You may have noticed that I have a modest amount of interest in that gap, myself.
Sunday morning, we didn’t go to church, but Drew Dixon (GameChurch’s Editor-in-Chief) took us to church anyway with a powerful message. I won’t try to emulate him, because I don’t think I’m quite that good with words, and I don’t have a seminary degree, but I want to share the crux of the message he brought, because it was huge for me. It’s something I’d contemplated before, but it clicked for me in a new way thanks to Drew.
Jesus came to party. That’s not an exaggeration. It might not mean what you picture when you first imagine someone partying, and it definitely doesn’t mean a lot of things that could be implied if you wanted to give it a bad spin. Nonetheless, Jesus came to party.
First things first: Jesus dined with all manner of social outcasts, from tax collectors to prostitutes, and he deliberately, intentionally, preferentially spent his time with people that his culture (and ours) would tell you are unworthy, unwelcome, and unclean. He didn’t just tolerate them; he built his plan around that time. He planned to stop and dine with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:5). He chose to travel through Samaria (John 4) instead of going the long way round. He stopped (Luke 8:45-48) when the sick woman touched his cloak.
The gospels say that Jesus came eating and drinking, and that his detractors called him a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). Now, I suppose its possible that they leveled this accusation against him because of the company Jesus kept, and that Jesus never let a bad bite or suspect sip past his lips. Personally, I’m skeptical about this. What kind of man would invite himself over for dinner and then say “no thanks” to everything you offered him?
We know that Jesus never sinned, but we can also be pretty confident that he ate and drank with his unclean, unwelcome hosts in a way that made the self-righteous social elites of his day accuse him of sinful excess. That’s important. Why? Because Jesus always, always, met the people who needed him the most where he found them, not where he wanted them to go.
As a religion, Christianity has a pretty shameful track record. In the past two thousand years, although we’ve done wonderful, beautiful things for one another, for science, for art, for every discipline and aspect of human life you can name, we’ve also been responsible for a heartbreaking amount of abuse and hurt. There are dozens of valuable resources to help illuminate this truth, so I won’t belabor the point here. The important thing for us to recognize is that in every generation, there are huge proportions of people who, though they’ve never been rejected by God, have been hurt, attacked, and neglected by the Church.
These people existed in Jesus’ day, too, and those were the people he favored above all others. There is a perfect inverse correlation between how important someone was to the church of Jesus’ day and how important they were to Jesus’ ministry.
What I really loved about Drew’s message was how he related this to how we should behave as followers of Christ. All too often, the attitude of Christian communities is one that tells others, “In this group, we’ve figured out how to live. We’re good people, and if you’re not one of us, you probably aren’t that great.” Occasionally, these communities are proud of that attitude, haughtily celebrating their own excellence. More often, though, we do it by accident. What we intend as a celebration, an expression of our gratitude that God has saved unworthy souls like us, crashes like waves of arrogance against the ears of those who have been hurt by us or other Christian groups.
What does that mean for me?
I won’t pretend this isn’t a tricky needle to thread; as a follower of Jesus, I believe that his Grace has saved me from things I couldn’t escape any other way. I believe there is something unique and powerful about following him. And, at the end of the day, I have to admit that believing that requires believing people who don’t follow Jesus are missing out. But it doesn’t require that I think less of them, that I treat them like dirt, or even that I believe I’m better than they are. I don’t believe that at all. And I don’t want to convey that, even by accident.
Jesus was God incarnate. Unlike me, he was better than the people he met with. But he still met with them, the way they met. He still joined them in their own world and invited them to something beautiful. He didn’t stand in the temple and yell “Sinners, come here!”
I want to share the Gospel with everyone I can. I want people to experience the incredible love of Jesus the way I have. But I’m not out to fix people. If we’re friends and you don’t party with Jesus, I’m not going to pretend I don’t wish you did. But never for one second will I suggest that you don’t deserve love, friendship, and happiness until then. Instead, I’m here to party with you. I love you already. So does Jesus. And he’s ready to party, too.