Playful and Abundant Life: Play and the Sermon on the Mount

Over the years one sermon (titled, Learning to Die) from the pen of Dietrich Bonhoeffer has inspired nearly everything I’ve written. There have been numerous direct references to his works on this blog, in my book, and in my various and sundry publications scattered in magazines, but there is one paragraph in particular that has served as a silent writing prompt for as long as I have been writing regularly.

That is the first commandment, the entire gospel. “Fear God”–instead of the many things which you fear…All this fear will be the death of you. You are free from all this fear; it isn’t there for you. But fear God and God alone; for God has power over the powers of this world; the whole world must fear God–God has power to give us life or to destroy us; everything else is a game–only God is in earnest, entirely in earnest.

These are words from a sermon at the beginning of the Third Reich’s reign in Germany. They were spoken to a people who needed to be encouraged to remain faithful in the midst of some seriously dire times. And at the same time, these are words that are timely today.

Embracing the fear of the God who is for us will enable us to overcome our fears. This has been the heart of nearly every sentence I’ve constructed for the past seven years. I’m sure this underplayed truth always be near the center of my theology. But lately, there is new life stemming from Bonhoeffer’s sermon.

Hiding out in this sermon on dying to fear is a subtle phrase: everything else is a game.

Could it be that God’s invitation to new life–the abundant life that Jesus came to offer us–is an invitation to play with him in this world and in the next? Is it possible that the God who is entirely in earnest is calling us to play with him?

What if the deeper, more abundant life that Jesus came to give was found as we become a people who plays really well together?

If the kingdom Jesus came to usher in looks playful, we might look at the Sermon on the Mount for direction. What if we had simply missed Jesus’ repeated call to play in situations that ranged from forgiveness to persecution to sexuality to law-fulfillment?

What if freedom meant living playfully into the new life offered in the kingdom of God?

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