In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is the season of the open window. Neither the furnace nor air conditioner run. Fresh, cool air fills our homes while the bright sunlight warms our skin. And through those open windows comes the raucous laughter of children on the playground. They’ve gone back to school. The crayons aren’t yet broken or the cliques established. There is fresh, clean paper in their new-smelling backpacks and they’ve yet to feel the steely cut of grades and evaluation. The joy of recess, of renewed acquaintances, grand expectations, and possibility fills the air. There are few joys on this earth that can stand against that of recess in the first weeks of school.
Our day to day lives are more like arithmetic than recess. There is work to be done. We often do not understand our work or why we must do it, what its real purpose is, or what good it does. We get occasional glimpses, but most of us trudge along, task to task, never really knowing what impact a piece of carpet or an insurance form or helping a child to tie his shoes has on the world. Most of us are mostly stuck indoors. We haven’t climbed monkey bars or chased each other around in years. America rests tomorrow, it honors its laborers by all the ceremonies of charcoal, but some will work anyway out of necessity. Whether we work tomorrow or not, all of us in the line of Adam have to work.
It is worse than merely toil and drudgery. The worst part is not that we’re stuck indoors while the last of the nice weather slips between our fingers and winter comes crashing down around us. The worst part is the mudslide of tragedies and heartbreak in the lunch room and hallways. Some kids never return in the Fall. They disappear over the summer without a word. There are dangers in the locker room. Peer pressure and bullies around every corner. There is also embarrassment and awkwardness in the classroom. The testing and judging, passing and failing, that make up education. We sometimes fail. It matters not whether it is from laziness, accident, malice, or simply because we are not smart enough. It matters not if it is in 3rd grade or the office. Every child knows there are pitfalls, hazards, and obstacles at school, even as every child knows that children are never innocent.
Recess is not the only good thing at school. Every now and then, a pretty girl is appointed to be our partner or we get to write a report on Star Wars or we solve for x all on our own. Even arithmetic can be satisfying from time to time. But for the most part school or work is just work. More often than not, it is boring. Arithmetic, grammar and rules, busy-work and threats, deadlines and bosses and cranky customers, no fun at all. Even as adults we waste a lot of time doodling and daydreaming while we hang on for recess. And recess, that is recreation and rest are good things. They are, even, necessary things.
So what a shame it is when we would rather sneak around the corner, smoke cigarettes and use vulgar words for cheap laughs than run and play in the sun. What a shame that our self-absorption threatens to make good and wholesome fun boring! What a disaster when the playground becomes a place of vengeance and violence, of cliques and prejudice, a place for exclusion and judgment. What a shame when the girls sell themselves for attention and the boys use them like equipment for barter. What a shame when we spend recess looking for the best deal and the greatest return; when we ruin it or squander it all by ourselves. And what a shame, when the bullies get the best of us; when they drag us into their games; when we desire their approval and will suffer any degradation they imagine simply to “fit in”?
Work can destroy. All work and no play makes Jack a mean and greedy boy. But liquor is quicker. Nothing is as dangerous as pleasure. The good things in life can be ruined so easily and so quickly. There are dangers on every hand, some self-afflicted, some brought on by others, and still others utterly beyond our control. Even recess, even holidays, even nice weather can be scary.
Thus comes Our Lord. He drives off the bullies. He grabs us by the collar and brings us into the sun. He separates us from our “friends” and stamps out the cigarettes. He sticks His fingers into our ears. It hurts. It is weird. It is embarrassing. We want it to stop. He spits and wipes away the smudge of ash upon our foreheads. He traces a cross. He touches our tongues. It is gross, invasive, awkward, and slightly painful. He touches our tongues, His Body, crucified and risen, enters into us by way of the mouth. He touches our tongues and our tongues and our hearts are clean. Our joy returns. The Spirit does not depart. He makes us His Temple. Past transgressions are forgotten. New life begins. We hear again what He has been saying all along, “It is okay. I love you. I forgive you. You are redeemed. You are free. You are safe. Have fun.” And we can sing along, and we can laugh again. No longer tongue-tied, no longer afraid, we are astonished beyond measure. We confess: “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
I don’t know what recess is for you. Maybe it is a vacation in the Caribbean or a 12 year old bottle of scotch or even bunko. Those things have their place. But for the pure, unbridled, exuberant joy of a recess in the Fall there is nothing like Divine revelation. It is bit unexpected, like being roped into square dance or karaoke against your will and then having the time of your life. It is not the thing that pops into your mind under “fun.” It is not fun in the conventional sense. But there is nothing else like it and all pleasures of this earth fade away in comparison. When God sticks His finger in your ear and opens you to His Word, when He speaks and you hear, when His heart is revealed to you and you see His mercy, His grace, His patient love anew that is a joy like no other.
He speaks and you hear. Your heart burns within you. It starts like arithmetic. God is counting and it is not good. He says, “One, two, three sins! And that is only the beginning? Will this ever end? I should punish you. I should pulverize you, destroy you, burn you to cinders. I should reject you, ignore you, leave you alone, let the devil have his way with you. For you have betrayed Me and your sins are many.” Then comes the surprise. God pops His now dirty finger out of your ear. You hear clearly and He says, “But I don’t. I love you. I’ve reversed the decision. I’ve paid the price. Here is the Truth: ‘I couldn’t go on without you.’ I wanted you so badly that I sent My Son to exchange His Life for yours. I love you because I love Him. I have written your name in the book of Life. I have spoken you righteous. You are Mine. You are without sin, malice, stain or blemish. I make you perfect in every way. You are as unique as a snowflake, as pure as Jesus Christ. You are washed in His Blood, born in His death, raised by His Life. You are Mine! I seek now only to calm your troubled heart. Soon this workaday world will end. I will bring you to Myself in heaven. You will no longer toil and bring forth fruit from the earth by the sweat of your brow. In the meantime, I come to you. I give you work but I also give you recess. I make the sun to shine. I make the ball land on the line. I give you chocolate, Calvin and Hobbes, pretty girls, and thousands upon thousands of good things. I also give you a part of My Kingdom. You are an ambassador, a prince sent to a foreign land as a witness of Our culture, a ruler in the 1000 year reign of peace. That is how I give your work meaning and value. Since you belong to Me everything you do you do for Me. Since you belong to Me I sanctify all that you do and I use it all for good. By your hands I beat back the devil, I re-order creation, I redeem it out of chaos to a goodness that it is better than it was at first. But mostly, and mainly, I give you Myself. You are Mine. Soon I will bring you home.”
Getting your ears un-plugged and hearing the life-changing, life-giving Word of God, that is re-creation of the first order. Indeed, He does all things well.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.