Life In His Name - Week 3: Play

Over the next several weeks we'll not only be celebrating the season of Easter--which will continue until Pentecost in May--we will also be seeking to answer a very important question.  The question that we'll be wrestling with is simply this:  Jesus is risen, now what?  

We celebrated Easter, we got excited, we sang, praised, proclaimed and otherwise lifted up the notion that Jesus is risen.  But what does it mean that Jesus is risen?  What does the Resurrection mean to you and to me--especially during this time after the big celebrations, after the build up and the big event?  

I believe that we are Resurrection People called to live in the name of Jesus. We are called to live abundant, purpose-filled joyous, intense, engaging lives--lives lived in hope.  As we learned last week, those who have hope must live different lives--a life lived in hope will inherently be different as opposed to a life lived without it.  

How do we live into the hope of the Resurrection on a daily basis?  Well, as we noted last week, the answer to this question is to live our lives in the name of the risen Jesus. 
Which is why we called this series, "Life In His Name."  When we live our lives in the name of the risen Jesus--we find joy that we never knew was possible. 

And we also express that joy in interesting ways.  We might sing, for example or dance or play or simply live.  Over the course of this series, we are going to explore what it means to live into the hope of the Resurrection to fulfill our destiny as Resurrection people--to sing, dance, play and live. 

Today we're going to step into the next installment of this series, a sermon entitled: Play.

What I want us to remember today is something very simple, but also incredibly life-changing: Living in the name of Jesus makes a way for faith-filled, childlike play.  I know that rhymes.  I did it again.  I thought since it happened last week, I would just keep it going.  

Let me tell you about Ms. Kelly's preschool.  My son Jackson went to Ms. Kelly's preschool until he entered into kindergarten, and now my son Jacob goes there, too.  He's coming to the end of his time with her, and I am actually grieving for him, already.  Because Ms. Kelly's Preschool is flipping awesome.  It's a farm, for starters.  A straight up farm.  With hundreds of chickens, a few goats, sheep, a cow, a mini horse, guinea fowl, turkeys, rabbits, cats, a dog, quail and a hedgehog.  

At Ms. Kelly's preschool you learn some valuable lessons.  Every single morning.  Every single kid gets a huge hug from Ms. Kelly, and if she's not busy doing something else, when they go home at night.  A huge hug, the kind of hug that everyone should get every time you show up to school or work no matter how old you are.  

Everyone gets to play--at your own pace, alone if you want, but also with other kids, your friends who you see every day.  Everyone gets a turn at Ms. Kelly's.  She watches that like a hawk.  If somebody is hogging the toys or the slide or the swing---she comes down on that like a ton of bricks. 

Everyone gets celebrated--she praises her kids for their accomplishments, for their art, for their hard work, for playing well, for being kind, for all of the eggs they collect when they're doing their morning chores with her.  

And if you pout, if you act ugly---she lets you do that.  Only you have to do it by yourself away from everyone else that is having fun, getting along and basically enjoying themselves.  

Oh, and everyone is welcomed.  It doesn't matter who you are, where you came from, what kind of kid you happen to be--you are welcomed at Ms. Kelly's.  

As I was talking about this, you all were smiling.  You get this.  The simplicity of this kind of a community--where these beautiful wonderful things happen, where children grow and learn and learn to grow by loving and doing beautiful things in the world.  

This is how the world should be, right?  This is in us.  It's part of our DNA--the DNA I was talking about last week when I reminded us all that we are created in the image of God.  There's a playfulness, a childlike joy that fills us at times--sometimes we can't put our finger on why we feel it, but it's there.  

I believe it's a kingdom of God thing.  When we pray that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven, this is what we mean.  At our foundation--we long to be hugged, celebrated, affirmed, to have space to grow and to share and to be good people.  To live into our potential--a potential shaped by imagination and creativity and joy.  

So when did we start to learn about selfishness, hurriedness, exclusivity?  When did we become so obsessed with winning and success that we neglect the very basic needs, the longings that are within us?  When did we stop finding the time to play?

There is this story in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus' disciples  come to him and ask, "Who is the greatest person in the kingdom of God?"  Basically, they are trying to figure out which one of them might be the favorite, or to discover what they need to do to become the "greatest."  

Jesus decides to teach them a lesson: 

2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

To recap, the whole conversation starts with a question, "Who Does God Love Most?"  The disciples want to know that they have to do  in order to get ahead in the kingdom of God, to ensure that they know the steps in the process to success.  

And Jesus puts a small child in their midst.  The Greek word for child is pais, but Jesus uses the word paidion here, which is the diminutive version of the word--basically meaning little child, little one and the like.  

Jesus knew that the disciples had to be confronted to grow.  Like us, they often need to have the lessons they need to learn acted out right in front of them.  So Jesus places a small, dependent child in the middle of a bunch of grown-up, self-important disciples.  Children in the ancient Near East had no rights, were essentially non-people, the lowest of the low in terms of status.

And Jesus says, "If you can't become like a little one, then you will never experience heaven on earth.  If you take the lowliest position--the position of a little child--then you will have a shot at becoming the greatest in the kingdom of God.  

This is an odd victory strategy isn't it?  Become like a child.  Become dependent.  Become helpless.  Become filled with wonder and possibility. Become playful and full of joy.   

Did you know that the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights declared that play is an actual right for children?  That's how important it is in the development of human society.  And their declaration wasn't just for areas of the world racked by war, poverty, child labor and exploitation... places where we would imagine children have little chance to play and grow. 

No, their declaration was also for the pressured, scheduled, hurried children who live in our current culture.  

Play is so important to our development as humans.  It helps us to grow our creativity, our imagination, dexterity, physical, emotional and mental strength.  It also helps us learn how to share, to negotiate with others, to learn conflict resolution and self-worth.  

And... listen... It requires consistent, dependable caregivers who make space for play to happen, for children to experience playfulness and joy.  

Do you remember what it feels like to truly play?  Let's find out if we can jog your memory.  

Living in the name of Jesus makes a way for faith-filled, childlike play.  When you learn to come to Jesus as a little child, and embrace your helplessness without him, your dependence on God, your humility and frailty... when you embrace the imagination, creativity and wonder that accompany a childlike faith... you are experiencing the joy of the Resurrection.  You are living a Resurrection life.  

So, when did you lose your wonder?  When did you lose your ability to see the beauty in the world, to laugh, to feel intense joy in the simple things?  When did you lose your child like faith in God, faith that is not marked by qualifications, rules, to-do lists, hoops to jump through...?  When did you lose your sense of dependence on God?   Knowing that you need God's hand in your life, you need God's presence that you can't do it all on our own.  

God created you with the desire to play--to experience joy, to be filled with wonder.  Did you ever wonder why God stepped back after every single day of Creation and said, "That is good.  I totally made that good. Did anyone see that? Oh, right.  I need to create some people to see this. THEN I'll show them."  

Why do you think your kid wants you to see what she drew in Sunday School?  Or your son wants to show you the Lego he built?  This childlike stuff--it's in us.  It's who you REALLY are.  

Are you going to have to wait until you are confronted with the reality of things before you snap out of it and start behaving like a child?  Will you wait until you are too sick?  or too old?  Will you say that you will wait until you aren't so busy?  Will you wait until you've achieved some success?  Make more money?  How long will you wait?  

You can do this.  You can learn to play again.  You can learn to trust God, to love with wonder and joy. You can learn to be creative and imaginative in the way you see the world.  You can learn to love God simply, humbly and with all of your heart.  

Living in the name of Jesus makes a way for faith-filled, childlike play.


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