Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Kingdom in a Diner

A certain man was preparing a banquet and invited many guests . . . “Come, for everything is now ready.” (Luke 14:16-17)

Tony Campolo is the author of The Kingdom of God is a Party. For him that’s not just a book title. It’s something he lives.

In an earlier work of his, Campolo told the story of Agnes. Agnes was a prostitute. And it was her birthday. Campolo would often stop by a particular diner that also happened to be a gathering place for girls working the streets. On one occasion Campolo happened to overhear that Agnes was having a birthday. He conspired with the owner of the diner and some of Agnes’s “colleagues.” What resulted was a quickly planned surprise party, complete with cake, courtesy of the diner.

The next night when Agnes came to the diner there were friends who shouted “surprise!” and sang happy birthday. And then someone brought out the cake. “Cut the cake Agnes,” urged the owner of the diner.

With quiet tears and tight choked-up voice, Agnes replied “I’ve never had a cake before. If you don’t mind, I’d just like to keep it a while.” At this point Campolo said that he asked if everyone would join him in a prayer for Agnes. He prayed and thanked God for Agnes’s life and asked God’s blessings on her. Upon reflection, it never occurred to him how strange it looked for a bunch of prostitutes to be having a prayer meeting in a diner.

After the party the owner of the diner confronted Campolo. “Hey – you never said you were some kind of preacher. What kind of church do you belong to anyway?”

Campolo answered, “I belong to the kind of church that throws parties for prostitutes at 2:30 in the morning.”

The owner was quiet for a moment and then said, “No you don’t. There are no churches like that. If there was, I’d join it.”

And he’s not the only one. That’s the kind of church Jesus would join too. The reason may be simple: that’s the kind of church that shows what the kingdom of God is like. Far too many people don’t see God’s kingdom as a party. Perhaps that’s because they don’t see joy in God’s people.

Campolo’s book title finds good support in the Bible. Jesus himself described the Kingdom as a party – a banquet or feast. The sad part of Jesus’ party parable is that some who have been invited find excuses not to attend. Interestingly, the party goes on anyway.

The party will guide our thinking next week about God’s kingdom. Seems fitting as most of us will be getting ready for a feast on Thursday. What kinds of excuses keep you from finding your place at the table?

Lord Jesus, use your story as a way of once again inviting us into the joy of your kingdom. Help us to confront our excuses. Give to us the joy of the kingdom so that others will be eager to join us in the great celebration that is life with you. Amen.

(I found Campolo's story in John Ortberg's The God Life)

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