Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Free Parking: Relax! Nothing Bad (or Good) Happens

Even though I have actually only finished about a half dozen games my whole life, I still have very fond memories of playing the game Monopoly. I loved setting things up at the start (everyone got six 20's) and laying out all those properties. I never quite understood the utilities, or how the mortgaging of properties works... but I sure knew perfectly well that $500 went in the "Free Parking Pot" and that any taxes that was paid during the game would go in the pot as well. It was a very lucky player who would land on "Free Parking" and get everything that had been collected there. A fresh $500 would then be put in the middle of the board to start the jackpot again.

When I would play Monopoly with friends they would sometimes interject some variation of the "Free Parking" rule. I remember quite clearly playing with my friend Jimmy once... and only once! His rule was that every Monopoly dollar spent throughout the game went into the "Free Parking" jackpot. If you spent $200 to buy Short Line Railroad: it went in the pot. If you bought two houses for your red monopoly of Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky Avenue, it went in the pot. This variation was so disturbing to me: "We need to play by the rules." His rules were like the marriage of Monopoly and Power Ball. My heart still races when I think about it.

Later in life, as an adult, I learned something even more shocking and disturbing than the Jimmy game I experienced as a child. The rules of Monopoly actually say this in the  "Where did you Land?" section, part 7: "Free Parking: Relax! Nothing bad (or good) happens."

What??? Nothing good (or bad) happens????? It's just a free space?

All this time I had been playing incorrectly.  All this time I have been playing with a phony, but exciting, "Free Parking" rule that pumped money into the game like some corrupt South American government.  It's no wonder we so rarely finished.

Now I admit. I'm a rule follower. Rules are rules for very good reasons. If you're going to play a game or live your life, you might as well proceed by following the rules. But, boy oh boy, it really becomes a slap in the face when you realize that the rules you thought were so important, were actually not as significant as you once believe... or even worse: you're sacred rules are wrong.

Jesus challenged a whole lot of folks in his life to look at religious rules in a fresh way. And let me tell you, I would have been right there with a majority of the folks who would not have appreciated being challenged. It shakes up your world to be challenged. Let the rules remain the rules. But Jesus would not let good enough alone. There was too much at stake with the Kingdom of God at hand.

At his Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples followed the rules of the Scriptures by celebrating the Passover: the great remembrance of God's deliverance of his people from slavery. There is a very clear order to how the meal is done and it continues to be a magnificent annual gathering for our Jewish brothers and sisters today.

Jesus did something different at his Last Passover Supper with his disciples, though. He shares with them that "this is my body" and "this is my blood." Jesus knew he would become the new "Passover lamb" on the cross. He commands his followers to now celebrate this meal in remembrance of him and his sacrifice on the cross.

After washing his disciples' feet he gives a rule that actually lifts up truth that has always been present in the Scriptures of God. "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (John 13:34)." It's all pretty clear.  We have it in black and white (or red and white if you have a red-letter edition of Bible). It's as clear as "Free Parking: Nothing good (or bad) happens." Love one another.

Many followers of Jesus have been playing the game of faith, and have been as off track at times as I have been off with Free Parking in Monopoly. Many followers of Jesus put their emphasis on the rules of church and religion. They will stack volumes of theology to the roof and live and breathe by the red rubrics of our liturgy. There are plenty of rules out there. But our challenge is to line up those rules against Jesus' rules and Jesus' life. For there is where we find forgiveness, power, life and hope.

Are you living in a Free Parking world were a fresh 500 Monopoly bucks are waiting for you just up the corner? Are your core values and principles a true reflection or yourself and of your Lord? When I learned that I had been ignorantly playing by the wrong rules in Monopoly all those years, it was such a kick in the stomach. I didn't know. And yet I always insisted that we played that way. Monopoly is one thing... forgiveness and life in the liberating freedom of the Kingdom of God is another.

The rules are clear. Love one another. Are we ready to listen? Are we ready to be transformed and have our lives aligned with the way of Jesus Christ? You are forgiven. You are loved. You are called to be a light of hope and love to the world.

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