Let’s party, for God’s sake

 

I can’t explain why the woman who was terrified of giving science project speeches now likes to stand in front of church and tells stories. But I am geeked to do so.

Yesterday was one of those days — I wish you could’ve been there. We made a party out of communion based on the mandate at the end of Esther that says Jews are to remember that God wins in the end.

Sycamore Creek Church, you’re a treat. My transcript follows. You’ll note I start with a video from “Star Wars.” Wonders never cease.

 

Watch first: “Return of the Jedi”

“This is a big one. The evil empire has been defeated, the Emperor has met his match, Darth Vader will heavy-breathe down the phone no more and the galaxy is a better place.”* We won! The good guys won!

Erupt in applause! Clap! Shout! Let loose!

That felt good, didn’t it? That is a preview of what’s to come.

I’m Erin, and I’m on staff here at Sycamore Creek. I oversee our Sycamore Creek Kids ministries and today, I’m your party host.

That clip, of course, is from “Return of the Jedi,” and I hope I didn’t ruin any decades-long wait to watch this movie by just showing you the ending here. If you’re wondering what interstellar wars have to do with following Jesus, here’s a hint: be prepared to make some noise for Jesus. It’s going to get rowdy in here today and over the next three weeks of this series.

Today we’re beginning a series called “Let’s Party,” and we’re using themes from the book of Esther, which is an Old Testament book, to make the case that partying should be one of the things Christians should be known for. Celebration should be one of the things we do really well. We should be known for partying — for God’s sake.

Which means I’m really uncomfortable right now. I’m actually the worst at partying and celebrating. I’ve brought pictures of myself at a few key moments of celebration:

This is me, when I got my first job out of college:

Cat2And this is me, when I got my first book contract last year

GrumpyCat

Yes, that’s grumpy Cat, the cat with a permanent frown the Internet can’t get enough of.  And, OK, I’m not grumpy — I’m actually really happy. Those were good things.  I’m just … ya know, I just don’t do a lot of celebrating.

Actually, this summer when we bought our house in Lansing, we celebrated with brownies, and a friend was like, “That’s not celebrating. You eat brownies all the time.” Which is true. I do.

One phrase the bible uses to describe a party is the idea of killing the fatted calf, and that’s always made me really uncomfortable. Couldn’t we keep the calf and use it later for milk or meat? Couldn’t we invite the calf to the party and look at it and admire how smart we were for investing in a calf?

Well, my friend said no, and brought over steak. There goes the calf. He killed my calf!

That was the first steak of my life. I’m in my 30s, and that was the first steak.

You heard me: my. first. steak. Steak Numero uno. And it was delicious.

It’ll probably be a while before my second steak, though.

I think we all fall somewhere on the spectrum of party animals. I’m probably over here, just a little to the left of the people who don’t celebrate anything. Then there are those way over here, who find any excuse for a party. Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle.

Actually, when I was preaching to the preview group, someone said celebration is the toughest thing for them, because a lot of Christians seem like a bunch of Eeyores: “Oh, bother.”

And as followers of Jesus, we don’t really talk about celebration like it’s just something to do for the sake of it. Though we do party on the inside of this stained glass quite a bit.

Think about your spiritual life at home, though — don’t you feel like you’re growing as a Christian when you’re doing the really pious stuff — the prayers, the bible reading, the meditating. We aren’t just growing spiritually when we pray or read the bible or give to others, though those are really important, too.

We grow when we party, for God’s sake.

But what does it mean to party for God’s sake? For God’s sake? Does he need or want us to celebrate? Are we doing this for his glory? Out of respect for him, or in reverence to him?

What does it look like to party for God’s sake?

The book of Esther gives us some clues. Esther’s the book that introduces us to partying as a biblical mandate.

Esther is like the founding document of partying. It’s the Magna Carta of Partying. It’s the Bill of Parting Rights. Esther is the Declaration of Partying.

I challenge you to read the book of Esther over this series — it’s 10 chapters; it won’t take long. You can read it in chunks of three or four chapters a week, or if you can’t put it down, go for reading it once a week for three weeks.

Whether you read it like history or fiction, or a satire or a comedy — and you can read it any of those ways — it’s a great story.

Estherandthekingposter

I’ll give you the movie trailer version: After a wild, months long party, a king dismisses his queen because she won’t appear before him and his drunk friends wearing only her crown.

You go, woman.

He sobers up and regrets dismissing Queen Vashti, but his frat boy friends tell him, “Hey, you’re the king! You can have whomever you want.” So they round up all the beautiful women and give them beauty treatments, and these women — air quotes — audition — air quotes — for the spot of Queen, if you get what I’m saying. Mom, don’t look at me while I’m saying this.

OK, so enter Esther: she’s a beautiful woman.

The king immediately stops his search for his No. 2 spot and she becomes queen. She’s also Jewish, but he doesn’t know that. Details, you know?

Well, Esther’s got an uncle who really bums out the king’s right-hand man, Haman. Haman hates her Uncle Mordecai and plans to have him killed on some seven-stoey gallows, and he issues a decree using the king’s ring that all the Jews in Persia would be killed on a certain day.

Sound like a party yet? Not yet? Hang on.

Through fasting and brave petition to the king, Esther and her uncle expose Haman’s plan and through some theater-worthy moves Haman is hanged and the decree that the Jews would be killed is edited to say the Jews could defend themselves, and all the non-Jews are afraid to fight now. Mordecai becomes a hero of the Jewish people, and the story ends with some decrees:

“Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” (Esther 9:20-23 NIV)

When their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration.

They were to remember this story, and this is for us as followers of Christ, too: the Jews were about to be wiped out. A man’s vanity couldn’t handle one Jew’s faithfulness to God, so he was going to wipe out the entire Jewish community. But God intervened.

Things looked just about as bad as they could be — but God won.

Here’s the reason to party. This is it: God won. The galaxy is safe. The dark side has been defeated. God won. (Cheer!)

Now, the Jews take this very seriously — this verse is the basis of their celebration they call Purim. Purim looks a little like Mardi Gras or a great feast — it’s not one of their major holidays, but it is one of the most jovial. And of course the Jews have been through times when it seemed ridiculous or vulgar even to be partying like that. But they’re supposed to celebrate every year. Every year: like every year? Can you imagine the Jews celebrating during the Holocaust, for instance?

Some did.

During World War II, the Nazis made it illegal to own the book of Esther in Europe, so of course they had no scrolls at the camp. Saying things looked grim is a horrible understatement: it seemed, again, like God was silent against this force that was going to wipe out the Jews. Some people even compared Hitler to Haman as early as 1935, before the war even started.

But at a camp in Transylvania on Purim one year, 1943, a man named Zvi Hershel Weiss hand-wrote the story of Esther on a piece of paper, and wove in stories about his fellow prisoners to celebrate Purim — his son said he did it to make people laugh. At a concentration camp. There are accounts of the Jews in ghettos in Europe celebrating Purim, even though the Nazis were often more violent during Jewish holidays.

When the war was over, they celebrated Purim at the camp for displaced people —  they said: God wins.
holocaust survivor

They read the story that probably seemed really, really real to them.

They read the scroll of Esther in the camp for displaced people and celebrated: God wins. God wins.

God wins: every year they celebrate. Every year.

And when I say celebrate now, I don’t mean they have a pan of brownies.
Purim is like Mardi Gras, maybe? Mardi Gras and New Years and Christmas and your birthday? That much excitement. It’s a big party.

Pastor Tom and I didn’t believe some of the crazy things we read on the Internet about Purim, so we went to East Lansing to talk to a rabbi about it and guess what — it’s all true.

She told us that on each Purim, Jews gather to read the book of Esther, and it gets rowdy. They stomp and shout out Haman’s name; they cheer for Mordecai and Esther. They dress in costumes and they feast, and they bring in gifts for the poor. And they have special permission from the rabbis to get so drunk that they can’t tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai” —

Mark your calendars – next March, we’re all going to East Lansing to party.

This is when the Jews are like — Party!

Ah, that really brings me back to 1986. I was three.

We just don’t have that kind of party in Christianity, do we? And why don’t we?
We should.

As the rabbi was telling us about this, I was shaking my head like “Yeah, we don’t do that.”

We don’t do that.

And then, Tom was over there looking very pastorly, and he said: “Wait. We do: we have communion.”

Oooh-K.

Have you ever thought about communion as a party?

Think about what we’re doing here at this table, and what Jesus has done, and you start to see some parallels. (Tom might be right.)

See, on Purim, the Jews celebrate God’s victory after things look really, really bad for God’s people. Let’s look at it again —

“Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” (Esther 9:20-23 NIV)

When their sorrow was turned into joy —

Jesus says something similar in the book written by Jesus’ friend, John. Jesus tells his friends, his disciples, that he’s about to go away for a while. He’s saying, hey, things are about to look very, very bad. His friends must’ve felt like the Jews must’ve felt when Haman sent out the decree. Jesus’ friends would think that Jesus’ death was the end of the story — the wiping out of a community of believers.

Jesus warned them —

“Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:22).

He goes on to comfort them and explain that it must be this way. He warns us the world is a hard, hard place. But there’s hope in him.

Take heart, he says —

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

He has overcome the world. He wins. God wins. Another translation of the bible says “But be of good cheer!” (KJV)

And we say, Grumpy Cats: Be of good cheer? Take heart?

But, God, you don’t know how bad things look for me right now.

God, you don’t know how long this has been going on —

But, Jesus, look, you don’t even know — be of good cheer? I can’t even list all the things going wrong right now. Be of good cheer?

“Be of good cheer,” Jesus says.

“I have overcome the world,” Jesus says.

And Jesus knows good cheer – this is the guy who started his public ministry by making wine out of water at a wedding. The guy knows how to party for God’s sake.
He knows that partying, celebrating for God’s sake sustains and nourishes us.

God knows, and maybe why the Jews are right in celebrating his ultimate victory over a story that’s a little bit crazy – maybe it’s because He knows we Grumpy Cats tend to take ourselves too seriously sometimes.

Jesus is kinda like: Party.

But there’s something else Esther asks the Jews to do:

“These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews—nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants.” (Esther 9:28)

They’re asked to remember.

Jesus asked his disciples at the Last Supper to do the same thing.

Remember this: Do this in memory of me, He says.

Do this so you don’t forget — have this feast, have this party, break this bread, so you can remember that I’ve overcome the world for you.

God wins — have this party. Celebrate.

Maybe today you don’t feel like celebrating: your heart is breaking. Remember: God wins: for God’s sake, we can party.

Maybe you’ve lost your job: Remember, God wins: for God’s sake, party.

Maybe things are just about as bad as you can picture them: Remember, God wins. For God’s sake, party.

Whatever hurts: RE-MEM-BER: God wins. For God’s sake, party.

God already knows the end of the story: the sorrow will be turned to joy, the poor will have their needs met, maybe we’ll all retell God’s greatest stories, and we’ll all feast.

You get to participate in that feast, at least a taste of it, when you celebrate the gifts God has given you. And you get to do it every time you receive communion. Communion is a foretaste of that feast.

Maybe for you, this isn’t your experience. Maybe Communion doesn’t sound like much of a party. I grew up Catholic, and if you’ve ever seen communion during Mass, it’s a very solemn affair. They believe the elements literally become the body and blood of Christ through a mystery called transubstantiation.

We as Methodists don’t believe that. Jesus isn’t here in the elements but we believe he is here with us as we celebrate.

Think about the elements as the envelopes that hold the love letters: Dave wrote me love letters, and I kept them because they’re the means by which the love grew.

They were special to me because they were the means of love — as the bread and the wine or juice are the means by which we receive grace now. In a bit we’ll invite you to come and receive this means of grace.

At Sycamore Creek, you don’t have to be a member of our church or our denomination to receive communion. We only ask that it is the desire of your heart to be at peace with God and with others. It’s hard to celebrate when you’ve got something on your heart. In that way, this is a time for you to prepare yourself, to reconcile your heart with God. To — as Pastor Tom explained it — apologize before the make-up sex, if you will.

You can do that now —

At a Catholic mass, all the people in the congregation say out loud together: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

I was about 20 years old before I realized they meant healed like — to be made well — and not healed like when you tell a dog to heel. Maybe they’re both a little right.
Anyway — we’ll be healed here at this table in a few moments. We can celebrate here, because we’re remembering that even if we don’t feel healed, God says it’s so. Even if we don’t feel like gladness and feasting today, we’re part of something that ends in a feast in heaven.

We’re invited to participate today in the story where God wins at the end. Through celebration and through Communion, we remember that God does what he says he’ll do. God provides a way.

John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, says, “This (communion) is the food of our souls: This gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection.”

Now, communion is something we can celebrate together as a church, as a way of saying thanks to God and celebrating what he’s done for us.

But if you’re wondering what this looks like in your everyday life, you grumpy cats, I’d like you to consider what it looks like to celebrate by killing the fatted calf once in a while.

There’s nothing wrong with being frugal or living simply, but don’t mistake simplicity with a lack of cheerfulness. ERIN. Me too.

What if you ate steak more than once every 30-some years? What if you treated your friend to dinner when they got the job (or before they get the job, as a means of grace). What if you bought someone a big bunch of flowers in February when we all need to be reminded of green things? What if you took someone’s family photos in a box and put them in a nice book? The calf doesn’t have to be money; it can be the time it takes you to select something just right for someone who needs it.

And if you’re on the other end of the spectrum and you kill the fatted calf every time your favorite TV show gets added to Netflix — my husband Dave — consider how you might celebrate in ways that don’t cost money.

There’s nothing wrong with being extravagant once in a while, but let’s expand our imaginations a little bit.

How about a bike ride and a picnic on the river trail for your anniversary? How about instead of spending a lot of money on an elaborate themed birthday party for your kids, you treat family and friends to an afternoon at the zoo for your child’s birthday? What if you didn’t spend a lot on dinner on date night, and instead took it old school. Once Dave and I went roller skating. I don’t think I’ve held that guy’s hand that much out of fear I was going to break my leg.

Or be really romantic, and go to MSU and stargaze at their observatory. Head to the Broad Art Museum — it’s free. Get a cookie or a coffee afterwards and fight about whether modern art is really art. I recommend it.

All of us, too — We get good at celebrating for milestones like retirements and anniversaries.

What would it look like for you to celebrate a coworker before they retired? Cake in a breakroom on a random Tuesday? Or your teachers or students before graduation?

What would it look like for us to celebrate someone in your family before they died? A sort of “this is your life” party?

When we can celebrate the things in our lives and in each others’ lives, and know who gave these people and things to us, it’s easier for us to remember the victory at the end. We should be known for our parties — we should.

Darth Vader breathes down the phone no more at us. The galaxy is safe; the good guys win. God wins.

Make some noise, for God’s sake!

(Thanks, Den of Geek.)

1 thought on “Let’s party, for God’s sake

  • This was amazing Erin. Thanks for introducing the book of Esther to me and explaining it so well. I am lazy about reading the bible so really appreciate what you do. So much to learn …. Keep writing. You have a very special gift that I hope you continue to use. You are making a difference and I commend you for that. Thanks again for sharing with us.

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