Summary: MLK Sunday: In the beloved community we no longer need to think of over and under. The old way is a prison; Christ sees us as sinners in need of grace, and therefore all children of His, family.
When our children were small, they liked to play games with us. But they liked it best when they could win. Whether it was crazy eights, or chutes and ladders, or just hide-and-go-seek, our children loved to play games as long as they could win. If they lost too much they would burst into tears and jut out that lower lip and pout, "I don’t wanna play anymore"
Now, of course, winning was very seldom possible in games of skill. Our adult reasoning just outstripped the children, and so they would lose lots of games. However, my wife, bless her compassionate heart, decided to rig the games so that mom and dad would lose. The real rules were cloaked in new rules in order to make things come out right for the children.
Did the roll of the dice turned out badly? The kids got extra turns. The children got the right cards slipped into their hands when they needed them. And when we played games that involved running or jumping, mom and dad suddenly were hobbled by a sudden disease or temporary blindness or some such fictitious handicap.
Now you must know that all of this was Margaret’s idea and not mine. I was used to winning, or, if you must know the complete truth, I was used to getting my own way. I don’t like to throw competition to anyone, not even a four-year-old. However, as much as it pained me to do so, I did agree that we would set aside the old official rules; that we would conceal and cloak them with new rules of our own invention, so that the children could have the pleasure of winning their games.
Wherein lies a parable. The meaning of which is that if you think of life as a game, a competitive game, in which there have to be winners and losers, then you are going to be locked up in old rules, rules that dictate that someone will be victorious and someone else will be defeated. But if you scrap the goal of winning, if you get beyond the need to compete, if you start to think first about being a family, you are glad to exchange the old rules for new rules. If your dream is not winning, beating somebody else, but if the dream is living in community, then it’s imperative to throw away the old rules and get some new ones.
Somewhere along the way all of us learned certain rules for relationships that go across life differences. We learned that young people were supposed to treat older people in certain ways, "Yes, sir; no, sir. Yes, please, ma’am; no, thank you, ma’am" (This last one to be said when a lady offered you another piece of pie, even though you wanted it desperately!)
We learned that men and women had rules for interacting, and that when the old boy network gets together they say things they wouldn’t say in front of women, children, preachers, or other frail things! And, lately, we’ve even learned that when "the girls" (in quotes) gather, they too have language that is never used in public. Just whisper it in my ear, Mrs. Gingrich!
And, dare I say it? We also know that whites and blacks have very selective behaviors. There are certain rules to follow when the others are around, rules you don’t necessarily follow when they aren’t around. Do you know what I’m talking about? Do you have an idea how many times I’ve been asked what it’s like to work with "YOU"?
Much of the world is still caught up in following those old rules. Much of the world is still playing by the old rules of interaction. I think it might be helpful this morning to uncloak those old rules. Let’s see if we can expose the old ways. Can we play a new and different game? On this Martin Luther King Sunday, 1995, can we dream again his dream of a place where black and white, young and old, rich and poor, female and male, and all the other groupings, play by new rules? The rules of family rather than of competition.
In the ancient world, there were plenty of rules about how people of different kinds were supposed to relate. In the world in which the Apostle Paul lived, the rules were very rigid, the categories very hard. Right here in our text Paul mentions just a few: Jews, the religious elite, versus Greeks, the cultural elite. Slaves, the lowest of the low, mere property; versus free persons, by which he probably meant free Roman citizens, persons like himself who enjoyed a variety of rights and privileges. And of course Paul mentions the most fundamental divide of all, male versus female, at issue ever since Adam said, "Eve made that apple stick in my craw!"