Hoosiers certainly know how to party. According to the Indiana State Festivals Association’s website, there are more than 475 festivals held in the state, the vast majority of which occur during the first months of autumn. From streets to fields to state parks to auditoriums, we will hold our celebrations any place that is big enough for us all to gather. We will celebrate bridges and barns, persimmons and pumpkins, or canals and chautauquas. Over the next several weeks, we will spend some time looking at the things that make us party.
Did you know that Jesus described the kingdom of heaven as a party? When he would tell stories that would help people understand what God’s kingdom would be like he described it both as a feast and a wedding celebration. People from all over are invited. Food and drinks galore. Gifts exchanged. Smiles shared. Friends and family together. What better way to describe God’s ultimate plan for those who choose to answer his call to come to a party.
Tony Campolo is the professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania and is a popular Christian author and speaker. In his book, “The Kingdom of God is a Party,” he tells the story that happened when he had a speaking engagement in Honolulu. Long before dawn, he was wide awake, as his body’s clock had difficulty getting reset. So at 3:30 in the morning, he found himself wanting breakfast, wandering the streets and finding that everything on the island was closed, except for a greasy spoon diner — the kind with bar stools and an unshaven, grizzly chef in a white T-shirt.
The closest thing that the diner had to breakfast was a stale donut. So as Campolo sits, chiseling away at the donut and sipping coffee, in marched about a dozen provocative and boisterous ladies of the evening. The diner was small, and they crowded around the bar on both sides of him. Their talk was loud and crude, but as he was about to make his way out of the restaurant, he heard one woman say, “Tomorrow is my birthday” and another bark back, “What do you want from me … a cake?”
Campolo lingered close by the diner until the ladies left and he returned to the grouchy chef. “Do those women come in here every night?”
“Yup — every night. Why do you want to know?”
“Because I heard one say that tomorrow was her birthday. What do you think about us throwing a birthday party for her — right here — tomorrow night?”
A smile crossed the chubby cheeks of the chef. “I think that’s a great idea.” Calling to his wife who was cleaning in the kitchen, “Tomorrow is Agnes’ birthday and this guy out here thinks we should have a party.”
Campolo gathered streamers and signs, the chef baked a cake and his wife made plate after plate of food. She must have also gotten out the word because at 2:30 the next morning, the diner was literally wall to wall prostitutes … and a preacher.
Agnes was flabbergasted when she walked in the door. Her mouth fell open. Her legs seemed to buckle. A friend steadied her and led her to the counter where a chorus of “Happy Birthday” rang out. And when Harry (yes, that really was the chef’s name) carried out a birthday cake with candles, Anges lost it and openly cried.
Agnes, who had never had a birthday party, never had a birthday cake, picked up the cake and carried it to the door, saying, “I need to take this home. I will be right back. I only live a block away.” Everyone else just stood motionless as she left. When the door closed, there was a stunned silence in the place.
Not knowing what to do, Campolo said, “How about let’s pray?” It was weird, but he said he felt it was the right thing to do. He prayed for Agnes. He prayed for the other ladies. He prayed that their lives might be changed and that God would be good to them.
Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice, growled, “You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?”
“I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”
Harry snipped, “I would join a church like that.” Wouldn’t we all?
— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.