I have never really liked parties.  I can’t make small-talk, I don’t have good party clothes, and I never really know what to do with myself when I’m there.  My pastor, Peter Hiett, has been preaching about parties at church the last few Sunday nights.  Last week he used the film Titanic to illustrate two different kinds of parties.  (You can listen to this awesome sermon, “The Tower of Babel and the Name of the Lord” at www.sanctuarydowntown.org.)  The first type of party is the one held on the upper deck where everyone is dressed in their finest party clothes, sophisticatedly sips on champagne, talks easily of politics and the social scene, and always uses the right fork for their salads!  You should watch it – it looks dreadful.

I’ve been to parties like this.  I even attended a Presidential Inaugural Ball a few years ago.  The men wore designer tuxedos and the women wore beautiful gowns.  I saw Jacquelin Smith (from Charlie’s Angels) and Clint Eastwood at the party.  No one complimented me on the dress I wore that cost over $500 or asked me anything about me.  My shoes hurt my feet so badly that I finally had to take them off.  There I was barefoot among the rich and famous, missing my children back at home, and wondering how much longer until I could leave.  I didn’t fit in.

The second party on the Titantic takes place on the lower deck.  Jack invites Rose to join all the other travellers in “steerage” for a real party.  No one is dressed up.  There are expressions of joy and sorrow, passion and hope.  Everyone seems comfortable in their own skin — there is no need to hide under designer clothes, impressive accomplishments, or social standing.  Just watching this party makes you wish that you were invited.

The party for the “lower class” on the Titanic  reminds me of the party at my house on Thursday nights.  Every Thursday night about six or seven of us gather to celebrate.  We are all addicts.  We have engaged in our addictions in some of the best and worst places that you can imagine.  Addiction has dragged some in our party into the sex trade at one time in their lives, and it has compelled all of us to “trade the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand” (Romans 1).  We gather around my dining room table, eat, drink, and talk about the places where we’ve been lost and found.  We talk about the 12 Steps and Jesus.  Our leader was a crack addict and alcoholic.  He was on the verge of losing his family and taking his life when Jesus found him.  Some of us have been arrested and even spent time behind bars.  All of us have made choices that have locked us in the bondage of self and darkness.  There’s no dress code for this party.  We take a smoking break half-way through, and we talk honestly about looking for love in all the wrong places and discovering a Love that has been looking for us all of our lives.  We come from all different kinds of backgrounds.  Some of us can quote Bible verses and others have never owned a Bible.  Some of us have jobs and others aren’t sure what they will do with their lives.  Some of us have done some shocking sinning and all of us have sinned in our hearts (which is where my pastor says is the most damaging place to sin).  All of us have offered Jesus nothing, and all of us are discovering that He wants to give us everything.  That’s a reason to party!  The New Testament says it this way:

“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life.  I don’t see many of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families.  Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’?  That makes it quite clear . . . . Everything that we have — right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start — comes from God by way of Jesus Christ”  (1 Corinthians 1).

Well, last Thursday we were gathering around the table after the smoking break.  We had been talking about making a fearless and searching inventory of our lives and that we could do that because Jesus had been making a fearless search for us in some of the most unlikely places.  All of the sudden Sarah closed her eyes and started reciting a poem that she wrote.  Sarah is twenty years old and she’s seen a lot of life in those twenty years.  She has been hurt and hurt herself in places that most of us would never go.  Sarah told us that religious people had told her that Jesus wouldn’t be caught in the places that she went.  Sarah has learned that they were wrong.  She’s discovered that Jesus descended into her hell to set her free, and that is why she now chooses to party with people who would never be invited to the upper deck.  Sarah gave me permission to share her poem.  I wish you could hear her recite it.  She closes her eyes and tilts back her head when she speaks.  Short, spiral curls spring up and fall all over her head.  Her voice is rich with passion and sorrow, and when she talks — well, it’s a party!  If you’re feeling distant from God because you think He’s absent or you’re unworthy, this poem might make you want to party.  Sarah knows that the Mercy of God is that He enters us when we are in states of grace or disgrace and that the Humility of God is that we enter Him when we love those who are hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, sick, or in need. 

If it’s easier for you to get sex on the street than a hug in church
I want you to know that I see God in you
Cars speed past
Cardboard signs being held by
Stick people with long dirty nails
I light my cigarette and pass it on
I have no funds to share and my offering
Is a lit cigarette and God
Accepts it takes a puff
And then a long drag as I drive away

I am shivering on this bus shelter bench
When I see a girl
Maybe 16
Clad in a dirty miniskirt
Shaking like me
And my offering
Is a condom and a clean needle
But God takes it
Smiles at me
And jumps into the next car

I lay crying on the floor
Staring at an empty pot
And my offering today
Is bits of flour mixed with dirt and mud
God takes the cookies
He smiles and laughs
And that little bit makes his hunger go away
Enough for him to sleep in my arms

As fists connect to face and
As he tells me he fell down
A flight of stairs
I know being gay
Cannot save you from domestic violence
And I can’t fix this
My offering is a bag of ice
And God takes it grabs it
And brings it up to his face as he cries

God bends over the toilet releasing the contents
Of her stomach for the fifth time today
And I don’t know what to do
So my offering is to hold her hair
And wash her face and mouth afterwards
And she thanks me for not judging her

God just witnessed someone shoot at his house
In the dead of night
And he comes out of the house in his pj’s
Adorned with heavy artillery
And I live across the street
And instead of staying inside and
Ducking under furniture
I rush out to help him
And my offering is trying to talk
Him out of revenge

You see
I never tell people to shut up
‘Cuz I see God in their sufferings
I have seen God shoot up and
Held him as he came down
I’ve seen God run away from an abusive partner
I’ve held God as she told me about
Being gang-raped at a frat party
God ain’t screaming out for offerings
Of millions and money
But of time and community

by Sarah Francois

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these . . . you did for me.'”  Matthew 25:40