Divine Design – Rev. Henry Brinton (with audio)

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Divine Design
November 17, 2013
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b 

 

Microsoft is one of the most successful companies in history.  It has created three billionaires and 12,000 millionaires among its employees.  But the company has had some major design flops.  Fast Company magazine (October 2012) lists a few:

First:  Bob.  Remember Bob?  Bob was a software product released in 1995, designed to make it easier to use the computer.  But Bob was “childish, convoluted, ridiculous, [and] despised,” according to Fast Company.  Even Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer said that Bob was an example of a situation where Microsoft “decided that we have not succeeded and let’s stop.”

Please.

Office Assistant.  This program came out just two years later, in 1997.  It featured an animated character named Clippy who would tap at the screen and try to guess what you were working on.  Clippy always smiled and cheerfully offered to help, even if you were working on a funeral service.

Clippy drew intensely negative responses from many users.  Even its creator called it “one of the most annoying characters in history.”

Although Office Assistant has been replaced, Clippy lives on.  In an episode of the television show Family Guy, Stewie sneaks into CIA headquarters and uses one of their computers.  He becomes annoyed when Clippy appears on the screen and says, “I see you’re trying to take over the world.  Can I help?”  Stewie yells, “Go away, you paperclip!  No one likes you!”

Poor Clippy.  A major design flop.

The list goes on to include the “Blue Screen of Death” and Vista 2007, which was such a mess that some people thought good old Bob was hiding inside.  But let’s not pick on Microsoft — every company has its failures.  Apple is often praised for excellent design, but do you remember its computer “Lisa” from the early 1980s?  Most people don’t.  It was a commercial flop.

So what needs to go into a truly divine design?  Psalm 104 outlines the creative work of Almighty God, which ranges from heaven to earth and includes clouds, winds, fire, water, cattle, plants, wine, oil, bread, trees, birds, goats, lions, people, sun and moon.  “O LORD, how [many] are your works!” says the psalm.  “In wisdom you have made them all” (v. 24).

As we just sang in our second hymn, “Hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light:  Lord of all, to thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.”  This psalm is a good one to hear as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving and praise God for all his gifts.

God’s design begins with wisdom.  The word for wisdom, hokma in the original Hebrew, means more than just knowledge, according to biblical scholar J. Clinton McCann; it also means “technical skill in construction.”  So God is a divine engineer as well as an architect, a doer as well as a dreamer, a construction worker as well as an artist, a tinkerer as well as a thinker.  Even something as wild and chaotic as the sea is part of God’s design and is under his control.

“Yonder is the sea, great and wide,” observes the psalm, “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 was a great chaos-monster thought to live in the sea, a terrifying image to many people in the ancient world.  But here, Leviathan is a harmless bath toy, a rubber ducky, part of God’s divine design.

What the LORD creates in wisdom, he also nourishes.  God does not treat his creatures like computer users treated Bob, the Microsoft product that was quickly abandoned and left to die.  “These all look to you to give them their food in due season,” says the psalm; “when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things” (vv. 27-28).  God gives his creatures exactly what they need for life, including food and drink that nourish animals of all kinds — wild animals as well as human beings.

Unfortunately, we often fail to trust God fully to meet our needs.  We fear that resources are scarce, and that we must hoard what we have.  “We never feel that we have enough,” writes Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann; “we have to have more and more, and this insatiable desire destroys us.  Whether we are liberal or conservative Christians, we must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart” — torn apart by a conflict between abundance and scarcity.

The Bible tells us that God provides for us, abundantly.  But many of us focus on scarcity — we do not think that we will have enough.  I know I worry about this — I worry about money, about providing for my family, about saving for retirement.

I know this conflict that Brueggemann is talking about.  “We are torn apart,” he says, “by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity — a belief that makes us greedy, mean and unneighborly.”

Think about this.  When we believe the good news of God’s abundance, we share generously with others, act with kindness, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  But when we believe in scarcity, we act in ways that are greedy, mean, and unneighborly.

It all comes down to what we believe about God’s divine design.

Scripture tells us that the LORD has created a world in which everyone has enough, and Psalm 104 is a song which celebrates this abundance.  Brueggemann says that verses 27 and 28 are something like a table prayer, one that you could use on Thanksgiving.  It thanks God for giving “food in due season” and filling all the creatures “with good things” (vv. 27-28).  Then the psalm describes God as a great respirator, breathing life into the world:  “When you send forth your spirit, they are created” (vv. 30).  In this verse, spirit and breath are the very same Hebrew word, reminding us that God breathes life into all of his creatures.

God offers everyone food in due season, and fills them with good things — including the breath of life.  That’s the divine design; one for which we should be thankful.

The first Christians discovered this abundance for themselves on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit rushed like a wind into a gathering of the apostles.  “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” — the life-giving breath of God — and they “began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:4).

Notice the generosity of God, giving “all of them” this precious gift of multilingual communication.  Then the abundance spills out into the streets, where “there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem” (v. 5).  They were bewildered because “each one heard them speaking in the native language of each” (v. 6).  Acts tells us that “all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’” (v. 12).

That’s a good question.  What does this mean?  The apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit — all of them.  They began to speak in other languages — every one of them.  Devout Jews were living in Jerusalem — from every nation.  They heard the apostles speaking in their native languages — a wide variety of them.  The Jews were amazed and perplexed — every single one of them.

All of them, every one of them, every nation, every language.  The breath of God fills everyone with good things, and creates something new — the international, cross-cultural, multilingual Christian Church.  No myth of scarcity limits the reach of the Holy Spirit, as a newly courageous apostle Peter proclaims to the crowd, “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” (v. 17).

All flesh.  All people.  Every one of God’s creatures.  Every single person here in this “house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).

The message of the Spirit is abundance, not scarcity.  It’s a divine design.

So how should the church today take this message into the streets?  Last November, our nation was locked in a highly contentious presidential campaign, with anxiety running high as Republicans and Democrats scrambled for every precious vote in an attempt to gain victory for their candidate.  The election was a zero-sum game, with every vote for one party being a loss for the other.

Into this world of competition and scarcity stepped our church.  Since Fellowship Hall was also Precinct 1 for the City of Fairfax, we decided to send a message of generosity, abundance, and reconciliation.  Church members set up a hospitality tent at the exit of the polling place and offered every voter donuts, coffee, and conversation.

Our message was simple:  We are a “house of prayer for all peoples,” welcoming of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.  Voters were delighted to accept the refreshments, and many couldn’t believe they were being offered snacks without charge.  Church members and neighbors had good conversations over coffee, and eight dozen donuts were consumed by 9 a.m.  One election worker received counseling over a personal issue, a couple asked if they could visit the sanctuary, and a number of voters expressed interest in the congregation.  We talked to about 1000 of our neighbors.

When congregations carry a message of abundance, the world responds with gratitude and praise.  But when churches worry about scarcity, they cut themselves off from a world in need of grace and love.  So I would challenge you to support the mission and ministry of this church with your gifts of time and talent and money.  You can even give online, through our website.  We have an important message to deliver, but it requires that everyone offer what they can.  Give with a spirit of abundance, trusting that God will provide for you out of his abundance.

Psalm 104 promises that God sends forth his Spirit to “renew the face of the ground” (v. 30).  We can participate in this renewal by sharing generously with others, as part of the divine design.  Amen.

 

Sources:

Carr, Austin. “Would you like help?” Fast Company, October 2012, 126.

McCann, Jr., J. Clinton. “The Book of Psalms,” The New Interpreter’s Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. 1096-1101.

Brueggemann, Walter. “The liturgy of abundance, the myth of scarcity.” Christian Century, March 24-31, 1999, http://www.religion-online.org.

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