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God's Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers:

Warm Relationships and Their Significance for Being Best Neighbors In The Public Square--Play Is Not Optional: a Reflection on Revelation 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3 and Matthew 22:15-22

Leith Anderson, pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota tells the

following story:

I once read a story about a bicycle race in India. The object of the race was to go the shortest distance possible within a specified time. At the start of the race, everyone cued up at the line, and when the gun sounded all the bicycles, as best they could, stayed put. Racers were disqualified if they tipped over or one of their feet touched the ground. And so they would inch forward just enough to keep the bike balanced. When the time was up and another gun sounded, the person who had gone the farthest was the loser and the person closest to the starting line was the winner. Imagine getting into that race and not understanding how the race works. When the race starts, you pedal as hard and fast as you possibly can. You’re out of breath. You’re sweating. You’re delighted because the other racers are back there at the starting line. You’re going to break the record. You think, This is fantastic. Don’t let up. Push harder and faster and longer and stronger. At last you hear the gun that ends the race, and you are delighted because you are unquestionably the winner. Except you are unquestionably the loser because you misunderstood how the race is run. Jesus gives us the rules to the eternal race of life. The finish line is painted on the other side of our deaths… The winning strategy for this life and for all eternity is caring about others and not about ourselves. It is letting others go first and not pushing to the front. It is giving without the expectation of getting in return. It is to be humble, like Jesus.[1]

That’s right. Play is not optional.

Now many of you are saying, “What?” Taking the time to understand the rules of that particular race in India, requires detachment from everything else that might be going on to pause long enough to focus on the rules. That’s right, to pause and be without stress, worry and frustration. Now “play” the way you first heard me say the word is characterized by anything we do that taps into creativity and provides meaning for a wholehearted existence. So, yes, participating in a race like that in India, reading, engaging some form of physical activity, painting, word puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, quilting, cooking, anything that breaks the stress and routine of the everydayness of life is “play.” “Play” cultivates calmness and stillness, a non-anxious presence.

The public square dialogue surrounding education and climate change requires an ability to listen well and engage with empathy. “Play” creates empathy, thus warm relationships. As we check out from the rhetoric and engage in “play,” we don’t forget the issues we care about, but we disengage. The disengagement of one aspect of life, critical thinking, is replaced with an activity which creates calmness and stillness that non-anxious presence. We’re relaxing and doing something we enjoy, which is unrelated to the day to day expectations of life. The public square dialogue does consume emotional, intellectual, physical and financial resources. But warm relationships care more about the dialogue partner than the issue.

Remember, God intends us to partner with God and connect with one another in the mission of bringing about the will of God. Hope is the expectation and desire that the will of God come about on earth as it is in heaven. Hope realized reminds us of the necessity of “play” and the creativity and rest it brings to our existence. In this regard, Brene Brown writes,

“What exactly is play?” …We play for the sake of play. We do it because it’s fun and we want to…In today’s culture, where our self-worth is tied to our net worth, and we base our worthiness on our level of productivity, spending time doing purposeless activities is rare…We’ve got so much to do and so little time That the idea of spending time doing anything unrelated to the to-do list actually creates stress…It doesn’t matter if our job is running a multimillion-dollar company, raising a family, creating art, or finishing school, we’ve got to keep our noses to the grindstone and work! There’s no time to play…”[2]

Being committed to “play” builds calm and stillness into our lives. Being a non-anxious presence benefits the common good.

Revelation 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3 and Matthew 5:1-12 communicate that we are saints and will gather with a diversity of people in heaven to worship the One who knows us the best and loves us the most. Life until the final consummation is a storyline of the juxtaposed themes of divine deliverance and wrath. The storyline has chapters of battle, struggle and triumph. As one biblical scholar notes, “The expectant hope that all saints will be revealed as they truly are in Christ calls all Christians to be focused on becoming what they truly are.”[3] Loving God and loving others in humility, guided by the ethics of Jesus, instructs and inspires us to become more like Jesus and make life on earth more like heaven.

Specifically, Revelation 7:9-17 reminds us to have a mature theological understanding of death and the community of saints, past, present, and future.

Specifically, 1 John 3:1-3 reminds us that God loves humanity, creates community and infuses us with hope to become all that God has created us to be.

Specifically, Matthew 5:1-12 reminds us that we are to live the simple faith of Jesus’ ethical guidelines. The beatitudes are to be lived in collaboration with one another not in isolation. For example, the hunger for justice is partnered with peacemaking and reconciliation. Mercy works hand in hand with the pursuit of righteousness. Those who mourn are also merciful. And when we acknowledge we are poor in spirit, needing as much God in our lives that we can get, we stand with the marginalized and persecuted by showing mercy, seeking what is right and committing to peacemaking.[4]

Dr. Stuart Brown argues that play is not optional. In this regard, he writes, “The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression. Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work…In the long run, work does not work without play.”[5]On this All Saints Day, lets partner with God and connect with one another toworkand “play”toward and hope for a fully invested, loving community who serve and worship and love together. Those daily and intentional disconnects from work in order to “play,” will more unconditionally and faithfully bring about a just world for all. Why? You’ll live more effectively the ethical teachings of Jesus, because you’ve learned to “play” without purpose. You’ve become a non-anxious presence.

[1]This illustration was found on; Leith Anderson in his sermon The Height of Humility, September 12, 1999. [2]Brene Brown, The Gifts Of Imperfection (Center City, Minnesota: Hazeldon Publishing, 2010), 100. [3]Alvin Padilla in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 434. [4]In the four paragraphs above of textual analysis, I have benefited from the thinking of William Yoo, Elizabeth Felicetti, Arun W. Jones, Alvin Padilla, Sammy G. Alfaro and Aimee Moiso in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 424-426, 426-428, 431-432, 433-434, 435-437 and 437-439. [5]Stuart Brown with Christopher Vaughan, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul (New York City, New York: Penguin Group, 2009) as noted in Brene Brown, The Gifts Of Imperfection, 101.

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