Kick-Off Sunday: Learning to Play into Love

by Rev. Doug Gray

So as the title of my message today suggests, I have been thinking a lot about playing, and I wondered if you would think out loud with me for a moment? What are your favorite games to play? What do you like about them?

[Take responses from the congregation.]

That’s very good! Did you notice what they all have in common? They are fun! Do we have to work at them sometimes? Sure, but we play them because they are fun. Are we always happy with how they go? No, but we play them because they are fun. The problem with lots of people’s approach to God is that either they take it too seriously, or their church takes it too seriously. What if loving were more fun and more rewarding?

First, grace frees us to play. One day a young, new preacher was walking with an older, more seasoned preacher in the garden. Feeling a bit insecure about what God had for her to do, the younger minister was asking the older preacher for some advice. The older preacher walked up to a rose bush and handed the young preacher a rosebud and told her to open it without tearing any of the petals. The young preacher looked in disbelief at the older preacher and was trying to figure out what a rosebud could possibly have to do with her wanting to know the will of God for her life and ministry. But, because of her great respect for the older preacher, she proceeded to try and unfold the rosebud while keeping every petal intact. It wasn't long before she realized how impossible this was to do. Noticing the young preacher's inability to unfold the rosebud without tearing it, the older preacher began to recite the following poem:

     It is only a tiny rosebud
     A flower of God's design;
     But I cannot unfold the petals
     With these clumsy hands of mine.
     The secret of unfolding flowers
     Is not known to such as I.
     GOD opens this flower so sweetly,
     Then, in my hands, they die.
     If I cannot unfold a rosebud,
     The flower of God's design,
     Then how can I have the wisdom
     To unfold this life of mine?
     So, I'll trust in Him for leading
     Each moment of my day.
     I will look to Him for His guidance
     Each step of the Pilgrim's way.
     The pathway that lies before me
     Only my Heavenly Father knows.
     I'll trust him to unfold the moments,
     Just as He unfolds the rose.

The curious thing about our lives is that we have the power, the responsibility to make decisions, and yet, part of loving—and loving God—is simply a gift, the unfolding of grace in our lives. We cannot make ourselves more mature in God, any more than a rose can unfold itself or a fruit can make itself any riper. We become mature by loving. We love because God loves us first. Paul writes, “…hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Relax into God’s arms, relax because we know God will be with us no matter what. Let the work and play run together. Let love be the gift we are given and the gift we give. Let God fill us. Let the grace free us to play.
Second, be aromatherapy for the world. So I need a volunteer for a moment, someone who can recognize fresh herbs. [Get a volunteer from the congregation, and invite them forward.] I have here three different kinds of fresh herbs, and I want to see if you can recognize them by the smell. [Hold out the three bags of herbs—mint, basil and rosemary—one at a time.] Very good! Would you pick one of these to take back to your seat? You can take it home with you if you want. The thing about people of God, is that if we are full of grace, then the grace of Jesus Christ wafts through the world with us, like the scent of these herbs as [the person who has the herbs] goes back to their seat. If the love of God is who we are, and the love of Christ is what we try to do all the time, then the Holy Spirit is the fan that wafts the scent of Jesus wherever we go. It’s unmistakably beautiful! The people who love kindness will smile. The people who don’t believe in a free lunch will grimace. The people who are having bad days will feel better. The people who feel bullied or beset by their problems will take a deep, refreshing breath. The people who take life oh so seriously, may feel a little more like playing. The best part about herbs is that if by chance you crush a leaf—[crush a leaf of basil or mint between your fingers]—it releases even more scent! And that’s true of those who follow Christ too. The people who crucified Jesus thought they were ridding the world of Him, but by placing Him high on the cross, they just made it easier for the world to see. Wherever those who follow Jesus are crushed for the sake of love, their kindness and joy and love have penetrated and changed the world even more. We are called to be aromatherapy for the world.
Maybe what the world needs most of all is people like you and me, who are willing to let fear get swallowed up by love. Maybe what the world needs is people who get that taking God seriously means playing and having a good time as we live and learn to play into love. God has paid the price already, before we were ready. Surprise! And so we laugh with God and ask God to show us how to play into love, and change the world.