“Games People Play – Sermon 1”
Genesis 11:1-9, Matthew 7:24-29
Sermon delivered by Pastor Daniel Mejia
St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church
February 22, 2015
I married into a family where playing card games and board games is serious business. From Mexican dominos to epic Uno battles, my family enjoys playing board games. I personally was never a big video game aficionado. I was too old when the X-Box and the Playstation made it into the fabric of our lives and living rooms everywhere. So, I never caught the ‘gamer bug’ but Settlers of Catan, Monopoly, Taboo, Bananagrams, Clue, Jenga; count me in, I’m ready to play any time.
Everybody loves to play games, except when you’re on a losing streak. It’s great when you get on a roll on Monopoly and buy Park Place & Boardwalk, or when you’re playing Spades and you’re cutting the other team to shreds! It’s a rush of competitive spirit when we journey around the Parcheesi board with the skillful roll of the dice, and lay the smack down when you connect four again and again and again. We love to play games!
We love to play games, it is part of the playful spirit God has given each and every one of us. But sometimes, when it comes to our relationship with God, the games we play don’t bring us joy and laughter around a kitchen table for hours. Instead the games that people play keep us away from a healthy relationship with God and others.
And believe me, there are some people who live their real lives as if it were a game of Jenga; let me explain. According to the official Jenga website, Jenga was created by Leslie Scott, the co-founder of Oxford Games Ltd, based on a game that evolved within her family in the early 1970s using children’s wood building blocks the family purchased from a sawmill in Ghana. Scott launched the game she named and trademarked as “Jenga” at the London Toy Fair in January 1983. (Jenga.com) Today, according to Leslie Scott, over 50 million Jenga games, equivalent to more than 2.7 billion Jenga blocks, have been sold worldwide.
Now… Here’s how you play. You build a tower of blocks like this. Then, one by one each player takes a block from the tower. The player who makes the tower crumble loses the game. But here’s the thing… when you play it on a snow day it is fun, it is just a game. You can always rebuild the tower and play again. You can be risky and adventurous with the blocks, after all, it’s just a game. But when you build your life like a jenga tower and you mess with its foundation by removing the God blocks, and then think that nothing is going to happen,“great will be the fall” according to Jesus.
This whole idea that we can build our own towers without the God block as the strongest foundation is not new. Thousands of years ago a group of men and women decided that the tower of Babel would become the tallest Jenga tower ever built. Making essentially the Tower of Babel the first game of Jenga — “a tower with its top in the heavens” (Genesis 11:4). The builders of the tower had one clear intention in mind, to “make a name” for themselves. They wanted to build a tower so tall that they could reach God, or better said, they wanted to build a tower to be as strong and powerful as God. They wanted to be in control.
But when you dig through the details in the story we begin to see the flaws in the construction and foundation of this tower because the blocks used in the construction of the tower all had something in common, they were made out of selfish ambition and desires. In other words, the tower is a monument to self. The phrase “let us” shows up three times in this passage and sounds an alarm of an independent and inflated ego. “Let Us” is all about me. When life becomes all about me, we become reckless. Then, when we build our lives around selfish desires, life becomes like a reckless game of Jenga where we begin to take out of our lives the blocks of good people, good decisions, and God to see how far we can make it on our own. Life becomes a game where at any moment everything can come crashing down destroying our lives and the people around it. If you don’t believe me, let me show you how this works.
First, you take out the block of absolute faithfulness toward your spouse. This is how it works. You send a flirty text or you linger over the conversation. In the meantime you make an extra click on the web that distorts your reality of relationships, and you take out another block. What you may not realize is that studies show that pornography actually rewrites your brain, creating an addiction to what’s next online…leading you to a less than healthy relationship at home, and you take out another block. You begin to separate yourself from your spouse and spend more time isolated within a cyber world, and you take out another block. Now you decide you should take the next step with your co-worker and dinner turns into another dinner and more texts until suddenly you are rearranging your schedule filled with a web of lies to create a moment that will create a great fall.
Then, you take out the block of humility. Biblical scholar N.T. Wright summarizes very clearly the spiritual problem of the people of Babel like this: “Those who were supposed to be reflecting God’s image in the world — that is, human beings — are instead looking into mirrors of their own … arrogant and insecure, they have become self-important.” This is how it works for us. You have a classmate at school, who considers you a friend, even though he is really not a part of your group. He is really struggling with math, so much so that he is failing. And since you are good at math, of course you are good at everything, he comes to you while you are standing around talking to some of your friends to ask for help. Even though you could help him, you put him down and call him stupid in front of your friends because you don’t want to take the time to help someone like him. And it feels good to assert your superiority. And so, little by little we begin to play this real life game of Jenga with the tower of our lives. We begin to carelessly tamper with the foundation of our lives pretending that there won’t be any adverse consequences to our decisions. When we play this silly game, we try to build our own towers of Babel away from God. We try to add onto or take away from the towers of our lives, at our will, in our self interest. We find out that we may get away with it for a while, and we may even be pretty good at doing that, but at some point the tower is going to come crashing down.
The towers of our lives will come crashing down because God is not the one building it.
Selfishly, we are the ones building it, and unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). Our lives need to not only be built by God, but we need to build them on God. But if God is to build us, or mold us, or perfect us through the work of sanctification, we have to surrender ourselves fully to the master builder. And there we realize that the Gospel is not selfish, but selfless. It’s not independent, but interdependent, woven together. It is not to be served, but to serve. It is to seek and save the lost.
Imagine if we stopped playing games and built our relationships on the Rock of Jesus. Built our homes on the Rock of Jesus. Built our questions on the Rock Of Jesus. Built our lives on the Rock of Jesus.
Frederick Douglass died 120 years ago on Friday…He was born a slave in Maryland. His mother died shortly after his birth, and he was raised by his grandparents. A resourceful youth, he learned how to read and write by giving away food in exchange for reading lessons from neighborhood kids. Before long he was able to teach other slaves to read the Bible through weekly Sunday schools. In 1838, at the age of twenty, Douglass escaped from slavery by impersonating a sailor and went on to become one of the most famous abolitionists and leaders in US history. He was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant. He was fond of saying, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” Frederick Douglass grieved the terrible things many white Christians did to black folks — and yet he adored Christ nonetheless. He wrote in his autobiography, “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.”
In the Christian church in America today we are asking ourselves why the great decline in participation and membership. Could it be that the witness of the American church today has not changed all that much from the witness that Frederick Douglas saw in the American church? And instead of being a church built on the solid Rock of Christ and his teaching we have become complacent, we have built on the sands of convenience and comfort and nostalgia. “The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. And it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Lent is a time for us to make sure that God is building us, that Jesus is our Rock foundation. We need to let God help us build the tower, the life, that God knows we are capable of building. We need to take God seriously in our daily life. Join us in prayer, Scripture reading and writing, small groups, etc. Lent is a time of preparation for transformation. Join me in the financial fast as Bishop Matthews has called us to do, and join me in prayer every morning at 6:30 AM, and join me in a Wednesday night book discussion. Lent is a time to surrender ourselves, acknowledge the brokenness of our pieces, and allow the restoring, rebuilding, healing power of Jesus to make us whole again. It is a time to make a new, or renewed, start on our journey of spiritual growth of sanctification allowing God to build us into dynamic, powerful, effective Christians, and together with our sisters and brothers to be built into the church God calls us to be. As you sit here today, you may not have made that conscious decision to make Christ the master builder, the one in charge of building your life. You may have made it years ago and today you know that you need to renew that commitment. Or you may know that as we start Lent you need to come and kneel before God and ask for a new blessing on this journey. We invite you to come and have some time with God.