Where I live, folks love to relive prom. Middle-aged guys dress up in tuxedos. Mothers become ladies after spending all afternoon on their hair and slipping into formals with high slits and deep dips. Then we go dance and eat with an open bar and a silent auction.
People don’t hold onto their money as tightly when they are having a good time.
This is a good thing, right? America doesn’t have to be a country of self-righteous Puritans wearing drab gunnysack and accusing each other of witchcraft. My wife looks sexy in a corset. I enjoy a good full beer. Let’s party!
But then I hear the sweet, major chords of a song on Christian radio and worry a bit. That old 1990s meme rises like a phantom judgment on all my fun: What would Jesus do?
Actually, John 2 tells us exactly what Jesus would do. When the party runs out of adult beverages, he makes more. When people are a little buzzy and can’t appreciate the complexity of a good wine, he gives them the best, well-aged God wine possible. In his first miracle, it appears as if Jesus may be contributing to delinquency.
Of course, there are other lessons in Jesus’ first miracle. Obedience. Mystery. Divine flexibility. But there is also this obvious lesson…
God Enjoys a Sexy, Drinking Party
Does that make you cringe a bit? Good. Take God out of the medicine cabinet in your mind and let him be bigger than you can imagine. He isn’t your personal bottle of headache pills. Don’t put God on the back of the toilet either. He isn’t a flowery book of inspiration to occupy your mind with pithy quotes while you do your business. I’m talking to myself here too.
On the other hand, grace is no excuse to sin. God enjoys a drinking party but not a drunken party. God enjoys a sexy party but not an orgy.
As one of my closest mentors has said, “So much of what happens during and after a sexy drinking party is not good… I’ve spent a good bit of pastoral energy over the years dealing with people for whom sexy drinking parties have led to a mess of trouble.”
God also expects us to know our personal limits and respect the limits of those around us. Recovered alcoholics should be especially wary of drinking parties. Recovered sex addicts should be especially wary of sexy parties. And those of us graced with freedom from addiction should be sensitive to the weaknesses of those in recovery.
When some of my best friends, who happen to be atheists, ask my spouse to say a prayer for the sexy, drinking party that funds children’s theater, we say, “Yes!” When she asks me to write the prayer for her, I say, “Yes!” They call it an invocation, not a prayer, but whatever.
How Then Do We Pray?
Here’s what we don’t say out loud. “Dear God, please save these lost, misguided people. Send Jesus down with shining armor so he can go Tolkein-style on all their atheism and squash it like those orcs in the mediocre Hobbit movies.” Too many Christians seem to confuse Jesus with Gandalf in this situation–or with any other big screen hero. We want Jesus to save us, and we expect salvation to work magic or wear spandex. How do we resist the temptation to mold Jesus into a superstar?
More directly, how was I going to stay true to my real desire for people to taste the peace and freedom of Christ in the midst of a sexy drinking party… without being a prig? How do I pray with confidence and specificity in a pluralistic society where tolerance is the chief virtue?
In this scenario, I prayed the Holy Spirit would interpret my groanings. We have our little inside jokes, me and the Holy Spirit. I say, “Dear God,” and the Spirit knows I’m talking about the Trinity. I thank God for good theater, and the Spirit knows I’m thinking about the Imago Dei and the intrinsic value of imitating our creative God. I say, “Keep us safe,” and the Spirit knows I’m praying that people don’t get wasted at the open bar. I pray about mortality. I quote Ecclesiastes.
And I try to trust that God can be present in a good party for a good cause with good people.
People laughed during the invocation, and it was a holy laughter. Many of them were surprised by the idea that God might choose to celebrate with us rather than condemn us.
A Prayer for Sexy Drinking Parties
At the risk of being the hypocrite who prayed on the street corner, I share this in hopes that it helps others negotiate the tricky space of public prayer in a pluralistic society.
Thank you for this charity ball! For the hard work of everyone who helped make this celebration possible. For the food. For the space. For the friendships. For good drinks. For good music. For good things made by others and offered as generous gifts for us to buy and enjoy.
Most of all, God, we are grateful that this is all for a good cause–to help the young people of our community grow in confidence and presence and spirit and imagination
as they work together to create plays and
as they receive opportunities to see performances that would not otherwise come to our community.
In a world that is increasingly consumed by more and more work, we thank you for the opportunity to help our children play and give back to those who see their plays.
In a world that too often idolizes efficiency and utility, we thank you for the opportunity to support and encourage artists who create beauty.
In a world that is increasingly distracted and mediated by screens, we thank you that the children of our community gather together in person to experience and create art that is beautiful and ephemeral, disappearing from the world even as it is created.
We are reminded, God, that we too will disappear from the world more quickly than we realize. And so tonight keep us safe and let us not hold onto our material possessions, but give freely and generously.
And let us celebrate with our full selves as the Bible tells us in Ecclesiastes 2: “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their good work. This too is from the hand of God, for without you, who can eat or find enjoyment?”