My Favourite Stories #60

The Kingdom of God is a party!

Tony Campolo once told the story of when he was on a speaking appointment in Honolulu. The time difference left him wide awake at 3:00am in the morning and feeling ready for breakfast. This found him walking up and down the streets of Honolulu looking for a place to get something to eat. Up a side street he found a sleezy place that was still open. He went in and took a place on one of the stools at the counter and waited to be served.

The fat guy behind the counter came over and asked him “What d’ya want?”

               To which he replied, “I would like some orange juice and a donut.”

At 3:30am the door of the diner suddenly swung open and to his discomfort, in marched eight or nine provocative prostitutes. It was a small place, and they sat on either side of him. Their talk was loud and crude and he felt completely out of place and was about to make his getaway when he overheard the woman sitting next to him say, “Tomorrows my birthday, I’m going to be 39.”

Her ‘friend’ responded in a nasty tone, “So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? Ya want me to get you a cake and sing ‘Happy Birthday?”

“Come on!” said the women sitting next to me. “Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that’s all. Why do you have to put me down? I was just telling you it was my birthday. I don’t want anything from you. I mean, why should you give me a birthday party? I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?”

When Tony heard that, he made a decision. He sat and waited until the women left. Then he called over the fat guy behind the counter and asked him, “Do they come here every morning?”

“Yeah! He answered.

“The one right next to me, does she come here every night?”

“Yeah!” he said “That’s Agnes. Yeah, she comes here every night. Why d’ya wanna know?”

“Because I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday,” he told him. “What do you say you and I do something about that? What do you think about throwing a birthday party for her – right here – tomorrow night?”

A cute smile slowly crossed his chubby cheeks, and he answered with a measure of delight, “That’s great! I like it! That’s a great idea!” Calling to his wife who did the cooking in the back room, he shouted, “Hey come out here! This guy’s got a great idea. Tomorrow is Agnes’s birthday. This guy wants us to go in with him and throw a birthday party for her – right here – tomorrow night!”

His wife came out of the back room all bright and smiley. She said, “That’s wonderful! You know Agnes is one of those people who is really nice and kind, and nobody ever does anything nice and kind for her.”

“Look,” Tony told them, “If it is OK with you, I’ll get back here tomorrow morning about 2:30 and decorate the place. I’ll even get a birthday cake!”

               “No way,” said Harry. “The birthday cake is my thing. I’ll make the cake.”

At 2:30 the next morning, tony was back at the dinner and decorated the place from one end to the other, including a “Happy Birthday Agnes” sign.

The women who did the cooking must have got the word out on the street, because at 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. It was wall-to-wall prostitutes… and Tony!

At 3:30 on the dot, the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friend. Everyone screamed “Happy Birthday!”

In recounting the event Tony said, “Never had he seen a person so flabbergasted…so stunned…so shaken. Her mouth fell open. Her legs seemed to buckle a bit. Her friend grabbed her arm to steady her. As she was led to sit on one of the stools, they all sang “Happy Birthday.” By the last line her eyes had moistened and when the birthday cake came out with candles on it, she lost it and just openly cried.

Harry gruffly mumbled, “blow out the candles, Agnes! Come on! Blow out the candles. If you don’t blow out the candles, I’m gonna hafta blow out the candles.” and after an endless few seconds, he did. Then he handed her a knife and told her, “Cut the cake Agnes. Yo, Agnes, we all want some cake.”

Agnes looked down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes of it, she slowly and softly said, “Look, Harry, is it all right with you if I … I mean is it Ok if I kind of … what I want to ask you is … is it OK if I keep the cake a little while? I mean, is it all right if we don’t eat it right away?”

Harry shrugged and answered, “Sure! It’s OK. If you want to keep the cake. Take it home if you want to.”

               “Can I?” she asked. Then, looking at Tony, she said, “I live just down the street a couple of doors. I want to take the cake home; OK I’ll be right back. Honest!”

She got off the stool, picked up the cake, and carrying it like it was crystal, walked slowly toward the door. As everybody just stood there motionless, she left.

When the door closed, there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, Tony broke the silence by saying, “What do you say we pray?”

As Tony later said, “It seemed strange for a sociologist to be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. But it just felt like the right thing to do.” He prayed for Agnes. He prayed for her salvation. He prayed that her life would be changed, and that God would be good to her.

When he had finished, Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice said, “Hey! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?” In a stroke of inspiration Tony replied, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning.”

Harry waited a moment and then almost sneered as he answered, “No you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. I’d join a church like that!”

Wouldn’t we all? Wouldn’t we all love to join a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning. Well, that’s the kind of church that Jesus came to create! I don’t know where we got the other one that’s so prim and proper. But anyone who reads the New Testament will discover a Jesus who loved to party with prostitutes and with all kinds of left out people. The publicans and ‘sinners’ loved Him because He partied with them. And while the solemnly pious could not relate to what He was about, those lonely people who usually didn’t get invited to parties took to Him with excitement. Face it, the first thing we are going to do after the sea of glass worship, is party – It’s called the marriage supper of the Lamb.

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