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Summary: Play is an important relationship skill and we need more of it in our lives.

Laugh and Play: Doing Life: Relationship Skills from the Bible for Today

June 6, 2010


Do you think Jesus was ticklish? Surely some of the disciples were, and I wonder if any of them giggled at the last supper when Jesus washed their feet. What about play – do you think Jesus played? When you picture God in your imagination, is it usually a sombre, stern, serious person who is only interested in the weighty issues of life, death, sin, suffering, pain, and sanctification; or do you ever picture God laughing so hard there are tears running down his cheeks, or running through a field chasing a ball, or lying on His back flying a kite? In yesterday’s newspaper, there was a comic I appreciated:


Today is the last message in our sermon series titled “Relationship skills from the Bible for today.”, as I start a month-long sabbatical tomorrow. We’ve talked about really engaging life, being interdependent, honouring and submitting, listening, the essential relationship skill of forgiveness, and engaging conflict. Immediately after I preached about engaging conflict, my wife found me in the hallway and said, “I disagree with what you said in your sermon today.” And she wasn’t joking around! She had some good points. And I found it affirming of my essential message, when our relationships are strong we can engage conflict without fear. Some of these sermons have tended towards the “heavy” side, but if our relationships are all “heaviness” and ‘seriousness”, they will feel more like death than life. We need more play, and this is an essential relational skill.

Like Children…

Jesus said, “For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” (Matt. 19:14). What picture does that bring to mind? Most of our art pictures it like this:

The kids are clean, gentle, calm, sitting peacefully, petting the smiling lamb. We emotionally connect to this concept of sweet innocence, calm acquiescence, and docile quietness, and imagine that is what Jesus meant. But ok, really? What percentage of time are children really clean, gentle, calm, sweetly innocent, and docile – sitting peacefully and adoringly on their parent’s lap? I wonder if Jesus ALSO meant, “those who are like THESE children…”

I think that when Jesus says, “the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children”, He is not just thinking of quiet calm innocence, but also playful energy, not caring that jumping in a mud puddle will get your pants dirty, not worrying about tomorrow but fully engaging life today. Like a child.

On Friday night I laid down next to Thomas before he fell asleep, and I said, “can I ask you a theological question?” After he made me explain what “theological” meant, I asked: “do you think God plays wall ball?” (That’s where you kick the soccer ball against a wall, alternating with a partner, which he has been enjoying lately). He said, “well, if God does I bet He’s pretty good at it… He’s had like 4000 years to practice.” I told Thomas about the sermon I was working on, and asked that opening question, “do you think Jesus was ticklish”, and Thomas got this big grin on his face, and I had great joy in watching my son think about God in a totally new way. We agreed that we could tell God jokes, and even if God had heard them before He would still really enjoy the enjoyment we got from telling them.

When and why did our faith become nothing but reserved, solemn, seriousness? Now you know me, and even over the past few weeks we have deeply explored hard realities like conflict and forgiveness. Yes life is hard, faith is important, we are to approach God with reverence. But is reverence really only quiet, all dressed up, order? Or is reverence really more an attitude of heart that says I am encountering the God of all the Universe, in whom every good and perfect gift originates, who made the vast wildness of the universe and delights in it, and whose deepest joy is in our free expression of love in response to the love we have received from Him? Now some of you might best express your love for God by getting all dressed up and going to a quiet place and sitting still – excellent! Do it more!! Others might best express your love for God by kneeling in the dirt and gently tending a young plant, or by coming alongside a fellow human being in the middle of a deep mess and getting your hands dirty in the mess of their lives, others by sitting with people and laughing deeply together. Whatever enables your deep expression of love for God, do it more!

Parties and Play:

When we study the life of Jesus, do you know what we really find? Jesus did not spend His time with the serious, sombre, “religious” people who were serious all the time, only looking for obedience to a set of rules, and only engaging in deeply theological questions. In Matthew 11:19, Jesus said (in contrast to John the Baptist who lived in the desert with nothing), “19 The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” Jesus was in trouble with the “religious” because He spent too much time going to parties, “feasting and drinking”. And the mere fact that Jesus kept getting invited means that He did not go to these parties and stand in the corner with a scowl on His face, arms crossed, condemning and judging the people there.

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