The sermon from October 4, 2015, at The Patterson Avenue Baptist Church is included in this blog post (both the video and the manuscript).   The sermon is titled:  “Improvisation” and is based on Jesus words recorded in Mark 10:13-18

The sermon includes a joke told by daughter Michelle Nieporte, as well as our positive experiences with improvisational comedy with Richmond, Virginia’s “Comedy Sportz Improv.”

There are several links on this page to make such SHARING much easier. If the blog publisher provides ways to subscribe to RSS feed, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, or other social media site…please join/follow/like – whatever the right term is for that media.

You can watch the video below and/or read the manuscript.

Improvisation – Mark 10:13-18

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.


Sociologist and Baptist preacher Tony Campolo tells of a time in graduate school when he took a course in Chinese philosophy.  In a classroom discussion about prayer, the Buddhist monk teaching the course said:  “You teach your children to pray all wrong. You teach them to pray, `If I should die before I wake.’ It would be better if you taught them to pray, `If I should wake before I die.'”


The Monk said that most of the people he’d met in the west were half awake when they ought to be asleep, and have asleep when they ought to be awake.


“No one seem to be totally alive to life.  Nobody seems to be totally turned on to what was going on around them.”


It is certainly hard to argue with what he said.  We know people who complain that they NEVER seem able to get a good night of sleep because of the worry, stress, and apprehension of their lives.

We also know of people who spend their waking hours frustrated by the little things in life – so much so that they never seem to enjoy life’s blessings.


“No one seem to be totally alive to life.  Nobody seems to be totally turned on to what was going on around them.”


How about you?


When we moved to Richmond, our daughter Michelle had difficult time adjusting to life in the city.  Richmond is much bigger that Bird’s Nest, Virginia.  It seemed like there were more people at Hermitage High School than in all of Northampton County.


Then we learned about an improvisational comedy theatre here in Richmond, called “Comedy Sportz Improv.” We went to an “open mic night” and to the surprise of her parents, Michelle got up and told a joke.


Michelle, come tell all the nice people your funny joke.  On that night, Michelle found the place where she fit in.  That following summer, we enrolled her in a camp to learn improvisational comedy.  Eventually she joined a high school league and began performing regularly.   Several of you attended performances.


After college, she auditioned for a spot on their Major League “adult” improvisational team.  She was accepted on the team and now performs most weekends, and even traveled to the national championship this past summer.  (By the way, Comedy Sportz is an international corporation with 25 locations across the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany.)


We try to attend most performances.  It a lot of fun.  So much so, in fact, that I added performing improvisational comedy to my bucket list.  I got the chance on Father’s day.  After a crash course in improvisational, I perform in a Father’s day for charity with other “dads” whose are  affiliated with the theatre.


A mentor in ministry told me that improv was a great skill for pastors.  He said the ability to make people laugh, to think your feet, and work as a team were great skills for a pastor.  Beyond that, the ministry of a pastors ought to aim toward playful fun and joyful celebration.


So I have signed up for training and have joined a CSZ team.  Michelle is a “Major League” player.  I am on the “Minor Leagues.”  We are like a recreational sports league at the YMCA.  It’s for people want to have fun.


Here’s what I like about improvisation.  It’s all about learning to live in the moment.


That reminds me of the challenge that Chinese Monk was raising to Campolo.  He was asking, “How long have you lived?”


He didn’t mean:  “How long has been since a doctor signed your birth certificate?”  That is how long we have existed.  The real question is how long have we really been living.


In Jill Bernard’s Small, Cute Book of Improv, the author speaks of the need improvisers to hit the reset button.  She says,


Let’s go back to small children before the BS set in, because there are a lot of things you have done to make yourself an excellent member of society that are going to make you a (terrible) improviser.  You hold yourself safe, and you keep your voice at a polite volume.  You have an ego, so you know who you are.  You don’t get into trouble, you don’t touch things that are hot, or go down holes when you don’t know where they lead.  You are polite.  You are as boring as possible so that no one thinks you are a freak.


That’s what life does to us.  It teaches us to be prim, pedantic, proper, priggish, and prudish.  All that makes us suitable members of society.  But it also makes for terrible improvisers.


If we listen to Jesus, these things also make us terrible disciples.  These qualities take joy out of living and make it impossible for us to live fully in the moment.  Jesus speaks of abundant living.  He relished every moment of life.  He had fun.


Let me ask you the question again!


“How long have you lived?”


Most of us watch the pimples clear up and the hair fall out and then we say to ourselves, “I don’t know where my life has gone!”


In our text,  Jesus hold up a little child as an example for us, saying, “Anyone who does not welcome the Kingdom of God as a little child will never receive it!”


What was it about “little children” that prompted Jesus to lift them up as an example for living?


Some say that Jesus was referring to a childlike sense of humility!


Listen,  I have worked with hundreds of children and the one trait that is largely missing in their makeup is humility.  Children are not humble.  They like to be noticed.  They want to be the center of attention.  They think what they have to say is the most important thing to be heard at any given moment.


When Jesus spoke about children receiving the Kingdom, I don’t think he had humility in mind.


One commentary I mentions referred to child-like obedience.  The author wrote:  “Jesus was referring to a child obediently, without question, accepting the word and following the instructions of a parent!”


Let me ask you who are parents:  “Are your children naturally and willingly obedient?”  Of course not!   Part of their disobedience is the process of growing up and learning to make their own decisions.  A parent’s job is to established boundaries for the child’s safety and character development.


So, when Jesus holds up the child as an example, he was not speaking of their humility or obedience.   That prompts us to ask what he was talking about.


First, I think he was referring to the child’s inclination to live life to its fullest.  He was talking about their imaginations, their ability to live in the moment, their ability to enjoy playful fun.


Tony Campolo says:  “Children are so intense. They cry with agony; they laugh with joy; they are really turned on to what life is all about.”


Jesus says: “Anyone who does not welcome the Kingdom of God as a little child will never receive it!”  Jesus is saying:  “Unless you approach life with the same enthusiasm as a child, you can’t be part of what I am about.”


Jesus wants us to mimic a child’s desire to play.  Sadly, I think I have to say that there  is nothing wrong with that.  Even the most serious of life’s ventures can be approach with joyful play.


This past week we laid to rest a wonderful ninety-nine year old women.  When remembering, the one thing people repeatedly mention was her constant smile and infectious giggle.  Virginia never forget that life was a joyful gift of a loving Father that needed to be celebrated every day.


Have you ever watched a child play?  They are not self-conscious.  They are not reserved.  They are not stuck in their head.  It does matter what they are doing.  They just turn loss and have fun.


That’s what we are taught in improvisation classes.  We are taught to get outside our heads.  We are taught to stop worrying about what others might think.  We are taught to live in the moment, play, and have fun.


Have you forgotten how to play?


Mission, ministry, worship, and discipleship should be fun.  They should  be times of joyful celebration.  Notice that disciples were upset.  People were bringing their children to see Jesus.  “Don’t bother Jesus with these kids.  He’s got more important things to do than play with children!” Jesus caught wind of that and said, “Don’t hinder those children.  Bring them here and let me bless them.  Don’t you get it.  They are of the Kingdom.”


Here’s another thing Jesus saw in the eyes of the children.  He saw that they had no doubts about their importance in the eyes of their Creator.


I heard a story about a man who ran upstairs during a thunderstorm to check on his five-year-old daughter.  The storm was intense – lightening, thunder, the lights were flickering.  He was worried she might be scared.  When he got to her room he saw her standing on her bed, leaning spread-eagle against the window, while the lightning flashed outside.


“What in the world are you doing?”


She said, “I think God is trying to take my picture.”


That’s a little girl who knows who she is.  She knew her value.  She knew her life mattered.  She knew she is a person of worth.  If you are going to LIVE – I mean live life to its fullest for God – you are going to have to feel good about yourself.  You need to know that God sees you as a person of tremendous value.


For some this seems difficult.  They are so down on themselves.    They can list all the things in their lives that are wrong.


“Oh, but you do not know me.  I’ve done some pretty bad things.  I’ve said some pretty bad things.  I’ve thought some pretty bad thoughts.  I am not a person of worth and value.  If you knew me, you’d know that!”


Listen, those thoughts do not originate with the God revealed in Jesus.  They come from the Enemy.  The Enemy’s number one task is to make you believe that you are worthless, unacceptable, and unworthy.  Jesus came to dispel that sort of thinking.  He came to redeem the world so that we would know that the Father liked, loves, accepts, includes, and adopts us.  Out of this Divine love, we are taught to love ourselves – to feel good about ourselves.


If you and I are going to LIVE – I mean live life to its fullest with God – you are going to have to love ourselves the way a child loves herself when in the embrace of her father’s arms.


That sort of thing takes faith.  We have got the screwed up notion that faith means that we intellectual accept certain propositional theological information (creeds and doctrines) as truth.  But biblical faith is not about that.  It’s about trusting yourself into the hands of a loving God.  Faith is about know that God’s love redeems and remakes you into something beautiful and acceptable.  Faith is allowing God to free you from all that is dark and negative so that you can live passionately,  as a child.


There is something else.  Children seem to have an ability to live from spontaneous joy. God wants us filled with, excitement, enthusiasm, and spontaneous childlike joy.


Have you met people who act as though being spiritual means being dour, sour, solemn, and serious?  You know – the kind of people whose face would crack if they ever had to smile.


That is not what Christianity is all about.  That’s part of what Jesus is teaching when he hold us the example of a little child.  Christian living is about the life of the Christ invading every aspect of our existence, filling us with spontaneous joy.


Lord Chesterton once said, “I think that God is the only child left in the universe and all the rest of us have grown old and cynical.”


Tony Campolo asks:  “How did God create daisies?”


Then he answers, “Like a child.”


If you take a child; you throw them up in the air; bounce them off your knee; and then set them on the floor. The first thing they says is, “Do it again.”


You might do it fifty times, but the child is going to keep yelling  hysterically, “Do it again. Do it again.”


Campolo says, “That is how God created daisies. He created one daisy and the childlike heart of God clapped and said, “Do it again.”  And God created a second daisy and said:  “Do it again.”  And eventually God created fifty billion trillion daisies and is still yelling with childlike joyful excitement, saying: “Do it again.”  “Do it again.”  “Do it again.”


Do you remember when you were like that?  Do you remember when you were full of life and joy and you knew how to turn loose and have fun?


It came happen again.  He’s what Jesus says:  “Come to be and be ‘born again.’  Become like a little child again.  Be set free from the negativity.   Received my joy.  Know that I love you.  Learn to play, again.  Rediscover my joy!”


Learn to enjoy life – to play a little every day. Learn to improvise.


“Anyone who does not welcome the Kingdom of God as a little child will never receive it!”


Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City
by: Kelly Leonard
publisher: HarperBusiness, published: 2015-02-03
sales rank: 73905

Executives from The Second City—the world’s premier comedy theater and school of improvisation—reveal improvisational techniques that can help any organization develop innovators, encourage adaptable leaders, and build transformational businesses.

For more than fifty years, The Second City comedy theater in Chicago has been a training ground for some of the best comic minds in the industry—including John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Mike Myers, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, and Tina Fey. But it also provides one-of-a-kind leadership training to cutting-edge companies, nonprofits, and public sector organizations—all aimed at increasing creativity, collaboration, and teamwork.

The rules for leadership and teamwork have changed, and the skills that got professionals ahead a generation ago don’t work anymore. Now The Second City provides a new toolkit individuals and organizations can use to thrive in a world increasingly shaped by speed, social communication, and decentralization. Based on eight principles of improvisation, Yes, And helps to develop these skills and foster them in high-potential leaders and their teams, including:

  • Mastering the ability to co-create in an ensemble
  • Fostering a “yes, and” approach to work
  • Embracing failure to accelerate high performance
  • Leading by listening and by learning to follow
  • Innovating by making something out of nothing

Yes, And is a must-read for professionals and organizations, helping to develop the invaluable leadership skills needed to succeed today.


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