If there’s one thing I struggle with Missional Jesus over, it’s parties. He loved them. I hate them.
OK, ‘hate’ is the wrong word, but they have too many connotations of embarrassment from the past. And tonight, Debbie and I were at a party for missional reasons.
M has become a friend of ours through pre-school and school. She has children of a similar age to ours. Major aspects of her life have been horrendous in recent times – I’m not going to detail them in a public medium here – and we have stood with her through some difficult and painful decisions. Most of the time, it has simply meant inviting her for coffee or lunch. We gave her a few spare possessions when she needed to move her accommodation. Occasionally, there have been overtly spiritual conversations.
But today was her thirtieth birthday. She could not afford a party, but good friends hired a hall and a DJ. They decorated it and provided food. We were among eighty or so guests who were invited, and we felt it right to accept the invitation, even though we knew it would be the kind of event where I in particular would feel uncomfortable.
It’s that raging introvert issue again. Discos are not my thing. The style of music isn’t my taste, and you’re not likely to see me dance any time before the Second Coming. King David may have danced before the Lord, but this David doesn’t. Thankfully, nobody tonight applied any of the heavy social pressure to which I have been subjected on other occasions: this bunch of largely non-Christians was a lot more relaxed about people making their own decisions than many Christian-dominated parties I’ve attended in the past.
But I can’t escape the fact that in the Gospels, Jesus seemed so comfortable at parties. I know there is no verse which says, “And it came to pass that Jesus got up and danced to ‘You’re The One That I Want’,” but to my mind he seems chilled and at home at parties. If we’re going to share in people’s lives on their territory, not ours, it is going to involve actions that are uncomfortable for us. Not in the sense of ethics and moral decisions, but in terms of personal preferences and tastes. It may not be party-going for you, but if it isn’t that, it will be something else.
So yes, the incarnational theology stuff is important. We need to be ‘in the world’ and also ‘not of the world’ without giving the appearance that we have landed from another planet. But the practice of such theological theory requires a dose of chilled-out Jesus.
Yet what exactly was that? Was he happy at parties because he was an extravert? If I take the Myers Briggs definition of extraversion as someone who derives energy from being with other people, then he certainly did enjoy the company of gatherings large and small. Yet at the same time he displayed introvert tendencies in his ability to go off on his own for extended times of prayer. So I don’t think this is a matter of personality type, however much I am thinking about that subject at present.
I think it’s a matter of security in his own identity. He knew he was the Father’s belovèd Son, and that the Father was well pleased with him. God reminded him of that twice in his life. The first time was at his baptism, just before his public ministry started. The second time was at the Transfiguration, just before he made his deliberate journey towards his Passion at Jerusalem.
And isn’t it that same knowledge in us – in our case a blessing of grace – of knowing that we are loved beyond measure by the Father – that is our security and foundation? Is this not the rock where our feet stand firm, and where it doesn’t matter how other people treat us or what social pressures they exert? Isn’t this vital for the whole spiritual life, mission and worship? May this knowledge, and an the experience of it, grow in each of us, not simply that we are blessed out of our socks, but that we are chilled-out little Jesuses who bless others.