The Kingdom of God is Not a Game

The Kingdom of God is not a Game
First Baptist Church, Lawrence
23 September 2012

First, it was my pastor in Waco. Then it was my freshmen at Baylor.
“Listen. You’ve got to read this book.”
“Okay. What is it?”
The Hunger Games.”
“Okay; what’s it about?”
“Um, well, um, basically, these kids have to kill each other to win…”

Kids killing kids. Sounds awesome. Who would want to read such a story? Better yet, who would rave to anyone who will listen about a story that contains such rampant morbidity? Better still, who would dream up such a story – and market it towards kids? I certainly bore such hesitation towards this book that I never imagined I would become such a fan of the story, though fan seems like not quite the right word for something of its weight.

Many of you have read at least the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy, or seen the movie. For those of you who haven’t, here’s a brief summary. Which includes spoilers. You’ve been warned.

The world of the hunger games is North America, a few centuries in the future. What remains following natural disaster and civil war, is the nation of Panem, which consists of 12 districts and the Capital. Each district is dedicated to a particular industry in service to the Capital. The Capital is the center of fashion, of wealth, and of excess.  Meanwhile, the surrounding districts exist in relative degrees of squalor. Some districts subsist fairly well, while others live in what we might recognize as third-world poverty.  Every year the Capital stages the Hunger Games. Each district sends two tributes – one male and one female, both teenagers – selected at random. The 24 tributes are left in an arena – designed by a team of Gamemakers – to fight to the death. The winner – the sole survivor – receives a house for herself and family, as well as food for his entire district for the next year.

The Hunger Games are an elaborate and destructive means to keep an entire nation subdued and hopeless, all under the guise of being thankful to the powerful capital. The books focus on, Katniss, a sixteen year old, who volunteers as tribute after her young sister’s name is drawn. She is from District 12, which is located in what we know as Appalachia – and their main industry is (not surprisingly) coal mining. Katniss’s father died in a mining explosion when she was young, and since then she has snuck beyond the District’s borders to hunt in order to take care of her mother, who remains broken following her husband’s death, and her sister. Katniss enters the Hunger Games with resigned hopelessness. She realizes the daunting odds of 24 tributes, but only one winner. She chooses to remain away from the fray, surviving by hiding in trees, and running, in many ways a nonparticipant in the game. Until, the gamemakers force her hand, and she must defend herself. In the end, she beats the Capital at its own game. She and the other tribute from District 12, Peeta, find poisonous berries. Only the two of them remain, and neither is willing to kill the other, so they both move to eat the berries at the same time, which would, in effect, leave the games without a winner. The gamemakers interrupt them at that moment, and declare Katniss and Peeta both winners of the Hunger Games. And that is basically how the first book ends. The remaining two books unfold with Katniss and Peeta participating in a second hunger games, and participating in a fomenting revolution among the districts as they attempt to upend the Capital’s control and suppression of the vast majority of Panem’s citizens. Continue reading

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Morning Prayer, 9 September 2012

God of faithfulness,

You have told us not to be anxious in anything. You have told us not to be afraid. And yet, O God, we find so many ways to dwell in anxiety and rest in fear.

We are anxious about our schedules, worrying about fitting everything in.
Help us to find breathing space, and discern what deserves our yes, and what can wait.

We are anxious of forgetting names, and being forgotten.
Help us do the risky work of relationship and offer grace.

We are fearful of what is to come, worrying about the how’s and what’s.
Help us discern your will, even when it seems risky beyond our vision.

We are fearful in the face of disease, of war, of darkness.
Help us feel confident in your healing, your peace, and your light.

We have so many other ways we try to find wholeness, but remind us that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You. God you never promised us that we would have nothing to fear, but you promised us your peace and your presence. When our doubts and worries threaten to replace our faith in your abundant life, be our guiding path, our calming rest.

We pray all this in the name of your son, our Christ, who taught us to say:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever.  Amen.