The Dangerous Experiment in Play, Passion and Peace
If you didn’t make it to worship at Canton Adventist this Saturday, you missed absolute chaos. Instead of worship we had a playground. Slides, wagons, blocks and skateboards all over the stage; beachballs, foam balls, footballs and paper airplanes flying around the sanctuary; and a tricycle on the communion table. All this going on while I was teaching. People have learned to put up with me doing things out of the norm sometimes, but I think I had a few moms and grandparents ready to shoot me.
But the kids loved me.
All of a sudden, when they thought they were going to have to find some way to occupy themselves for 30-40 minutes while I spoke, they got to play in the sanctuary. Play broke out at church. And their smiles, their shining eyes and their squeals of delight spoke of their deep joy at receiving this unexpected gift.
Somewhere along the way in a religious person’s life, they learn to live with less. They learn to accept the status quo here and look forward to full joy in heaven. But life here is ordinary. You work hard and get you can get and you attempt to live out a moral, ethical and nice life as God would want you to. And then you die.
This acceptance of the mundane is reflected in how people interact with Sabbath. Most people in western society don’t keep a Sabbath. They have accepted the lie of life that says there is always more to do and the more you accomplish the more productive you are and then the more stuff you can have and the more status you can acquire and the more pride in your hardworking nature you can have and so they keep going. Life is about accomplishment, productivity and wealth.
For those who keep a Sabbath, Sabbath has become this appreciated day of not pursuing accomplishment, productivity and wealth. It is a day to rest, worship and distance yourself from the work and struggles of the week. But even as good as a weekly day off is good and helpful, it is just an escape from the bad.
We looked at Jesus’s words in Mark 2.27 where he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” There is something about this day that God desires us to experience something drastically better than the other six days.
Then we check out his words in Matthew 18.1-4 and similar words in Mark 10.15:
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus said that to really experience his kingdom, you need to regain a sense of childish wonder and humility. The humility of kids is not like the humility of adults. Childlike humility is not like our adult, mock-sincere humility that is more about appearances and piety than it is about our true consideration of ourselves. Childlike humility is not preoccupied with what others think of them, not worrying about whether they were productive enough or not, not worrying about the bills, not worrying about what’s for supper, not worrying about whether mom and dad love them. They are free to play, free to make friends, free to wonder.
In the Sabbath, Jesus is calling us into a day where we play, make friends and wonder. He is asking us to risk experiencing true joy. Most of us don’t even know what that is. We have long ago given up expecting joy. And so to hear God ask us to play and laugh, dance and sing, hoot and holler, swing up into the sky, dive into the deep end of the pool is more than we can really handle. We would rather practice piety and be good and religious and say that is what God wants, rather than pursue ecstasy.
But this is exactly why we need a Sabbath where we play. When you play, you stop worrying about everything else. You are in a moment where everything is right with your world. It is, in a microcosm, heaven. Play points to heaven. And play points back to every good gift God has given you. If you’re playing with your spouse, you celebrate the gift of a soulmate. If you’re playing with friends, you’re celebrating the gift of companionship. If you’re playing in the mountains, at the beach, on a wooded path, or in a city park, you’re celebrating the gift of beauty and nature. If you’re playing with your kids… you get the idea. Play is where all the blessings already in your life meet the hopes of the everlasting kingdom to come. And it is ecstasy.
What if you pursued a true Sabbath again? What if you stopped being productive for one day? What if you didn’t just settle for a day off but actually organized your week around a day of play? What would happen if you actually planned ahead to put yourself in the position where you might just experience joy? Maybe, just maybe, a playground would break out where you only expected a hum-drum worship service.
And then maybe you would say, “I have kept the Sabbath holy. It has truly been a day like no other…”