“I’ll Give You Trouble With A Pop-O-Matic Bubble”
August 21, 2022
John 16: 25-33
Today we continue our sermon series called “Games People Play.”
Just for giggles we’re building sermons around classic board games.
Last week we kicked it off with Monopoly.
Today we turn our attention to the game Trouble.
If Monopoly is iconic on account of how long it takes to play,
Trouble’s enduring status among Board Games is probably thanks to its signature dice innovation – the Pop-O-Matic Bubble.
I suspect people don’t often have an itch to actually play Trouble – but it is strangely satisfying to pop the dice bubble while telling your opponents “I’ll give you trouble.”
The game itself centers around the idea of pursuit. Each player is racing around the board for their home base. But you’re also pursuing – and being pursued by – the other players on the board. If you catch an opponent they get sent right back to the beginning. The chase is what makes the game.
Here’s what I learned this week about Trouble. In Finland the same exact game is called Kimble. No, that is not the Finnish word for Trouble. As we all know, the Finnish word for Trouble is “Ongelmia” (Aung-gell-a-mia). I really hope there are no native Finnish speakers in the house because I feel certain I just butchered that one.
The game is called Kimble because it was licensed to this corner of Scandinavia in 1967, when the TV show “The Fugitive” was at the height of its popularity.
The Fugitive’s plot revolves around Dr. Richard Kimble being framed for a crime he did not commit, and he is on the run from the Law.
This little factoid stirred up a memory – a line from the 1993 film adaptation starring Harrison Ford as Dr. Kimble and Tommy Lee Jones as the US Marshal charged with apprehending him. Jones gives his team a pep talk:
our fugitive has been on the run for ninety minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground, barring injuries, is 4 miles-per-hour. That gives us a radius of six miles. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble.
Go get him.”
From there it is a story of relentless pursuit.
Trouble can feel like that sometimes…dogging our heels, tracking our every move. Jesus all but promises that this much would always be true for those who follow him.
Our reading comes from the Gospel of John, the 16th chapter. Today I will read from the New International Version of the Bible. Listen to what the Spirit speaks to the church.
“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”
Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”
“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.
Their twin Rollator walkers were parked at the edge of the sofa where they sat holding hands like teenagers in the blush of young love. Instead of courtship though, they are well past a half-century of marriage. Instead of adolescent butterflies in the stomach, he has cancer.
She says to him as much as to me: “58 years is a long time…and still it’s not enough.”
He once more dabs at his eyes with the ball of tissue disintegrating in his fist.
I can’t stop looking at their hands though, fingers interlaced and holding tight – as if to say “I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’ll give you trouble,” says the world.
“Take heart,” Jesus responds, “I have overcome the world.”
A young man stands behind the defendant’s bench, but even he knows there is no defending what he did. It’s nearly two year past now, but he had spent the day drinking and then got behind the wheel to drive. There was an accident and a man lost his life that day; his wife is now paralyzed.
The young man reads a statement to the court and, more importantly, to all the people he hurt.
He is full of remorse and regret and ready to face the consequences for his mistakes.
Still, that does not soften the angry stares that surround him.
But not all the eyes glare with hatred. Behind his parents and his sister, there’s a small group of men; men he met in Alcoholics Anonymous; companions who are journeying with this young man on the long, long road of recovery. The judge sentences him to 7 years in prison. When court is adjourned the men grab hands and encircle this young man with prayer…as if to say “We’re here…we’re not going anywhere.”
“Sometimes it’s not the world that gives us trouble. Sometimes we make plenty of trouble all by ourselves; we give trouble through the mistakes we wish to God that we could take back. And yet still, ever faithful, Jesus says,
“Take heart, I have overcome the world.”
These are real stories of real people in this church family.
There are times when I simply have to say how much I am in awe of this family of faith;
the ways you carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ into a hurting world;
the ways you hang in there with the people who are most in trouble.
I am in awe because that quality is not a foregone conclusion.
If anything this “stick-with-you” quality is an exception to the rule.
We are sinful human beings.
It’s not uncommon for us to cut and run at the first sign of trouble.
Jesus understood this about us.
Our reading today from John 16 is part of what is called “The Farewell Discourse.”
The way John tells the story, Jesus spends four entire chapters saying goodbye to his disciples, knowing he will soon be arrested and go to the cross.
He gives them all kinds of instructions – preparing them for what will come and how they are to remain faithful in his absence. But one uncomfortable truth he tells the disciples is that they are about to cut and run as soon as trouble comes.
“You will be scattered,” he says, “…you will leave me all alone.”
Nobody likes to be told that he is going to be a coward.
The disciples are no exception.
But instead of taking this moment to rake his friends over the coals, Jesus instead turns it into a teaching moment. “Trouble will always be hot on your heels…that’s just how the world is.” “But,” he reminds them, “the world is not ultimate. I am…I have overcome the world and all the trouble it can throw at us.”
I bet those disciples had no idea what he was talking about.
Sometimes the greatest lessons we’ll ever receive take a good while to sink in.
In that moment, the disciples couldn’t see that trouble – BIG Trouble – would come for Jesus that night.
In just a few short hours he would be arrested.
By sunrise he would be marching off to his death.
Sure enough, when trouble came, that Fight or Flight reflex kicked in and the disciples bolted, just as Jesus predicted.
I bet of all the many, many words Jesus said in that Farewell discourse, none stuck with them more than when Jesus said “You will leave me all alone.”
Those words could have been the kind that would haunt them the rest of their lives, but then Easter happened.
Jesus was alive again – walking, talking – as right as rain.
And all that trouble that had seemed so threatening was as powerless as can be.
Jesus truly had overcome the world, just like he promised.
In the light of Easter dawn, something shifted in those disciples.
Yes, Trouble would come for them but it wasn’t so scary anymore.
They didn’t feel the need to swing into that Flight reflex.
Instead, they found the courage to hang in there; to stand by those who were in deep, deep trouble; to even get into some good kinds of trouble themselves.
I suppose that’s why I find myself standing before you today, saying how I am in awe of this collection of disciples – you who carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the world; you who hang in there and clasp hands with the ones who are most in trouble.
In frightening diagnoses and in angry courtrooms; in soup kitchens or feeding programs; among Haitian orphans or among students in the classrooms that will continue to fill up in the coming week.
We, too, can stand hand in hand and face whatever trouble may come. That just might be our calling as Christ followers.
If I understand this text at all, Jesus might as well give us a Tommy Lee Jones style pep talk:
“Our fugitives are those who have been running from all kinds of trouble. It is uneven ground and there have been too many injuries, but we also have an unlimited radius of endless miles. What I want from each one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse. Our fugitives are looking for somebody to stand by their side.
What are you waiting for. Go get them!”
May it be a story of endless pursuit among us, who are the recipients of God’s pursuing love that is always hot on our heels and refuses to give up the chase. Amen.