There’s nothing quite like playing a game with a kid. Pull out the equipment, explain the rules and you’re off!
When they’re small, you may need to correct them, re-route them, or help them a bit. As they grow, you may show them a few tricks and, every now and then, have to caution them when they get too rough or bend the rules in their favor. But somewhere along the way, if you’ve played your cards right, they start teaching you new ways to play the game. That’s when the game becomes theirs.
Two years ago our church experienced a terrible tragedy in the death of 14 year old Bennett Rill. Two weeks ago we christened a basketball court in his memory. Of course, you don’t christen a basketball court with a bottle of champagne, you cut the ribbons and play 3 on 3, as hard as you can, then shake hands, and go have some refreshments.
A bunch of us sat on the hillside to watch and cheer the competitors. Benny t-shirts were everywhere. Derick, Bennett’s Dad, was working the crowd, shaking hands and slapping high fives while Mom Carolyn was receiving congratulations and thanks for a day of community basketball that was truly a celebration of their son.
I’m wondering how this family does it. They have experienced something no one should ever have to go through, and they’re honest about how it’s going. “Bennett is still gone and our pain remains as sharp as ever,” Derick offered in his opening remarks.
Each day is hard and it isn’t getting any easier. They’re not pretending otherwise. Thank God! This family is living their mourning among us in order to help us all deal with this loss. Most especially the young friends of Bennett’s as well as his teachers, neighbors, and teammates.
The Rills, in their great compassion, have created a living, working, playing place where they can gather and remember Bennett in the way he would have wanted. By playing the game he so loved, in the way he loved to play it — as hard as you can until you’re completely spent and then go have a cold drink and remember the three-pointers you drained, and the lay-ups you can’t believe you missed.
The court was built with some of the funds donated to the Bennett Rill Memorial Fund for Student Ministries, the rest of which will support 6th – 12th graders at Floris to bring in speakers, sponsor events, send them on trips, and support them in mission work. But the court speaks fellowship. It beckons kids of all ages to come play on it, come enjoy each other’s company, and come get to know why it was built in the shadow of a church.
That’s the thing about a game. It invites you to play.
This court, with the number “21” painted in the far corner, memorializing Bennett’s favorite spot to shoot three-pointers, isn’t a sad place to remember loss, it’s forever game day, to remember victory and a remarkable young man who left us way, way too soon. But not before he showed us his love for God, family and friends and his fearlessness to share that. He was the “real deal.”
As I watch Derick and Colin cut the ribbons that bar the entry to that court and welcome it’s first “official” competitors to the championship game with high fives all around, there’s no sadness on any face, just pure delight. They’re here to play “Holy Hoops,” as Derick would say. He has opened the gate.
The Rill family hopes that court will get lots of use in the days to come and become a place for kids to congregate, get to know each other and themselves better. They’ll play some games of “H-O-R-S-E,” which on this court is re-named, “J-E-S-U-S,” and in the process they’ll come to know Him in fun, fellowship and the spirit of competition.
I can just imagine Bennett, who’s spirit is surely more alive here than ever, asking his buddies if they want to come shoot some hoops over at his house and giving them the church address to meet up. Bennett would probably greet them in the parking lot, usher them down the hill to this treasure of a court and then beat them with a shot from “his” 21-spot at the imaginary buzzer.
After they’d exchanged high fives, Bennett would smile and wait for the inevitable question. “So, Benny, where’s your house?”
“Right there,” he’d say. “That’s my Father’s house. Wanna come in for a drink?”
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love
his faithfulness continues
through all generations.
~ Psalm 100: 4-5
On Mondays the church I attend, Floris United Methodist Church, has invited me to contribute a “sermon response.” I share today’s here: (for those of you reading from a distance, the Pastors are Tom Berlin (aka Tom), Tim Ward (aka Tim) and Barbara Miner (not mentioned today but she will be Barbara :)). To listen to the sermon click here.
One of the things I love about Floris church is that the pastors try very hard to prepare us for the world that will greet us when we pile out the door. Even beginning with the prayer time.
Tom asked us to bring to mind someone we love who we wanted to pray for. I immediately thought of dedicated Christian friends who have recently lit up Facebook over the stand Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy took regarding same sex marriage. In the same prayer breath I thought of the email plea I had just gotten from the Christian conservatives, in the guise of Franklin Graham, rallying us to stand with Chick-fil-A because it is “under attack from same-sex marriage advocates.”
I wonder whether these two sides are speaking to each other, or if they are just speaking up. I would like to reply to each one, but the tone they have taken leaves me feeling they are interested in support not moderation. I wonder how they are praying for each other. They are bitter enemies.
Just in the nick of time this is the scripture we were meant to consider in worship…
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. ~ Matthew 5:43-45″
This, Tim Ward told us, is what distinguishes us as Christians. In fact we are commanded to love those who don’t love us. I find that incredibly hard. But what if I pray for them, that is, what if I lift them in prayer into the presence of Love and let God love them even if they don’t look very likeable to me? even and especially when they are not acting very likable toward one another. I expect I might start to see them very differently. Perhaps they would see each other so.
That is my challenge today because the way I look at it if as Christians we don’t pray for our Christian “enemies” and allow that to change the way we relate to one another, the agnostics and the atheists can just sit back and let our anger do their job for them. They need do nothing but watch and chuckle as we implode.
And they are not the only ones watching. In the midst of the fracas I need to explain all this to the young adults in my life who are looking on and saying, “If church acts like that, I don’t want to have any part in it.” One of them recently posted a link on my Facebook wall entitled, “It’s not about the Chicken.” I’m giving thanks today, as I do everyday, that we can be in conversation.