A fellow blogger and friend suggested I read this as she knew how much I would like it. She was right! I promise I have not turned this blog into sermon central, but I did want to share this from Tony Campolo with you. It made me think of all the times I miss opportunities to be Christ through my actions not my words. Thank you Pam for sharing this with me.
I had to go to speak in Honolulu. Well, sometimes you get L.A. and sometimes you get Honolulu. If you go to Honolulu, because of the distance from the east coast where I live, there’s a six‐hour time difference. And I woke up at about three o’clock in the morning and I was hungry and I wanted to get something to eat. But, in a hustling city like Honolulu at three o’clock in the morning, it’s hard to find anything that’s open. Up a side street, I spotted this greasy spoon, and I went in.
It was one of these dirty places and they didn’t have any booths, just row of stools at the counter. I sat down a bit uneasy and I didn’t touch the menu. It was one of those plastic menus and grease had piled up on it. I knew that if I opened it, something extraterrestrial would have crawled out. All of the sudden, this very heavy‐set, unshaved man with a cigar came out of the back room, put down his cigar, and said, “What do you want?”
I said, “I’d like a cup of coffee and a donut.”
He poured the coffee and then he scratched himself and, with the same hand, picked up the donut. I hate that. So, there I am, three‐thirty in the morning, drinking my coffee, and eating this dirty donut. And into the place comes about eight or nine prostitutes. It’s a small place, they sit on either side of me, and I tried to disappear.
The woman on my immediate right was very boisterous and she said to her friend, “Tomorrow’s my birthday. I’m going to be thirty‐nine.”
Her friend said, “So what do you want me to do? Do you want me to sing happy birthday? Should we have a cake? a party? It’s your birthday.”
The first woman said, “Look, why do you have to put me down? I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life. I don’t expect to have one now.”
That’s all I needed.
I waited until they left and I called Harry over and I asked, “Do they come in here every night?
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “The one right next to me…”
“Tomorrow is her birthday. What do you think about decorating the place? When she comes in tomorrow night, we’ll throw a birthday party for her. What do you think?”
He said, “Mister, that is brilliant. That is brilliant!” He called his wife out of the back room. “Jan, come out here. I want you to meet this guy. He wants to throw a birthday party for Agnes.”
She came out and took my hand and squeezed it tightly, and said, “You wouldn’t understand this, mister, but Agnes is one of the good people, one of the kind people in this town. And nobody ever does anything for her, and this is a good thing. I said, “Can I decorate the place?” She said, “To your heart’s content.”
I said, “I’m going to bring a birthday cake…
Harry said, “Oh no! The cake’s my thing!”
So, I got there the next morning at about two‐thirty. I had bought the streamers at the K‐mart, strung them about the place. I had made a big poster – “”Happy Birthday Agnes” ‐ and put it behind the counter. I had the place spruced up. Everything was set. Everything was ready.
Jan, who does the cooking, she had gotten the word out on the street. By three‐fifteen, every prostitute was squeezed into this diner. People, it was wall‐to‐wall prostitutes and me!
Three‐thirty in the morning, in come Agnes and her friends. I’ve got everybody set, everybody ready. As they come through the door, we all yell, “Happy birthday Agnes!”
In addition, we start cheering like mad. I’ve never seen anybody so stunned. Her knees buckled. They steadied her and sat her down on the stool. We all started singing, “Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday to you!”
When they brought out the cake, she lost it and started to cry. Harry just stood there with the cake and said, “All right, knock it off Agnes. Blow out the candles. Come on, blow out the candles.” She tried, but she couldn’t, so he blew out the candles, gave her the knife, and said, “Cut the cake, Agnes.”
She sat there for a long moment and then she said to me, “Mister, is it okay if I don’t cut the cake? What I’d like to do, mister, is take the cake home and show it to my mother. Could I do that?” I said, “It’s your cake.” She stood up, and I said, “Do you have to do it now?”
She said, “I live two doors down. Let me take the cake home and show it to my mother. I promise you I’ll bring it right back.” And she moved toward the door carrying the cake as though it was the Holy Grail. As she pushed through the crowd and out the door, the door swung slowly shut and there was stunned silence. You talk about an awkward moment. Everyone was motionless. Everyone was still. I didn’t know what to say.
So, I finally said, “What do you say, we pray?” It’s weird looking back on it now. You know a sociologist leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes at three‐thirty in the morning in a diner. But, it was the right thing to do.
I prayed that God would deliver her from what dirty filthy men had done to her. You know how these things start ‐ some ten, eleven, or twelve‐year‐old girl gets messed over and destroyed by some filthy man and then she goes downhill from there. And men use her and abuse her. I said, “God, deliver her and make her into a new creation because I’ve got a God who can make us new no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve been through.” And I prayed that God would make her new.
When I finished my prayer, Harry leaned over the counter and he said, “Campolo, you told me you were a sociologist. You’re no sociologist, you’re a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?”
In one of those moments when you come up with just the right words, I said, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at three‐thirty in the morning.”
I’ll never forget his response. He looked back at me and he said, “No you don’t, no you don’t. I would join a church like that!”
Wouldn’t we all? Wouldn’t we all like to belong to a church that threw birthday parties for prostitutes at three‐thirty in the morning? Well, I’ve got news for you. That is the kind of church that Jesus came to create. He came to bring celebration into people’s lives that have had nothing to celebrate.
This is true religion, says the epistle of James, to visit the fatherless, the widows, and the afflicted and bring celebration into their lives. He is the Christ who saves you from sin and fills you with his joy, commissions you to go out and to spread that joy to the world because the Lord has come.
The Lord has come. It’s a joy that comes from forgiveness of sins. It’s a joy that comes when you spread it to others by the grace of God. But lastly, it’s a great joy that is able to permeate your life even in the midst of hard times. Even in the midst of suffering. That’s what makes it different from happiness. Happiness depends on what happens. Joy is something that keeps you going even when what is happening isn’t going well at all.
You’re sick, have cancer, trouble with your children, marriage falling apart ‐ and in the midst of it all, we have these words from scripture, from Romans 8:28, “In the midst of all that’s going on, all the messes of your life, God is there with you, and he will enable you to bring something good out of it all if you just trust in him and allow his spirit to work through you to this end.”
You may ask, “Do we understand each other?” Nevertheless, what you’re thinking is, “You don’t understand. I’ve got a daughter. She’s on drugs my son’s messed up; he’s in jail. And it’s hopeless.” It’s never hopeless.
In the words of that great American theologian Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” God will not give up on you or on your family. God will not give up on his world. He didn’t come into the world to condemn the world but to deliver it and to give to the world joy, joy, joy, joy, unspeakable joy.
I invite you to the Christ who will give you joy because your sins will be forgiven. Who will give you joy because he commissions you to share that joy with other people. And when the dark times come and the sorrows of life overwhelm you, there will be joy because you will know that beyond the present time is the glorious present, the glorious gift that God has in store for all who trust in him.
© Copyright Hour of Power 2009. This message was delivered by Tony Campolo from the pulpit of the Crystal Cathedral and aired on the Hour of Power, September 27, 2009.