Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 3 – The Image-bearers
[Bible references: Deuteronomy 12:1-33:18; Exodus 35:30-38; 2 Kings 17:1-41; Nehemiah 8:1-9:38; Psalm 100; John 4:23-24; Acts 6:1-7; 15:1-35; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 14:1-40]
There is much that is wrong in the world. People endure pain and suffering sometimes from natural happenings and sometimes from the actions of others. Evil seems persistent and never-ending. When we are called to serve God in this world, we can become overwhelmed by all the work that is to be done. Playfulness can seem out of place. Particularly, any playfulness that emerges from self-centeredness or obsessiveness.
Actually, that is the point we need to assert. Playfulness can be out of place in a world of sin and evil. But playfulness can also be a reminder that the reality in front of us is not the total reality. Our playfulness arises out of the relationship we have with God, the one who has overcome the evil in the world, who will end the suffering and who will restore us and world to be what he intended from the beginning. Playfulness arises out of the hope and joy we have in knowing that reality in front of us is not the whole reality.
Our imagination can be helpful in this play. As children, we can pretend there is another world and do something like taking a cardboard box and imagining it to be a spaceship and accepting the rules of living in that spaceship. Family traditions (or even community or national traditions) are a form of play, they do not serve a utilitarian purpose, but stem from the creative ways we wish to remember our unique heritage.
This same imaginative playfulness can be useful reminding us of the reality that lies behind our current reality. Our traditions of worship are a form of play, albeit a more serious play. Our worship traditions represent ways for us to remember our spiritual heritage or to provide imaginative ways to perform biblical sacraments about which we have sparse details on how to perform them. These traditions and liturgies help us point to that other reality, a new Kingdom that began breaking into this world with the incarnation of Jesus.
Christian worship was in fact and from the beginning a festival: the festival of Christ’s resurrection from the dead … Easter begins with a feast, for Easter is a feast and makes the life of those who celebrate it a festal life … Jesus himself compared the presence of God, which he proclaimed and lived, with the rejoicing over a marriage. His earthly life was a festal life, even if it ended in suffering and death … the early Christians have understood his raising from the dead and the presence of the now-exalted Christ as the beginning of an unending joy and a happiness without end … the risen Christ as ‘the first among those who had fallen asleep’ and as the leader of life; as the leader in the mystic dance and himself as the bride who dances with the others, as the church father Hippolytus put it. Long before the somber dances of death were painted in medieval times of plague, the figure of the resurrection dance can be seen in the old churches. The modern Shaker song ‘The Lord of the Dance’ brings out very well the dancing Christ:
I am the life that’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
We hope to participate in the inbreaking of the new Kingdom by living according to its rules. When we pray or worship, we are participating in the rules of that new Kingdom. When we come to others and share with them the hope that we have, we are asking them to use their imagination to look beyond the current reality and envision the new Kingdom that is already here and is yet to come. When we accept contentment in all situations, when we trust in God, when we comfort others with the hope we have, we are living according to the rules of the new Kingdom.
It is also true, that In this present life there are endless encounters with grief. Although we acknowledge the pain and suffering of that grief, whether that grief is ours or others, we can encompass that grief with hope. Even amid grief we can choose to cling to God and to the hope He brings us. If we can live into the rules of the new Kingdom, we can have assurance that the current grief will pass and will be replaced by future joy and laughter and that every tear that we have cried and will cry and even now cry will be wiped away.
Our hope of the new Kingdom allows us to endure the current pain and suffering knowing that the hard experiences can be redeemed and to be used for good. God can take the pain and suffering we endure to transform us to be more like Christ, who himself suffered for us, transforming the very evil intended for him into the final victory that shall ultimately also make us victorious. This hopeful living then is also a form of play, accepting the rules of a reality we cannot see and choosing to live according to the rules of a Kingdom that we can only realize in part.
That playfulness also emerges in our creativity, which erupts early on in our lives as our desire as children to play and also in the desire we have as parents to play with our children. There is no doubt about how uniquely creative we are in the way we express ourselves, not only in all the various art forms we use but in the ways we can solve all sorts of problems – even to the creative ways we try to cover up our sins. No other creature can come close to expressing creativity the way we can.
Our ability to create and even detect order is also unmatched. Our ability to detect order is evident in the way we can detect patterns in sight or sound. The sense of order is evident in our ability to recognize faces, our ability to recognize the voices of our mothers or fathers as infants and even before we are born. Our sense of order is seen as we grow in our ability to recognize the patterns of letters and sounds and to recognize and respond to language – even languages.
Our sense of order becomes more evident in our ability to create order out of many abstract concepts such as math, science, philosophy and many other areas. It is our sense of order that allows us to create businesses, governments and civic organizations to make society productive. When we bring order to farmland, we increase the productivity of the farm.
The visible order within Creation inspired Christians in the past to study Creation. Order within Scripture helps the Bible to be meaningfully used as meditative literature. In the same way, order during worship also helps us to avoid confusion and to focus on God.
 Moltmann, Jürgen. “The Living God and the Fullness of Life” ,” trans. Margaret Kohl Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, p.192; Carter, Sydney. Lyrics “Lord of the Dance” (1963),
Tune “Simple Gifts” Brackett Jr., Joseph. (1848)
 Edgar, Brian. “The God Who Plays: A Playful Approach to Theology and Spirituality” Cascade Books 2017 (e-book)
 Gowman, Vince. “Playful quotes for the child in your heart” Vince Gowman http://www.vincegowmon.com/playful-quotes-for-the-child-in-your-heart/
 Baumgartner, Jeffrey. “The Basics of Creative Problem Solving – CPS” ” Innovation Management, innovationmanagement.se/imtool-articles/the-basics-of-creative-problem-solving-cps/
 Brister, Tim. “6 Destructive Ways We Minimize Our Own Sin” Bible Study Tools http://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/6-destructive-ways-we-minimize-our-own-sin.html.
 Basulto, Dominic. “Humans Are the World’s Best Pattern-Recognition Machines, But for How Long?” Big Think 24 July 2013 bigthink.com/endless-innovation/humans-are-the-worlds-best-pattern-recognition-machines-but-for-how-long.
 Pfaff, Leslie Garisto. “6 things you may not know your baby can do” Parents http://www.parents.com/baby/development/intellectual/6-things-you-may-not-know-your-baby-can-do/
 Armstrong, David. “Christianity Absolutely Critical to Origin of Science” Patheos, 18 Oct 2015, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2015/10/christianity-crucial-to-the-origin-of-science.html
Our ability to play arises out of how we bear the image of God. How does our playfulness persist even in the midst of all the problems in the world?
Read Deuteronomy 12; 1 Corinthians 14. These chapters contain explicit instructions about how and how not to worship. Since we do not yet experience the fullness of the new Kingdom, how can our imagination help us more actively engage in worship?