I feel certain that I should break this topic down in 3 or 4 posts, and I really may revisit bits of it in the coming days devoting more depth of analysis to each bit. But enough with the caveats, let’s get to it!
The Kingdom of God is a Party. I get that phrase from the title of a Tony Campolo book by that name published all the way back in 1990. (Yes, it’s an old one now.) The first chapter of that book alone is worth the price. I think, though I could be wrong, that I copied the whole first chapter and put it in a very early post on this blog almost 3 years ago. It is the story of Campolo throwing a birthday party for a hooker in the middle of the night with all her hooker friends, and turning that into a prayer service. But that is just the first chapter. Campolo makes a compelling case that God always wanted us to party with him, and that is a good way of viewing the creation and his purpose for it.
Have you ever noticed that Jesus never missed a party? He attended them all! He partied on the major holidays like Hanukkah, Pentecost, and Passover. He partied at everyone’s weddings – and tended bar when they ran out of wine!!! He joined tax collectors and sinners at their parties too! (Yeah. Jesus partied with hookers! I’m not saying he sinned with any of them, but he surely partied with them AND GOT A NASTY REPUTATION doing it too! (Just see Matt. 11:19 and Luke 7:34).) And even that was not enough for Jesus. When he found 5000 beggars and hangers-on searching for him in the desert (and again when he found 4000), he managed to throw a party with just a few fish and loaves. He even turned his last supper into a celebration of LIFE. So, yeah. Jesus liked to party!
What do you think eating from the Tree of Life was all about in the garden? Naked people eating eternal life back when it was GOOD and all in the world was RIGHT? Do you think that was some somber drudgery? Or do you think it was the best human experience God ever created???
It was a party, and it was a celebration of God! God was in charge of his world AND all of creation could plainly see him being in charge whenever it looked at this couple who was made (Gen. 1:27) to bear HIS image AND thus rule over all of the created order.
Ahhhh… And now we get into some deep theology. Image. Order. Rule/reign. God. People. Party.
Deep, but not terribly complicated. Not yet. Probably not the kind of theology most of us were raised with, but go read your Bible carefully. I am not introducing anything from outside the Bible into this picture at all. It’s all right there.
In an effort to keep this discussion simple, let’s just mash these things together and not worry too much about analyzing them too distinctly. We have naked, vulnerable, unashamed, image-bearing people eating/partying with God and therein ruling all of God’s creation!
Some of that is counterintuitive for those of us living in the midst of a modern super power with nukes and spy satellites to keep us safe from harm, and with Judeo/Christian concerns for modesty, but it is all biblical, and that is what counts.
This is why I am so fascinated with the babies and toddlers in this home. They come to me utterly vulnerable and naked (at bath time or diaper changes) with no shame at all and in complete trust. And I do my best to honor that with eye contact and lots of sweet baby talk that elicits giggles and happy feedback. And I recall Jesus saying, “Let the little children come to me… for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these…”. And I envy them somewhat. They achieve perfect trust in my care, and I see the face of Jesus in our little games of peek-a-boo.
So when I think about “helping the homeless” and so forth, I think first about this stuff. This kind of theology and party and all that. And like Campolo points out to us in Deuteronomy 14, when Israel is told to tithe, what do you think they are supposed to do with all that money? You might think they should store it up for hard times, like a savings account. You might think they should invest it in education so that the poor can learn to be rich. You might think they should use it to build hospitals or homeless shelters or any number of good things. But that is not what they are instructed to do with it.
No. Israel is told to take the tithes, ONE TENTH OF THEIR GROSS NATIONAL INCOME, and throw a party! Oh… and invite the poor to be the guests of honor.
Really? How is that going to be effective charity?
Who said anything about “effective charity”? Did you read that in the Gospels? In First Corinthians? Or in Second Opinions?
I am not sure what God has in mind there. It is all so counterintuitive. But then so is calling a crucified Jew your Lord and Savior! So let’s settle in with the counterintuitive stuff. We are going to live here for a while.
I said I am not sure what God has in mind, but I have lots of conjecture… conjecture based on other things I know from the Bible (kinda like maybe … oh… say… biblical principles… Yeah… biblical principles… that’s it!)
I am just not in the fixing business, but I am into the Kingdom of God. I am all about bearing his image and letting him rule the world through that. Do you know that the mere image of God can move mountains? Yeah. If God comes up to a mountain and says, “Jump into the sea!”, that mountain jumps! And if you have the faith of a mustard seed, and you tell that mountain to jump into the sea, you need to get ready for a big splash! But if you have the faith of even a tiny mustard seed, then when you approach that mountain, that mountain isn’t going to see you. No. That mountain is going to see God in you and obey him, not you. You, I hate to break it down to you like this, just ain’t that hot. But God seen in you… well, that is something! But none of that is part of the agenda of the Seeking Shalom program or the When Helping Hurts program. That is, though, the business of the church! Now talk to me about “seeking Shalom”!
Your pastor didn’t tell you that is what you were in for?
Wonder why not.
Yeah. At this point, a message like that seems rather prophetic, huh?
Yeah, and so when I look at homeless people, I see Jesus in them. He tells me so in Matthew 25:31-46. (Counterintuitive, I know, but we need to start getting used to it.) And in that passage, the sermon instructs us that feeding the hungry is a good thing to do (I am putting it mildly, I know, because in that passage eternal Judgment hangs in the balance, actually). So, yeah, feeding, giving water, nursing the sick, visiting the prisoner, taking in the stranger… all of these are good things to do. If we stop there, we should be okay for the Judgment to come. But that is a very minimalist idea. A reductionist view, to say the least.
I don’t know about you, but if I thought Jesus came to my town, I would hope I had the gumption to meet him at the airport like the American kids met the Beatles in 1964, perhaps with a delegation of Christians, and escort him in to tour our fine city, and perhaps show him the assets we have here, maybe eat some fine local cuisines (the fatted calf on a Texas BBQ), take in some local entertainment – you know all the very best things Lubbock has to offer! We might arrange for a limo to pick him up! We probably would want to get the best suite in the Overton Hotel for him! I am certain that if Ronald Reagan came back from the dead to visit Lubbock, our city fathers would be tripping all over themselves to host him and treat him with the finest Lubbock can muster! How much more for Jesus???
Surely we could beat Bethlehem’s record at coughing up a manger!
And Jesus says that the “least of these” brothers and sisters ARE HIM! But my church doesn’t open the door to him, and what little care we offer at all, we do so via a 501c3 and not through the CHURCH!
But we have a fancy building with stained glass and architecture all designed to bring HIM glory and worship and honor and praise and a lock on the door so he can’t come in when it gets cold and dark.
We care, of course, but we care that we manage him wisely when he is here. Some of us remember how he entered the place of worship in Jerusalem 2000 years ago and began flipping tables! He is not exactly house broken, not even in his own house! He might come in our church and stink up the place with his unwashed feet and pits! He might eat us out of house and home and never go away! He might become dependent on us and never go get a job!!! Where is his dignity??? Shouldn’t we guard that too?
But here’s what I suggest.
Open up that door on a cold winter night, order some pizzas and cokes, bring your wife and kids to meet Jesus, and let’s have a “slumber party” at the worship hall where we sing songs and dance and pray and sing some more, and eat and pray, and eat some more until we can’t stand it anymore and we finally crawl into our bedrolls to sleep a while, and where (when we wake up) we sit down and share eye contact with Jesus and maybe offer some other needful things we American Christians with our storage units and bursting attics might have excess of, and IF a discussion of an opening down at the plant comes up in all of that, SO BE IT, but let that NEVER be the point of it all! The point is, as if Ronald Reagan were here, that JESUS IS IN THE HOUSE!!! AND THAT MAKES EVERYTHING RIGHT IN OUR WORLD!!! And so we party. A Luke-14 party where all the best guests are invited and even compelled to come in and eat.
And when the church finally gets her imagination set free from the box she currently keeps God locked up in, THEN maybe, just maybe, we actually begin to LOOK like the bride of that man in the garden who eats from the Tree of Life and together rules the world as the image of the God who created it all and made it to be ordered LIKE THIS!