By Doug Marshall
Christians ought to be celebrating constantly. We ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment. We ought to give ourselves over to veritable orgies of joy because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death. We ought to attract people to the church quite literally by the fun there is in being Christian. Robert Hodgkins
“I cannot come.” Who would say that to God? Who would reject an invitation to a party that God gave us? The excuses that these guests gave were absurd and insulting. “I’m not going to be able to come to your party. I just bought a house in Coraopolis and I need to go check it out. Tanya and I may want to move into it and I need to go see if it has enough bedrooms and if it needs any work. I hope it’s in a decent neighborhood.” No one buys a home like that. In the Middle East land was at such a premium that you never bought land unless you knew everything about it. Before you bought it you would walk over the entire piece of property, looking at every stone, every well and every tree. In fact those items would all be listed in the contract. You would learn a history of everyone who had owned the land for many generations, what crops had been grown and how much money had been made. This first excuse was a lie and everyone knew that.
The second excuse is just as bad. In the Middle East before you paid for a pair of oxen you tested them . You would take the out into a field and make sure that they would work together. If they didn’t it would be a waste of money. It would be like saying “I just bought a 1963 Corvette for $70,000. I’m going to go see if it actually runs or has any rust on it.” Again, everyone knew that this excuse was a lie.
The third excuse is even worse. No village would have a banquet and a wedding on the same day. The wedding would have been at least a couple weeks earlier, maybe even a couple of months earlier, so it wasn’t a conflict of interest. On top of that, in Middle Eastern society men do not talk about women. Back in the 19th century there is a story of a Middle Eastern man who had a wife and two daughters. He went on a trip and wrote a letter home. He addressed it not to his wife or his daughters. You don’t write a letter to a woman. He addressed it to the son he hoped would be born someday. Essentially the man in our parable was saying “I’m too ‘busy’ with my wife to come to your party.” It was rude and inexcusable.
It’s easy to point out how absurd and insulting these excuses were. What about our own excuses. What excuses do we give to God? At one point in my career I wrote down all the excuses people gave me for not coming to church:
- “I’ve got company coming today.” Why don’t you bring them to church? They probably need it as much as you do.
- “It’s my only day to sleep in.” Come on, people. I know that you lost an hour of sleep last night, but you can sleep through my sermon just as easily.
- “I’ve got tickets to the Steelers game.” Ouch! Maybe I’m getting too personal. I sometimes wonder if the Steelers were playing in the Super Bowl and God planned the Messianic banquet at the same time, how many people would choose the Steelers over God.
- My favorite excuse was from a guy who told me that his wife had been away and he had to clean up this house. I worry about anyone who would rather do housework than celebrate at God’s party.
There are countless excuses that people give as to why they don’t come to church or respond to God’s call. Probably the most common excuse in our time is that we are too busy. People aren’t opposed to God. They just don’t make God a priority in their lives and in their schedules. You cannot claim that God is the most important thing in your life if your calendar doesn’t show it. If you give God one hour a week, every two to three weeks, and spend the rest of your time on yourself or your job or anything else, how can you claim that God is the most important part in your life?
Mike Yaconelli told the story of the time he went on a retreat. The retreat was at a center for mentally challenged adults. He was part of a small group that included some of the handicapped adults. On the first day they got together in their group and went around and introduced themselves. Mike told a little bit about himself and said that “the busyness of life is draining my soul.” That is why he was at the retreat. After they had finished their introductions one of the members of his small group came up to him. Robert had a limited vocabulary. He came right up to Mike, face to face, inches apart. He said “Busy?” Mike said “Yes, I’m busy.” Robert wasn’t done. “Too busy?” “Yes, I’m too busy.” Mike squirmed a bit and Robert moved even closer. “Why?” Tears filled Mike’s eyes. Let me read to you what he said.
“Robert, asked the one question I had been afraid to ask. Somehow he knew that the solution to my weariness was hidden somewhere in the answer to his question – a question I was afraid to ask and no one else had. Why was I so busy? Because I was hanging on to the belief that God’s affection for me was measured by my activity for Him. The more things I did for God, the more He would love me, or so my insecurities kept telling me. Robert, in his childlike way, could see my insecurity, could feel my need to prove to God I was worth loving.”
If your life is too busy ask yourself “Why?” What are you trying to prove by your busyness? What insecurities are you covering up with your busyness? Busyness that keeps us from God is never from God. As one theologian put it “Busyness is not from the devil. Busyness is the devil.” Does the busyness of your life keep you from coming to church, from growing in your faith, from responding to God’s call?
This parable is certainly very challenging. It also has another lesson for us. We have been invited to a party that God is giving for us! God wants us to celebrate and have fun. Early Christians were often called hilares, which is the Latin word from which we get the word hilarious. Christians are called to be filled with “Holy Hilarity.” We are to overflow with excitement, with joy and happiness.
That doesn’t fit the picture that many people have of Christianity. From the beginning there have been people who thought that Christians should not enjoy themselves. In the early church the hermits intentionally went out to live in the desert to make their lives difficult and uncomfortable. They did it so they wouldn’t be happy. They didn't take baths so that they would smell. They prided themselves on being covered with lice. They tortured themselves so that they wouldn't enjoy life. The philosopher Pascal wore a belt with sharp points on it next to his skin. Whenever he began to have a happy thought he would poke himself so that he wouldn't be too comfortable. A theologian at the end of the 19th century taught that as a child Jesus never played games. Jesus seldom smiled and never laughed. I believe they got it all wrong.
I think the church is much better than it used to be about that image of Christianity. However, we still have a long way to go. If you ask teenagers what is the word that many of them will use to describe church? “Boring!” Somehow, we need to learn that God’s Kingdom is a feast. It’s a party. Worship ought to be the most exciting, the most fun, and the most life-filled event of our lives. Christians are invited to celebrate, to enjoy the life that God has given us and to overflow with joy.
Tony Campolo is a Christian speaker who often talks about this type of fun. He tells about when he was dating the lady who later became his wife. To see her he had to cross a bridge between Philadelphia and Palmyra, New Jersey. It was a toll bridge, and cost 25¢. Sometimes he would give the toll collector two quarters, and tell the toll collector that he was also paying for his good friend in the car right behind him. He had no idea who was in the car behind him, but said, “it was worth a quarter just to pull away from the toll both, look in the rear-view mirror, and watch the toll taker trying to explain it to the next guy.”
Campolo’s son used to say to him “Dad, you’re a nice guy, but you’re dangerous.” Listen to what he says. Read Let Me Tell You A Story “p55 – Visible Joy & Joyful Noise?”
I’m not sure what it would look like or how we would get there, but I believe God is calling Sharon church to become a place that has that type of life and energy. God is calling Sharon church be a place that is so much fun that no one wants to miss church. God is calling Sharon church be a place that we want to bring our friends because we know they will be loved and welcomed. God is calling Sharon church to be a place that visitors want to come to because it is filled with fun and joy.
God is planning a party. There is an invitation with your name on it. Will you respond and come to the party, or will you make an excuse and find something else to do? Let us together learn how to celebrate life and love, how to have fun together and how to rejoice in a God who throws a party for us.