I said something in my sermon yesterday that I would like to dig a bit deeper into. Here’s what I said- “Whatever you do, you’re going to be criticized by someone. Even if you do nothing, you will still be criticized for it. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be criticized for doing SOME thing than for doing nothing. I’d rather be persecuted for doing the right thing than be rewarded for doing the wrong thing. I’d rather be called a fool for following a God who’s a party person than be called wise man for NOT following Him.”
I have a retired
preacher friend who is…shall we say…colorful! He used to smuggle Bibles into Communist-bloc
countries. He’s been detained by KGB agents. He yearly leads a men’s ministry
group in the French Quarters of New Orleans in the middle of Mardi Gras, the
wildest party in the world- 50 guys, marching 5 across, carrying a cross down
the middle of Bourbon Street in the midst of debauchery that is hard to describe.
He also used to hang out in the local bars of the town where his church was. He
would sit near the men’s room (his philosophy was that, when you spend time in
a bar, everyone is going to end up in the restroom!), and when guys would come
by, he would get their attention and say something like, “Jesus loves you. Brother.”
The responses ranged from ignoring him to cussing at him to spitting on him.
But he said that, as the night wore on, and people got more…lubricated…they
also became more receptive to his message. When asked why he did it, he would
say, “Jesus told us to try and save the sinners…and there are a LOT of sinners
in those places!”
David Brown said, “Never
be the first to arrive at a party or the last to go home.” We
are in the 4th week of our current Sunday sermon series- “Who Is Jesus?” Based
on a book by United Methodist Bishop William Willimon. In this series, we peel
back the shiny, pristine veneer that we use to cover Jesus and look at who He
REALLY is…and some of it is shocking. The 1st week, we looked at Jesus the Vagabond.
The 2nd week it was Jesus the Peacekeeper. Last week- Jesus the Storyteller.
And today we look at Jesus the Party person. Ann Landers said, “At every party there are two kinds of
people – those who want to go home and those who don’t. The trouble is, they are
usually married to each other!”
One of the most common portrayals of Jesus
in the Gospels, and yet one of the more under-appreciated and under-recognized,
is that of him enjoying dinner and having fellowship at the table with people
in their homes…Jesus the Party Person.
There are people who
seem to think that Christians shouldn’t have a good time- it’s improper and
undignified for us to…GASP!…have fun! But regardless of what the
puritanical party-poopers think, when Jesus is present, it’s “Party on Wayne!
Party on, Garth!”. Pull up a chair and grab a plate!
Did Jesus EVER turn down a dinner
invitation? It doesn’t seem like it! He visited all kinds of homes and shared
all kinds of meals with all kinds of people. Whether it was a Pharisee or tax
collector, a friend or a religious opponent trying to catch him in a trap, a
small gathering of the spiritual elite or a large, raucous party full of
sinners, Jesus would sit with them, talk with them, tell stories, laugh, enjoy
their company, discuss important issues…and challenge their accepted notions. Jesus’ habit of relating to people at parties reminds us that
God is personal and social- intensely interested in personal fellowship with
His people. It also challenges us to remember that the only effective way to touch
people with the Gospel is through face to face personal human contact—being
present, listening, sharing, making connections. We all know Jesus spoke to
crowds, but often it only served to provide an opportunity for the REAL work of
the ministry, which took place with an individual or small group, in a more
Mark 2: 13-17– Once again Jesus went out beside the lake.
A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he
saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth.“Follow me,”
Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner
at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his
disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law
who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they
asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On
hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but
the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
You know…nothing makes
you more tolerant of a neighbor’s noisy party than …being there! The most controversial part of Jesus’ habit of
partying with people was his choice of parties. He frequented places the pious
folks avoided religiously. He associated with characters who were
well-known…and NOT in a good way. He touched people…and let people touch
Him…when it was SURE to cause scandal. He welcomed spiritual losers and
enjoyed the company of common folk who had less social clout than your average
houseplant. When He HAD the opportunity to shine in front of the paparazzi, he
wasn’t appropriately deferential or cheesy but instead challenged their
spiritual snobbery and questioning their hidden idolatries.
I have heard it said, “I’m thankful for the mess to clean after a
party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.” There is nothing like a feast. We celebrate
all our holidays and special days with marvelous traditions, awesome, delicious
comfort foods, rich desserts, and extensive preparations and presentations that
we save for just such occasions. We anxiously await warm weather holidays when
we get to have people over for a cookout. We gather at tailgates, local pubs
and sports bars to watch games and cheer on our team around tables piled high with
food and drink. Churches (WE do it best!) are the acme of partiers; we bring
our folks together for potlucks and pleasure.
Nowhere is Jesus’ human-ness more apparent
than in the image of Him moving from one party to the next. He’s no puckered,
pious Puritan- He’s a party person! He wasn’t a temple priest bathed in
incense; he was a wandering rabbi who did some of his best teaching amid the
festivity of the dinner table. Jesus was accused more than once of behaving
like a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. His
response? “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I haven’t come
to call the righteous, but the sinners.” When Jesus wasn’t
preaching or teaching…you’d find Him at a party. It might be at a tax
collector’s house or at Pharisee’s home. The guests might include power men in
the community…or the real riffraff. And what seemed to bother the stuffy,
“religious” types wasn’t that Jesus went to parties, but that He
seemed to enjoy Himself a bit too much.
In fact, it was at just such a party that
Jesus performed His first miracle. Remember the wedding at Cana of Galilee?
They run out of wine, and Mary tells Jesus to do something. Does she want him
to make a beer run down to the Cana 7-11? No. Does she see this as His time to
shine? Yes. And what does He end up doing? He turns water into wine…about 400
gallons of it! I’ve heard many people try and explain away this
first miracle. “Jesus simply sped up a natural process- in nature
grapevines turn water into wine,” or “All miracles are really just
nature sped up.” But they’re missing the point. The point is this- running
out of wine is the surest way of bringing a party to a grinding halt, and
Jesus’ act allowed the party to keep going.
In 1966, Time Magazine announced that God was dead. In 2005,
George Barna pronounced that mainline denominations were basically dead after
hemorrhaging members for decades. The United Methodist Church in the U.S. is no
exception, having gone from 13 million members in 1968 to 8 million members in
2004. We have been called a sleeping giant…and we are just that; a body 8
million people strong…poised to be used by God. I believe with all my heart
that we have a relevant message for our generation- God’s unmerited grace. It’s
what this world needs…and what we need to hear regularly from our pulpits. We
need to experience it in our relationships with each other. We need to come
face to face with the living God and receive forgiveness from sin, freedom from
guilt, and healing from our brokenness. We need to NOT get so caught up in all
the pomp and circumstance, tradition and ritual, that we fail to remember that
Jesus…THAT Jesus…the one we claim to follow when we claim the name
“Christian…was the life of the party. He was in the middle of the action- He
WAS the middle of the action- NOT turning away from those who need Him the most
but instead breaking bread with the sinners, ne’er-do-wells and flawed humans
of the world…in other words…us.
WE engage in revelry because parties offer
a breather from the dull, humdrum world we live in Monday through Friday. But
in HIS partying, Jesus rejects the notion of
taking a temporary break from the world and instead offers a glimpse of the
world healed, redeemed, and restored to what God originally intended. God
promises to be with us, celebrate with us. And that all sounds all fine and
good until God dramatically makes good on His promise and actually shows up…
not as the thoroughly moldable God we want him to be but rather as “He who
parties with sinners”- Jesus of Nazareth. Whatever you do – you’re going to be
criticized by someone. Even if you do nothing – you’ll still be criticized for
it. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be criticized for doing
SOMEthing than for doing nothing. I would rather be persecuted for doing the
right thing than doing the wrong thing. I would rather be called a fool for
following a God who is a party person than to be called a wise man for NOT
following Him. Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here we
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
The Bible…and amazing book…regardless of your beliefs. But what do we know about it? Bits and pieces? Fractions of stories we’ve heard? here’s some Bible trivia that you may find interesting!
I meet with an attorney today. Not just any attorney…my dad’s attorney. I am the executor of my dad’s estate (that always sounds funny to me…it sounds like there should be some “Tara-like” manse on a big hill overlooking the entire plantation!) and that means stuff needs to be done.
Today I do one of the hardest things I have ever done…bury my dad. And I don’t just mean attend his funeral…I mean perform his funeral. I officiated at my mom’s funeral, and today I do the same for my dad. It’s interesting- I have had many people say (either regarding my mom or my dad) “I can’t imagine how you could do that!” or “Isn’t there someone else?” or even “Bad choice, pastor!” And while I understand that those folks are well-intentioned…for me…in my situation…they’re wrong.
It’s getting closer! I can feel…can you? On February 13th, pitchers and catchers report to the Spring Training camps to begin the process of getting ready for another season of Major league Baseball! (At least the St. Louis Cardinals report that day, and since they are my favorite team…I will admit that I don’t REALLY care when the other teams report!) Soon mt beloved sports magazines will be filled with what REALLY matters…baseball news! And soon I will be able to watch my Cardinals play ball, or at least follow it pitch-by-pitch on my phone and/or laptop! (Yes…I’m a geek! BUT…I embrace my geek-ness…or is it geek-hood? I guess I could always check that out on Wikipedia!!) And like all good baseball fans, I enter Spring Training every year confident that THIS is the year when my team wins the World Series. For baseball fans…for sports fans all across the spectrum for that matter…hope springs eternal.
That great theologian Pablo Cruise said it best when he said, “things didn’t turn out the way you planned!” It’s the truth- often things simply do NOT turn out the way you intended them to. Case in point- I would hazard to guess that, while there TONS of football fans celebrating this morning because they root for the Packers or the Steelers, there are tons MORE who are disappointed today because the team they picked at the beginning of the season to “go all the way” is at home right now, on the collective couch (it’s a BIG couch!), jockeying for position and waiting to watch the Super Bowl!