’s word is translated beyond our human tongues and ears both to and through all creation. “Rocks and trees, skies and seas,” and all the creatures therein have their place in the choir. “Humanity does not sing a solo.” All the wonderful works of God sing the psalm’s refrain, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Knoxville Pastor James McTyre, whom I have been quoting freely here, writes: “We humans may be able to speak God’s word in a few hundred languages, but the earth and all that is within it echo God’s holy name in a trillion different tongues.”1

The lectionary gives us only a few verses of Psalm 104. I can’t resist reaching for more of this beautiful poem. As Psalm 104 tells the story of creation our Creator God is having a blast! At the outset of creation, this psalm says God is playing dress up: “wrapped in light as with a garment”(v.2). God is setting up camp: “stretching out the heavens like a tent” (v. 2). God turns the clouds into chariots, and then “rides on the wings of the wind”(v. 3).

Much later in the poem our verses come into focus:

Yonder is the sea, great and wide, Creeping things innumerable are there, Living things both great and small. There go the ships, And Leviathan that you formed to sport in it (vv. 25,26).

Leviathan. I was curious about this mysterious sea creature, Leviathan. According to the Harper Collins Bible Dictionary Leviathan is a great, mythological monster. In ancient Middle Eastern lore, this creature is “one of the primeval sea monsters”— the most fearsome fiend of the ocean depths, the dread monster of chaos. Our Hebrew ancestors adopt Leviathan and bring him out in the epic of Job and in the poetry of Psalms. Leviathan remains a terror of the uncharted ocean, but he is no match for the God of creation. Psalm 74 has God crushing this sea dragon and feeding him to the creatures of the wilderness. But, by the time we get to Psalm 104, the legend of Leviathan has lightened up. This once feared creature has become God’s plaything, formed for sport in the sea, says the poet.2

Jon Levinson, who teaches Judaic studies at Harvard, was lecturing one day on the role of Leviathan in ancient Jewish literature, when a student piped up and said, “Professor, it sounds like what you are saying is the Leviathan is God’s rubber ducky.” 3

What a wonderful image! The most dreaded, fearful thing you can imagine in all of Creation, and God has just turned it into a harmless toy! “God’s rubber ducky!”

Now I know we have a number of very sophisticated graduates with us today— high school and college graduates who long ago put away their rubber duckies. Why, I suspect some of them have travelled so far and risen so high that they have no memory of their once-treasured rubber duckies. It may come as a surprise to these very mature young people to learn that some of us aging adults still have our rubber duckies. And, every now and again, we have to get that little creature out to see if it still floats. You see, no matter how difficult life may become, no matter how complicated the problems, how disappointing the relationships, if your rubber ducky still floats there is hope.

There is hope for those who remember and shall never forget the mighty power of God to bring order out of chaos as God does at Creation. We people of faith continue to call upon God to help bring order out of chaos in our world and in our lives. What God has done to mean old Leviathan, bully of the deep, we are counting on God to do to the bullies of the playground, to the brutes in the work place, to the diseases that strike the body, to the perpetrators of violence on the streets, to the corrupt politicians and those use them, to the terrorists plotting murder of the innocents, and to the warmongers of many nations who send their young to fight and die. Our task-- the challenge to the church--is to join God in the work of taming these dragons until they, too, become God’s “rubber duckies.”

As if all of the above were not challenge enough, look to the south—look down into the Gulf of Mexico. See who has come calling. Why, it’s Old Leviathan in person, so big, so bloated that it can seen by satellite from outer space! Surely someone is going to ask, ‘How could God let that oil well burst in the Gulf of Mexico? How can God stand idly by while millions of barrels of oil spill into the ocean, threatening all creatures great and small?

The preacher dare not answer for God, but I will venture to say that God is not the one who cried, “Drill, baby, drill.” In other words, God is not the One who turned Leviathan loose in the Gulf. Our insatiable demand for oil did that. Our preoccupation with creature comforts, our insistence on instant mobility— my way is the highway. . . . Quite by contrast to “Drill, baby, drill,” God’s mantra is “to keep and to till” (Gen. 2.15). God has assigned to humankind the stewardship of Creation, not for our profit and pleasure, but to “feed the sheep of God’s pasture” (see John 21.17). We are to follow the pattern set by our Creator God: “(giving) drink to every wild animal,” causing the “grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, even wine to gladden the human heart” (Ps. 104.11,14,15).

Our Presbyterian Church “Declaration of Faith” proclaims:

We (humans) hold the earth in trust for future generations of living things. The Lord forbids us to plunder, foul, and destroy the earth. The Lord expects us to produce, to consume, to reproduce in ways that make earth's goodness available to all people and reflect God's love for all creatures. The Lord bids us use our technical skills for beauty, order, health, and peace.4

How grievously we have failed! How God must weep over the stain spreading across the ocean-- the ocean God created with God’s own hands! Is there any hope for us? Any hope for the redemption of humankind, of creation? Maybe the Democrats or maybe the Republicans? Maybe the environmentalists or the hunters and fishers? Perhaps industry or commerce, education or labor? Surely, all of the above should put “shoulder to the wheel and nose to the grindstone.” Surely, we hope all of the above will eventually rally to the common good of restoring and protecting God’s good creation.

Unfortunately, it is difficult for many, maybe even for most, to envision a radical departure from the status quo—a radical departure that would provide greater protection for all creatures of the earth, all fields and forests, all rivers and mountains, all lakes and oceans, as well as, all people of all nations. Difficult for most because such dramatic change would require sacrifice, and few people in the Western world have any experience with sacrifice.

Not so for those of us who claim the name of Christ. We know sacrifice because we know the saving death of the Lord, and because we have answered his summons to come and follow. We know radical change because we know God’s power to make all things new. We have confidence that that status quo can be changed because, “In Christ God gave us a glimpse of the new creation (God) has already begun and will surely finish.”5

Now, more than ever, the world needs to hear our Christian witness. The world needs to hear our Lord’s call to sacrifice. The world needs to know of God’s power to bring about good from even the greatest of disasters. Now, more than ever, the Church is called to share our hope for a new heaven and a new earth. Our hope for a time to come when all the Leviathans will once more become harmless play things.

Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.

1 McTyre, James, “Psalm 104.24-34,35b,” Day of Pentecost, FEASTING ON THE WORD, C-3, p.8f.
2 Unterman, Jeremiah, “Leviathan,” HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, 1985, 1996, p.602.
3 Willson, Patrick, “Naming the Creation,” LECTIONARY HOMILETICS vol.18, #3, Apr/May, 2007, pp.79-80,
4 “Declaration of Faith,” II.3, PCUSA, l977, 1991.
5 Ibid., X. 2.