One of the cool things I get to do as a pastor is celebrate.
When something great happens in someone's life I get to be there to make sure its appreciated and that good times are had!
In fact, Biblically a lot of our times as Jesus-followers should be spent merry-making. Jesus' first miracle in the Gospel of John? Helloooooooo, water into wine?
New babies, new jobs, new life, new marriages, new beginnings, happy endings, old commitments, rewarded determination, humble acknowledgement, our love, God's love, fooooooood, chocolate milk - I can think of a million things that need to be celebrated.
The thankful elements of our worship turns into praise and praise is just another word for celebration.
How cool is that? It's what I do.
There can be bad ways to celebrate as well. When we celebrate what is evil, what is oppressive, or what is detrimental (no matter how gratifying personally), we must call our celebrations into question. You can even take a wonderful and good thing and celebrate it poorly (and thus, tainting the goodness)
This past Sunday I reminded the SDL congregation that we all know the difference in laughing with someone and laughing at someone. Celebrations can do that as well. As a Pastor who celebrates, one aspect of my job is making sure everyone can celebrate wonderful things and no one gets left out.
It sometimes can be a hard place to be. For example:
A certain team recently won the National championship in College Football. This is a great achievement that should be enjoyed and celebrated. However, there are some fans of said team who celebrate and welcome everyone to celebrate with them. There are other fans however, that celebrate *at* others.
One of my favorite people in the world is a massive Alabama fan. He showed me pictures of the game (his wife in front of the scoreboard), he wears UA stuff often, takes his grandkids to the game, and generally just celebrates his team. Never once has he belittled me or my team. He makes me proud - in fact, he makes me glad for him and his team. I can share in his joy as he shares it with me.
Unfortunately there are other fans who have rubbed it in my face that this team has won a national championship. There is no attempt to bring me into the joy of the event. Part of the "fun" of this celebration for these fans is putting other people down. Sure, these fans get great enjoyment and a sense of pride out of it, but it changes the nature of the celebration.
You might say I've got a soft skin or that I need to lighten up. Okay, it is just a game. But I also can't imagine Jesus rubbing some score in my face and saying, "C'mon Jack, don't be such a wuss."
The problem for me isn't the football. The problem is that lots of people (lots of football fans of lots of teams) bring the same attitude into their Christianity as well. And this is no laughing matter where we simply need to encourage whoever we are haggling to grow thicker skin. That is exactly what is happening, actually. Why would a non-Christian want to be Christian when "in the name of Jesus" we stomp all over their (or someone else's) humanity and then in that same name hop over and celebrate some oppressive action? This massive disconnect (and the Christians who tell people they just need to deal with God's truth) has bred a generation who cannot imagine a God who would celebrate life's victories with them. They can only fathom a God who stands over them shaking a disapproving finger.
What I mean is that Christians have done a poor job of celebrating with people and welcoming others into the joy of Christ. When Christ wins - does anyone really lose?
When people argue they often take a win/lose approach. If you and I debate whether this is better than that, eventually one of us will be proved wrong (lose) and the other proved right (win). The weird thing about how God operates is the win/win outcomes he can finagle in life. Christians think because God is the truth or because God is always "right" that those who are outside of God's rightness are losers.
They (the losers) are exactly the people God came to celebrate with. The losers become winners in Christ. Jesus didn't come for the righteous but the lost. And even the winners, with their limited and oppressive win/lose situations are freed from their oppression and win as well. Think of it this way: rather than bringing the oppressors down, God wants to bring the oppressed up. I know I know - everyone can't be special. But our God is not limited by your petty need to be more important than someone else. Only those who are scared of lifting others up to their level would dare imply that others don't deserve what you celebrate.
With our God, no one loses.
What is a pastor supposed to do in such a place? I won't correct someone's excitement at a national championship and hurtful comments they may say. Just like the title that has been won, the comments and attitude must be owned as well.
But it's my job as a pastor to correct Christians who celebrate "at" non-Christians. We should be welcoming people into the body by celebrating God's goodness in all the ways it comes to us. These blessings are not ours - they never have been. They have always been God's goodness.
Christians have put ourselves in an odd place because we won't let ourselves celebrate. When there is a new child (even outside of marriage/love), life should be celebrated. When there is a new patriot (even if you don't agree with the stance), passion should be celebrated. When Christ is seen in a different light (even if he doesn't look exactly like your Christ), faith should be celebrated. When holidays happen (even if they aren't specifically Christian), joy and God's goodness should be celebrated.
No wonder people think Christians are a bunch of sour-puss wet blankets. We only care about ourselves and our celebrations. Or at best, we tweak and manipulate God's joy to suit our own needs. In this attitude we have estranged ourselves from God's love and from the very people Jesus came to celebrate with.
It's also my job to help non-Christians (normal people) celebrate in God's goodness. That's your job too.
The future looks bright - we have a lot to celebrate.