Saturday, January 13, 2007

The kingdom is like a street party

Just today I met some folks from a church in Minneapolis who demonstrate [the metaphor of "party of God"] in a dramatic and fun way. A group of them gather on a street corner in a poor part of town. They take overturned trash cans, old pots and pans, and an assortment of drums and percussion instruments and start creating a loud, joyful rhythm. Soon a crowd gathers. It's impossible not to smile when you hear that joyful music being made mostly from junk. Homeless folk and people from the neighborhood start dancing. Then the church members start distributing food -- not in the somber style of a soup kitchen, but in the joyful atmosphere of a street party. They don't have to say a word, really; they're demonstrating their message -- that the kingdom of God is like a street to which everybody is invited.

My friend Tony Campolo tells a true story that also serves as a great parable in this regard. He was in another time zone and oculdn't sleep, so well after midnight he wandered downto a doughnut shope where, it turned out, local hookers also came at the end of a night of turning tricks. There, he overheard a conversation between between two of them. One, named Agnes, said, "You know what? Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm gonna be thirty-nine." Her friend snapped back, "So what d'ya want from me? A birthday party? Huh? You want me to get a cake and sing happy birthday to you? The first woman replied, "Aw, come on, why do you have to be so mean? Why do you have to put me down? I'm just sayin' it's my birthday. i don't want anything from you. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I've never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?

When they left, Tony got an idea. He asked the shop owner if Agnes came in every night, and when he replied in the affirmative, Tony invited him into a surprise party conspiracy. The shop owner's wife even got involved. Together they arranged for a cake, candles, and typical party decorations for Agnes, who was, to Tony, a complete stranger. The next night when she came in, they shouted, "Surprise!" -- and Agnes couldn't believe her eyes. The doughnut shop patrons
sang, and she began to cry so hard she could barely blow out the candles. When the time came to cut the cake, she asked if they'd mind if she didn't cut it, if she could bring it home -- just to keep it for a while and savor the moment. So she left, carrying her cake like a treasure.

Tony led the guests in a prayer for Agnes, after which the shop owner told Tony he didn't realize Tony was a preacher. He asked what kind of church Tony came from, and Tony replied, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning." The shop owner couldn't believe him. "No, you don't There ain't no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. Yep, I'd join a church like that." Sadly, there are too few churches like that, but if more of us understand the secret message of Jesus, there will be lots more.

-- excerpted from Brian McLaren's book, The Secret Message of Jesus

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