May 17, 2020 6th Sun of Easter Jesus our Game Changer sermon series

Join me in a quick prayer:  O Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight our rock and redeemer.

We’re in a series called “Jesus, our game changer!”  With this long standing shelter in place order because of COVID 19 I thought many families may have brushed off the dust on some popular boardgames just to break up the long hours indoors together.  So why not look at a different popular board game each Sunday and let it represent one of the struggles we have in real life?  And then we’re examining how the resurrection of Jesus can change that game.

We've looked at Cranium, Trouble, Sorry, Candyland and today we're talking about a game called “Connect.”  Its actually “Connect Four”- that’s the challenge connecting four of your colors in a row or column or diagonally before your opponent does.  Its kind of like a bigger more challenging version of Tic Tac Toe. 

It’s a great game for young kids to learn about strategy.  If I put my piece here, then you could put yours here and that means you’d have three in a row and that’s bad because you only need one more for Connect Four.  Hopefully it trains players to think more than just one step ahead but several steps down the road.  So what’s the problem with Connect Four?

Before I get to that I want to share a silly story a preacher once shared with his congregation.  “One morning I woke up and my right arm was gone! I looked all over for it — under the covers, under my pillow, finally I saw it on the floor crawling away, pulling itself with its fingers. And I shouted out, 'What are you doing?" And my hand actually talked to me. It said, "I don't want to be a part of your body anymore. I've got to find my own path! I can do better on my own!" And I said, "But you can't survive on your own! You can't get blood from the heart! You can't get oxygen from the lungs! You can't get nourishment from the stomach! On your own you're going to shrivel up and die!" But you know that arm just insisted on going its own way. And later that afternoon I went out in my front yard, and I noticed a horrible smell, and I looked down. And there was that arm lying there dead.

Silly story but it illustrates that parts of a body need each other.  Our scripture today talks about you and I being the body of Christ.  Meaning together like small cells of an actually body we make up the body of Christ. A body needs all of its cells and the cells need all of the body to stay alive and well.  If parts just wander off its not good for either one.  So how does this "connect" to our "Connect Four" game? First of all, maybe most obviously... connections are important.  I’m hoping I don’t have to belabor that point.   

It’s the second point that we often miss, that we are sometimes blithely unaware of, or purposely ignoring.  What point is that?  Well, I hate to point this out but like Tic Tac Toe, Connect Four is rigged.  You know how Tic Tac Toe has a way of always ending in a tie unless someone makes a mistake. It's almost rigged that way.  Well Connect Four is rigged in a way.  It's rigged in favor of the first person to make a move.  In 1988 Victor Allis of MIT University solved the game of Connect Four.  He showed that with perfect play by both players, the first player can always win.  So even if the second player makes all the right strategic moves the first player always wins. 

Perhaps you remember the classic 1983 sci fi movie that launched Matthew Broderick’s career “War Games.”  Its where a young computer nerd hacks a government super-computer while looking for new more realistic video games.  He gets the supercomputer to begin playing “Global Thermo-nuclear War” unaware that the computer’s simulation is actually activating military nuclear missiles around the nation. 

Long story short he has to get the computer to avert World War III but how? He uses the knowledge that the computer dislikes playing Tic Tac Toe because its artificial intelligence has already learned that it’s a no-win game.  He then gets the supercomputer to compare that with playing Global Thermo-nuclear War and the computer, after going through every possible scenario in super speed, determines “strange game the only way to win is not to play, how about a nice game of chess.” And it deactivates all the military missiles. Whew disaster averted! And hopefully lesson learned, the best way to win this game is not to play.

Well, what does this have to do with Connect Four and Jesus our Game Changer?   A minute ago I told the silly story of my right arm deciding to detach itself and crawl away. But what I'm about to say is not a joke. We've all seen people, and some are in with us in this parking lot, who are missing a part of their bodies, or who have a part of the body that does not function the way it's supposed to. Maybe you know somebody who's lost an arm or a leg. Maybe you know somebody who can't see, or can't hear. Most of these people can still function but not like they could if every part was in place. And that's how it is with the Body of Christ.  It'll function — but not as well as it could if every part was in place. Paul says, "Now you are the Body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." Without you, the body is incomplete.

A phrase that you hear a lot nowadays is "Spiritual, but not religious." People say, "It's not that I don't believe in God. I pray, I read the Bible. I just don't go to church.  "l can worship God on my own. I feel closer to God at the beach, on the lake, or in the woods than I do at church."  And you know what? I get that. I understand that. I feel close to God in those places too. BUT THAT'S NOT CHRISTIANITY!

The Apostle Paul says, "You are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it" — which means there is no such thing as solo Christianity.  A little while ago, Newsweek had a cover story that said, "Forget the church, Follow Jesus." The problem with that is, if you follow Jesus, you can't forget the church. Because the church is the body of Christ. And if you belong to Jesus, you belong to his body.

We often think to connect with God and Jesus we need to do “our thing” forget all this "herd mentality."  So we go our merry way following our own path and don’t need the body of Christ.  We’re convinced our strategy is the best strategy to suit us.  Sounds great, but its rigged.  Ignoring, avoiding, rejecting, disconnecting from the body of Christ as a follower of Christ is a losing strategy, it’s a rigged strategy.

The first thing Satan wants is to disconnect us from Christ by getting us to play this “Connect Four” strategy of when it comes to church, the body of Christ.  We decide "I’ll be here but not there. I’ll do this but not that."  On page seven of your bulletin there’s clip art of Connect Four and a clip art of a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon.  Unfortunately the caption to the strip was cut off- it should say underneath. “Bummer of a birth mark Hal.”  When we disconnect from God’s people we might as well paint a target on our soul for Satan.  Have you ever watched one of those National Geographic shows where they highlight predators like wolves or lions that take down these large animals like zebras, wildebeest, or even elephants?  What’s the first thing they point out, “Now that the lions have separated the elephant from the herd and its on its own”  Dunn… Dunn… Dunn!  Not a good ending.

You don’t want to play Connect 4 with an expert because its rigged, you’re gonna lose.  Especially if you play spiritual Connect Four with Satan.  But you don’t have to play spiritual connect four to be a winner.  Jesus is our game changer, we don’t ever have to play spiritual Connect Four ever again.  Instead, we can live our lives everyday always connected to his love and grace and mercy.  We can live confident that he has won the victory for us and it’s not dependent upon our next move, the next piece we put in place, or our great strategies. It’s all dependent on Christ, on being part of the body of Christ.  We may not understand how all the pieces connect together in life but we can be confident we know WHO connects all the pieces together, Christ.  We know WHO connects us together with others, the love of God in Christ Jesus.  We don’t have to go it alone, do it alone, and we don’t have to live life disconnected. As long as we choose not to play Satan’s game of spiritual connect four. 

This morning I thank you for choosing a spot in a parking lot with Christ’s body rather than a spot on a couch with the world’s media.  Bless you for choosing the seemingly unpopular herd mentality of community worship rather than the modern-day all-important individuality of personal spiritual expression. May your connection through the body of Christ this day keep your heart and mind in Jesus our game changer. Amen.