Many people are familiar with the film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth in the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies. Have you ever read the books? At IHS we have a number of Tolkien-nerds, fans of the series and beyond.
If you've watched the movies, you know that the first film begins with Bilbo's birthday party. If you've ever read the books, you know that they start with what feels like a thousand pages of details about Bilbo's birthday party. In Tolkien's world, hobbits have a strange practice for birthday celebrations. Instead of friends throwing a birthday party for a hobbit, on their birthday each hobbit throws a huge party for all their friends, families, loved ones, and community. Think of how many parties a hobbit must experience every year, how many celebrations of loved ones, feasts, dances, gifts, and cake! I think Tolkien gives so much space to this in his book because he wants us to think about what a community would be like if it centered around so much more celebration.
Jesus wants us to consider something similar. In Luke 15 he tells the famous parable of the Prodigal Son. A rich man has two sons, and one of them takes his inheritance, leaves, and squanders it on what he thinks will be a celebration of life: imagine a first century Las Vegas, or something. But he ends up in the pig slop, eating what the pigs eat, destitute. He decides to go home, even though he thinks he'll end up a slave in his father's household. When he gets home, of course, the father runs out to meet him and then throws him a true party, a true feast, a celebration that is about more than just enjoying a fatted calf, it is about new life and reconciliation.
Jesus is showing us that God's kingdom is like that feast. God's kingdom is about so much more: more food, more wine, more feasting, more music, more dancing, more gifts, more friends, more family, more celebration of what makes life amazing and full of joy and wonder. It is this celebration that Christian worship is meant to be. Christian worship is meant to be like the hobbit birthday party! Because the truth of Jesus' parable is that we are all the prodigal son. We are all waste deep in the pig-slop of our own greed, selfishness, envy, and pride, waste deep in the pig-slop of the world's economy, power, injustice, oppression, sickness, sin, and death. We've all been called home by our Father. In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us what Jesus and God's work are all about when he says,
in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them
You could say that is the summation of the Gospel. God didn't reconcile himself to the world, he reconciled the world to himself. He didn't count the pig-slop against us. He didn't hold our feet to the fire for leaving home and wandering away. He called us home and threw a party, a party of reconciliation, the feast of the marriage supper of the Lamb. Paul starts this passage by saying,
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
If anyone is in Christ, then there is a new creation! What a tremendously bold claim. If any one person is in Christ, there is a new creation. How can we possibly regard anyone from a human point of view any longer? Christian worship is about gathering around the table of God's love and reconciliation together and feasting on that bounty. And that Christian worship should also change our perspective, so that we no longer see the world from a human point of view but with fresh eyes of the new creation.
The next step in the Way of Love is Worship. Watch this video on the spiritual practice of worship.
Are you ready to commit yourself to gathering in worship with other Christians?
If you already are someone who is committed to worship in the gathering of Christians, are you ready to commit yourself to letting it truly change you? Are you ready to see worship be like one of those hobbit birthday parties, or the party that the Father throws for the Prodigal Son? Is our worship on Sunday a party? Who is it for? Does it give life? If it is just for us, then what does that say about all of the other prodigal sons and daughters out there, who need to be called home?
Going on in 2 Corinthians Paul says,
in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us"
We are not just the Prodigal Sons and Daughters. We are also at times the second, jealous son, wondering why the other son gets to have the party. But we are called to be ambassadors, we are called to go out and call home the prodigal children of God. Like the hobbits, we should throw a grand feast not for us, but for everyone else out there, those we love, and those we have yet to love or meet. Our worship should be a table set for the stranger, drawing them to God's love, calling them home. What it would look like if our Sunday worship was set that way?