It has millions of followers, with more added every day. It is drawing people together from all walks of life, opening doors of communication, cooperation, and friendship between people who otherwise never would have glanced at each other. It is inspiring people to go out into the world and explore.
And it’s a video game, about made up animals with goofy names. But wow! It’s incredible that a children’s game that first appeared twenty years ago has become a world-wide phenomenon with the release of a free-to-play mobile app, and that it has literally changed the way people go about their daily life!
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m astounded, because Pokemon Go is everywhere in the news, social media, and your neighborhood. I’m not even joking about it being in your neighborhood – to play the game, people walk around towns and neighborhoods, looking at a map on their smartphones, and the program plots the creatures onto the map. Players “catch” the creatures – called Pokemon – and add them to their collection.
They can take the Pokemon to assigned places called “Gyms” (designated locations in towns and cities) and let them compete against other people’s Pokemon, or they can feed them candy to make them change forms. When you visit certain landmarks and monuments in your area you can collect special items. Sometimes you find an egg, which you “incubate” by walking around, and when it hatches who knows what you’ll find!
You’ve probably heard horror stories in the news of people getting into trouble while playing this game – crashing their car or bike because they’re playing while driving. Walking off a cliff while playing. Getting attacked by people because they wandered into the wrong place. These stories might make it sound like it isn’t worth the trouble.
But those horror stories only make news because they’re sensational – and actually fairly rare, compared to the number of people playing. For more common is the kinds of stories the news media doesn’t find exciting enough. In Kalamazoo the police department shared a story from one of their off duty police officers. He was hanging out one evening in a park, watching people all over the place playing the game. A man in a business suit comparing collections with a couple of goth kids. Dads running around with their kids catching Pokemon. A pizza guy selling pizzas for $5, and someone bought one for a homeless man who spends a lot of time in that park. The homeless guy ended up walking around handing people the extra slices.
Community. Cooperation. Communication. Friendship. And all because of something as simple as a mobile phone game.
Church, I think we should be paying attention to this. See, we have something way more meaningful, way more powerful, way more lasting than Pokemon Go. It unites us, it breaks down all barriers of culture and age and gender and walk of life. It opens doors for communication, it inspires us to go out into the world and work together, and it instantly makes friends – no, brothers and sisters – of everyone who has it.
I’m not talking about a hymnal. I’m talking about the Gospel, the foundation of our faith. It is the simple, beautiful truth that in Christ we have been forgiven all our sins, given life, salvation, and a future, and that through faith in Jesus we are adopted into his family, called sons and daughters of the one true God. In the Gospel we have the promise of a day when we will all spend forever in a world of perfection, with nothing to separate us from each other or to stand in the way of us truly loving each other, and no prospect of it ever being ruined. That knowledge alone already gives us reasons to care for each other, to look for our brothers and sisters in Christ, to communicate and cooperate with them and grow in friendship and community with each other.
If a mobile app about a children’s game can do all this, I guarantee the Gospel can do so much more. But in order for it to do so, it has to take as much of a priority in all of our lives as Pokemon Go does in its players lives. Here’s what I mean: I’ve played Pokemon Go, and so have my kids, and when you start playing it, I’ll tell you, it catches you as much as you catch the Pokemon. You want to have the app open while you walk around, just in the hope that you’ll find something. You want to keep it open so that your eggs will hatch. You assign it a spot on the home screen of your phone so that you don’t forget to open it the second you walk out the door. You think about it and read about it when you’re not playing.
That sounds like a lot of obsession for a silly game, right? But what if we had the same obsession with the Gospel? I know some Christians who do, and it’s evident in their lives. They really live it. And if you ask them, “How do you have such a deep relationship with Christ and his Word?” they’ll answer, “I read it. I think about it. It’s the first thing I look at in my day. I make sure to have ready access to it. The Bible app is on my home screen on my phone. I read books to help me understand it, and I pray about what I read.”
I want to encourage you, Church, to make the Gospel your obsession. Sink into it day after day. Let it change the way you go about your day. You know, God said something like this to his people a long time ago.
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut 6:6-9)
The blessings of all of us growing deeper into the Gospel don’t stop with those of us who are already part of the Church. See, with Pokemon Go it’s all about us seeking out and finding the Pokemon wherever they’re hiding. An important part of the Gospel is all of us going out and seeking and finding people who need to hear it, looking for the people we can call to know who Jesus is and what he’s done. The more familiar we become with the Gospel, the more eagerly we want to let other people know about it.
Go ahead and download Pokemon Go and have some fun with it. It’s a fun game to play. But all the more, sink into the Gospel and let it guide the way you live day after day.