The Kingdom of God is a Party – and Everyone is Invited!
I remember a time when someone who did a particular type of personality profile was doing mine and explaining what the results meant. She told me, “you have the kind of personality that your answer to a problem is ‘lets throw a party!’ ” At first I took that as a fault or weakness – like she was saying “you are in denial about your problems and are pretending they aren’t there by distracting yourself and throwing a party instead”, but as I looked more deeply into the actual results, I realized that it was actually a strength. When you are facing problems and you have run out of steam with which to tackle them – sometime you need to have some fun, be refreshed, enjoy life again – that in itself can change your attitude, your thinking, your focus. It can lead to major changes.
I find it interesting that Jesus was a great party-goer. In fact, he even described God’s Kingdom (God’s new world & new way of living, which is emerging in our lives and midst) as a party:
“Jesus replied with this story: “The Kingdom of God is like a man who arranged a great party and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the party is ready.’ But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I now have a wife, so I can’t come.’ The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’” (Luke 14)
Very often people present God as “the eternally disappointed one” who just despairs of us and how much of a mess we make of everything, who is angry at us for our sins, who wants to give us a stern rebuking so that we will change our ways, who will even use threats of violence to “scare the hell out of us”. But, when Jesus was face to face with “sinners” what did he do? He threw a party! He celebrated them as people – he showed them that they were valuable and worth his time – just the way they were. That act of being accepted “just the way they were” was enough to touch their hearts deeply and cause them to actually WANT to make a change in their lives …. as Paul said:
“Its the kindness of God that leads us to repentance” (Romans 2:4)
The story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19) is a case in point:
Zach was hated by his community because he was a tax collector working for their enemy occupiers, the Romans, and who was corrupt into the bargain. Yet, something about Jesus attracted him. He climbed a tree to see Jesus over the crowds of people, and Jesus saw him and responded:
“When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” The act of accepting Zach the way he was and having a party with him, touched Zach’s heart deeply, and his response? “Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Maybe, if we (the Christian Church) stopped shouting about what we are against and started throwing more parties and celebrating God, and life, and people, and like Jesus, were know as the “friends of sinners” instead of their enemies (see Luke 7:34) – more people would be interested in us and in what we have to say. Lastly, there is the famous Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). The younger son leaves home and squanders his fathers wealth on “riotous living” (basically, he was a party animal, and out-of-control one). When he has blown the lot, and is now miserable, poor, and friendless, he decides to return to his fathers house, apologize profusely, and ask to be taken on as a hired servant. He practices his repentance speech and knows exactly what he will say. However, once he gets to the fathers house, his father wont let him say his speech! He is so glad to have him home that he embraces him and throws a party! That is a picture of how God, our true Father, receives us, even when we have blown it big time. However, the story doesn’t end there. The prodigal sons older brother is very unhappy that all his brothers bad behavior is being rewarded with a party, and he refuses to join in. The father responds:
“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
Thats why we try to make our main Sunday services have a celebration feel, and we especially go out of our way to do so at special occasional services – like our Carnival Sunday (where we are recreating a medieval tradition of merging a special service with carnival entertainment and inviting the whole community). Some people respond with: “Wow! I didn’t know church could be like this!” but we have had, on occasion, some people who visit these services and say: “All this fun and frivolity shouldn’t be happening in a church!” But I’m sticking with the party – I always did feel more like the prodigal than the elder brother anyway. How about you?