Learning The Rules For The Game Of Living

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler November 15, 2015

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 113; Mark 13:1-8


    When Lois and I came to Bermuda, we were mystified with one of the country's national pastimes -- the game of Cricket.  During one of our social gatherings, we were schooled on Cricket by someone quite knowledgeable about the game.  When he finished explaining it to us in infinite detail, we graciously thanked him and told him we might understand the game better if we watched it being played.

    When the time arrived for our first annual Cup Match, we got the impression that the real game was not Cricket at all.  The real game appeared to be what happens during a two-day holiday, when the supporters of either St. George or Somerset engage in socializing, eating and drinking while the game is being played.  Of course, the crowd checked in on the score from time to time.

    As far fetched as it may sound, living in the material world is almost identical to any game we play. When we practice the art of living, there are a few who take the time to discover the rules. There are those that know about the game of life and establish their own rules.  There are others that do not care about the rules or about the game or about those who play it or about those who win because they would much rather socialize, eat and drink.  For countless people, this is where they choose to stay for most of their lives.

    When we turn to our lesson today, it is interesting that Jesus understood what happens in the lives of people.  He knew that very few people understood the rules of how to live creatively and remain at peace. They were busy making up their own rules based on the self-interest of their group.  They have not yet graduated to the second grade because, if they had done so, they would have been taught how to share with each other.          

    Knowing that there were as many opinions about how to live as there are people, Jesus said:

Do not trouble yourselves when you hear the noise of battles both near and far away.  Countries will fight each other and kingdoms will attack one another.  There will be earthquakes and famines. These things have nothing to do with your fear that the world is about to end.  Look at these experiences as being more like the first pains of childbirth.   (Mark 13:7f)

    Jesus was associating our human experience to the pains associated with childbirth.  He knew that the evolution of humankind is right where it needs to be.  He knew that people would clash on every level of their experience, i.e., their ideologies, economic issues, ethnic diversity, class-warfare and religious differences and personal preferences.  The list is endless.  People are not playing by the same rules.  

    This morning we are going to give a new meaning to all the disagreeable behavior that we encounter from each other.  Why would Jesus teach that all our conflicts play a key role in helping people to sort out how to live in peace?  He said that all our chaos is nothing more than the green shoots of new growth.  Let us bring this understanding into a sharper focus.

    One of the reasons why I enjoy our Christmas Tea and Sale is that many of the players in the game of life show up.  Each reveals the rules by which he or she plays.  All of us reveal what is going on inside of us. 

    There can be no negative judgment by anyone about others because every one of us is living in a very different place on the learning curve of the game of living.   Jesus knew this and that is why he said that our experiences are like the early pains of childbirth.

    At our Tea, we had the generals who were exercising their leadership over the group of volunteers. We had some people that were unhappy the minute they showed up.  They arrived at 1:00 p.m. thinking they could beat the crowd and get an early start on buying the baked goods on the stage.  Clearly our starting time was 2:00 p.m.

    There were people who were deceptive, going though the line with heaping plates of food, indicating that they were helping some elderly person who could not stand in line.  Of course, they fooled no one because they did the same thing four additional times and could be seen eating from both plates. 

    In the midst of all of this, there had to be a village clown that moved through the crowd with a message of "Lighten up, enjoy yourselves, this is not the end of the world, but merely growing pains associated with perfecting the skills at being patient, kind, helpful and enthusiastic." I do not think you have to go too far in your thinking to recognize who played that role.  He was the one with the microphone.

    Jesus was teaching that the world will remain just as it is until people learn that winning the game can happen for anyone who wants to learn the rules. The world during Jesus' ministry and the world that we experience today have a lot in common.  Only a few people take the time to learn the rules of creativity that all of us have stored within us.  Rules developed by common sense that apply to fixing things in the external world will fail one hundred percent of the time.  Why?  Common sense is a point-of-view that can be different for each of us. 

    Think about this radical thought.  All of us are infinite spirit-beings that clamored for God to allow us to incarnate into these limited, solid forms.  We wanted to experience what it is like to touch, look, hear, taste and smell.  God said, "That is fine with me.  I will create an illusionary world for you where you can play." We are all very powerful beings when we enter this world through the birth canal of our mothers.       

    We are born with all our abilities in tact from the world where we are pure energy.  However, for the first time in our limited physical forms, we experience fear, we learn insecurities and we have to face uncertainty.  We encounter people who announce, "God is great!" before they open fire with their AK-47 assault rifles on our friends in France or install a bomb on an aircraft that detonated at 33,000 feet killing all 224 people on that flight. Such activities are aspects of the rules they created for their group.   The rule they missed was that we are not the vehicles in which our spirits reside. 

    If everyone understood that we were infinite spirit beings that no one can actually hurt, we would have no problem accepting the ignorant behavior of others.  Our reality is that we have no memory of our true identity.  To have such knowledge would change the quality of our adventure that we came here to experience.  Amnesia is a must for all who enter our world.

    If you think that this is fantasy, think again.  Where do we think our unique powers of perception, our skills of spirit, and our creative abilities come from?  Where were these assets prior to our discovering them?  How is it that when we learn to access them, our lives soar to heights we never thought possible?  How is it that our creativity knows no limits?

    One Hindu holy man taught his followers, "In my world nothing ever goes wrong."  How could he teach such a thing when we know that living that way is impossible? The answer is simple.  It is possible. He taught that every experience men and women encounter has something to teach them.  He looked at every experience as coming from divine order just for his growth.  He was teaching this centuries before Jesus was born.

    The Hindu master concentrated on the quality of his responses rather than the source of his inspiration for deepening his abilities to have patience, forgiveness, self-respect and numerous other skills of spirit.  He also learned to bless the source that caused him to polish his own stone. He had discovered a rule that would serve his growth for the rest of his life.  Jesus taught the same thing when he said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."  (Matthew 5:44)

    Think about how our lives would become transformed if we mastered just this one rule.  What the Hindu master was doing was to allow all people to be who they were and where they were on the learning curve of the game.  No, they were not like he was.  They were merely playing the game of life by different rules.

    Life ceases to become complicated when we stop elevating the opinions of others above our own.  When others are rude and unkind to us, this is our moment to reveal the rules by which we play the game.  Most of us have experienced people who have toxic personalities. When we turn these people into our personal trainers we can bow to them in gratitude as did the Hindu master.       

    Toxic personalities inspire us to reach into our vast treasure trove to access the tools of understanding, compassion, patience and tolerance.  We would never respond this way if we did not already possess the rule of knowing that we already have those skills within us. This is why Jesus was teaching that the chaos we experience in life is more like the early pains of childbirth than the end of the world.  Confusion, frustration and anger motivate us to become transformed into a new person of peace.  This transformation only occurs to those who have learned the rules.  Any response other than peace would sabotage and compromise our inner world.

    The reason Jesus was so powerful was that he learned his identity as being God's Son.  All of us are God's sons and daughters, whether we believe so or not.  We can make up lots of reasons why this is not true, but our reasoning cannot change what God created for us. Every lesson Jesus taught was designed to stimulate our true identities that we chose to give up when we entered into the body of a baby to enjoy the adventure we are having.  

    We are living in a moment of time that is very exciting and loaded with possibilities.  Since all of us are destined to blossom with joy, peace and prosperity when we eventually learn more of the rules for living, why not live that way now?  All of us are on the same journey but not one of us is at the same place on the learning curve of the game of living.  Our joy is that God loves all of us in spite of the fact that most of us do not know the rules. 

    When we come here to play the game of living in our limited physical forms, we struggle until we learn the rules for molding our habits, attitudes and abilities around serving one another.  Once we understand that we are extensions of God's creative energy, we also realize that nothing can ever happen to us but our continued growth.  

    Indeed, everything in our experience has the ability to teach us lessons we need to learn.  When we realize this, the lights come on during one of those Aha! moments and we become transformed.  Finally, after experiencing all the early pains associated with childbirth, we become the beings that we were designed to be.